Exploring family-friendly attractions and scoping them out for our followers is what we do, so you might imagine that the young members of the Little Vikings brood are easy, breezy daytrippers. Sadly not.
We meet the same resistance to leaving the house as everyone else, from the hour it takes to get everyone’s coats and shoes on to the interrogation about where we’re going and – crucially – how long the journey will be. For that reason, we tend not to travel much more than an hour from home and we have to be sure that it’s worth the negotiations if we’re going further. Raby Castle, just outside Darlington, is one of those rare places that we’ll happily travel slightly further for, and you’ll see why. We’ve been once before, a few years ago, but returned recently to check out their new adventure play area – The Plotters’ Forest – and to remind ourselves what else is on offer for families. Here’s why we’d recommend it for a family trip from York.
1. Deer sightings (almost) guaranteed!
Winding our way through the pretty villages and rolling dales, the magic of Raby started before we’d even arrived. This is a beautiful part of the country, and the sighting of deer – LOTS of deer – stalking through the deer park, was the perfect welcome. It was so exciting to see picture-perfect stags, majestic antlers and all, going about their day, while their herd-mates lounged under trees or snacked on the grass. And all this before we’d even made it to the (large, free) car park. There’s nowhere in Yorkshire we’ve seen so many deer so close, and it felt like a real treat.
2. The Plotters’ Forest is an excellent new adventure playground
Families have a new and exciting reason to visit Raby Castle: The Plotters’ Forest. Nestled in a Christmas tree plantation, this new outdoor adventure playground is the ideal place for children to run, climb and let their imaginations run wild. With its own car park and ticket office, it’s a little corner of Raby that’s just for children. We were given a warm welcome (and a Halloween trail map – keep an eye out for seasonal events) before heading off to explore it for ourselves.
The Plotters’ Forest is how we’d love all adventure playgrounds to be: sympathetic to its location and created from natural materials. Instead of the usual swings and zipwires, you’ll find walkways, tunnels, slides and things to balance on and climb up (with amazing views across the trees). Younger children will need help with the larger equipment, but there’s a little area for under 4s that’s just for them so they won’t miss out.
We took a picnic (there are plenty of places to eat), but we were pleased to see The Plotters’ Pantry, within the Forest, serves drinks and snacks too.
It’s a lovely place to hang out together, watching the children challenge themselves while taking in the smell of the pines and the sound of the birds. We’d like to think it’s the sort of adventure playground that Santa might have for his elves…
There’s a proper castle to explore
Tickets for The Plotters’ Forest also give you access to the 200 acre Deer Park, but if you really want a full itinerary, there’s a whole castle to explore! Raby Castle is what our children consider to be a ‘proper’ castle, with towers, moat and drawbridge. While many kids would be happy with the deer park and adventure playground, ours wanted to see inside the castle too. It’s a self-guided tour so we could walk around at our own pace, taking in lavish interiors, weapon displays, magnificent halls, stag heads, a warm and welcoming kitchen with an impressive display of copper cookware, and even a carriage in the entrance hall. Our youngest chose to do the Raby Castle Quest trail (free), spotting things in each room and ticking them off the sheet, which she enjoyed and kept her interested the whole way around.
4. It’s a lovely place for a walk (and you’re not far from a waterfall!)
Raby’s parkland is so beautiful that it’s perfect for a family walk, but with a couple of hundred acres to explore, it’s hard to know where to start. We picked up a free map with three suggested walking routes, from a simple 2km route to a longer 3km one. There’s so much to see along the way, from ornamental lakes to wildlife galore, that most children won’t notice how far they’re walking anyway. For something totally different, High Force waterfall is a 25-minute drive away and is well worth a visit. Park at High Force Hotel (also a lovely place for lunch) and follow the signs to the waterfall (admission charge applies).
5. There are regular seasonal activities
Although Raby would make a lovely weekend trip out, it’s well worth a visit during the school holidays too. From Halloween and Christmas trails to festive afternoon tea and Father Christmas events, there’s always something going on that children will love. Raby Castle Park & Gardens is a stunning destination for families, with plenty to do and see. There’s a new development opening next year, with more dining options and a visitor centre, that will make the visitor experience even better. We’d better get researching more games to play in the car and downloading a few audiobooks…
Travel time from York – 1 hr 10 mins (approx)
Opening times – Hours vary; visit the website
Address – Raby Castle, Staindrop, Darlington DL2 3AH