A couple of weeks ago when we had Sophie to stay with us for the weekend, we decided to go for a day trip up to Arley Hall and Gardens. I’d picked up a leaflet about it whist we were at Tatton Park a few weeks before – I’d never heard of it before but thought it looked like a rather lovely place to explore. It turns out that Disney’s latest production – Evermoor – was filmed there earlier this year! The girls are now insisting that we watch it when it airs in October (and I’m pretty sure I’ll be happy to oblige – who doesn’t love a bit of Disney?!).
We chose to go on that Sunday in particular as they were holding a special event – a Fairy Tales and Mini Beast Trails activity day.
It took us about an hour and a quarter to get there from where we live – it’s only one junction south of where we’d get off the motorway to go to Manchester. It always surprises me just how many gorgeous places there are to visit within an hour or so of our doorstep and I’m determined to seek out more of them.
We bought a family ticket (2 adults and 3 children) for £15 and paid for an extra child (£4.50), which gave us access to the whole estate all day. We started off in the courtyard at ‘Fairy Headquarters’ where the girls collected their activity packs and petted some goats and guinea pigs who were visiting from a nearby farm. We would have got our faces painted too but I hadn’t realised that there was an extra charge on top of the entry fee and so I hadn’t brought any cash with me (a rookie mistake that you’d think I’d have learnt by now!). It was a shame as the designs I saw on other children as we wandered around were intricate and very beautiful.
The activity packs for the girls were fantastic – not the most professional in appearance but full of puzzles to solve, clues to follow and things to find. The girls absolutely loved them (even the teenager, who relished the challenge). For each puzzle solved they would receive a special sticker and once they’d collected them all they could return to Fairy HQ and claim a small prize.
By the time we’d got all of that sorted it was almost lunchtime (teenagers don’t like early starts on a Sunday apparently 😉 ) so we headed for the Picnic Area and Adventure Playground first. We sent the girls off to play whilst we laid out our picnic on one of the bench tables in the big grassy area nearby . There was a cool little zip wire, swings, slides, a castle den, a sandpit and wooden climbing apparatus and as usual all the girls went off in four different directions! They’re old enough now that we don’t have to watch them every single second but I’ll admit I do still get a little nervous when it’s busy and I haven’t got them all in my line of sight.
The Adventure Playground was also the location of one of the quests – Knights at the Castle. There was a character there dressed up in medieval costume who had a small audience of children completely captivated as he told them stories and fed their imaginations with real-life armour, clothing and weapons on display. I’d thought that Lola, the littlest one, would be most interested in this as she’s been learning about kings and queens and castles in her topic at school but it was actually Ella, our little historian/storyteller, who stayed the course and listened to everything he had to say.
After we’d finished our picnic (and the husband and I had boosted our energy with takeaway coffee and hot chocolate from the gorgeous Gardener’s Kitchen restaurant where the food looked absolutely divine), we headed on to the next part of the challenge – the Fairy Door Trail – in The Grove.
Here, hidden amidst beautiful flowers and prehistoric looking plants (some of them were absolutely amazing!) were 28 hidden fairy doors scattered in the undergrowth. Behind each door was either a picture of a fairy, or, if the fairy wasn’t home, a sign saying where the fairy had gone. The goal was to locate every single door and write down whether the fairy was home or not. I think we found all but one of them in the end (and the girls were still allowed to collect a sticker).
As we moved on to the next section of the estate we came across Shetland ponies to be petted, birds of prey to learn about and a little tent where you could plant your own container of wildflower seeds (which you could go back and collect later on in the day so you didn’t have to carry them around with you), ready to plant in your garden at home to encourage bees and butterflies to visit.
(I popped them on the kitchen windowsill when we got home and have been carefully looking after them. I’m normally notorious for killing any kind of plant life but this time I’m thrilled to say that we have some really strong little plants already that I’m planning to put in pots in the garden during the summer holidays).
From here we moved on to Arley Hall itself for the next challenge – the Teddy Bears Picnic. Arley Hall is rather magnificent to look at on the outside as you can see, and just a beautiful on the inside with impressive high-ceilinged rooms and imposing period furniture. My favourite thing to do in places like this is to look up – the ceilings are often a work of art in themselves. Ella loved the Library (of course!) and Lola loved the sumptuous feel of the historical costumes that were on display.
Hidden in various rooms were numerous teddies holding letters. We had to find each letter and then unscramble them to figure out a famous historical person’s name.
The final part of the challenge was spread out throughout the spectacular Gardens, where we had to follow tricky clues to find wicker sculptures of different animals, each of whom were holding letters again. Once we’d found them all we had to rearrange the letters to create the name of another animal. Along the way we encountered the Mini-Beasts and Bugs activity table, where the girls played Mini-Beast Bingo and won a packet of sweets each, which they were thrilled with.
The Gardens were divided into many sections – a herb garden, a rose garden etc… – and each one was even more lovely than the one before. I could have spent hours there photographing all of the stunning flowers on display. I’m not sure that we even made our way around them all – I think there was a lot more that we could have explored but because the girls had completed their activity packs and collected all their stickers, they wanted to go and claim their prize!
By the time we were done it was late afternoon and, as the husband still had to drive the teenager home (a five-hour round trip), we reluctantly called it a day and headed home.
We had a really lovely time at Arley Hall and Gardens and would definitely go back. They have lots of other events on throughout the year – you can find out more about them on the events page on their website.
Please note: I have not been asked (or paid!) to write this post. All thoughts, feelings, images, ideas and opinions are my own. We love exploring our local area and I enjoy sharing our experiences with all my readers so that you might find somewhere new to go adventuring too.