Visiting Calke Abbey in The National Forest

Over these summer holidays I've had to spend a lot of time finding activities for my boys to do to keep them busy. Even though my boys are completely different personalities when it comes to exploring they're both the same. They love to get outdoors (when made to) and explore what they can see. Last Thursday we visited Calke Abbey and Calke Explore in The National Forest and the boys got to climb, run around, and explore.

We got up on Thursday to miserable weather, the clouds covered the sky and there was drizzle in the air. It didn't bode well for the rest of the day. 

The boys got ready and I told them to prepare for a wet day. We all got in the car and drove the 24 miles towards our destination. I wasn't sure what to expect from Calke Abbey, even though I've lived in the area most of my life I've never visited but I was excited for the boys to get to explore the woodland in Calke Explore.

Calke Explore

On arrival at Calke Abbey we were told to go to Calke Explore first because there was a one-way system. As we got out of the car and donned our coats I realised it wasn't cold, it was wet and rainy but not cold.


We began our journey to Calke Explore almost immediately and were welcomed with intriguing riddles to solve. BP loved this and enjoyed trying to solve the puzzles, LP wasn't enthusiastic about the riddles because he didn't get them. I figured riddles were a little too complex for a 7 year old. The route leads you through woodland and I saw beautiful trees around.

After reaching the end of the trail we were welcomed into Calke Explore and the boys were given a Calke Park Tracker Pack; a backpack with binoculars and lists of animals to look out for. We began our trek around the place and the first thing we came to was a huge log that was meant for playing. Unfortunately as it was wet the boys couldn't try it out but they both liked the look of it.

The entrance to Calke Explore was cool.

The boys were disappointed they couldn't climb on the huge log. 

As we walked along the trails and explored the area LP pulled the binoculars out of the bag and began searching for animals and birds. He loved running further along the trails and standing quietly looking up. He didn't manage to spot anything but he had a lot of fun trying.

Once they'd got bored of the binoculars we put them back in the bag and the boys decided to try out the play trails.

They enjoyed walking along logs, the Hubby even had a go!

The Hubby showing the boys how it's done. 

On our trek we spied a small area for little explorers too.

The boys tried climbing up thick logs - LP loved this. He tried using two of the logs to help him but it didn't help as much as he'd hoped. In the end the Hubby showed him how to do it and he got to the top, the only trouble was he couldn't get back down so the Hubby had to help him again.

Next came a rope bridge which they both loved, LP raced ahead as he tried to keep BP from catching up with him.

After finding a "base" LP decided to climb in and have some fun.

There was a pile of logs that looked like they were just rested there, luckily they were all tied together so they couldn't roll off!

Another arrangement of logs, another opportunity to climb. My boys were in their element.

LP pretending to be the Statue of Liberty!

On the way back to the car we found another area and the boys hurried off to explore. They found a partially built hut and lots of logs on the ground.

After leaving the area, heading back to the car (still), we talked about the age of trees. We explained to LP that the wider the trunk of a tree the older it is, he got rather excited and for the rest of the day kept a look out for old trees.

Calke Abbey

We got back to the car and drove back onto the lane that leads to the parking area near the Abbey. On the fields surrounding the Abbey were lots of sheep, they were close to the road and the Hubby had to drive slowly in case one of them ran in to the road.

It was lunchtime by the time we arrived and we decided to eat lunch before exploring further. Just as you enter through the ticket office there's a café, a restaurant, and a shop. We chose to eat at the restaurant. The boys had a kids pack which consisted of a sandwich (tuna, ham, cheese, or jam), a carton of juice (apple or orange) and 2 snacks (a choice of pack of raisins, a shortbread biscuit, a yoghurt pot, and a pack of crisps). Both boys made their choices and were happy to be eating. The Hubby and I chose a cooked lamb sandwich. It was rather large (I didn't finish mine) but it was tasty. Unfortunately I had a major blogger fail and forgot to take a photo!

As we sat and ate I inspected what I thought was a menu on the table, it turned out to be a list of events they have throughout the year for you to plan future visits.

After lunch we ventured out and wandered around the stables. There's a kids play area, it had dress-up things, somewhere for the kids to draw, and even a baby area.

This room mesmerised me, with the picture inside I couldn't help but be drawn in. As you walked closer to the picture it changed and people appeared. Definitely worth a look!

