“ Location: Whitworth, Brancepeth, County Durham, DL16 7QX „
Open all year round from 10am til dusk, Whitworth Hall Country Park is a free attraction in Brancepeth, County Durham. I've been a regular visitor here over the last two or three years. It's in 73 acres of parkland on the doorstep of Whitworth Hall Hotel where you can stop for lunch in the brasserie if you like, or there is also the Lakeside Inn and restaurant which incorporates Bobby Shafto's play barn - a soft play area for children. There's a Victorian walled garden to take a turn around, a small gallery and gift shop, and an ornamental lake with all sorts of bird-life.
The main attraction for us though, are the deer. Red and fallow deer roam around the grounds and are hand fed by visitors. You can buy bags of food from the play barn to feed them with. They're very tame, in fact maybe a bit too tame, some of them get quite pushy when they see you with a bag of food. A tactic I favour is for myself or my husband to distract some of the pushier ones so that the other adult can supervise our daughter in the feeding of younger, gentler deer. There are various warning signs around, you do need to make sure your children are well behaved around the animals, because they are still wild animals. I do find the huge antlered ones a bit lairy and my daughter once came within a couple of inches of being kicked in the eye when she accidentally gave a young deer a fright on one of our early visits.
Hands can get a bit mucky after feeding the animals, but wipes are provided along with the bags of food. The ground is usually quite good, and well maintained through bad weather. We tend to take our walking boots and change into clean footwear if we're going to go inside for some food. Our itinerary usually involves feeding the deer, visiting the lake to see the ducks, geese and other birds, then a walk around the grounds ending up at the soft play, (this costs around £2.50 for two hours), where the adults can grab a cuppa while the little ones totally exhaust themselves.
Whitworth was once the home of the Shafto family, and there is a statue of Bobby Shafto in the grounds, with the verse and history on a plaque. Before my first visit here I had no idea who he was or that he was even real, so was surprised to learn that the famous song was probably part of an electioneering campaign for this eighteenth century member of parliament for Durham.
Other things you can do here include follow the nature trail, there are over 50 species of native and migrant birds to be seen around the park. You can also get fishing permits from the Inn. There's a lion statue which usually has children clambering on it to have their photo taken and the Spennymoor Town band play at the bandstand on Sunday afternoons in the Summer. It's worth taking a look in the walled gardens which are home to Britain's most northerly vineyard. You can also wander around the restored Victorian greenhouses and purchase plants from the nursery.
There's plenty of free parking, although it can get very busy at weekends and bank holidays. We have found ourselves unable to get food at either the hotel or the restaurant when it it's been too busy. I'm really pleased Whitworth was recommended to me as it has become a favourite; a simple, pleasant and relaxing day out for the family which costs next to nothing.