National Trust: 

the down low on what the fuss is about, where to go & how good the scones really are

Firstly, let's cover some nitty gritty details

where is national trust?

is it worth it?

isn't it just for oldies?

Why should you become a member?

Becoming a member of the National Trust allows you access to loads of places and experiences. You can find information on annual pass prices and their various locations on their website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/. I think it’s great that £6 (and slightly less for seniors and families) per month gives you free entry to over 500 places, free parking at most car parks, national trust magazines, access to the national trust app and they even send you a generously chunky handbook every year that includes some really cool walking trails and adventure ideas.

 

And nope, it's not just for oldies. I’ve heard that many surf heads just sign up for National Trust memberships because loads of the coastal spots around Cornwall and Devon charge a fee equivalent to selling your kidney on the black market to park your car there and its much cheaper subscribing to National Trust and taking advantage of their free parking instead. So yep, it is worth it and I highly recommend signing up for annual passes. Two visits to any National Trust site basically pays for the membership itself. For example, an annual pass (for those aged under 25 years) is £36 and entry into Chartwell is £15.50 and 

National Trust around Kent

(I may be slightly biased but…) Kent is well and truly the garden of England. A garden where, luckily for me, a bundle of National Trust buds bloom. I'm blessed to live in an area where these National Trust sites are literally just a hop, skip and jump away. Or, in my case, a cycle, bus or train. I have visited some places once or twice, whilst others, like Knole Park and Ightham Mote, are much more frequently scribbled in my adventure agenda. They are honestly so perfect for an afternoon stroll or a cheeky picnic. And the colours are so beautiful when spring kicks into full swing or when the leaves start to change in the autumn months! There is a great calf-burning cardiovascular stroll you can do between Knole Park and Ightham that I’ll pop in down below. It’s about 8.4 miles altogether but well worth the trek if you have the time!

Knole Park

Knole Park is found in a quaint and very traditional English village called Sevenoaks. My time abroad in England has taught me that Sevenoaks is home to a different type of folk. The kind of people that wear the finest silk nightwear to bed, sleep in 6473682 thread Egyptian cotton sheets, indulge in scones with jam and clotted cream for morning tea every day and dress in all white to play tennis on Sundays.

Originally built as an archbishop’s palace, Knole passed through royalty to the Sackville family, who still live here today. Inside the showrooms (open March – October), art lovers will find Reynolds, Gainsborough and Van Dyck to admire. Textiles enthusiasts can marvel at the seventeenth century tapestries and furniture that make the collection internationally significant. You can explore the life and loves of former resident Eddy Sackville-West in the Gatehouse Tower and climb the spiral staircase to take in panoramic views from the rooftop. When you’re done frolicking inside, you can then get lost amongst the deer populated paths. The deer are very tame and often come up to you if you stay still enough… but just be careful about them getting TOO close (as my friend and I found out the hard way). 

They have a few different events throughout the year. These include children book focused festivals and workshops, cream tea celebrations, Easter egg hunts and heaps of events that promote running and being active outside!

 

Christmas around Knole is pretty special too. The winding paths through Knole’s ancient parkland are perfect for festive walks. Families can enjoy the wintry vistas and the little ones can join in on the Christmas deer trail where they explore the park and find ten wooden deer before claiming a furry toy prize. There’s also a pop-up shop that opens around early November (usually around the 9th of the month) until it’s nearly Christmas (sometime around the 23rd of December). The shop is filled with a great selection of books on history, food, gardening, travel, walks and a good assortment of children’s books too. 

 

Unsurprisingly, all this walking and shopping soon works up an appetite. And I can recommend no better place to fix these tummy rumbles than at the very festive Brewhouse Café at Knole Park. Last Winter I had this unreal pumpkin soup and it was this bowl of warmth that stirred up a crazy obsession with pumpkin soup that lasted well into the spring months. Also, the cakes, pastries and scones are well worth the dimes if you’re looker for something a little more indulgent (which let’s be honest, is one of the main themes I am all about around Christmas time). Knole Park is open every day (at differing times) of the year except Christmas Eve and Christmas and the car park is open from 10am – 6pm. Parking spaces are quite limited (and will cost you a fiver if you’re not a member), but there are some places you can park in town for a few quid if you’re only going to be there for a couple of hours. One place we do use is the car park attached to Marks & Spencers and we’ve never been caught out or questioned about it!

