Houghton Lodge Gardens' Apple Rooms in the Test Valley

'When the situation gets tough, the tough go fishing'. Mid-summer, I started to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work I was facing: 111 Places in the Lake District You Shouldn't Miss. So, when the opportunity to take a couple of days off arose, I jumped at it. Packed a few things, took Him by the hand and we were soon warmly welcomed at Houghton Lodge Gardens.

Houghton Lodge Gardens in the lovely Test Valley renowned for its fishing. It is only an hour and a half from Central London, the local towns are Winchester and Andover.

The House, home to the Busk family for more than a century, is set in 14 acres of gardens. What was once a barn is now a collection of six individual rooms, each beautifully designed and named after an apple.

The Apple rooms calming pale greens and soft reds furnished with antique pieces, most being more than 300 years, offer a sense of well-being as soon as one steps in. That doesn't mean that modernity has been ignored. Each room has a state of the art bathroom. The Cox's room has a bath in the bedroom. All have a kitchenette, some with a microwave, and to top it all each room in fronted by own terrace facing the lawn where the sunshine or a simple picnic/meal can be enjoyed.

Needless to say that this is the perfect setting to recharge batteries, and I am not referring to any tech. It is not surprising that this place is a favourite for weddings either.

The accommodation is tastefully done, private but convivial, the grade II listed Houghton Lodge self and its gardens are stunning.

Benefiting from a century or so of clever gardening, there is a display all year round. The walled garden offers one the longest espalier fruit trees in the country and 32 different varieties of apple trees.

It is an inspiration for gardeners. I would well recommend visiting if you were starting a vegetable garden as the raised beds and their flowers-companion planting are second-to-none.

If this was not enough, the Test Valley is famous for its fishing and the Houghton Lodge Gardens offers the opportunity to tickle trouts, grayling and pike. Having not fished for too many years, there was great anticipation when our fishing guide from Simon Fishing Breaks came to pick us up. Half a day of fun and discovery ensued.

I caught a trout in the first five minutes, to the cheers of 'Beginners Luck' but the giggly fishermen were soon proven wrong as two other wiggly fish were rapidly hooked in succession.

I hasten to add that they were promptly returned to the waters. We were shown how to use flies and our instructor let us use all the equipment necessary.

 We learnt how the River Test gave its name to the valley and we visited the eel traps with their walkway and fishermen thatched huts. A landscape to remind us of a lost way of life when the traditional British Jellied Eels and Pie & Mash were Cockneys' staple diet and dishes. Eels and eels liquor on pies were social levellers enjoyed by the richest and the poorest. They have long disappeared from the menus along with tripes and offals, though Pebble Soup HQ is joining modern chefs in their campaign for the revival of meat by-products. It's about time we stop wasting food, start using whole animals and vegetables and make the most of what is on offer. But this is another story..........

Disclaimer: We enjoyed two nights at the Houghton Lodge Gardens and half a day with Simon Fishing Break and would like to thank everyone involved. There

Facts Box

Houghton Lodge Gardens
SO20 6LQ
07973 215407 
email: applerooms@houghtonlodge.co.uk

Garden Admissions- Visit and information 01264 810502
Adults - £6.50
Children -3 years plus- £3.00

Simon Fishing Breaks
Simon Cooper - Founder & Managing Director
The Mill, Heathman Street, Nether Wallop,

Stockbridge, Hampshire SO20 8EW
01264 781988.

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