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O is for Oxburgh Hall

image ‘O’ has been achieved on the a-z #ntfamily challenge! O is for OXBURGH HALL, a wonderful visit in Norfolk. Again determined to meet the 2014 challenge ‘head on’ and visit another new area of the UK to us, we packed up the camping gear on a wet Bank Holiday Monday and headed off for Kings Lynn and Norfolk.

Oxburgh Hall is a moated, impressive country house which is packed with history on a pretty monumental scale! Home to generations of the Bedingfeld family since the 15th Century, the 10th Baronet still lives there with his wife in the East Wing. In fact, on our visit one of them was sat in the bay window of their private wing, absorbed in their reading whilst the hoards troop past and admire their stunning home.

imageLike I said, the house is packed with the history of a family who over the centuries have been in and out of favour due to their Catholic beliefs but who have always remained staunchly loyal to the Crown – clearly standing them in good stead. The kids loved venturing down the ‘Priests Hole’ situated where once a privy was – this has held safe catholic priests over the years when raiders came to Oxburgh. Now you get a sticker for exploring down the hole which made me smile! But the hubbie didn’t enjoy it so much with his claustrophobia!

The fine needlework completed by Mary Queen of Scots was very impressive but being a self confessed Tudor fanatic – I found really interesting the letters penned to Sir Edmund and later Sir Henry Bedingfeld by Henry VIII, Mary I and Elizabeth I. This was clearly a family very well integrated into the highest social circles!

We spent a lovely few hours at Oxburgh Hall. The grounds are fab and we had a great explore! Thoroughly enjoyed by us all.

N is for Nostell Priory & Parkland

image On a gorgeous sunny Wednesday, N was achieved on the A-Z NT Challenge – N is for NOSTELL PRIORY & PARKLAND.

A very different ‘priory’ to our ‘M’ visit, all signs of the 12th century priory that occupied the site have long disappeared, replaced by a grand, imposing Georgian house of which the design, architecture and contents have evolved over 300 years of the history of the Winn family. The stunning parkland that you take in a part of as you approach the house from the car park area are perfect family areas for relaxing, picnicking in or playing footie in ( as we did!). On a beautiful sunny day as it was when we visited, there really is nothing better!

After a spot of lunch in the relatively newly renovated ‘garage’, we entered the house to take a look around. Initially very dark inside (probably enhanced by the fact it was such a gorgeous day outside!), with tour guide in hand we began our tour of the rooms with our youngest son reading the useful explanations of the rooms. We saw evidence of James Paine’s and Robert Adam’s decorative styles plus a huge collection of Chippendale furniture.

image Our favourite rooms reflecting the grandeur of the family were probably the State Dining Room and Saloon – here you could almost feel the fantastic house parties and entertaining that happened in these rooms. And the light was lovely that side of the house. But I’m not sure why but the areas of grand houses that always fascinate me the most are the servants areas. Here are where ‘life’ can be felt the most and for us was the more atmospheric – the recent addition of the renovated Butler’s Pantry certainly adds to that.

After having taken in more of the grounds we took our leave and headed back home. But again, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Nostell for ‘N’ and will recommend it to friends!

M is for Mount Grace Priory

image Determined to visit another region of the UK for the A-Z Challenge, M has been achieved by visiting MOUNT GRACE PRIORY in North Yorkshire. We packed up the car full of our camping gear and excitedly headed North in the first week of the school summer holidays!

And what a wonderfully tranquil, fascinating visit Mount Grace Priory is. In a superb setting, you can only begin to imagine how much of a solace from every day life the 14th Century Carthusian Monks that established the medieval Charterhouse must have found at Mount Grace. Although interesting as the Manor House is that you first enter as you visit the site, for us the real interest lay in the ruins of the Priory.

A victim of the 16th century Henry VIII Reformation destruction of the monasteries, Mount Grace still provides a perfect glimpse of the majority of the chapel, the monks cells (with Cell 8 reconstructed as was so that you can picture a monks simple, spiritually led life) and some of the outbuildings. What we also enjoyed was picturing the cloister around which the monks walked in contemplation. Also fascinating was the lengths that the monks went to to ensure a fresh water supply and excellent plumbing – the supply houses can still be seen nestled in the trees in the hillside!

image Perfectly preserved alongside many of the cell doors were the feeding holes used by the monks who largely lived a hermit style life. Living in solitude, each monk occupied his own cell and came into contact with others in the chapel only for the night time praying hours, Sundays and feast-days. They were a silent order with a vegetarian diet, which consisted of crops grown by their ‘work’, tending their private garden within each cell.

