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An Expert’s Guide to Britain's Secret Spots


Using the locations from our ‘Hidden Gems’ survey, we’ve combined our expertise with the National Trust to find out the best secret National Trust spots near these areas for you to visit this summer.

Over 1,400 people voted in our 'Hidden Gems' survey from across the country to curate a winning list of attractions that were tucked away in lesser-visited areas.

Using this information, McCarthy & Stone have worked with the National Trust to select 10 of their best secret sites to visit this summer near to these lesser known places – some of which being so impressive they’ve also made it into our recommendations once again. 

In addition, the National Trust have also provided us with some top tips for each spot to help make your trip even more enjoyable. Take a look below to find out our 10 secret National Trust locations.  
National Trust An Expert’s Guide to Britain's Secret Spots


1. Trengwainton Garden, Cornwall 

Known for its collection of exotic trees and shrubs, Trengwainton Garden is a perfect stop on a sunny day out in Penzance, with stunning views of the surrounding areas and a charming country house.

Don’t miss out: Spread out a blanket and have a perfect picnic on the terrace where on a clear day you’ll be able to see right across the 25 miles of Mount’s Bay to the Lizard Peninsula.

Did you know? The rhododendrons you see in the gardens were mostly grown from seed gathered in north east Assam and upper Burma by famous plant collector Frank Kingdon-Ward on his 1927-8 expedition.

National Trust’s top tip: If you’re not one for crowds, you can head to one of the garden’s ‘Silent Spaces’. These are areas of the garden where visitors are encouraged to switch off their phones and enjoy moments of quiet contemplation and connection to nature.

2. Bodiam Castle, East Sussex

Bodiam Castle is an impressive 14th century castle surrounded by a moat, near Robertsbridge.

The castle portcullis is thought to be the oldest in the UK and the tower is a nationally important maternity roost for Daubenton’s and Natterer’s bats. These towers can be reached via its famous spiral stairs, however, the courtyard is level and accessible, making it ideal for any age.

Best time to visit: Early in the morning or late afternoon. The castle opens at 11am but the ticket office, car park and tearoom are open from 10am.

Exclusive things to do this summer: Get into the spirit of the Medieval age with the summer activities taking place at Bodiam. You can have a go at archery, go on a mission and visit the ‘Mop Fair’ where you can learn about Medieval characters, handle objects, and more.

National Trust’s top tip: Keep an eye out for the witch marks around some of the windows and doorways – the Medieval occupants of the castle were very superstitious and carved special marks for protection. Or, if you want a moment to relax, we recommend watching the huge carp swimming lazily in the moat.

3. Blakeney National Nature Reserve, Norfolk

Situated right in the centre of the ‘Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’, Blakeney Nature Reserve is a wonderful place to experience with loved ones and has plenty of things to do in the summer holidays.

Best time to visit: Even in the height of summer it’s possible to find large stretches the coastline and its beaches that are completely deserted, offering a calm and tranquil feel.

Did you know? Visiting in autumn and the end of summer is highly recommended, as it brings the most spectacular sunsets over the reserve.

National Trust’s top tip: For a longer walk, the Norfolk Coast Path National Trail goes through the car park and all between Blakeney village and Cley village – both of which are accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs and offer views of the reserve.

Best thing to do with grandchildren: For an easy activity to do with little ones, we recommend bug spotting or bird watching to keep them entertained for hours.

4. Rievaulx Terrace, North York Moors

Created to show off the spectacular view of the Hambleton Hills and the Rievaulx Abbey ruins below, Rievaulx Terrace is perhaps Yorkshire’s most impressive man-made attraction.

Not to miss: The iconic temple is open three or four times a day (depending on the season) and although the Tuscan Temple is closed you can walk around the outside and look through the windows.

Best time to visit: The Terrace doesn’t tend to accumulate crowds, making it ideal for those looking for a quieter place to visit. However, if you want to get there when it’s really quiet, the National Trust team recommend arriving early on a weekday.

Did you know? It took 100 men between six and eight years to make Rievaulx Terrace.

Best things to do with grandchildren: There are brass leaf rubbings on posts throughout the woodland, a wild play area and den building, giant soft play games and of course our beautiful temples.  

5. Bodnant Garden, Wales

Located in the scenic location of Conwy, the Grade I listed Bodnant Garden is also a wonderful example of British gardening. The impressive site has plenty to do – not just for those with green fingers – with grand formal terraces, dramatic riverside dells, a tranquil lakeside and woods and meadows teaming with wildlife.

Not to miss: Make sure you peek inside the 18th century Pin Mill, the Victorian Poem mausoleum and the Georgian Old Mill.

Exclusive things to do this summer: You can make the most of the ‘50 things’ challenge that offers something for the whole family to enjoy including, den building, hunting for fossils and cloud watching.

National Trust’s top tip: If visiting on a rainy day, there are undercover points around the garden, plus our three tearooms and the gift shop. Adjoining the garden is also Bodnant Garden Centre.

