Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Frugal family fun

Waiting for the sugar rush of lunch to subside...
A wise person once told me that boys are like puppies. They need lots of loving attention, lots of food and even more exercise. It's pretty much the 3 rules we live by with 2 puppies small boys.

But what to do with 2 puppies boys in South London that doesn't cost an arm and a leg? Now, if it were up to the 6 year old, we'd probably spend most weekends at Legoland. But frugal it ain't (unless you cash in Tesco clubcard vouchers, which is our only favourite way to do it).

Most weekends you can find us at a National Trust property. We have 5 fabulous properties within a 30 minute drive of home. Double that if we want to venture a bit further. Family membership costs us £70 a year by direct debit but Quidco often have cashback deals making it cheaper.

Now for the maths

To visit Chartwell, our closest and probably one of our favourite properties, it would cost us £28.50 as a family. Some properties are cheaper than this (nearby Emmets Garden is only £14 to visit as a family), but it only takes 3 visits to Chartwell for us to make a saving on our family membership. Given that we visit a property at least twice a month pretty much all year round, we save in the region of £700 a year on entry fees. In the height of summer, we sometimes go "Trusting" every weekend.

It's the gardens and grounds of these stately homes that attract us the most. Big open spaces for the boys to roam around in, a good dose of wildlife and the odd history lesson thrown in if they show interest. The National Trust also have a great programme of free events. Chartwell usually has a 'Boats and Bands' day (Wartime Weekend it's called this year) during the summer where a brass band plays on the lawn while model boat enthusiasts show off their miniature works of art on the lake. All the staff and volunteers dress up in their finest 1940s regalia and the atmosphere is brilliant. Boys + water + model boats + unlimited sandwiches = easy family fun.

We rarely venture into the properties themselves (plenty of time for that when the bull in a china shop tendencies wear off). Knole is the exception - the lure of the roaring fire in the great hall on a chilly autumn morning is too great to resist. But on the whole, we stick to roaming the grounds.

Rolling down hills at Chartwell

What's wrong with the good old fashioned outdoors?

Absolutely nothing. But the National Trust properties just really appeal to us. There's clean toilets for easier nappy changes, treasure/bug/plant hunts for those that tire of simply charging around an open space, many are buggy friendly so little people can snooze after lunch while the rest of the family explore and there's plenty of interesting features to keep the grown-ups/grandparents occupied without the little people getting bored. We all love the kitchen garden at Chartwell for example - the children love the scarecrows and bug hotels while I like to have a good nosy at what the gardeners have planted where. And we ALL like to play "imagine if we lived here".

There's also the added benefit of having access to a fresh pot of tea and a scone if we're feeling decadent enough to venture into the tea rooms/restaurant. But for us, half the fun is packing a picnic and enjoying the fresh air. Egg dip dip sandwiches are of course essential.

Climbing trees at Wakehurst Place

This isn't a sponsored post, I just love the National Trust and think it's fantastic value for money!

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