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In June of this year, we took out a special offer on family membership to the National Trust. It is now October and so up until now we had only visited two places. As I really wanted to get the most out of our membership, I suggested that we visit some NT properties during the half-term holiday. We live in the west Midlands, and are lucky that there are some really stunning properties almost on our doorstep. Today we decided to visit two properties in Warwickshire that are virtually next to each other: Baddesley Clinton and Packwood House. For this review, I am concentrating on Packwood House, but I will be reviewing Baddesley too in due course, as it deserves a full review of its own. Where is Packwood House? Packwood house is not far from Warwick in the West Midlands. It probably took us about 45 minutes to drive down from Walsall and it was a pretty straightforward drive down the M6 onto the M42 and then leaving the Motorway at Junction 5, heading towards the pretty village of Knowle. After that, you just follow the brown signs to Packwood house. People tend to think of the West Midlands as being dirty and industrial, which is true of some areas, but Knowle and its surrounding area seems to be a haven of peace and tranquility, with stunning countryside views and winding, tree-lined roads. The views were lovely on the drive from the motorway to our destination. It is hard to believe that this lovely area is only 8 miles away from the hustle and bustle of birmingham international Airport! Packwood House can also be reached by bus from Birmingham, the X20 from Birmingham to Stratford upon Avon, by alighting at Hockley Heath, or by train, as Lapworth station is 1.5 miles away. As we travelled by car, we were plased to see that parking was free of charge and the car park was only a short walk from the property. The car park was not very big and we ended up on the overflow carpark which was a bit muddy, uneven and stony. On a rainy day I would imagine that this carpark would turn into a sloppy mess! There are some well maintained toilets next to the carpark, as well as a snack van selling drinks and food. Finding Our Way Around As we entered the grounds, there was a small entrance and shop on the right of us, the house was directly in front of us and the gardens were to the left. The total area of the grounds was not particularly big, compared to some other NT places we have visited, but was a perfect size to explore with a family, as there was not too much walking involved. We went into the entrance first and showed our passes. The lady said that we would also need to show our passes when we went in the house. She gave me a map of the grounds, which was very handy. They also sell treasure trails for children, with things for them to look out for as they go round. A treasure trail costs about £2 and they were Halloween themed, so a lot of kids were walking around looking for pumpkins hidden around the grounds. there was also a dalmatian trail, where the kids had to look for a toy dalamtian in each room of the house to be entered into a draw to win a toy dalmatian. Next to the entrance was the shop, which has a nice selection of items, such as books, gifts and food items. As it was the end of the season, a lot of the sweets and chocolate were reduced in price and the vending machine drinks were free, which was a big bonus, and a lot cheaper that the man in the van by the car park! The Gardens Because we had all raided the free vending machine and all had hot drinks in our hands, we decided to look around the garden before we went into the house. I loved the garden as it reminded me of something from Alice in Wonderland. I knew there were some yew trees, but when we saw them from the road, I gasped with delight, as they were all formally clipped and looked amazing. I actually wondered whether this was where they had filmed the Alice in Wonderland film as it looked so similar. The kids went a bit barmy running round the yew trees and hiding. I couldn't see where they were but they were laughing so much it kept giving their hiding place away! We climbed some stone steps to a spiral path made from yew which wound upwards and upwards. Again it reminded me of "Alice", but this time it was the Alice in Wonderland maze at Disneyland Paris that we visited back in February! When we got to the top of the spiral, there was a single yew tree at the top, with a bench around it so that you could have a rest before the long walk back down again! According to the leaflet, the yew garden was first planted in the 1650's alongside the orchard, with the spiral mount being used as a viewing platform to assess the health of the fruit trees. Later the fruit trees were removed and the yew garden was said to represent the Sermon on the Mount, with the original trees representing the Master and the Apostles. When we finally found the hiding kids, we headed around the large lake via the woodland,where we could see birds diving for fish in the lake and squirrels foraging in the woods. For me as a parent, I think it is really healthy for my kids to be able to connect with the natural world in this way and they absolutely loved the freedom of being able to run around outdoors and get muddy! There were lots of families with kids there at the same time as us. The rest of the gardens were very formal in design, with neatly clipped hedges and period features. There was a small sunken garden with a formal pool, but sadly the pool was very overgrown with algae and nothing seemed to be living in it. Even though it is the end of October, there were loads of flowers still in bloom and the gardens were full of colour. The dahlias were particularly pretty and it made a change from my dull garden at home, which looks a bit bare at the moment! The House After we had looked at the gardens, we decided to have a stroll around the house. The staff in general were very warm and welcoming, although it is my experience that you always get a snotty member of staff somewhere. in this case, it was a spindly looking woman, who hissed at the kids as they went past and then muttered to her colleague: "I only have to look at them. They are petrified of me." To be honest, the kids sailed past her and didn't even notice her, but people like that are hardly welcoming are they? Luckily, most of the staff were lovely and one very kind guide went out of his way to chat with the kids and help them find one of the hidden dalmatians in the room. He also gave us a map of the house with a bit of information about each room. The house was not particularly big, but some of the rooms were cordoned off for maintainence. In the hall we could see a lady cleaning the tapestries and the guide was telling us what a delicate job it was. As the house is full of tapestries it was going to take her ages! The house is full of beautiful tapestries and artworks and is in very good condition for such an old house. Most of the artworks and hangings were brought in by Graham Baron Ash in the 1920's, who filled the rooms with these items from the 16th and 17th centuries to create the ambience of a late Tudor Manor House. The house itself dates from the 16th century. Facilities There were quite a few stairs in the house and many parts of the house would be inaccessible to wheelchair and pushchair users. This also applies to the garden area, which would be very difficult to navigate on wheels. For blind visitors there is a Braille guide, and they also do a sensory tour of the house. Pushchairs are not allowed in the main house. There is a special car park for disable visitors near the entrance of the house and the house can be accessed by the rear for disabled visitors wishing to avoid the steps at the front. There is also a lavatory near the car park which is suitable for disabled users, and mother and baby facilities also. There is no cafe or restaurant at Packwood house, but there are a few snacks available in the shop or from the van by the car park. For meals, you could drive down to Baddesley clinton, two miles down the road which has a restaurant and serves home made dishes from locally produced vegetables. Prices and Admission As NT members we got in free! The current price list for admission to the house and grounds is as follows: Adult: £8.70 Child: £4.80 Family £22.50 You can also get cheaper tickets for viewing the grounds only, as well as combination tickets for Packwood and Baddesley Clinton together. The house, garden and shop are open from the 1st of Feb to 30th October from 11-5, Tuesday to Sunday, with the park being open every day of the year from dawn until dusk. Our visit took us about 2 hours, so it is not really a big day out, but if you are in the area, there is enough for a whole morning or afternoon, especially if combined with Baddesley Clinton as well. It means that it is only really worth visiting if you are already in the area or live nearby. My family really enjoyed their time at Packwood. It was just like entering Wonderland, although luckily, I didn't run into the Mad Hatter!