HEIDI McALPIN and her family took a two-week road trip across England that was designed to keep everyone happy. Some must-haves included visits to stately homes and cathedrals.... and of course a few child-friendly activities thrown in to keep the kids happy!


ESIGNING a two-week England road trip to satisfy a penchant for stately homes (that’s me), someone who worships cathedrals (dad) and two kids with precious little interest in either formed the tremulous foundations of my post-lockdown holiday plans.

Yes, the children will complain, but I’d a few age- appropriate activities up my sleeve to wrench them from the Wi-Fi. And so, with my all-consuming, colour-coded itinerary nestled in its ziplock pouch, we embarked on a 650-mile odyssey destined to kick lockdown to the kerb. Our adventure began with an overnight sailing from Belfast to Birkenhead aboard the shiny new Stena Edda. This was our first time on this route and our spotless four berth en-suite cabin and access to the Stena Plus Lounge – with enough complementary snacks and juice to keep scurvy at bay – made the eight-hour journey a doddle.

DAY ONE & TWO: CHESTER Back on dry land and Google Maps, our trusty

friend for the fortnight, guided us 25 miles to our first stop, the charming medieval walled town of Chester. Its monochrome Tudor streetscape embellished with a blaze of multi-hued blooms, this picture postcard destination provided the perfect start to our jam-packed car-cation. And dad’s much vaunted Cathedral Bagging Tour of England was off to a flying start with the Chester Cathedral at Height Tour.

floor. Even the children enjoyed relaxing in the sunny cloisters as we contemplated our next stop. No rest for the righteous.

DAY THREE: CHATSWORTH HOUSE As we headed 70 miles east views turned from urban

to rural as one of my holiday highlights came into view. Made famous when Mr Darcy emerged glistening from the lake to enrapture Elizabeth Bennet, the magnificent Chatsworth House has been wooing visitors – and Pride & Prejudice fans - to its pastoral Peak District domain.

In fact, each year the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire welcome over half a million visitors to their humble abode. And as we catch our first glimpse of the mansion and meticulously landscaped grounds, the scale of their extravagant estate is nothing short of staggering. A house tour showcased its sheer opulence as painted ceilings, sweeping staircases, priceless antiques and a quirky curation of classic and contemporary art vied for attention. And the equally beguiling 105- acre gardens enraptured with a mind-melting Maze, gargantuan Rock Garden and classical Cascade where water tumbled from an ornate fountain down a flight of stone steps. Though my only sighting of Mr Darcy was as a gift shop ornament, Chatsworth… you didn’t disappoint!

DAY FOUR: LINCOLN Our cathedral and stately home spotting coming

along apace, according to dad the next destination promised an ecclesiastical site just as commanding as Chatsworth. Set 55 miles east, Lincoln is a city synonymous with its cathedral. And it’s not hard to see why as this mighty site rose up from its hilltop perch. This cavernous gothic creation dates back to Norman times and was once the world’s highest building until a storm toppled its spire in 1549. Over the centuries Lincoln Cathedral has also survived fire, an earthquake and attack by Cromwell’s troops and remains the UK’s fourth largest cathedral. Eager to explore, I took a Lincoln Cathedral Roof Tour while dad and the children checked out the iconic Lincoln Imp statues dotted throughout the city. Getting up close to one of two stained glass rose windows as the choir sang Pie Jesu was like glimpsing heaven itself. And emerging onto the roof for those head-spinning views is a moment that will live long in the memory. Our next city stop was neighbouring Lincoln Castle, built by William the Conqueror and home to a Victorian Prison and an original copy of the 1215 Magna Carta. After immersing ourselves in all that history, we took the Medieval Wall Walk for panoramic views of the castle complex – and, of course, that ever-dominant cathedral. Both the Castle and Cathedral sit at the crest of the aptly named Steep Street whose quaint cobbles lined with cute independent shops and cafes are well worth the climb. What a delightful revelation Lincoln City has been.

Freddie in Chester

Genial guide Matt regaled us with the building’s centuries-old history as we ascended its 125ft tower for magnificent views across several counties and into neighbouring Wales. The tour also took us to previously inaccessible parts of the cathedral where yet more awe- inspiring interior views showcased the gothic nave, stunning stained-glass windows and lavish mosaic

DAY FIVE: BOSTON STUMP & HUNSTANTON No time to dally though, and next morning it was

onwards a further 70 miles south-east for a three-day visit to Norfolk. But not before dad added a quick midway stop at the Boston Stump, aka St. Botolph’s Church whose 81metre tower stands out for miles from its flat Fenland base. Sadly, strong winds prevented us from ascending its 209 steps, but an interactive virtual view showed us what we were missing. And craning our necks to look up at the tower, both inside and out, was just as jaw-dropping.

Freddie and Scarlett stop for ice cream at Wells-Next-The-Sea on the North Norfolk coast

A restored coaching house close to King’s Lynn provided the ideal base for our Norfolk sojourn. And with the coast calling, we dumped our bags and headed straight for the nearby seaside town of Hunstanton. Though set in England’s most easterly county, the town is west-facing and famous for its sunsets, with a funfair, caravan parks and big sandy beach adding to its busy holiday vibe. As a timely reminder of home, though, our trip coincided with a biblical-like deluge turning Sunny Hunny into Runny Hunny. Happily for the kids, shelter was taken at one of its many glitzy amusement arcades where piles of 2ps where duly transformed into two small chews. ‘Twas ever thus.


From the flashy to the distinguished, and the following day took on a rather more regal air with a trip to another of my must-sees. Built in 1870 by the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, Sandringham is the country retreat of HM The Queen. A house tour showed us around several ground floor rooms including the elegant Drawing Room where the family congregates at Christmas and the Grand Ballroom where Union flags from Shackleton’s successful and Scott’s fateful Antarctic expeditions are proudly displayed. A lakeside summer house built for Queen Alexandra and the burial places of three of the Queen’s corgis were among the notable sites in Sandringham’s 24-hectare

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Ray, Scarlett and Freddie at Chatsworth House

Scarlett and Freddie at Merrivale Model Village, Great Yarmouth

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