Visitors enjoy formal gardens at Montacute House in Somerset
The long drive to your weekend or holiday staycation this summer doesn’t have to be just a tedious means to an end. You could build a relaxing diversion into your journey, or take a break from the traffic, at a beautiful, historic country property.
Plenty of National Trust sites are close to main routes but a million miles away from the rush (and gridlock) of our motorway system. Just make sure you allow yourself time to enjoy them. Here are some ideas to help you take a posh pit stop…
Pick up a copy of the Daily Mirror / Daily Express from Friday, July 21 until Sunday, July 30 to get a free family day pass to use at over 200 National Trust locations across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland not included. Click here for further details.
● Montacute House in Somerset is a masterpiece of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture and design, with towering glass and glowing Hamstone walls. Outside, you can stroll around its formal garden and enjoy the wonderful flowering borders or head into the shade of the parkland with your four-legged friends for a picnic.
This summer, you will find lots of family-oriented activities on the Cedar lawn or you could challenge friends to a game of hide and seek among the wobbly hedges and spectacular water fountain. By the stables you can test your archery skills or get creative at the wood crafting drop-in sessions. The café offers indoor and outdoor shaded seating and a range of lunches, snacks and treats to set you up for the rest of your journey and the shop is a must for keen gardeners.
Find Montacute just off the A303, approximately 2.1 miles/5 minutes from the Cartgate Roundabout. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/somerset/montacute-house
● Alternatively, nearby Barrington Court is a great option for families to give children – and pets – a leg stretch. From storytelling and Sunday afternoon ‘Make and Take’ craft sessions in the farm buildings, or taking part in the Big Build by kids for kids in Makers Meadow, to the recently refurbished dog-friendly Beagles café, this is the ideal spot for a stop off.
Find Barrington Court, approximately 4.5 miles/11 minutes off the A303 from the Hayes End Roundabout. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/somerset/barrington-court
● Stourhead in Wiltshire is an outstanding example of English landscape style with the serene garden and classical temples set around a central lake. Ever-changing views as you travel along a series of pathways, as well as more than 2,500 acres of stunning countryside including chalk downs, Iron Age hillforts and ancient woods, make this one of the most peaceful pit stops imaginable. The real challenge might be pulling yourself away to continue with your onward journey.
Find Stourhead approximately 3 miles/4 minutes off the A303. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/wiltshire/stourhead
Strawberry Castle play area at Gibside in Tyne and Wear
NORTH EAST AND YORKS
● Gibside in Tyne and Wear is a stunning 18th-century landscape park and nature reserve offering some fresh air and a taste of the country as a perfect stop right on the edge of a city.
With gorgeous views, winding paths and refreshing open spaces, this is the ideal place to stretch some stiff legs. Children can also be a king or queen for the day at Strawberry Castle play area where low rope courses and den building can also be undertaken to burn off some energy while parents lie back and enjoy the valley views.
Find Gibside just 4.5 miles/nine minutes off the A1. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/north-east/gibside
● Wallington in Northumberland is an open moorland with wooded streams, lakes and mires – the perfect place to pull up and explore for a couple of hours. Follow winding paths through the estate, explore the quirky house or have a snack and cup of tea at the Clocktower Café. Whatever you do, you’re sure to leave feeling invigorated for the onward journey. For those with more time, why not explore the walled garden, winding woodland walks or one of the four fantastic play areas?
Find Wallington 1.8 miles or four minutes off the A696. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/north-east/wallington
Sizergh House in Cumbria is the gateway to the Lakes
● Sizergh in Cumbria is widely considered the gateway to the Lake District and is an ideal spot to have a break before heading on. Sizergh Castle sits in glorious gardens at the heart of a massive 1,600-acre estate of woodland, farmland and orchards offering plenty of space to roam and breathe in the fresh air.
