My daughter is convinced there are dinosaurs living in the grounds of Belsay Hall. When you arrive and see the grand hall and manicured lawn it all looks very formal, but as you walk through the gardens and follow the path through the old quarry to the hidden castle, it is like treking through a scene from Jurassic Park. The path winds its way through the rock face and everything seems bigger than normal, even for me, so it must be enormous for a child. There are cave-like hideaways, lots of hidden seats, giant leaves and centuries old trees – and there’s a castle at the end of it to explore. The most stunning time to visit has to be when the rhododendrons are in full bloom, but any time has got something to offer. Check online and English Heritage often run events from jousting to theatre and singing. The empty shell of the old hall is also great for kids to explore – as they are exactly that – empty. Mine love tearing round the vast echoing rooms and I don’t have to worry as there is nothing to break. Practicalities wise, the paths are all flat lose gravel and pushchair friendly. There is a tea room at the main entrance, with baby change facilities and plenty of scenic picnic spots either at the hall or at the castle. The walk from the house to the castle is just about 10 minutes adult pace – obviously a LOT longer toddler pace with so many distractions. There are only portaloos at the castle, and there was an ice cream stand when we were there.
Beautiful day at Gibside today. We usually only get as far as the Strawberry Castle Fort as at toddler pace that can take up a few hours in itself. But today we came armed with the backpacks and set off to explore further afield. With the new path opened through the West Wood it was great to be able to continue on and the children enjoyed hunting out the carved wooden creatures in the forest. After a visit to the stables, where they milked Daisy and played in the discovery room we headed back where the favourite activity of the day was gathering acorns under the oak trees. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/gibside/
Park at High Stanners and follow the riverside walk round to the Steppy Stones. Great for picnics and fishing nets, as long as there hasn’t been too much rain!
What would I do without Heighley Gate, near Morpeth? A brilliant playground, two indoor soft plays as well as plants, fish and rabbits. And all free. Amazing. http://www.thegardencentregroup.co.uk/garden-centres/heighley-gate/Heighley-Gate-Nursery-and-Garden-Centre