Summer holidays! Walpole and I are going out and about with lots of families this month to make the most of the outdoors and gather in a bit of history at the same time. We’re calling it Mission Fun because having fun is aim! Here are my top 10 best places for a great family day out.
Award winning Newby Hall just keeps on getting better. They’ve now given a warm welcome to the collection of teddy bears amassed over a lifetime by TV personality Gyles Brandreth. The collection includes Fozzie from The Muppet Show, Children in Need’s Pudsey Bear, Superted, Paddington and Winnie the Pooh. And there are busy bears , I loved seeing them picnicking, getting married, competing in the Olympics and lots of other silly stuff. They join the gorgeous 65 dolls houses that arrived at Newby last year and if the weather’s fine, children can still have fun getting wet in the adventure gardens and riding the train.
Spot Abraham Darby’s iconic cast iron bridge and enjoy 10 museums that mark the birth of the Industrial Revolution in a tranquil green valley in Shropshire. Take the kids here for hands on fun at Enginuity and a taste of real Victorian life (all the treats and none of the child labour) at Blists Hill Victorian Town. It’s something they’ll never forget.
A must for all Harry Potter fans who can fly broomsticks and relive both books and films. Alnwick also has awesome activities for children with lots of dressing up and mediaeval fun that allows them to get on with enjoyment while parents can just chill out, though watch out for the dragon. This is a true castle with battlement walks and falconry, interesting museums and great ice cream.
Unexpectedly, I find this quiet pretty 17th century house with literary connections a great place for young families. It has four woodland playgrounds, a family nature trail to spot wildlife, a heather path maze and rhododendron tunnel to tire young legs, grass banks to roll down, lawns to play endlessly on and a Poetry Walk to reflect upon. Inside there is a history quiz to follow, a Victorian nursery that all children are encouraged to play in and a “spot the owl” trail. All simple stuff but the secret is that they just like kids here.
English Heritage are great at activities for children and Osborne is one of the best. It has its own beach for a start and the house is where Queen Victoria brought her family for summer hols. These nine children had a child sized Swiss Cottage where they played and all the things they collected from rocks to curiosities and a deer with 5 legs are still in a museum alongside it. There are lots of trails and a special exhibition of Childhood at Osborne.
Any Scottish Castle is fun for children and Blair has everything you need. There are towers and intrigues and scary stories galore, lashings of tartan and weird furniture made of stags’ antlers. There are woods to roam in and trees to climb and the Hercules Garden is a haven for wildlife with a house for swans recreated from a 17th century original.
For me as a child nothing beat the ghost of Queen Catherine Howard running screaming down the corridor. Maybe she’s still here? Hampton Court has more than its fair share of ghosts and plenty of history that kids will grasp. The maze is fun and the Great Vine House appeals but the new Magic Garden in the Tiltyard will really get them going with lots of battlements to storm and tower houses to besiege. The Tudor kitchens are interesting but the Georgian chocolate kitchens are the best. Don’t miss the Royal Tennis Court where Henry VIII might have outplayed Andy Murray.
Step right into the history of this 17th century manor house where costumed actors playing out the family history in front of you. Much more fun for children than period rooms and they will pick up a few history facts along the way. King Charles I is coming on the King’s Day, 7th August (they still think it’s 1645 here) so there will be more of a flurry than usual.
Chatsworth of course, has something for everyone. And for kids, the best bit may be the farmyard. There are daily talks, milking demonstrations and handling sessions to help kids become young farmers and really get to know the animals. The adventure playground has grown and grown and now has sand and water play areas, a spiral slide, mini diggers, a trampoline and climbing forest. Those lucky few with birthdays in the summer holidays can book the Party Hut for a special celebration.
There’s lots of good healthy outdoor fun with the National Trust at Mount Stewart this summer with the opening of new trails around the parkland. Hike up to the Temple of the Winds for a stunning view over Strangford Lough and a chance of spotting red squirrels en route. Best fun for kids here is the formal gardens where statues of dodos and dinosaurs keep you interested. On 20th August take the family and drop in on their Muck in at Mount Stewart day dedicated to Ivy Bashing in the Gardens – that’ll work off some energy!
Challenge yourself to relax with the kids this summer, picnic on sandwiches and ice cream, and do it all with a bit of history thrown in.