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Biddulph Grange Gardens – review, guide and top tips for this National Trust site

Biddulph Grange Gardens – review, guide and top tips for this National Trust site

Everything you need to know about Biddulph Grange in Staffordshire

Name

Biddulph Grange Gardens

What is it?

Biddulph Grange is a series of beautiful landscaped Victorian gardens with surprises around every corner.

A walk here is a feast for the senses through pockets of China, Italy and even ancient Egypt, through tunnels, rockeries, an adventure playground, tree-lined avenues and around a lake.

Part of its magic lies in the way the areas are cleverly hidden from each other through landscaping.

It is a National Trust site – don’t confuse it with Biddulph Grange Country Park next door, run by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, whose 78 acres of woodland did used to form part of the Grange estate.

Tree-lined avenue at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Tree-lined avenue

Where is it?

Biddulph Grange is in Biddulph, in a valley on the edge of North Staffordshire near to Congleton in Cheshire and north of Stoke.

The history of Biddulph Grange

The house and garden were the creation of James and Maria Bateman, who lived there from 1842 for 27 years and their friend, marine artist Edward Cooke. It had previously been a farm.

James employed specialists to collect plants for him from all over the world. They were placed with trees and eclectic garden buildings.

James moved to London in 1868, his son John remained at Biddulph Grange until he sold it in 1872 to Robert Heath who lived with his family there for 50 years. During this time a fire destroyed the middle section of the original house, an Italianate-style villa and it was rebuilt in 1897.

From 1922 until 1991 it was used as a hospital then it was bought by the National Trust and opened to the public.

The National Trust undertook a huge garden restoration project which continues today.

What did we think?

We have been many times as this is one of our favourite National Trust sites, it possibly even scoops the top spot.

It’s simply stunning and the different sections keep any walk interesting. 

It is especially fabulous for children when they have trails and activities to do.

Highlights

*The view at the start

At the start of your journey, you stand with your back to the house on a terrace above the garden and can take in the view of  the Italian garden. You won’t be able to resist taking a photograph here but you may as well keep your camera or phone out as there are so many picture-worthy spots.

Looking down from the start at the Italian section at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Looking down from the start over the Italian section

*The Chinese Garden

It is easy to miss the Chinese Garden, yet it is arguably the most memorable part, bright with colour and complete with Chinese plants and architecture including a bridge and temple.

*The woodland play area

If you walk up the stunning tree-lined Wellington Avenue (worth a highlight section of its own), there is a path off it which takes you through woodland which is now home to a series of wooden frames and stepping stones for children to negotiate their way along, plus a see-saw. This is a fantastic, more recent addition to the gardens.

Playing in the wooden play area at Biddulph Grange National Trust

The Stumpery 

A stumpery is a garden feature similar to a rockery but made from parts of dead trees. The stumpery here, designed in 1856, was the first to be built anywhere and went on to be widely copied in many Victorian gardens and, even in the woods of Highgrove, Prince Charles’s home in Gloucestershire.

Egyptian Garden

This includes stone Sphynx, topiary obelisks, a topiary pyramid and a temple-style building containing the Ape of Thoth sculpture by Benjamin Waterhouse-Hawkins.

The tennis lawn

There are often activities laid out to do in this section. And in the spring there is a cute little daffodil maze to walk through.

More highlights

There are highlights around every corner including tunnels through rock, a lake, a geological gallery and of course the stunning plants, trees and flowers like monkey puzzle trees, azaleas and dahlias – the gardens are famous for their Dahlia Walk.

Dahlia Walk (taken in March) at Biddulph Grange National Trust

Dahlia Walk (taken in March)

Top tips

Can you see inside the house at Biddulph Grange?

No you can’t. The house itself became derelict until a developer bought it and converted it into nine apartments.

You can still access some of the buildings though, used as a cafe, shop and toilets.

Fish food

You can buy fish food for £1 a bag to feed the big fish in the lake.

Biddulph Grange House

Plant sale

You can buy flowers and plants in an area just past the car park on your way in or out.

