I doubt that Sir Charles Monck had in mind Frozen-mad five-year-olds when he designed the romantic Belsay Hall. But if he had, he couldn’t have come up with a much better acoustic paradise for their off-key “Let it Go” renditions than his underground wine and beer cellars.
For those of you who don’t have a school-age daughter, count yourself lucky as those of us who do are enduring the constant warbling of the central ballad: “Let it Go.”
So when a very kind, if possibly unsuspecting, member of the English Heritage staff suggested that we make sure we visit the cellars under the hall, to try out the incredible echo, there was only one song on my daughters’ minds. I would like to apologise to any other visitors to Belsay on the weekend for putting an end to any idea of them having a peaceful stroll. But the lady was right, the echo was fantastic. The children were absolutely captivated by the sounds of their voices being repeated back at them again and again and we were there for ages “letting it go” along with singing nursery rhymes too. Unfortunately, like their mum, they are pretty much tone deaf, so I won’t inflict their Frozen, the cellar version, soundtrack on you, but I’d recommend giving it a go. I can only imagine how beautiful the underground rooms sounds when, as we were told, the choirs go there to practice.
We’ve made a number of family outings to Belsay over the last few years, but one of the quite handy things I find with young children, is that it’s not long before they have almost completely wiped it from their memory and every visit carries with it the excitement seeing things a new all over again.
With the weather threatening a serious downpour, we headed straight for the former hall. It may look very grand, but one of the things I find that makes it a great place to visit with children is that there is nothing in it. There’s no need to worry about them breaking any invaluable objects or knocking over a piece of prize china, there’s just great, empty rooms and towering Greek pillars that allow for plenty of imagination to picture how they would have been filled all those years ago.
You can also learn more about the Wild Man of Belsay – a loner, a family man, an enigma, an free spirit…
With the odd spot of rain beginning we had a quick picnic on the lawn outside, against a backdrop of stunning rhododendrons, before having a swift walk around the garden then heading back to the car.
On a brighter day, or if we had come more prepared, from the hall you can then walk along through an old quarry, filled with prehistoric-sized flora and fauna that reminds me of scenes from Jurassic park, before arriving at the ruins of a medieval castle. This is another great picnic spot and the children have enjoyed climbing in the ruins and up the staircase to the top of the tower.
The walk then takes you back to the hall, via a slightly different route, which makes a lovely circular walk – suitable for pushchairs.
On a practical note, there is a cafe and toilets at the Hall and more toilets by the castle, always handy with littleones.
Sometimes revisiting childhood memories can disappoint, not Lindisfarne. Had a wonderful day taking my daughters on their first visit. Can’t believe I have not been for so long. A magical place.
Practicalities: Pushchair friendly until you get to the castle summit which is pretty steep, although I did see a Phil & Teds at the top! A baby change can be found in the central car park.
Check out the safe crossing times at’c2~http://www.northumberlandlife.org/holy-island/
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.
Partly due to my three-year-old daughter’s current obsession with Mike the Knight she was very excited about visiting Alnwick Castle. And we all had a brilliant time. The activities in the Knight’s Quest were great fun and she loved getting dressed up in the costumes and having a go at the sword fighting. There was also some great spots inside the courtyard for our picnic. I thought the children (three and two) might have been too young to appreciate the inside of the castle, but the staff were so geared up for children and showed them how to look out for the little white owls hidden in the rooms, which they enjoyed tracking down. At the moment if you pay for a day, you can visit free for a year. Adults are ‘c2’a314 and children (5-16) are ‘c2’a37. A family ticket is ‘c2’a336. http://www.alnwickcastle.com