We are lucky enough to have some truly beautiful National Trust properties on our doorstep. Our eldest son was thrilled when I added him to my membership and during the recent heatwave, we have been taking advantage of it.
One of our favourite local properties is Quarry Bank estate in Styal. It is currently undergoing a refurbishment including a new visitors’ centre and the installation of a lift in the mill house.
I often jokingly describe our children as ‘feral’, but there is an element of truth to it. They are happiest roaming free outside, with lots of space to run and play. The gardens and outdoor space at Quarry Bank are perfect for this, and on sunny days we often skip the house entirely, in favour of exploring.
Here are some of our favourite things about Quarry Bank in summer:
The upper garden
Easily accessed from the newly-opened visitors’ centre, the upper garden is a young explorer’s paradise. A mix of cultivated and wild patches, there is plenty to see, do, and learn. During school holidays, the estate team often organises activities in the garden – on a recent trip we played giant Jenga, ‘rode’ a horse-drawn carriage, and learned about explorers. The plentiful trees are great for a game of hide and seek, and the small cafe has indoor and outdoor seating.
The trim trail
I love this expression, which I heard for the first time a few months ago from a friend who grew up in the area. Officially the ‘natural play area’, this small patch has been dubbed the ‘trim trail’ by my children and is full of logs and sticks in various forms. Hide in the dens, leapfrog over wooden stepping ‘stones’, and perch on the lofty ‘throne’. Lots of climbing opportunities for older / adventurous opportunities. It does get very muddy – watch out for the nettles!
The lower garden
My favourite part of the estate, the lower garden includes a couple of beautiful meadows that are full of wildflowers and bees during the summer. There is a lovely walk down from the upper to lower gardens, which can be slippy in the rain. Tree roots jut out from the rocky hillside, looking like prehistoric plants. The river rushes through the lower garden, and two bridges offer opportunities for pooh sticks.
The mill yard
On sunny days, we enjoy wandering from the lower garden to the mill yard, stopping for an ice cream en route. With young children, be careful of the golf buggies ferrying visitors up and down the hill. The old mill machinery outside the cafe is a great place to sit for a picnic, and the toilets are kept in excellent condition and to the delight of my kids, even offer child-sized facilities.
The play area
Quarry Bank really works hard to appeal to its younger visitors. The outside play area near the mill yard is simple but great fun for children, containing a picnic area, metal tube slide, tyre swing, and variety of climbing equipment. Again, it can get muddy and is more rustic than many playparks, but we think that adds to its charm. The dams around the play area are also very popular with my children!
Parking? Free on-site for NT members.
Refreshments? Cafe in upper garden serving light refreshments and drinks. Main cafe in mill yard serving hot and cold food. Ice cream kiosks in upper garden and next to mill entrance.
Loos? Small toilets in upper garden next to shop. Full facilities in mill yard.