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Z is for Zennor Head – we’ve done it!!

imageIt was with huge excitement, pride and a little sadness that we achieved Z on our 2014 a-z #ntfamilychallenge by visiting the stunning ZENNOR HEAD near St Ives on Dec 30th 2014. Excitement because we visited simply breathtaking scenery on a fantastic, sunny winters day. Pride because I can’t quite believe we achieved the challenge, in the time set and by visiting wonderfully diverse NT places across Wales, England & Northern Ireland. And sadness that a challenge that has inspired and motivated us, as a family, so much & provided many memories of getting out and about which will last a lifetime!

imageWe were staying in St Ives for New Year, one of our most favourite places in the UK. It’s always a great laugh at New Year when the whole town dresses up and parties, as families, on the harbour! When I started planning of the challenge in January and if and how we would be able to achieve it, with much excitement I noticed the only Z was Zennor Head – an end of 2014 stay was booked, thus giving more impetus to achieving the challenge!!

Zennor Head was stunning and I was very inspired and moved. The fact that the National Trust protects and looks after stunning coastline like Zennor Head is fantastic and ensures that the beauty of it is retained as a legacy for the future. Having taken many photos, we will remember ‘Z’ for a very, very long time.

imageSo that’s it… Challenge completed! We have had a brilliant time this year doing the challenge and have visited fantastic places. Whilst we have been going around we have been trying to agree our favourites! I’ll blog about these soon!

Now I need to decide on 2015 out and about activity!!

Y is for Ynys Barri

imageOn a rainy and blustery Tuesday, just before Christmas we achieved ‘Y’ on our 2014 A-Z #ntfamilychallenge by visiting the spectacular YNYS BARRI. (PLEASE NOTE: there is no place beginning with X with the Index of the National Trust Handbook so we are legitimately able to proceed to Y!!). Ynys Barri is a headland and a rugged coastal outcrop of hard volcanic rocks carved in the last Ice Age, situated along the coastal path between Porthgain and Abereiddi. We certainly made the most of the walk in quite testing, blowy conditions.

imageNot being familiar with the area, we were initially going to approach Ynys Barri by parking at Abereiddi and walking around the headland across the coast path. We parked on the beach in a significant wind and it was really funny even attempting to open our car door! Understandably the beach was pretty deserted, so the boys went down and blew and blustered about! The sign with ‘Y’ on it that the boys have held at each challenge destination got blown rapidly across the car park, with both the boys chasing in hot pursuit!! Our youngest son was (shall we say a little) concerned for our safety at setting off across the path in such a ferocious gale so we came up with plan B and drove to Porthgain to approach Ynys Barri from there.

imageI absolutely tempted fate by saying we have enjoyed lovely weather on each letter so far – setting off from Porthgain it was drizzly but much calmer than at Abereiddi but after about 10 minutes on the cliff top path, the sea mist came in & it turned pretty grim and wet! But it didn’t stop us acknowledging our beautiful the Ynys Barri coastline is – and making a resolution to return in sunnier climes!

It was a pleasure in the pre-Christmas crazy build up to take a day out and get out and about whilst taking a vital penultimate step on the A-Z #ntfamilychallenge!

W is for Winkworth Arboretum

imageHot on the heels of achieving V was our achievement of ‘W’ on our 2014 A-Z #ntfamilychallenge by visiting WINKWORTH ARBORETUM. Our incredible good weather fortune continued and on a beautiful crisp December Sunday we were lucky enough to visit this unique destination, the only Arboretum under the care of the National Trust, indeed it has been for over 60 years. We wanted to visit to maintain a key aim of the challenge – to vary the destinations so the letters are not all old, traditional NT houses! And Winkworth was certainly different – but we weren’t prepared for how special and beautiful it is.

imageAlways favouring a challenge, my son opted for us to follow the ‘red challenging walk’ which meant we pretty much explored all of the Arboretum on the 3.6km walk and had the pleasure of seeing all of the highlights of the Aboretum. We loved the peacefulness of the Boathouse and the beauty of the lake. We then walked through Bluebell Wood, scaling slopes and descending small winding paths to reach the magnificent lookout tower. Suitably tired and rosy cheeked, we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Winkworth and again would recommend it as a visit.

My only disappointment is that we don’t live closer to regularly visit Winkworth and enjoy all the seasons to appreciate the changing colours of over 1000 plants and trees! But we will back….

