Christmas at Calke Abbey

We love visiting large country estates whenever we get the chance. There is always something to appeal to everyone and plenty of outdoor space for the children to explore. Last weekend we used our National Trust membership to see how they celebrated Christmas at Calke Abbey.

Being a little disorganised, our first port of call was the cafe to make sure the children were all fed and watered. Hungry children can be relied upon to complain for the whole afternoon! Once they were fully recharged we wandered to a large vintage craft fare being held in a large stable block. Before we knew it I had persuaded Mr M to invest in some wonderful decorations from the 1940s and 50s!

Our next stop saw the children completing various craft activities. They made Christmas cards, paper chains and angels for our tree. This was really enjoyable and it was refreshing to see that all the activities were free. In the past we have been places where they find a way to charge you extra at every possible opportunity!

Christmas at Calke Abbey

Our next port of call was the Abbey itself. We have never been inside before. In fact, it is now closed for the Winter so they can clean and restore the property. They had opened a small portion of the house so we could see it’s magnificent tree and more importantly, so we could access the tunnels.

The dressed Christmas tree inside Calke Abbey

 Apologies for lots of grainy pictures ahead. My camera doesn’t do well in low light but I hope you get an idea of our surroundings.

Stuffed bulls head adorned with baublesEverything had been given a festive edge. Even the bulls head had baubles dangling from it’s horns!

Inside the tunnels at Calke Abbey

We were soon guided to the tunnels that would have been used to store beer and grains. The children were given lanterns and there was just (only just) enough light to stop us falling over!

A Christmas display in the tunnelAll the nooks and crannies had been given a Christmas theme

After navigating the tunnels, which we all thoroughly enjoyed, we went to the park while we waited for it to go dark. The estate normally closes at dusk but today it was open late so everyone could enjoy the grounds when they were lit up as dark fell.

Calke at dusk

The Christmas tree inside Calke Abbeys church

As the lights came on we saw a series of lanterns creating a pathway leading to the church. We walked through the forest, spotting lots of different light installations along the way. To be honest by now I was beginning to flag and the children were pretty tired too. Thankfully the church was worth the wait and was beautifully decorated.

Bauble inside a marble fontEven the marble font had been blinged!

Calke Abbey lit up with Christmas lights

The walk back was lovely and the view of the Abbey, all lit up, was wonderful. The whole afternoon had been a great success and everyone had a different favourite part of the day. I am proud of myself for staying on my feet (or should I say my crutches) for so long. I paid for it when I got home but it was totally worth it!

If you get the chance it is well worth going to see how they celebrate Christmas at Calke Abbey, or indeed at any large country house.

 

Autumn in Powis Castle gardens

Last weekend we visited to Wales on a mini break. We used our National Trust membership to visit Powis Castle gardens. The multi layered gardens, which are over 300 years old, are arranged over a series of terraces leading down the hillside towards the formal gardens. They are renown as one of the best surviving examples of Baroque garden design in the United Kingdom. I knew that looking at flowers was not necessarily going to be a huge hit with the kids so we visited while they were holding a hunt the pumpkin event.

I hoped that a challenge would keep them engaged. A series of clues led you to pumpkins hidden throughout the grounds which had letters carved into them. Once you had collected all the clues you had to rearrange the anagram to form your answer. Bobbins and Peanut, ably assisted by Mr M were soon busy running around trying to solve the puzzle.

Since I am still on crutches Junior and I took the accessible slope to the bottom and went very much at our own pace. Junior is very keen on photography and had taken his camera with him. This gave us a wonderful opportunity to take pictures, explore and chat together while the girls followed the pumpkin hunt.

I was struck by how parts of the garden were still full of glorious summer blooms and other parts had turned the wonderful russet hues of autumn. It seemed surprising that the 2 seasons should exist next to each other.

Powis Castle gardens in pictures

Autumnal leavesA beautiful autumnal scene

Red flower headContrasting with a glorious red bloom

Yellow flower headJuxtaposed against beautiful orange flowers

Holly leavesHolly berries ready for Winter. Notice how half the leaves are spiky and the others smooth

Holding a bunch of wine grapesPeanut, having been caught munching on a bunch of wine grapes

The girls were thrilled when they solved the anagram. They did become a little frustrated after that so I gave them my phone and sent them off to take pictures, which soon did the trick. After that they had a good run around the huge lawns. I think children need a good run everyday! I then tried to take some snaps off them all together. How hard is it to get them to look in one direction?

From the bottom of the gardens you got a really good view of the castle and the terraces. I don’t think we had appreciated the true size until we looked from this angle.

Powis castle gardens in autumn

We spent a couple of hours in the garden and despite a few misgivings the children really enjoyed themselves. Next time I will go prepared with some little cameras for the girls. I was surprised how good some of the pictures they took were and it’s a hobby I would like to encourage. We didn’t have time to explore all of the grounds or the castle itself. We will revisit at a later date and rectify that! Powis Castle gardens are a truly stunning site to behold in autumn. I wonder what winter will bring to the gardens?

 

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Country Kids

Apple day at Calke Abbey

Apple day is an annual celebration of apples and orchards held throughout October. Apple day aims to highlight and celebrate this versatile fruit and to raise awareness of the varieties we are in danger of losing. It also serves to make us mindful of the provenance and traceability of the food we purchase and consume. It is celebrated in various villages, markets, Wildlife Trust and National Trust properties throughout the UK. We recently visited Calke Abbey to celebrate apple day in their huge walled gardens.

Apples in a crate from Calke abbey

Apple Day

I was sure that I would find the day interesting but I wasn’t so sure that it would engage the kids. I needn’t have worried (I also needn’t have fed them beforehand!) When we arrived in the garden we were faced with a large variety of tents and stalls, all with different activities and produce. Junior and I made a bee line for the tasting tent. It was full of varieties of apple for you to try, each with a description of taste, history and ways to use them. I had no idea there were so many types! Junior soon started sampling and we both picked our favourites.

Different varieties of apple to sample

The girls really enjoyed using an apple press and squeezing freshly pressed juice. The appearance left somewhat to be desired but the taste was divine! We also got to try an apple spiraliser and to eat our newly peeled snack. We all loved this part and an apple spiraliser is now firmly on my wish list.

An apple being spiralised

The gardens

There were lots of stands and apple in many guises, from cake to coleslaw, to sample and to purchase. We had a busy few hours which we rounded off by exploring the rest of the properties’ gardens. There was a vast abundance of produce both in the vegetable patch and in the many greenhouses and hothouses.

Pumpkins in the vegetable patchThere were huge pumpkins in the vegetable patch

Scarecrow in the vegetable patchA not so scary scarecrow

Trellis growing squashes and pumpkinsA trellis full of varieties of squashes

The children really enjoyed the whole day and did not complain once, which is always a sigh of a successful day. So successful in fact, that we purchased a little apple sapling for our garden. We were advised that it may be a year or two before we get round apples. I am very excited to see what grows!

There are events running up and down the country so I am sure you can find an apple day near you. It really is a fun and informative day out for the whole family!