Indulging in All Things Chocolate at York’s Chocolate Story, York

Indulging in All Things Chocolate at York’s Chocolate Story, York

I am a massive chocolate fan and anyone that knows me knows chocolate is my Achilles heel. I love the stuff! So when planning a trip to York for some university training I knew I had to check out York’s Chocolate Story –  a chance to take a guided tour through York’s chocolate history and of course taste some of the best chocolate!

Welcome to the City of Chocolate

York’s Chocolate Story is situated in the middle of Kings Square; the heart of York. It is easy to find and there are plenty of car parks located nearby. I visited on a busy weekend in December and the streets were bustling with tourists shopping and soaking up York’s historic atmosphere.

As you enter York’s Chocolate Story you can’t help but breathe in the scrumptious smell of all chocolate! As I waited for my3 pm tour I took a sneak peek at the chocolate Chocolate Café that’s next to the museum and contemplated what delights I would treat myself to later!

As the tour begins you are taken upstairs in a lift and greeted by your guide. Our guide was called Meg and she was super friendly and enthusiastic. She did well to entertain a group of about 5 of us including a large group of Chinese tourists who appeared to speak little English!

A Little Bit of Chocolate History

At first, you are taken through some beautifully decorated and interesting rooms where you are told about the history of chocolate making in York – the UK’s home of chocolate. There’s a really cool room where you watch animated screens and hear the stories from the main chocolatiers. There’s loads of brands you will recognise! You hear about how each of the famous chocolatiers chocolates became famous and the rivalries between the different companies – I found this really interesting as I love history and hearing about times gone by – even better when you are learning about one of your favourite things – chocolate!

As your tour is situated in York, Meg told us lots about the history of chocolate in the city and how much chocolate is produced and now sells worldwide. There are loads of interesting facts to be heard including the fact that 6 million Kit Kats are made in York per day – how mental is that! There were loads of other interesting and fun chocolate related facts to be heard but I won’t share them all here – you will have to go and visit to hear them for yourselves!

There are plenty of tasters along the way too and the chance to try different types of chocolate and taste the process from begging to end. I loved hearing about the cocoa beans and how chocolate is made – quite the process it seems!

Heading downstairs there are some cool interactive displays in which visitors get the chance to learn how chocolate is made and try out the interactive displays that detail the process. We also got more tasters and learnt how to check the quality of chocolate relating to its taste and shine. Normally I just gobble chocolate up as fast as I can so it was nice to have the opportunity to savour the chocolate a bit more and really think about its flavours and where’s it’s come from.

Giving Chocolate Making A Go

Next up was the chance to have a go at getting hands-on and making a chocolate lolly! As it was Christmas time our chocolatier gave us the choice of what festive themed chocolate lolly to make. We then had free reign on the choco decorations which included salted caramel curls, crispy chocolate nibbles and all sorts! I made what I think was a rather fetching white chocolate Christmas tree.

Finally, the end of the tour culminates with a chocolate making demonstration where we were able to see how chocolate truffles were made. The chocolatier made passion fruit and cherry flavoured truffles and the best bit was we could taste them and take a couple home with us too. They were just delicious with the passion fruit ones being my favourite for sure!

After the demonstration, I made sure to go back and have a look at the funky looking displays that detail loads more information about all things chocolate and its history in York. There was lots to look at and read which was awesome.

I really liked the feedback wall in which visitors can leave their compliments and comments on the tour on coloured sticky post its. There were so many praise-filled comments for the tour and the guides which were lovely to read – certainly some very happy customers!

Chocolate, Chocolate and More Chocolate

I made my way back downstairs to the cafe as I understandably had chocolate on the brain as all the tasters had really whetted my appetite for more chocolate! I sat in the small café and enjoyed a salted caramel hot chocolate with all the toppings and a very tasty millionaires shortbread. Both were delicious and really filled me up. I do believe I experienced a chocolate-fuelled sugar high for sure!

Before leaving I just had to look around the chocolate shop which is stacked high with scrummy looking chocolate gifts and bits to treat yourself or others too.