Trails

Biddulph Grange really comes into its own for families around special occasions, we particularly love visiting at Easter.

National Trust used to team up with Cadbury but these days organise their own with more emphasis on enjoying nature and the surroundings and carrying out activities rather than solving clues. Children still get a chocolate egg at the end.

The trails are fabulous at taking you around all corners of the garden and Biddulph Grange pulls out all the stops.

See footage of our last Easter trail at the end of this article.

Arrival time

If it’s a Bank Holiday or special occasion, I really advise getting their early to get a parking space and avoid any queuing.

What is the best time of year to visit?

If you have children, it’s lovely to visit when they have an event on like the Easter trails.

The gardens change with the seasons. The dahlias start to bloom in July and reach their peak in early-September.

Biddulph Grange information

Parking: There is a free car park – free for National Trust members and included in the ticket price for non-members. There is also an overflow car park. 

Food: There is a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, lovely in the sunshine. There is also a picnic spot next to the car park.

Opening hours: Vary depending on the day, but 10am to 5.30pm for much of the year, check out the times for specific dates here.

Cost: Free for National Trust members, £12 adults, £6 children, less for family and group tickets latest ticket prices here.

Are dogs allowed at Biddulph Grange?

No, only assistance dogs.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: I would say you need at least two hours here, but on a sunny day with friends you could spend much longer.

Access and restrictions: It is not an accessible site, although a lot of the site has pathways, it is on a hill, there are more than 400 steps and uneven surfaces.

Address: Biddulph Grange Garden, Grange Road, Biddulph, Staffordshire, ST8 7SD.

Website: Biddulph Grange Gardens

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Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

Chester Zoo – our top tips to save you time and money on a family day at this hugely popular attraction for families

How to guarantee a fun day out for children at the UK’s most popular zoo

Chester Zoo is the UK’s most visited zoo and one of the country’s largest. It is a favourite of ours and is home to 21,000 animals and 500 different species. Here are our top tips to get the most out of a day at Chester Zoo.

Get there early

Chester Zoo is the most popular attraction outside London and has nearly two million visitors a year, so can get busy really quickly.

To maximise your time, arrive about 20 minutes before it opens (it opens at 10am, so arrive at 9.45am at the latest).

That way you can park nearer to the entrance in the main car park rather than being ushered further away into a field. You can then hit the gates as soon as they open.

(Alternatively, if you want a short visit, you could get there two hours before closing, for the late entry discount).

painted dogs eat meat at Chester Zoo

The painted dogs enclosure at the edge of the zoo is one of the quieter areas to explore

Walk to the furthest point first

As everyone else heads straight to the elephants which are directly inside the entrance, you need to keep walking and walking.

Either turn right and head towards the rhinos and the Islands or turn left, over the bridge and towards the chimpanzee section.

Ignore everything you see until you get to the further reaches of the zoo, then work your way BACK towards the start.

If you do this you will get around 90 minutes – even on the busiest days – when it feels like your own private zoo.

The Islands boat ride

The queues can be long at peak times and your chances of actually seeing half of the animals lurking around the waters are mixed at best.

Either head straight for the Islands as soon as the zoo opens or give it a miss until nearer the end of the day.

You can easily waste an hour queuing and doing the boat ride at busy times when you would be better off seeing other attractions.

A boat at the centre of the islands development at Chester Zoo - a recreation of a tropical coastal area

The Islands at Chester Zoo

Think of the zoo as two halves

On the map, split the zoo in two using the public footpath. Do one half at the start of the day and the other after lunch if you are making a full day of it.

There used to be a monorail to speed up the process and give weary little feet a break – but that is no longer available.

The monorail at Chester Zoo

The former monorail

Favourite picnic spots

There are loads of places to picnic and plenty of quiet corners away from the busy eating areas.

Our favourites include the benches next to the giraffes (especially when they are outside feeding), by the painted dogs enclosure at the far right corner of the zoo next to the antelopes, in the sunken garden and in the Islands section – although seating here is a bit limited for picnics.

What if it rains?