We spent a good few hours at Mount Grace Priory and really enjoyed ourselves. As we’ve said a few times already, if we weren’t doing the 2014 A-Z Challenge, it’s unlikely that we would have visited Mount Grace with the kids this year. And what a fun experience and living lesson in history for the kids we would have missed. Great stuff – a visit we would recommend.

L is for Letocetum

imageBeing a self-confessed obsessive about Roman history, a visit to a NT Roman site was always on the cards! L has been achieved on the a-z #ntfamilychallenge with L being for LETOCETUM.

Letocetum is owned by the National Trust but managed by English Heritage. The site nestles inconspicuously and rather unceremoniously along side the A5 Bypass of Wall, by Lichfield. Once an important Roman Military staging post, the wonderfully excavated remains of an impressive bath house and equally impressive ‘mansio’ have open access to the public and you can explore them at your leisure.

imageWe really enjoyed reading all the information pointer boards as to what was where and although not easy in this day and age to imagine the scale and of the site, we were more than able to appreciate its use as we stopped off on our visit on our way to York. In roman times, this could have been used as a staging post for important Roman officials on their way to Eboracum – the roman legionary fort at York. But was definitely used by those officials and messengers on their way along Watling Street, the Roman Road to Viroconium at Wroxeter, near modern day Shrewsbury. In the present day, the site is easy to miss by many we’re sure who simply zoom past on the A5, unaware of the grandeur that once stood there.

It never ceases to amaze me how truly accessible British history is if you are interested and inclined enough to explore it. And how incredibly advanced the Romans were when it came to their construction methods, general lifestyle and culture more widely. The fact that Britain effectively went backwards for centuries after the Romans left is pretty incredible – and opens up so many questions to ponder as we continue our A-Z Challenge!

Letocetum was a great find – and one that’s made our youngest son’s Top 3 on the A-Z Challenge so far….

K is for Knightshayes

image Another day, another letter achieved on the A-Z #ntfamilychallenge! K is for KNIGHTSHAYES, a stunning Gothic- style house near Tiverton. And what a wonderful place it is.

I’d heard about Knightshayes after my parents had visited so it was always going to be ‘K’ on our challenge. Funded by money gained in the lace trade, the house began as a creation of William Burges, architect of Cardiff Castle in our home town. Although recreated in his style by the National Trust as his full vision wasn’t achieved in the original time, we could recognise William Burges style in much of the decoration and artistic touches that we saw on our visit. My youngest son enjoyed the ‘animal tour’ – moving around the rooms looking out for the animal touches that are so prevalent within the house. Most of the rooms are lovely and truly echo back to a grand time of wealth and privileged living.

image We then moved out into the stunning grounds and had a good old explore of the gardens, lawns, woods and landscape surrounding the house. After a delicious cream tea lunch we had a wander around the renovated kitchen garden which is huge! It’s a great idea that the gardens will sustain the kitchens in the cafe – delicious home produced food as it would have done years before.

Knightshayes was a great stop on our challenge – and one we would return to with a picnic with Dad again in the future!

J is for Jurassic Coast!

image J achieved on the A-Z #ntfamilychallenge – J is for JURASSIC COAST. After a few busy weekends with football presentations and such like, we were finally able to get going on furthering our A-Z Family Challenge. Keeping with our intention of the challenge being a real mix of National Trust locations with a good spread across the UK, this time it was ‘down South’ to Devon and to the coastline.

The boys and I jumped in the car and headed for Branscombe on the Jurassic Coast. 2 hours later and we arrived. Had a mooch around the Blacksmiths in the village and then off to Branscombe Beach. And what a lovely beach and fascinating coastline it is. Gently shelving towards the sea with a myriad of pebbles and stones, the beach and the light was lovely. We spent a great couple of hours playing footie, exploring the beach, having a paddle and of course, the obligatory ice cream!image

The Jurassic Coast is world renowned for a reason – it was actually tricky to decide exactly where to visit with many spectacular views to choose from. But we opted for Branscombe and a great choice it was. This was our first visit to this area of Devon and like Arnie, we will definitely be back!

I is for Islandmagee

image ‘I’ achieved on the A-Z #ntfamilychallenge – I is for ISLANDMAGEE! We have made the most of our Northern Ireland adventure by chalking off the third letter in 2 days – and what a beautiful peninsula on which to do so.

