This year I was lucky enough to be chosen as an English Heritage blogger which means that we get to visit some of the lovely properties that they have dotted around the UK. As my blog is based in Hertfordshire I wanted to write about one relatively near to me and a couple of friends suggested that Audley End House in Essex would be perfect. It's just over the Herts/Essex boarder and takes about 50 minutes for us to get to - so not too many cries of "are we there yet" from the kids.
We really couldn't have picked a better day to visit as it was a themed apple weekend when all things appley and Autumnal were being celebrated! The sky was clear and cloudless and the house and gardens looked glorious soaking up the last of the years sunshine. Audley End is a stunning 17th century country house and is well known as one of England's grandest stately homes. Set in a beautiful landscape designed the famous gardener Capability Brown the grounds span the River Cam and the site includes organic gardens, stables and a play area.
The whole place was picture prefect but what I really loved about our day there was that English Heritage had really worked hard to bring the past to life. As we walked around the gardens we were able to have a go at archery, listen to some great talks by characters in period dress and explore what life was like in Victorian times.
As the mother of two children who love to get their hands on anything and everything it was great that all the exhibits were so interactive. I had been dreading walking round behind them shouting "don't touch" in a panicked voice but in fact in the laundry and stables you could touch everything which was fabulous. They even had a range of dressing up clothes that the children could try on to really get into the spirit of things. My two loved dressing up in equestrian gear and riding on all the toy horses and I have to say they did look very cute in their top hats.
The day was extremely well organised and we got a timetable on arrival so that we could plan our day. I really don't do spontaneity so this suited me very well and also meant that we didn't miss out on any events. We began our day with a cup of freshly pressed apple juice whilst listening to some great folk music by The Shipband and soaking up the atmosphere and then took a stroll around the gardens.
There is an amazing kitchen garden at Audley End and to be honest I could have spent ages walking around the organic gardens but the children were very keen to visit the play area so we headed over there next. It was safely enclosed and me and my husband were able to sit and enjoy a cup of tea while they played which was rather relaxing.
It was then on to watching the horses at the stables. My daughter loves horses and it was great for her to be able to see them in action at the riding display. After that we crossed the bridge over the river onto the main lawn where we watched a fantastic falconry show. It was a real treat to be able to get so close to these stunning animals and the lady running the display was so knowledgeable and passionate about her subject. I'm not particularly keen on birds but even I couldn't fail to be impressed by these majestic beasts swooping and diving against a blue sky background.
We then trooped off to meet the rather raucous Geoffrey Bait who made children and adults alike laugh with his gruesome tales of life as a Victorian pest catcher! He was really funny and actually got my son to sit still for about 20 minutes which is no mean feat. It was then time for a bug hunt with the Victorian explorer where we discovered spiders, worms and beetles hiding under the trees of the estate.
By now it was nearly the end of the day but I was very keen to visit the Victorian cook Mrs Crocombe in the kitchens. This was wonderful as she was busy cooking and baking as we watched and we were able to take away some authentic 1880's recipe cards to try at home. The delicious smells wafting around set off our appetites and we were glad that there was still some time left for the obligatory scone and pot of tea in the cafe.
The kids burnt off the remains of their energy with a run around on the wide open lawns and we headed home tired but very happy. We had fresh air, fun and learnt a bit of history too and it made for a great Autumn day out. I was really impressed with the apple day and with Audley End and we will definitely be returning.
For more information visit the English Heritage website at www.english-heritage.org.uk
*this is a sponsored post but all views are my own and we did have a truly wonderful day.