This is nearby (like, about 8 minutes in the car), and I knew it was there, but just didn't think that it was accessible for the general public as it is privately owned. Well, I was right, but the owners open up the grounds once a year, to raise money for the NSPCC. Children were free, adults were £5, which I thought was spot on. It is an attraction for gardeners, as lots of independant nursery people and plant enthusiasts set up stalls for the day, and the beautiful grounds are enough to get you all inspired about your own bit of earth!
Although we couldn't go inside, (Little Guy may never forgive me!) we could pose for photos outside the grand entrances, and wander around the huge grounds, and spot people that I knew, through work, through toddlers, through school (which was a real wake-up call- ok, I don't meet these people socially, but it was lovely to think that I at least recognised so many familiar faces from my home town. Perhaps I'm settling?!)
There were several tortoises, who had very interesting names, who were caged up for the day. I can imagine the frustration of losing your gardens to a load of tourists and gardeners, when you usually have the run (well, you know, a slow run) of the place. This may explain the grumpy behaviour- most of them had decided to coop themselves up together in the dark box at one end of the run, but there were two large tortoises sunbathing and not hiding away from the people. There was also one smaller feistier one who was butting the pair, climbing over them, and nibbling their feet.
There was also a small-ish barbecue, offering hotdogs and burgers, and a stall with ploughman's lunches. I had brought my trusty standard-mummy-issue snack boxes, and water bottles because of the heat of the glorious day, but of course we sampled the tea and cake...
There were strange noises coming from above, and a presence in the trees. We went to see if we could spot the creatures. Peacocks! With attitude! Two of them stayed where they had been when we arrived, high up in the branches for the duration of our visit, and one was playing look-out from the top of the castle, watching the visitors come in and leave. But one was on top of the garage, talking to people and swinging around grandly, and ruffling, and strutting, hiding his head, and half putting his tail up like a tease. He was also keen to wander across if you had a camera, then turn around to expose his broken tatty feathers on his behind as soon as the photographers had lined their shot up. I managed to get one thought. He was fun!
Did I mention the archery? A small local club had organised a little informal teaching session for a small cost. It was lovely to watch, but I wasn't particularly tempted to join in, I was a bit too embarrassed, and I've learnt that these sorts of things don't come very naturally! I'll stick to my sister's Wii I think.
Daisy chains were made, and it was as calm and peaceful as anywhere might be. We just sat on the lawns for an hour or two, chatting lazily, people-watching, nibblng cake. It was safe enough and quiet enough by late afternoon for me to let the children roam a little bit freely, barefoot. It had a real atmosphere to it. And there was so much to see and enjoy that I gladly would have stayed all evening and night! Definately worth a return visit next year...
And when we got home, for some odd reason my children (mostly at Pickle Missy's organisation) started to call our downstairs bathroom the 'tortoise', and the upstairs the 'peacock'. (The house isn't as posh as it sounds, and I'd gladly lose a bathroom to gain a third bedroom!) It has stuck. So I have made some pictures for the doors to clarify it! Even grown-ups love colouring in.