Reviewed by Andy Bennett
The National Trust’s Kingston Lacy estate is a vast 8,500 acres and from the drive along the B3082 with its archway of beech trees to turning onto the drive to the big house you get the feeling you are in for a treat. There is lots of parking on site which is free and easy to navigate. We quickly parked and found ourselves all ready for our “A Kingston Lacy Christmas” on a cold but bright December morning.
The initial welcome at the entrance is a warm one with our children looked after, being offered the chance to complete the Kingston Lacy Christmas Trail – a 12 questioned quiz. The search quickly began for answers to questions around the formal lawns behind strategically placed wooden doors at their level.
Unfortunately the big house was closed when we visited, but as it is Christmas time, there was lots going on in the grounds. We head through the gateway and immediately find Father Christmas sitting in a shepherds hut. There was no queue at that point so our two boys climbed the steps to see if he was the real one or a helper. We are pretty sure he was the big man himself(!) and everyone was on their best behaviour – there’s no chance of getting on the naughty list this year! After a nice chat and a bag of chocolate coins each from his sack we entered the laundry room to add our Christmas wish to an ever growing paper chain of wishes. Traditional toys covered a corner of the floor which were played with before walking through to the next room where a Christmas volunteer dressed as a butler warmly greeted us with a biscuit for the children and a tipple for the adults.
The craft room welcomed our little ones with a choice of which Christmas decoration to decorate. One chose a wooden bell and the other a pine cone. Both were covered in Christmas glitter and sparkly stars. The craft room was well organised with more Christmas volunteers, all dressed in Edwardian servants costumes guiding the activity and making sure everyone had what they needed.
Next up was a 1 mile woodland walk and play area trail. Our 2 year old, normally adverse to walking enjoyed navigating the mole hills, gazing at the cows made from twigs, playing hide and seek through the trees and manmade dens and following the trail between play areas. There are places to eat a packed lunch along the way and great spots for taking family photos. Following our walk, with cold toes and frosty noses, we headed to the stables for a warming coffee and cake. Once again the staff were friendly, welcoming and polite. Prices are reasonable and the cake choices are good, from Christmas cake, bread pudding to Dorset apple or chocolate cake. Hot food was on offer including soup which seemed a popular choice along with crisps, soft drinks, tea, coffee or mulled wine. Although once a stable, it was warm and welcoming with a Christmas tree and plenty of tables and chairs. Having defrosted our toes, we ventured back outside to be met by the sounds of a local choir. The children were mesmerised and the sound was beautiful. Christmas carols being sung as they were intended.
The gardens are well tendered and in different themes also to explore including the lady’s walk and Japanese garden as well as the kitchen garden and community growing spaces. There are animal pens, tractor play areas and a shop on site from which you could buy Christmas gifts, reindeer made from logs, snow globes and lots of other items usually expected in a National Trust shop.
An illuminated Christmas walk around the gardens after dark was available but unfortunately our little ones could not last this long on this trip. With that and the big house still to explore, not to mention the numerous walks around the estate available we all agreed we would definitely be returning soon.
Admission prices range from £14 per adult and £7 per child for entrance to the house, garden and park area to £8 per adult and £4 per child for entrance to the garden and park only. There are also family ticket and group discounts and if you sign up to a National Trust membership, the entry costs are refunded.
All in all, a great day trip, a fantastic introduction to Kingston Lacy and a real Christmassy feel. A Kingston Lacy Christmas is recommended for this time of year and the estate will make a fabulous venue in the coming seasons for exploring all it has to offer. There is a lot of history and it is a well looked after National Trust site but the staff and volunteers are really what set it aside from other venues. Everyone is made to feel welcome from arrival to returning to the car after a fun packed day.
For more information and opening times visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/kingston-lacy.
National Trust Kingston Lacy. Wimborne Minster, Dorset, BH21 4EA | 01202 883402