For history buffs, the imposing house has many tales to tell, while the herbaceous borders in the garden are stunning and include the largest limestone rock garden the National Trust has to offer. Refuel in the café before heading to the wild play area where little ones can blow off steam on a climbing wall, balance beams and rope swing while parents enjoy a breather.
Find Sizergh five miles or eight minutes off the M6 exit 36. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/lake-district/sizergh
● Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire is a haven of tranquility as the bustle of life rushes by on the busy road outside. Encircled by a moat dating back to the middle ages, the house survives as a Tudor fantasy, transporting visitors back to another time. The wonky house is more than 500 years old and is home to a 16th-century artwork in the parlor and a stunning fireplace in the long gallery.
Find Little Moreton Hall six miles or ten minutes off the M6. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/cheshire-greater-manchester/little-moreton-hall
MIDLANDS AND EAST
● Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire is a fascinating country house with features including an orangery, ice-house, pavilions and mushroom house to explore while taking a break. There is even a recreated 18th-century crown bowling green to try out. There are also 400 acres of parkland to explore, plus orchards and a walled garden, this is an ideal place to stop off.
Find Hanbury Hall four minutes or five minutes off M5 exit 5. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/worcestershire-herefordshire/hanbury-hall
● Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire sits between Nottingham and Sheffield and hosts a spectacular hall, with huge windows and towers, where powerful Elizabethan figure Bess of Hardwick once showed off her wealth. There is a herb garden, orchards and parkland to explore, as well as the house itself which is a masterpiece of English interpretation of Italian Renaissance architecture. There is also a grade-one listed parkland to wander through, winding your way through ancient trees and countryside.
Find Hardwick Hall one mile, or two minutes from Junction 29 of the M1. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/peak-district-derbyshire/hardwick
The herb garden at the Vyne in Hants
● The Vyne, Hampshire, has more than nine hectares of stunning gardens to explore, housing a lake and wetlands, a walled garden, fields and herbaceous borders. There are lots of quirky delights, from a 17th century summerhouse to a 600-year-old oak tree. The main building is a former Tudor ‘power house’, with pre-Reformation chapel stained windows, Oak Gallery and stunning tapestry room.
Find The Vyne six miles, or 12 minutes off the M3 exit 6. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/hampshire/the-vyne
● Chartwell in Kent was, of course, home to one of the most famous Britons in history – Sir Winston Churchill. Steeped in history, it is crammed with treasures, gifts and personal belongings and has been arranged and decorated as it was in the 1930s. As well as the historical building itself, there’s a stunning rose garden designed by Lady Clementine Churchill, with a terrace lawn giving views over the surrounding estate and countryside. There is also a woodland, play areas, including a tree house, a bomb crater and Canadian camp.
Find Chartwell four miles or 10 minutes off M25 (anti-clockwise) exit 6, or six miles/15 minutes off M25 (clockwise) exit 5. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/kent/chartwell
Old castle ruins at Crom
Crom in County Fermanagh is located on the shores of the Upper Lough Erne and is one of the most romantic and peaceful places in Northern Ireland – and a great place to pull in en route to wherever you are going. The 2,000-acre haven is surrounded by ancient woodlands and is home to a wealth of wildlife including otters, red squirrels and pine martens. If you have time and want to truly escape the busy roads, hire a boat and row out onto the tranquil lake to see Crom, and the hustle and bustle of life from a new angle.
Find Crom 13 miles or 25 minutes from the A4. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/northern-ireland/crom
Tredegar House in Newport is a fascinating house and gardens that sits just off the M4 as you enter Wales. It boasts 90 acres of parkland, including the great ornamental lake, three walled gardens, sweeping lawns and towering woodlands, which means there is plenty of room to let off some steam. The house itself is a 17th-century red brick mansion and is considered one of the architectural wonders of Wales, as well as one of the most significant of its era in Britain. It is a wonderful day out in itself, but also perfect for a relaxing break. Surrounded by 90 acres of parkland it is the ideal stop off.
Find Tredegar House one mile or two minutes off M4 junction 28. Visit nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/wales/tredegar-house