Greys Court National Trust property – a Tudor mansion and estate in the Chilterns has been a favourite of mine for some time. It’s not particularly grand or showy – rather it is one of the National Trust’s more modest properties. The wider estate has lovely walking and fantastic bluebell displays in late spring and the formal gardens in the main grounds are beautiful – full of intriguing doors linking them to each other like something out of ‘The Secret Garden’. Greys Court also has the most fabulous and inspiring kitchen garden. A bit of an amateur gardener myself I can spend ages here and have stolen many an idea for improving my own efforts at home – from the espalier apple trees used to fence in the garden to the alternately coloured lettuces or pretty chives in flower used to frame a vegetable bed. Sadly my efforts are never quite so good…
It has been a while since I visited Greys Court but in search of new ideas for the coming growing season and eager to see their magnificent wisteria in full bloom, I have visited twice in the last month alone, both times with Roo in tow. In my eagerness to inspect the latest decorative fruit and veg ideas I had forgotten that Greys Court is also a fantastic place for children and it has improved vastly since our last visits.
The gardens themselves are glorious – complete with fountain and plenty of nooks and crannies for kiddies to explore. There is also a maze – think simple paved not the hedge variety but fun nonetheless. The gardens are also small enough that you can let your children run ahead without too much fear of losing them or them escaping making for a relaxing visit for adults too!
In addition to the general grounds there is also now a brand new play area. This is no metal and plastic construction of contrived fun but rather a creative den forged out of the shrubs and trees aimed at engaging children with their natural surroundings, to get down and dirty and spark imaginations. Over a wooden bridge, hidden among the trees, Greys Court have created a fortress complete with the center-piece – a wooden castle tree-house complete with slide exit. Adding to the fun there are wooden swords and shields scattered about to play with, giant blackboard shields to mastermind your attack on and a prison/gatekeepers house/ whatever you want it to be shelter . There is also a sandpit complete with castle shaped buckets (of course) so that those too little to get involved in the castle raids have entertainment too and numerous child-sized paths through the bushes provide concealed access for castle assaults or foraging parties.
Several things are particularly refreshing about the new play area at Greys Court. Firstly, I love that there is a feeling of trust. Trust that the visitors won’t whip off with the toys that have been left loose and unattended to be played with. Trust in the parents to supervise their kids adequately and keep them from harm and trust in the kids themselves – that they can take risks responsibly and play with things that have the potential to cause a bruise or two without the need for a health and safety officer to be lurking in a corner getting them to undertake a training course and sign a disclaimer before they do so. Secondly, the whole concept of the play area is of role play and creativity and in using the natural environment to entertain and foster imagination. This is the kind of play I remember as a child – something my mum referred to as ‘grubbing around’ and I’m glad it is being reintroduced.
Roo had the most wonderful time in the castle and explore and climbed on everything. It was nice that after explaining to her why she ought not to pick the flowers in the main garden or trample on the flowerbeds, we could let her loose to run completely wild and poke and prod everything in her own space. We had trouble extracting her and it was only with the promise of visiting the donkey wheel that she could be budged. Not only is the donkey wheel fascinating to my two year old because part of her hopes the donkey itself might one day be in it (its Tudor history and uniqueness is lost on her) but the same complex also houses a well so deep you can’t see the bottom. Roo loves hanging over the top of it making echos – its appeal no doubt enhanced I suspect because of the fear it evokes in me watching her dangling over the top, despite the sturdy looking grill that covers the well!
Overall, I don’t think I will have a hard time persuading her to come with me to Greys Court again when I next need some garden inspiration – I suspect rather it will be her trying to persuade me!
You can find more information on visiting times and location for Greys Court on the National Trust website.