Like joint pain, membership to the National Trust used to be one of those things that just happened to you as you got older. A middle-aged couple would just wake up one day, look at each other and go "Gee, it's been a while since we had a cream tea".
But the National Trust is slightly different in this day and age. I mean, it's still devoted towards looking after old houses and that- it hasn't changed itself into a Fin-Tech startup or anything. What I mean is, for young families, it's actually pretty good value.
Let's crunch the numbers. The National Trust has around 500 "Special places" on its books. These include 180 registered parks and gardens, 91 Castles/forts, 280 slightly-pricey-but-generally-good-quality cafés, and a plethora of adventure playgrounds. With a wide choice of properties to visit, there is bound to be something local within a short drive. Perfect for those the-kids-are-chewing-the-walls-and-need-some-fresh-air Saturdays.
Family membership (2 adults, and their children) is only £146.40 a year. Compared with the price of one-off admission, it's an obvious saving if you're planning on going to at least 3-4 days out this year.
You can also pay monthly, which is a plus.
Membership also gives you free parking. Most National Trust properties were built in Ye Olden Days of Yore by rich people who didn't care about convenient public transport links. So, for most properties, a car is your best bet. Like most private car parks, these places charge an arm and leg. Don't get me wrong, they are lovely carparks and beautifully designed to fit in with the surrounding landscape. But they are still eye-wateringly expensive. So free parking for members is a huge bonus.
You also get a magazine a few times a year, which is full of aspirational middle-class stuff, as well as a few tips on exciting things to do at this time of year.
Free days out while on holiday is another thing to consider. No matter where you are in the UK, knowing that while on holiday you'll have at least 2-3 decent days out with free admission and free parking is big help towards the holiday budget. However, this does require a bit of research.
Once you get your member's handbook, you can flick through hundreds of different castle/stately homes/blasted heaths you are now entitled to visit. You will need to do a bit of homework.
National Trust properties vary tremendously, both in facilities and scale. Take Sutton Hoo for example- huge interactive museum thingy, a playground, a shop that sells wooden swords- you're basically good to go. Some properties, however, have far less to offer a bouncy six-year-old. No-one is going to have a nice day out if you're constantly having to stop your screaming child from doing a Spiderman jump onto an 18th-century chaise lounge. Least of all the sixty-eight-year-old woman whose job it is to tell people about the 18th-century chaise lounge.
This brings me nicely to my next point. If you've read any of my other articles, or indeed this one, you'll know I'm basically a cynical old git. But the staff at these places are genuinely lovely. As in, lovely people who really like history and are quite keen to tell you about it. I can't praise these gentle souls highly enough quite frankly. Please never be afraid of asking the volunteers (yes, the vast majority of people at these places are not being paid and are giving up their time to help out.) They'll possess an almost Wikipedia level knowledge of the room you're standing in. Or, at the very least some laminated cards with information on.
When you're at the properties, your options for lunch are basically the café, or a picnic.
The big advantage of a café is that it's inside and dry. Oh, and the food as well of course. The fare at the national trust varies from place to place, and has some nice regional variety to it. Which is nice when you're on holiday and want to try The Local Thing ™. One common denominator are the scones, which are always pleasant, and the option of a nice cup of tea. On the one hand, it is very nice to go somewhere grown-up without chicken nuggets on the menu. But on the other hand, when the other options are either a £9 grown-up meal that they won't eat or one of those depressing little cardboard boxes with the tiny sandwiches. Which they still won't eat. Out of spite.
If the property has grass, there will be a picnic table. Bring some fancy sausage rolls so you can feel posh.
The National Trust has a solid claim to being the most family-friendly thing in the country. Not just offerings like 50 Things To Do Before You're 11 ¾ or their easter egg trails (which to be fair, are fantastic) but the fact that they can offer a day out that isn't just for kids (how many of us would visit Peppa Pig World without a child in tow?). Adventure, play, or just being outdoors. There is as much history as you want- or you can just treat these wonderful places as a bresh of fresh air. A place to be with the family, and be quiet and still.
Until a child throws a pinecone at your head.