I found it hard to decide what to treat myself too but ended up selecting a white chocolate heart covered in freeze-dried raspberry pieces. Yum! Of course, I also had to pick up a rubber and pencil to add to the collections! No trip would be complete without them, would it!

Visitor Information

Tickets to York’s Chocolate Story cost £10 for children and £12.50 for adults, with discounts for senior citizens and students. There’s the option to buy family tickets too. York residents can get a third off admission prices on Sundays, so if you live locally then be sure to make the most of this opportunity! Tours run daily at regular times between 10 am and 4 pm and last about an hour and a half. Find out more visitor information on the York’s Chocolate Story website. Be sure to check out the York’s Chocolate Story social media pages too including Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for more interesting chocolate facts, upcoming events and choco-tastic pictures.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed my time at York’s Chocolate Story. I loved the mix of having a guided tour that as fun and informative but also having the opportunity to have a look round the static displays at my own pace too. The extra additions of the chocolate lolly workshop and chocolate making demonstration were awesome and really added to the overall experience. The tour was excellent too and I thought our tour guide Meg did a really great job. I would recommend a trip to York’s Chocolate story to all – I think it’s a great attraction for people of all ages and of course, it’s perfect for chocolate lovers like me!

***Entry to York’s Chocolate Story was provided to me on a complimentary basis in return for this honest review. All thoughts, pictures and opinions are entirely my own***

The 12 Days of Christmas at Castle Howard, York

The 12 Days of Christmas at Castle Howard, York

During a weekend in the beautiful, historic city of York, I visited the stunning Castle Howard – a truly magical and Christmassy day out for all the family.

Castle Howard is an incredible stately home situated about 15 miles North East of York and after looking at their impressive website I couldn’t wait to visit and see the house for myself.

I arrived on a Sunday morning at around 11.00am – the car park was already pretty busy but it well organised and I was directed to a grass parking space. As I approached the entrance to Castle Howard I stumbled across quite a queue to get in. Whilst I had to wait in a queue over half an hour (it was pretty chilly!) to get to the ticket desk, I was excited about what I was about to see and enthused by the number of people eager to visit. Standing in line I listened to lots of people talking about return visits and their annual Christmas traditions of coming to Castle Howard so this really got my expectation going – it must be good if people come back every year!

After getting my ticket I hopped on the waiting Kelly Car – tractor pulled carriages that drive people to the entrance to the house. It’s only a short walk but given how cold it was and that I was a little short for time I was eager to get to the house. Plus, I’m a big kid really so who can resist a tractor carriage ride?!

The path to the house was lined with Christmas trees which I believe are lit up with lights once it gets dark – I bet this would have looked super festive! The views of the gardens down to the lake were stunning and looked gorgeous on the sunny winter day.

As I got off the Kelly car and turned my attention to the house I couldn’t believe how beautiful it looked. It’s so grand and very imposing! I can only imagine what it would be like to own and live in a house like this!

I had to queue again for a brief time to get into the entrance to the house but this wasn’t so bad as it was a little warmer! After making way for the choir to enter I was finally in and ready to experience the magic!

Stepping into Christmas

The house has a fascinating history and apparently, its construction took over 100 years to complete!  It was finally completed in 1801-11 so it has been standing a very long time and has been home to eight generations of the Howard family. I bet the walls have so many stories they could tell, including the devastation that hit the house in November 1940 when a fire broke out and destroyed the basement rooms, upper levels and the dome. If you’re interested in the history of this grand stately home then there is lots more information on the Castle Howard website here.

Every Christmas Castle Howard go to town in decorating the rooms to the highest festive standards. This year’s theme was ‘The 12 Days of Christmas’ which meant each room was decorated resembling one of the 12 days of Christmas. The decorations were just incredible and each room just got better and better! I could have spent ages wandering around each room and looking at all the intricate details and beautifully put together displays.

