The gardens at How Hill didn't open till 2pm so I made Fairhaven my first stop. The leaflet I had said that dogs on leads were welcome so at least I didn't have to leave Sophie and Sugar in the van when I got there. Access to the gardens was through the gift shop and when I paid my entrance fee I was somewhat surprised to find that I had to pay for the dogs too - that's the first time I've ever had to pay for them when I've taken them in somewhere. However, I was provided with two very substantial poo bags with incorporated cardboard scoops so I suppose that justified the charge of 25p each!
Next to the gift shop was a tea room with a small balcony and a sloping path leading from there to the start of the gardens, with a signpost pointing down various paths to different areas. The actual full name for the place is Fairhaven Woodland and Water Gardens, though to be honest after spending quite a while walking round various paths and across several bridges I came to the conclusion that there wasn't much actual garden there. The words 'water gardens' conjure up, for me at least, visions of lily ponds with fountains and miniature waterfalls surrounded by small shrubs and flowering plants, but there was none of that. There was plenty of woodland though, in fact 99% of the place consisted of tall trees and dense shrubbery with the odd small clearing here and there, and several long water-filled dykes running from the private broad. And the one thing which struck me was that although everywhere was lovely and green - even the surface of the water in the dykes was covered in green weed - there was a distinct lack of colour. The flowers on the rhododendron bushes had long since disappeared and apart from a species of yellow orchid growing in a small area near the gift shop there was no colour at all. I wondered if maybe I was between seasons - too late for the rhododendrons but too early for any summer flowers - or if I had expected too much, as the word 'garden' can mean different things to different people, but with my liking for flowers and bright colours I had to admit to being more than a little disappointed. Even the private broad was nothing to write home about - just a vast expanse of tree-shaded water with one small trip boat running from the jetty belonging to the gardens, and costing an extra £3.50 for a twenty minute trip.
I was distinctly underwhelmed by the whole place and as I went back to the car park I decided that although it was nice in its own way I wouldn't be wanting to make a return visit at any time. There were only half a dozen cars in the car park and no-one around when I got there so I was able to let Sophie and Sugar have a quick run round before I put them back in the van and set off for How Hill. It didn't take long to get there, and judging by all the cars in the grassy parking area it looked like the garden open day was a very popular event. The entrance fee was £4 and gave access to the Edwardian gardens surrounding the house and also the woodland garden beyond, and I was provided with a map of the woodland garden showing all the areas of particular interest. I decided to look round there first, and I must admit that my initial impressions were definitely favourable. The trees weren't as dense as at Fairhaven and there was a much more open feel to the place - wooden boardwalks meandered here and there and there were many more clearings with seats dotted about. There was even a lily pond overhung by a couple of rhododendron bushes with purple flowers and with some yellow flowering reeds at the water's edge. I spent quite a while wandering round and found it to be a much more enjoyable garden than Fairhaven.
The Edwardian garden surrounding the house was just as enjoyable though in a very different way. Immediately in front of the house was a large flat lawn of almost bowling green proportions surrounded on three sides by thick, well-trimmed box hedges split at various points by steps leading down to different terraces and enclosed areas of the garden. Yew hedges were trimmed into different shapes, bench seats were placed at various points and in almost every section of the garden there were flowers. If I had been impressed with the water garden then I was even more so with this formal garden and I got several really nice photos.
I have to admit that the whole place was certainly well worth the entrance fee, though I did have one slight disappointment - it turned out that the beautiful garden which I had seen from the riverside last year and which I so wanted to look round was privately owned and not part of the estate so there was no way of accessing it. However I did find out from the young lady steward in charge of the parking area that as part of a national scheme the owner does open the garden to the public on just a couple of days each year, so armed with that knowledge I made a mental note to look it up on the internet, and if there would be any possibility of getting there on the right day next year then I would do it.
Satisfied that I'd seen just about all of both gardens I decided to take the dogs for a walk down by the river and maybe have a look in Toad Hole Cottage. I had passed the cottage last year but didn't get to look round as it's only small and there were too many people in at that time, however this time when I got there I was lucky and there was no-one in except the guy in charge sitting in a corner near the door, so hitching the dogs to a nearby railing I went in to get a taste of times gone by. The cottage is an old marshman's house, set up just as it would have been lived in by the marshman and his family 100 years ago - there were just two rooms and a pantry downstairs and two small bedrooms upstairs. The steep wooden stairs led straight into the first room where the marshman and his wife would have slept and through a door in the far wall was the second bedroom which would have been the children's room. There was no running water, no electricity, no bathroom, in fact there wasn't even an indoor toilet, and thinking about present technology and all the conveniences in today's modern homes which we take for granted I found it strangely humbling to see everything so simple and old fashioned.
As I was driving up the road towards the camp site I decided on the spur of the moment to treat myself to a meal out - and I mean a proper meal, not coffee and cake - so I turned into the entrance to California Sands, the chalet site where I used to stay many years ago before I got into camping, and drove along to the Poolside Cafe. I had to leave the dogs in the van but I was able to park in the shade of some trees right across from the cafe windows so at least I could see them while I was having my meal. I noticed that the place seemed to have changed hands since I dined there last year but I was quite pleased to see that my old favourite of ham, egg and chips was still on the menu so that's what I ordered along with a mug of milky coffee, and it was all very enjoyable.
When I finally got back to my pitch I fed the dogs and put them on their line outside the front of the awning while I connected up the back of it to the van, then I settled down to a quiet evening downloading my photos onto the laptop, watching a bit of tv and catching up on the posts on UKCS before I took the dogs for their bedtime walk round the site. I had no clear plans for the following day but whatever I might do would depend largely on the weather, so as I snuggled down into my bed I metaphorically crossed my fingers for more blue sky and sunshine.