Last weekend we took advantage of the free entry offer to National Trust properties. After searching through the suggestions on their website we decided on a trip to the The Vyne, just north of Basingstoke.
The visit didn’t start well, as upon arrival we were faced with traffic queues outside the property and parking stewards telling people the car parks were full. After sitting in the queue for a while we turned around and were lucky enough to find a spot on a nearby verge, just a short walk from the The Vyne. We headed up through the NT car park and were surprised to see lots of free spaces, and a rather harassed parking attendant trying to pass on the message to those directing traffic on the road. The mayhem continued in the cafe, which looked like it had been looted and had little left on the shelves. Let’s just say it was an unfortunate introduction to our visit!
Luckily after lunch things got better. We started with the Hidden Realm play area, so the kids could run off some energy before visiting the house. This is newly built, and consists of a variety of tunnels, a fort and a stream to dam. The stream and resulting wet sandpit area were incredibly popular with the pre-school age group who were having a ball! The playground is advertised for children up to the age of 10, and my two did have fun even though it was mostly younger children using it during our visit.
The house dates from Tudor times but has some more recent associations with Jane Austen and J R Tolkien. We don’t tend to visit stately homes much, given the bull in a china shop tendency of our youngest but we decided it give this one a whirl. We were pleasantly surprised. The assistants were not the usual staid guardians that I tend to associate with such properties, but were keen to point out interesting items in the rooms and engage with the children. My eldest daughter’s latest school topic is the Tudors so it really helped history come alive for her.
I liked the use of holly and teasels located on the various bits of furniture to stop people sitting on them. They were an interesting alternative to the usual “Do not touch” signs, although the first time I noticed them was after my son had picked some up and was wandering over to me with it!
The house also has a room dedicated to the ring that may have been an inspiration for Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Whilst I found it an interesting, but tenuous, link I think it could have been presented better. The exhibition was word heavy and neither of my kids bothered to read any of the information, despite them both loving The Hobbit. They had a quick glance at the ring on display but were in and out of the room in minutes.
Back outside again and we decided to take advantage of the fabulous weather. We walked by the side of the lake, spotting some huge fish, until we reached Morgaston Woods. The NT have signposted several walks through the woods, including one which takes you along a concrete track that was built during the Second World War. Its purpose was to act as a decoy for enemy bombers, and to distract them from a nearby munitions depot. We had great fun imagining what it would have been like back in war time.
I’d read on the website beforehand that the woods had a geocache trail.We weren’t organised enough to plan this in advance but whilst on one of the woodland walks I checked the geocaching app on my iPhone and it picked up the NT geocaches. The kids had an enjoyable time running around and searching for them. Both of the ones we found were pretty easy to locate, but that’s better than not being able to find them at all!
So, in summary, the day didn’t start that well but things got better. I’m surprised how interesting we found the house, but as always it’s the outdoor things we enjoyed the most.
We liked the geocaching best. It was boring whilst we had to wait for somewhere to park.
- Check opening times carefully before you visit. Not all parts of the property are open, particularly out of season.
- The property and grounds have reasonable accessibility, and good family facilities.
- Further details: National Trust website.
We visited on a free weekend so didn’t have to pay. The usual price of a family ticket, including gift aid, to the house and gardens is £30, entry to NT members is of course free. Would I pay this to visit again? Er, probably not!