If the mere mention of the National Trust makes you imagine you'll be rubbing shoulders with the Volvo-driving car-rug and Thermos brigade, it's time to have a rethink.
National Trust properties in the North West
The North West plays home to a stunning array of National Trust properties and if you love walking, historic properties or seasonal festivities, you're sure to find a place to suit.
National Trust: BBC's Pride and Prejudice setting
Some of these houses have formed the spectacular backdrop to Britain's favourite TV bosom-heavers, such as the BBC's Colin Firth-led Pride and Prejudice adaptation. Others are more about British social history – telling the story of the real-life equivalent of the "downstairs" folk in Downton.
That famous lake at Lyme
In short, if anywhere can persuade you to take a new look at the National Trust, it's the North West. Here are some of the stand-out attractions:
Dunham Massey, Altrincham The words "Dunham" and "Massey" may well send shivers down the spines of many 2012 Manchester marathon veterans, who trudged past it in a blizzard-and-rain cocktail. But once you've blinked those hailstones out of your eyes and you'll see Dunham Massey for what it is: a spectacular Georgian hall, with lots of salacious family stories, and extensive grounds to explore. Exciting finds include recently-discovered letters between Henry VIII and wife number three, Jane Seymour, an insight into downstairs kitchen life and the tale of an earl who married a bareback circus rider. The house is closed on Thursdays and Fridays and between November and February.
Alderley Edge, Macclesfield Nowadays, Alderley Edge is almost as famous for its Wags' Mansions as it is for its bronze age burial mound. But no matter how many kidney-shaped pools and cinema suites get installed in the village new-builds, they still can't match the sheer spectacle of this National Trust park. Gaze out over views as far afield as the Peak District and the Cheshire Plain. It's open pretty much all year round (apart from Christmas) but it can get busy during sunny school holiday weekends.
Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire One of the National Trust's premier league properties, Little Moreton Hall's half-timbered walls have graced a raft of Trust brochures. As the name suggests, it's not one of the Trust's larger properties but there is, nonetheless, still plenty to see. There's an aromatic kitchen garden with box hedges, plenty of games and re-enactments for families and (my favourite) for a few weekends in December it hosts Tudor-style Yuletide Celebrations, with roaring log fires, banquet spreads and storytelling straight out of a Christmas carol book. Make sure you go on a weekend if you're visiting between October and December. The house then closes between Christmas and April.
Lyme Park, Disley, Stockport Mr Darcy?" "Why, Miss Bennett!" Yes, that's right. This is THE lake that Colin Firth swam across, only to emerge into the path of a blushing Elizabeth Bennett in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice. Bestill your beating heart and go and take a look. There is HUGE estate to explore at Lyme, past herds of deer wandering free. The interiors are rather splendid too although quite tiring for little ones, simply by dint of there being so much to see. The house closes for the winter but the park stays open if you fancy a winter walk.
Tatton Park, Knutsford Tatton Park is one of the events hubs of the North West. There's so much going on here, you may not realise there's a splendid house and grounds to explore too. It hosts hugely popular art and sculpture celebrations, such as the Tatton Biennial, the RHS Flower Show and the Foodies' Festival. Its grounds range from formal Victorian to wilder park landscapes. Plus there's a farm for kids to explore. Warning: there is a car parking charge here, even if you're a National Trust member. Harrumph!
Probably the National Trust's best upstairs/ downstairs property, Erddig is located in the Welsh borders but is easily accessible from most parts of the North West. The house tells the story of a family and its servants and the volumes of clothing, letters and photographs that survive really do bring their personal histories to life.
Erddig was a surprising runner-up to Chatsworth in the BBC's vote for the nation's favourite stately home. Go there and you'll see why.