The difference between a child that’s been indoors all day and the same one after a walk is huge. It’s the reason we pack up a spare change of clothes, waterproofs and wellies to get out of the door on a grey day. National Trust places are the perfect wintery playground to tempt everyone outside at this time of year.
A child who has run around in the fresh air on the estate at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, marched round the grounds at Bodiam Castle, or explored the moat and Old Castle in the landscaped gardens of Scotney Castle, is so much nicer to be around. And if it’s against a beautiful backdrop, that keeps us happy too. But persuading kids away from a screen in a cosy room into the cold outdoors for a walk can be tricky. Here are a few tips:
Who said ‘walk’? It’s an adventure trail!
What you call your walk makes all the difference. Remember how calling broccoli ‘little trees’ served us well at tricky dinner times? Call it an obstacle race or an adventure trail if the word ‘walk’ sends them into whining mode. Try to make a virtue of the negatives. “A little bit chilly outside? Don’t worry, that means we can wear our new scarf and gloves.”
Make a visit to Chartwell and discover the paintings dotted around the landscape on the ‘Art at Chartwell’ family trail. Then head over to the Canadian Camp play area where there are swings and balance beams. A short walk further takes you to the two-storey treehouse, complete with slide.
Look for animal tracks
Mud is great for stomping through in wellies to make footprints. Before you wade in though, check to see who has been there before you. It could be a duck, deer or dinosaur. OK, maybe not the latter, but you could always make your own dinosaur footprints.
How about tracking winter bird footprints in the mud at the edges of the paths around Ightham Mote? Blackbirds and robins are bound to be in and out of the plants looking for berries and seeds to eat at this time of year.
Construct an obstacle course
Suggest a simple walk from A to B and your head will hurt from the whinging. Suggest an obstacle course in woodland and your ears will hurt from the cries of excitement. Use logs as balance beams, trees as slaloms and sticks laid on the ground to hop over.
For something wilder, try the Wilderness Camp at Scotney Castle for den building, bug hunting or discovering what the inside of a tree looks and feels like.
This time of year is great for birdwatching or spotting animals scurrying around the undergrowth. They are so much more visible without any leaves to conceal them. Drop into visitor reception and ask about spotter guides, then tick off the birds and animals you manage to spot.
A stroll around the gardens and estate at Bateman’s will show up a wealth of feathered and furry creatures – Rudyard Kipling was inspired to write many of his stories here, after all. Get the whole family looking high and low for flashes of colour and movement, but be quick as these creatures are fast and you might miss them.
Make it a scavenger hunt
Set out on a walk with a list of items for the kids to find. The obvious things are acorns, twigs, beetles or woodlice, beech mast, crisp leaves or a forked stick. Who doesn’t love the satisfaction of ticking things off a list?
See what your family can forage on the ground – remember to encourage them not to pick anything that’s living. Try creating a story stick as you walk around the woodland at Emmetts Garden. Grab a stick and skewer it with fallen leaves, wrap long blades of grass around it or cover it in stripes of different colour mud. Invent a story of fairies, elves and woodland nymphs as you gather your materials. Or try making a natural masterpiece with your scavenged collection – start with a basic star or circle shape and fan out your natural loot to make a pattern.
Buy a cheap litter picker tool from the internet. Kids love them! They can see the point of going out litter picking, and it gives them things to find. And there’s the marvellous halo effect of keeping metal cans, plastic bottles and plastic wrappers away from the local wildlife.
National Trust ranger teams are out in all weathers, and always pick up any unwanted litter as they go around their woods and estates. Sometimes they just can’t get out to the far reaches of all the land we look after, so if you spot anything and feel happy to use your picker to clear it up, the wildlife (and the rangers) would be delighted.
Walk with a four-legged friend
Four-legged friends are welcome at many of our places in Kent and East Sussex. It’s always worth checking the specifics on each property’s website first before you visit. One of the best places to take your dog with you is Scotney Castle, where they can accompany you on a short lead around the wider estate and in the garden. There’s a great undercover seating area at the café where you can sit together and enjoy a warming drink. Chartwell is also a must for your pooch, with access to the garden and the wider 80-acre estate for dogs on short leads. The Landmere Café at Chartwell has lots of outdoor seating available for you all.