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Monday, January 9, 2012

Making the most of our Heritage

I’m currently planning next year’s holiday and I like to include something educational into our trips, often around history or geography. For history I’ve found membership of English Heritage and National Trust invaluable, often choosing the holiday location based around what these historical sites have to offer. For instance on our last family trip to Wales, of the sites we visited, these were either National Trust (NT) or CADW covered by English Heritage (EH) membership after first year:

  • Harlech Castle (CADW)
  • Conwy Castle (CADW)
  • Caernarfon Castle (CADW)
  • Beaumaris Castle (CADW)
  • Bodnant Garden (NT)
  • Penrhyn Castle (NT)
  • Plas Newydd Country House and Gardens (NT)

What I really like is the ability to spend as long as you wish at a site.  Sometimes we might stay a couple of hours, sometimes a day, or sometimes it fits better to spend two half days. A single entrance fee is generally expensive enough, but having to pay twice to visit on separate half days would be prohibitive. Membership allows you the freedom to come and go as you please.

Educationally the sites are excellent and fit well into the National Curriculum for History, as we often find our daughter has/is covering the topic at school. With EH my children have learnt about English and Welsh Castles through the ages. Dover and Pendennis castles are particularly good. Museums, showcases and re-enactments have meant my children have learnt about life during WWII, military espionage, medieval combat, and life in the era of Queen Victoria amongst many things.

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In particular I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Audley End House, especially the service wing, which is a great place for photography too.

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Audley End House Service Wing

Whilst membership does offer a great saving over the cost of paying admission for each site, it still doesn’t make the yearly cost of membership affordable. In fact if we had to pay the normal yearly membership cost then we probably wouldn’t be members, but there are ways to still benefit. For instance EH partner with Tesco points. For us that brings the cost of membership down from £80 to £30 a year. Whilst that might seem like a hit for EH, they recoup far more from what we spend in their restaurants.  If on holiday this might be our lunch out, or if taking picnic we will often treat ourselves to drink and cake in the afternoon. Typically this can add up to £20 - £30 a time, so allowing for costs after three visits EH have recouped their money and are then making additional profit.

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Ickworth House
Last January we decided to take out NT membership. They don’t have a partnership with Tesco points, but they were offering membership for £66 direct debit rather than the normal £88. Given we have many more NT properties than EH nearby, I felt happier to spend £66. Outside of this last year’s holiday, we have made a number of day trips to NT properties over the last year, Melford Hall, Ickworth House (several times), Anglesey Abbey, Oxburgh Hall, Sutton Hoo, and Hatfield Forest. Many of these now allow non-flash photography, and at Edith Pretty's House in Sutton Hoo nothing is roped off.

Unfortunately, our NT membership ran out in December. It turned out the £66 was a special offer for the first year only and the cost was now to be £88. This lay very uncomfortably with me, as it is a hard sell tactic and not something I would expect from a charity. When NT refused to renew at £66 and were quite terse on the phone, I therefore cancelled our family membership. I feel this is very short sighted as they have not only lost the £66 membership fee, but the approximately £300 a year from the sale of food.

Update Feb 2012: I was able to renew our NT membership at £66 as we were essentially new members. It's just a shame I will need to do this each year, and existing members are less valued.

In summary I would thoroughly recommend EH if you have Tesco points. If you don’t then I still recommend EH and NT attractions, but you need to make your own decision as to whether you can afford the membership.

You can see more of my photos taken at stately homes, country houses and parks here.

Some of the useful EH and NT Twitter accounts I follow:
@east_england_nt
@OxburghHallNT
@AngleseyAbbeyNT
@NT_SuttonHoo
@DunwichHeathNT
@WickenFenNT
@NTWales
@BlicklingHallNT
@NTMagazine
@nationaltrust
@EnglishHeritage
@EHAudleyEnd

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