I really loved the stunningly unique dress that was on display in one of the bedrooms which was representing the 6th Earl of Carlisle and his wife Lady Georgiana. The room was decorated in line with the second day of Christmas – two turtle doves – with the idea that the dress was laid out ready for Lady Georgiana to wear to some Twelfth-night celebrations. The dress looked like nothing I had ever seen before and I got lost for a moment thinking about how it would feel to wear it and danced the night away at Castle Howard centuries ago!

Each of the rooms I passed though featured a Christmas tree, all decorated with different themed baubles and lights. There were displays full of presents, old-fashioned toys and of course all the antique furniture that is normally on display at the house – just given a festive twist!

I had to remind myself to not get too distracted by the amazing Christmas displays but also take in the charm of the houses original features and the incredible paintings and portraits that filled its walls.

I really loved all the floral displays too and can only wish that one day I can be as creative with decorations in my home for Christmas!

The Biggest Christmas Tree Ever

When I entered the Great Hall I was amazed to see the biggest Christmas tree I think I have ever seen. At 25 foot tall I cannot even imagine how they got this into the house and in place in the intricately designed Great Hall. I wonder how long it will have taken the decorators to fill the tree with over 3000 baubles! They must have some very tall ladders! There’s actually a video on the Castle Howard Twitter page all about the tree which is well worth the watch!

The ceiling of the Great Hall is just incredible, I stared at it for ages, soaking up all the details and artistry. It was so nice to be able to admire the architecture and tree whilst listening to a small sing orchestra playing on the balcony above – how atmospheric!

Some of the rooms featured some rather impressive table designs. I really liked the huge circular wreath adorned with festive satsumas on the red themed roundtable – I think a centrepiece like that would certainly impress your guests wouldn’t it! The long table filled with swans and pink meringues was a definite hit with me too – so pretty and it reminded me of something out of Swan Lake! Table goals for sure!

Something a bit different was the Wassailing Tree – a simple tree display full of tiny little fairy lights that were really rather effective. The accompanying information board informed me that wassailing was a form of carolling that is sung both inside and outside the house and also in the fruit orchards to bless the trees for the coming spring. I had never heard of this tradition before and I thought it sounded rather lovely!

Also on display is an amazing miniature model of Castle Howard which features a scene depicting a winters day at Castle Howard during the Napoleonic Era. It helps show you the sheer size and magnitude of the house and how many rooms it must hold.

I loved the really flamboyant display in one of the final rooms – the tree was full of different coloured decorations of all sorts of materials and was certainly a different style to the ones in the rest of the house! The colours in this room were so deep and colourful which made it feel really atmospheric.

There are guides situated in each of the rooms who can provide more information on the displays and the history of the house. This is really useful if you’re interested in finding out more about what you are seeing and the different generations that have lived here.

As I came to the end of the rooms on display I was lucky enough to catch the last few songs being sung by the choir in the Long Gallery. This just added to the wonderful festive atmosphere and made me feel all warm inside!

Before leaving the house I visited the Chapel, again decorated for the festive period. I loved the stained glass windows – I always think they are just so pretty.

I couldn’t leave without visiting the well-stocked gift shop which was full of some luxurious decorations and lovely gifts. It seemed like there was something for everyone and I only wish I could have had an unlimited amount of money to buy all the gorgeous baubles and Christmassy bits they had to purchase!

Other Festive Offerings at Castle Howard

During the festive period, there are Christmas stalls offering lots of lovely looking gifts and festive food and drink. There’s plenty of places to treat yourself to something tasty and if I had been able to stay longer I would definitely have visited the Courtyard Café as it looked so warm and toasty and the food smelt great! There is a farm shop and garden centre to visit too and of course the wonderful grounds to explore. Children can take a trip to see Father Christmas at his winter grotto and there are various other festive delights happening such as winter shows, twilight evenings and festive afternoon teas.

