Hundreds of National Trust places have family activities for all ages, as well as miles of coast and countryside to let the kids run wild. Rainy days can be spent inside grand houses and activity areas for some hands-on history and special holiday events, and if the weather is good there are plenty of woodland trails and natural adventure play areas, and children or grandchildren could have a go at the National Trust’s ’50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ challenge – the outdoors never felt so good.
Here are some of best National Trust places for a school holiday adventure, plus some fun activity ideas for the family come rain or shine:
Anglesey Abbey, Gardens and Lode Mill, Cambridgeshire
A passion for tradition and style inspired Lord Fairhaven to transform this run-down estate. Visit the inspiration station, shaped like a pine cone, to kick-start your family day out and pick up an activity pack. In the garden, discover 30 acres of mown lawn – just perfect for handstands. Be sure to romp all the way to the wildlife discovery area, home to lots of beautiful butterflies and moths - there are also special structures just waiting to be climbed. Wander through the wild wood where trees take on the shapes of magical, mystical creatures from a story book, or gather twigs to create a secret den.
Sun: Recreate the poses of the statues, with over 200 to choose from in the gardens.
Rain: Seek out a cosy hide to huddle up in and spot wildlife. Head to the mill to grind your own flour.
For more information please call 01223 810080
or visit the Anglesey Abbey information page
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Still the family home of the Carew Pole family after hundreds of years, this beautiful 18th-century estate offers adventure and discovery. The magic of Antony was recognised by Disney when it was chosen as the set for the Tim Burton film Alice in Wonderland. With topiary, a knot garden and modern sculptures, children can imagine themselves in the pages of the storybook, while the grown ups enjoy the stunning Repton landscape and gardens.
Sun: for a classic family day out, try a game of croquet on the lawn.
Rain: try some craft activities.
For more information please call 01752 812191
or visit the Antony information page
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Attingham Park, Shropshire
With acres of parkland, miles of walks and a welcoming Georgian mansion, Attingham Park has something to inspire everyone. Inside, soak up the history and intrigue of ‘Attingham rediscovered’, which has brought to the stories of the house to life - don’t miss the family room with special child-friendly activities and the house mouse trail. Outside, the pushchair-friendly paths make a walk in the park easy, rounded off with a trip to the all-new Shoulder of Mutton playing field, with lots of things to explore.
Sun: have a picnic in the three-acre orchard.
Rain: head to the indoor picnic area to avoid soggy sandwiches.
For more information please call 01743 708123
or visit the Attingham Park information page
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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. Brownsea was the perfect haunt for smugglers, who used to hide their booty of silks and spices in the castle here. From towering trees and shell shores, to the smugglers’ tales and scenes right out of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five novels, everyone will feel like they are on quest of discovery. The island is 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 by families.
Sun: keep a look out for rare proud peacocks roaming the island and spot pottery remains on the seashore.
Rain: watch the birds on the lagoon from the public hideaway or head to the visitors centre and hear how the island was used as a decoy during the Second World War.
For more information please call 01202 707744
or visit the Brownsea Island information page
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Discover the beauty and space of Croome – the landscape and lakeside are full of paths that stretch for miles, leading through to the 18th-century pleasure grounds and RAF-themed play areas. To get a taste of something different, step into the mansion house and discover its secret windows and vibrant paintings. Elsewhere, get swept back to the 1940s in the restored RAF buildings, which once served the nearby airbase as their sick quarters. The 1940s-style canteen serves delicious hot lunches. Outside, there’s plenty of walks which are ideal for families and a natural play area.
Sun: try hunting for bugs and geocaching from the 50 Things challenge too.
Rain: head to the air raid shelter.
For more information please call 01905 371006
or visit the Croome information page
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Dunham Massey, Cheshire
Set in a beautiful deer park, this Georgian house tells the story of the owners and servants who lived here. The house is packed full of treasures and the garden is home to lots of plants and wildlife – don’t miss the garden quiz for families where you can learn some fun facts as you explore. Clamber and climb on the log pile and feed ducks and swans on the moat. You can pick up duck food from the shop.
Sun: try deer spotting in the park – the ranger will be able to show you where they are that day.
Rain: discover the mill and see the waterwheel in action.
