We are so lucky to have so many fantastic National Trust properties on our doorstep and have put together this blog post highlighting the best National Trusts for kids in Kent and East Sussex…Hope you find it helpful.
Update: Due to Covid-19 social distancing measures, tickets for the National Trust properties need to be pre-booked. They are released on Friday mornings and go pretty fast so you’ll need to be quick!
♥ Batemans – The family home of Rudyard Kipling, and one of the smaller National Trust properties but a very interesting one to visit, with a children’s trail to follow around the house. Burn off some energy in the stunning landscape around Bateman’s, the inspiration for some of Kipling’s famous children’s stories, by playing Pooh-sticks in the wild garden or enjoying the new natural play area, with its giant swing and see-saws.
The working Mill will be reopening soon too, after a restoration project which is a pleasant walk away along the river. There are handy picnic benches at the play area and the Mulberry Tearoom in the former dairy serve lunches and snacks.
♥ Birling Gap & Seven Sisters – If you fancy a complete change of scene and love a bit of rock pooling and fossil hunting, head on down to Birling Gap and pretend you’re on holiday! Located between Eastbourne and Brighton, Birling Gap is one of the longest stretches of undeveloped coastline on the south coast, with an array of rock pools to explore when the tide is out.
There’s the cafe to warm up in, with views of the sea and a visitor centre where you can pick up family activity packs for the beach and enjoy some seasonal nature colouring. Remember to check tide times and the weather beforehand HERE.
♥ Chartwell – So much to do you can definitely make a day of it here! The highlights for children being the playhouse Churchill designed for his daughter in the garden and the two-storey treehouse, which is roughly a 30-minute walk from the house, more suited to a baby carrier than a buggy. Also, within the 80 acres of grounds are giant swings, den-building, a Canadian camp, looped trails, natural play areas and Donkey Jack’s Caravan complete with dressing up clothes!
There are ideal picnic spots by the lake and in the meadow. We usually get away with a whistle stop tour of the house as there’s a trail for the kids to follow, but you need to book a timed ticket for this self-guided tour.
Which are your favourite National Trusts for kids in Kent and East Sussex?
♥ Emmetts Garden – Mainly outdoors and buggy friendly, Emmetts Garden near Sevenoaks offers pretty formal gardens, amazing views from one of the highest points in the county and lots of grassed space for running around and picnicking. Enjoy adventures in the wild play area, make-believe with the dressing up clothes inside the tepee and hunt for the tree that smells of burnt toffee! The gardens are particularly lovely to visit in late Spring, when there is a carpet of bluebells in the woodland.
♥ Ightham Mote – a great choice for the whole family to enjoy the fresh air at this medieval moated manor house near Sevenoaks. The highlight for us is always the novelty of the stream set within the natural play area, so pack wellies and spare clothes as they are bound to want to paddle or build dams! Here you will also find balance beams, chimes, dens, steppingstones etc. There is a pond and lake to discover in the acres of space, with children’s garden maps available to add to the fun.
Children are welcomed in the house, with a quiz sheet available to pick up from the Conservatory and its absolutely lovely when decorated for Christmas time.
♥ Scotney Castle: The nearest (and probably my dearest) National Trust property, is a medieval castle lying in a peaceful valley on the edge of Lamberhurst. Scotney Castle has a lot to offer children; a natural play area that has something for most ages I’d say, including a mud kitchen, tennis ball run, and natural drum kit. There is a children’s trail inside the house (extra admittance fee) and often an outdoor family trail, plus the castle folly has two floors of nooks and crannies to explore and there is an outdoor camp building area.
It’s a really beautiful and quite dramatic spot, which we have enjoyed at all times of the year. The pathways within the garden are buggy friendly…it’s a steep hill on the way back up, but this makes for stunning views. The all-important café has both indoor and (lots of) outdoor seating for warmer days.
♥ Knole – another favourite of mine, the magnificent parkland estate surrounding the house is idyllic for picnics, playing games, little bikes and scooter and you’d be unlucky not to spot the resident herd of wild deer. ‘Little fawns’ is a monthly toddler group for 2-5-year olds, with crafts and activities to engage your child in Knole and nature. On Monday mornings you can enjoy story telling with little ones in the fab bookshop and if you buy a hot drink in the café, your little one can have a free babycino and a play with the toys.
Please note, Knole is extremely popular at weekends and during school holidays, so the National Trust advise avoiding these peak times.
♥ Polesden Lacey – The ultimate party house for royalty and celebrities, back when the Edwardian socialite Mrs Greville owned this country retreat near Dorking. The gardens have lots of areas for children to play and make happy memories…from a natural climbing frame to den-building in the ancient woodland, giant swings that hang from the beech trees to saying hello to the resident chickens. Dress up in period costume and step back in time at the new Polesen Voices exhibit and imagine being at a summer garden party held for local schoolchildren or what is was like to be a ladies maid.
♥ Bodiam Castle: A picturesque, fairy tale castle where you can imagine life as a knight or princess, with its spiral staircases, battlements, lookout towers and courtyard. There are often trails to explore the grounds (you may need wellies) whilst spotting the wildlife, including ducks and fish in the moat. The tea-room by the car park is always open and great for watching trains pulling into the station, the smaller café nearer to the castle is open at busier times.
The Hub café is worth a visit while you’re in the area, and for some adventure, explore 1066 country by river from the Bodiam Boating Station or catch a steam train to the Castle from Tenterden on the Kent & East Sussex Railway.
More of our favourite National Trusts for kids in Kent and East Sussex?
♥ Standen House and Garden – An Arts & Craft period house in West Sussex dressed for a weekend stay in 1925- especially lovely during Christmas time. There is a children’s trail around the interesting house and don’t miss The Little Room – a haven for children’s games then and still today! You can take a walk through the woodland on the buggy friendly pathway and then enjoy an ice-cream on a nice day. Look out for the new natural play area opening at Standen this Easter (2020).
♥ Wakehurst – a botanical garden containing the world’s largest seed conservation project is managed by Royal Botanic Gardens, but National Trust members and any children can visit free, although there is a charge for parking. Alongside the 500 acres of world plants to discover, the Millennium Seed Bank and natural play areas, Wakehurst is an extra big hit with the kids during the school holidays when they run various events and activities (check for extra charges).
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