I didn’t have enough time to go for a walk of any great length but what I did see of the gardens was very well maintained and beautifully landscaped. There are over 1,000 acres of grounds to explore at Castle Howard with a mix of lakes, woodland and more formal gardens to wander around. I would love to visit again one day and explore as much of the grounds as I could – maybe when it’s a little warmer! There’s even a mausoleum and temple to discover and a very impressive looking children’s adventure playground for the younger visitors.

Entry Prices and Information

Christmas entry to the house and gardens costs £19.50 for adults, £11 for children and £52 for a family of five. Tickets to the grounds only are cheaper and start at £7 for children. Whilst I think the entry prices initially seem quite expensive, after seeing the wonderful displays in the house and experiencing the beautiful gardens I think for a special seasonal visit it is well worth the money. You can buy tickets online saving 10% and then enter via a different ticket office on arrival at Castle Howard. This queue was much shorter on the day of my visit so I really advise booking online if you know you’re planning on visiting in advance. The 12 Days of Christmas Event is running from 17th November to 31st December so be sure to check it out before the festive period is over! More information can be found on the Castle Howard website and there are some gorgeous photos on the Castle Howard Instagram page.

Final Thoughts

I really, really, really enjoyed my visit to Castle Howard! It was magical, festive and a stunning place to explore. I loved all the decorations and displays and listening to the Christmas choir really topped the atmospheric experience off! For some reason this year I hadn’t been feeling very festive but a trip to Castle Howard completely changed this as I got lost in all things Christmas and left feeling very ready to face the festivities! I would have loved to spend more time exploring the grounds outside and really hope to visit again one day!

***My ticket to Castle Howard was gifted to me on a complimentary basis in return for this review post. All thoughts, pictures and opinions are entirely my own***

 

A Rumble in the Jungle at Jungle Rumble Adventure Golf, Brighton

A Rumble in the Jungle at Jungle Rumble Adventure Golf, Brighton

Anyone who follows the blog or knows Nathan and I, will be aware that we love a spot of crazy golf! Like with National Trust properties, whenever we are away or visiting somewhere new we make sure we check out if there are any local adventure golf places nearby!

When we visited Brighton in June this was no different and we were quick to head down to the Jungle Rumble Adventure Golf course on the seafront. As the name suggests the course is jungle themed, complete with wooden animals and totem pole characters.

The golf course boasts two 18 hole courses and costs £7 per adult for 18 holes or £12 for both courses. The holes were well maintained and pretty challenging, really adding to the competition between us! There’s nothing like golf to get us betting against each other and into the fighting spirit. As per usual I lost meaning ice creams were on me later in the day!

What are your thoughts on adventure golf – something you like or not really your thing?

Exploring the Home of Virginia Woolf at Monks House, East Sussex

Exploring the Home of Virginia Woolf at Monks House, East Sussex

I love the National Trust and as both Nathan and I are National Trust members we often see if there are any NT places we can visit when we are away somewhere.

When staying in Sussex for my nephew’s christening one weekend over the summer, we visited Monks House in East Sussex – the previous home of Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

Home Fit for an Author

The house is a 17th-century cottage and is really cute and quaint.  It’s situated in a really lovely part of East Sussex too, a very enviable place to live for sure! Due to its size, the house has a limit to the number of people able to enter at once but we didn’t have to queue and went straight in. A warning to people hoping to visit though – the ceilings are rather low and despite being told to watch out for them Nathan still managed to donk his head rather hard on the entrance door!


I loved the feel of the house, there were various rooms to explore and the staircase was lined with Virginia’s famous novels which was a nice touch. I really liked all the cactuses in the entrance way too for some reason!

A Writer’s Dream

Apparently, famous novelist Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard lived at Monk’s House from 1919 until Leonard died in 1969.  I can imagine it was a lovely place to live and a good place to draw inspiration and write from.

The house is surrounded by lovely countryside gardens and allotments. It was such a gorgeous place to wander around in the sunshine.

When we visited it was a sunny day and there were deckchairs conveniently situated on the lawn for us to have a little sit-down and admire the views!

Final Thoughts

As always this was a lovely little National Trust property to explore with beautiful and well maintained gardens. I liked all the references to Virginia’s work and enjoyed finding out more about her life and work as an author.