Most of the zoo is outside so it isn’t an ideal wet weather location but there are several good areas, which will take at least an hour or two to complete. The elephant enclosure and the monkey house near the entrance are good first or last stops.

The area with most undercover sections is on the far side of the zoo around the Realm of the Red Ape, which has orang-utans and snakes indoors.

It is also close to the small aquarium near the penguin enclosure, the Tropical Realm with birds and small crocodiles and the Spirit of the Jaguar.

Another good way of staying dry and seeing the zoo is to do the monorail, you can stay on and do a lap of the park. The Islands boat ride is also an undercover ride.

Chester Zoo membership

If you pay to be a member of Chester Zoo, you can visit as often as you like for free, plus you get other benefits. Children under three are free.

In conclusion

Our children love Chester Zoo and it always feels clean and spacious for the animals. But it is an expensive day out so maximise your time and take a picnic.

Top tip

*Head for the farthest point of the zoo as soon as you get in and work backwards. There are fewer crowds and more time to see the animals up close.

Chester Zoo Information

Address: Chester Zoo, Moston Rd, Upton-by-Chester, Upton, Chester CH2 1EU.

Opening hours: Open daily except Christmas Day and Boxing Day from 10am. Closing depends on the time of year, 4pm in winter and 6pm in summer holidays.

Cost: For up to date prices go to Chester Zoo tickets

Booking online saves you up to 10% off our gate prices but need to be booked before 9:30am on the day you visit.

Visitors with disabilities can have one carer free of charge when buying a full price adult or child ticket online – collect carer tickets from Ticket Sales windows when you get to the zoo.

Best for: Ages 2-10

Time needed: It takes a full day to see the whole zoo. Minimum time to see a good selection of animals is 2 hours.

Note: All pictures in this article are courtesy of Chester Zoo.

Five family-friendly activities around Windermere in the Lake District

Five family-friendly activities around Windermere in the Lake District

Read our pick of the best options to keep children entertained in the heart of the Lake District

The World of Beatrix Potter

This interactive attraction in the heart of Bowness is great for small children. It isn’t big and won’t take more than an hour but the models are great, there is a charm about it.

Our favourite parts of the World of Beatrix Potter are Peter Rabbit’s Garden and the Virtual Walk section.

Peter Rabbit at the World of Beatrix Potter attraction in Windermere

The World of Beatrix Potter

Lakeland Motor Museum

This museum has only been open a few years on this site, a few miles from the foot of Windermere. It is really good with 30,000 exhibits including all types of car and motorcycle.

There is also a Bluebird exhibition next door – telling the story of the Campbell speed record-breaking family – which is fascinating. There is a good cafe on site. For more information visit the Lakeland Motor Museum website.

Aquarium and train

You can arrive at this spot at the southern tip of the lake via car or via boat with Windermere Lake Cruises. Lakes Aquarium gives a small but comprehensive look at all the creatures you can find in the Lakes – and some from further afield.

Our children were pleased to see crocodiles and monkeys as well as cod and jellyfish, during our last visit.

You can combine this with a train trip on the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway – a fabulous steam engine which runs from March until October. A combination of lake cruise, aquarium and railway makes for a fun-filled day.

Fell Foot Park

This lovely National Trust spot at the foot of Windermere is one of our favourites.

There’s a good playground, benches for a scenic picnic, a cafe and boat hire if you want to get on the water. A really good, safe place to explore with children.

two boats on Windermere

Fell Foot Park

Walk above Windermere

The scramble up to Orrest Head is one of the most accessible Lakeland walks. At 783 feet, it is a good first summit for three and four-year-olds to conquer. In fact, I (possibly foolishly) managed this one at eight months pregnant.

Park on the main road above Bowness near to Windermere Railway Station. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the summit where you are rewarded with incredible views across Windermere.

What are your family’s favourite activities around Windermere? Please comment below, we would love to hear from you.

Child-friendly London – how to keep little ones happy in England’s capital city with our guide to the best activities

Child-friendly London – how to keep little ones happy in England’s capital city with our guide to the best activities

Our five top activities for children on a family trip to London

London Eye

This enormous big wheel is a great place to start any visit as it helps children get their bearings in the capital.

