Usually I wouldn’t take N to a National Trust place if it’s just gardens. He’s not a house fan, but usually for gardens I visit for photography in suumer he would hate and get bored. Neither of us are particular fans of just walking. We need activities or reasons for walking somewhere. But over the Christmas break we were meeting Mary and Monkey from Over 40 and a mum to one and it was looking like National Trust was the only real option for us. The boys love being outdoors but like different things. The fact we both have membership means it’s always a bargain day out, only needing lunch.
We decided on Cliveden National Trust, about an hour’s drive and thought we might have had time to head to Hughenden afterwards. But I think we were all a little tired after leaving Cliveden.
Cliveden itself is a spectacular house – formerly owned by the Astors, but now a hotel and spa. So with National Trust you only get to visit the grounds. But you can still walk around the hotel and the terrace, and see the famous gold clock tower.
We started off at the maze. The boys led the way and were triumphant finding their way to the centre. They never seem to feel it but I always feel a bit disoriented in a maze – the children just get the excitement.
You can walk in different directions around the grounds, but we headed past the pretty water garden with its chinese pagoda and fountains to the storybook den play area.
We couldn’t grab a coffee as planned because the gingerbread style Dolly House cafe was stock taking. It was a mystery if it was opening up later or not, but it seemed strange if it didn’t given how busy it was in the play area. I’m sure they’d have done good trade. We got our passed checked as we drove in rather than most places at the entrance, and it could have been useful to have that highlighted on a sign there so we knew what was open or not. Instead we had to head to the restaurant or back to the car park again.
The Story Book play den area is a lovely shaded woodland playground. It’s aimed at under 8s with the equipment. There was certainly nothing challenging for N. But he still had a good play on it. It’s a nice touch theming the area around classic children’s books, and featuring characters like Peter Pan and Hook, Alice in Wonderland characters and various other animals and characters. It’s a popular area, and just outside the play area, there’s lots of picnic benches for summer picnics.
Like most National Trust places, there is a bit of walking to do to get around. There’s also plenty of different short cuts children can explore to find more exciting routes. If you’ve a pushchair or wheelchair there’s a lot of flat road and paths, as well as a shuttle bus if needed.
Walking towards Cliveden house it looks spectacular. I obviously missed the excitement last year about Meghan Markle staying there ahead of her wedding to Prince Harry, but the hotel is popular given the number of cars parked up. It looks very grand from the gates. Although we did remark that staying there must be a treat, but you’d then have views of the general public roaming around outside.
You can walk around the outside of the house and walls, and there’s plenty of grounds to see. From the back of the house it’s more beautiful. The golden gates outside the sounding chamber were commissioned in 1895, and restore in 2017. They’re quite spectacular. They think the sounding chamber was originally used to listen to music, and when we were there there was music playing which had been commissioned to celebrate 4 women of Cliveden. The boys weren’t impressed and didn’t hang around.
I can imagine in the summer the parterre is beautiful, but the boys were happy enough
walking running down to the statue. One of the good things about visiting in winter is you don’t feel it’s busy (although the restaurant does get busy at lunchtimes, especially when it’s really cold.
We ate lunch at the orangery restaurant. It’s large, with plenty of outdoor seating. It was very busy when we were there so we were pleased we’d arrived there early to get a table.
The sandwich choices were limited – with no egg mayo (my only option), so I chose a jhacket poato whcih was really good value. I always find National Trust sandwiches frustrating because they all have sauces and condiments. I don’t have mustard or pickle because there’s always too much if others make it. Once N has grown out of kids lunchboxes, he won’t eat any of the sandwiches if they’ve got condiemnts in so we’re going to be stuck. More plain sandwiches should be available – or at least have tuna or egg available.
After lunch we headed back outside as there was a request from Monkey to go down to the river. It’s just the Thames, there’s not much else to see, at this time of year espcially. So we did the epic steps down the hill, had a quick look, then returned back up the steps again. They were never-ending. Not easy when you’ve got childen heading down with their parents, and counting out the steps. It was a killer on the legs but the boys raced up it.
To head back to the car park we walked around the back of the house, checked out the rose garden which I think I’d love in the summer.
N was bored by this stage. He’s just not one for imagination which would make walks more exciting. Cliveden is quite an adult day out if your child is too old for the story book play den. It is just walks around the various garden areas otherwise.
I’d like to return in summer to see the gardens in full bloom. But I do prefer a National Trust property where there’s more to do and see, and the choice of seeing inside the house. N is less keen on houses, but he likes the trails they often do and visiting a house does break up a day of walking.
It was lovely to have a day out with friends though, and sharing experiences rather than always just being us on a day out.
What kind of National Trust visits do you prefer?
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