From 7 Months to 85 – a Caravan Holiday for All Ages at Holiday Resort Unity, Brean Sands, Somerset

From 7 Months to 85 – a Caravan Holiday for All Ages at Holiday Resort Unity, Brean Sands, Somerset

Before the summer school holidays hit, my big sister, my 3-year-old niece,  my 7-month-old nephew, my eighty – something-year-old Nan and I all enjoyed a mid-week break at Holiday Resort Unity in Burnham on Sea, Somerset. It was quite the week filled with fun, memories and even a fall resulting in a trip to minor injuries! The less said about the later the better!

Our Holiday Home

We stayed in a 3 bedroom caravan which we were all really impressed with. We had to take our own towels and bed linen but apart from that the caravan had everything we needed and included a shower, two toilets, basic kitchen appliances and a large TV.

My nan used to own a caravan in Hythe, Kent and my sister and I have many fond memories of summer holidays spent “down at the caravan”. We had been looking forward to going away with my Nan in a caravan again and this time bringing the next generation of my niece Orlagh and nephew Cillian.

The site has lots to do and we made the most of the amenities on offer and the surrounding area. Orlagh loved spending time at the children’s play park which was just a short walk from our caravan. Cillian enjoyed chilling on the swings whilst Orlagh and I spent a good while climbing the frames and sliding down the slides.

Orlagh wanted me to go down one of the slightly bigger slides with her and so with her on my lap we slid down together, getting stuck halfway resulting in me grazing my arm on the plastic! I really am too big for children’s slides! Nanny sat and watched on as we enjoyed messing around and having fun together.

There’s a cute little farm onsite too complete with goats, rabbits, horses and chickens.

Orlagh enjoyed trying to touch all the animals and Cillian sat in his car sea simply chilling and smiling away!

Also on the holiday park site is an amusement arcade; great for spending a while frittering away Nanny’s pennies and watching the delight on Orlagh’s face when she won tickets out of the machines. Bless her, she won enough to get herself a little Peppa Pig ring at the amusement ticket shop and she wore it the rest of the holiday with pride.

One evening Orlagh and I went to the amusements on our own to give Nanny and Sarah a little break before dinner. We were both equally delighted when I put a pound into one of those grabber machine thingy’s and actually won a soft toy! That never happens! Orlagh loved it and cuddled it in bed each night for the remainder of our time on holiday. This made me a very happy Auntie!

Food Glorious Food

Whilst we did cook a few dinners at the caravan we visited the onsite restaurant RJ’s Venue which sells American style food one night. We treated ourselves to burgers and chips all round, although didn’t think too much of the evening entertainment and left after Orlagh enjoyed a round of duck-duck goose with the other children.

On our final night, after the children were tucked up in bed, we ordered a take away from the in site’s Chinese which was super tasty and a real naughty treat!

The holiday park is brilliantly located right opposite Brean Sands beach.

With a 5-10 minute walk from the caravan, we were on the wide sandy beach enjoying a traditional British seaside picnic.

It was really rather windy during our visit and we ended up with sandy sandwiches and very windswept hair; but we enjoyed it all the same!

Nanny enjoyed watching us head down to the sea and getting covered in sea mud which was rather unexpected and rather messy! The beach wasn’t very busy on the day we visited, probably because it wasn’t the school holidays yet and a little overcast – perfect for us to explore it without the hoards which I liked. I can imagine it would have got really busy in the summer holiday months – it’s so perfectly located next to the holiday park!

Brean Leisure Park

At one end of the holiday park is Brean Leisure Park – this consists of a theme park, golf club, waterpark, gym and indoor soft play area.  We spent an afternoon at the Brean Theme Park where there were thrills aplenty. Nanny stayed at home (she had fallen and injured her foot by this time so we thought it best she rest!) whilst the rest of us enjoyed a low cost and not too busy afternoon at the theme park.

