Holkham Hall, Norfolk, UK a fantastic day out for kids with autism – Review

© Holkham EstateI’m always on the look out for a new and exciting place to take the children especially at half term. No school doesn’t mean that I want them to run wild. I want them to learn something of the history and nature of the area in which we are living.

I had my reservations about taking my autistic son to one of the organised events at Holkham hall UK. He has Asperger syndrome, and has a tendency to shout out number patterns, repeat absolutely everything that’s been said to him word for word, and queuing, historically has been an absolute nightmare unless I take number cards or a distraction whilst waiting in line.

But you never know until you’ve tried. And I must say I was very pleasantly surprised.

The Setting

Holkham hall and estate is situated in the coastal village of Holkham, around three miles out of Wells Next The Sea, so accessible by Coast-hopper bus services from surrounding villages. Any further out and there is a necessity to drive as buses are very sporadic, especially out of peak season (May to September).

The hall itself dates back to the 18th Century and is built in the Palladian style, commissioned by the 1st Earl of Leicester. The hall is a treat in itself but will set you back an extra payment. Perhaps not the best place to visit with kids in tow, especially if they’re very vocal.

The grounds and estate are best left for a sunny day. There is a deer park adjacent the hall and also a duck pond, a walled garden, courtyard and museum. There are a number of events held on grounds thorough the year, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas. We attended the Halloween event today.

 

The day

We were very impressed with the level of detail that the staff at the estate had gone to to make the event spooktacular. As we drove in through the gates we spotted a number of ghostly ghouls hanging from the trees, of course, sonny boy took great delight in counting them all and reporting back how many he’d seen.

Parking was easy, and a short walk (also wheelchair friendly) through the trees, which had their own special personalities. The courtyard itself is large and accessible, there is a cafe, museum gift shop and child friendly activities like crafts and special Halloween themed on site, and times of shows and activities are given upon entry.

Price for a full day of activities and access all areas (except the hall itself) was £15 for two children and an adult, Full prices and activities can be found here. A ten pc discount is also available for booking events on-line.

The first thing son wanted to take part in the fancy dress parade, which surprised me, although in costume, he’s not one to usually take part in group activity. All staff were friendly and helpful, and guided us to where we should be and at what time. Small prizes were given to all children, so no one went away empty handed.2013-10-29 11.42.42

By the time the small parade had finished (once around the courtyard) it was time for lunch. We headed to the cafe. I hate to say it, although the food was delicious, and fresh, the prices were extortionate, and I ended up spending £27 on my bowl of pumpkin soup, a coffee, the kids sandwich bags and spooky themed cakes. So unless you’re prepared for the shock of a huge food bill, pack a lunch!

As an aside, the cafe and toilets aren’t very wheelchair friendly, but most people there today didn’t struggle with buggies or large prams.

Activities

Routine is important to the boy, so it was great to know and plan where we were going and when. He really enjoyed the spider counting in the Walled garden, and the buggy ride we took to get there (in fact he didn’t want to get off at the other end). Staff had got into the spirit dressed up in costume, but no one was too busy to help out if we had a question.

There was face painting available, at an extra cost and of course there was a queue but even this was manageable due to a number of old fashioned games the estate staff had provided quite near to the annexe where the face painting was situated.

There was some mad science, which the kids enjoyed, and the lessons were factual and fun but not too long (around a 10 to 15 minute show) ideal for a child with a short attention span.

There was also an interactive story time, where kids got to take part in a historical story based around some real life events in the area. Boy also played a part in this story and got to wear a top hat, which made his day.

We ended the day with some spider making and pumpkin carving.

 

Conclusion

2013-10-29 14.35.27I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of access and helpfulness of staff, also their understanding towards  a child with some extra needs. Even the bygones museum would be accessible to children or adults in a wheelchair. For the able bodied, there is some walking involved if you want to see absolutely everything the estate has to offer. So be warned, also go prepared for rain, there are indoor areas, but the walk to the parking ground may be muddy and require some wellingtons in inclement weather.

If you go without your own food, prepare your credit card. Also if you visit the shop, lovely local products, from jewellery and hand made soap, bags and pocket money bits for the children.

We had a wonderful day out and hope to go again for the Christmas event, the boy’s favourite part? Making the pumpkin! I would highly recommend this venue for children with special needs who are over five years of age, mostly because of the helpfulness of the staff and the variety and diversity of events on offer for them. We spent six hours there today quite happily without a visit to the hall itself.

Ideal way to spend a day’s holiday.

 

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Shân Ellis About Shân Ellis

Shân Ellis, is a qualified journalist with five years experience of writing features, blogging and working on a regional newspaper. Prior to working as a journalist, she was a ghost writer for top publishers and was closely involved in the editing and development of book series. Shân has a degree in the sciences, and 5 A levels. She lives in the UK and is the mother of an autistic child.