Weather: Sunny but cold enough to make noses and toes tingle. Good for photos, not for recalcitrant 7 years olds who refuse to wear coats. Apparently cold is cool.
Logistics: Your sat nav will lie to you! Two of my friends ended up doing an impromptu tour of Old Knebworth village, which I’m sure is lovely but not as child friendly as the massive adventure playground just around the corner. Ignore your sat nav when it tells you to leave at junction 6 of the A1M and get off at junction 7 and follow the brown signs.
It’s worth noting that you pay on your way in to the car park, so if you are planning on taking advantage of the reduced family ticket price make sure your two adults and two children are all in the same car. There are 2 different prices, depending on whether you want to tour the house or not. This suited me very well as the idea paying to hiss my way around a stately home, terrified the kids are going to break something Ming is profoundly galling - though I would still do it if I had paid for it. Small children in a stately home are not good for anyone’s blood pressure.
It is possible to walk from the playground to the house, maze and dinosaur trail but it’s about 25 minutes and it is so so much easier to take the car (especially as you’ll be driving that way to get out anyway) and anyway, walking for 50 minutes with grumpy idiots who refuse to wear the correct clothing for the temperature is not my idea of a good time.
Activities: The adventure playground was fantastic. Brilliantly dangerous with a range of activities that you genuinely don’t find in most places. The underground death slide was a particular favourite for the braver kids and the big slides were just daring enough for the more timid ones to try, with an adult tagging along to show how totally fine it is (and only quietly hyperventilating whilst doing so). There was also a water pumping activity which the kids attacked with aplomb, oblivious to the high risk of hypothermia they were exposing themselves too. There were all sorts of things to explore, spread over a very wide space indeed: zip wires and fairy houses, climbing frames and stepping stones. My favourite bit was the bit where I sat in the nice warm car and watched them playing. I tip my hat to whoever designed the line of site strategy when planning this playground.
Kids of all ages loved Knebworth Fort and it allowed for plenty of free play. Our experience was scuppered by Big Kid having a full on strop - brimming with righteous indignation and refusing to play with anything or anyone. Small Kid, on the other hand, had a whale of a time being a pirate princess (with the emphasis most definitely on the pirate). I tried to explain the context of a fort and the history of the wild west but it’s a very large space and the kids had wandered off before I’d finished the second sentence. Which is fair enough.
We then went up to the house to explore the maze and hunt dinosaurs. The maze was great - small enough that you can see the kids’ heads bobbing about as they run around in circles. I am becoming very partial to a maze, I must say. The kids loved it - it was straightforward enough for them to solve it without too many missteps and they could share their victory with us by climbing on to a bench to shout their triumph to the sky… and the ears of several pensioners looking for a nice quiet day out. (Sorry)
We also really enjoyed the dinosaurs - it felt like stepping into a time travelling pod all the way back to the distant past… by which I mean the 1980’s. These fibreglass beasts evoke nostalgia more than a sense of scientific enquiry.
They are oddly focussed on the really big pointy teeth and violent conquest over anatomical or environmental accuracy. They are however, a hell of a lot of fun.
My favourite wasn’t even a dinosaur, but the ancient ancestor of the horse. It is genuinely charming in its ugliness.
Coffee: As it was bought for me by lovely friends I totally approve the price. The coffee itself was not terrible.
Food: This was in the midst of my efficiency drive so we did the packed lunch thing, but we did go to the cafe at the end of a fully seized day for snacks and hot drinks. The cafe was lovely, the staff were friendly and there was a very good selection of food available, much of it home made or home grown.
Grounds: S’a stately home innit. It’s pretty; very very pretty.
The area close to the house is utterly charming. I was very excited by the fact that Edward Bulwer Lytton lived there and went about muttering ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ for most of the afternoon. There were sculptures a-plenty to spot and discuss and the kids seemed impressively engaged in this. The gardens are beautiful - we went just at the end of daffodil season and just before the bluebells were really making their presence known and it was still stunning. It must be glorious in Summer. We will be back.
As mentioned earlier, we didn’t explore the house itself - some TV company or other were filming there. Knebworth House is constantly popping up on telly - as a personal plea - does anyone know if this is the house that was used in the Black Orchid episode of Peter Davison’s run as Doctor Who? I only remember it vaguely but it terrified me.
Accessibility: There was wood chip on the floor which is not the ideal terrain for wheelchairs and much of the play equipment would be pretty inaccessible but closer to the house it was much more navigable by wheel or walker. The dinosaurs would be worth a visit and I think most kids’ wheelchairs these days could fit into the maze
Overall: There’s a heck of a lot to do and you and the kids will have lots of fun doing it.