By Clare Lush-Mansell

Clare Lush Mansell of My Tunbridge WellsI have been on a mission to explore our National Trust properties around Tunbridge Wells so we packed up our picnic and headed off to Sissinghurst Castle Garden one sunny Saturday morning to see what it was like.

Located just a short drive from Cranbrook, a friend mentioned that there’s a museum in the town too, which would be worth a visit. Always keen to visit somewhere we haven’t been before, we set off on our mini adventure and here’s how we got on…

On arriving at Sissinghurst Castle, we saw several signs saying that picnicking isn’t allowed within the gardens, but that there is picnic area behind the cafe close to the entrance. It was getting close to lunchtime anyway and the boys are pretty much always ready to eat, so we followed the signs to a beautiful paddock with picnic benches and plenty of space for the kids to run around while we set up.

Sissinghurst Castle Gardens Picnic Tables - Clare Lush Mansel
Sissinghurst Castle Gardens - Clare Lush-Mansell

We got there just in the nick of time as the benches started filling up, but there was still plenty of space for families to lay a picnic blanket down. My five your old wasn’t keen on the fruit flies which were swarming around his head, but this wasn’t the only place where they seemed to be following him. The same thing happened at Bewl Water the next day as well as at Penshurst Place…

I hadn’t done much research on Sissinghurst Castle so wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The estate is set over 460 acres of beautiful Kent countryside and the Gardens are absolutely stunning with beautiful lawns surrounded by flowers and shrubs galore. There are lots of nooks and crannies throughout, and many places for the boys to discover.

It was almost like a maze of mini gardens all merged into one. I have to admit that it was tricky to keep track of them in places. Strapping my youngest boy into the buggy wasn’t an option (and would probably have been a bit mean) as buggies aren’t allowed in the gardens and I now know I need to refresh my tactics for making them listen to me when I ask them to ‘wait’!

However I managed to just about keep track of them and we headed up to the Tower so that we could look out over the property. The narrow stairs to the top are very steep and we were advised to carry the children up.

Sissinghurst Castle - Clare Lush-Mansell
Sissinghurst Castle Tower with Dad - Clare Lush-Mansell

There are a couple of rooms on the way up worth exploring – my son enjoyed having a go on the typewriter which was used by the last owner, Vita Sackville-West (before being taken over by National Trust) to type up her poems, and there were lots of questions about the printing machine in another room which he had never seen before.

The views over the grounds and surrounding area are amazing and it reminded me of how lucky we are to live in such a lovely part of the world…

Sissinghurst Castle is all about the outdoors and the beauty of the gardens. There was an explorer kit available for kids, but we decided to go with the flow and let the boys guide us around the gardens.  There isn’t a play area for children but there is plenty of room for them to have fun and frolics, especially towards the back of the gardens. I would highly recommend it for people to visit if they have National Trust Membership, though if you are planning to pay standalone entry fees, it might be better suited for just the grown-ups.

It was a short drive to Cranbrook where we parked up next to the church. The museum is across the road from the free carpark, nestled down a little lane in a tranquil setting. Entry is completely free, though donations are welcome and there’s a quiz which children can take part in while walking around the museum – something which we only found out afterwards. Doh!

Cranbrook Museum - Clare Lush-Mansell
Cranbrook Museum School Desks - Clare Lush-Mansell

The building itself dates back to the 15th century and the museum is a lot bigger than I thought it would be. Each room has a different theme, encapsulating the history of Cranbrook and the Weald of Kent. Spanning across three floors,  there were so many questions from my 5 year old throughout!  We are in the progress of reading the Harry Potter books so my eldest son was fascinated with the selection of owls on display in the ‘British Birds’ room.

We had fun in the school house section where I got to ring my bell, sit at the teacher’s desk and order the boys to sit down at their table. They were quite obedient and I enjoyed showing them the ‘old school’ desks with lids which were commonly used so long ago. There were also several canes on the teacher’s desk and my son couldn’t quite believe that children who misbehaved used to get there hands slapped (or worse) by their teachers. Luckily things have evolved today!

The upper level of the building focuses on vintage toys as well as costumes and military memorabilia. The museum gives the perfect portrayal of what life was like locally from tools which the local trades and services used to family life and more. There isn’t a lift (because it is such an old building) to the upper floors, so wheelchair and buggy access is only available on the ground floor. Check out this short video to see more. It is also worth noting that the museum is open from  2pm to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday from  April to October, as well as Summer Bank Holidays.

The ladies who were working there that day were very friendly and encouraged us to walk around the peaceful and pretty grounds and to pick a couple of strawberries from the allotment where they are growing some fruit and vegetables.

Cranbrook Museum Garden - Clare Lush-Mansell
Cranbrook Oast Houses - Clare Lush-Mansell

This was a bit of a breakthrough moment for us as my two year old actually ate a strawberry – the first piece of fruit (with the exception of bananas) to pass his lips for a long time! It was difficult to stop him eating many more and seeing the strawberries growing in their natural habitat (and not just in a box on the shelf in Tesco’s) must have made a good impact as he has been partial to them ever since.

Cranbrook is a picturesque little town and we had a wander up the high street and browse in some of the little gift shops along the way.  All in all, this was a fantastic budget friendly family day out, exploring places we hadn’t been before. Ideal for a laid back sunny Saturday!

Written by Clare Lush Mansell of My Tunbridge Wells, who lives in the borough of Tunbridge Wells with her family.