Islandmagee is reached beyond Carrickfergus and is a real step back in time. Small winding country roads enable an unhurried pace of life it would seem and it was a total pleasure meandering our way over to Portmuck, one of the NT owned beaches on the peninsula. NT beaches always have a certain something and Portmuck did not disappoint. image

Tranquil and picturesque best describe it. On Thurs 29 May when we were there, there was a construction team working on extending the car park to accommodate extra visitors to the bay which did impact on the tranquility a bit but that was just bad timing on our part!! When their machinery was turned off it was the lulling sound of the waves and the seabirds that provided a perfect backdrop to the cove, the ruins of the castle and the harbour which we fully explored.

Never have we seen pebbles so vastly opposing each other as on Portmuck beach – jet black mingling with pure white pebbles – stunning! We then headed south down the coast to see ‘the Gobbins’ but somehow missed it – a shame.

Islandmagee was a great visit to add another letter to our challenge but also to experience Northern Ireland outside Belfast and the traditional tourist route… Fabulous.

H is for Hezlett House

image‘H’ achieved on our A-Z NT Family Challenge – H is for HEZLETT HOUSE!

Determined to make the most of our trip to Northern Ireland and to see as much as we could, after visiting the Giants Causeway we made the 35 minute trip along the coast to the lovely Hezlett House to complete ‘H’ on our #ntfamilychallenge.

An authentic Northern Irish house that remained until the 1960s in the ownership of the Hezlett family. It’s a fascinating glimpse into times gone by. Armed with the room descriptors and greeted by a lovely male guide, we took it in turns to read to each other and explore the rooms, one by one. It’s a property with real history, rather than some that try to recreate it – at Hezlett House it really works. How the kids squashed into the beds in their little room and the fact that adults commonly slept sitting up – the kids recognised how alien that is to our lives today! And the room with sacks for beds where the farm hands enjoyed ‘luxury’ accommodation for their jobs – amazing!image

We thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent there – and a welcome ‘chill’ after scaling the heights and length of the Giants Causeway. Great stuff…

G is for Giants Causeway

image ‘G’ has been achieved!! G is for the GIANTS CAUSEWAY…

With great excitement, on Wed 28 May, we made the most of half term and caught our 7.00am Easyjet flight from Bristol to Belfast to continue with the next letter on our A-Z NT Family Challenge.

When we decided to undertake the 2014 #ntfamilychallenge – the Giants Causeway was pretty much top of the list of NT destinations that we knew from the outset we were going to visit, having wanted to see it for years.
We were incredibly lucky with some gorgeous sunshine and can only describe the experience as spectacular. The Causeway truly is a magical place and we spent a wonderful couple of hours exploring the 3 areas of the Causeway and the beautiful bays surrounding the showpiece itself. The audio guides were great and really helped set the scene, especially for the kids with the tales of Finn McCool, the Giant of folklore who was believed to have created the Causeway in a bid to reach a Scottish rival. The alternative explanation of the geological creation of the basalt columns is pretty McCool too!!

We were so pleased that the Causeway lived up to our expectations! In fact, it surpassed them and is a visit that everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. Nature is a powerful force – the National Trust are doing a fantastic job of conserving the Causeway for future generations whilst allowing visitors a truly hands-on, fantastic experience of being able to explore it from top to bottom as we did – brilliant! image

One thing we would suggest that could improve the experience even more – a selection of lovely chill out music on the audio guide. Then you could grab a spot, zone out from everyone else around and truly absorb the beauty of the spot. A moment of reflection that will stay with you for a lifetime…

F is for Fyne Court

image Today we completed ‘F’ on our 2014 A-Z Family Challenge by spending a fab few Spring Bank Holiday hours at FYNE COURT.

The rain had ceased and the boys & I were delighted to take an hour and half drive down the M5 to Fyne Court. What a wonderful place – beautiful, tranquil and full of quirky fun for the kids. Plenty of climbing on tree stumps, having a go on the wooden tubular musical extra and having a picnic on the lovely lawn.


We learnt the history of Fyne Court – how it played a vital part in early electricity experiments (Andrew Grosse) and sadly fell victim to a fire in part as a result of a candle and some curling tongs..the price of beauty!

What remains of the house is still lovely and at least provides some indication of the grandeur that once existed. And the Gardens and Woodland with the boathouse and folly largely intact provide some lovely, gentle walks. And good news, the tea shop has been reopened since 24th May so a delicious cream tea was scoffed!

What struck me most was that if we weren’t doing the A-Z Challenge this year, we may never have ventured to Fyne Court. It’s not overly well known like some of the grander NT properties or marketed that strongly but what a gem we would have missed. A great visit on our Family Challenge…