Before I start this post, I want to make one thing very clear: I’m writing this because I love the subject matter, not because anybody has asked me to write it, or even suggested it. As most of you will know, if ever I write posts on subjects I have been ‘incentivised’ to cover, I make that very clear. So, with that out of the way, on with the show…
Last weekend, Sara and I took Robert and Freddie for a trip to one of our local National Trust properties – Basildon Park, near Pangbourne here in Berkshire. Sara and I have been Trust members since 2002, and now have a family membership which we’re making quite good use of. At last count (which I regularly do, as part of a “How much money have we saved by being members?” test!) we’d been to 10 in this membership period alone – so I consider myself reasonably familiar with their ‘offering’.
So, it was whilst wandering round the house and gardens at Basildon Park that I realised I should write a post about just how family-friendly the Trust is these days. A lot of people who I speak to about the NT have the (out-dated) opinion that it’s a stuffy enterprise for old people only – and I usually set them straight, sharpish. So, for the benefit of those of you who I haven’t ranted at yet, I wanted to explain a few of the reasons why I believe the National Trust and it’s properties can be the recipe for a great day out for you and your family.
They let you touch stuff now!
Gone are the days when walking round a Trust property involved standing behind red curtains and admiring from afar. Obviously there are some places and rooms where that has to still be the case, but as a whole the Trust has got a lot more ‘interactive’ with it’s houses in the past few years.
We’ve even been to a few where they actually encouraged you to touch and interact with the house – the photo on the right shows Robert at Hereford’s Berrington Hall, where the lady in the master bedroom invited Robert to get up on the bed and “have a bounce”.
Even if your children aren’t remotely interested in history or the context of the property, you’ll usually find something to amuse or strike their imagination. The photo below shows Robert (again!) drawing on a chalk board as part of one of the classrooms inside Lanhydrock House in Cornwall:
They make it fun for the kids
As well as trying to make the exhibits or houses more fun for the kids, a lot of properties make things even more fun for the little ones by doing little treasure hunts for them to take part in. Whether it’s hunting for little stuffed rats which have been hidden in the most unlikely places around the house (as they do at The Vyne in Berkshire) or filling in out “spotter” sheets where you need to find certain details in different rooms (as they did at Montacute House in Somerset, last time we visited – and Lytes Cary too, in fact) – there’s usually something to keep the kids amused while you’re soaking up the history or culture…
If they DON’T do this (you can usually find out before hand by ringing up the property), why not do what we did on one recent trip and make your own? A quick Google image search can usually find you enough details about the property to pick a few striking features or landmarks with which to construct your own treasure hunt…
It’s not just the house and gardens
As well as the interesting houses and beautiful gardens or country side they’re set in, most properties will run events or activities throughout the year, most of which will be extremely child friendly. Last year we visited Cliveden during the Autumn, and our visit coincided with their Apple Festival – a lovely little event which included Apple decorating, cider making (and tasting, for the grown-ups!) and other apple-based fun. As you can see from the photo below, Robert and his cousins certainly enjoyed it, and the walk around the grounds leading up to it made for a great day out.
So. Much. SPACE!
With the possible exception of a few of the more city-based properties, almost all National Trust locations feature a garden, or better still, acres of rolling countryside for you to explore. And what right-minded child DOESN’T like to run out about in long grass or thick woodland?!
So there you have it – I’m sure there are many more reasons to visit, but from a child’s-eye perspective, I think that should provide you with at least a couple of appealing reasons to hunt our your nearest property. I personally have their iPhone app on my phone, allowing us to find the nearest property wherever we end up in the country.
And if the National Trust doesn’t have anything near to you, why not try English Heritage too? Another Elliss family favourite…!