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Open Features: Weather-Proof Days

Half term is just around the corner: the kids are off school, there’s 5 extra days to fill and the great British weather is unpredictable, to say the least. So what to do?

''The National Trust is here to help, with a whole host of ‘weather-proof’ days out for the school holidays. Below are some top destinations, complete with sunny activities (for the optimists) and rainy day activities (for the rest!),'' says Sally Airey.

This February half term, the National Trust has plenty of excuses to get the kids to down game consoles, leave the sofa behind and discover new surroundings - whatever the weather. With uncertain forecasts threatening to ruin half terms everywhere, a rain-proof day out with the National Trust is sure to be a winner with the whole family.

The wet weather can be thoroughly enjoyed with the help of a pair of wellies and a raincoat, but for those who flee at the first sign of a raindrop, there are hoards of activities to keep everyone entertained inside National Trust houses and castles. And if the sun does decide to put on a great show, there are plenty of activities at their best in the sunshine.

From castle quests and costume dress-ups to gold-panning and adventure playgrounds, it’s time to discover perfect weather-proof days out with the National Trust.

Here are the top properties and gardens for family visits, come rain or shine, this February half term:

Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire
In the garden, discover 30 acres of mown lawn – just right for perfect handstands. Be sure to romp all the way to the wildlife discovery area, home to lots of beautiful butterflies and moths. Wander through the wild wood where trees take on the shapes of magical, mystical creatures from a story book, or gather twigs to create a secret den.

Sun: Recreate the poses of the statues, with over 200 to choose from in the formal and landscape gardens. Take a camera to save the memories.

Rain: Head to the wildlife discovery area, where dens and structures are just waiting to be climbed into and explored. Seek out a cosy hide to huddle up in and spot wildlife.

Belton House, Lincolnshire

Uncover the glitz, glamour and wealth of the 17th-century at one of the finest country houses in England. Find the Victorian-themed activity room and hunt for wood carvings in the house. Outside, head to the discovery centre in the stableyard, which offers hands-on, family activities for all ages.

Sun: Swing, climb and slide around the mega-sized adventure playground, which includes a tree house and a chain walk.

Rain: Parade around in Victorian outfits in the activity room and look out for all the animals used in decorations and paintings in the house.

Beningbrough Hall and Gardens, North Yorkshire

This grand Georgian mansion and garden is very family friendly, with all the makings of a great day out. Beningbrough Hall has a fully-equipped laundry, with wet and dry rooms, so children can discover how the very rich (or rather their servants) washed the clothes before the days of washing machines. Try and count more than 100 famous 18th-century portraits, run in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery. Enjoy lunch made with produce from the walled garden.

Sun: Explore the wilderness play area and see what’s growing in the working garden, which supplies produce to the restaurant. Hunt for the intriguing wooden sculptures.

Rain: Discover the ‘Making Faces’ gallery and commission a personal portrait. On February 19, enjoy the half term party, with art workshops, trails and games, face painting and much more.

Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

For those who have imagined living in a private castle, a trip to Bodiam should be at the top of the list for a family day out. This 14th-century castle, complete with a moat, spiral staircases and battlements, is one of the most famous castles in Britain and is just waiting to be explored. Play knights and princesses or climb the spiral staircases leading to the turrets and battlements and imagine life as a sentry guard, watching out for enemy soldiers on the approach. Explore the nooks and crannies around the ruins and, for young adventurers throughout half term, there is a quest to be completed around the castle and a prize to claim at the end.

Sun: Explore the courtyard and battlements or take a stroll through the grounds.

Rain: Explore the trails around the castle ruins and discover the hidden history of the site and take shelter in the story of Bodiam room.

Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire

Home to a rich variety of wildlife, this fairytale, medieval moated manor house has a lovely, crooked gatehouse and ruined Norman chapel and is full of fun woodland walks. Enter the great hall and be amazed at the giant rafters, or find Maggie’s cottage, a small house built from willow branches. Try and spot the fun wooden sculptures hiding in the woods.

Sun: Follow the nursery rhyme trail or explore the ruined Norman chapel.

Rain: Enter the house through the timber-framed gatehouse and try to find a carved wooden lion.

Castle Ward, County Down

Here’s a house that can’t make up its mind – one façade is Classical and the other side is Gothic. Built in the 1820s, it is a time capsule for the 19th-century and visitors, young and old, will really feel as though they’re retracing the steps of the Ward family. The remaining corn mill and saw mill give an amazing insight into how the house worked. Miles of woodland walks allow a full survey of the estate. Perfect for young naturalists, play with the touch table and handle fossils, shells and even skeletons and put them all under the microscope.

Sun: Attempt the ‘mega slide’ in the adventure playground.

Rain: Experience the new interactive play area in the barn or explore the pastimes centre and laundry room in the stableyard.

