The National Trust to me when I was in my teens and twenties, was just for old people. It conjured up images of boring old buildings with lots of grey haired walkers wondering about in mud clad boots. Fast forward to now and actually that last image isn’t far wrong (!!), but there is a whole lot more to the National Trust than just the older generation. It’s effectively a conservation organisation, founded in 1895 it protects country houses, gardens, grounds, coastlines and historic landscapes. It’s a lifesaver when it comes to saving our beautiful countryside, but I’ve also learnt that it’s a fantastic lifesaver for parents too. I bought myself membership last year and it’s one of the best things I’ve spent money on since having a baby. Membership gives me access to some great places, wide open spaces (unintentional rhyme), a bit of history, houses to nose around and of course, great coffee and cake too. Now that the kid is two, I can sometimes (sometimes) coerce her into a bit of walking, so NT places are great for exploring, climbing and just being outside in the fresh air. I’m a big believer (not beliber) of getting both me and her outside as much as possible, it keeps me sane and it wears her out, win win. Here are some of the awesome places that I’ve ventured to so far.
Claremont Gardens, Esher
This is where I spend the most time as it’s less than ten minutes from where I live. Essentially it’s just a huge garden of sorts but it’s a great time killer. I often take the kid here if I don’t have anything planned and am at a loss for something to do. There’s a simple but decent enough play area, a little café (standard with all NT places) a lake, a gazillion ducks and geese (we’ve yet to be chased by anything so all good) a big hill and amphitheatre area and woodland to walk around. A simple yet lovely place to be.
Ham House, Richmond
I discovered Ham House earlier this year and I love it! A beautiful Grade II listed house (I’m a sucker for old buildings, I adore them) and gardens, which are slowly coming to life as summer finally hits. The café has got lots of seating outside all within a walled garden, so the kid can run around freely and I can watch here (i.e. sit and drink coffee & eat cake). There’s currently a stunning array of herbs, plants and vegetables growing which is great to walk around and explain to the little person what everything is, or in our case recently, we saw lots of ladybirds having, erm, ‘lots of fun together’ 🙂 There’s a wild meadow area at the bottom of the grounds where grasses are left to grow and you can find little entrances to hedged little gardens. A good spot to chase a little person around in and out of. There’s also a section of the house you can go into where there are lots of different dried plants, herbs etc that were used way back when and the kid loved touching and picking up everything. Another great thing is that the house is right by the river and in the summer months, a little further up the track a boat can take you to the other side where there is a little playground, bonus.
Hatchlands Park, Guildford
This was another recent discovery for me, a beautiful country house surrounded by gardens and farmland near Guildford. I’ve only been once but there was a good, newly built tree house area in the ‘Wix Woods’ and some walks in and around the house. They had some space hoppers on the big lawn in front of the house, which were fun for the kid, hilarious for me watching.
Polesden Lacey, Leatherhead
My most favourite place to visit. My sister had her wedding reception here nearly twenty years ago so it holds a special place in our family history. A beautiful Edwardian house and extensive grounds (this isn’t a sales pitch, honest), overlooking green farmland and woods. In the summer time, it’s a beautiful place to be with the yellow of the house sitting against the backdrop of a blue sky. Polesden has the best NT café out of the places I’ve visited so far (and in my humble opinion) with a great little outside seating area. I usually meet my family here and we grab coffee, cake then head go off for a little walk. There is so much space for little ones to run around, in fact that is the best thing about the NT places, they have so much space. The kid loves it at Polesden and I can’t wait for it to be part of her life even more so as she grows up.
Winkworth Arboretum, Godalming
A huge arboretum, which is essentially a collection of trees, with views over the Surrey Hills. I visited last year when the bluebells were out and the woodland floor was a carpet of blue. It was stunning. However this is a place to tackle again when Olivia is a bit older and will do a bit more walking minus buggy, as we managed a short walk around the main wood, but there are plenty more walks to do minus a buggy if you head down a big hill around the arboretum, towards a lake. But still, another stunning venue.
So there you have it, a little roundup of the places I’ve visited to date. Five down, three hundred and something else to go!!!! I’d love to visit some of the far away places, like the Lake District for one and I’d love to do one of the sleep outdoors events that they run, that’s on the list for next year I think (if the weather sorts itself out!). Essentially the National Trust has helped me in the past year and a bit, during some of my melancholy days, days when I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go, days when the kid was driving me a bit potty. Being able to jump in the car and go to a wonderful location and let her run about (or sit in the buggy and moan) and drink coffee and just breathe in fresh air, is good for the soul I think. The National Trust really is an amazing establishment, one that I think I will be a part of forever.