A few months ago I was lucky enough to win an annual National Trust family pass with Aqua Pura’s #NaturallyBritish promotion. I was obviously thrilled to be chosen as a winner but had no idea at the time what a fulfilling and rewarding prize this was going to turn out to be! I received the family pass towards the end of the Summer holidays, sadly too late to get much use over the long Summer break, but since then we have managed to visited six local National Trust properties in the Sussex and Kent region. It’s become a weekend ritual to research, plan and prepare for our next visit.
I’d never really considered buying a National Trust Pass before this.. I thought that National Trust properties would bore our children and were too expensive for us as a family of 6. Well I was wrong! Actually, for larger families like ours, over a year the £111 annual membership is extremely good value. As anyone with a family of any size will know..days out can be pricey. A one off family ticket to most of our local properties would cost about £25 and there’s often a charge for parking on top of that. However, with an annual membership as well as two adults, up to 5 (yes 5!!) children can be admitted on the same cards. If we make 4 visits in a year we have had our value for money (I’m counting parking costs in those 4 visits… just in case anyone’s questioning my maths!!) We’re already considering renewing our membership for next year, we are totally converted.
Over the past two months we have visited several properties. We live in the heart of Sussex where we have a choice of stately homes, castles, gardens and coast land right on our doorstep. The venues vary greatly in the experience they offer, but what we have found to be consistent is the opportunity for the children to explore and imaginations run wild. Before each visit we check the National Trust website to check opening times and general facilities available. Some properties close for periods of time over the Winter months and the website is extremely good at sharing this information. In this post I’d like to share a quick summary of each of the venues we’ve visited so far giving the highlights of each visit.
Sheffield Park, Uckfield, East Sussex
Sheffield Park is a collection of beautiful landscaped gardens and water features in the style of Capability Brown. The gardens are enchanting and offer themselves as a fantastic opportunity for the children to play through exploration. Our kids love the chance to immerse themselves in adventure and make believe. On our most recent visit some of the best trees for climbing were marked with orange ties…i loved the fact that rather than restricting this type of play, the National Trust were visibly encouraging children to engage with the natural environment …with a gentle steer towards the trees that would probably cope best with tiny feet.
The children love this place. They dart off into all directions, hiding in drooping foliage, scampering up branches, racing over bridges and charming the ducks. Matt and I also love this place as we amble along behind, taking in the changing colours, the architecture of the lakes and bridges and enjoying moments of ‘us’ whilst the children are preoccupied.
Best for: gardens, tree climbing, feeding ducks, Autumnal colours.
Bodiam Castle, Robertsbridge, East Sussex
Bodiam Castle simply takes your breath away. The 14th Century moated castle is like something out of a fairy tale. It’s beauty has the ability to captivate the imagination of children, bringing history to life. There are numerous actors and storytellers wandering around the site to support this historical learning. Re-enactments and talks take place most days, especially at peak times, throughout the day. On our most recent visit we were treated to a very convincing sword fight. These activities are so engaging for visitors of all ages, not just the youngsters. The actors are clearly very passionate and knowledgeable about the subjects. We had many a sword fight of our own throughout the rest of our visit as a result of these inspiring folk! As with any castle Bodiam has endless stairways, turrets and hideyholes to explore. The stairways at Bodiam are tight. I visited earlier in the year when my youngest was still in a baby sling and these were certainly a challenge to navigate!
In addition to the obvious draw of the castle, the surrounding grounds are a joy in themselves. A leisurely walk around the moat combines amazing photo opportunities with quality duck/fish feeding time and freedom to burn off post picnic energy.
Best for: Medieval history, learning about castles, photography, feeding ducks, exploring turrets and towers.
Bateman’s, Burwash, East Sussex
Bateman’s is the Jacobean home of the author Rudyard Kipling. The house is tucked away down a quiet country lane just outside the village of Burwash. A visit to the property includes the opportunity to explore beautiful, sculptured grounds and woodland walks, as well as seeing inside the home of the man behind ‘The Jungle Book’. I visited the property on my own with our two youngest children during the Summer holidays. Daisy and I walked around the woodland trails and gardens whilst Logan took it in from the safety of the pushchair. We picnicked on the lawn (pretending that this was our garden!) and giggled at the fish with their gaping mouths lording about in their glorious pond. Daisy was given a Jungle Book trail to complete as we arrived which kept her happy for the duration of the visit. Wooden characters from Kipling’s books were dotted about the gardens giving a 6 year great purpose in charging about the place. Bateman’s is a charming, laid back venue with beautiful gardens and flowers.
Best for: Laid back picnics, woodland walks, learning about Rudyard Kipling, flowers.
As you can see we’ve found our visits a hugely positive experience. I’m looking forward to sharing our adventures at Knole, Chartwell and Scotney Castle in my next post…there’s just too much to fit into one! In the meantime please share your own National Trust recommendations with me, especially in the South East…I want to see them all!