Weather: It was passive-aggressively moist - not raining as such, just air that was more liquid than gas. I didn't have a raincoat. None of us had wellies. Bloody autumn.
Logistics: Cliveden is really only accessible by car (or boat or helicopter if you're super fancy) - but you do get to drive down some excellent windy country roads, through beautiful beech woods to get there. Once again your sat nav will try to deceive you (I am beginning to wonder if Google Maps has some sort of vendetta against stately homes) and it will try to take you to the hotel. You and your smelly children are not welcome at the super-fancy hotel. Ignore your sat nav and follow the brown signs instead. Good old brown signs, always reliable.
Activities: It was October half term and it’s a National Trust property so of course we had to follow a trail of some sort. It was pretty perfunctory - a few laminated pumpkins and a couple of puzzles to solve but, as I am sure I have mentioned before, children are idiots and easily pleased - so it was fine. It meant that my friends and I could have a natter whilst the children searched for snot-guzzlers and fairies and what-not and we all got to have a very nice, albeit very damp, walk.
Coffee: I have a profound respect for the coffee houses of Cliveden. From kiosk, to cafe to actual restaurant all the coffee is delicious and just the right temperature. It is so good it makes me love my children a little bit more for forcing me into its vicinity.
Food: I sneaked in a packed lunch and sat directly next to a sign saying ‘Only food purchased from the cafe may be eaten here.’ (I am such a rebel.) The combination of the fact that my friends did buy food, the pissing rain and the steely glint in my eye meant that I wasn’t challenged on this. Feedback from my friends on the food was pretty positive: The kids' lunch boxes fell into the golden triangle of having enough nutrition to be acceptable to the adults and being tasty enough for the kids - well done Cliveden - and the adults’ plates were clean by the end, which I take as a good sign. Having said that, we had far too much gossip to catch up on to really attend to it properly so I would recommend you try the food for yourselves.
Grounds: In Cliveden this is really what it’s all about. The house is beautiful but feels off limits (certainly with six under 10’s in tow) as it is a very fancy hotel. The water gardens are stunning in all weathers and Cliveden does very well with the autumn foliage. There is a lot of ground to cover (if you are not a slave to the kids’ treasure trail) including fountains, formal gardens, rolling meadows and a maze. I may have mentioned this once or twice but I bloody love a maze.
There is a big playground quite near the car park with its own little cafe (which shows someone involved in planning has a brain in their head) but rain prevented play today. It seems to be a pretty good one from what I could glance whilst dragging a squirming five year old rapidly towards the toilets. I spotted wood carvings and a whole host of play equipment so I'm giving this a tentative thumbs up.
It does seem a bit of a shame that they haven’t really made too much of the history of the place. Maybe it’s not considered quite family-friendly enough to be going on about the Profumo Affair and what have you, when your main market is pre-pubescents and their weary families.
Accessibility: There are nice wide paths encircling all the formal gardens, though I would doubt you’d want to enter the maze in a wheelchair as it is very narrow. The greatest risk to participation is likely to be the wax-jacket-brigade (guests, not staff) sneering at any child who is not behaving Rod and Todd Flanders.
Overall: Cliveden is gorgeous and a great National Trust day out. One day I hope to come back and spend some time learning a little bit more about all the historical hanky-panky that happened here.