The queues can be long but you can book a timed entrance which is recommended in peak season. The ride takes half an hour. Tickets and information are available via the London Eye website

Some pods on the London Eye on a sunny day

The London Eye

South Bank

The south bank of the River Thames is popular for a family day out.

A child-friendly route along the Embankment between Westminster Bridge and Jubilee Bridge has carousels, mime artists, stalls and indoor attractions galore.

We went to the Sea Life Centre London which is a good rainy day option or, in our case, a welcome escape from the heat outside. The penguins and sharks were particular favourites.

The parks

A dose of green space is welcome on a visit to London. Our favourite city centre option was St James’s Park, a small but charming park near Buckingham Palace.

Our children also had lots of fun cooling off in Hyde Park, paddling through the Diana Memorial Fountain stream.

There are rowing boats and pedal boats to hire on the Serpentine Lido or you can take a ride on the UK’s first Solarshuttle, powered only by the sun (check opening months and times for all these activities first). The Lido Cafe Bar has tables outside by the water.

A sunny day at St James Park in London with daffodils and people relaxing

St James’s Park is one of London’s best green spaces

Museums

The famous exhibits at the Natural History Museum – or the Dinosaur Museum as our children call it –  are eye-opening for children and interesting for adults too.

You can combine a visit with a trip to the more interactive Science Museum next door and entrance is free – although be prepared for long queues in peak season. For tickets and information go to the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum websites.

Outside the Natural History Museum in London next to the road and tube stop

The Natural History Museum is free to enter

Boat trip on the River Thames

For a more daredevil adventure, try the Thames Rib Experience. Speed boats take you along the river on various routes, we tried one to Canary Wharf and back.

It all starts gently enough, with guided commentary, but when the James Bond music comes on, prepare for a thrilling, high speed ride. A great way to see London from a different perspective. The minimum weight is 15kg or three stone.

A speedboat on the River Thames with the Thames RIB Experience

The Thames RIB Experience

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What are your favourite activities for children in London? Please comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

Note: Some pictures in this article are courtesy of VisitLondon.com

 

Tatton Park in Cheshire with children – read our review and top tips to make the most of a family visit

Tatton Park in Cheshire with children – read our review and top tips to make the most of a family visit

Read our review of all the best bits of the fabulous Tatton Park in Cheshire plus the costs for National Trust members

What is it?

Tatton Park is one of England’s largest historic estates – it has a stately home, 50 acres of landscaped gardens, 1,000 acres of parkland with deer and meres. There is also a working farm and large playground.

Where is it?

Tatton Park is near Knutsford in Cheshire a few miles from junction 19 of the M6 motorway.

What do we think?

There are so many options for children on a day out here, truly something for everyone. You can explore the parkland for just £6 a day for a family – or pay extra for the other attractions.

Our highlights

The park

The park is vast with plenty of different areas to explore.

There are two large meres where sailing takes place, woodland walks with deer to spot and places to picnic.

The wide paths through the park for cars are also popular with cyclists and supervised children on bikes and scooters.

You can park at different points inside (it is £6 per car, there is no National Trust discount for parking).

The gardens

The gardens cost extra (free for National Trust members) but can be a quieter, different and beautiful area to enjoy on busy days.

They begin with fruit and vegetable patches before expanding off a central path to some fabulous areas.

Our particular favourites are around the Japanese Gardens (you can only venture inside on a guided tour) and the bridges over the pools. There is quite a tricky maze, regular family trails to follow, a fun scarecrow hunt in February, Easter Egg hunts at Easter time and other activities all year round.

Note – you are not allowed picnics, bikes or scooters in the gardens.

colourful flowers in a Japanese garden at Tatton Park

The peaceful Japanese Garden at Tatton Park

The farm

A five-minute walk from the main car park is Tatton Park farm. Entry is £7 for adults, £5 for children (half price for NT members). It is a traditional 1930’s working farm with pigs, horses, donkey and chickens.

