Stored in my memory are those precious moments when I sat on a small wooden landing stage beside the River Test. I could hear the flick of a fly fisherman’s rod nearby. I watch a swan gliding elegantly towards me. Behind me, striped lawns swept up to the gorgeous Houghton Lodge, an 18th-century cottage orné surrounded by gardens and parkland.
Houghton Lodge is a real gem in the lush Test Valley in Hampshire, a must-visit either for the day or to spend the night amid its beautiful gardens.
History of Houghton Lodge
Houghton Lodge is an excellent example of a cottage orné. This style of architecture was popular around the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century. Small, ornate cottages were built in rustic settings to show off to friends and family. Originally they were not intended as permanent residences but rather grand summer houses that were not used in the winter.
Some, however, did evolve into homes and have been described as “a gentleman’s residence in fancy dress” due to the elaborate nature of their interiors. Houghton Lodge, a five-bedroom dormer bungalow has retained many of its original features. It was built in 1793 and acquired by the Busk family as their family home in 1910.
Tours of Houghton Lodge
Sophie and Daniel, the fourth generation of Busks to live in Houghton Lodge continue the family tradition of welcoming visitors to enjoy their gardens (fee payable) and explore the ground floor rooms of the lodge (specific dates only). Sophie loves to show visitors around the beautiful gardens and Daniel enjoys hosting tours of the lodge.
Humour, historical facts and anecdotes pepper a stroll through the ornate and highly crafted dining room, music room, and drawing room all decorated with family photos, paintings and ornaments as well as some interesting artefacts discovered in the grounds.
The Gardens at Houghton Lodge
A cluster of formal gardens surrounds the lodge – all beautifully laid out and peppered with descriptive boards covering traditions, customs and legends.
The walled garden is enclosed by an 18th-century wall made of chalk cob. Inside the wall visitors can enjoy seasonal flowers and shrubs throughout the year. The apple and pear trees, for which the gardens are famous, flourish here. Against the wall is an espaliered pear tree that has gained recognition in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest in the world.
Three wrought iron gates through the wall lead the visitor outside to the magnificent herbaceous border. This overlooks the wilded area of the grounds that resembles a field of snow when the cow parsley is in full bloom.
At one end of the herbaceous border is the new Oriental Garden which includes some traditional Japanese architecture – a Torii, Moon Gate and Nikko bridge. Beside the bridge is the sculpture of a triumphant goat and on the far side of the stream that feeds into the little lake is a dejected deer.
The Legend of the Goat and Deer records that the Jade Emperor was on his island trying to decide which twelve animals he should include in the Chinese Zodiac. The deer and goat appeared at the water’s edge together. After testing the water with his hoof the deer retreated into the trees. But the goat just leapt into the water and swam to the island, securing his place in the Chinese Zodiac.
At the other end of the herbaceous border is the Peacock Garden. The focal point of this garden is a large peacock on a plinth surrounded by topiary.
A marked trail takes visitors out into the parkland beyond the formal gardens. This is where the alpacas and black Hebridean sheep live. Alpacas and sheep, both ruminants, work well together as the alpacas will spit to alert the sheep to the presence of a predatory fox. There is also a wildlife pond in this area.
Back in the walled garden the Bloom Bloom Café offers an opportunity to rest and refresh before walking across the extensive lawns to the River Test or following the Serpentine Walk through the wood at the front of the lodge.
The Bloom Bloom Café occupies a renovated cow shed where a pedigree herd of Guernsey cows were once milked. Visitors can sit inside to enjoy a coffee and homemade cake or a light lunch or they may prefer an outside table overlooking the gardens. An Orangery forms an extension to this tea room.
This was originally a hydroponic greenhouse but not proving popular is now an ideal extension to the tea room and useful for groups, small functions and art exhibitions. Houghton Lodge also offers accommodation in their Apple Rooms.
What a lovely way to end the day – strolling across immaculate lawns to the banks of the River Test.
Accommodation at Houghton Lodge Gardens
Six Apple Rooms at Houghton Lodge, each named for a type of apple, offer luxury self-catering accommodation in individually fashioned studio-style rooms. During their stay guests are free to explore the gardens whenever they wish.
The most convenient way to travel to Houghton Lodge and Gardens is by car. There is plenty of free parking. The drive from Central London takes about 1.5 hours along the M3 and A30. Houghton Lodge is signposted from the local town of Stockbridge, five minutes away.
Winchester (11 miles) or Andover (8 miles) are the nearest railway stations and taxis are available at both stations.
A local bus stops outside the front gate. But this service (number 16) from Andover via Winchester is not very frequent. There is a free community bus from Romsey (tel:0330 4004 116).
For more information, dates of special event and availability of the Apple Rooms click here
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller and has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 27 years ago.