Last Saturday Monkey and I got to spend the day having fun at Compton Verney with my friend L and her son C. We’d been invited along to explore their Art Gallery and 120 acres of Parkland, to see what they have on offer for a family day out. Located close to Stratford-upon-Avon, in Warwickshire Compton Verney is easily accessible from the M40 too.
I’d only been to Compton Verney once before, back in March 2011 when Monkey was only 15 months old and barely walking. I remembered it vividly because of the wonderful wooden rocking horse art installation that was there at the time. Hard to imagine my son sitting still in a push chair now!
It’s somewhere we’ve never quite got back to, although friends from Birmingham have raved about it for children our age for a while now. It was time to see what two 7 year old boys would make of the mix of arts and outdoor activities. The art installations have changed, so no rocking horse this time around.
We were all eager to try Poly Printing as one of the activities organised at Compton Verney. We traced the outline of leaves onto tracing paper and then etched the designs onto polystyrene tiles. The tiles were then covered in paint using a roller and then the painted side was pressed down onto a piece of paper to create the artwork. Such a simple idea, which had us all absorbed. Since my 7 year old son has been at school, I’ve been somewhat guilty of letting arts and craft time at home slip. It’s something we do occasionally, rather than often. I was rather amazed at the difference in my son. He took direction, was so careful in his design and was totally transfixed throughout the process. Gone were the days of doing something for 2 minutes and then wanting to move on to something else.
Both he and C took their time, made a few artistic decisions on where to place their prints on the paper, what colours to use etc. It was lovely to watch, and something I think we’ll try at home. The lady suggested using the polystyrene trays that come with pizzas (well that’s us sorted then!).
Having fun at Compton Verney with children gives you lots of options. They often have drop in art activities that run in line with the theme of the current exhibition and during the school holidays they run Forest School and nature activities too. Pre-schoolers are also catered for during term time with Forest School, and a Tiny Tuesdays activity sessions.
The weather was looking so much better than expected so we decided we should really explore the Capability Brown parkland whilst the weather was behaving. We had had the opportunity to join a tour of the galleries and the newly restored chapel. But with the boys in tow we decided that doing our own thing was probably a better idea. So map in hand we opted to walk around the East and West Lawns and make our own way to the Chapel before having a lunch break.
The boys instantly felt at home, there was so much space for them to run free in, and it took seconds for my son to find some sticks. I’m going to change his nickname from Monkey to Stick Boy I think. The Nature’s Art Box section on the East Lawn was a great starting point for some outdoors fun.
There is a large lake in the grounds, so the boys were reminded to not get too close, but otherwise they were running on ahead, exploring and having fun. They also found a sandpit.
This all gave L and I ample time to chat, relax and walk at our own pace, while occasionally coming under attack from Stick Boy and his friend.
The restored Georgian Chapel is definitely worth a visit if you’re having fun at Compton Verney. We did have to deter the boys from trying their hand at bell ringing, but it’s a lovely space to admire, and the boys loved the echoes that filled the room as they chatted away
We had decided to try out the Compton Kitchen cafe for lunch before we’d arrived, but if you’re more organised than us, there are plenty of picnic benches doted about the grounds. With a wide range of hot and cold options available we were spoilt for choice although my fussy son would have liked a plain cheese Panini really. He opted for the children’s lunchbox with a half sandwich, drink, mini muffin and raisins, but at 7 he could have done with a larger sandwich really.
But the rest of us had a Chicken Caesar salad deli sandwich and a Toasted Panini all served with salad, which were delicious and packed full of fillings. We were very good and left the cakes alone, as tempting as they were.
My friend and I were both unsure about how the boys would react to the art galleries and exhibition on show at Compton Verney. We’ve taken them to the Ashmolean in Oxford before, but would this hold their interest? Neither of us are particularly knowledgeable when it comes to art, but we can both appreciate the skills involved. l spotted that Compton Verney really have it sussed when it comes to kids and art.
There were a whole host of activities to keep children amused, from Dan the dog and Connie and Verne’s Adventure Bag for ages 3+, Arts Award Discover & Explore family booklet 5+, Hidden treasure for ages 6+ and Exploring through drawing for ages 10+ and adults. On our visit the boys decided to try their hand at their own artwork and headed off with paper, clipboard and pencils.
There’s a variety of art on display from Northern European paintings and sculptures dating from 1450-1650, British Portraits including those of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and Lord Nelson as identified by my son. Through to Italian artwork from 1600-1800, a collection of Chinese artefacts which we all found fascinating, Marx-Lambert Collection and British Folk Art, which was also really interesting.
The current exhibition Creating the Countryside is also running until 18th June 2017. The boys were certainly more receptive to the various displays than I for one, had expected. They each took time to look at the paintings and artwork before finding the Discovery Room. This room is perfect for families, with books to read, a large chalk board and colouring paper and we also found an area with a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle to help complete. There was little chance of me being able to pass up that opportunity.
Outdoors again we were all eager to visit The Clearing on the far side of the lake. A collaborative artwork installation by Alex Hartley and Tom James, providing an ever-changing base to learn about the effects of climate change. Each week different caretakers take up resident within The Clearing, which you can visit whilst having fun at Compton Verney. We were all amazed at how warm it is inside, and were interested to see how the current caretakers were enjoying their stay. There are Clearing workshops running on certain Saturdays, which are payable separately, information can be found on the Compton Verney website.
We’d spotted the Willow Tunnels as we walked up towards the house earlier in the day, and they were calling out to be ran through.
Having seen a number of Ice Houses on various National Trust outings, my son was eager to explore another one and share his knowledge.
The Old Town Meadow was calling and the boys were soon off, running through the field, looking at the Willow Drift artwork and running on again along the mowed pathways.
There were sheep and their lambs in the North Park so we decided against disturbing them on our walk.
If you explore the Wellington Walk you’ll end up at a lovely wooden play area. It was time for my son to surprise me again as the normally unadventurous boy was into everything except the zip wire. Perhaps he’ll try that on another visit
There was just time for a run around the newly installed Labyrinth before we headed home, after a full day out having fun at Compton Verney.
Futures exhibitions that caught my eye include Seurat to Riley – The Art of Perception which will run from 8th July – 1st October 2017 which features a range of optical art. Looks like something young and old will enjoy. From 21st October – 17th December there will also be a display of Quentin Blake – Inside Stories which will feature insights into the origins of some of the illustrators best-loved works.
We all agreed we’d had a great time. With an annual family pass for the collections and parkland costing £22 I can see why my friend and her family have invested. If you are likely to visit the visiting exhibitions as well, then you can also get a family membership from £54.
disclosure: we were given complimentary tickets and a voucher towards the cost of our lunch in exchange for an honest review.