Ightham Mote

Ightham Mote is just down the road from Knole Park in a place called Ivy Hatch. It is open every day except Christmas Day. Built nearly 700 years ago, this house has seen many changes and been owned by the likes of Medieval knights and courtiers to Henry VIII and high society Victorians. No one is exactly sure who built Ightham, but the materials used in the the tower and the Great Hall date back to the 1300s. It's been extended and chopped and changed over the years but it has somehow retained a sense of wholeness. Like many other properties, you walk from a medieval Great Hall through to a chapel consecrated in 1633 through to bedrooms refurbished in the 20th century but somehow it feels right at Ightham. Maybe it's because it's on an island. 

Highlights include the picturesque courtyard, Great Hall, crypt, Tudor painted ceiling, the only Grade I listed dog kennel in existence and the private apartments of Charles Henry Robinson, who gave Ightham Mote to the National Trust in 1985. Venture onto the Ightham Mote estate on one of the three estate walks thatoffer unique views across the Kent countryside and stunning displays of flora and fauna. There is the renowned ancient bluebell woodland in spring at Scathes Wood, wildflowers in the summer, autumn colours and the crisp days of winter to come back and enjoy. Discover the hoppers' huts and the source of the water spring that feeds the moat at Ightham Mote.

 

You can choose what you want to do depending on the time you have up your sleeve. They recommend visiting the house and chatting to the room guides if you have one hour. Add wandering around the gardens and soaking up the atmosphere if you have two hours. And if you’re lucky enough to have three hours, you should take in the wider estate with the way-marked routes to catch glimpses of wildlife and nature. Then you can perch up and savour some home-cooked food at the café.

Last November my friend and I caught the train from my place to Sevenoaks with our bikes and did a ride from Sevenoaks to Knole Park and then over to Ightham Mote. It was fun, despite the surprise hailstorm and some very worn and slow to react brakes (… which forced me to use my shoe brakes more than I would have liked). 

 

So, you can do this ride like we did, or you can do the walk that I did a few months later. Here’s some directions for the walk. You can also find it on AllTrails and use their map function if you have data. The walk is perfect for late Spring, Summer or even the start or middle of Autumn. Basically, any time of the year ... except for when it’s crazy cold or snowing. 

Also fyi: Just like Knole, Ightham does also chuck on a festive Christmas bash! They have mini markets, wreath making workshops, carols in the courtyard and heaps of other fun stuff you can check out on their website!

The circular walk from Ightham to Knole:

Follow this circular walk from Ightham Mote, along the Greensand Way, passing through areas of outstanding natural beauty to Knole Park, before returning to Ightham Mote via the Duchess Walk, Godden Green and Broadhoath Wood.

Start: Ightham Mote

1. From the car park at Ightham Mote, walk through the staff car park, turning right onto the Bridleway. Walk past the House and turn right onto Mote Road. After about 20 metres, turn left into the entrance of Mote Farm (look for the yellow Greensand Way arrow). Walk past the farmyard and bear right. Follow this path, ignoring tracks to the left and right, stopping occasionally to take in the views across the Weald. Proceed past Wilmot Cottage and an old brick built filter house to steps on the right. At the top of the steps, turn left and continue past another footpath on your right and through a kissing gate. Follow this path to another kissing gate at Rooks Hill.

2. Turn left down the lane for a few metres, then turn right, back onto footpath SR148 (not now the Greensand Way). Follow through the woods, passing stables and kennels at White Rock Farm where you will join a vehicle track, then onto a road (the Seal to Underriver road).

3. Cross the road, keeping a look out for traffic, and enter Shepherds Mead Drive. After 20 metres, turn right onto a footpath (this is now the Greensand Way) and follow the path until it narrows, where you meet a bridleway junction. Turn right here, then in a few metres, turn left up an incline and cross a stile into a horse training field. Follow straight ahead, then turn right to follow the tree line. Shortly, you’ll see an opening and a stile on your left, by a hump in the field. Cross the stile and follow the path through the wood to a road. Cross the road and enter Knole Park through the gate in front of you. Follow the path over a crossway and continue straight ahead on a surfaced track until you reach another broad crossway. Turn right here, then after 10 metres turn left to follow a grass path (marked as the Greensand Way). You will see the walled garden and house in front of you.

4. Continue ahead walking parallel to the garden wall (on your right), turn right at its end and pass the main entrance to Knole House onto the Duchess Walk. Turn right downhill and then almost immediately left. Keeping a stone wall on your right for a few metres, continue along this track, ignoring a crossing road. The path will eventually bend to the right as you reach the golf course.