There are old tractors to sit on and Aunt Mary’s 1940’s cottage. In one barn you can ride on toy cars and tractors.

Next to the farm is a good adventure playground, picnic area and woodland trails.

pigs and piglets walking at a farm

Pigs are just one of the animals at Tatton’s working farm

The mansion

Home to the Egerton family, the house contains a huge library and other artefacts.

The main interest for children is exploring the large servants’ kitchen and living quarters, which are nicely done. The mansion is used for events at Easter and Christmas geared to children.

Child-friendly facilities

There is a huge playground next to the main car park which is always very busy.

There is often a small train to take children from the playground to the farm (at a cost). Burger and ice cream vans are on site too.

In the main stables courtyard near the garden’s entrance there is often a couple of carousels (£2.50 a go). There are also two restaurants – a large self-service area and the smaller Gardeners’ Cottage.

National Trust

Unlike most National Trust sites, National Trust members still have to pay to park at Tatton Park, which costs £6, unless you park in Knutsford and walk in, but it is quite a walk to the main part.

However, entry to the house and gardens is free to National Trust members and entry to the farm is half price.

Conclusion

Tatton Park is geared towards children – you can have fun here without entering any of the paid attractions but if you do choose – the farm and gardens are the best value.

Our top tips

*Enter Tatton Park from the smaller, less-used Knutsford entrance and you can drive through the park to get a feel for it and park next to Melchett Mere for a good picnic spot.

Tatton Park information

Food: Picnics are welcome, except in the gardens. There are two cafes/restaurants in the courtyard, near the garden’s entrance – a large self service area called the Stables Restaurant, perfect for children and the smaller and more formal Gardeners’ Cottage. There is also a shop selling ice creams.

Opening hours: It varies depending on the time of year and the farm is open at more limited times, check here for details.

Cost: Car parking costs £7 (even to National Trust members). A Totally Tatton family ticket to all attractions is £33. Adult ticket £7 per attraction, child (aged four to 15) £5. National Trust members – free entry to gardens and mansion, half-price entry to farm.

Best for: ages three to 10.

Time needed: Doing every attraction is a full day out. Visiting the park for a walk or bike ride can be done in 90 minutes.

Access and restrictions: All Tatton’s shops and the Stables Restaurant are fully accessible to wheelchair users. Electric buggies (gardens only) and manual wheelchairs are available for loan but can not be used to move between attractions and in the park. Book a wheelchair loan on 01625 374400.

Address: Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN.

Have you been to Tatton Park? Do you like it as much as we do? Let us know in the comments.

(Pictures in this article are courtesy of National Trust Images and Tatton Park).

Review: A family trip to Stonehenge with children and our tips for visiting this wonder of the world

Review: A family trip to Stonehenge with children and our tips for visiting this wonder of the world

All you need to know about Stonehenge in Wiltshire

What is it?

Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the world and the best-known prehistoric monument in Europe.

It is a huge man-made circle of standing stones, built over hundreds of years. Nobody knows exactly why Stonehenge was built, but people probably gathered there for religious ceremonies.

Research shows that the site has continuously evolved over 10,000 years. The structure that we call Stonehenge was built between 5,000 and 4,000 years ago and was once part of a larger sacred landscape.

With over 10 million visitors a year, Stonehenge is one of the UK’s most popular tourist attractions

Where is it?

It stands on Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, England and its giant stones can be seen from miles around.

Highlights

Visitor Centre

There is a £27 million visitor centre, 1.5 miles from the stones, which opened in 2013. There is plenty of free parking and it is very nicely done.

The entrance to Stonehenge Visitor Centre

The entrance to Stonehenge Visitor Centre

Once you’ve got your tickets you can go into the new museum. Our children were encouraged to enter through a ‘magic door’ into a 360-degree video of Stonehenge in all weathers.

Our children loved pretending it was really snowing and it got them excited about the museum.

A 360-degree video of Stonehenge

A 360-degree video of Stonehenge

A 5,500-year-old skeleton and a timeline of Stonehenge proved the other most interesting items for our seven and three-year-old children in this museum.

