We are currently on holiday on Northumberland. Some of you know this from Winter is Coming. Today we went to Alnwick Castle and Gardens which has re-opened (albeit on a restricted basis) and it was 12 degrees and wet. This did not dampen our spirits as we got wet(ter) in surprise fountains and ran manically down tree corridors and got lost in bamboo labyrinths.
A day out at Alnwick is unusual for us. And the reason is because it is not part of the National Trust or English Heritage. We are card carrying members of both and love nothing more than to flex our membership and avoid any privately owned houses.
We made an exception for Alnwick as it is really cool.
We have taken our kids to National Trust properties and English Heritage sites since they were tiny. We don’t have that many near us in Bedford but Wimpole Hall Farm and Angelsey Abbey have been perennial favourites along with Wrest Park. And Christmas is not Christmas without our annual pilgrimage to Waddesdon Manor and it’s amazing lights and decorations.
Every year we go on an extended family Easter holiday (not this year obviously) to somewhere in England and it is great when we go to a location with many of these places. Over the years we have seen everything from work houses to the small residential houses of authors to enormous stately homes to massive castles to battle fields to priories to coastline to seals to lighthouses to tile museums. There are so many wild and wonderful properties to visit.
Some take a whole day like Dover Castle or Chartwell or Sutton Hoo or Battle. Some are little gems like Henry James’ house in Rye or Scotney Castle or Igtham Motte. Some blow my mind like Orford Castle (awesome plumbing) and Standen (amazing arts and crafts) and Hardwick Hall (Tudor I love the tudors).
But all these places have one thing in common. They bring history to life. My kids have learnt more about their country’s history in these places than anywhere else. We have seen every era. Discussed the War of the Roses, the Civil War, the Reformation, the World Wars, Viking’s, Saxons, Tudors (lots of Tudors), the Industrial Revolution, and everything in between.
English Heritage mainly does castles and priories. Often ruined. Very often quiet. You can usually get an audio tour. And a wooden sword.
National Trust are usually grand houses (or smaller ones) with gardens and often parklands. As well as the history my children have learnt about trees and plants and kitchen gardens and Capability Brown and Repton. There is always a cafe selling cream teas. And a shop with blankets and chutneys.
We have a fridge rammed with magnets from all the places we have visited.
Recently the National Trust has been in the news for a leaked document that suggests it may need to close all but 20 of its properties to save cash. I sincerely hope they can avoid this. Although in the relaxation of lock down we have still enjoyed the gardens and parklands of Felbrigg and Sheringham Park it is not the same without the houses. The houses and their contents (including the teasels on chairs) bring it all to life. As do their wonderful guides full of stories and interesting facts.
I paid my membership throughout lock down as it is not all about getting my ‘money’s worth’ but also about ensuring these places remain open for everyone.
On the way back from Lindisfarne yesterday (English Heritage) Eldest rain a quiz for us. He read the descriptions from either handbook of places we have visited over the years. One point was available for the name of the property and one for the correct county. It was amazing how many we got right, let alone had visited.
The National Trust and English Heritage are woven into the fabrics of my kids’ lives. They remember many places with great affection. As well as huge numbers of facts. (Mainly about re-redorters and lodges at the entrances to parklands and which is a beech tree all of which are my areas!).
I hope to be able to gift them memberships for their families in the future, and indeed go with them on some trips as my mother has done. And bore my grandkids about latrines and tree species and gatehouses.
Let’s hope this virus does not mean the end of such experiences.