Exploring with the National TrustPosted: 11/05/2014
There are certain milestones in life that make you feel that you really are a ‘proper grown up’. Becoming a home owner. Getting married. Having a baby. Realising that 40 is your next big birthday. (Just a few short years ago, I would have said 30. How time flies.)
I have reached another of those milestones this year. Not pregnancy with a second child, although that does strike me as being very responsible adult, having felt a bit like I was just pretending with ToddlerGirl. No, I’m talking about joining the National Trust.
In fact, given that ten years ago I would have probably laughed at the idea and dismissed the National Trust as something for the, ahem, more mature person, my new membership may just feel like the most adult thing I have done.
To be fair, the National Trust has actually been doing a very good job of marketing itself more widely in recent times, including targeting families. (The 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 and Three Quarters challenge being a good example.) This impression has been borne out by my visits to National Trust properties over the last couple of years with ToddlerGirl, where we have found amazing spaces to explore, crafts and other activities aimed at children, trails suitable for the whole family to enjoy, and, in general, a very welcoming attitude towards those with little ones.
My previous attitude, stereotyping membership as being the preserve of the retired with plenty of time on their hands to stroll around admiring pristine gardens, has been well and truly revised since I became a mum and actually spent some time visiting these places. There are, of course, some properties that I would consider to be less suitable for us at the moment. There is a (fascinating) place nearby, for example, which I would never take ToddlerGirl to: there is very little in the way of outside space and the inside is crammed with all sorts of interesting curios, just crying out for toddlers to pick up, lick, drop on the floor, attempt to pocket. Well, my toddler, at least. I can imagine a trip there would be hugely stressful right now with my little girl whose little fingers are always into everything!
When she has the freedom of the outdoors, however, it is a different matter. The National Trust places we have enjoyed visiting have been firmly focused on outdoor adventure. We’ve found trees to hide behind, huge rhododendron bushes to ‘make camp’ in and logs to climb on. We’ve discovered secret houses, hidden nooks and crannies, and even fairy dwellings. There have been ducks to feed, puddles to splash in, sticks to pick up, space to run around in and imaginative play areas inspired by the natural landscape.
Of course, many of these elements can be found in plenty of non National Trust places – and probably for free! But I have to admit to finding something special about the properties we have been to so far. The sense of history wrapped around many of the locations; the splendour of the gardens, whether ornamental or wild; the beauty of the surrounding landscape. I love the fact that one of the properties is somewhere I used to visit with my family when I was a child and I am now taking my own child there.
We’re lucky that these locations are being preserved for future generations – and opened up for all to access, rather than being kept hidden away for only the most privileged landowning families.
I must confess I often have a moment of imagining myself in Jane Austen-style dress, roaming the grounds with notebook in hand to find a quiet spot with a glorious view to sit and scribble a while… Hmm, I guess being a ‘proper grown up’ is still a little while off, milestones notwithstanding. Or perhaps the idea that I will ever feel like a responsible adult is just an illusion and I’ll be 70 and still wondering when it will happen!