Castles and stately homes are great places to visit with kids; well, most of them. First, many of these places have considerable grounds to run around in and explore (almost any site which is not a glorious ruin). Besides that, the majority of places we visited had some sort of climbing frames or adventure parks that suited young visitors, and if the weather was poor, they could follow all kinds of unique trails inside the house. However, some of the places we visited went the extra mile and created unique attractions for kids that really helped them to become engaged with the castle or the house. Here are some examples (not in any particular order):
The children’s tour of Raby Castle
This was a fantastic experience! Located in Yorkshire, Raby Castle is one of the best castles in the country, and this tour was one of the reasons for that. The tour was led by a guide dressed up as a footman, and it took place before the castle was open for the rest of the visitors which was really dazzling. What was interesting about the tour was the fact that it was a kind of general historical tour rather than a specific tour dedicated to Raby Castle, which means almost any house or castle in the country could easily arrange a similar tour.
The archives and the “Capability Brown” sandbox at Croome Court
Croome Court is a stately home which arrived at the National Trust as an empty shell. One of the reasons why the trust wanted to save the house was the fact that this was the first significant work of the most famous landscape designer in the history of England, Lancelot “Capability” Brown”.
Unlike other houses, where the trust just re-furnished the place using its own furniture, at Croome Court, they let local artists develop all sorts of exhibitions dedicated to the history of the house. One of the displays was an “archive” full of folders. Some of them contained special objects, pictures or letters related to the house. My kids absolutely loved searching for the folders and exploring what was inside. Near the coffee shop, they offered kids an interactive experience that helped them understand the way “Capability” used to change the landscape. The experience included a sandbox with lights above. The views changed when you turned the landscape, creating hills, rivers, ponds etc. Again, a very unique way to interact with kids.
We have visited many castles during weekends or school breaks. Surprisingly enough, not many of them thought about the most simple idea; let’s take some guides, dress them up as medieval or Tudor soldiers and teach kids about weapons and armours. In Chirk Castle (in the north east of Wales near Wrexham), the presentation was focused on medieval weapons, while in Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, Cornwall, the performance was focused on 16th-century guns. In both cases, my kids were absolutely fascinated!
Many castles and houses offer visitors an audio/video guide that helps them explore the place. Some of these guides which are considered “new generation” also include a touch screen and video screen, and in those, you could also pick a special family trail that had special content dedicated to kids. So far we have used this tour in Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Apsley House and Eltham Palace in London. Although this is a positive step, I would love to see places use the fact that we have much better equipment called mobile phones, so instead of spending money on buying “fancy” audio/video guides, they should just create an app.
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