I have been visiting National Trust properties for my entire life. My parents have been members for around 30 years I believe. We regularly used to visit houses, usually on a Sunday. I was a funny little child with a bizarre interest in Tudor, Elizabethan and Victorian life so quite often I would find the houses interesting. My brother on the other hand, used to find the visits mind numbingly boring. As soon as Mum and Dad mentioned that we'd be visiting a National Trust property at the weekend he's start grumbling and moping. He used to moan throughout the journey there and have to be dragged around the house. I have to admit though, there were times I would feel bored as well.
It wasn't just boredom that made these visits tricky. This is the UK and the weather isn't known for being predicable or all that warm for a lot of the year. Many houses had few facilities. We always used to take our own picnic and spend a shivering half an hour camped out beside our car. Apart from look around the house, there would be very little to do!
Well - fast-forward to now, and haven't things changed! When we had Ethan, it took a while before we could get ourselves together enough to do anything like leaving the house before 2pm. There was no way we were going to go out for the day. As he got a little older though, this started changing.. and we wanted something to do, somewhere to go! For my husbands birthday one year, my parents bought us National Trust membership. At first, we weren't sure. Pete hadn't been to many NT properties as a child and thought it might be boring. I remembered the NT as it was in my childhood and worried it might not be very child friendly. Still, the membership was a present and we gave it a go.
We visited Tyntesfield first. It's our second closest property after Clevedon Court and somewhere we'd wanted to visit after the NT saved it (I remember that well, I helped raise money to save it!). We were pleasantly surprised by how child friendly the whole set up was. Gone are the days of an old house with nothing to do. The NT have really switched themselves on to what families want now. They have realised that this isn't just something for the parents. They are making themselves interesting to the children as well. Which of course benefits the parents. Happy children, happy parents!
|Playing with sticks at Tyntesfield, Tickenham, October 2012|
Of course, all NT properties are different. That's where your handbook comes in handy. Some have a lot less in the way of facilities. That doesn't mean they aren't worth visiting, it just means a little more organisation on your part.
It doesn't seem to matter where you go though, you are always greeted by a friendly face or 10. There is almost always a children's activity sheet or at the very least a free sticker (we all know how those work!). There are often seasonal activities like Easter Egg Hunts. These do have a small cost, but for a couple of quid, they are very worth it and you always get a prize.
|Food Fight! A picnic at Dunster Castle, February 2013|
If we ever say to Ethan "Let's go to a National Trust house today!" he doesn't look sad and mope. He jumps up excitedly and asks us which one "Will it be Tyntesfield, or are we going to one with Peacocks? Can I have some cake in the cafe?".
|Autumn Colours, Stourhead, National Trust, November 2013|
We recently visited Montecute House. I hadn't been since childhood and Pete had never been. We weren't quite sure what to expect but we were completely bowled over by the facilities. They have HANDS DOWN the BEST nappy changing facilities I have EVER used. I am not kidding. A dedicated room with two changing tables that include mats on them, toys and books for the babies, FREE NAPPIES, WIPES AND CREAM!! Two sinks with hand towels (no crying babies as you shock them with a bloody Dyson hand vac!) and two chairs for sitting on. I was hugely impressed.
|Montacute House - National Trust|
It wasn't just the changing facilities. We were greeted by a lovely lady at the entrance who really engaged with Ethan. She handed us an activity sheet and asked him to come back and see her at the end of our visit to tell her how he'd done. Which we did. She remembered him as well. It's the personal touch!
The cafe was lovely. We had lunch as a treat which was very tasty and served incredibly promptly by a very friendly lady. There were plenty of high chairs as well so we didn't have to worry about that.
We visited the house and were again pleased by how friendly the volunteers were. We were allowed to take our buggy in which was handy because Felix had fallen asleep in it (we had planned to take him in the baby carrier if he were awake).
All in all, it was a truly lovely visit.
The National Trust have recently announced their Top Ten places to spring spot after some research showed that there are benefits to listening to the sounds of spring such as birdsong and lambs, making us feel happy and optimistic (I'd agree with this!). To celebrate the start of spring last week, the NT commissioned beatboxer Jason Singh to create an album featuring the sounds of spring - I love this idea! I know Ethan would love it, he likes to try to beatbox himself!!
Now, I expect you would like to know which places made the top ten!
1) Montisfont Abbey, Hampshire
2) Tatton Park, Cheshire
3) Biddulph Grange Gardens, Midlands
4) Hardcastle Crags, West Yorkshire
5) Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire
6) Batemans, Sussex
7) Sheringham Park, Norfolk
8) Polesden Lacey, Surrey
9) Quantock Hills, Somerset
10) Sugar Loaf & Usk Valley, Wales