How to make your family holiday an outstanding success

Imagine a family holiday in a 19th C English country setting with 21st C amenities. You’re settled in a comfy, period cottage on the grounds of an exquisite  Victorian Gothic mansion, endowed with a history Downtown Abbey’s fictional Grantham family would envy. Add a couple of sophisticated gastro-pubs, an easy drive through the bucolic countryside.  Toss in berry picking, farm visits and an enchanted forest to charm the youngsters. Some interesting stuff for older kids. Perhaps a quick visit to Bristol,  a thriving destination with a pretty impressive history of its own.

The holiday venue is Chaplain’s House at Tyntesfield, a gem of Britain’s National Trust rental cottages. Here’s why it’s a recipe for success, and worth the travel from North America.

 Step into another century without leaving this one

Tyntesfield was a relatively modest early Tudor Gothic country home when William Gibbs acquired it in the 1840’s.  A wildly successful entrepreneur, Gibbs poured his fortune into creating a High Victorian Gothic mansion,  complete with turrets, towers and other architectural frills of the period.

Tyntesfield in Somerset UK

The Gibbs’ subsequently built an elaborate chapel adjacent to the house, more like a small church.

tyntesfield chapel

By the late 1800’s the Gibbs  created a permanent home for their resident chaplain, best explained in the excerpt from the National Trust material in the house: 


It is this property that today is available for us to rent and enjoy.

entrance to Chaplain's House, Tyntesfield

The last of the Gibbs family, Richard, the 2nd Lord Wraxall, passed away at Tyntesfield in 2001.  Without heirs to continue, the National Trust acquired the property in 2002.

The Chaplain’s House which sleeps 6, is complete with modern baths and conveniences (dishwasher, laundry, full kitchen). Thanks to the careful restoration of the National Trust, the house retains the flavor of the period.

window out to garden, Chaplain's House, Tyntesfield

View out to chaplain's garden, Tyntesfileld

kitchen, Chaplain's house, Tyntesfield

Now that we’re here, what do we do?

I stayed at the Chaplain’s House for a long weekend intergenerational getaway.  With a toddler in tow, Chaplain’s House couldn’t have been better suited to young children.  The “enchanted forest” (our description), just up the hill from our “Castle” (my grandson’s description for Chaplain’s House) provided a treasure trove of memories.



House and Grounds

Tyntesfield itself is not to be missed. And, let’s face it: you didn’t come all this way just for the playground.

A big benefit, especially over a several-day visit, is the opportunity to tour the house as often as you wish.  I got to know the docents and each time I went through I learned something new.  How the Gibbs lived.  The Queen Mother’s visit. And much juicier: other visitors’ scandalous behavior.  A docent showed me a room full of furniture still awaiting restoration and placement in the house. I felt the true insider.

One wonderful thing is because the house was used by the family until it came into the National Trust, the contents were intact. Some restoration was necessary to amend years of neglect, yet artifacts reveal a glimpse into the affluent Victorian life. For example, the Gibbs library…

library at Tyntesfield

And dining room…

Some family vehicles for young and old…

Of course, the gardens are something to behold:

gardents; Tyntesfieldkitchen garden Tyntesfield

orangerie Tyntesfield

Beyond Tyntesfield

Tyntesfield may feel a century away, but it is only 8 miles from the hopping city of Bristol.   From there, keep the Victorian vibe going with the Avon Valley Railway, or a visit to the Cheddar Gorge – yep, ground zero for the ubiquitous and eponymous cheese. There’s plenty of hiking in the area from nice flat canal routes to more challenging terrain.

Fine dining abounds, too. It’s family friendly and close to Tyntesfield.

The Swan in Wedmore is the place you go for Sunday lunch – well, we did, anyway.  And to tell you the truth, it need not be just for lunch.  I went back the following week with a friend for dinner.

My family loved it, especially the dessert!

The other favorite, the Michelin-starred Pony & Trap,  is a real treat. Its bucolic setting and emphasis on organic produce were, indeed scrumdiddlyumptious.

pony & Trap, Somerset

Pony & Trap Somerset UK

While you might not think it was the perfect place for kids, it was. In the best tradition of family-friendly British pubs,  it was welcoming to all, parents and their helpers alike.

If you go…

I love mood reading before or after I visit a place, and I heartily recommend this book (affiliate link), a memoir of a kitchen maid’s life and duties in an English country home ca. 1930’s.

Although the Victorian period had tapered off, the life of servants in large country homes remained somewhat the same until after the Second World War.  An insightful and quick read.  Click pix to learn more…

I hope you go to Tyntesfield, or perhaps another National Trust rental property.  It’s a step into a different world for most Americans, and certainly for all a dip into another historic period, thoughtfully and respectfully preserved. I’m a huge fan.

If you do go, remember…

Do you have a National Trust story to tell?  Please share your comments below and thanks!



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