5. Cross the golf course and follow the track uphill through the bracken. This takes you to the north gate and exit from the park. Pass through the kissing gate and follow the track ahead, ignoring a path to the right. Shortly, the track forks. Take the wider right hand fork, pass a house and cross a driveway. Go through a gate, then walk past the stables and through another gate until you reach the road at Godden Green.

6. Turn right here, where you’ll see the Bucks Head. Continue along the road for 100 metres and take the track uphill to the left (signed to Cygnet Hospital) past the White House. Bear left past the Cygnet Hospital, ignoring a track to the left and paths to the right. Go past a house at the crest of a rise, then down a steep incline. Follow the path, which will eventually take you uphill, past another house and on to a road. Cross this road and continue ahead on footpath SR128, keeping a fence on your right. The path leads into a field; go straight ahead across the field and through a gate onto a road with a forked junction. Cross the junction and walk southeast along a metalled track with orchards on both sides. Ignore paths to either side.

7. When the orchards end, continue down the bridleway into Broadhoath Wood and down, turning left to join another track by a pond and gate. Continue with the stream on your right, past the Hopper Huts to Mote Road. Cross the road and walk up the footpath at the north end of the Ightham Mote garden, up a few steps to the entrance driveway to Ightham Mote. Turn right to enter the car park and complete the walk.

a map of the walking route

Chartwell

You can find Chartwell in Westerham, about six miles or 15 minutes drive from Sevenoaks. Chartwell was the home of Winston Churchill. He bought it in 1922 for £5000, much to the despair of his wife Clementine, who took one look at it and knew that it was going to be an expensive project.

 

Churchill employed the architect Philip Tilden to modernise the place and, although Clemmie was right and it did cause a lot of money worries, it acted as a sanctuary for the Churchills right up until he died in 1965. Clementine did not wish to live there after he passed away, so she worked with the National Trust to restore it to its pre-war glory and that's how we see it today.

It has the largest single collection of works by Sir Winston, both throughout the house and in the studio. Works in the house include Monet in the drawing room, as well as works from artists including John Singer Sargent, William Nicholson, and Sir John Lavery. Outside is a living example of Sir Winston’s passion for wildlife and water combined with Lady Churchill’s love of pastel colours. The gardens have over 100 different rose plants and an orchard packed with old-fashioned fruit trees. I highly recommend Chartwell. It doesn't feel as 'preserved' as some other properties. It's also very much a home, even though several rooms are full of fascinating displays and artefacts. But, all in all, It's a fitting tribute to an exceptional man and very fitting for a sneaky morning or afternoon adventure. 

Emmetts Garden

If you’re visiting Chartwell, then you must also add Emmetts Garden into your adventure equation. Emmetts Garden is right next door to Chartwell and is the most beautiful next-door neighbour you could hope to have. Charming Emmetts Garden is an Edwardian estate that was owned by Frederic Lubbock, becoming both a plantsman's passion and a much-loved family home.

 

The garden was laid out in the late 19th century and was influenced by William Robinson. It contains many exotic and rare trees and shrubs from across the world. Emmetts Garden sits at one of the highest points in Kent, providing it with some fantastic views. On a sunny day you can sit and see for miles across the weald of Kent. Bough Beech reservoir can be seen in the distance from the bottom of the south garden, whilst Ide Hill can be spotted over the way from the wild flower meadow. When you visit, you can explore the rose and rock gardens, take in the views and enjoy shows of spring flowers and shrubs, followed by vibrant autumn colours.

Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle is a fourteenth century moated castle with a garden that is a prime example of picturesque aesthetic Englishness. It’s located in Lamberhurst, just off the A21. In the gardens the snowdrops and daffodils provide the first early splash of colour after the dark winter. Late April until mid-May is the best time to take a stroll through the magnificent profusion of vibrantly coloured rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmia. The summer months of June and July are for fragrance and scent when the copious rambling roses and wisteria perfume the air. The autumn brings a change as the foliage transforms into a kaleidoscope of bright copper, orange, red and gold.

I found the house itself fascinating. It opened to the public in 2007, not long after Betty, the last owner, had passed away.  It feels as though everything has been kept pretty much the way it had been - with ornaments, trinkets and books adorning each room. The bright master bedroom with a double aspect of the beautiful grounds was probably my favourite room and we even spotted Betty’s cat in the kitchen. Also, did you know that Scotney has the only working hop farm in the National Trust? The hops are used to produce Scotney Ale and Scotney Bitter.

 

Scotney is perhaps one of my favourite National Trust spots I have stumbled across so far. It’s super accessible (I’ve even made it to the castle using my bike one crazy summer day), the gardens are beautiful and it has the perfect place for picnics just by the castle ruins.