6. Cragside, Northumberland

Cragside is a huge site, with a six-mile-long ‘carriage drive’, meaning you can drive around the estate and stop off at one of the nine car parks along the way for a walk or picnic. There are many engineering feats to discover including the Archimedes screw, Pump House and Power House. In the house, many of Lord Armstrong’s original inventions are still on display.

Cragside is so called after being built on the side of a crag which means some of the paths are steep and uneven. However, there’s a free shuttle bus during the summer season that takes visitors to the formal garden, the house, visitor centre and the Power House. 

Not to miss:
Some of the best and perhaps lesser known places to stop off on the carriage drive are at Blackburn car park to see the drained Blackburn lake and Nelly’s Moss car park for the labyrinth.

Did you know? Lord and Lady Armstrong engineered the landscape of Cragside? They planted seven million trees and bushes around the estate, transforming a barren moor into a rich woodland full of towering conifers and colourful rhododendrons. Lord Armstrong also built all five of the lakes on the estate, which he then used to create hydroelectricity to power the house. 

National Trust’s top tip:
For those looking to escape the summer crowds, the National Trust recommends enjoying the carriage drive and discovering the wider estate on one of the 14 waymarked walks.

7. Ham House, Richmond

The atmospheric 17th century walled garden at Ham House is a celebration of the past, with a modern sensibility. Extensive formal gardens, statuesque borders, a wilderness area and a historic kitchen garden have been lovingly recreated.

Not to miss: Free daily tours which are a wonderful way to understand and enjoy the gardens. You may see wild species here with woodpeckers, little owls and kestrels all spotted on the estate and wildflowers such as yellow rattle and meadow saxifrage.

Exclusive things to do this summer: 2019 has seen Ham House reveal a new planting display within the formal gardens. Here you can discover a changing pageant of colour and scent as a succession of over half a million bulbs and wildflowers transform vast manicured lawns, making them a delight throughout the warmer months.

Did you know?
An edible flower plot and family tasting garden will be blooming right now, ready for you to try fruit and vegetables throughout the summer. You can also look out for edible flowers in our salads and on our cakes in the Orangery Café.

National Trust’s top tip:
If you’re looking for peace and tranquillity, the National Trust team recommends a visit to the Ham House gardens first thing in the morning when it’s not as busy.

8. Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

Home to one of the finest herb gardens in the country, Hardwick Hall is a perfect stop if you’re planning a trip to Derbyshire this summer. 

Not to miss: In the garden, you can soak up the scents of the Herb Garden and take a moment to pause and get relaxed on one of the inviting deckchairs. In Hardwick Park, a working farm, you can spot some of the rare breed Long Horn cattle.

Best time to visit: To avoid the crowds, the National Trust team recommends visiting on a Monday or a Tuesday. Even though the Hall won’t be open, you’ll have your pick of the deckchairs in the sunshine.

Best thing to do with grandchildren: For an action packed day out, you can combine your visit with a trip to Stainsby Mill on the Hardwick Estate to see the cogs and machinery in action – these mills are still grinding flour that you can buy to this day. 

National Trust’s top tip: Want to know a secret about Hardwick Hall? It actually has rush matting to protect the floor in some of the rooms. This matting gets watered once a week to stop it becoming brittle. 

9. Kinver Edge and Rock Houses, Stourbridge

Kinver Edge and Rock Houses is a timeless attraction, with hidden tunnels for little ones – and adventurous grownups – to explore. For wildlife enthusiasts, the heathland habitat buzzes with wildlife and the sandy trails feel like the seaside.

Not to miss: A pleasant surprise at Kinver Edge is the spectacular views from the tea room terrace. As you sit among the heather clinging to the rock face, you can see for miles across the lush woodlands and fields over to Stourbridge.

National Trust’s top tip:
Keep a lookout for the colony of Lesser Horseshoe bats living in Rock Houses. 

10. Beatrix Potter Gallery, Cumbria

Positioned in the charming township, Hawkshead, the Beatrix Potter Gallery provides stunning views of the southern Lake District, with impressive woodland and walks.

Not to miss: Continue to walk in Beatrix’s footsteps at Hill Top, her beloved home or Wray Castle where she stayed as a teenage girl on her first holiday to the Lakes. 

Best time to visit: It might surprise you to hear that the best day to visit the Beatrix Potter Gallery is on Fridays and at weekends where you’ll be able to experience the Gallery with all its attractions available.

Did you know? The Gallery building used to be the solicitor’s office of Beatrix’s husband, William Heelis. Heelis Solicitors still practice in Cumbria today. 

National Trust’s top tip: After getting up close to the original Beatrix Potter illustrations from your favourite tales, pop next door to the Conservation Hub to see the team working on rarely seen items from the collection, including Beatrix’s personal belongings, letters and books. 

Any of the above secret National Trust locations near the UK’s favourite lesser-known areas are sure to offer you a fantastic day out with the family. If you’re a resident in a McCarthy & Stone development near to any of these areas and you’re planning a trip, remember that your family and friends can also make the most of a stay in a guest suite. 

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