4th June 2022
Hanging out in Hampshire: Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway
There are some places I can visit time and again and always enjoy being there. Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway is one of those places. Arriving one sunny morning in May the hoot of a steam engine and the whoosh of steam escaping from its funnel brought a rush of excitement. What a great way to start my visit – a ride on the steam train.
The little train puffs along a track through the Bog Garden and around the Dragonfly Pond. There were some surprises along the way including a bronze giraffe grazing amongst the trees.
Once I had completed a circuit on the train I set off on foot to explore the rest of the gardens. There is plenty to explore but the website lists the seasonal highlights so I used these to choose my route. After spending some time in the Rock Garden I made my way through an avenue of gorgeous rhododendrons. I took advantage of a bench on a grassy area to sit in the sun for a while taking in the splendour of the vibrant blooms around me.
A cheeky robin was chirruping on the grass beside me as if to say – move on so much more to see. I took the hint and made my way down the wooded Jubilee Hill to Jubilee Pond.
The colourful foliage of Exbury’s famous acers contrasts perfectly with the trees around me. I pause by Jubilee Pond to watch the resident ducks snacking on the weeds just under the surface of the water.
Regaining the road that runs through the gardens I cross over the Gilbury Bridge, shrouded in more glorious blooms. This bridge is a natural division between the two very different halves of the gardens.
Beyond the bridge I make my way through Witcher’s Wood to the Iris Garden. The Irises are out and their exquisite petals sway gently in a soft breeze.
I am ready for some refreshment by the time I come to the Old Tennis Courts Outdoor Café and find a table in the sun, surrounded by a pretty, formal garden.
When I move on again I make my way into the adjoining Centenary Garden and beyond that the Sundial Garden. A magnificent purple wisteria guards one end of this garden and a golden laburnum frames the gate at the other end.
Time is getting on, and I want to walk to the far end of the gardens to a viewpoint over the Beaulieu River, one of the boundaries to the estate. But I can’t resist taking some time to admire Exbury House. In private ownership this house is not open to the public.
I leave the main track through the grounds and make my way along a network of footpaths before emerging from the trees and the sight of the River Beaulieu speckled with moored yachts ahead of me. It is lovely just sitting for a while enjoying a cooling breeze off the water.
One of the many joys of Exbury Gardens is the discovery of the quaint, the curious and the amusing scattered around the grounds. On my way back to the car park I see some curious, wiggly tree trunks,
a leaning rhododendron tree,
and spend a long time examining the History Tree. The latter pinpoints events in history on a section of the trunk of a tree that lived for hundreds of years.
Finally, caught in a shower and sheltering under a tree I catch sight of a gardener sheltering under a golf umbrella as he drives along the road. The work goes on whatever the weather. It reminded me of one of the hallmarks of these lovely gardens, friendly, helpful staff from the young girl in reception who welcomed me so warmly to the railwayman who told me some of the history of the steam train to the gardeners who pointed out some plants of interest.
Want to know more about the gardens? Read about my first visit here. And finally, don’t forget the gardens are situated in England’s famous New Forest so take your time driving through this unique landscape enjoying the sight of grazing animals – ponies, donkeys, cattle, deer and the local wildlife.
Valery Collins is the Experienced Traveller An excellent raconteur, Valery has been writing about her experiences on the road since she started travelling 25 years ago. After publishing four books she turned to online travel writing.