We got Orlagh a kiddie’s wristband which saw her enjoy lots of little rides, slides and laughs. We also got some tokens which meant Sarah and I could take it in turns to ride on the slightly bigger rides with Orlagh. We had so much fun, Orlagh was so brave going on what I thought were some pretty big rides for her age and she did so with such confidence! She and Sarah even went on the little rollercoaster which was great! The funniest ride I went on with Orlagh was probably the cowboy horse ride which for some reason was just hilarious and I was giggling the whole way round!

It wasn’t too busy when we visited and so we didn’t have to queue for any of the rides and I think we really got use out of Orlagh’s wristband.

We topped off the afternoon with post theme park ice creams before heading back to the caravan to check on Nanny and tell her about our theme park adventures!

One morning we decided to take the children to the Brean Splash Waterpark – basically a swimming pool which has a large outdoor area with slides when the weather is good. When we visited the weather wasn’t that great and so the indoor children’s area was being used – this saw us playing with the water guns, water fountains and Orlagh repeatedly going down the water slides for what seemed like a good few hours. Cillian enjoyed a little dip in the baby pool too and we all enjoyed our swim.

We also visited Brean Play – apparently the region’s largest indoor soft play area. Here we enjoyed the 3 different play areas and Nanny watched on as Orlagh led Sarah and I around the different zones tempting us to bounce on the trampolines and slide down all the slides.

Again, I was so impressed at how much confidence Orlagh had enabling her to go off on her own around the larger play area, even when there were groups of older children. Nanny enjoyed sitting with a Starbucks cup of tea whilst watching us all laugh and play together – such nice memories for all of us.

The rest of our little holiday was spent playing with the copious amount of toys Orlagh and Cillian had brought from home, chilling out playing cards and chatting about fond memories of days gone by. Orlagh enjoyed getting Nanny to play shops, mums and babies and reading story books.

I think we all thoroughly enjoyed our little trip, I know I for one really loved spending some much quality time with Orlagh and Cillian and this meant a lot to me given I don’t get to see them as often as I would like given how far apart we live. It was also nice to spend more time with my big sis and reminisce with her and Nanny on our childhood memories. We wanted to ensure Nanny had a lovely trip (!) away with us all and got to spend some precious time with us. I think we achieved our goal!

A Glorious Sunny Adventure at Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway, Hampshire.

A Glorious Sunny Adventure at Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway, Hampshire.

World famous for its collections of camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas and more, Exbury Gardens are a delight to explore. With its own Steam Railway, children ’s play area and welcoming restaurant it offers the ideal day out for all. Read on to discover my adventures in the glorious 200-acre site and what I thought of the “magical place in the New Forest National Park”.  

Welcome to Exbury

I arrived at Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway in Hampshire on a sunny September day. The gardens are well signposted and easy to find and there was plenty of free parking. I was excited as I entered the gardens and got my first peek of the steam railway! I instantly knew this was going to be a fun and interesting place to visit.

Before I take you round my adventures in the gardens I thought it would be important to tell you about the history of Exbury Gardens. The gardens were the inspiration and creation of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild who was an experienced horticulturist and created the gardens gorgeous designs. Lionel and one of his sons Edmund, were both awarded the highest possible honour by the RHS to celebrate their gardening achievements and today their legacies and gardening dreams live on at Exbury.

Glorious Gardens and Autumn Vibes

As I headed into the gardens I was greeted by copious amounts of lush green trees and easily accessible paths. Each way I looked there was an inviting path heading deeper into the gardens and I was grateful for my garden map to help me navigate and plan my visit!

First, I decided to explore the Bog Garden where I enjoyed reading about the Rothschild family tree and admiring the leafy colourful display. Given the time of year, the trees were just starting to change in colour which I thought looked utterly spectacular. I love Autumn, it’s my favourite season and this display gave me all the right feels!

Next up I took a look around the Rock Garden which had a well-placed bench for a sit-down. Here I enjoyed a moment of relaxation as I sat and admired the beauty around me and listen to the sounds of the steam train chugging along the tracks beyond.

