National Trust’s summer survival guide for parents

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Children with Nets

With six weeks of blissful freedom ahead, the summer holiday is a giant, fun-sized adventure for children of all ages. But for parents, filling the long days of summer and keeping everyone entertained can be one big headache. The National Trust’s summer survival guide is here to help, providing wild and wonderful adventures on everyone’s doorstep. And it doesn’t have to cost the earth – meaning the pennies will go even further this summer.

Here are the top National Trust places to survive the summer holidays:


London & South East

Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire

One of the most remarkable creations of Georgian England, Stowe was created by a family once so powerful they were richer than the king. Experience one of the greatest gardens in Europe, perfect for children wanting to go on an adventure, come rain or shine.


  • Try to find the famous residents, such as William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I.
  • Pay hide and seek in temples with hidden mystical meanings.
  • Enjoy a walk around the garden and see how many different types of flowers there are.
  • Pick up a family activity pack.
  • New for summer – take a land train between the visitor centre and gardens.


Chartwell, Kent

The home of Winston Churchill and family, the estate is kept similar to how it would have been when he lived there. The house is full of family mementoes and photographs, while the grounds contain reminders of the many ways in which the Churchills enjoyed their surroundings. Ducks, geese and black swans still swim on the lakes and fish like the ones Sir Winston used to feed are in the ponds. Sir Winston had a great love of many pets. His cat, Jock, was a favourite companion, so much so that Churchill made it know that there should always be a similar marmalade cat living comfortably at Chartwell. Today, Jock IV keeps up the tradition.


  • Find and enjoy the playhouse in the kitchen garden, which Churchill built for his young daughters.
  • Explore the grounds and see how many minibeasts there are to spot on the special children’s trail.
  • Spot the names of two favourite dogs and one very special cat in amongst the pet graves.
  • Roam through the woods and make a den.


Credit John Millar


South West 

Arlington Court, Devon

Most people bring back a couple of things when they go on holiday abroad, but one-time owner, Rosalie Chichester, just didn’t know when to stop – the house is packed with treasures. There are cabinets full of model ships, shells, silver spoons, paperweights and snuff boxes. The carriage museum has over 50 horse-drawn carriages and chariots, including one designed to be pulled by a dog. A beautiful state coach – last used at the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 – is also now back on display.


  • Grab the reins and drive the ‘please touch’ carriage – the metal horse won’t go far though.
  • Rummage through a Victorian’s lost luggage in the explorer room.
  • Visit the horses and watch a harnessing demonstration.
  • Spy on lesser horseshoe bats with the bat-cam.
  • Borrow binoculars and go on a wildlife hunt.
  • Swing and slide in the children’s play area.


Brownsea Island, Dorset

Take the ferry across to this adventure island in Poole Harbour, famous for being an unspoilt, natural haven with a colourful history. From towering trees and shell shores, to the smugglers’ tales and scenes right out of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels, the whole will feel like they are on quest of discovery. The island is also one of the last places to see red squirrels as well as many different kinds of seabirds. There are lots of walks, some suitable for even the youngest would-be smuggler, and the island is car free so every inch of it can be explored.

Brownsea Island


  • Follow a smugglers trail to find the treasure chest.
  • Watch the cormorants, oyster-catchers, terns, shelduck and other seabirds nose-diving into the sea.
  • Head to the visitors centre and hear how the island was used as a decoy during the Second World War to protect the nearby towns of Poole and Bournemouth from bombing.
  • Hunt for wildlife in the many bomb craters on the island.
  • Pay a visit to the outdoor centre and see the Scout stone – Brownsea was the founding place of the Scout and Guide movement.


Credit - David Levenson

East of England

Credit Ian Shaw

Sutton Hoo, Suffolk

Discover page one of English history at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, where over 70 years ago excavation uncovered the one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time – the incredible ship-burial of an Anglo-Saxon warrior king, including weapons and priceless royal treasure. Explore the award-winning exhibition, featuring the full size reconstruction of the burial chambers and stunning replica treasures.


  • Dress up as an Anglo-Saxon for the day
  • Climb up the viewing platform to view the 90 foot boat.
  • Walk into the burial chamber of King Raedwald – with sounds and smells that will transport you back in time.
  • Meet a 1930s archaeologist and help them unearth the past in the trench.
  • Watch the Sutton Hoo film and be transported to a world of Anglo-Saxon kings, craftsmen and poets.
  • Have fun in the children’s play area and enjoy the estuary views.
  • Pick up a tracker pack or quiz.


