10 top National Trust special interest tours
Date Posted: 24/06/2011
A rundown of ten great special interest tours from the National Trust designed especially for groups.
From historic houses and picturesque gardens to more unusual venues including watermills and workhouses, there are more than 300 National Trust sites for groups to explore across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The National Trust offers a host of special interest tours for group travel organisers to consider, offering a great way to get close-up and personal with specific aspects of a place’s spirit and history, its former residents, or the quirky and impressive treasures it beholds. Group visitors can step into a servant’s shoes and discover what life was really like below the stairs, or join tours led by expert guides to pick up tips from head gardeners and housekeeping staff.
Here, we provide a guide to ten of the National Trust’s top new special interest tours exclusively for groups.
Cycling across the Fens, Wickens Fen National Nature Reserve, Cambridgeshire: Wicken Fen is one of Europe’s most important wetlands, supporting an abundance of wildlife. Follow a guide on two wheels across Adventurers' Fen and some of the new wetlands, which have been reclaimed from surrounding farmland. It’s a ride of approximately ten miles, taking the group to Anglesey Abbey and back - and the good news is there are no hills. It’s also a great way to find out all about varied fenland wildlife along the way. Encounter rarities such as hen harriers, water voles and bitterns and see grazing herds of Highland cattle and Konik ponies. There is no need to bring bicycles as these are provided. Cost: £60 per group / Group size: 6-10 people / Availability: On request / Duration: 3 hours / Contact: 01353-720274
Treasures uncovered, Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire: Hardwick Hall was built by Bess of Hardwick, countess of Shrewsbury, and has survived almost unchanged. It houses some of the finest 16th and 17th century embroideries and tapestries. Join the house and collections team to discover how they care for the beautiful treasures at Hardwick, many dating from its 16th century heyday. A guide will take the group through doors generally closed to the public to discover rooms and a selection of pieces not normally on display. Tour cost: £750 per group / Group size: Minimum of 25 people / Availability: Tuesday, March to October / Duration: 1 hour, 30 minutes / Contact: 01246-850430
Home from home, Greys Court, Oxfordshire, Nestling amid rolling countryside, this enchanting site dating back to medieval times has a tranquil atmosphere which prevails to this day. This is an opportunity to take a private peak ‘behind the scenes’ around this delightful, mid-20th century family home. Join the house steward in an intimate tour of the house and find out more about the rumpus rooms and jam. Tour cost: £50 per group / Group size: 15-25 people / Availability: April to October, Wednesday to Friday, 11am to 1pm; November to March by appointment only / Duration: 1 hour / Contact: 01491-628529
Carrick Island adventure, Carrick-a-Rede, County Antrim (pictured): All that’s needed is a head for heights, a sense of adventure and a love of natural beauty to enjoy this tour of awe-inspiring Carrick-a-Rede. Starting at the ancient white site of Larrybane, the tour offers a window to this area’s 1,000 years of industrial heritage and the importance of salmon fishing and quarrying to the local community - the dangers and rewards being clear for all to see, even today. Tours will cross the bridge that the salmon fishermen traditionally built over the 30-metre-deep chasm that separates the fishery from the mainland. The reward is an unforgettable insight into the wildlife, geology and history of this incredible place. Tour cost: £6.75 per person / Group size: 15-25 people (large groups can be accommodated) / Availability: Normal opening hours. Out of hours, by arrangement. / Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes / Contact: 028-2076 9839
Gardener’s ‘black gold’, Overbeck’s, Devon: Discover an exotic garden with rare plants and spectacular coastal views. This is a chance to quiz the garden team on their ‘secret’ recipe for making ‘black gold’ compost and how they encourage insects and wildlife into the garden. The enthusiastic garden team is keen to spread the word, so everyone leaves with their own composting pack full of information and top tips. Tour cost: Telephone for details / Group size: 5-25 people / Availability: April to October, first Tuesday of the month, 11am to 3pm. Out of hours available on request / Duration: 1 hour / Contacts: 01548-842893
Gruesome Gibside, Gibside, Tyne & Wear: Among the north’s finest landscape parks, Gibside is an 18th century forest garden, created by one of the richest men in Georgian England, coal baron George Bowes, ancestor of the Queen Mother. It is now a haven for wildlife, including red kites and red squirrels. On this tour, get lost in the grisly side of Gibside's past with an atmospheric - if light-hearted - tour of the true stories and legends concealed among the woodlands. From tales of ghosts, witches and grave robbers, to losing your head, dreadful diseases and horrendous jobs, it promises to be a hideous treat. Tour cost: £2 (minimum charge of £40) / Group size: 5-55 people / Availability: On request / Duration: 1 hour / Contact: 01207-541820
Llanerchaeron, Llanerchaeron, Wales: This is a rare example of a self-sufficient 18th century Welsh minor gentry estate, which survived virtually unaltered, right up to the time it was bequeathed to the National Trust following the death of the last owner in 1989. A great way to kick-off a visit to Llanerchaeron, the tour will unearth the history of the estate and the work carried out by the National Trust since 1989. Tour cost: £2 per person / Group size: 15-45 people / Availability: Throughout the year. Pre-booking is essential. / Duration: 1 hour / Contact: 01545-573024
Isaac Newton at Woolsthorpe Manor, Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire: Woolsthorpe is the birthplace of Sir Isaac Newton, who made many of his most important discoveries about light and gravity here. In his lovely home, find out about Newton’s early years and Annus Mirabilis. Stumble across that famous apple tree, visit the Science Discovery Centre, and watch the film. It's also a chance to see what domestic and farming life was like in the 17th century. Tour cost: £10 per person (£7 for National Trust members) / Group size: 8-49 people / Availability: By arrangement / Duration: 2 hours / Contact: 01476-860338
Avebury's archaeology, Avebury, Wiltshire: Avebury is one of the most important megalithic monuments in Europe and is spread over a vast area. This tour is a captivating and in-depth discussion of Avebury’s extraordinary archaeology, given by an expert. There’s a chance to handle real artefacts from the museum collections and marvel at the fact that they were first handled by man thousands of years ago. Explore the stone circle, or spend a full morning exploring the wider landscape of ancient monuments and chalk downland in this World Heritage Site. Tour cost: Telephone for details / Availability: During normal opening hours. Advance booking only. / Duration: 3 hours / Contact: 01672-539250
Lord Sackville's private garden, Knole, Kent: Set in the heart of the only remaining medieval deer park in Kent, Knole has been shown off to visitors for the past 500 years and was the birthplace and childhood home of Vita Sackville-West. Groups can now take advantage of a new opportunity to book a fascinating, guided tour of Lord Sackville's private garden at Knole. A guide will take the group through the history of the garden - starting with its humble beginnings, right through to the current day - providing an insightful perspective on what made it so special for Lord Sackville. Tour cost: £3 per person / Group size: 15-50 people / Availability: April to September, Tuesday, 11am / Duration: 1 hour 30 minutes / Contact: 01732-462100