So, things aren’t quite going as planned this year, are they? I had every intention of visiting one NT property per month by public transport in 2020, and I had a triple visit planned for the weekend of 21 March. Now there’ll be no NTbB adventures for the foreseeable future – until it’s safe to use public transport for leisure purposes. Not wanting to miss out on using my NT membership, Mr NTbB and I took our new hybrid car to the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire.
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In January Mr NTbB purchased a new-to-us plug-in hybrid car to reduce his carbon emissions while commuting. At about the same time, the Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire (our nearest big NT property) was opening its new Welcome Centre and, excitingly, free charging points for electric vehicles, powered by their solar farm. This journey is right on the limit for the battery in our car (unless it’s really hot); theoretically it has the range, but real-world conditions mean this is rarely true, so we do use a tiny bit of petrol to get there – about one mile’s worth.
An unwise move?
The weekend before lockdown began, when we should have been exploring Ickworth, Mr NTbB and I decided to try out the EV charging points at Wimpole. This, it turned out, was not our wisest move. By this point the National Trust had shut their houses and gardens but had left their parkland open to visitors. Unfortunately the weather was glorious and it seemed that half of East Anglia had decided to visit Wimpole. While there were signs and systems in place, plenty of people were not obeying social distancing rules and it was somewhat chaotic (in no way the Trust’s fault).
Despite the crowds, we did manage to keep away from others and had a pleasant time exploring the parkland. The EV charging points worked and the new visitor entrance to Wimpole looks brilliant; it will be great when it can actually be open and the landscaping has grown up a bit.
Fast-forward 10 weeks and I was pleased to read that the National Trust were reopening their car parks and some open spaces. Access to NT properties (parks, parkland and gardens – no buildings yet) is now by timed ticket, booked in advance. They are released at 7 am on Friday mornings for the following week – and they sell out fast!
The Trust is carefully limiting numbers to ensure that social distancing can be maintained. While you go through the National Trust website to order your tickets, they are administered by Eventbrite, which the Trust uses for a lot of its ticketed events; my Tyntesfield House tickets and the Shaw’s Corner tour tickets were both issued via its app. You don’t, however, need the app to get the tickets – Eventbrite will send you an email containing them. You do have to be quick to get a ticket and you may well wait in a virtual queue – we had to. With all the timed booking slots it can require a bit of scrolling, but the system works, which considering what a monumental task setting it up must have been is all we can hope for at the moment.
The website emphasises the importance of arriving within your time slot, so on Friday morning (having booked our tickets the previous week), Mr NTbB and I packed some snacks and headed off early – our slot was 9.30-10 am. On arrival we were greeted by two members of staff at a gazebo in the entrance to the car park. The website says to leave your window up, but this isn’t practical and the staff member asked us to roll it down – they have plenty of room to stand well back from the car! They ticked my name off on their register, checked my membership card and explained the new system to us. It seemed very organised.
After parking and plugging the car in, we headed into the park. A temporary path has been cut through the field so there’s a one-way system into and out of the parkland. There were lots of signs at the entrance reminding you to social distance and queue markers for the toilets (which were open). There was even a box of maps available, should we have wanted one.
Once away from the entrance it was wonderfully quiet – my favourite way to enjoy an NT property! Numbers are strictly limited and it was quite early in the day – both of these factors contributed to the tranquility. At Wimpole there’s no time limit to your stay, so it gets a bit busier as morning visitors overlap with afternoon ones. We were free to explore and it was so lovely to (almost) forget the crazy situation at the moment; social distancing signage was limited to gates in the park, which was a welcome escape.
We had a lovely time visiting the lake and the folly, before finding a quiet spot with great views to enjoy our Belgian buns* and the antics of the lambs. (*When we visited none of the takeaway food/drink outlets were open, but the Rectory Tea Room is now open for takeaway.)
A different experience
The experience was vastly different to our previous visit and all other visits. It felt like the Trust was in control, had a plan, and that visitors were safe. It felt like a visit to an NT property should – good for the soul.
While it must be frustrating if you can’t get tickets yet, I’d say keep trying!
Please note: All information is correct at time of publication, but please do check – timetables and ticket prices are subject to regular changes.