Ice is a nice crowd puller for Polesden

Mrs Greville would have been so proud… Not only did the National Trust welcome more than 11,300 people into her former home over four Edwardian Christmas weekends, a welcome this inveterate hostess stipulated when she bequeathed Polesden Lacey to them, but they followed this with the creation in the grounds of a 2m high ice statue of the lady herself!

Hamilton Ice Sculptures, the first professional ice sculpting company in the UK who have worked for many famous clients including Elton John and Justin Timberlake, were invited to come to Polesden on the last weekend of 2012 to create two unique pieces in front of visitors.

“Many of our sculptures are created behind closed doors” said Jack Hackney, one of just four expert craftsmen on the Hamilton Ice Sculptor team, “so it was refreshing to be able to showcase how we work and to be able to answer questions. Working in the outdoors after all the rain we’ve had lately also presented a lot of challenges, but I was really pleased with the results.”

Ice Sculptures at Polesden Lacey

Andrea Selley, Polesden’s General Manager, was also very pleased “There was so much interest before the event, and Ben and Jack certainly didn’t disappoint. We moved the ice sculpting point up to the Stable Courtyard so that visitors could enjoy watching the team at work from under our canopy. The weather hasn’t been on our side, but we still wanted to allow as many people to enjoy the experience as possible.’’

Following the success of the Christmas weekends, Santa’s elves have also been busy the past few weeks replying to the nearly 1,200 letters sent to him by children whilst visiting Polesden. It was heart warming to see that the most popular presents requested were traditional favourites, the top three being: dolls, lego and remote control cars.

Polesden Lacey’s Restaurant Gains Two Local Authority Awards!

Polesden Lacey in snow ©National Trust Images Nick Meers

Polesden Lacey is one of our local National Trust places, and the one we go back to the most often – and have often eaten here. The food is SO good and delicious, although there’s often big queues! They’re also doing Christmas meals (on December weekdays) so if you’re looking for something a bit different, why not consider Polesden Lacey? (then have a brisk walk around the grounds afterwards, or do a bit of Geocaching!)

Enjoy a two course Winter Warmer lunch at Polesden weekdays during November (excl 28-30), January (excl 1 & 2) and February. Three courses for £22.50, or two courses for £19.50, but hurry places are going fast!

Their Courtyard Restaurant is celebrating after receiving accolades from not one, but two local councils.

Surrey County Council recently promoted the popular restaurant to Silver level as part of its Eat Out Eat Well scheme, which rewards those caterers who make it easier for their customers to make healthy choices when eating out. Polesden is one of only four catering establishments in the whole of Mole Valley to have reached Silver level or above.

In addition, Mole Valley District Council gave both the coffee shop and restaurant the highest possible rating for its annual hygiene inspection after turning up unannounced during a very busy half term lunchtime!

For more information and to book, please call 01372 452048 or see

Polesden under snow ©National Trust Images Nick Meers

The Best National Trust Festive Grottos

Tales around the TreeIt’s less than 100 days to Christmas, you know. Santa is getting busy, but he’s stopping by a few National Trust places – we’ve been members for the last three years, and hadn’t realised Santa pops by – to help make family visits extra magical this December!

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, many National Trust houses and gardens will be helping Father Christmas with special locations for his grottos; from Victorian-style country homes and beautiful gardens to an ancient castle and an old style kitchen, these enchanting grottos will fill the whole family with Christmas cheer

Here are the National Trust’s best grottos to visit this Christmas:

Hatfield Forest, Essex

Father Christmas trail, 1-2, 8-9 December, 10.30am-1.30pm

A magical trail leads through the woodland wonderland to find Father Christmas in his enchanted grotto. Collect craft items along the way and make a festive picture in the classroom to remember a great day out.

£6.80 per child (including gift, craft, drink and biscuit).

Booking essential. For more information, please call 0844 249 1895.

Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire

Santa’s grotto, 24-25 November, 1-2, 15-16 December, 11am-4pm

Come and visit Father Christmas in the atmospheric setting of Lancashire’s finest Tudor building – a great way to help everyone enter into the spirit of Christmas. Santa will also be appearing at the two day Christmas fair on the 8-9 December.

£5 per child, including a gift.

Booking not needed. For more information, please call 01704 821254.