Chiddingstone Village

One of the prettiest villages in Kent, and perhaps England, Chiddingstone is a beautiful example of a Tudor one-street village. It's very typical of the Kent style, with half-timbered sides, gables and stone-hung red-tiled roofs. We bought the entire village, including the Castle Inn, houses and post office, in 1939 to ensure its preservation.

 

The building that's now the post office is mentioned as early as 1453 and many of the other buildings probably took materials from earlier settlements. Over 70 percent of the buildings in Chiddingstone are more than 200 years old.

they also sell the most amazing fudge !  We brought three blocks for £5 ... and these were gone in approximately five minutes … 

Sissinghurst Castle

Sissinghurst Castle was created by Vita Sackville-West, poet and writer, and her husband Harold Nicolson, author and diplomat. It is among the most famous gardens in England and is designated Grade I on Historic England's register of historic parks and gardens. 

In 1930, Harold and Vita stumbled upon the ruinous buildings and derelict farmland of Sissinghurst. The property had once belonged to Vita’s ancestors. Drawn to this connection and its romance, they ignored the difficulties and expense of restoring the property and promptly purchased it. Work on the house and garden commenced straight away. Although they were not able to move into the house until 1932 when enough work had been completed to make it livable. The property is characterised by a number of small to independent medium-sized buildings, each with their own functionality. With this unusual layout, the garden was constantly traversed. Together Vita and Harold expanded and experimented with the Edwardian system of enclosures or garden "rooms", which they used to turn the garden into a component of their partite house. In time, this became part of the garden's defining nature.

 

Sissinghurst Castle Garden was the backdrop for a diverse history; from the astonishing time as a prison in the 1700s to being a home to the women’s land army. It was also a family home to some fascinating people who lived here or came to stay and continues to radiates some sort of magic today.

Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle is a 14th-century moated castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England. It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, with the permission of Richard II, ostensibly to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years' War. Of quadrangular plan, Bodiam Castle has no keep, having its various chambers built around the outer defensive walls and inner courts.

 

It’s corners and entrance are marked by towers, and topped by crenellations. Its structure, details and situation in an artificial watery landscape indicate that display was an important aspect of the castle's design as well as defence. It was partly demolished during the English Civil War of 1642–46 and has been uninhabited ever since. Though the inside is mostly ruins, the original floor plan is recognizable to identify the structures. And did you know, Bodiam Castle was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) in an establishing shot identifying it as "Swamp Castle" in the "Tale of Sir Lancelot" sequence. It was also the filming location for the Doctor Who serial The King's Demons broadcast in 1983.  

Sheffield Park & Gardens

Sheffield gardens are a horticultural work of art formed through centuries of landscape design, with influences of 'Capability' Brown and Humphry Repton. Four lakes form the heart of the garden, with paths circulating through the glades and wooded areas surrounding them. Each owner has left their impression, which can still be seen today in the layout of the lakes, the construction of Pulham Falls, the planting of Palm Walk and the many different tree and shrub species from around the world.

 

Though there are many events dotted throughout the year, Christmas is a different bag of crackers in terms of activities at Sheffield! There’s SO much to do! The natural beauty of Sheffield Park is a welcome tonic for the hustle and bustle of the festive season. Embrace the festive season with Christmas activities for all the family from carol concerts, wreath making and children's craft activities to a sustainable winter trail following Nellie's pioneering Arctic adventure. This adventure is an exciting trail around the garden will tell the story of Nellie Peel, one of the first women to travel to the Artic circle in 1893. Her journey will be re-created using Nellie's own words from the book published on her return.

Seven Sisters Cliffs

The Seven Sisters refers to the majestic chalk cliffs that run from Cuckmere Haven to Birling Gap. It has a fascinating geological history that stretches back to the time of the dinosaurs to the time of mammoths (some 84+ millions year ago). The short version is since the end of the last ice age, there was a subsequent rise in sea levels (prior to the ice age it was 200 metres lower). It’s around the time Britain split away from Europe and the English Channel was formed (... who would have thought we were about to split away again in the form of Brexit)

 

Birling Gap and Crowlink, near Eastbourne in East Sussex, are part of the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. The wild forces of the sea create unusual chalk platforms and huge heaps of gleaming white chalk as the cliffs erode at up to one metre a year. For a more secluded walk venture inland at Birling Gap or Crowlink. With over 500 acres of open chalk grassland the area is rich with butterflies and downland flowers. 

