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27 Jun 2018

Trust summer holidays

Written by Robin McKelvie
A family selfie-style photo of a man, woman and two daughters, standing on a woodland path. The youngest girl holds a toy white squashy unicorn up to the camera.
The McKelvie family (and Ursula the Unicorn) enjoying a day out at Newhailes
Robin McKelvie and family share their top 5 sites to visit during the summer holidays.

It’s that time of year again when already tired parents are staring down the barrel of the long summer holidays. As the father of two wee girls, I love having all that time with them, but I am also realistic enough to know that finding things to keep those bundles of energy and inquisitiveness occupied can be tricky.

My girls love visiting historic sites and it’s great that so many of the National Trust for Scotland properties these days are not just interesting for kids, but also have made extra efforts to be genuinely family friendly and even build whole new seriously adventurous playgrounds to keep demanding young ones active and engaged.

Two young girls play in a playground. They are jumping and making poses. Behind them is a zip wire and high walkways between wooden play houses.
Tara and Emma at Weehailes

Join me now as I share with you five superb National Trust for Scotland sites to help you all out during the holidays. They have all been thoroughly road-tested by my two demanding daughters. Enjoy!

1. Battle the kids at Bannockburn

A man is dressed up in chainmail, a gold helmet and a bright yellow tabard. He stands in front of a yellow and red lion rampant flag.
Robin channelling his inner Robert the Bruce

School may be out, but that doesn’t mean that the learning has to stop. The site of Scotland’s most famous military victory is just brilliant for kids and you can have a great day here content in the knowledge that they are learning about an epochal event in their country’s history. Real thought has gone into how to make the visitor experience compelling for younger ones.

All sorts of audio-visual trickery is on hand to inform you about the lead-up to the battle, before a series of films and exhibits depict the events during and after the battle.

A group of people stand around a large, illuminated table in a dark room. On the table is a 3D-effect map of the battle of Bannockburn.
The digitally recreated battlefield

2. Newhailes House & Gardens

A selfie-style photo of a man standing on the grand gravel driveway leading up to Newhailes House in the background. A group of people are walking towards the house behind him.
Robin smiles for a selfie at Newhailes

This grand Palladian country house on the East Lothian outskirts of Edinburgh has long been a must-visit for fans of graceful architecture and the fascinating period surrounding the Scottish Enlightenment.

This year, it has just become unmissable for families. They already had enjoyable walking trails around the grounds, but in spring they added a massive new wooden adventure playground. This giant kiddie wonderland had my girls captivated for hours. It caters for all ages with a separate section for really wee ones. My kids loved the zip wire and playing an epic game of hide and seek. Handily, there is a wee café diner right by the park.

A little girl in a bright purple fleece sets off on a zipline from a wooden platform. A woman and young boy stand on the platform, watching her go.
Emma taking on the zip wire at Weehailes

For more, read my Newhailes blog.

3. Castle by the coast

Two adults and a child walk across a wide bridge, leading towards Culzean Castle in the background. They are all wearing raincoats with their hoods up.
The McKelvies battling the elements at Culzean

The remarkable Ayrshire bolthole of Culzean Castle really does boast something for everyone. The main castle is great fun to visit with the jaw-dropping architecture and history for grown-ups complemented by the LEGO trail for kids. My girls loved being given a plastic sheet with a list of LEGO characters to find in all the rooms. We all got in on the act looking for the wee figures hiding in cabinets and atop chandeliers.

Outside the castle there is mile upon mile of walking trails, including some new accessible trails. Then there is the massive wooden adventure playground. The National Trust for Scotland these days is a dab hand at commissioning proper adventure playgrounds that genuinely keep families entertained. Again, it’s split between age groups to cater for all.

Two girls climb up some rope netting leading to a wooden walkway. They're wearing raincoats with their hoods up.
Kids and big kids alike getting active in the Wild Woodland

Check out my Culzean blog for more.

4. Our glorious Bard

A view inside the museum space of Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Large floor cabinets display a wide range of artefacts, and oil paintings hang around the room.
Inside Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

It’s back-to-school time again, but in a fun way that engages all the family. This is no mere museum as whole swathes of the wee village of Alloway have been given over to the commemoration and celebration of our national bard, Robert Burns. The romantic poet was born of humble stock as you can see in his birthplace cottage that still stands today.

A large statue of a mouse sitting up on its hind legs with its tail wrapped around the base.
The 'wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie' along Poet’s Path

Then it’s on along the Poet’s Path, taking in a sweep of statues of characters from some of his most famous works, before the Burns Museum itself. This brilliantly tells the story of his literary genius and his life and times, and there is plenty of hands-on stuff to keep wee ones going. Their café is excellent too and outside sits a wee playground that comes complete with a replica Burns Cottage. It doesn’t end there as you can pop down to the Brig o’ Doon, which Burns visited with his dad as a child, and the Alloway Auld Kirk which stars in his poetry.

5. Killiecrankie

A river runs through a pass, with steep sides covered in woodland. A bridge suspended over the water can be seen in the distance. The trees have turned orange and yellow in autumn.
A colourful view across Killiecrankie

This is my wild card. The visitor centre may be quite a small and simple affair, but it’s a great fun site to stop off at and seriously handy if you are looking to break a long journey on the A9. The information boards detail the famous Battle of Killiecrankie in 1689 and my girls were delighted – as they had been at Glenfinnan and Culloden – to find our Cameron clan once more at the heart of the action. Look out for the bird cam in the visitor centre that shows the action in a local nest.

The forests are alive with bird life and you can buy a wee bag of seeds to feed them on the tables outside. It’s then time to eke down the trails in search of the River Garry. It was here that a terrified British Government soldier is said to have made his titanic ‘Soldier’s Leap’.

Two very large boulders stand either side of a river running through a pass.
The infamous Soldier’s Leap

My girls had their doubts! Visit Killiecrankie and see for yourself.