Calke Abbey, Derbyshire

Christmas at Calke, 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23 December, 11am-6.30pm

Discover Calke Abbey, the ‘unstately home’, where you can enjoy a visit to Father Christmas in his amazing grotto and take part in some children’s crafts in Squirt’s stable. As darkness falls, experience the beautiful grounds of this unique house as it is illuminated by spotlights.

Normal admission charges apply. Extra charge for trail and grotto.

Booking not needed. For more information, please call 01332 863822.

Father Christmas at Killerton, Devon ©National Trust Images, Arnhel de SerraKillerton, Exeter

Father Christmas visits Killerton, 3, 8, 10, 15, 17. 22 December, 2pm-3.30pm

Father Christmas visits Killerton to get everyone in the festive spirit. Killerton’s Father Christmas is dressed in green, as he traditionally was in the Victorian era, and has a warm welcome ready for all guests.

Normal admission charges apply. £3 per child to visit grotto, including gift.

Booking not needed. For more information, please call 01392 881345.

Red House, London

Olde Father Christmas, 8-9 December, 11.30am-4.30pm 

Visitors to this quirky and intriguing home will be greeted by a Victorian Father Christmas, dressed all in traditional green. Welcoming children (and adults) of all ages, stories of old Christmas traditions will be told and gifts presented.

Normal admission charges apply. £2.50 per child to visit Father Christmas.

Booking is advisable. For more information, please call 020 8304 9878.

The Argory, Co. Armagh

Santa’s Christmas grotto, 8-9 and 15-16 December 4pm-8pm

Add some magic this Christmas at The Argory. Children can meet the elves in their workshop, whilst mum and dad enjoy some festive refreshments in the tea room. Then, take a magical journey to see Santa and Mrs Claus in their winter wonderland grotto, where each child will receive a beautiful gift.

£8 per adult and £10 per child.

Booking essential. For more information, please call 028 9024 6609.

Wallington, Northumberland

Santa at Wallington, 8-9, 15-16 and 22-23 December 10.30am-3.30pm

Santa will be making a special visit to Wallington on weekends throughout December – visit him in his cosy grotto and receive a special gift. Why not stretch your legs and enjoy a winter walk in the surrounding landscape too?

Normal admission charges apply. £8 per child for grotto, including gift.

Booking essential. For more information, please call 01670 773600.

Studland Beach, Dorset

Santa at Studland, 15-16 December, 10.30am-12pm, 1.30pm-3.30pm

Santa will be doing something different this Christmas – coming to Studland by canoe! He will be staying in his beach hut hideaway, and all children who find him will receive a present.

£5 per child.

Booking not needed. For more information, please call 01929 450500.

Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire 

Breakfast with Santa, 1-2, 8-9 December, 10am-11am

Experience an extra special Christmas breakfast with Santa in the old kitchen restaurant. Includes breakfast, a gift from Santa and a chance to see his magical reindeer.

£7.50 per adult, £10 per child (including gift).

Booking essential. For more information, please call 01332 842191.

Arlington Court and the National Trust Carriage Museum

Devon brunch or tea with Father Christmas, 15-21 December, 10.30am-12pm, 2.30pm-4.30pm

Enjoy a special brunch or tea with Father Christmas at Arlington Court this Christmas season. Join in with festive fun and games, plus all good girls and boys will receive a present.

Adult £7.50, Child £6, Family £24 (2 adults, 2 children).

Booking essential. For more information, please call 01271 850296.

Berrington Hall, Herefordshire 

Lunch with Father Christmas, 17-19 December, 12.30pm-1.30pm, 1.30pm-2.30pm

As the big day approaches bring the kids along to Berrington for a festive lunch and treat them to a visit from Father Christmas.

£10 per child, includes one child’s lunch and a gift from Father Christmas.

Booking essential. For more information, please call 01568 615721.

Halloween Fun with the National Trust

Children in Halloween costume ©National Trust Images Andreas von EinsiedelEnjoy Halloween with the National Trust and experience spine-chilling thrills at some of the most hauntingly atmospheric houses and castles across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

From terrifying trails and spooky story-telling to fearsome face painting and frightening fancy dress, there’s something to give the whole family the jitters.

Here’s a spooktacular selection of Halloween events on offer with the National Trust:

Houghton Mill, Cambridgeshire
Halloween at the Mill, 27 October 5.30pm-7.30pm
Are you brave enough to visit our spooky mill after dark? Enjoy a Halloween supper of jacket spuds, bangers and beans in the tea room. Then make your own lantern to light your way around the spooky Halloween trail in the mill.
£6.50 per person. Booking is essential.
For more information, please call 01480 301494.

