If you are searching for an interesting day out, it's safe to say that you can't go wrong with a National Trust property. If you head to any on a beautiful day, it will probably feel like the whole of England is in agreement, as I can guarantee it will be packed full of families enjoying everything that these beautiful properties have to offer. Living in Manchester, I have visited Tatton Park and Lyme Park plenty of times, but Speke Hall is a relatively new find, and I simply had to share everything this stunning location has to offer.
During weekends and school holidays, there are usually lots of events and activities on offer at the majority of National Trust properties, and Speke Hall was no exception. We visited over May bank holiday weekend, whilst there was a special Tudor weekend on. We headed straight to the North Lawn where the majority of activities were taking place. There was a jester performing jokes and magic tricks, as well as traditional dancing and music. It was a really beautiful day and people were lounging around on the grass or kicking balls around and generally enjoying the atmosphere. Plenty of tents had been set up with craft activities, stalls and food and there was also the chance to hold a real shield and sword, something my nine year old son relished.
I won't talk much more about this as the event has been and gone, but it is definitely worth checking out the National Trust's website to find out what events are going on in your area. I have visited Speke Hall in the past for its Halloween event which is also brilliant.
What I love most about Speke Hall is that there are lots of different areas to explore. You don't have to see it all in one visit, just see where your mood takes you. You can always come back again another day to discover another part of this beautiful location.
If you enjoy looking at architecture and learning about history, a visit to Speke Hall itself is well recommended. This Tudor, timber-framed manor house has an exciting history, having survived through turbulent times. There are several interesting things to see whilst you are there. The kids will enjoy having a go at billiards in the Billiard Room, looking at the luxurious bedrooms which feature four poster beds and finding out how clothes would have been washed in Tudor times. The National Trust run trails to help keep the children engaged, and depending on the season, you will find the hall is decorated to suit. The rooms are rather small so expect to queue to get in. It can be frustrating, but it's a necessary evil which ensures the hall does not become overcrowded. Whilst you're in there, check out its second hand book shop, you never know what you might find.
With three children in tow however, I much prefer to be out in the great outdoors where the kids can run wild, and there is plenty of opportunity for that in the grounds of Speke Hall. There are two playgrounds; the first is the most obvious – the kids will spot it as soon as they enter and no doubt will make a beeline for it. It's a good traditional playground, and great to let the kids burn of some steam if they have been stuck in the car for a while, whilst you grab a coffee.
However, for the more adventurous, head into the woods to discover a more challenging playground, with logs to balance on, bridges to negotiate and obstacles to climb. One of the highlights had to be the zip wire, yet sometimes the things kids love best are the simplest. There are plenty of branches on hand for den building, and this was definitely what seemed to be engaging kids the most as they raided branches from discarded dens.
This playground used to be stand-alone, however since our last visit it has been incorporated into a fabulous trail called The Childe of Hale Adventure Trail, which can be accessed just past the main playground. It's perfect for younger children as it really sparks their imaginations. Your little ones can stand in giant shoes, look for markings in the trees, play on instruments and finally end up at the adventure playground.
As we left the adventure playground, we made another magical discovery – woodland filled with bluebells. May is a wonderful time to enjoy them in all their glory and I don't think I've ever seen so many in one space. Even the kids were awed into silence and I took great delight in telling the girls that the faeries lived there. It really was possible to believe it was true.
Another hit with the kids was the maze. Which child doesn't love getting lost in a labyrinth of pathways? There are bridges which you can climb up to get a view of the maze and to gain your groundings, but whilst there, make sure you enjoy the views of the River Mersey which I hadn't realised was so close. As Speke Hall is located right by John Lennon airport, big and little kids will have a fabulous time looking overhead for passing aircrafts too.
There are plenty of other areas to explore around Speke Hall if you have time, including the Orchard and the South Lawns with its Monkey Puzzle Tree. There is also an area where vegetables have been planted, perfect for teaching the children where their food comes from.
For lunch or snacks, there is the Home Farm restaurant based in the courtyard serving hot food, but be warned, it can get busy. There is also the Stable Tea Room which is much smaller, but we found it tends to be quieter as it only serves lighter snacks, cakes and drinks. If it's a nice day, why not bring a picnic and enjoy the restful scenery instead?
It's also worth knowing that dogs are welcome at Speke Hall in the woodland and on the signed walks, as long as they are on a lead.
Parking at Speke Hall is free. To access the whole property, it costs £12 for adults and £6 for children (or £30 for a family). To access the grounds only, it costs £8 for adults and £4 for children (or £20 for a family). Although the gardens are open from 10.30am - 5pm on weekends, the hall only opens from 12.30pm - 5pm, which is worth knowing if you're just visiting for the morning.
If you enjoy your visit, it's well worth considering upgrading to National Trust membership which will give you free entry to the majority of National Trust properties as well as free parking at places you might not think of as National Trust, for example Formby and Alderley Edge in Cheshire. Why not let me know your favourite National Trust property?