One of the things I'm learning from this experience is the value of a personal recommendation. You see in Indiana, I was already pretty well-versed on the great spots to visit, best hikes, gorgeous parks, and fun weekend getaway ideas. While occasionally someone would suggest something I hadn't done or wasn't aware of, it wasn't my primary source of travel ideas.
Now here I find myself, staring at a map of England without much guidance other than brochures or websites, all proclaiming to be the best sites to see. So I'm learning that word-of-mouth to be extremely valuable, the places our realtor or a new friend or our neighbors suggest as a good place to go with the kids.
A visit to Belton House is the perfect example. Had I stumbled upon its listing in the National Trust guidebook or flipped through the pamphlet, I probably wouldn't have planned an outing there. Not that it didn't look beautiful. It just didn't seem to be anything beyond a fancy house. But someone told me they used to visit often with their kids, so we gave it a try.
And what a fun day we had there. We started our visit under grey skies and cool temperatures, so we followed a sign for an indoor play area. This was a great starting point, because the Arrows decided this place was great, and my husband and I each got to take a turn wandering the fancy gardens and the beautiful house without the whines of toddlers and preschoolers to distract us. The house itself dates back to the 17th century and is considered a great example of a "perfect English country house." Sure looked perfect to me. I was ready to move right in.
And because the indoor playground had a cafe, the parent-on-duty at least had the luxury of sipping a warm beverage while watching these cuties. (That little one might look innocent, but he needs A LOT of supervision these days.)
After a quick lunch in the cafe, and with the sun beginning to peak out, we followed a sign for an "adventure playground." We are quickly learning that these are common amenities at attractions here. And they're fantastic. More than your average U.S. playground, they feature wooden equipment that's challenging enough for older kids, but with fun components for kids of all ages.
We could have spent a couple of hours at Belton House's adventure playground. It stretched on for several acres and is an attraction itself. My husband stuck with Big Arrow (4) and I hung with Little Arrow (18 months), as they were drawn to very different activities. It was relaxing to just focus on one kid and I found that I was having as much fun as them.
Before heading home, we all met back up together for a miniature train ride through a small portion of the beautiful grounds at Belton House. I love my husband for many reasons, one of which is his willingness to fold his 6'4" body into a tiny train car, and smile while doing it.
We had such a great day out at Belton House that we decided to join the National Trust. It will allow us free entry to dozens of properties and parks around the UK. And I was assured by several fellow visitors that day that many of the properties offer play areas for children. We can't wait to discover many in the year ahead! What a great way to make what might seem to be an adult-oriented destination into a family-friendly (and cheap!) outing.
And certainly a return to Belton House will be in order. After letting the kids get their fill of fun, I think I want to take another spin through the fancy house and have a picnic out in the deer park, which we didn't have time to see during this visit. I'm still having trouble believing places like this are right in our backyard.