We’ve had our National Trust cards for a few years now but I have to admit we don’t use them anywhere near as much as we should.
We originally got them because the £9 a month couple’s membership was much cheaper than even one single adult visit to some of their properties and we thought that with the baby on the way we’d get out quite a bit with her.
It didn’t quite work out that way but now she’s a bit older and the weather is nice (and most of the baby groups have stopped for summer) we decided to dig the cards out and head out for the afternoon.
After consulting the National Trust website we decided to visit Calke Abbey as it was only a 30 min journey from where we had taken Margot swimming this morning. Neither of us had been before and we weren’t really sure what was there but we decided that as long as we could get a bit of lunch and go for a walk then it was fine.
I’ll start off by saying that there’s loads to do at Calke Abbey, including walks, bike trails and Calke Explore which acts as hub to the cycle and walking routes and has it’s own facilities and some natural play areas. We only went on a last minute visit so just headed straight to the main area but we’ll definitely be returning so I’ll update the blog when we do.
First stop was lunch at the main restaurant as everyone was getting a bit peckish, especially the most vocal member of the family who had woke from a her nap and was demanding to be fed.
The main facilities at Calke are found in a pretty courtyard, which offers a range of outdoor sheltered and open seating. There’s a decent kids play park, as well as the main shop, café and toilets.
We took a seat inside as it was around midday and absolutely roasting outside, what is it with this weather? It’s freezing or boiling there’s no inbetween! The restaurant was really nicely kitted out and I was really impressed that they not only had decent high chairs, microwave and water dispenser but they also had kids cutlery, plates and bowls which was just as well because I had forgotten just about everything.
The food was really good, there was plenty of choice and a good kids menu (we fed Margot our food not the kids food). I think that’s one of the things I like about the National Trust, their cafes and shops don’t go crazy with the pricing and I’ve always felt like we’ve paid a fair price.
After lunch we made a quick pit stop at the shop because I’d forgotten Margot’s hat. I had remembered the sun cream though so not as bad as it could’ve been! As well as the shop there was a nice little selection of plants available in the courtyard and I saw some signs later on saying that they sold produce grown on the grounds.
It was still too hot to sit outside so we decided to have a wander around the house. Tickets for this had to be collected beforehand from the main ticket office and allowed timed access. They cost £15 for an adult and £7.50 for children (including access to the park and gardens) but were included in our membership (told you it was much cheaper). You can’t take prams inside but if you don’t have your own they will provide you with a baby carrier or a hip seat.
I immediately loved the house – stuffed to the brim with beautiful antique furniture, curiosities and taxidermy, set against the kind of almost trendy decline that makes insta accounts like Chateau de Gudanes so addictive, it was an antiquey shabby chic lovers paradise. It looks like the family who owned the house NEVER threw anything away.
We didn’t really get to talk much to the guides (and there were plenty of them) because Margot wouldn’t be quiet, but the lovely lady in the Butlers Pantry was explaining how the rooms had changed over the years and that particular room had become a mash up of furniture from the 1800s and the 1960s. She also pointed out the toy birds in each room, which we then used as a little tactic to keep baby quiet, so thanks to her!
There was a lot of dusty furniture and peeling wallpaper but it just all added to the charm of it and for every random thing that you weren’t sure was just stored there in the 1980s there was something truly old and beautiful, like the State Bed which was one of the nicest examples I’ve ever seen. There’s also plenty in the house for the kids to look at including an extremely large taxidermy collection and even a crocodile skull so it shouldn’t be too hard to keep them entertained long enough to get round.
On our way out of the house we decided to go and have a look at the Brew House which was down a series of underground tunnels. It was lovely and cool down there which was much needed and the echoey tunnels provided entertainment for the babba. Once we surfaced in the Brew House we were greeted by one of the volunteers/guides who was amazing.
He told us all about how the beer was brewed and that every adult worker was given a beer allowance of 8 pints a day! Even the kids got a beer allowance. Sounds crazy right? but apparently there was method in the madness, the water was killing people, unbeknown to them the boling process in the creation of beer meant drinking it was much safer, so no one drank anything else!
From the house we had a gentle stroll to the walled gardens, which were immaculate and provided a nice bit of shade, where we all just chilled for the rest of the afternoon. Every turn had another picturesque passageway which I’m sure if you’re into Instagram posing would provide you with plenty of material. The greenhouses and peach house were full of cool plants, again set against a run down backdrop.
We didn’t go to investigate because it was too hot but there were also some outdoor activities for kids in the garden and I noticed a drinks trailer that probably would be open on busier days so those with older kids could easily spend the afternoon in the gardens (which would also make the ticket price cheaper if you missed the house).
In all our last minute visit ended up being a lovely day out and we’ll be back to explore further (probably with the bikes). For now though Calke Abbey is definitely being added to places to go in the summer holidays.