West Sussex Days Out: Things to Do in West Sussex
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in September, I took myself off to explore Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens in West Sussex. I had visited plenty of beautiful gardens in Sussex over the summer. Still, none had offered seven lakes in a luscious 240-acre woodland and water-filled valley setting complete with wild roaming wallabies!
Yes, you read that correctly. Leonardslee is not only synonymous with being “the finest woodland garden in England” but also has a colony of Bennett wallabies, brought to Leonardslee from Tasmania in the 1800s by the naturalist and estate owner Sir Edmund Loder. Breeding increased numbers, and now they live freely in this natural oasis. Several species of deer including fallow and sika, also call Leonardslee their home.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to catch sight of any of them; however, I did get to see a few wallabies in the maternity enclosure and having seen these animals during my travels to Tasmania, it was lovely to find this hidden gem in West Sussex and see wallabies once again.
Rhododendrons at Leonardslee
Leonardslee has been famous for over 100 years but was closed in the mid-1990s during a change in ownership. Since then, this Sussex garden has been restored to its previous glory and is well-known for spectacular rhododendrons which burst into colour in spring, filling the landscape with their delicate blooms. Azaleas, camellias and magnolias are also in abundance in spring at Leonardslee, making it a wonderful place for a day out in Sussex.
As my visit was in Autumn, I had missed the flowering plants however I got to see the leaves turning to their beautiful Autumnal colours. Reflections of the russet red acers in the shimmering water of the lakes were mesmerising. Even without the flowers, the colours around the lakes were magical, allowing each waterside vista to take on a different perspective.
How to Get to Leonardslee Lakes
From London Victoria the nearest train station is Horsham, and then you will need to grab a taxi.
By car: Brighton Road, Lower Beeding, Horsham, RH13 6PP
Admissions and Opening Times are here.
Getting around Leonardslee Lakes
A free shuttle is available to take you down to the lakes as access is via steep gravel pathways. Remember what goes down must come up, and walking back to the entrance may be challenging for some visitors.
Once you are at the lakes, the walk around the garden paths is on the flat, and there are plenty of garden seating areas to take in the beauty of your surroundings. Ask for a map at the payment kiosk, and you can plan your route around the lakes.
I spent 3 hours exploring all the nooks and crannies at Leonardslee, but I am sure I still missed a few areas! It makes it a good reason for a return visit, maybe in spring to see the rhododendrons.
Things to See and Do at Leonardslee Gardens
- Dollhouse Mansion Exhibition
- Wallaby Enclosure
- Free-Roaming wallaby and deer (if you are lucky)
- Seven Lakes
- Woodland Garden Walks
- Gift Shop selling plants and gardening gifts
- Leonardslee House serves afternoon tea, and Restaurant Interlude offers a dining package in the evening.
A Photographic Exploration of the Lakes and Gardens at Leonardslee
My day started with coffee and cake at the Clocktower Cafe and then a quick look at the Dollhouse mansion exhibition. I couldn’t wait to see the wallabies and was soon at the enclosure admiring these charming creatures. I even managed to capture a super shot of both an albino and red-necked Bennet wallaby.
Following the map route, we stopped to admire the vineyards; Leonardslee produces the only Pinotage wine in the UK, and you can treat yourself to a bottle from the gift shop. Pinotage is a mix of grape from Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. Walking tours of the vineyards, wine tastings and wine pairings with cheese or chocolate can also be pre-booked for your visit.
New Pond and Lakeside Walk
Continuing on the pathway, we made our way down to New Pond and the Lakeside Walk. It is a steep walk down, but once there we were in awe at the stillness and magnificence of New Pond. We took our time just looking out onto its dark waters and of course, snapping a few images.
Crossing the wooden bridge on the Lakeside Walk led us through woodland near to the Old Deer Park; there are several species of deer at Leonardslee, but like the wallabies, they remained elusive to us. This area is full of ferns and magnificent trees and looks like something from Jurassic Park.
Finding the Oaks and Acer Walk, we followed the circular route and noted the different species. If you are a fan of Acers, you will love the signs that autumn is beckoning with the red hues of the Acer trees.
Back beside the Waterfall Pond, we caught sight of hobby boats on the water. Enthusiasts had gathered and were sailing remote control boats on the lake; a lovely view to see and great to capture on camera. Leonardslee hosts event days ranging from car rallies to craft fairs; check the website for up-to-date information.
Discover the Leonardslee Ponds
An anticlockwise walk around Waterfall Pond took us along to Engine Pond from where we continued to the remaining lakes. All were different in their appeal from the Middle Pond with its tranquil vibe to the Leucothoe Pond complete with koi carp hiding beneath the lily pads. I loved that there were so many seating areas around the gardens to allow you to enjoy the beauty unfolding before your eyes.
We finished our route wandering back past Leonardslee House, with its stunning garden sculpture water feature taking centre stage in the forecourt. We saw that afternoon tea can be pre-booked and enjoyed in the setting of this manor house; a pastime that I love. I guess that is just one more reason for me to return next year for a day out at Leonardslee Gardens!
If you love charming woodland settings, then Leonardslee is the place for you.
Wander around the stunning lakeside pathways and get back to nature in this tranquil oasis.
A perfect day out in West Sussex for all the family.
I received complimentary tickets to Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens; however, all opinions about this visit are my own.
Updated Post December 2021
Christmas Illuminations at Leonardslee
I was kindly invited back to review Leonardslee Chrismas Illuminations and I have to say they were quite unique. The theme was that of the planets and you can see from the photos that the display was incredible.
Leonardslee Illuminations is an annual event between November and December and can be booked via their online events page.