Outside there are examples of how hard it was to move the huge stones and recreations of Neolithic Houses. You  can go inside them to see how some of the earliest settlers lived.

Reaching the stones

You can walk but it is 1.5 miles and would take a long time with small children. Stonehenge put on regular buses, every five minutes, shuttling from the visitors centre to the stones and back.

Our three-year-old loved the bus ride and it made the experience more exciting for her. You can stop off half way and walk up to the stones if you prefer but in February it was easier for us to take the bus all the way.

The bus you catch at Stonehenge from the museum to the stones

The bus to catch to the stones

The Stones

Visitors are dropped off a few hundred yards away and then make their way up a wide path.

You can get within about 30 yards of the stones, there are a range of viewing points but on a busy day it can be a battle to find a clear spot to take a photo.

Part of the fun is seeing tourists from around the world posing for their snaps – we even found one American doing a handstand! There are information boards around the site, which are child-friendly.

 

A visitor does a handstand in front of the stones at Stonehenge

What a pose

In conclusion

The facilities, which also include a shop and busy cafe, are good. The museum, although small, is thoughtfully done and the 4,500 year old stones inspired all ages.

At £50, it isn’t a cheap way to spend a couple of hours but this is a child-friendly attraction.

Top Tip

It costs £50 for a family ticket to Stonehenge but it is free to English Heritage and National Trust in England members (not National Trust Scotland members) if booked in advance.

If you take into account that family membership of either is around £100 per year (National Trust £114, English Heritage £96) it is worth joining before you visit.

If you are paying on the day, £50 is quite a lot for what will probably only take a couple of hours – unless you are going for a long walk in the woods on site.

Stonehenge information

Food: Picnics are welcome and there is a cafe near the shop in the visitor centre.

Opening hours: Varies depending on the time of year. Entrance through timed tickets.

Cost: Entry costs £49.40 for a family. Adult entry is £19.00, child (5-15) is £11.40. Free entry for National Trust in England (not Scotland) and English Heritage members if booked in advance.

Best for: ages eight to 15

Time needed: Two hours

Access and restrictions: The main areas are accessible by wheelchair.

Address: Stonehenge, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, SP4 7DE

Have you been? Tell us what you thought of Stonehenge below.

Five reasons to take a family holiday to South Holland

Five reasons to take a family holiday to South Holland

The best towns, beaches and attractions in the southern Netherlands for families

Wassenaar – the Dutch Windsor

This small town is one of the wealthiest in Holland and it shows in the shops and restaurants.

There are lots of places to eat, a lovely atmosphere and quiet cyclefriendly roads as you would expect. There is also a great beach.

Leiden and its canals

Leiden has an excellent park and ride service on the edge of the city.

boats on a canal in Leiden in the Netherlands

Leiden and its canals are well worth exploring

You park and catch a free minibus which drops you in the city centre and then call them to pick you up when you’re finished.

The city has a lovely canalside market with Dutch poffertjes (a Dutch batter treat like a baby pancake) on sale, which are a hit with children. There is a small fort you can climb for views over the city.

Cycle-friendly

Yes, Holland is famous for being a bicycle rider’s paradise but it isn’t until you use the system you realise how good it is.

a couple ride a tandem bike in Holland

Cylcing is safe and fun in South Holland

There are special lanes a good distance away from the road – the sort of thing which rarely exists in the UK.

The beaches

If you ignore the wind and the chilly north sea, the sand on the Dutch beaches is a match for anywhere in Europe.

The beach at Wassenaar is golden and perfect for sandcastles and games.

There are plenty of amenities too, restaurants and cafes, toilets and loads of space to park a car or a bike. In good weather it’s a great spot.

Two children on Wassenaar beach

Wassenaar beach is a match for any in Europe and

Ice cream

Luciano’s famous ice cream parlour in Wassenaar is very popular.

It is at the end of the main street, has been in the town since 1996 and has dozens of flavours to choose from.

There’s nice seating outside or take your ice cream and stroll through the town.

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What have we missed? Tell us what you like best.