We visit National Trust properties on a regular basis. It’s far too easy to fall into our ‘Saturday shopping’ trap of battling the masses on an undefined mission, just because that’s what people do. So most weekends, we choose to escape the humdrum instead.
These beautiful places are a living history lesson, where families are welcomed warmly and kids are encouraged to embrace their childhood. Gone are the stuffy days of NT being a sombre recreation ground for the elderly and disapproving, where you’re told not to breathe in the wrong direction, don’t laugh or have fun. Instead, we embrace modern NT management and their joyful collection of ’50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4′.
The freedom to run and explore acres of beautiful countryside. Learning to appreciate the beauty of a formal garden and notice all the different flowers, plants and trees that grow. Enjoying the simple pleasures of rolling down a hill on your side or using a blade of grass between your thumbs to whistle at the birds high in the trees. Making a kite to fly in a meadow full of wild flowers. Benefiting from the enthusiasm of volunteers as ways of days gone by are reenacted with authenticity; stoking a kitchen fire in preparation for a Victorian lunch. Getting up close to a real Princess carriage to imagine the thundering hooves of the horses charge up the grand driveway toward the imposing castle. Balancing on logs and climbing trees in the woodland. Playing croquet on the lawn, skittles in the courtyard or hide and seek between the topiary yews – what shapes can you see? Following narrow paths as they weave between secret gardens. Or yomping along broad clearings around the HaHa toward a ruined folly on the hillside.
One property supplied the children with a vintage knapsack full of explorers’ equipment; compass, binoculars, magnifying glass, tape measure and quiz sheets to complete. Measuring how far around the ancient oak tree, the length of the longest leaf you can find, what type of tree is next to the north entrance of the kitchen garden, how many different types of vegetables can you see growing? So many levels of education available, and so much fun!
Regardless of season, there’s always something new to see. Familiar summer holiday paths feel different as fresh autumn leaves crunch beneath your feet and the huge sky is revealed through bare branches. Easter egg hunts, spring lambing, summer activities and perfect picnics, puddle jumping in wellies, tractor rides, plastic duck races in the river, autumn fruit harvesting, Halloween hijinks and bonfire crafts – it’s all on offer. Not to mention a VERY exciting visit to a magical man in a special red suit, complete with reindeers and an authentic Christmas market. My kids genuinely believe that the NT oak leaf logo symbolises ‘cake’, as we cant resist a delicious homemade bake and a warm cuppa after a good blast of fresh air!
Where children have endless opportunity to release their energy and learn huge amounts about our nations cultural history. I believe its important for children to experience different environments too and learn the importance of appropriate behaviour; yes its great fun to run and shout when you’re outdoors, but right from toddlers we would escort them gingerly around the interiors too. To be awed by the splendour of opulent grandeur, beautifully painted high ceilings, ornate decorations, intricate tapestrys hung above gold and mahogany furniture. And the contrasting below stairs functionality of the utilitarian. How Grandma would have had to do her laundry, what people did in the days before telephones, electricity or modern convenience. All lovingly restored and stunningly preserved for our benefit. What’s not to love?
Images courtesy of my six year old daughter – she’s such a happy snapper!
How about you? How does your family like to spend their weekend? Do you manage it as often as you’d like, or is it a rare treat? If so, what prevents you from going more often? Why do you love it so? Can it be enjoyed all year round or does it require a specific time of day or year, or unique circumstance?