Just outside Tunbridge Wells on the Kent and East Sussex borders is Groombridge Place.
Designed by Philip Packer, with some help from his pal from the Royal Society, Sir Christopher Wren, its a wonderful piece of Restoration architecture. Unfortunately the house is not open to the public but the gardens and woodland are (£9.95).
In fact the gardens may well look familiar having featured in the most recent big screen version of Pride and Prejudice, while this view will resonate with anyone who has seen Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract.
We took the boat (an extra £1) from the house to the Enchanted Forest, where we encountered some furry Mangalica pigs from Hungary.
and a zedonk, one of only two of the zebra-donkey hybrids in the UK. I thought he was rather handsome with his stripy legs.
There were also lots of birds, including both greylag and Canada geese with goslings and herons, as well as Groombridge’s resident peacocks.
And some more mystical creatures, that we ran into before getting back to the house,
via the vinyard, bird of prey centre and the alpacas
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a frequent visitor to the house during the later years of his life when he became obsessed with spiritualism. He lived nearby at a house called Windlesham in Crowborough and used to attend seances at Groombridge held by the then owners, Louisa and Eliza Saint. The house even features as the setting for his 1914 Sherlock Holmes mystery The Valley of Fear, although it takes the title Birlstone Manor.
A chalet by the entrance to the formal gardens has been set aside as a small museum to Doyle’s memory.