Set in a tranquil spot of rural Hampshire, you will find one of the jewels in the National Trust’s crown, Mottisfont Abbey. As you approach the site you pass by small villages with chocolate box houses with their thatched roofs and some beautiful countryside, the kind of scene that you’d imagine VisitBritain using to promote a rural idyll.
I have been visiting Mottisfont for several years now, often choosing to go in early summer when the famous rose garden is in full bloom but this site offers plenty of charm and reasons to return throughout the year. Being a National Trust member has helped massively, and when I was living in a small flat without a garden of my own I would often choose to make a trip to these gardens to take advantage of their lawn or to take a stroll through the grounds. I must admit, I would often pretend it was my own too!
Mottisfont has a rich history and was originally a priory before being transformed into a country home with the Georgian façade that you can see today. Within the House you will find lots of hidden gems such as the vaulted cellar area and the Whistler Room. The House often holds temporary exhibitions which in the past have included illustrations by Beatrice Potter, local artists’ works and earlier this year, a display on the Tiger Who Came to Tea. That said, I often make a trip purely with the intention of going into the gardens.
As you approach the gardens from the main visitor centre, it’s worth taking some time to watch the River Test flowing under the old stone bridge. From here, you can often spot large trout eagerly awaiting their catch. The water here is extremely clear and is a fine example of a chalk river habitat. It’s also lovely to see the ducklings paddling along the water here in the late spring too.
Not far from this bridge you will find the Winter Garden, a one-acre area that features some ornamental trees, small sculptures and the font. Take a look in this font at the strange coloured water, which is a kind of pale turquoise colour. Nearby, you will also find streams with miniature waterfalls – a pretty feature that make for a great photo opportunity.
Once I’ve taken a wander through here and passed some of the estate’s grand trees I usually like to head up to the Walled Garden. Now this is definitely the place to come in June… the scents and colours of the floral displays here are simply gorgeous! You can quite often find me on one of the benches in the Walled Garden just soaking up the sun and the beautiful scenes. It’s also somewhere that I like to go armed with my camera to try and capture the honeybees darting in and out of the flowers or the colours of summer. During the summer it’s worth taking a look out for the late night opening events, the roses smell a lot stronger in the evening and the sheltered gardens make the air perfumed with the sweet scents. If like me you suffer from hay fever, just don’t forget the antihistamines first!
It’s not all roses and plants here though, you can take longer walks into the wider Mottisfont estate. I often like to cross over the meadows, past some of the estate’s cattle and follow a circular walk which eventually loops back along the River Test. I have heard there are even longer walks that you can do here too, and this is something I am definitely intending to do in 2019.
You can also often spot sculpture and other art work around the gardens, some permanently here and some as temporary installations. One of my favourites had to be the wire stag who stood prominently between a line of gnarly trees.
If you are visiting with children then you’ll probably find they will have a great deal of fun in the wild play areas. There’s a pump pool with paddling area where a small inlet of the River Test is diverted for lots of water-based fun. That said, it’s quite common to see an adult or two having a play on here whilst ‘supervising’ said children 😊. The climbing bog, which we’ve unofficially renamed Shrek’s bog provides lots of entertainment too, particularly when it’s been raining, there’s something about children and muddy puddles isn’t there?
No matter what the time of year, I always enjoy a trip here to Mottisfont Abbey. There is always something different to see. It won’t be too long now for the carpets of snowdrops to start appearing and I’ll be sure to be heading back to see them.