 

You are quite literally spoilt for choice when it comes to walking at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters. You can start with a few of the easier and family friendly routes or tag it onto something that includes more of the South Downs Way (a 100-mile route that runs from Winchester). The first and shortest family friendly path takes you East towards the Belle Tout Lighthouse. Here, you can choose if you want to turn left through the fields and back (taking around 1 hour), or continue on to the Beachy Head Lighthouse (which I recommend). The other suggestion is heads west from Birling Gap to Exceat and takes around 2 hours. You have fantastic views over the Seven Sisters and can also continue that one up to Seaford Head (my sunset tip below). For more ideas head to the ‘Wonderful Walking’ section on the National Trust website. 

My top tip is to get to Seaford Head for sunset (or sunrise), there are incredible views over the Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Valley. But it’s not your traditional sunset spot, because the sun sets behind you, and it was the colours that made it so spectacular. During a sunny day it just doesn’t look the same, and in the evening, it was so quiet with most of the visitors gone for the day. It would also look amazing at sunrise, if you have the chance. 

White Cliffs of Dover

These high chalk cliffs look out onto the English Channel, giving far-reaching views towards the French coast. Actually, you find yourself so close to France that I always receive ‘welcome to France’ from my phone network whenever I visit the White Cliffs. It’s the biggest tease because sometimes I’d much rather be eating a croissant and cycling with breadsticks in the basket of my old school bicycle than being a human sponge in rainy England.

 

The best way to see the cliffs is to take a walk along the coastal path towards South Foreland Lighthouse. You’ll get a great view of the cliffs and see the chalk grassland that’s home to so many unusual plants and insects like the chalkhill blue butterfly and the pyramidal orchid. The views from the White Cliffs of Dover are perpetually changing. When it is gloriously sunny and the sea is calm and smooth as glass you can wander across the cliffs and take in the breath-taking views across the channel, on the clearest of days you may even be able to see the buildings in France.

 

On a winter’s day make sure you wrap up warm and with rosy cheeks experience the peaceful tranquillity of a hazy cliff top walk. Even when the weather takes a turn for the worse and it pours with rain the view from the Visitor Centre is striking. Watch as the waves crash over the sea wall and the ferries heave in the violence of a storm.

* Also, if you were wondering, Dover Castle belongs to English Heritage and you'll either need to buy an entrance ticket or sign up to an English Heritage suscription if you want to explore the castle.

Beatrix Potter's House

National Trust locations outside of Kent

Beatrix Potter is infamously known for The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Apparently this very book was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

 

Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets. Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper – a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946. Idyllically located, it's easy to see why much-loved artist, storyteller, farmer and conservationist Beatrix Potter loved her home in the Lake District so much.

It was a miserable, rainy day when we visited the house and we were drenched from head to toe when attempting to run from the car to the ticket desk. But that couldn’t drown our inquisitiveness and obsession for cute, historic niches. Hill Top is a time capsule of this amazing woman's life. Full of her favourite things, the house appears as if Beatrix had just stepped out for a walk. Every room contains a reference to a picture in a 'Tale'. Beatrix used Hill Top and its surroundings as inspiration for many of her 'little books' - you'll recognise the rhubarb patch where Jemima Puddle-Duck laid her egg and the garden where Tom Kitten and his sisters played! And it lived up to all my childhood memories of all my favourite books. You can buy most (if not all) of her books from the bookshop at the entrance before you walk up to the house.

Fifteen minutes drive from Beatrix Potter's Hill Top house is Wray Castle. Wray Castle is an enormous mock-gothic house set in an estate made up of farmland and woodland on the north-western shore of Windermere. The castle itself was built in the 1830s for surgeon James Dawson and his wife Margaret, and actually has a bit of a boozy history! The money came from Margaret’s side of the family, who were spirit merchants, and unfortunately, an accountant, John Lightfoot, who acted as architect for the build, also apparently drank himself to death before the castle was finished! The house and grounds have belonged to the National Trust since 1929, but the house has only recently opened to the public on a regular basis.

 

If you want to learn about the history of the castle, then a tour is your best bet. If you don’t have time to take a tour, there is much to be enjoyed at Wray without the need to visit the interior of the castle itself at all because, as you can see from the photos, the exterior of the castle is bursting with character. You could take a wander round the grounds and to the lakeshore (there are lots of grassed and pebbly areas of beach from which to enjoy the view across the lake), or get a cup of tea and sit at one of the picnic benches outside the main entrance.

Wray Castle

And that concludes my little taste tester of all the National Trust appetizers I have been to so far. There's so many places that I have yet to visit and I will add these along the way. For now, do yourself a favour & sign up and go eat some scones!

Nat xx