Oh Deer

I’ve written before about how much we love the National Trust’s Knole Park, so when a friend and her boys invited us to join her for a picnic a couple of weeks ago we obviously accepted.

One of the things Knole is known for is the large number of deer that roam the grounds and whenever we visit it can almost be guaranteed that we’ll come across plenty of them wandering and grazing. For the most part they are used to the presence of humans and are largely aloof as they pass by.

But last week, as we sat in the shade of a tree enjoying our picnic, a mixed group appeared over the hill towards us, looking every bit as though Father Christmas might follow on his sleigh at any moment. Rather than skirting around us and continuing on their way, they were quite interested in who we were and what we were doing. I just couldn’t resist sharing some of the shots that I captured.

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They really are magnificent creatures, especially the more mature bucks with their stunning antlers. The majority of the Knole deer are Fallow deer, but they exist in a number of different colourways, some almost white and others with a really beautiful coat of spots.

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Thomas has always been fascinated by the deer, especially at a distance, and for the last couple of years has liked to mimic them, trotting around with his hands by his head in lieu of antlers. Interestingly it’s the exact same thing that my brother and I used to do on our own childhood visits to Knole. Because these deer came a lot closer and seemed to be paying us specific attention, he was a little more unsure. It may have been the idea that they might try to steal his food (they didn’t) or simply that up so close they seemed much bigger and more intimidating, but it was a good opportunity to teach him that as long as you are quiet and calm and respect these wild animals, they will respect you back.

And of course, once the deer had moved on, there were plenty of fallen tree trunks to explore, sticks to find and swish and, unfortunately, Thomas’s first encounter with a stinging nettle sting. A day of learning all round then!

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A Walk in Knole Park

I’ve written before about how much I love our National Trust membership, but now that I’m able to drive again, I’m loving it even more. With driving comes the freedom to nip to any one of the glorious spaces close to our home here in Kent. I no longer have to wait for the weekend, or someone else to give me lift to some of the more inaccessible sites. If the mood takes us, we can simply hop in the car and go.

So last week, we did just that. I needed to be in Sevenoaks in the afternoon anyway and it was a beautifully bright, if cold, day. So we decided to pop in Knole park for run around in the mud and a chance to spot some deer. (And, if I’m honest, to get Thomas to burn off some energy after some nightmare behaviour the previous day from too much pent up steam!) Thomas has been to Knole countless times since he was born, just as I went countless times as a child before him. It’s an amazing open space and something about the air and the light means I never fail to catch at least one photo that I love.

Thomas had a fantastic couple of hours racing up hills and through puddles, peering through cracks in the wall and the keyhole in a gate he spied. Armed with paper and crayon, I attempted to teach the idea of bark and leaf rubbing, with some fun results. We ate our lunch outdoors (as the tearoom and restaurant here is currently undergoing drastic rebuilding and refurbishment). Thomas climbed inside an old tree stump, and balanced his way along logs, tightrope style. When it was time to leave he begged to stay “just a bit longer” racing away from amongst the trees and inviting me to chase him. We took away a considerable amount of mud, both on our boots and on our car but Thomas was suitably worn out and promptly fell asleep during my afternoon errands!

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Running at Knole Running at Knole2

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Tree stump

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A Trip to Bodiam Castle

I’ve been a member of the National Trust for all my life, initially as part of my parents’ Family Membership, later as a Young Person in my own right and then as an Individual Adult member. When Ian and I moved in together, I added him to my membership and when Thomas is old enough to no longer be free, we’ll get our very own Family Membership. I have lots of fond memories of time spent in National Trust gardens and properties as a child, and it’s lovely to be able to start recreating those times with my own child, especially when we have so many wonderful places literally on our doorstep here in Kent. It’s a membership I’m happy to keep up no matter how much or how little we use it each year, as preserving the rich heritage of our country is something I believe passionately in. That said, we’ve already had a lot of value from this year’s membership, with trips to more than half a dozen places, and a saving of £7.50 on the cost of parking at the beautiful National Trust owned Mill Bay beach in Devon. It’s lovely to know that there are lots of fabulous days out within easy reach and with nothing further to pay for them once our annual direct debit payment has gone.

The weekends since we got back from our holiday in Devon (which I still haven’t written about, owing largely to my computer failure) have been chock full with garden renovations, visiting family and having family visit here and we hadn’t had a “family day out” for the three of us since we got back. So this weekend, with the weather looking good, we decided to make use of our membership and visit nearby Bodiam Castle.

Castle silhouette

Described on the National Trust Website as:

Archetypal 14th century moated castle with ruined interior – a glimpse of medieval splendour

Bodiam truly does look like the kind of castle your seven-year-old self would draw, with turrets, battlements and slit windows from which you can imagine arrows being fired at the enemy. You’re met at the entrance by “murder holes” through which boiling oil could be poured on to any intruders below. Sadly the original bridge and drawbridge are long gone, but there is a working trebuchet which is fired in to the moat daily.

Bodiam Castle Battlements and Turrets

 

Thomas had a huge amount of fun exploring all the nooks and crannies, windows, fireplaces and toilets within the castle walls, and unlike at a lot of National Trust stately homes, there is nothing which can be easily broken or damaged by curious little explorers (and not-so-little explorers too, as you’ll see in the bottom right photo, below), so it’s an ideal place to visit with inquisitive toddlers.

Little boy exploring castle ruins

Of course, the trains came too!

We took a picnic to enjoy in the vast grounds, where there are plenty of trees for shade. Picnics seem to be a real hit with Thomas this summer, and he invariably eats a lot more, and is more likely to try new things, if we are all sitting on a rug in the great outdoors rather than sitting around a table at home. He also enjoyed chasing the ducks around and pushing his own pushchair!

Bodiam Castle Picnic

Perhaps the biggest highlight of all for Thomas, however, was the proximity to the Kent and East Sussex Railway which has a station in Bodiam. For our train obsessed toddler, the frequent toots and chuffs of the trains across the countryside were mesmerising. It looks like one of our next family days out will have to be a trip along that line!

Kent and East Sussex Railway steam train in countryside