V is for the Vyne

imageIt was an absolute pleasure to achieve V on the 2014 A-Z #ntchallenge by visiting the VYNE. Beautifully decorated for the festive period, the Tudor house and grounds were simply lovely. We were incredibly lucky to visit on a crisp and sunny December Saturday so were able to wander and explore the fading Autumnal colours in the garden before entering the house to view the rooms all togged up in their festive splendour.

The Vyne is certainly a house with an impressive history and notable previous occupants with pedigree. Being a self confessed Tudor obsessive, probably of most interest was the connections with Henry VIII who visited with the ill- fated Anne Boleyn as the house was built for Lord Sandys, King Henry VIII’s Lord Chamberlain. The connection was further reinforced by the interesting and comprehensive fact sheet booklets about Christmas in the Tudor period. Jane Austen is also one of my favourite authors so to learn that she had visited and been inspired by the house was pretty cool too. image

We enjoyed a browse around the well-stocked second hand book shop housed in a wing of the original Tudor facade which is incredibly still standing despite some pretty crazy shifting of the window frames. This was following the biggest surprise of the exhibition of the Vyne Ring, a beautiful hexagonal golden ring found by a local farmer and believed to have potentially inspired Tolkein in his writing of Lord of the Rings. It was really interesting and left my book-loving eldest son REALLY inspired!

We had a fantastic visit to the Vyne and is another visit on the challenge that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

U is for Upton House & Gardens

imageAnother inset day, another letter achieved! On Mon 3 Nov, it was great to achieve ‘U’ on our 2014 A-Z #ntfamilychallenge with a great visit to UPTON HOUSE & GARDENS, near Banbury in Oxfordshire.

Taking a lovely drive up through the Cotswolds, myself and our youngest son really enjoyed our time at Upton House, a wonderful home founded on the fortune made through the Shell Transport and Trading Company. Upton is a quirky weekend country retreat, packed full of fun and character. Dressed in 1930′s style of the millionaire philanthropic owners, the Samuel Family, you could really absorb the Downton-esque feeling of the lovely house. Particularly enjoying the lengthy, light sitting room whilst listening to the piano playing I could immerse myself in the beautiful art amassed by art loving the 2nd Viscount Bearsted. The huge Canaletto was really lovely.

imageKeen to visit the billiards room, my son took me on in a great game – it was lovely for us to be able to play rather than it being viewed as in a frosty museum – it really reflected the spirit of the owners I felt. It made the visit come really alive for him – so imagine his delight when we came across another smaller table in the vaulted wine store where the staff used to play! Finishing in the lovely, warm kitchen – a particularly lovely NT example of one – we then went onto explore the gardens, the swimming pool (which must have hosted some great weekend parties!) and beyond the Ha Ha had a lovely wander through the wild garden and around the Mirror Pool. The gardens were quiet and from the furthest point from the house you could admire the terraced Kitchen Garden. image

I just wanted to hop in a time-machine, go back to the mid 1930s and party in Upton House as I’m sure it once was! Great visit – thanks!

T is for Tyntesfield

image Hot on the heels of achieving S on our #a-zchallenge, we were delighted to reach T by visiting TYNTESFIELD on the Monday of half term.

After our youngest son played a footie match in Bristol, we grabbed the opportunity to pop across to visit Tyntesfield for a very enjoyable afternoon. Built on essentially a family fortune founded from bird-poo, Tyntesfield is a wonderfully quirky, gothic-revival mansion that delights and intrigues at each twist and turn! Following a concept of from the Ordinary to the Extraordinary, you start the house visit by entering through probably my favourite part of any NT property, the kitchen’s and associated pantry. Maybe in a past life this is the areas where I worked, but it is in the kitchen’s that the real life of a house like this can be felt.

imageMany of the rooms at Tyntesfield are quirkily crammed with the 50000 artefacts that the National Trust acquired when taking ownership of Tyntesfield in 2002 and some of the more special artefacts are highly featured in the Ordinary to extraordinary campaign.

Mysterious to many who lived nearby, you get the impression from the army of volunteers that they love the opportunity to tell visitors all the history of the Gibbs family (who were once the richest ‘commoners’ in Britain) and to spend time in this fantastic house. Sometimes you just get a real feel for a property and myself and my eldest son, in particular, absolutely felt ‘it’.

Finishing in the stunning family chapel, we really enjoyed our visit. We then spent a lovely hour or so exploring the grounds, hunting for conkers and generally enjoying the outdoors. Tyntesfield is really well set up for families and is a NT property that just has it right. It’s a really accurate representation of what the National Trust is now – not the archaic, old fuddy-duddy institution it one was. Loved it!

