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Syon House and Gardens (Brentford)

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Syon House is the last surviving ducal residence complete with its country estate in Greater London. Take a look round the the Duke of Northumberland's London home, view the magnificent State and Private Apartments and enjoy the spectacular Great Conservatory and 40 acres of gardens.

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      10.10.2005 13:59
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      Advantages

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      Lots to do, good for families, not too busy

      The gardens of Syon House reveal a peaceful natural character when viewed on a drizzly afternoon. Although it is more common to leave such visits to sunnier summer days, I discovered that viewing them this way gave me an altogether more tranquil experience; it was like they belonged to me. My parents were on a weekend visit and we had initially planned to tour the house, which has belonged to the family of the Duke of Northumberland for over 400 years. However as we soon discovered, the house is closed to the public on Saturday afternoons, when it is used as a spectacular setting for weddings.

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      We didn't fancy the other indoor activities such as the butterfly house, so chose to brave the light rain instead. After paying the friendly staff we made our way along the long path past the house. I think of what it would have looked like here centuries ago when galloping horses and carriages would have hurtled past on return to the stable yard (now the aquarium).

      Moments later my historic daydream is halted when the gardens come into view. The first impressive sight is of the Great Conservatory, built by the 3rd Duke of Northumberland, nearly 200 years ago. I can easily picture aristocratic ladies sipping tea and sewing tapestries as they carefully keep their skin free of a peasant-like tan. These days, instead of elegant ladies in long dresses, it is peacocks preening and showing their feathers while they strut the roofs, gazing down haughtily at the lower mortals below.

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      I never expected such a well-known public garden to offer the luxury of solitude and soothing stillness, so close to the bustling hub of central London. For once I don’t bemoan the British weather. It is thanks to it that we have these 200 acres of parkland, including 40 acres of gardens and manicured meadows, almost entirely to ourselves.

      The lake walk is most therapeutic. I am amazed by the relaxed wildlife that pays no attention to my footsteps passing. I pass at least 10 species of bird and duck that I have never seen before. The ducks hang out in couples waddling along the rain pecked lakeside. Green-headed mallards stroll beside their plain wives. Crested moorhens dive determinedly for quickly fleeing fish and best of all a family of speckled geese takes a siesta on a bank. I sit on a bench a few feet away from them. The proud parents of these gorgeous goslings glance at me briefly, but seem reassured that I mean no harm and allow me this gentle intrusion to their family life.

      My father breaks this peace with his discovery of some rare plant in the meadows. I feign interest and wonder, not for the first time, whether he actually knows the Latin name of every single flower and plant in existence. Of course he may be making them all completely, having never studied Latin, I have to take his word for it. These gardens are tended to perfection with a vast range of different species of both wild and domestic plants and flowers. Large areas have been allowed to grow in a less manicured fashion, resulting in striking stretches of ‘mini meadow’, packed with daisies, poppies, forget-me-nots and other pretty dashes of colour. It is gardener’s dream and a hay fever sufferer’s nightmare.

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      Squirrels take advantage of the lack of crowds and scurry tirelessly across the lawns, foraging for food and cheerfully taking their findings home to their tree houses. Excitedly I spot a few baby squirrels. I have never seen any this small before, but young as they are they are already far too quick for me to make the most of this great photo opportunity. They are about the size of my hand, obviously still very new to this visual world (baby squirrels don’t open their eyes until they’re about 5 weeks old). Their tails are scraggly and pathetic and they are too shy to stay close for long, but they are the cutest things I’ve ever seen!

      It takes us a couple of hours to do a full circle of the lake and gardens, stopping as often as we do and sheltering occasionally during heavier bursts of rain. One of the only man made objects in the area is a tall column, topped with a Greek or Roman looking stone statue. Strangely there is nothing obvious commemorating or identifying it in the garden itself. I later look it up on the official Syon Park website out of curiosity and it is called Flora. ‘She’ has been a resident of the garden since around 1758 and stands over 55 feet (16.7m) high, looking out onto a lawn garden named after her, surrounded by herbaceous beds and decorative thistles and plants.

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      After completing our circuit, we wander back the way we came, past the Great Conservatory, now full of bustling waiting staff, making their final preparations on tables awaiting hordes of hungry wedding guests. A discarded peacock’s feather would provide the perfect souvenir to this unexpectedly enjoyable wet afternoon, but I decide to leave it where it belongs. We have taken thousands of photos and hopefully these have captured some of the ambience and humble beauty of the place instead.

      On our way back to the car my father suddenly spots the signs to the rose garden and off we follow expecting another horticultural hour too much. Although this bit is slightly disappointing (too many roses of the same anaemic pink colour and mostly past their best), we are still treated to a great view of the house and the sight of countless squawking Green Parakeets, soaring above our heads. This isn’t in itself a particularly unusual sight in Southern England any longer, but they do add a nice touch to the overall surroundings and our parting memories of the gardens.

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      BASIC FACTS

      GETTING THERE:

      Kew Bridge is the nearest tube station and Gunnersbury the closest tube stop (District Line)

      WHEN TO GO:

      Syon House is open from 24 March to 31 October – Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday & Bank Holiday Monday (also Good Friday and Easter Saturday) 11.00am to 17.00pm (last entry 4.15pm).

      The house is closed on Saturdays for weddings and other functions (this isn’t well publicised on the leaflet).

      The gardens are open daily (closed 25 & 26 December) from 10.30am to 5.00pm (or dusk if earlier)

      ADMISSION FEES:

      There is no 'includes all' price for the house/ gardens, butterfly house, aquarium etc. You can pay to see the house and garden together to save a few pennies, but everything else has to be paid for separately.

      As expensive as you’d expect from a London area tourist attraction:
      Syon House and Gardens:
      Adults: £7.25, Concessions (students, OAPs and registered benefit recipients) and children aged 5 - 12: £5.95, Family £16.00 (children under 5yrs go free)
      Gardens only
      Adults: £3.75, Concessions (as above) and children: £2.50, Family £9.00 (children under 5yrs go free )
      (Advance Group bookings should call: 0208 560 0882)
      ………. For some reason there isn’t a separate price for those who want to just see the house because they turned up on a Saturday unaware that the house was closed so could only see the gardens in the rain ……………

      Group bookings House & Gardens
      Adults£6.75, Concessions/Child £5.50, School Groups £2.00 per child
      Group bookings Gardens only
      Adults £3.75, Concessions/Child £2.50, School Groups £1.00 per child
      You can buy a Syon Park guidebook for £4.95

      CATERING:
      There is a café in the grounds for light refreshments.
      Other attractions and amenities in Syon Park

      (These are just some of the other attractions situated in the grounds. I am unable to review them as I only visited the gardens – all have individual websites listed under ‘Other Attractions’ on the main Syon Park site)

      *** A large (expensive) garden centre, including tropical fish centre

      *** Syon Park trout fishery

      It’s a paradise for kids … activities to keep them quiet include:


      *** Miniature steam train rides are available in the gardens on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

      *** The London Butterfly House – walk through masses of tropical butterflies and shelter from the rain if the house is closed. We considered this, but at a whopping £5 each decided against it…

      *** Snakes and Ladders indoor adventure playground

      *** Aquatic Experience – includes live amphibians, fish, birds and reptiles. Again costs about a fiver (less for children) to get in.

      HAVE FUN!

      (nb I also published this on Ciao! about a year ago)

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