Apparently, the Rock Garden took over four years to build – no mean feat by the sounds of things. I read on the Exbury Gardens website that it is probably the largest Rock Garden of its kind in Europe to given it spans over two acres!

I loved all the bright rhododendrons – so picturesque and pretty. Whilst I was walking around the Rock Garden a deep red leaf fell from the trees above and literally landed right infant of my feet. It remained me of a Canadian maple leaf and I just had to photograph it – a real symbol of Autumn in my eyes!

Next, I wandered around the Jubilee Pond and Jubilee Hill Cascade where I read all about Exbury’s connections with Royalty which was rather interesting! Again the Autumn colours bursting through the trees were so gorgeous I had to keep stopping every few paces to take more photographs! Be sure to check out the Exbury Gardens Instagram page for more pictures of the gardens.

After walking around for a while I felt it would be a good time to go on the guided garden buggy tour. Tours are run several times a day and cost £5 per person. They start from the entrance to the gardens and last approximately 40 minutes. I was joined on the tour by three other people and boarded the 12 seater buggy ready to venture deeper into the gardens.

Brilliant Buggy Tour

The buggy tour was chauffeur driven by a lovely lady called Jennifer who was very friendly and knowledgeable about the gardens. She guided us down a set garden route and was sure to point out certain trees, flowers and explained the different areas of the gardens. Jennifer was keen to impart her knowledge of the gardens and was able to answer any questions visitors had – she told us how the gardens were maintained by 8 full-time gardeners and a group of volunteers. With the gardens spreading across 200 acres I’m sure this is quite the project for them all!

As we passed through Camellia Walk and the host of beautiful camellias, Jennifer told us how Exbury have won an award for having them all labelled with their locations on a computer system – one of only 13 gardens in the world to have that accolade!

Jennifer took us down to the Winter Gardens and we stopped to enjoy the wonderful views overlooking the Beaulieu River. You can see all the boats floating around on the river and even pick out the Isle of Wight in the distance. Here you can see the  Arromanches Memorial Plaque which commemorates the British sailors and Royal Marines who manned the landing ships and lost their lives during the invasion of Europe in 1944. The plaque is set in stone and is a lovely place to stop and reflect.

The buggy tour took us back up through the various different gardens and I made a mental note of areas I wanted to walk back to later. I really enjoyed the buggy tour as it was relaxed, informal and a great way to cover so much of the extensive gardens. I don’t think I would ever have been able to walk around them all in one day and feel if I hadn’t of gone on the buggy tour would have missed out on a lot! Jennifer was super friendly and the whole tour very relaxing and informative.

A Spot of Lunch

After enjoying the buggy tour it was time for lunch, so I made my way to Mr Eddy’s Restaurant and Cafe. The inviting restaurant is outside of the main gardens and so people can visit without paying the entrance fee to the gardens should they wish.

The restaurant offered a good selection of hot and cold lunches and a host of drinks and scrummy looking cakes! I opted for a caramelised red onion and cheddar tart with salad which was £7.50 and very tasty. I matched it with an elderflower & apple juice and sat outside in the patio area enjoying the afternoon sunshine.

All Aboard Exbury’s Steam Railway

Next, it was time to take a ride on the Exbury Steam Railway. Train rides happen at different frequencies throughout the year so be sure to check the current timetable at the start of your visit to ensure you don’t miss this additional treat. The railway has its own little station which was adjoined with gorgeous decorate hanging baskets and painted a lovely navy blue colour. I boarded a carriage on the train and was joined by a couple and their small dog. Exbury is a dog-friendly attraction and dogs are welcome in the gardens along as they are kept on a short lead.

With a loud whistle and a puff of steam, we were off. The train got going and we passed through the Summer Lane Garden full of glorious trees and flowering grasses. There are views down to the Rock garden and various animal statues and displays along the route for children to look out for too. I really enjoyed the journey, there’s nothing better than a relaxing train ride out in the open being able to smell the steam engine and hear it choo chooing along. The dog in my carriage appeared to be enjoying the ride too!