Flatford: Bridge Cottage, Suffolk
All Hallows’ Eve, 28 October 11am-4pm
Spooky fun at Valley Farm. Do your best to scare us with your frightening Halloween costumes and enter into our Scary fancy dress competition. Bring a pumpkin or jam jar to make your own lantern. There’ll be pumpkin soup in the tearoom – this is one ghostly day not to be missed.
Normal admission charges apply, plus £1 per child for activities. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01206 297201.

Speke Hall, Garden and Estate, Liverpool
Halloween, 28 and 31 October 6.30pm-10pm
Darkness descends over Speke Hall…test your nerves and face your fears in Liverpool’s premier spooky setting! Negotiate the Mayhem Maze and stumble through the Gruesome Graveyard before arriving at the House itself. If you emerge relatively unscathed, perhaps you could brave the wild woodlands, or other terrifying tests and awful ordeals.
Ghosts, ghouls, and other creatures of the night welcome you to the House interior. Crazy corridors and creaky stairways lead to abandoned rooms and forgotten doors, dare you open them?
£12 per adult and £10 per child. Booking early is essential.
For more information, please call 0151 728 5833.

Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate, Cheshire
Spooky Tours, 26-27 October 6.30pm-9.30pm
Join us if you dare for a ghostly and haunting trip through the Mill performed by the Academy of Live and Performing Arts North. Not suitable for children under 12yrs.
Booking essential. £7 per person. 01625 445845.
Ssspooky Halloween, 22-26 October, 12pm-4pm
Sssomethings sssslithering through the Mill… Come and make a spooky snake of your own at one of our free workshops and follow the snake trail through the Mill (50p per trail).
Normal admission charges apply. Booking not needed.
Ssspooky Science, 27 October, 12pm-4pm
Enter the Mad Professor’s lab and experiment with potions, slime and all sorts at our free workshops!
Normal admission charges apply. Booking Not Needed

Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens, Anglesey
Spooky Halloween, 31 October 11am-4pm
Come and join us for some spine tingling fun in our ‘spooky house’. Also children’s trails in the main house. We’ll be opening a special spooky house for those who dare to enter – you never know what you might see or touch. Great fun for all the family – children in Halloween outfits enter for free.
Normal admission charges apply. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01248 714795.

Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Hunt the haunted, 31 October 10am-4pm
Find the bats hidden in each of the Parlour Rooms at New Inn. Join us for spine-tingling scary stories at 11am and 2pm.
Normal admission charges apply. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01280 822850.

Chartwell, Kent
Hallowe’en Twilight Trails, 31 October and 1-2 November 4pm-7pm
Only the brave should embark on this! But beware and be careful and you will make it back for a warming Hallowe’en supper
£10.95 per person. Booking is essential.
For more information, please call 01732 861161.

Basildon Park, Berkshire
Fang-tastic Halloween, 27 October – 4 November 10am-5pm
Prepare to be spooked at Basildon Park! Lots of Jack-o-lanterns have been hidden in the garden and we need your help to find them, don’t forget to claim your reward!
Normal admission charges apply, plus £2 per trail. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 0118 984 3040.

Hughenden Manor, Buckinghamshire
Hallowe’en witchery, 27 October – 4 November 11am-4pm
Spooky activities for all your family. Wear your creepiest costume!
Normal admission charges apply. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01494 755573.

Croome, Worcestershire
Activity Day – Halloween, 28 and 31 October 12pm-4pm
Have a go at our spooky activities and carve a pumpkin too! Activities include brewing potion, wand making, woodland play, potion to banish homework blues, pumpkin carving.
Normal admission charges apply, plus £3 for activities. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01905 370005.

Dudmaston Estate, Shropshire
Halloween Activity Day, 28 October 12pm-5pm
Take a spooky trail around the garden and have a go at the themed craft activities. Head to the tea-room for some Halloween treats, from toffee apples to bat biscuits, and end the day by going on our lantern walk through the woods, to really soak up the atmosphere.
Normal admission charges apply, plus charges for activities. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01746 780866.

Dudmaston Estate, Shropshire
Lantern Making Workshop, 20 and 27 October 10am-12pm
Why not learn some new skills as a family? Make willow lanterns and paint glass lanterns, then come back and join us on Sunday, 28th October at Dudmaston Hall for our Autumn Colours event where we will end the day with our spooky lantern walk through the woods. The more lanterns we’ve got the more spooks we will scare away.
£20 per lantern. Booking is essential.
For more information, please call 01746 780838.

