Now here’s a little disclaimer – for the vast majority of you I’m sure this blog won’t tell you anything you don’t already know – but it’s not written for you lot. It’s written for those Mamans who have only just joined the Mutha Hood or the ones who have been in the squad for a while now but like me only eighteen months ago have been walking around thinking that National Trust destinations are for retired people and tourists – I know you’re out there.
(The wood at Hidcote)
I have experienced almost fifteen long years of parenting boisterous boys who needed space to run and play and explore at the weekends and spent hours trying to come up with new, interesting and cheap destinations to take them to where they could burn off all of that pent up energy and I could mosy along behind them. We did zoos, expensive theme parks, and hours and hours and hours and hours in Pittville Park and I want to throttle my younger self for not opening my eyes to a whole host of stunning, beautifully maintained and welcoming destinations that were quite literally on my doorstep as well as on the doorstep of most of our holiday destinations in the UK.
(Lacock Abbey Grounds)
My mum started working for the National Trust in Dorset not too long ago and when she suggested she would buy us a family membership as a joint birthday gift I smiled in that way you do when you want be polite but actually are mourning the vouchers for some new clothes or a facial that you were secretly hoping for. I kind of understood what it was all about but I was absolutely certain that as a family we were way too cool for the National Trust.
I will eat my hat. And believe you me it’s not only those khaki coloured fishing hats you’ll have available to eat at National Trust properties – oh no. You can rock one of those glorious floppy sun hats that are everywhere on Insta at the moment whilst showing off your flamingo covered picnic ware and snapping up pictures of you and your family lounging around in the sun with some of the most stunning backdrops our country has to offer.
National Trust properties are dotted around in almost all parts of England and Wales. They vary hugely in what’s on offer but their handy finder tool on their website will help you filter the kind of day out you are after and zone in geographically on whichever area you find yourself in. For me I need to know they have a cafe (the ice creams are generally top notch) and perhaps a little shop – they do a surprisingly good range of homeware, picnic blankets and don’t get me started on their range of curds and spreads (salted caramel gets five star gold CheltenhamMaman rating.)
(Croquet at Hidcote – they have a tennis court you can prebook too!)
If you buy a family membership (currently priced at £114.60 a year, £9.55 a month or £71 for a single parent family) you can access all of these properties for a whole year and get free parking. That may seem like an obvious add on but we visit the same National Trust beach in Devon every year at least a dozen times – before we were members we paid £4 to park each time…. you do the maths – £114 saved us that money and bought us unlimited days out and picnic destinations for twelve whole months.
(Activities for children to build their own structures at Brockhampton Estate.)
When you become a member you become part of a group of people who have a stake in these sites and your membership goes towards maintaining them and holding on to the heritage and green space that you are able to take advantage of for that year. A huge amount of the work done by the National Trust is done by volunteers so as well as getting a lot in return for your investment you are working to safeguard these places for your children and grandchildren.
The first time I rocked up at a National Trust venue I asked where the designated picnic area was and was very happy to hear you could just picnic everywhere. It seems that the National Trust are brave enough to give their members something which I think is so rare to find these days… trust. They trust that you will take your litter away with you, they trust that though you will let your children roam free whilst still ensuring that they are not wrecking the joint. They really welcome small people too and the range of activities on offer during the school holidays are staggering and you can just choose how to make your trip out work for you. Go somewhere local for an hour or two and walk in the grounds and then head home or make a day of exploring somewhere a bit further afield with a picnic and a walk around the building (often stately homes or buildings seeped with history) and let the children get caught up in whichever era has been replicated. There are often children’s treasure hunts, trails or dressing up activities on offer and the volunteers will tell you as much or as little as suits you.
I put a post out on Instagram asking for tips on where to visit and was astounded with the response. Personally I can really recommend Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire, Tyntesfield near Bristol (great M5 pitstop), Brockhampton Estate near Bromyard and really locally Hidcote Manor and Gardens (truly truly stunning gardens – great spot for those of you into floristry) and Coughton Court (try the morello cherry ice cream – just do it) just beyond Evesham. I’ve only been a member for a year and am just about to renew so was really excited to get loads of ideas from others for my must see list… Sherborne Park and Snowshill Manor closeby, Croome Court in Worcestershire, Dyrham Park in Wiltshire, Charlecote Park neat Stratford and Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire…. we need a years worth of weekends to get through my list!
For those of you with older children I also have some words of advice. My older boys (teenagers now) are so rude about NT. They wake up on a Sunday and come downstairs and say ‘tell me we are doing anything but visiting a National Trust place’ but we drag them along anyway and when they get there they are as happy as we are to be there. They learn by osmosis – their too long arms and legs that knock everything over and get in everyone’s way in the confines of home are free to cause chaos, they try on medieval armour (hope they never read this as they would kill me for telling you) and they knock croquet balls around aggressively without anyone raising an eyebrow. Oh.. they also demolish the picnics and are first in the queue for an ice cream,. Last year we were moseying around the kitchen gardens at Tyntesfield and the Papa told Enfant number 2 he’d give him a fiver if he tried one of the chillis on display (yep – I actually look after four children) – he tried it and it gave us an opportunity to test out the excellent first aid skills of the volunteers and staff of the NT while he glugged pints of milk and cried. We still had a good day and it’s certainly a day I’ll never forget!
At the other end of the spectrum they are totally set up towards tiny ones and have great changing facilities, high chairs and all that jazz at all of the destinations labelled on the site as family friendly. Most have some great paved walkways too if you don’t have a sling, baby backpack or offload buggy.
So in short I really can’t recommend a membership enough. This post is in no way sponsored or endorsed it’s just an honest recommendation from one mum to another. I’ve also just spotted that they are giving away a £15 voucher to spend in the cafes (morello cherry ice cream reminder) or shops with every family membership bought on this Facebook post… go take a look and when you get out exploring be sure to tag me in your pics… can’t wait to see where you go and what you get up to.
Enjoy the summer and love where you live.