In a world where we are now cramming new housing developments on greenfield sites, joining towns with their outer villages and creating sprawling industrial entrances to cities here in southern England it is becoming harder to find local spaces where children can play safely without threat of traffic or great expenditure. This summer we re-joined the National Trust and worked out it would only take three day-trips to start getting good value for our money. In that first week we visited Stourhead and Mottisfont with two other families (mums outings with children aged 5 to nine) took a picnic blanket and sandwiches and water and in both cases enjoyed a stress-free day appreciative of the fact that it was a safe, spacious environment for our children to explore and discover and that the staff had given much thought to younger visitors and there were activities to engage young minds in imaginative ways.
Stourhead, for many years a preserve of the adult interested in botany, garden design, walking and the visual feast that unfolds as you enter its grounds had put on an insect trail for young people to follow throughout the house (which could, in fact, have been continued around the grounds). Our children made cress beds in egg shells, were so overawed at being asked to play the beautiful grand piano that they couldn’t remember a note, were inspired by many of the paintings they saw and were greatly amused by the random sighting of a couple pretending to iron clothes by the lake (who knows for what purpose). Sitting in the restored Palladin, so beautifully cool on a hot day was also noteworthy. The two hundred and fifty year old grotto and Hansel and Gretel Cottage also made an impact.
Mottisfont, had laid on a Winnie the Pooh trail, initially scoffed at by our crowd but actually much enjoyed, we made a donation towards the beautifully printed trail maps and they enjoyed the adventure of the riverside trail, sitting on the sky seat hidden in a hedge looking up at the clouds and playing pooh sticks on the bridge over the river Test, discovering Eeyores house and concocting games in the beautifully imaginative summer house the trail led you to before walking across the fields past a tree shaped like a “smurf hat” to the Stables where a lovely forest of silk banners grew and the wire mesh horse sculpture just begged to be touched and fascinated all who came upon it. Then there was the second-hand bookshop, the magical walled garden and the spring or moot, the original meeting spot that gave Mottisfont its name. They ran across the wide sweeping lawns watched the bees on the lavender and us mums, enjoyed a really good cup of coffee and the day passed so quickly we were among the last to leave.