Chartwell, Kent

The home of Winston Churchill, and kept similar to how it would have been when he lived there, this property has a marvellous view over the Weald of Kent to Sussex. Play at being prime minister and survey the water features in the garden - including the water garden and the goldfish pond, full of fat golden orfe. Search for caterpillars and their chrysalises getting ready for spring on the butterfly house walk.

Sun: Come and explore the grounds and see how many minibeasts there are to spot on the special children’s trail.

Rain: Hunt for rain-loving minibeasts such as worms and others seeking shelter under leaves. Have a puddle jumping competition to see who can make the biggest splash.

Please note: The house is closed during February half term.

Corfe Castle, Dorset

Rebuild this 1000 year old ruin using the imagination or enjoy it as a giant playground for children of all ages. Enid Blyton fans will recognise it as the inspiration for ‘Kirren Castle’ in the Famous Five books, and those with more gruesome interests will enjoy the tales of treachery, treason and murder in the spooky ruins and grisly dungeons.

Sun: Keep a look out for the resident ravens and peregrine falcons in and around the castle, and count the murder holes in the gatehouse – soldiers would fling stones, boiling oil and other nasties through them at their enemies below.

Rain: From rotten rascals to fabulous feasts, the whole family can enjoy the castle quest indoors. Look out for shields to find the facts and claim a special badge.

Dinefwr Park and Castle, Carmarthenshire

Dinefwr has been a magical land of power and influence for more than 2,000 years and has an iconic place in the history of Wales. Explore the stunning national nature reserve and imagine how the powerful Lord Rhys held court at Dinefwr and influenced decisions in Wales. Friendly volunteers will guide little fingers through hands-on activities at Newton House to give an atmospheric experience circa 1912. Throughout half term, there will be a whole host of fun, family activities, inside and out, and exhibitions on the first floor will inspire visitors to explore the castle. Don’t miss the thrilling views from the very top of the castle.

Sun: See the shy, fallow deer munching away under the trees or get close to the rare and historic White Park cattle. Experience Dinefwr’s magic on waymarked walks through the park or let off steam in the children’s play area.

Rain: Help with servants’ tasks in the brushing room and listen to servants chatting about their daily work. Find the beautiful ceiling in the house or take a hidden history tour.

Erddig, Wrexham

The original house was finished in 1687 and was added to over the years as the home of the Yorke family. They were a rather eccentric bunch who chose not to install electricity, gas or mains water until well into the 20th-century. Don’t be fooled by the plain brickwork exterior; inside, the lavish furnishings and stark servants’ quarters offer an outstanding portrayal of the ‘upstairs/downstairs’ way of gentry living. The Yorkes all liked to hoard things and many of them were vegetarians. They were also extremely fond of all their servants and event commission portraits of them all – complete with little verses penned by the family.

Sun: Find the centuries-old waterfall in the park, known as the ‘cup and saucer’, or cycle along the bridleway. Visit the walled garden to spot rare varieties of fruit, including an apple called an Edelborsdorfer.

Rain: Spot the gamekeeper, the housemaid and the blacksmith among the portraits of the servants.

Gibside, Tyne and Wear

This fascinating landscape park and nature reserve, close to Newcastle and Gateshead, was once home to the Queen Mother’s ancestors. Today it offers families a taste of the country on the edge of the city, with wild adventures and outdoor escapades daily during school holidays. Created by one of the richest men in Georgian England, Gibside’s 18th-century forest garden is now a great place to get close to wildlife, with red kites soaring overhead and deer grazing among the trees. There are also natural play areas, perfect picnic spots, ruined buildings and the Column of Liberty (taller than Nelson’s) to discover. For something a little different, Gibside’s Mongolian yurt village makes a perfect spot for half term sleepovers.

Sun: Free half term activities for kids include den-building, campfires and toasted marshmallows, archery and frisbee golf.

Rain: Pull on wellies, jump in puddles and head up to the stables for indoor fun with the milkable cow and giant Gibside Hall playhouse.

Lydford Gorge, Devon

Dive into the deepest gorge in the South West and discover the spectacular 30 metre Whitelady cascading waterfall and ‘walk the plank’ over the bubbling devil’s cauldron - the wildest whirlpool on the river. Envisage fairytales and legend in the ancient woodland, or go wildlife spotting for lizards, woodland birds and dragonflies above the river and trout beneath it.

Sun: Complete a wildlife nature trail (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/rainydays) and paddle in the Whitelady pool.

Rain: Splash about in the pools and puddles and don’t worry about getting wet.

Mount Stewart House, Garden and Temple of the Winds, County Down

Mount Stewart is one of the most unique and unusual gardens in the National Trust’s ownership, laid out in a series of different garden ‘rooms’. There is something new around every corner and the house tells stories of the politicians who visited the Londonderry family. Lady Londonderry made all the visiting politicians members of her elite Arc Club, and the animal pictures of them can still be seen in the tea room – Winston Churchill was ‘Winnie the Warlock’.

