Once on a time there was a little girl who spent quite a lot of time on the M5. With Dad teaching in north Northamptonshire and home being in south Devon, at the beginning and end of every term we would all load up the car and make the long trek up the motorway. It’s only now as a parent of two tiny daughters myself, and particularly of a tiny daughter who now requires bathroom breaks, that I can understand and appreciate just why almost every trip would include a visit to a National Trust property for a run around and a lunch break; at the time I just accepted it as a normal part of the motorway.
And of course now history is repeating itself. Upton House, and their gorgeously surprising gardens are just down the road, and our local favourite for an afternoon out, and when we’re in Devon we make any excuse we can to head over to Coleton Fishacre to meander up and down the valley, drinking in the beautiful scenery, and plot how we’re going to redo our house to include a booklined library with comfy armchairs, a fire, and flame coloured velvet cushions (OK that last one might just be me).
But as far as our motorway journeys go, I think our old familiar Trust properties might just have a new rival. But one I don’t think they’d mind too much. Because as it turns out, Yeo Valley, purveyors of delumptious yoghurt, the milk in my morning scrambly eggs and the butter on my toast, have a garden. Just off junction 21. And on Tuesday, Kitty, Elma and I headed down to that very beautiful corner of Somerset to take part in a National Trust blogger day out.
It’s a truly magical place, a garden so full of sunshine and tranquillity that stress and angst just roll away as you breathe it all in. The fact that I know this because we’d had an utterly horrific journey involving motorway closures, unintentionally overenthusiastic re-routing, and some good old fashioned getting lost, shall not be dwelt upon; let’s just say I wasn’t the only person who felt they could quite happily move there, where the Mendips come rolling down to the shores of Blagdon water.
The Yeo Valley team had laid on a wonderful day for us all. The National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4 is (a) genius and (b) a far cry from the junior branch of the Trust during my childhood when Trustee the Hedgehog was as exciting as it got. I’ve been sitting on my hands a little bit as far as Kitty is concerned because as much as I want her (and Elma) to experience all 50, I want her to do them properly and not mostly Mummy-assisted. But she’s three now, and that rolling down the hill when we were at Upton recently definitely counts, so I think we can start. And that’s where Yeo Valley came in; they’d set out a whole ream of activities to try to get us well on our way to 50, from bug hunting and mini den building to catching leaves and blowing grass.
And so we set off, Kitty in the lead proudly clutching map and tiny mouse shaped compass.
Her priority was to discover “a poonkin” in the woodland; magically appearing under foliage that does not usually produce pumpkins, especially ones already hollowed out in anticipation of a crafty afternoon, and she was just so proud of herself, and so very very attached to the pumpkin she discovered.
We all tried to catch falling leaves, and while Elma was very successful when one landed on her head in the sling, Kitty needs to work on opening her eyes before we’re going to nail that one.
And I’m afraid to say that I’ve lost any ability I ever possessed to blow a blade of grass; I’m sure I remember doing it at school, but that particular bit of muscle memory has been nibbled away by the intervening years, and all I could produce was a sort of rustly “pffft”. All I can do is promise to try again later and reclaim some sort of credibility on the basis that we did some pretty good owl calls instead. And I’m sure that would be number 51 on the list wouldn’t it?
In fact perhaps our endeavours could best be described as the ones that didn’t make the cut, because while we didn’t find any mini beasts, we did encounter two feet of grass snake sunning itself on the steps. I thought it was a prop, or possibly a sculpture, until it moved.
For lunch we headed back to the tearoom for the most delicious food; fresh bread, swiss chard, ricotta and lemon cannelloni with a squash salad for the grown ups and a gorgeous tomato pasta bake for the children followed by yoghurt all round; I couldn’t believe how much tomato pasta Elma put away, she loved it and plastered herself (and me) with spoonful after spoonful.
It was a great chance to chat to some of the other families, and try to work out who everyone was. It’s quite a surreal feeling sat having lunch with someone who looks vaguely familiar, and whose children definitely look familiar, and then trying to track that back to how you know them (and finding the answer to be Instagram – Hi Luschka); one of those ‘only in blogging’ moments.
We started the afternoon with a little crafting, decorating the pumpkins with all the googly eyes, false moustaches and button noses you could ever want and then in Kitty’s case, going to town with the glitter, adding some serious bling to Mr Pumpkin, her nature picture, and the straw bale she was standing on.
But then came the moment she’d been waiting for; if the last week’s worth of “waiting” can be allowed to include asking if we were going to see the cows every time we got in the car, and telling everyone she met that she was going to see the cows. Finally, Kitty met the cows.
10 day old baby calves, so cute and snuffly, and just a bit taller than she is. She was fascinated by them; but not so much that she wanted to touch them, or leave my side.
We headed home with tummies full of cake and milkshake, happy and tired from a wonderful day out.
We may still have almost all of our 50 things to do, but we have a map, a compass, and we’re on our way.
And if you fancy joining in, you can get a scrapbook at any of the National Trust properties and go for it. Plus if you’re not already a National Trust member and you do like yoghurt, Yeo Valley are giving away 250 family passes each day on their website if you fill in the code on your lucky pot lid. They’re also giving away 10 holidays in a National Trust cottage which would give you even more of a chance to check off some of the 50, although hopefully the scary bugs and beasties would be of the outside variety.
Disclosure: the girls and I spent our wonderful day out in Somerset at the invitation of Yeo Valley and The National Trust where we had an awesome time, and were sent home with fabulous memories and a bag full of Yeo Valley goodies, including a pot with my name on it! Proof in the pudding (literally) that I was right when I said I was powerless in the face of personalisation.