Hambledon Road, Godalming, Surrey, GU8 4AY
A Grade 2–listed house and garden property near Godalming in Surrey, Busbridge Lakes is as idiosyncratic as it is charismatic. The perfect place for a picnic, the 40-acre property flaunts a number of interesting follies, three beautiful lakes, some Roman relics, a couple of old ice caves, some mysterious tunnels and one of the world's largest collections of waterfowl. The estate dates back to 1297, when it sprawled over 1391 acres and was owned by the family whose name it has retained. The Busbridges sold the property in 1554, and it's now owned by the Douetil family, who have put their stamp on it by introducing all the birds and opening the gardens to the public on a few select days each year. The fact that the open days are limited (typically timed around public/school holidays) lends this place the aura of a secret garden – a feeling that's heightened by features including a brilliant tree house in an ancient cedar, and a hidden boat house down by one of the lakes – all very Swallows and Amazons. The birds are the main pull for a lot of people. Fleur Douetil (who still makes tea for visitors) was given her first ducks in 1967, but they flew the coop. She replaced them and the collection 'escalated'. Now there are around 1000 birds here, representing over 120 species, including some rare and exotic breeds, such as the flamboyant-looking East African crowned cranes. But as well as its feathered residents, Busbridge boasts a kaleidoscopic collection of plantlife, including patches of primroses, bluebells, giant rhubarb, buddleia, berberis, a heather garden and a wealth of wild flowers. Among the towering trees here is a 'Restoration' chestnut tree, planted in 1660. There are conker trees that rank among the world's biggest, and look out for monkey-puzzle and Persian ironwood trees. There are trails all around the property, including one path that leads west from the house and wends though woods along the eerie-sounding Ghost Walk, actually named not after apparitions but because of the spectrally white statues that once stood sentinel along its length. Our tip is to work up an appetite by walking the grounds and then tuck into one of Fleur's fantastic homebaked cakes.
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