Our destination for the first summer outing of 2019 was suggested to us by our Chairman, Caroline Birch. We liked the idea of Houghton Lodge Gardens, with a tour of the house, so the booking was made with Sophie Busk, the owner of Houghton Lodge. We gathered in Lymington at the appointed place and everyone was there in plenty of time, all but the coach! After some worried phone calls it eventually turned up and we finally arrived at our destination about 30 minutes late.
Sophie greeted us warmly and we were shown into the orangery to enjoy coffee and shortbread before dividing into two groups. One group headed for the gardens and grounds whilst the other group had a most interesting tour of the house.
Houghton Lodge is one of the finest and earliest surviving examples of a cottage ornée, a genre of ‘picturesque’ Gothic architecture that flourished for about 25 years from 1790. Houghton was thought to be designed in 1790 by John Plaw – one of the pioneers of the style – and was probably intended as a fishing lodge. Today the house is Grade II* listed with extensive fine trees and lawns sweeping down to the banks of the River Test. It was fascinating to be taken on a tour of what is obviously a family home, but with so much history. There were intriguing tales of how a visitor had correctly identified the designer as being Naval as the bannisters were carved in a rope pattern, and there was a rivet from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as a previous family member had worked on the project. The table in the dining room was covered with photos and magazine and newspaper articles about the house and the owner had a horrific tale of the ceiling beams being found to be unsupported at both ends! Whilst renovating the ceiling, the letter A was discovered decorating it, an initial of previous owners. The Chinese painted wallpaper was glorious in the dining room as were the murals in the interesting round room, now sometimes used for weddings and filming.
Lunch was served in the orangery and then the two groups changed places.
The formal walled kitchen garden was beautiful with a glorious mix of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables. We could walk around the water meadows and greet the alpacas and even experience a fire-breathing dragon! The topiary peacock garden was a haven of peace and the views over the River Test were idyllic. Back on the coach, we travelled smoothly home through the countryside around Romsey, pleased to have chosen such a beautiful destination and glad that the weather hadn’t actually been too bad after all.