Blickling Hall, Garden and Park, Norfolk

Blickling Hall is a quirky-looking building and has a spectacular collection of Dutch gables and turrets, striking brick chimneys and massive yew hedges. Embark on a voyage of discovery and follow four centuries of history, from the Boleyn family to the RAF and Second World War.

Learn what life was like as a servant and hear the stories of the real people who kept Blickling in ship-shape. Henry VIII’s second queen, poor old Anne Boleyn, is thought to have lived in an earlier house on the estate when she was a girl. Some say they’ve seen her headless ghost riding up to the house, in a coach pulled by headless horses. Outside, enjoy extensive garden and parkland, with 400 year-old yew hedges and historic trees.


  • Listen to the voices of Blickling servants.
  • Follow the wartime history in the RAF museum.
  • Find the hidden pyramid, a tomb built for one of Blickling’s owners.
  • Have a picnic in the orchard
  • Spot local wildlife, including woodpeckers, herons and owls.
  • Play croquet on the lawn.
  • Hire a bike to explore.


Midlands Attingham Park, Shropshire

An elegant 18th century mansion with a grand façade and swanky Regency interiors, set in beautiful parkland. Inside, discover all the tricks to make the house seem bigger: the drive is winding, and goes by specially positioned trees so that the grounds seem larger; the main drawing room has mirrors at either end, to make the room go on forever; and there are false doors throughout to give the illusion of extra rooms. The trickery doesn’t end there, as in the picture gallery by John Nash, the portrait of Queen Charlotte ages as you walk past from left to right.


  • See conservation in action in the mansion and the walled garden.
  • Imagine being a servant who had to answer the bells – there was one for all the main rooms of the house.
  • Have a go at the House Mouse trail in the mansion or take a family trail around the park – available throughout the school holidays.
  • Dress up, make tea for Lady Berwick, write the housekeeper’s shopping list and play games of the times in the family activity room.
  • See the hens and chickens in the orchard and have a go at potting plants in the Gardener’s Bothy.
  • Head to the children’s play area to let off steam.

Calke Abbey - Credit Paul Harris

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Head to Derbyshire and explore an extraordinary house that tells the tale of an eccentric family, their passions and quirky way of life. Largely unchanged since the 1880s, room after room in Calke Abbey uncovers the possessions of the Harpur Crewe family, including cannonballs, shells, stones, and even an alligator skull. Outside, escape into the ancient habitats of Calke park and its National Nature Reserve.


  • Discover the fossils, taxidermy and Egyptian curiosities in the Saloon.
  • Head to the Squirt’s Stable for family activities.
  • Head underground to follow the twists and turns of the Brewhouse Tunnel.
  • Find minibeasts using free, family tracker packs.
  • See roaming deer in the park and find ‘the old man of Calke’ tree that’s over one thousand years old.
  • Find the weirs and ponds in the middle of the park, home to all sorts of wildlife.


Yorkshire & North East 

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, Yorkshire

There’s so much atmosphere and adventure to soak up at this World Heritage Site, making it the perfect kids’ destination. From the dramatic abbey ruins, which could tell a thousand tales, to the stunning, landscaped water gardens complete with temples, statues and follies.


  • Play hide and seek in the abbey ruins.
  • Have a go at grinding corn in the mill.
  • Spot the species of bat that live in the abbey.
  • Discover the trough where the monks washed their feet – they only had four baths a year.
  • Go on a wildlife trail and spot three different breeds of wild deer.
  • Seek shelter in the porter’s lodge exhibition to discover the abbey’s story.
  • Head indoors for a spot of dressing-up in monks’ robes.
  • Enjoy swinging, climbing and jumping in the children’s play area.
  • Look for the centuries-old graffiti at Fountains mill.

Credit Arnhel Serra

Cragside, Northumberland

Discover the world of Lord Armstrong – Victorian inventor, innovator and landscape genius. Built on a rocky crag, Cragside is crammed full of ingenious gadgets and was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. Armstrong was obsessed with water, and had all sorts of intriguing contraptions – including a water-powered passenger lift. The gardens are incredible – with one of the largest rock gardens in Europe.


  • Armstrong made sure his inventions were helpful to servants too – find an early version of a dishwasher, the dumb waiter and electric gong.
  • Try the circular Armstrong Trail Walk through the estate, which explores Armstrong’s hydraulic and hydro-electric machinery.
  • Get lost in Nelly’s Labyrinth – a network of paths and tunnels cut out of a vast rhododendron forest.
  • Take a peek from the wildlife hide.
  • Generate electricity using interactive models in the power house.
  • Enjoy the swings, slides and tunnels at the adventure playground.
  • Lift a Mini in the exhibition.

