Wednesday 27 July 2016

A day out at National Trust Calke Abbey - and our top 5 things to see

On Saturday 16th July, we three ventured out to visit Calke Abbey, courtesy of the National Trust. Located in idyllic Derbyshire, the site of Calke Abbey dates back to the 12th Century, but the country manor, which isn't actually an abbey at all, was built in the early 1700s and has been curated by the
 trust since the mid-1980s.

We were looking forward to a nice family day out. We love National Trust locations, having enjoyed a lovely day at Baddesley Clinton last year. Hubs and I are both lovers of history and we like the great outdoors too; and with National Trust locations, you always get a good mix of heritage, nature and fun things to do.

We packed up our National Trust backpack with some snacks and an NT wool blanket too - although unfortunately the weather wasn't promising at all, unlike the days that soon followed.

A rather impressive tree-lined drive greets you upon arrival at the site and this soon gives way to field and forest. We saw cows and hundreds of sheep, all lazing the day away in the slightly drizzly weather without a care in the world. 

Ethan was excited to see so many sheep wandering around and kept asking if we could go see horses next - despite the grounds having an old stable, there were no horses we could find, much to Ethan’s disappointment. Still, hundreds upon hundreds of sheep!

The car park was busy – always a good sign at places like this – and it was nice to see so many people visiting; young, old and tourist alike, knowing that their entry fees and contributions would go to the upkeep of the home…although not as you might expect…

The abbey styles itself as an 'unstately home' and that is certainly apparent - rooms feature peeling paint, bowed walls, damp and other signs of disrepair. Each room is also packed to the rafters with 'stuff', ranging from geology collections to hundreds of stuffed animals and mounted heads - a taxidermist's paradise!

Ethan was intrigued by all the stuffed animals and we had to keep explaining that they were ‘sleeping’ – he took particular interest in a tiger skin rug that he tiptoed round so as not to ‘wake’ it! As an animal lover it was a shame to see so many animals stuffed and on display, but obviously the collections were from long ago, when animal conservation wasn’t such an important topic, and it leant to the whole feel of the place. Whoever has lived here over the years was certainly a collector! And a bit of a hoarder too...

Due to the state of the house, and it's dramatic exterior too, it has an evident creepy vibe - you could easily imagine it being the subject of local folklore, ghost stories or the set of a horror movie. It must be difficult to keep the house on just the right side of falling apart – enough that it gives it character but not so much that it’s dangerous to go inside – and great care and attention had been paid to ensuring the more delicate collections were appropriately protected behind ropes or glass cabinets. 

According to one guide, although the National Trust work to halt the continued decay of the house, they are not intending to repair or reverse it and many of the rooms are as they were found in 1985, untouched since the 1880s (although no doubt someone pops round with a duster every once in a while – our house can’t go a week without dusting, so I can only imagine how much dust there must have been after a hundred years!).

The staff on site were all really helpful and friendly – particularly the reception staff as you arrive – and the guides inside the home itself are knowledgeable and happy to answer questions or signpost particular points of interest.

The grounds of the home are expansive and not even the wet and miserable weather put us off exploring. We happened upon a large tree with low-hanging branches and helped Ethan clamber up into them, which he really enjoyed – I can tell he’s going to be such a little adventurer!

There is a church on site which unfortunately we didn’t make it to as Ethan was complaining of being hungry, so we headed to the on-site restaurant (there's also a coffee shop too). Here there was an impressive selection of hot and cold food, all locally sourced and at reasonable prices. We've always eaten well at National Trust sites so I was particularly looking forward to this part, as it's so nice to go out and have someone cook for a change, and to indulge in a treat too.

Stephen chose to have sausages and mash and I went for the seasonal quiche. Ethan had a kid’s lunch pack which you could mix and match, with plenty to choose from to suit all tastes - even fussy eaters - and healthy options too. Ethan went for a a cheese sandwich, drink and biscuit – we also treated him to a chocolate lollipop as he’d been so good whilst walking around the house. 

The food was beautifully presented and tasted great, and we really liked the feel of the restaurant; touches such as handpicked flowers for Calke's gardens were a lovely touch. 

Stephen couldn’t resist a slice of the homemade Victoria sponge which he particularly enjoyed as it had, in his words, the ‘right ratio of jam to cream’, and I had a scone with clotted cream and jam - and we may have had a little drink too, alongside cups of tea. 

Suitably stuffed (no pun intended – poor animals!) we had one last walk around the grounds before deciding to head back home. If the rain hadn't driven us into the house when it did, we would of certainly stopped off at the playground - it was full of excited children when we left and again, it was so nice to see so many people visiting throughout the day.

We really enjoyed our visit to Calke Abbey and would definitely recommend it to others, particularly due to its quirky character and beautiful grounds.

If you'd like to plan a visit to Calke Abbey, here are our top five things to see during your day out:

1) The house

Obviously! It's a really unique place and there's quite a few rooms to see on the tour and a lot in each room to take a look at too. Be sure when you arrive at the entrance to ask for the 'spot it' quiz, which challenges you to find certain things, from paintings to signs, in different rooms. It's a great idea to keep children entertained and you also het to appreciate more of what you're seeing to.

2) The tree

Directly opposite the house is a large tree with low branches which is a great view point and fun to climb too.

3) The grounds

There's various different walks you can go on to take in all of the grounds that are owned by the estate. Rolling fields, friendly sheep and rustic trails give you plenty of ways to wander and get lost for a few minutes or hours.

They're also celebrating the 'garden of imagination' throughout summer, with woodland walks and a kitchen garden to visit, making it a great place to go for a fun and educational day out this summer holiday.

4) The restaurant

Of course, you're welcome to bring your own packed lunch but we'd recommend at least saving some room for a homemade cake. There's lots to choose from and children are very well catered for too.

5) The playground

A nice addition and a good way for little ones to work off some steam before a sleepy car ride home.

Garden, stables and park only admission prices are £4.30 for children, £8.65 for adults.
Whole property admission prices are £6.60 for children, £12.75 for adults.
Find out more here.

We're already looking forward to our next National Trust adventure, wherever that may take us.

* Thank you to National Trust for the kind invitation and for the hospitality given to make the most of our visit - all thoughts are our own.


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