Nymans, in West Sussex, is an extensive garden that surrounds the partially ruined former home of the Messel family. It can be reached by bus from Crawley, which is on the mainline from London (and now that trains go right through, from Stevenage too). Having seen that it had a Quentin Blake exhibition and a Christmas ‘dancing frog’ trail in the garden inspired by this, I thought a visit would make a great pre-Christmas NTbB adventure for me, my mum, my sister and my nearly-three-year-old niece.
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I booked my ticket in advance, using the Trainpal website, as I’d won some credit during their Black Friday promotion. Mum was going to meet me on the train and we were meeting my sister and niece there. I booked an off-peak day return, as suggested by Trainpal, intending to get the 09.13 from Stevenage. On arrival at the station though, my ticket would not let me through the barrier as it was not yet 09.30. I queried this with the staff, who checked for me and, as my train didn’t arrive at a London terminal (St Pancras, in this case) until after 09.30, I was OK to get the train… Panic averted! Given the complicated rules surrounding off-peak travel – and the lack of information online, it was really helpful to have a clear explanation of how this works. I’ll be sure to keep this in mind for future journeys.
The train was a straight-through service all the way to Crawley (and beyond). Mum joined me at Finsbury Park and we had a relaxing trip down, enjoying the pastries she’d brought and the fact that the train was very quiet.
On arrival at Crawley, it was very easy to find our bus stop. Our train arrived at 10.53 and the bus did not depart until 11.18, giving us plenty of time to orientate ourselves. The bus station is directly opposite the main entrance to the train station and Bus Stop F (listed on the timetable) for the Metrobus 271/273 service was clearly labelled. We simply had to cross the road from the station to the opposite side of the road from the shopping centre. There were even digital displays at the bus stop, so no guesswork was needed as to when the bus would arrive.
A return to Handcross Red Lion/Nymans was £5.30 and payment could be made using contactless, cash and tickets bought via their app. The bus also had digital displays and audio announcements of the stops, so we knew we’d know where to get off (always the most stressful part of any unknown journey for me!). On alighting it was a walk of about 50 metres to the entrance to Nymans, which was clearly signposted just along the road from the bus stop. There wasn’t a pavement, but there was a flat grassy verge which people clearly use to get to the entrance.
On arrival we met my sister and niece. My sister came in as my guest on my life membership and under-fives go free (Mum has her own membership). We happily paid £1 for a Dancing Frogs trail activity sheet. There were 10 named (and differently attired) frog models spread around the gardens for children to find. My niece thought this was absolutely wonderful and had a great time finding them and their mislaid props. The activity sheet also included other things to spot and count, so would have kept much older children entertained too.
For the adults, despite it being winter, there was plenty to see in the garden – our highlights were the beautiful daphne and camellias, the pinetum and the structural plants throughout. Although it was cold, we were really lucky with the weather, as you can see!
After a really lovely (and warming) vegetable curry and scone in the restaurant, we returned to the house to view the Quentin Blake exhibition, which was really good, although some more information about the artist would have been nice. There was, however, a selection of his books available for children to read and also some light-boxes for budding artists to try using – as we learnt, this is one of Blake’s secrets to capturing so much life in his characters.
The house itself was closed, apart from access to the exhibition, but the bits we saw were beautifully decorated for Christmas and felt like a really cosy home.
On leaving, Mum and I had time to walk back through the village of Handcross to the further bus stop. The village was pretty, with some lovely architecture and a former garage complete with its original petrol pump. The bus we were waiting for was late, but helpfully Metrobus use the Bus Checker app, which gives real-time information about where the bus is. This was accurate and really useful, and I’ll certainly be making use of it in the future!
As our train was going to be travelling through Central London during rush hour, we expected it to get very busy. With this in mind, we took advantage of a little-known trick and sat in the declassified First Class carriage at the rear of the train. (All Thameslink services have First Class carriages at the front and rear of the train. However, the carriage at the rear, following the direction of travel, is permanently declassified – but not everyone knows this!). Fortunately for us, though, it didn’t ever get really busy.
All in all, it was a lovely, but long day. Apart from a couple of delays (the return train was running 30 minutes behind schedule by the time it got to Stevenage), using public transport was very straightforward for this trip. I particularly liked the modern approach taken by Metrobus – digital displays, announcements on board and a choice of payment options make bus travel so much easier. This contrasts dramatically with my last NTBB bus journey to Shaw’s Corner!
Nymans was beautiful and certainly worth further visits in other seasons and when the house is open. If you fancy visiting the festive dancing frogs, they’ll be on display until 5 January!
Please note: All information is correct at time of publication, but please do check – timetables and ticket prices are subject to regular changes.