The countryside surrounding our new home in York is abundant with grand stately homes.
The sun was shining when we pulled up in the immaculate grounds on August bank holiday Saturday. There was a charming gated picnic area right next to the car park, the apples were growing on the trees and the atmosphere was relaxed.
Visitors can opt to enter the gardens or add on a tour of the house, which is the only way to see inside the property built by Sir Christopher Wren in the 1690s.
The idea of navigating Baby Bookworm past the prized 18th Century antiques of this grand building brings me out in a cold sweat so it was good to discover we could have a full day of fun without doing so.
First off, the gardens are just gorgeous, with a herbaceous border of dreams creating the perfect pathway up to the house itself. Toddlers can have a energy-burning run around the different award-winning areas while you take inspiration for your square of lawn at the back of your semi.
However, Baby Bookworm made a beeline for the large Adventure Playground, with its yellow boat swings, wooden fort, slides and sandpit. His dad seemed to have a pretty good time there too. For the older ones, there are also pedalo boats and an aerial slide.
Next up was the miniature railway, for which you need to buy a ticket (£2 each, under-twos go free). We ride a LOT of these sorts of trains and it was brilliant value, taking a 15 minute trip through the grounds and along the River Ure in a dumb-bell loop.
You don’t have to wait for long to hop aboard and apparently there is a steam locomotive that runs on Sundays.
Entry to the gardens allows you to visit two permanent exhibitions. The first is The Bear House, a little Swiss chalet that houses Gyles Brandreth’s Teddy Bear Collection. It turns out that this broadcaster and former MP is an arctophile and treasures on display include the original Fozzie from The Muppets, Mr Bean’s teddy and a Winnie the Pooh.
The full 1,000 strong collection rotates regularly but one item that you are guaranteed to see is the very first Paddington Bear toy, made by Gabrielle Designs, a small family business in Doncaster run by Shirley Clarkson – mum of petrol head loudmouth Jeremy!
Apparently Michael Bond was so taken with the toy, based on Peggy Fortnum’s early illustrations, he purposely wrote a story where Paddington gets wellington boots so the bears would stand for sale on shelves more easily.
Nearby is the Dollshouse Exhibition, a fascinating collection of 70 dollshouses and miniatures belonging to friends Caroline Hamilton and Jane Fiddick. If you have a sticky fingered tot, you’ll be pleased to know all the items are behind glass so you can explore without fear.
As part of the Lauren Child Summer Exhibition, the author-illustrator has loaned her very own dollshouse to the display and it’s a remarkable creation. I loved the quirky decor and attention to detail, all very reminiscent of her mixed media artwork style. You could just imagine Charlie and Lola living inside.
Naturally the super siblings feature heavy in the event, with them popping up around the grounds in the Lauren Child Trail, along with Clarice Bean and Lola’s imaginary friend Soren.
It is accompanied by a quiz sheet with clues to go with the images but there’s no need to follow it in order – you just spot them as you go (lucky for us, because Baby Bookworm never does anything in order…).
The final element is a display of original artwork in the Grantham Room next to the restaurant (which has cakes to die for and delicious fresh salads). There are some wonderful pieces but my only complaint was that there is an overspill of diners in space, making it a bit awkward to get near the pictures or loiter for any time.
Newby Hall is also running a storywriting and drawing competition which Lauren will judge, all part of her drive to inspire creativity during her tenure at Waterstone’s Children’s Laureate.
Our final stop of the day was the Tarantella, a dancing water play area designed by William Pye. Baby Bookworm had been itching to get his hands wet since spotting it and we decided to strip him to a t-shirt and nappy and run wild.
He was in heaven, shrieking with delight, and the only way we could tear him away and into some warm clothes (emergency giant muslin as a towel) was with the promise of ice cream.
Given that he normally wolfs down food faster than I can, only to snaffle some of mine too, he was remarkably slow licking his vanilla cone.
My guess is that we’d had such a lovely day, he wanted to savour it for as long as he could.
Newby Hall & Gardens near Ripon, North Yorkshire, is open 11am-5.30pm on Tuesday-Sunday from 30 March to 30 September (open every day in July and August, and Bank Holiday Mondays).
Tickets: £12.50 (garden) / £18 (with house added) for adults, £9.50 / £14.50 for children aged four to 15, £40/£60 for a family of four. Children under four go free. Season tickets also available, costing £30 per adult and £15 per child. Find out more at newbyhall.com
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