I had a bit of an eye opener recently when I visited a National Trust property, not Wightwick Manor, with my sister and her boys. I’d been before several times with my son and also with other friends with children. This time though whilst they were fine outside in the grounds, the children were a nightmare in the house. I now look at attractions with a more critical eye in respect of their child visitor friendliness.
About: Wightwick Manor is a National Trust property on the edge of Wolverhampton. It’s a great example of Arts & Crafts design and if you like William Morris fabrics and William de Morgan tiles, then this is a great place to see lots of their work. It’s also got quite a lot of Pre-Raphaelite works of art – the West Midlands is a bit of a hot spot for Pre-Raphaelites with a great collection at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery too.
Quite a lot of work has been done to improve the car parking and access to the property and it’s also open a lot more than previously. It’s open every day in July and August and 5 days a week most of the rest of the time. It’s easy to find as the signage is good.
What was good about the visit? Wightwick Manor is a stunning house and one that stick in your memory long after you’ve visited. The grounds aren’t enormous, after all this is a city property, but there is plenty to interest the younger visitor.
On this visit we saw ducklings on the pond and last time we went we saw loads of baby frogs. Kitchen gardens always provide plenty to talk about and this was a nice one with a great scarecrow. A fab bridge over the road that runs at the side of the property was another hit. There is a long line of rocks that arrived in the grounds through the action of glaciation and there are labels telling you where the rocks started out. In the formal rose garden there are some great topiary shapes which are always a big hit with my son. His favourite feature is a hedge that he can run through. It’s a line of 2 yew hedges planted close together and it’s easy for a 4 year old to run through the middle. Last time we went with a 6 year old and she had no problem too. There’s loads of room for eating a packed lunch outside with picnic tables, benches and grassed areas.
Inside the house there is a day nursery with a range of historic toys: bagatelle, spinning tops, Noah’s arks, etc. and children (and adults) are welcome to play. The night nursery and the kitchen areas also proved to be big talking points with my son.
What could be improved?
It’s unfortunate that access to the house was partly by guided tour. We opted to go on a slightly later tour as it was shorter, but it still lasted about half an hour. The tour takes you through the first 3 or 4 rooms of the house and thereafter you can wander along at your own pace. In our case this was a gallop through the bedrooms, a long stay in the day nursery and a moderate pace through the kitchen areas. My son just about lasted the half hour, but any more would have been problematic. There was a slightly older boy (6?) there with his grandparents and he was also well behaved. My sister’s children would not have put up with the guided tour (they are 4 and 6 and quite physical boys). If your children are used to visiting stately homes and historic houses, they will manage the tour, but if not I’d stay in the gardens.
The cafe was a little disappointing. There’s a limited range of food available: cold platters, sandwiches, cakes, crisps, biscuits, hot and cold drinks. Ice creams are available in the William Morris shop. Also, there isn’t a huge amount of seating. The menu isn’t really specifically geared towards children. If your children aren’t the fussy sort though, they can fill up on sarnies, etc. The National Trust aims to use food from the kitchen garden, but I had a salad platter which came with iceberg lettuce which I hadn’t seen there. There are plans afoot to have a proper restaurant on the site in future years, but for now I’d bring a picnic and maybe have a cake or an ice cream as a treat.
Overall Rating(from children’s perspective): Garden 7/10 House 5/10 (the house would rate much higher from an adult visitor’s perspective.
A playground would be a great addition. We’ll go again though, probably on a children’s activity day.