Coleton Fishacre is a hidden gem. It’s been one of my family’s top ten favourite day’s out for years and it’s just got a whole lot better. The gardens are stunning, the house is gorgeous and the walks are breath-taking, but what it didn’t have until recently was the wow factor for children. All that has now changed.
We were told as we went in that a new den building area was opened so we followed the map along a top path that we’d never been on before and found a clearing with the best den building materials that we’d ever seen. It was the perfect example of getting the balance right between wildness and accessibility. Nothing had been made too easy for the children to not relish the challenge, but nothing was so hard that they didn’t know where to start. The ground had been partially cleared and some sticks and pine needles had been left around strategically. My children range from 3 to 8 and, with just a little adult help, they were all able to have a fantastic time constructing a giant den complete with seating area, carpets of pine needles and even a pine-cone chimney stack. As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, just past the den building area is a fantastic outdoor play area. It’s built high up on the hills with remarkable views along the Devon coastline. Again, the area is built with ample chances for children to allow their imaginations full reign.
When we eventually came down the hill to the gardens and house we spent a long time looking for tadpoles in a small pond before heading inside. The house is built in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement and roars with twenties charm and sophistication. In common with a lot of National Trust Properties, the volunteers try to encourage the children to enjoy their visit but also stress on them the importance of not touching some of the valuable antiques. What this can result in for parents, is a slightly nervous wander round the property. Although that was true in some rooms we could also breathe a huge sigh of relief when our children made it to the ‘hands on’ room. Here is a haven of relaxation for parents as their children can try on outfits and handle objects to their heart’s content.
The gardens at Coleton Fishacre are just beautiful. There are fantastic Myrtles and Camellias as well as Irises and Alliums. The gardens here follow the journey of a stream down a valley. The stream collects in small pools and falls over rocks. On some parts of its journey the water is tamed into formal streams, at other times it is left to run free – a kind of metaphor for the whole day out. For my family, Coleton Fishacre has gone from being in our top ten of good days out in South Devon to being in the top three.