We walked towards the entrance for the Abbey, a short trail through woodland and I got a peak at the Abbey through the trees.

As we rounded the corner we saw it...

Calke Abbey.

Even from the outside you can see the Abbey is HUGE! It stands surrounded by open fields dotted with woodland. As we looked around we could see some of the trees were hundreds of years old.

Before going inside the boys wanted me to take a photo of them on the fountain in front of the Abbey...

At the entrance of Calke Abbey is an old style doorbell that you had to pull instead of push. Below the doorbell is a boot-scraper (I don't know the official name of one of these). This is where you would've scraped the bottom of your shoes after walking along muddy paths.

Walking into the entrance hall I noticed the place was rather dark, even though there were windows and lights everywhere. It was difficult to get any good photos.

Throughout the Abbey, hung on the walls, were lots of animal heads. One after the other lined the walls, some even had plaques beneath them saying things like "killed by me on..." To be honest I didn't like to see that, it made me uncomfortable, but at the same time I guess this happened a lot many years ago.

From the Entrance Hall we went into the Caricature Room which is basically what it sounds like. Drawn pictures covered the walls from floor to ceiling, some had many people in them, others just one, but they all looked a little like this...

The next room I found really interesting, in the Store Room there were hundreds of artefacts from shoes, clothing, and fabric to cameras. You could pick up the old style cameras and inspect them, it was great looking at the cameras and realising how people used to take photos.

The huge staircase was impressive and as we climbed the stairs and looked at old paintings I couldn't help the writer in me being inspired. This is definitely somewhere I could imagine staying while trying to write a book, it would be fantastic inspiration if you could spend the night!

All over the Abbey, in the larger rooms, were ornate mouldings covering the walls, ceilings, and doors.

Paintings and animals filled most rooms, it was a huge collection and I can't imagine living amongst all that.

I loved the library - again the writer in me wanted to sit down and start writing. A great place for inspiration.

Another room and something else to marvel at, this time it was the lovely mirror hanging on the wall. It made me wonder about the opulence in which people used to live, they had such extravagant things and I like to think what life was like for them.

The strange thing about Calke Abbey is the difference between these full rooms and other corridors and rooms throughout the building. Some of the corridors upstairs were spooky, paint was peeling from the walls, carpets were worn through, and an old musty smell filled the air. As I looked down the corridor I could imagine horror movie being filmed here.

From the kitchen we took stairs down and then took a path which lead to the tunnels beneath Calke Abbey. It was very dark and I couldn't get any photos but it was an interesting walk. We spoke to a volunteer who told us there could be another level of tunnels beneath the ones we were in which may date back to a Rectory that once stood on the land.

After wandering though the huge building and its tunnels we ventured outside and saw the gorgeous garden. Although it was dull and raining by the time we were back outside I could tell it would look beautiful on a sunny day. From the garden we wandered along yet more paths to the "Garden of Imagination" where the boys could play and learn. They got to learn about building a house and how the bricks should go together.

As the rain got heavier we were forced to abandon our trip but luckily we'd seen everything anyway. We wandered back to the car tired and wet, but very happy having seen some amazing things and wandered around a historical building.

I loved visiting Calke Abbey and learning about the history. It was amazing, spooky, filled with animals, books, stones, and many other things. Calke Abbey is a house trapped in time which makes it interesting to visit.

The boys had a wonderful time exploring the outdoors and having fun at Calke Explore. We spent most of the day at Calke Abbey in The National Forest and would definitely recommend it for a family visit.

For a family ticket (covers 2 adults and up to 3 children) to visit the house and garden it would cost £23.40. You can visit just the garden for £13.15 (again the family ticket).

The National Forest

Calke Abbey is located within The National Forest, a new wooded landscape across 200 square miles of Central England. There are many things to do in The National Forest, why not visit Elvaston Castle Country Park and see the Grade 2 listed building and gorgeous garden. Or you could try National Forest Llama Treks in Burton-on-Trent where you get to groom, stroke, and lead these animals on walks through the countryside. Or perhaps you'd like to try out orienteering at Rosliston Forestry Centre.

There's so many activities and places to choose from in The National Forest, why not take a look for yourself?

My family and I visited Calke Abbey and Calke Explore in The National Forest free of charge in return for an honest review. All opinions are our own.

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