This year marks 125 years since the National Trust was formed. I’m sure there were meant to be a number of exhibitions and celebrations throughout the year which, like many things, have now had to be cancelled, postponed or moved online. I’ve been a member of the National Trust for as long as I can remember and have a great many happy memories from visiting National Trust properties and land as I’ve grown up. Now seems the perfect time to share some of my favourite locations in my own personal celebration of its anniversary.
Thanks to the National Trust my love of history developed as it was brought to life in the many properties I visited. Thanks to the National Trust I’ve developed more of an interest in exploring the landscapes and history of my own country. Thanks to the National Trust, I often have a more interesting route to or from getting to somewhere else, as I’ll try and add in a stop to a property on the way. As current lockdown restrictions ease, I was far more excited about the National Trust opening back up than I was about ‘non-essential shops’. I’ve visited a large number of National Trust locations over the years, but I know that there are many more I haven’t visited. Below is just a taste of some of the locations I’d recommend to anyone.
Properties and Gardens
Cragside is one of my favourite National Trust properties and is a must-do on any trip to Northumberland. I associate Cragside with happy family days out, long dog walks and cake or ice-cream enjoyed in the sun. I have been many times over the years, and my family have taken a number of different visitors to share our enjoyment of the property. It was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity and is a fascinating place to learn more about inventions and engineering in the Victorian era. It’s a beautiful house, and the grounds are just as spectacular.
It has one of the largest rock gardens in Europe and a vast landscape including a number of lakes. There are multiple trails which you could choose to walk to see the gardens and wider estate, or the estate drive which allows you to explore Cragside in your car around the circular 6 mile carriage drive. This is particularly spectacular when the rhododendrons are in bloom.
If it’s your first time visiting then you should try and arrive early to fit as much as possible in. As a minimum, try and visit the house and complete the Armstrong Trail which includes the Pump House and Power House where you can see Amstrong’s original hydraulic and hydroelectric machinery. Of course, make sure you’ve got time for a cake in the cafe as well!
If Cragside is my favourite northern National Trust location, then Stourhead is probably my favourite southern one of those I’ve visited. If I’m honest, I wasn’t overly impressed by the house itself (in part because we took it in turns to whiz round and then stand outside with the dog) but if you’re particularly interested in Chippendale furniture or paintings then you’ll probably spend a bit longer here. For me, the highlight of a trip to Stourhead is the formal landscape garden. It’s world famous, you’d probably recognise it from photographs, and when it first opened it was described as a ‘living work of art’.
There are a number of follies and buildings which line the lakeside, alongside numerous trees which turn beautiful colours in the autumn. It’s not a particularly long walk around the garden, but it’s one worth taking your time over. If you do want a longer walk then the wider estate has over 2500 acres to explore.
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden
The ruins of Fountains Abbey are the largest monastic ruins in the country. They sit strikingly alongside the 18th century water garden and it’s little wonder that this is such a popular place for visitors, or that it’s a site with World Heritage status. There’s also a a deer park, church, mill and Fountains Hall which you are able to wander around. It’s best to go on a sunny day as there will be a lot of time spent outside but it’s a beautiful place to enjoy a summer picnic.
The Lake District
Having grown up reading Beatrix Potter’s children’s books, and within a short distance of the Lake District, it would feel remiss not to mention the national park when talking about the National Trust. Although when you live there it can feel as though it is constantly raining, the Lake District is beautiful and time spent here is best spent outdoors enjoying the landscape. Aira Force is one of my favourite walks I remember doing when I was younger, Grasmere is my favourite of the villages and Hilltop House (Beatrix Potter’s former home) is the property you should prioritise visiting if you have the time.
Lantic Bay is a beautiful little shingly bay which you can walk to along the South West Coast Path. I’d advise not expending too much energy swimming as there’s quite a steep climb to get back up to the path and on to the car park, but you are rewarded with beautiful views once you’ve climbed back up. My experience of Cornwall has so far been quite limited, but this trip definitely left me wanting to see more of the Cornish coast.
Bath Skyline Trail
Bath is one of my favourite UK cities and it doesn’t take much to convince me to visit. For a long time now, the Bath Skyline walk has been on my bucket list of activities to complete locally but for whatever reason it has taken until very recently to actually do it. The walk is 6 miles and takes you into the hills above Bath, with some spectacular views of the the city. It takes you through woodlands and meadows, and right up to the University of Bath campus. It’s a lovely walk to take your time along, enjoying your surroundings and stopping for a picnic somewhere where there is a great view.
Brimham Rocks is one of the most bizarre landscapes I’ve come across in England. It is made up of some very dramatic rock formations which have been sculpted by millions of years of geography. For the less adventurous, it’s a lovely place to come for a walk and to try and identify the creatures that some of the formations have now been named after. For those who are a little more adventurous, it’s a bit like a giant outdoor adventure playground with plenty of opportunity to try scrambling up the rocks for better views.
Where are your favourite National Trust Properties?
Please note that at the time of writing some of these areas remain closed. Always check the National Trust website in advance of visiting.