Playing lord of the manor just two hours from London with the National Trust

by Holly Tuppen

“You mean, we get to sleep here, in this tower?” my three-year-old shouts, charging about Charlecote Park’s servant quarters wearing nothing but his birthday suit.

“Wowww.” He sneaks up behind me with raised eyebrows: “Spooooooooky.”

In the exciting whirlwind of driving into Charlecote Park and being given the keys to The Turret, our home for the weekend, I hadn’t contemplated that spending the night in an 800-year-old manor house adorned with the Lucy family’s antique treasures and stories was perhaps a little eerie. But then again, all classic adventure tales have a healthy dose of the spooks, and spending a weekend living inside a National Trust property, is, without doubt, a classic English adventure.

Rather than feeling spooked, we slipped into manor living alarmingly easily. The Turret is Charlecote Park’s only guest accommodation, just two hours from London and six miles from Warwick. Up in the servant quarters, with enough nooks and crannies to keep little imaginations happy for weeks, the apartment has a kitchen, snug living room, three bedrooms and (my favourite bit) a roll-top bath with parkland views. Racing up The Turret’s spiral staircase was a highlight for the boys, as was popping in to say hi to Roy—the National Trust volunteer showing day-visitors around the room below us. Between the house, local pubs, parkland and gardens there was never a need to get back in the car, and the weekend passed by in a bucolic haze.

The best moments happened before 10am and after 5pm each day, when we had Charlecote Park’s acres all to ourselves. No crowds, no other people’s kids, no queues, no coach parties and no noise—just us four, a summer breeze and nature in all its unspoilt glory. We saw kingfishers, bats, dragonflies and swifts. We watched the cows wallow in muddy water and deer graze closer and closer to the house, and heard owls calling at night and bees buzzing in the lavender. In the evenings we drank wine on the lawns and for breakfast, we picnicked under ancient oaks.

After just one weekend, Charlecote Park felt like home. The kids were dusty with grazed knees. We felt tired but refreshed. We’d all embraced a slower pace, ditched screens for nature and got wrapped up in our own little adventure story. The National Trust not only protects the UK’s most special places, it shares them with us. With a newly launched holiday website, it’s easier than ever to find a National Trust place to stay—from bunkhouses to castles, bothies to lighthouses, there really is something to suit everyone in pursuit of a total change of scene.

Here are a few of our favourite picks within two hours of London:

Priest’s House, Sissinghurst Castle

Sitting on the grounds of Kent’s Sissinghurst Castle, which in the last 300 years has been both a prison and a home to the women’s land army, the Priest’s House is a beautifully restored cottage with heaps of original charm. The cosy sitting room has wooden beams, an inglenook fireplace and original leaded windows, while the three bedrooms each have pretty views over the White Garden. Over 450 acres of deserted parkland are yours for the taking before and after visiting hours.

Ferry Cottage, Cliveden Estate

With views over the River Thames, the Ferry Cottage is a two-bedroom bolthole nestled in the Berkshire countryside. From the small but perfectly formed half-timbered house, just a quick stroll up the hill leads to the imposing Cliveden Estate. As a guest of the cottage, you can access the vast grounds and gardens of Cliveden whenever you like. Kids will love the maze, water garden, woods and intriguing sculpture installations. Adults might be tempted by the fine dining on offer in the ‘UK’s favourite holiday hotel’ (according to Condé Nast) in the main house.

Henman Bunkhouse, Leith Hill

Just 30 miles from the city, Leith Hill is the highest point in the South East of England, with dramatic views all the way to the coast and over London. Sleeping up to 16 people, Henman Bunkhouse is the perfect spot for a whole heap of kids and adults to pile in for a weekend of walking, BBQs and evenings around the log fire. Although the bunkhouse has everything you need for a fun-filled weekend in the countryside, it is on the basic side and you need to take your own linen.

Bog Cottage, Upton House

Far prettier than its name suggests, Bog Cottage is an 18th-century banqueting house that has been converted into a spacious two-bedroom guesthouse. While access to Upton Gardens is only during opening hours, the cottage has its own very pretty elevated gardens so views can be enjoyed around the clock. This October half-term, kids can head into the woods for Upton House’s Nocturnal Nature Trail, and enjoy craft sessions during the day.

For places to stay all over the UK, visit nationaltrust.org.uk/holidays.