Being a parent is full of dream vs reality moments, isn’t it? The dream of a wonderful family meal together, for example, versus the reality of a toddler throwing food on the floor and climbing on the table. Our trip to Bicton Park Botanical Gardens on Saturday was one of those dream vs reality moments, where the dream actually happened (minus a rather chaotic picnic, which you can see evidence of if you watch the video I’ve popped at the bottom of this post). This is the first in a series of Days Out In Devon posts that I’m working on for Visit South Devon, so it was a relief the day itself didn’t go wrong and was as great as we’d hoped!
A short drive from Exeter, on the way to Budleigh Salterton in Devon’s Otter Valley, the drive to Bicton alone is worth the trip. Rolling countryside, lush green valleys and picture-perfect houses litter the way until you arrive at Bicton, nestled in the heart of all the greenery.
It’s well worth a visit if you a) have young children b) love gardens c) like to take pretty photographs or d) enjoy a cup of tea (or glass of cold cider) while taking in a magnificent view. In short, Bicton has something for everyone. It would make a fantastic multi-generational family trip with the grandparents (which is something we’ve already planned, actually) but, equally, is a brilliant option for a fun family day out. If you’re in Devon over the summer, or you already live here, then I can’t recommend it enough.
Our day at Bicton Park Botanical Gardens
As soon as you walk into the gardens you’re confronted with some beautifully Instagrammable old greenhouses, full of light and colour. The girls enjoyed exploring these, pretending they were in some sort of secret garden film (it’s really sweet seeing Baby Girl getting into this imaginative phase of stories and pretend play at the moment).
A short wander along the path and we came to another garden which contained a rather stunning Palm House (pictured above and below). This was built in the 1820s and, we were told, contains thousands of separate panes of glass. It’s an impressive structure and, inside, is full of palm trees.
Built in the 1700s, the main house at Bicton is now an agricultural college, but the gardens themselves include an orangery (now a cafe), an indoor and outdoor play area, a mini steam train and plenty of those beautiful little greenhouses to explore.
The thing I loved most about the place was the element of surprise. Around every corner there’s a new garden to explore, often with an unexpected take-your-breath-away view. Each garden has a different theme, and the Italian Garden includes a huge pond with a large fountain. It reminded me of Versailles (which we visited on our recent trip to Paris), which is funny because I later found out that garden was inspired by the French designer who originally created Versailles. That made me feel very gardeny and clever. Eat your heart out Alan Titchmarsh.
After a stroll through the gardens, multiple games of hide and seek and a hairy moment when my fearless toddler threatened to throw herself in the pond, we settled down in the Stream Gardens for a picnic. There are plenty of picnic tables around the outdoor play area, but we knew the girls would lose interest in food as soon as they saw a climbing frame, so we headed in the opposite direction.
The picnic was a typically chaotic affair, involving unexpected toddler nakedness and a game of sandwich chase, but this was OK because we were the only ones in the garden at the time. This is another lovely plus about Bicton, there’s so much space you never feel like you’re crowded or on top of other visitors.
We found the outdoor play area next, which is on the other side of the gardens near the Great Lake. The girls were straight on the huge climbing frame and down the enormous slides, before running over to the swings, pirate ship and various other inventive pieces of play equipment which I’m not sure of the name of.
We ended the day with an icecream, ride on the mini steam train which goes around the gardens (you have to pay a small extra charge to go on this) and another explore of the greenhouses. By this time Baby Girl was hyper and over-tired, so we passed up the chance of a relaxing drink overlooking the gardens, but we’ll chalk that one down for next time.
Obviously it helped that the weather was sunny, but had it been raining we’d have been able to dive into the cafe for a drink, and head to the indoor play barn which is basically a soft-play heaven for young children. So don’t discount a day at Bicton if the weather isn’t fabulous, because there’s still plenty to do there.
Check out this video of our day if you’re still not persuaded (or want to see that chaotic picnic in all its glory)…
We’ve lived in South Devon for nearly four years now, but there are still SO many places we’re yet to explore, so in many ways we often feel like we’re on holiday here at this time of year. If you’re planning a trip to Devon this summer then make sure to come back and check out the other places we visit in our series of posts. Hopefully the next places we go to will be as much of a success (minus the naked toddler and food throwing, obviously).
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