Canons Ashby House, Northamptonshire
Halloween – if you dare! 29-31 October 5pm-7pm
As darkness falls and the house settles down for the night will you dare to enter? You’ll hear ghostly tales of the past and stories of the family who lived at Canons Ashby. Who knows, they may join in…
£15 per adult and £7.50 per child, including supper. Booking is essential.
For more information, please call 01327 861900.

Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire
Halloween Walk, 31 October 6pm-8pm
Come along and experience spooky stories and tales from Hardwick’s past. Encounter eerie characters as you explore the grounds of Hardwick Hall. Wrap up warm and bring a torch.
£5 per person. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01246 850430.

Hanbury Hall and Gardens, Worcestershire
Hallowe’en Family Activity Days, 30 October – 1 November 11am-4.30pm
Enjoy Halloween themed trails, activities, and face painting. Trail only also available Monday 29 October.
Normal admission charges apply. Small charge for activities. Booking not needed. 01527 821214

Baddesley Clinton, West Midlands
Family Fun Days – Halloween, 27 October – 4 November 11am-3.30pm
Enjoy our spooky outdoor trail around the grounds with activities to take home. See how many pumpkins you can spot in the house.
Normal admission charges apply. £2 per trail. Booking not needed. 01564 783294

Croft Castle and Parkland, Herefordshire
Hallowe’en Trails, 20 October – 4 November 10am-4.30pm
Take part in one of our spooky trails around the gardens, find all the clues to win a prize. In the castle keep a look out for the bats.
Normal admission charges apply, booking not needed. £2 per trail. 01568 780246

Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire
Hallowe’en trails, 20 October – 4 November, 11am-4pm
Tis wiching season and there are spooky goings on at each of our sites in Herefordshire. Solve the clues on our Hallowe’en trail to win a prize.
Normal admission. Booking not needed. £2 per trail. 01885 482077

Lanhydrock – photo courtesy of the National Trust

Lanhydrock, Cornwall
Spooky garden trail, 27-31 October 10am-5pm
Prize trail in the garden with a spooky theme.
Normal admission charges apply, plus £1.50 per trail. Booking not needed.
For more information, please call 01208 265950.

We Love Our National Trust Membership

We’ve been National Trust membersNational Trust logo for two and a half years now. We’re really lucky in that we have tons of places that aren’t too far away – Morden Hall Park is reachable by bus, for example.

If we head towards Dorking we’ve got Polesden Lacey which has so much going on and loads of outdoors to walk around, as well as Box Hill, as seen on the cycling during the Olympics.

There’s loads more, but what we’ve loved the most is that you only need to visit four or five places to have made your money back – and having the freedom to visit different places and do activities is something we enjoy doing.

When we stayed in Exeter we made a visit to Killerton House for a wander around the grounds – and I know if we were to ever go to Cornwall on holiday then we’d make the most of our membership as the National Trust own a lot of the car parks there – which would save us a lot.

I’m from York and without realising I hadn’t been to our most famous National Trust place – The Treasurer’s House – that was put to rights this year when a proper visit was made, though no ghosts were to be seen unfortunately.

I love that you can visit properties – famous and not. Chartwell is the family home of Winston Churchill complete with fabulous grounds to walk around and explore.

The best thing I’ve found with having the membership is knowing we’re in a safe place – you’ve generally got grounds to walk around plus activities to do at various points in the year – just this year the National Trust have brought out the ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 and 3/4‘ activities – something I hadn’t really looked at and assumed it was for older kids – yet actually a lot of the things suggested in there we have done. It’s worth a look anyway – you’d be surprised.

There’s lots of National Trust activities coming up, so stay tuned as we’ll be mentioning them a lot more!

Geocaching at Polesden Lacey

Okay, so first off the disclaimer. I was a Brownie and a Guide and never once did I do orienteering. Maybe someone else knew something I didn’t (as I’m quite well-known within the family for taking longer detours when they’re meant to be a short cut), but having a compass and plotting things and doing whatever you do has never happened in my life. I’ve also never been a rambler (apart from in speech and writing).

Geocaching at Polesden Lacey

So today we tried out Geocaching – as our local National Trust place Polesden Lacey does it. As we’re National Trust Members it didn’t cost us a thing, just our membership card as a deposit for the GPS receiver – which already had everything pre-programmed in. All we had to do was follow the co-ordinates on the GPS to find each Geocache, sign the logbook and move onto the next one. We were also provided with a map.

