1930s interiors, beautifully planted gardens and a pet lemur: surely an irresistible combination for a Saturday afternoon. On a recent drizzling weekend, we bundled the kids into the car and set off for a return visit to Eltham Palace and Gardens. (Disclaimer: the pet lemur is no longer there in any living form, sadly, though there is a huge number of pet lemur toys for sale in the shop.)
We last visited at the height of summer and spent most of the day in the gardens, with a quick detour inside. This time round, a mizzling rain was falling and the much-anticipated playground was closed for re-turfing, so we took the time to explore the house more fully.
Learning from our last visit*, we slipped past the persuasive English Heritage membership advocate on the door and managed to resist his attempts to sign us up for a year’s membership.
After the rather disappointing discovery of the closed playground, we went straight for the cafe for a restorative cuppa and lunch, despite it only being 11.45am. The cafe tables are located in a greenhouse, surrounded by potted plants and views to flower beds. I think I would be happy if every meal for the rest of my life was eaten inside a greenhouse, but a slight word of warning to anyone else planning on eating at Eltham Palace: the food is good, the surroundings are lovely but the service is really incredibly slow. Start to queue up and order long before the pangs of hunger begin to nip.
Sated and quenched, and having answered the question, “Mum, what’s the name of that flower” about a hundred times, we set off to jaunt round the house.
If you’re visiting with kids, there is a good trail you can follow round the rooms with obligatory stamps and sticker prize at the end. This meant we could linger long in any room with an animal motif to search out for the trail, but rooms not included were rushed past, while I gazed in longingly. The rooms epitomise all that is desirable from the 1930s as far as I am concerned, and I took endless photos with the vague intention of making every single room in my house look the same. There is a brilliant austerity to some rooms, combined with extravagant luxury in others that greatly pleases me.
After a trot round the house, the rain had just about let up, so we explored the gardens. A lot of the planting here is herbaceous, so there wasn’t a huge amount to see at this time of year (nothing compared to our last visit, when the borders were heaving with blooms) but blossom was just starting to show on the trees and carpets of daffodils, crocuses and scillas brought colour to the grassy areas. The moat, rockeries and huge walls look just as splendid at any time of year.
All in all, it was so lovely that I’m really looking forward to visiting again in a few months to see how the garden is growing. Drat, I wish we’d bought that annual pass now…
*I’m sorry to say that, despite our best intentions, we actually never visited a single other English Heritage property in the year we held membership.