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Free days out? Really?
Member Name: MichelleScott
Date: 10/08/01, updated on 10/08/01 (4063 review reads)
Advantages: Membership entitles you to free entry to hundreds of properties, Some properties have a free day once a year
Disadvantages: Membership is a big annual expense
Being a life-long miser, I don't like having to pay to get in anywhere. I have got worse since I had children. Something that used to cost me £10 is now £40 because I am one of a family of 4. Hence, we tend to have a lot of family memberships. We are members of Chester Zoo, which is fun, educational and saves a lot of money (we are also able to get our friends in half-price). Our other big annual expense is renewing our membership of the National Trust.
Everyone knows of the National Trust, of course, they are the ones who own the big stately homes and always buy big, expensive brown signs to direct tourists to their properties. But there are lots of benefits to being a member of the Trust. It is even possible to get into properties free if you aren't a member of the Trust. Read on ...
Membership gets you in free to most properties (exceptions are small, and limited to properties outside their sole control). This is worth quite a lot when you consider that a lot of properties cost nearly£5 to get in.
FREE CAR PARKING
Where there is a car parking charge, it is often free to members. One of these that we regularly use is Formby Squirrel Reserve. It is a beautiful part of the North-West coastline and home to a thriving population of endangered red squirrels (and a few nosey grew ones). It normally costs £2.70 per car to get in, but we can go every weekend if we choose, for nothing. We did try this for a while but the kids got so fed up they said they would rather go to a museum, so we realised they were seriously sick of the place.
Wherever you go on holiday in this country there is sure to be an NT place nearby. It is so handy to be able to plan a free day there, when you are a member. On the subject of holidays, the National Trust have a list of cottages owned by them that they are prepared to rent out to careful holiday-makers. We haven’t tried any yet so can’t comment,
but have heard good reports.
As long as they don't think it is educational, kids generally enjoy NT visits. The staff are predominantly volunteers - and mostly of the kindly, grandparent-type. They enjoy answering children's endless questions and usually have an armoury of amusing (“Laugh kids or I'll kick you again”) anecdotes to enthral the little ones. Also, most properties have quizzes for children, which can keep them entertained for hours (and away from the antiques, although my daughter can be relied on to find something priceless to lean on when filling in her quiz). The grounds are often entertaining as well, especially as properties were often family homes so there may be tree-houses and mazes to explore.
You also get the NT magazine 3 times a year and the chunky National Trust Handbook (which looks like it is worth about £8). The magazine includes a wildlife poster which our kids love and always fight over. The handbook is very useful. We leave it in the car and have been surprised at the number of properties we have found on days out and holidays that we wouldn’t otherwise have come across.
Individual membership costs £31, with additional members after that costing £21.50. A family group is £58. Children under 13 are £14.50 (it only goes up to £15 once they are 13 and stays that cheap until they are 25).
They also offer Life Membership, which is a one-off payment of £740 for adults, £495 for pensioners. I suppose the value of that would be determined by how well you feel!
Additionally, the NT opens many of its properties free of charge one day a year for people who can't normally afford to visit (or perhaps are physically limited). Each property is different, so it is worth visiting the web site (URL below) to check them out.
OUR FAVOURITE NT PROPERTIES
~ Erddig, near Wrexham (North Wales) ~
Erddig is my favourite, be
cause of its Chinese & Tapestry rooms, magnificent walled garden and the fact that the owners were vegetarian (so are we). The owners sounded very unusual for their time, and Erddig is famous because of the close and kind relationship the owners had with their servants. It is a living property, not a mausoleum. There is a bakery (the smell is wonderful), joiner’s shop, laundry, stables, smithy, etc. The volunteers work at creating an authentic environment, which is particularly magical for children. It is one of the more expensive properties, at £6 per adult, but one where NT members are absolutely free (including parking).
~ Plas Newydd, Anglesey, North Wales ~
Plas Newydd is the ancestral seat of the Marques of Anglesey (the current one still lives there). It is a favourite with my husband, who is a hobby painter, because of the famous mural by Rex Whistler. His largest painting, it takes up an entire wall of one of the rooms in the house. It has a 3D effect and is so detailed and clever. Honestly, I could look at it for hours (not something I normally say about paintings, they bore me rigid). There is a permanent Rex Whistler exhibition in the house as well, which is well worth a visit. Our children love the grounds – there is a new adventure playground and an old tree house. The grounds are extensive and you can easily spend an entire day there, as there are cruises available on the Menai Straits. Adults are £4.50 to get in (car parking free).
Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire is well worth a visit. It is both interesting and educational. It is a working Georgian cotton mill and was particularly fascinating to my Dad, a retired engineer. It is on the more expensive end of the scale, at £5.80 for adults. There is also a £2 parking charge, but NT members are free for both that and the entrance.
Rufford Old Hall is near where we live, so we tend to visit it a lot. It is one of Lancashire’s finest 16th-century buildings
, all timber framed and authentic. Shakespeare was supposed to have performed there. It’s a cheaper one at £3.80 for adults.
I was disappointed in Chirk Castle, also in Wales. It is a massive place, but lots of the rooms were not open to the public. They say that they are only able to furnish and maintain a limited number of rooms, but I think it would be beneficial to open rooms that aren’t furnished as well, if only to give a more real feel of the size of the property. Adults are £5 each.
The National Trust owns over 200 properties in England and Wales, together with thousands of acres of coast and countryside. It was founded way back in 1895, by a group of Victorian philanthropists who were concerned about the growing industrialisation of the countryside. They set up the Trust to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty permanently. Lots of impoverished aristocrats hand their crumbling mansions over to the Trust. That way they get to see their property transformed before their eyes back to its former glory and get to live in comfort in it for life. All they have to put up with is hoards of plebeian tourists tramping through it. Actually, I think that must be quite hard to live with, but the benefits of having some heat on in the winter must outweigh the disadvantages.
They have a very good web site, packed with information about their properties. www.nationaltrust.org.uk. It is very useful for finding out about events (individual properties regularly host all sorts of events from craft fairs to concerts), holidays in NT cottages, volunteering, etc. The events directory on their site is searchable – through area, themes, dates – and is well worth a look to see what is going on. For instance, we are going to Anglesey soon, so I did a search under Anglesey + August. I found out that I can delight my family by taking them on a Guided Archaeological Walk (to visit a Neolithic cromlech,
be still my beating heart), an Open Air Jazz Concert, and a combat display between Welsh soldiers and Anglo-Norman knights – actually, my son would quite like that one, may give it a go. The site also has regular foot-and-mouth updates. At the moment about 95% of NT houses and gardens are open; 75% of countryside properties are open.
Although it is a charity, and independent of government, the Trust has some unusual powers. Apparently it has statutory power to declare land inalienable, meaning that the land cannot be compulsorily purchased against the Trust’s wishes. So if the local council want to build a road through your granny’s garden, maybe one way round it would be to get her to donate it to the National Trust!
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