Sun: Discover dinosaurs in the garden, and a horse with a monkey on its back. Find ‘Mairi Mairi quite contrary’ sitting in the middle of a pond with her cockle shells. Creep down the underground tunnel by the Temple of the Winds and find crocodiles and duck-billed platypuses jostling on the dodo terrace..

Rain: Don the waterproofs and enjoy the wind-blasted views over Strangford Lough from the Temple of the Winds. Or head to the tea room and decide what animals today’s famous politicians would be – and then try friends and family.

Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate, Cheshire

Where did our great grandparents live? How did they live? Experience something of the noise and hardship in their lives at Quarry Bank Mill. Overflowing with the atmosphere of the Industrial Revolution, hear the clattering of machinery and hiss of steam engines as costumed guides bring the 18th-century cotton mill alive. From demonstrations of spinning and weaving to watching the most powerful water wheel in Europe as it churns through the water to power the mill, visitors will leave and breathe the workings of this truly unique place. Take a guided tour through the apprentice house and experience life as a child working in the mill, dressing up in pauper clothing and writing on slates. See the traditional vegetables, fruit and herbs still grown in the garden using organic methods and visit the secret garden.

Sun: Pick up a trail leaflet and take a walk along the river, winding up at the peaceful heron pond bridge.

Rain: Throughout half term, Material World Week (21-25 February) invites visitors to have fun with fabric, weave something magical and even get tied up in knots. Drop-in sessions will run daily (12pm – 3pm) for mini basket weaving from wool. On Tuesday and Thursday during the week (12pm, 1pm and 2pm), there will also be a special workshop for weaving with different materials, including crisp packets. Please call 01625 527468 for more information.

Rufford Old Hall, Lancashire

Step back in time in one of Lancashire’s finest Tudor houses and have a go at traditional Victorian games, including skittles, hopscotch and boules in the magnificent Great Hall. There are lots of suits of armour and weapons to spot and the coats of arms of the powerful, local families of the time. A young William Shakespeare reputedly once performed here for Sir Thomas Hesketh and his raucous guests. Outside, the late Victorian grounds are dotted with topiary and sculpture to explore.

Sun: Head out into the garden on a snowdrop walk (1pm daily, please call 01704 821254 for details) and see these beautiful and delicate spring flowers amongst the Victorian gardens.

Rain: After the Victorian games in the hall, warm hands in front of the huge original 16th century fireplace that will be lit and imagine the great feasts that took place in this magnificent room.

(NB Rufford Old Hall is open 14-16 and 21-23 February. Please also note that only the Great Hall in the house is open, the rest of the house interior is closed)

Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire

Experience one of the greatest gardens in Europe, perfect for families wanting to go on an adventure, come rain or shine. Explore the statues and monuments and imagine the Temple Grenville family that lived here who were richer than the king. Try to find the famous residents, such as William Shakespeare and Queen Elizabeth I, and pick a favourite monument (there’s more than 40 to choose from).

Sun: Enjoy a walk around the garden and see how many different types of flowers there are.

Rain: Search for creatures seeking shelter in and around the statues and guess the hidden meaning of the different temples.

Sutton Hoo, Suffolk

Discover page one of English history at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, where over 70 years ago excavation uncovered the incredible ship-burial of an Anglo-Saxon warrior king, including weapons and priceless royal treasure. Explore the award-winning exhibition, featuring the full-size reconstruction of the burial chambers, including stunning replica treasures. Dress up as an Anglo-Saxon for the day or climb up the viewing platform to view the 90 foot boat.

Sun: Have fun in the children’s play area and enjoy the estuary views.

Rain: Watch the Sutton Hoo film and be transported to a world of Anglo-Saxon kings, craftsmen and poets.

Treasurer’s House, York

A Roman road in the cellar to Edwardian servants’ rooms in the attic, this property serves up a snippet of history to suit everyone’s interests. Children will be fascinated to spot the fussy habits of the man who lived in this elegant house at the beginning of the 20th-century: Frank Green had studs set in the floor to tell his servants where to put the furniture and try to spot all t bossy signs. An even more interesting tale is of the Roman road running through the cellar. A plumber was working the cellar in the 1950s when he heard a trumpet and saw Roman solders coming out of the wall (he was so shocked he fell off his ladder). The soldiers appear to have no fee and archaeologist have since found that the Roman road that went through the house was 45cm lower than the new floor.

Sun: Avoid the ghosts in the tranquil walled garden and take on a trail.

Rain: Take the attic tour and learn about Edwardian servant life, as well as enjoying the brilliant views over the city.


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