Usually I don’t manage to meet up with my best friend more than a couple of times a year, but in May it’s been twice. Handy because it means the boys don’t need that ice breaker time before they settle into playing together again. This time they were having a stopover in Oxfordshire on the way to holiday, so we’d arranged to meet up at Basildon Park, a National Trust place near Reading we’ve not visited before. The bonus for N was that it was going to be outdoors only, no house visit, as taking young children round stately homes isn’t always a good idea.
Basildon Park dates from the 18th Century, and was owned by Lord and Lady Iliffe who brought the house back to life post war years, turning the interior into 1950s modernity The house is set in beautiful sprawling countryside, and is a little reminiscent of Croome Park.
We’d decided to do both the bee and outdoor play trails. These cost a small amount and were a little extra fun for the children. They’re a great way to get children walking further as well. None of them moaned that they were tired which is good (it also helps having other children with them – for N, at least).
The maps weren’t the best. For both it would have been good to have a Start here sign, and a few arrows following the trail. We ended up walking back on ourselves and back in the cow field, where we should have turned left earlier on. There were other people making the same error so it was a bit confusing. As a geographer, very frustrating as well.
Once we got on the right track, the woodland play trail was great. It’s nice to be in the woods because it was hot, even under the trees the sun was bearing down. And it’s great to get the children out in nature. Considering N lives on a farm and spends a lot of time outside, he knows so little about trees and wildlife, other than what he sees on the farm. I need to test him more – compared to what I knew at his age, I’m a bit embarrassed in his lack of knowledge (and interest).
The play trail has lots of log walking, wood musical instruments, stepping stones, thrones and a couple of ball runs. Complete with tennis balls to play them (although I’d taken a couple with me just in case). The boys had a lot of fun putting the balls down the guttering, although N had hoped for them to be bigger.
It’s a lovely walk through the woods and was just about manageable with a pushchair – the hill up the field where the trail started was the toughest part. Finding our way back out to the house across the field was a bit of a directional punt but luckily we could send the boys to the brow of the hill first to check our direction.
Basildon Park is an imposing building, striking against the blue sky. We headed round to the tea room, deciding to sit outside in the courtyard for lunch.
We had a bit of time afterwards to do the bee trail and walk in the gardens. I got dragged away from the rose garden direction, but the boys found a little maze to do. We couldn’t work out the map direction for the start, so we just started when we found a question. We did manage to finish and it was a nice walk around the gardens. There were plenty of people having picnics in groups and families, so Basildon Park is obviously a popular place to meet up and enjoy the outdoors.
Back through the woods we went to the gift shop for their prize. I was expecting a little chocolate treat, but they were able to choose from a few science-y toys in a basket. Both boys chose a magnifier/telescope and N has been wandering around with his ever since (trying to trick people into thinking it’s a pen!).
We said our goodbyes and headed off in different directions, having had a lovely morning out in the sun. Given I’ve still got the house to discover, I think a return visit to Basildon Park is needed.
Have you ever been? Where have you found some good natural play trails?