Remember the International Year of the Child? It was 1979, when most of us parents were still kids ourselves – or had yet to be born! Though it targeted serious global issues such as malnutrition and lack of education, it also inspired the current owners of Newby House & Gardens, near Ripon in Yorkshire, to create their wonderful Adventure Gardens, which are still delighting younger visitors more than three decades later.
We had little idea what to expect, having never heard of this 17th/18th-century house, despite its starring role in a 2007 TV adaptation of Mansfield House starring Billie Piper and a 2008 TV version of Robinson Crusoe with Sam Neill and Sean Bean. Those with older kids studying Jane Austen should take them round the stunning Robert Adam interiors, which include an impressive array of chamberpots.
It was friends with whom we were staying between Leeds and York who suggested a day out at Newby , and it was indeed perfect for out kids of widely divergent ages – theirs were 13 and 11, ours six, four and eight months. It’s not easy to find something to suit everyone in such cases, but Newby’s Adventure Gardens have been considerately designed to include something for kids of all ages: there’s everything from a sandpit for toddlers (of whom there was an abundance on the sunny Saturday we visited) to swingboats, pedalos, a log roll, a timber fort and an aerial slide. Unusually, many of the facilities are adapted for the disabled.
Most fun of all was the famous miniature railway that chugs through the lovely gardens for 15 minutes – our two older boys adored sitting at the front behind the driver, while we sat at the rear with the baby, who found the river and orchard views so relaxing that he nodded off in my arms. Unfortunately, the padding pool of yore had gone, but some compensation was afforded by the presence of small fountains to splash around in.
Look out on the website for special events held here. Our visit corresponded with a display of Zimbabwean sculptures in the house’s Walled Garden, where kids could try their hand at sculpting themselves, with real hammers and chisels and massive chunks of stone. This went down so well with all the children in our party – bar baby Zac, of course – that we had no time left for Newby’s permanent Sculpture Park, featuring contemporary works by new and established artists, or for the Woodland Discovery Walk.
Newby Hall doesn’t make for a cheap day out but there's space set aside for picnicking, so come armed with provisions if you’re on a budget.
Read about more family-friendly things to do and places to stay and eat in Yorkshire.