North Yorkshire has been home to us for a little under a year and one of the first places we visited was Bolton Abbey. The first time we stepped through the gate, a spell was cast and now we can never go more than a month or so before being drawn back – I am assuming this is because the place is amazing rather than us being unimaginative in our days out!
If you haven’t been before it is basically some grass, a river and some trees set around the ruins of a 12th Century Priory, with a café, small shop and toilet facilities to aid your comfort levels. But if you have been before, you will know it is so much more than that.
No visit to the estate is complete without an attempt at the stepping stones. In the shadow of the Priory, these 60 steps were once the crossing point of the River Wharfe for the workers. These days they are a fun family challenge; just the right mix of adventure and danger, helping to cast off the health and safety obsession of most family-friendly destinations but without the day ending up with a hospital visit! Although, when the Dude decided that the middle point was the perfect opportunity to have one of his extra special epic breakdowns, I did have visions (okay, I admit it, fantasies) of him being washed out to sea.
If you don’t fancy getting your feet wet, then there is a bridge that will also take you to the other side, where a small beach area is perfect for the summer months. Having spent most my life by the sea, I am still struggling to come to terms with the landlocked area that I now inhabit, so any “beach” gives extra star points from me. This stretch of the river is also much quieter and perfect for paddling and surely every child’s favourite activity – stone throwing. Every time I see my children with some stones and some water I always end up questioning the toy shop that we call our home – what more do they really need?
However, if your child does need more than some stones and water for a fun day out, don’t write off Bolton Abbey just yet. It would seem that during each school holiday, they run extra events to entertain and amuse. The Welly Walk Adventure Trail ran throughout the summer last year, and will start up again in May. The mix of tree climbing, slides, tunnels and beams certainly fulfills the quota for outside adventure, with the added bonus that it is highly unlikely your child will be coming home clean (obviously, I am assuming everyone bases the success of a day out with kids on just how dirty they get!). My only word of caution is that perhaps you shouldn’t drag your heavily pregnant friend around with you – what seems like a bit of a stroll when you aren’t lugging a baby around in your tummy probably feels more like a World Marathon Challenge to them and no amount of future babysitting will erase this pain.
But outdoor fun shouldn’t just be confined to warmer times – especially if you happen to live in a place where summer is very fleeting – and Bolton Abbey obliges with a variety of trails from The Pumpkin Trail in the Autumn half term to the recent Hey Diddle Diddle trail. Each trail has a free activity sheet to accompany them, although we have never managed to commit to finishing one. The trails offer enough incentive to the Dude to manage them with minimal claims of hypothermia or the need to immediately amputate his legs. Completing the last trail in a snow storm was probably a bit foolish, even for us – note to self: check the weather forecast before setting out, but if a cold-adverse four year old can endure a walk in the snow and rain and still be smiling, then this place must really be magic!
Despite many visits, there is still so much of the estate we haven’t discovered, from the aqueduct over the River Wharfe to Barden Tower, so I am sure you we will be able to find a lot more of our little muddy footprints over this picturesque landscape soon enough and maybe we will see some of yours too!