Simple, right?

Geocaching at Polesden Lacey

Actually, bar number 1 and 3 we did find everything – at the start we had no idea what we were looking for and number 3 was impossible to find – but once we got to the second one and found a round container with a film tube inside it with a roll of paper which is in fact the logbook (I signed all ours with H’s name) it all clicked – and became fun for all of us (before then Shaun was complaining a bit that it was a bit boring). I was particularly smug when we found number 12 and were the first people to find it today – considering there’d been a good five or six people before us too. Ner!

Geocaching at Polesden Lacey

The GPS receiver had our route pre-programmed in, and the few times I accidentally pressed that we’d completed one level it was easy enough to backtrack in the receiver and find the clue we’d missed (I even did one manually, go me and my supposed lack of navigational skills!) – oh, and I forgot to say, the man at Polesden Lacey told us “this used to be called Orienteering you know” – to which I piped up “ah, and then it got all modern with computers and stuff, right?” – I get it!

Geocaching at Polesden Lacey

We got to walk around parts of the grounds we’d never visited before which was good – including a killer hill all the way back up towards the end of our favourite tree tunnel. H was amazing and walked most of it – though was really tired by the end. I tracked it in Endomondo and it comes in at 2.2 miles which isn’t too bad a distance.

We’re now on the lookout for more Geocaches locally – I’ve been told there’s one on Epsom Downs so that might be our next one – and the best bit? In some of the geocaches people leave a little present. If you want that little present then you substitute it with something of equal value. H decided she wanted a little toy chick, so we left a conker, but then she wanted a ladybird so we traded the chick for that – so she’s learning she can’t just take things without leaving something for the next person too which I reckon is a pretty good lesson. (it’s also a good way to find a new home when you’re overwhelmed with party bag trinkets)


By the time we got to the end we were close enough to the cafe/restaurant area, so treated ourselves to a nice National Trust ice cream – I reckon we earned it!

I bet I’d have been quite good at orienteering too. Hmph.

Official Geocaching Site

National Trust places with free Geocaching (deposit of some kind may be required)

A Cheaper London? Part 3.

The day before payday, the one where you try not to spend a thing. What better time to head to a trusty National Trust place, free as you’re a member – and take a picnic along as well?

Claremont Landscape GardensSo today we headed to Claremont Landscape Gardens – loads of grounds to walk around and explore, hills to roll down and loads more – and it doesn’t cost a penny (as we’ve already paid for our membership – do it via Quidco and get decent cashback as well as a reduced rate – it’s an excellent deal and you make your money back after visiting two or three places).

Claremont Landscape Gardens

There’s the thatched cottage with loads of John Crane wooden vegetables and costumes to play with, which occupied H for a good forty minutes or so…

Claremont Landscape Gardens

But yes, sun and space – today was a good cheap day – and we’re still within the M25.

Claremont Landscape Gardens

Claremont Landscape Garden, Esher

Claremont Landscape Garden has recently had a kids area put in – which consists of lots of soft play area, and a few wooden things to climb on.

The largest one has the best things on it – alas, it’s meant for over 5’s which we didn’t realise until H had been up it and gone down the slide several times (beware the sides, which are quite open, which was a bit worrying) – there’s also a smaller hut, and a larger one to the side, as well as a couple of one person see saw’s, and a large play area.

Best of all, with National Trust Membership you get in for no extra cost than your yearly membership (don’t forget the Quidco deal, which works out around £35 ish a year) – plus in the park itself there’s lots of space to walk around and plenty to see.

I didn’t get a chance to check out changing facilities, but generally National Trust places are pretty reliable and good.

For more info, head here.

Wakehurst Place

We’re National Trust members (you can get a very very good deal via Quidco) and often visit Wakehurst Place – for free entrance you can be a National Trust or Kew member.

For this you get acres of green to walk around (and hills too, there’s some very buggy unfriendly ones, but we did it!), lots of plants, flowers and trees.

We’d not spotted them before, but there’s a few areas which are marked with an asterisk (on the map) which are designed for younger visitors, H being almost two enjoyed two of the ones we went to.

There’s also two cafe’s, both very child-friendly. There’s changing, and the whole area is pretty much safe for a child to run around (beware, there are ponds and a lake though), as well as plenty of ducks.

The shop at the end is also good space wise to get your buggy round!