At Dunham Massey, on the borders of Cheshire and Greater Manchester, there is a stately home with a moat and a deer-park. Entry to the park is free if you’re on foot, and £5 if you’re in a car and you don’t have a National Trust card.
The estate has been owned and run by the Trust since 1976, so there are toilets, the usual over-priced cafe and picnic areas around the park. The long paths in the parkland are great for small children with scooters or small bikes (but hang onto them as you pass by the moat!)
The house and walled garden are expensive to visit without a National Trust card. To my untrained eye, the inside of Dunham Massey Hall is very much like the inside of many other stately homes so I wouldn’t recommend a visit unless you’re getting in free.
The walled garden is special though… like a secret garden in a book… but I still think the charge for a one-off visit is steep. The garden doesn’t have a formal lay-out; there are winding paths through half-wild woodland and lovely views across the moat. On Easter Sunday for the past few years there’s been an Easter Egg hunt for the kids.
The name Dunham Massey comes from the De Masci family, who took over the area from the Saxon thegn (thane) Aelfward, after the Norman Conquest of 1066. Baron De Masci controlled the manors of Baguley, Bowdon, Hale, Partington and Timperley but Dunham was his base. He built three castles in the area: Dunham Castle and Watch Hill Castle on the borders of Dunham and Bowdon, and Ullerwood Castle near Hale.
Dunham Castle was demolished by the Booth family who inherited the land in 1409 when the Massey line died out. (The last of the Masseys, Alice, married Robert de Tatton, and their descendents lived in Wythenshawe Hall, which still stands in Wythenshawe Park, from 1540-1926.) The Booths built Dunham Massey Hall in 1616, although it has been altered several times since then.
The National Trust is very middle class and earnest… but its estates are child friendly, traffic free and often very beautiful. There’s more information at www.nationaltrust.org.uk.