We reached the Exbury South station where the train stopped, and the driver came out and told us about the history of the railway. He told us how it was 12 and a quarter inches and was opened in 2001. The railway was apparently the inspiration of Leopold de Rothschild and has been very popular with visitors.

 

For all those steam train enthusiasts out there Exbury offers a floor plate experience where visitors aged 17+ can ride next to the train driver and learn about how the engine works. This experience costs £50 and sounds like a great gift for a loved one who enjoys all things trains!

After enjoying the 20 minute trip along the 1 and a half mile track we arrived back at Exbury Central station and disembarked the train. Here, I was able to explore the Engine Shed which is full of information and displays detailing the history of the steam railway, other engines and various displays of train memorabilia. I enjoyed reading about the construction of the railway and hearing how it was built.

Relaxation and Reflections

It was time for me to head back into the glorious gardens. I passed through Witcher’s Wood over the Gilbury Bridge to the Sundial Garden.

 

The Sundial Garden is a small, formal garden which is full of gorgeous wisteria, roses and other pretty flowers.

In the centre of the enclosed garden is the sundial. Again this felt like another nice place to stop, reflect and take in all the beauty around me.

After all this walking and wandering around the gardens I was in need of some refreshments, so I popped into the Old Tennis Courts where I had a piece of carrot cake and a can of soft drink. It was still nice and sunny, so I was able to sit outside and enjoy the September sun.

I made my way slowly back up through the gardens, admiring the beautiful Exbury House as I went. What a stunning looking house – I certainly wouldn’t mind living there. The house is private and so not open to visitors, so I had to imagine what I thought it looked like on the inside!

I think I left my favourite part of the gardens until last – the Herbaceous Garden – it was so blooming gorgeous! There were borders full of delightfully coloured flowers and I stopped here to take many photos! There were so many bees dancing among the flowers and enjoying their sweet nectar.

There was no one else in sight at this current moment and I was able to enjoy this part of the gardens completely on my own. I think that’s one thing I really loved about Exbury – the fact the gardens are so big and vast that you can find yourself exploring the gardens alone feeling like you have them all to explore however you wish.

I made my way to the exit as it was getting quite late in the afternoon and I knew I needed to drive to Bridport in Dorset for my overnight accommodation.

Visitor Information

Entry to Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway costs £15.30 for adults and £8.95 for children when tickets are booked online. They are slightly more when brought at the gardens themselves so book in advance if you can to save a few pennies! Family tickets are also available as well as season tickets for entry to the gardens all year round. If I lived closer I think I would seriously consider getting a season pass as I bet the gardens are lovely to explore all seasons of the year.

 

Exbury offers various events throughout the year too. With Halloween coming up Exbury has some spooky events planned included a ride on the ghost train and Halloween crafts. There are also some traditional Christmas events lined up including festive crafts, carol singing and the Postal Express train ride. More information about upcoming events can be found on the Exbury Gardens Facebook Page and website.

The gardens are dog-friendly, accessible and have good toilet facilities. There’s a children’s play area for the little ones too. With various places to eat (some season dependent), glorious gardens and a steam railway I’m not sure what more you would want from a day out!

Final Thoughts

I left Exbury Gardens feeling relaxed, inspired and with tired feet after all the walking and exploring I did! It had felt so good to immerse myself in nature and to explore all the different gardens. I loved the buggy tour and really recommend this to visitors planning to head to the gardens. I feel it really enhanced my experience and I was able to see and learn so much more about the gardens than if I hadn’t gone on the tour. The ride on the steam engine totally topped off the visit and added a sense of excitement and nostalgia – any excuse to step back in time and feel like a big kid!

 

I really recommend Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway as a lovely day out for all ages – there’s something for everyone of all ages and interests. I would love to return in another season and see what the gardens have to offer! No doubt I’ll be back to Exbury soon!

***Whilst entry to the gardens, the train ride and buggy tour were provided to me on a complimentary basis, all thoughts, pictures and opinions in this post are entirely my own***