For more information, please call 0161 941 1025
or visit the Dunham Massey information page
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Gibside, Tyne and Wear
Visit Gibside for a perfect family adventure: discover the nature haven for a taste of the country on the edge of the city. The former home of the Queen Mother’s family, the Bowes-Lyons, this estate has some quirky buildings to explore, including the Column of Liberty (taller than Nelson’s) and a Palladian chapel. You can enjoy miles of trails while spotting wildflowers at your feet, tiny lambs in the meadows, and red kites circling over head. Hear the story behind the new Strawberry Castle woodland playscape, before refuelling on local food, fresh from the walled garden. What’s more, there are streams to paddle in, woods to explore and open spaces to run around or play a game in.
Sun: go wildlife spotting or on a rope climbing challenge.
Rain: there’s plenty of indoor fun with the milkable cow and the Gibside Hall playhouse.
For more information please call 01207 541820
or visit the Gibside information page
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Acres of gardens, wildflower meadows and woodland are waiting to be explored at this ancient former priory, parts of which are 500 years old. Younger visitors can enjoy a roll down the hill onto the manicured lawns, before stretching out on the cool grass with a picnic. The huge branches of Mottisfont’s famous plane trees are great for climbing into, as the giant leaves hide climbers from view, and nearby, a walk along the river will undoubtedly result in some trout spotting, as you make your way towards the pretty thatched angler’s hut.
The house itself is steeped in history, and full of surprises, including a room with a hidden panel. Check out the Whistler Room and find out why all is not as it seems.
Sun: Mottisfont is great for pooh sticks: try throwing your sticks into the sparkling River Test from one bridge, then race along the river bank to the next bridge to find out who’s won.
Rain: seek out Mottisfont’s creative play space and have fun with the free materials supplied to design seasonal crafts such as a mosaic angel or a flower or bird. Don’t miss the Angel ice-cream parlour.
For more information call 01794 344020
or visit the Mottisfont information page
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Penrhyn Castle, Gwynedd
This enormous 19th-century castle sits between Snowdonia and the Menai Strait, with beautiful views. In the castle, see life ‘downstairs’ brought to life, then head to the railway museum where you can climb aboard an engine and imagine yourself work in the Penrhyn quarry.
Sun: the playground is a great place for children to imagine magical adventures.
Rain: tick of some 50 Things activities, including make a mud pie and explore inside a tree.
lease call 01248-353084
or visit the Penrhyn information page
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Scotney Castle, Kent
Enjoy this picturesque estate with its fairytale castle providing a beautiful backdrop to a family day. Inside, discover the delights of a Victorian country mansion with its secrets and stories; you might meet Scotney’s much-loved cat in residence 'Puss Puss'. Outside, venture into the woodland and parkland with over 770 acres to explore and great trails, include the tree trail to see the most unusual trees. The buggy-friendly nature trail means you and your family can enjoy den building, balancing on a fallen tree, jumping through tyres and much more as you complete the natural play activities along the trail.
Sun: complete two of the 50 Things challenges: get your map and compass from visitor reception or borrow a GPS unit to hunt for geocaches.
Rain: don’t let the rain put you off – wet weather is perfect for hunting for bugs.
For more information please call 01892 893 868
or visit the Scotney Castle information page
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Roam wild at Stourhead, the stunning landscape garden surrounding a magnificent lake. Find hideaways in the surrounding trees or the temples and magical grottos dotted around. Climb the 205 steps to the top of King Alfred’s Tower, or become nature detectives for the afternoon with one of the family tracker packs.
Sun: tick of some of the 50 things challenges: find a big hill to roll down or create some wild art with natural materials.
Rain: dodge the rain on a folly hop, sheltering in the Gothic cottage and temples.
For more information please call 01747 841152
or visit the Stourhead information page
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Don’t be fooled by the plain exterior of this 17th-century house, inside there’s oodles of fancy plasterwork, gorgeous Pre-Raphaelite paintings and many fascinating objects. Don’t miss the collection of dolls’ houses in the servants’ quarters and peep through two keyholes and a mouse hole to see the mouse house. Outside, there’s a great garden to explore with a wildlife hide, as well as trails around the lakes, woodland, parkland and farmland. The kids can let off steam on the new play train and platform.
Sun: find the large, stone griffin heads on the lawn that look like something straight out of Harry Potter and clamber around on the adventure playground. Look out for rare red squirrels in the wildlife hide and go on a trail.
Rain: visit the children’s room in the house, filled with old-fashioned games and toys.
For more information please call 01670 773600
or visit the Wallington information page
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