This is the first in a new series of blogs I’m writing on great days out within one hour’s drive of our home. We live in West Berkshire, on the borders of Hampshire, Wiltshire and even Oxfordshire. I’m not really sure what to call this series – days out in the south? I’d welcome your ideas! And if you’re local, let me know what you’d like to see included in this series.
We are big fans of a classic day out at a National Trust property – with my other hat on I project edit guidebooks for them, so I’m lucky enough to visit more than most – but we have none on our doorstep. We do, however, have a good choice within about an hour’s drive, making them useful places to arrange to meet up with friends who live in different parts of the country. They can also make great stops on a long journey giving everyone the opportunity to stretch their legs, take a breath of fresh air and devour a scone!
A day at Dyrham Park was the choice of my sister-in-law, who lives south of Bristol, for a summer holiday meet up. As it’s only 2 miles from Junction 18 of the M4 it’s exceptionally easy for us to get to. Dyrham Park is an ancient deer park with a grand 17th-century house at its heart. It’s possible to spend your whole visit outdoors (as we did) but the house looks very appealing to visit, and they provide children’s trails and quizzes. If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that we often take our dog with us on days out and holidays. Though many National Trust properties welcome dogs, Dyrham is not one of them. There is a dog-walking area next to the car park, but dogs are not allowed in the main deer park or near the house.
The car park is at the top of a hill along with the main visitor entrance and information about the site. It’s quite a walk down to the house and café (around 15mins), but they provide a bus for visitors if you’re in a hurry to get there or just don’t fancy the hike.
When we arrived we saw that they were about to run a family nature walk so, with a 7yo, two 5yos, a 2yo and a 9 month old, we decided to join them. The volunteers led us on a gentle stroll through different habitats. At various points they stopped, either to set a challenge to the kids or to give us some information about our surroundings or the animals we were likely to see.
The highlights of this walk were bug-hunting and deer-stalking. One thing to note – this walk was not buggy friendly! The youngest members of our family group were in an excellent lightweight off-road buggy but we found some places, including the steep hill while deer-stalking, especially tricky. The nature walk finished with some fun pond-dipping in the formal gardens. The volunteers really had thought of everything. They had all the equipment we needed, enough for each child, and reference sheets to check the animals and insects we found. They were incredibly enthusiastic and supportive of the children’s finds which we welcomed. This family nature walk took about an hour or so.
Immediately following this activity we had our picnic lunch and then went to explore the rest of the site.
From the house it’s possible to walk (uphill this time) to some excellent free-running areas with fantastic views over the Bristol Channel and across to Wales. It was especially exciting to our boys to see the ‘rugby posts’ of the Severn Bridge.
Looping back towards the house we came to the Old Lodge play area – a farm-themed playground perfect for little ones who enjoy role play. The pig pen kept our kids busy for hours! Helpfully there are toilets nearby and (covered) picnic tables.
We finished our day with treats in the café back at the house. We sat outside in the courtyard enjoying coffee, hot chocolates, scones and ice cream. Getting back to the carpark was a little trickier at the end of the day. There was a queue for the bus and with a little one asleep in the double buggy we didn’t want to fold it up to get on the bus. We decided to walk it. Luckily the three older kids had a burst of energy from their café treats and they raced up the hill. My sister-in-law and I took a little longer with the buggy.
Our day at Dyrham Park left us all feeling happy and exhausted. We had a blast of fresh air and the kids ran free. With a guided nature walk and the playground there were just the right amount of activities to engage our children before they wanted to run around in the open countryside again.
If you haven’t got time to spend a full day there I’d recommend making a beeline to the playground (with younger children) or walking the long way to the house and café for lunch followed by a stroll or a game of hide-and-seek in the formal gardens.