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The perfect picnic spot: Mottisfont

Bench, blanket or shady cafe - here's where to picnic at the National Trust's Mottisfont this summer and what to expect from the unmissable new family exhibition and trail

Picnic season’s in full swing – and when the sun shines, our local National Trust places are always a good bet for a spot of alfresco lunch.

Built around a medieval priory and surrounded by ancient trees, rolling lawns and wetlands, the beautiful Mottisfont is one of our biggest hitters in Hampshire and has plenty of great spots to plonk down your blanket. It always pulls out all the stops when it comes to activities and things for kids to do in the school holidays too, laying on engaging trails on top of the lovely outdoorsy things to do and discover here.

Bang on cue, there’s a brilliant new combined exhibition and trail on now. Celebrating inspirational individuals, Little People BIG DREAMS runs until Sun 4 Sept. It’s geared up pretty perfectly for primary-aged kids, with fun activities built in.

Both of us big picnic and National Trust trail fans, Miss Six and I were certainly up for the adventure. Also keen, we recruited her fellow six-year old pal, her little sister and their mum to explore with us.

BEST PICNIC SPOTS

There are plenty of places to throw down a picnic blanket and a decent amount of picnic tables at Mottisfont. Avoiding the midday sun, we plumped for a shady spot under the trees overlooking the house in the North Paddock.

Fending off two permanently hungry six year-olds who’d spied my cupcakes, I just about managed to snap a shot of a selection of goodies from our cool bag (strawbs and instant wins from the food aisle paired with child-pleasing apple juices all-round). Needless to say, they demolished it in record time.

With easy access to the café and loos in the stables, plus spaces to play ball games and have a run around after lunch, the North Paddock is my top Mottisfont picnic spot for any families with younger kids. There are also a few benches in the Wild Play area too. So if they gobble their food faster than the Tiger who came to Tea and won’t sit still, they can run off and hang like a monkey on the play equipment while still in eyeshot.

If you don’t have younger kids in tow, there’s plenty of quieter places to picnic at Mottisfont too, like the East Lawn, close to the tranquil river, overlooking the back of the house.

Special mention too for distinctly Mediterranean-feeling Kitchen Garden kiosk, where you can pick up coffees, drinks, sandwiches, cakes and ice cream and enjoy them under the shade of the large catalpa tree branches (above).

FOR CHILDREN

Mottisfont is super idyllic and spot on for good old-fashioned outdoorsy exploration, from Pooh Sticks bridges to the great Wild Play area, which has now reopened.

Also great fun here (for kids and adults), take time to watch the swans gliding along and spot the trout and grayling swimming in the crystal clear waters of the River Test.

Zoned into groups of explorers, musicians, writers, sports stars and more, Little People, BIG DREAMS Mottisfont’s big summer exhibition and trail, was a huge hit with the kids.

Around the grounds, gardens, Stables Cafe and in the gorgeous Gardener’s Cottage, the kids got stuck in with fun things to do such as dressing up like Jane Austen. Other activities included making paper airplanes as we found out about Amelia Earhart’s adventures and cutting out a campaigning rosette for their own causes (kindness for orphans and the planet, apparently) in honour of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst.

Inside the house, we met some more inspiring people. They included – unexpectedly – the author and creator of the Little People, BIG DREAMS series, the lovely Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara (above). She was here with her family and stopped for a chat.

Malala Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate
Martin Luther King campaigned for equality, part of the Little People, BIG DREAMS series and exhibition at Mottisfont this month.

THE HOUSE

Built around a medieval priory which was hit hard by the plague and religious change, Mottisfont was modified into a grand house in the 18th Century. You can find out more about its religious origins and peek at the original building if you head outside the entrance and down the slope to the lower corridor.

Inside the main house, the focus is on the legacy of the glamorous socialite and art patron, Maud Russell, who made Mottisfont her home in the 1930s.

Highlights inside the house include the gorgeous ground-floor White Bedroom, used as a guest room when socialite Maud’s famed parties were at their height, and the Whistler Room, painted by Rex Whistler. Whistler was inspired by Mottisfont’s medieval architecture, creating a light entertaining space with beautiful muraled ceilings. And there’s little doubt his vision would have dazzled Maud’s guests way back when – just as it still impresses hordes of National Trust visitors today.

Upstairs, the National Trust continue to champion Maud’s artistic traditions today, with a permanent 20th-century art collection and major exhibitions in the top-floor gallery.

WALKS

Walking around the immediate estate at Mottisfont will certainly be enough for little legs – and many big ones, too (full disclosure, I was so tired after leg one of the trail, I snagged a lift back to the car with a lovely volunteer golf buggy driver so I could dump the picnic gear).

If you’re here with teens, grownups or well-behaved dogs and feeling more energetic, there’s a gorgeous six mile estate walk that takes in ancient woodlands, beautiful farmland and follows along the crystal-clear River Test. Follow bear stone markers and check-in with the visitor centre on arrival for advice on the route.

Mottisfont, near Romsey, Hampshire, SO51 0LP. Tel. 01794 340757, nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont.

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