This year Houghton Lodge Gardens, Test Valley, Hampshire, are making the most of the glorious setting by hosting a unique collection of events, including tempting experiences to delight the senses. The Afternoon Tea Series combines a traditional afternoon tea every month with a unique themed event within the gardens. August sees Hampshire’s newest gin producer – The River Test Distillery – launching its brand new signature Mayfly Gin at Houghton Lodge on 17 August. The company also has ambitious plans to make a range of spirits.
During ‘A Botanical Affair’ guests can enjoy a sumptuous tea (including a Mayfly gin and tonic!) whilst learning about the journey from the area’s trademark chalk streams to the unique bottle design and the botanicals used to create this wonderful gin. There will even be a 5cl bottle to take home and sample as well as the opportunity to purchase a 70cl bottle from the very first batch of Mayfly Gin. Tickets include entry to the gardens where there is ample opportunity to stroll along the banks of the famous River Test, which flows through the estate. (17 August, 3.30 – 5pm, £35 per person).
The River Test Distillery was inspired by the River Test’s famous fly fishing, gin-clear waters and abundant flora and fauna. The new Mayfly Gin is distilled in small batches and crafted using pure, chalk-filtered water which comes from the aquifer that feeds into the river, creating an exceptionally smooth gin. It is a classic London Dry with gently honeyed floral notes and infused with handpicked meadowsweet flowers – perfect with premium Indian tonic, a slice of lime and plenty of ice!
For Sarah and Jonathan Nelson, owners of the new distillery, opening this venture has been a 5 year dream and a 2 year journey to set everything up. “We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful location next to the River Test and with botanicals on our doorstep it seemed like gin production was meant to be – and The River Test Distillery was conceived!”
“The distillery has an idyllic location, nestled in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, with the River Test flowing through the property. For many years we have had the responsibility of protecting the property’s two SSSIs – ‘Sites of Special Scientific Interest’ – the meadow and the river, and we have had a long held ambition to contribute something of our own and add our own story to the history of the property. Our philosophy, therefore, is borne out of a desire to create a product that embraces this beautiful part of the world, and the ambition has been to complement the thriving local food and drinks market. We wanted to make a brand and a gin that would be distinctive and that we could be proud of. To achieve this, we have created our own unique and distinctive bespoke bottle which has taken its inspiration from our beautiful surroundings and the gin does the same.”
Other unique events making the most of the house (a beautiful example of a ‘cottage orné’) and gardens include September’s event, Afternoon tea combined with a masterclass in making the perfect brew with tasting experts from award-winning British tea company Birchalls – The Art of Tea’ (2 Sept, 2-3.30pm, £25), an exclusive evening talk ‘The Queen Mother at the Castle of Mey’ with former equerry, Jeremy Mainwaring-Burton, when Jeremy will be providing guests with a highly entertaining account of what it was like to stay at the Castle of Mey as a guest of the Queen Mother (20 Sept, 6pm, £55 per person) and finally, Houghton Lodge’s ever popular Apple Day – a celebration of the apples that grow within the ancient heritage apple orchard, including a Wassailling Ceremony. (29 Sept).
The Afternoon Tea series is hosted in collaboration with unique food business The Honesty Group, which manages the Tea Rooms set within the gardens.
For visitors wanting to take a short break to coincide with one of these events, the recently opened accommodation at Houghton Lodge – the Apple Rooms – provide luxury self-catering accommodation in a bespoke collection of 6 individually designed boutique en-suite bedrooms. Guests can enjoy complimentary entry to the gardens during their stay and a discount in the coffee shop. Houghton Lodge provides an excellent base for touring the stunning countryside, visiting the many local attractions and historic market towns in the Test Valley area. Fishing can also be arranged along the stretch of the River Test that runs through the gardens.
For more information about any of the above events and to book tickets visit www.houghtonlodge.co.uk For more information about the Test Valley visit https://www.testvalley.gov.uk/communityandleisure/tourism/