Over the bank holiday weekend, when Charlie was off running his favourite marathon (Avebury to Stonehenge, in case you’re interested), we took ourselves off fairy hunting. Furzey Gardens is this hidden gem in Minstead in the New Forest. It's fairly unique in not being the traditional stately home and gardens set-up, but a charitable trust in which the wonderful gardens are tended by volunteers and young people with learning difficulties. It was one of the first places we were brave enough to embark on day trip to when Charlotte was a baby (I know, we are pretty hardcore, venturing all the way to the next village: we should probably write a book about this kind of stuff!). And it’s one of those places that keeps us coming back because every time there’s some new structure or discovery to be made. And of course there are the fairies ...
Same child, same wall of pink ... eight years on
When we first started coming the fairies had just moved in. Now they seem to be pretty well established, with over 30 fairy doors waiting to be found. The great thing about these is they’re not set on a trail, and while there’s a vague kind of map it’s more a nudge in the right direction. So you never discover them all, and finding a new one is genuinely magical. Some of them are probably totally secret. This time we found Midas’ Mansion for the first time, off the beaten track: a door at which fittingly a pile of coins had been left to be turned into riches. It would be rude not to join in. We found about 10 doors today, and the expression on Katie’s face – who thinks Ben and Holly totally rule, and who is gutted that there is no sign of the tooth fairy visiting her yet – was priceless. Throughout the gardens little offerings of flowers have been at the fairies’ doors, and it struck me, particularly after Long Barrow a few weeks ago and the sudden death of someone in our village whose doorstep has since been decorated with pots and wildflowers, how compelling our need is to reach out to fairies and the dead with colour.
We’ve been to Furzey loads, but the spring is truly spectacular, I haven’t seen pinks and reds like it anywhere else on earth (I haven’t retouched any of these pictures). There’s an adventure playground, inventively made up of a series of African treehouses, tunnels and a dry boat. There’s a great three-floored treehouse with views over the Isle of Wight, a bug barn, eccentric scarecrows, alpacas studiously ignoring the interlopers, a giant’s picnic table, a hidden star-gazing hut, and 16th century cottage complete with a family of sleeping children guarded by a spider (you really have to see it to get it). It’s a place for stories to unfold, and you don’t need to say very much at all because the children are immediately drawn in. For the adults there’s a rather good coffee shop, art gallery and plant sale (I say for adults, like I would have the slightest clue how one negotiates a plant sale). But really, with the massive lawn looking down over the spectacular mass of colour, picnics win every time.
It’s true at one point Katie had a total meltdown after cruelly being taken away from the swings. (Am I the only person in the world who totally hates swings? You spend your whole time either queuing or riddled with guilt that your turn might go a millisecond over the agreed norm.) We made some cursory attempts at distraction, making grass guns, fountains and horns, which she treated with the disdain they deserved. But such is life, and as my older children point out, it makes it somehow it more memorable remembering the various places where strops have been had. It was only really when we discovered the next fairy door that some semblance of order was restored. And such is Furzey Gardens that there are so many compelling new spaces to be discovered; it’s hard to maintain a funk for very long.