S is for Stourhead

imageIt was a huge pleasure to achieve S on the 2014 A-Z #ntfamilychallenge by visiting STOURHEAD for a fantastic Autumn walk on the first Sunday of a very welcome half term break. Knowing that the weather was going to be dry and bright, all 4 of us jumped in the car and headed off on a 2 hour drive.

We knew that Stourhead was lovely but we weren’t prepared for such a wonderful treat. Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year and although very busy, it wasn’t too crowded for a very enjoyable walk around the lake, the centrepiece of this world famous landscaped garden. The beauty of it, coupled with a gorgeous array of Nature’s jewelled colours of Autumn, made for a really uplifting experience!

imageThe three Temples (we particularly liked the Pantheon), the Grotto, the Palladian bridge, the Gothic Cottage, the Bristol Cross are all lovely, quirky features (and a total surprise in the case of the grotto) that add distinct beauty and interest against the gorgeous natural landscape in the many photos that we took.

After a well needed cuppa and sandwich provided by local ladies in the Hall, we had an explore of the house and learnt about Harry’s Story. The volunteers are lovely, patient and so enthusiastic.

Our visit to achieve ‘S’ was a great one – a highlight for us all on our 2014 a-z #ntfamilychallenge! We will visit again, for sure.

R is for Rock Houses

image After a massively busy September and return to school season, it was a relief and pleasure to finally make more headway with the A-Z Family Challenge. R was achieved by myself and my elder son on an inset day visiting the ROCK HOUSES, part of Kinver Edge, in Stourbridge.

It was fascinating to take a glimpse into a little of what life must have been like living in these caves, hollowed out of the sandstone rocks. Since the mid 19th century, up to 14 families made 2 or 3 rooms within the rocks as their homes. Cool in the summer and cosy with a fire burning in the winter, it must have even then been a unique way of making the best use of a natural phenomenon in the midst of lovely countryside. Used mainly as homes for workers in local industry, the last of the homes were left as recently as the 1950s. image

We enjoyed a lovely hour spent exploring the site and admiring the spectacular views. A truly unique property which added real diversity to the properties visited on our challenge. Great fun!

Q is for Quebec House

image On the final day of our ‘last week of the summer hols’ adventure, ‘Q’ was achieved on our A-Z challenge by visiting QUEBEC HOUSE. Leaving our lovely campsite in Kings Lynn, we embarked upon what would become another challenge for us – travelling through no less than 12 counties in one day, home to Cardiff via Quebec House in Westerham, Kent.

And yet again, a treat awaited us at Quebec House. I had no prior knowledge of the fascinating history of General James Wolfe and his leadership of the British troops in the battle of Quebec in 1759. Quebec House (named in his honour posthumously) was Wolfe’s childhood home and the National Trust have recreated the house as it would have looked during his time, coupled with an impressive collection of memorabilia of archives of him and his family and a film and exhibition to get a real sense of the man. His achievements, questionable in their intention in modern times, apparently set the tone and path for America as we know it today.

imageThe kids, being boys, loved the hands-on exhibits downstairs of the gun and militaria similar to what his troops would have used and worn. They also took each other on in cards (not for the first time in the hols!) in the lovely sunny drawing room, probably our favourite room in the house.

Another really interesting visit. We stopped for a well needed cuppa in the garden before continuing on our journey home. We really feel like we’ve made great head way on our A-Z challenge now – 17 letters achieved in 6 months – we think we’re doing really well!

P is for Peckover House & Gardens

image Another day, another letter! ‘P’ has been achieved on the A-Z #ntfamilychallenge by visiting PECKOVER HOUSE & GARDENS. After a morning visit to NT Brancaster Beach for a spot of sand dune bombing (lush by the way!), we hopped over the border into Cambridgeshire and Wisbech to visit Peckover House & Gardens.

And what a lovely place! Situated on the North Brink, which must have been a fantastic street in its Georgian hey day, Peckover House was the family home to Quakers who ran a bank that has its roots in what we know as Barclays today. Now renovated by the NT to resemble its former glory as the possessions were sold in a house sale when the last family member died in the 1940′s, there is fascinating history throughout the property. As always for me, the downstairs kitchen and servants room are real delights and where you can feel the real life of the place.

image However, it’s the unexpected beauty and size of the gardens that were the real winner for us. I’m not sure what it is about a walled garden that I have always loved since a girl but Peckover holds enclosed probably the best walled garden I have ever seen and enjoyed. Intimate but impressive, stylish but natural, the gardens are the real treasure. After a great game of croquet, we had a good old explore! The kids were delighted to find further period games – quoits, noughts & crosses etc on the lower lawn that we got competitive with!

P was a great visit…