Credit - John Millar  Credit John Millar

North West  Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate Cheshire

Where did our great grandparents live? How did they live? Experience something of the noise and hardship in their lives at Quarry Bank Mill. Overflowing with the atmosphere of the Industrial Revolution, hear the clattering of machinery and hiss of steam engines as costumed guides bring the 18th-century cotton mill alive. From demonstrations of spinning and weaving to watching the most powerful water wheel in Europe as it churns through the water to power the mill, visitors will live and breathe the workings of this truly unique place.


  • Take a guided tour through the apprentice house and experience life as a child working in the mill.
  • Discover how the huge industrial machines were manned in the vast labyrinthine of the mill. Learn how water power was supplemented by steam power.
  • Enjoy a family picnic near the play area.
  • Discover the 18th-century Mill owner’s garden, listen to the new garden audio tour and pick up a family garden activity pack.


Lyme Park, Cheshire

On the edge of the Peak District, Lyme Park is known for its wild remoteness and colourful family history. Originally a Tudor house, Lyme Park was transformed into a huge Italianate palace in the 18th century. The garden has many features to explore, including a ravine garden and an orangery, and it is all surrounded by 570 hectares of medieval deer park.


  • Play with the toys in the nursery bedroom.
  • Take a family quiz in the house and garden.
  • Explore the moorland and woodland in the park.
  • Let off steam in the Crow Wood playscape.

Credit Paul Harris - Wales Erddig

Wales Erddig, Wrexham

The original house was finished in 1687 and was added to over the years as the home of the Yorke family. They were a rather eccentric bunch who chose not to install electricity, gas or mains water until well into the 20th-century. Don’t be fooled by the plain brickwork exterior; inside, the lavish furnishings and stark servants’ quarters offer an outstanding portrayal of the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ way of gentry living. Despite this, the Yorkes were extremely fond of all their servants and even commissioned portraits of them all – complete with little verses penned by the family.


  • Find the centuries-old waterfall in the park, known as the ‘cup and saucer’
  • Cycle along the bridleway.
  • Visit the walled garden to spot rare varieties of fruit, including an apple called an Edelborsdorfer.
  • Spot the gamekeeper, the housemaid and the blacksmith among the portraits of the servants.


Credit - John Millar  Credit David Levenson

Powis Castle and Garden, Powys

The medieval castle was originally built as a fortress for the Welsh Prince of Powys and today it is the ideal setting to act like the prince or princess of the castle. Over the years, the Herbert family have packed it with paintings, sculptures and treasures from India, found in the Clive museum. The 26-acre gardens are perfect for young explorers.


  • Have a go at the children’s quiz in the castle and garden.
  • Hunt for the solid gold tiger, encrusted with precious stones
  • Play hide and seek behind the 300 year-old giant yew hedges.
  • Head to the igloo-shaped ice house to see how ice was stored before fridges came along.
  • Find the giant stone foot sculpture in the wilderness garden.


Northern Ireland  Carrick-a Rede, Co. Antrim

Take the exhilarating rope bridge to Carrick-a Rede island and enjoy a truly clifftop experience. This 30-metre deep and 20-metre wide chasm is fantastic for bird watching and has unrivalled coastal scenery.See uninterrupted views of Rathlin and the Scottish islands as well as unique geology, flora and fauna


  • Take a guided tour of the clifftop.
  • Enjoy a picnic with the best views around.
  • Walk along the coastal path and enjoy the fresh, sea breeze.
  • Try to spot 10 different types of birds.


Florence Court, Co Fermanagh

Florence Court is much loved for many reasons. The beautiful park, gardens and surrounding forest – nestled below the stunning Cuilcagh Mountains – offer fantastic opportunities for all the family to enjoy. There are miles of walking and cycle trails, a playground for the children and the opportunity to discover more about nature with an adventure tracker pack.


  • Have fun in the Rock Hound room with a range of activities based around the 3rd Earl of Enniskillen’s fossil collection.
  • Take a children’s house tour and hear the story of ‘The Breeching of young Arthur’ – a time when boys start wearing trousers instead of dresses.
  • See how many red squirrels there are.
  • Enjoy themed, summer weekend activities for all the family.


  1. Abella

    June 14, 2012 at 7:27 am

    nice articles thanks for sharing.

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