Harewood

First published in What's On by

Harewood is far more than just a big old house and a penguin pool.

We've filled a whole day several times and still the kids have demanded we return. Every time we've discovered something new either inside the mansion or around the extensive grounds.

It's is an obvious choice for a Sunday out -- and it's a perfect treat for a weekday in the school holidays.

It's around an hour from Keighley by car. Although a bus journey will take a couple of hours, it's worth the effort because you get in for half price.

There are the posh rooms and servants' quarters, lake and gardens, Himalayan Gardens and woodland walks, adventure playground and bird garden, and an indoor play area for young children.

In a nutshell, Harewood is one of the most enjoyable and relaxing family days out in Yorkshire.

We've been several times over the years while the children were in primary school, but I did wonder this time because -- for our first return in three years -- 11 and 13 could be a little old.

My daughter moaned beforehand -- "it's going to be boring" -- then kept herself occupied for four happy hours as we took grandma round.

The house itself is gorgeous -- imposing outside and sumptuous inside -- and will delight anyone who likes stately homes.

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It was built in 1771 and is renowned for its exquisite ceilings, interiors and furniture, and the 76-feet-long gallery hung with Renaissance masterpieces.

There's lots to examine as you walk around the ground-floor rooms, and guides in most rooms to tell you interesting facts. Particularly good are the handheld electronic guides -- my kids loved them, and insisted on hearing every word in each room.

The kids also loved the fascinating "Below Stairs" -- rooms such as the servants' quarters and kitchen -- where there are child-friendly interactive exhibits.

There's a cafe and art gallery overlooking the terrace, and a maze-like garden that itself overlooks the lake, woods and hills beyond.

Apart from the mansion the most distinctive sight at Harewood are the three domes of what used to be the Yorkshire Planetarium.

Now these "geodomes”, included in the main admission charge, host a toyshop, film show, and play area with giant games like Twister, Connect Four and noughts and crosses.

Just below is the adventure playground, one of the biggest and best I've ever seen, with its workers, walkways, slides, swings and webs. Be warned -- your rugrats might want to spend hours on the playground while you'd rather do something else!

Then it's onto the bird garden, home to penguins, pink flamingos and rare birds from around the world.

For several years that's where we finished our visits, not realising the delights that lay beyond.

First a walk through the woods alongside the lake, where a boat sometimes takes people on short trips.

Then the Himalayan garden with its network of winding paths, bridges, stepping stones, waterfall and lovingly-recreated Buddhist monument. As well as games of hide and seek in this garden, on one wonderful occasion we sheltered in the summer house while the rain beat down and generated evocative scents from the flowers.

The woods continue around the other side of the lake -- more games of hide and seek -- to an old house, walled garden and spiral maze. Another "secret" to discover is the recently-restored Ice House next to the penguin pool, with its dizzying view down.

It's best to visit Harewood when the sun's out, but an overcast day shouldn't spoil your enjoyment.

In short: adventure, relaxation, nature and history -- a full and varied visit.

Duration: half to a full day.

The Age suitability: all ages from pram to pension, but teenagers could get bored.

Access: wheelchair access to all of house and Below Stairs; flat and easy paths through woods and lake, accessed via steep slope in bird garden or gentler slope alongside.

Extras: cafes in house and next to bird garden; shop; several toilets around the site; family events on many weekends; also concerts and plays.

Open: house noon-4pm; Below Stairs 10.30-4pm; grounds and gardens 10am-6pm.

Prices: access to everything, summer, adults £ 1, children £5.50, seniors £1-, family £35; cheaper without access to house.

Getting there: situated at junction of A61/A659 on main Leeds/Harrogate road. By car, travel from Keighley via Otley and Pool; by bus, take no 36 from Leeds to Harrogate, runs about every 20 minutes (phone 01423 566061), half price entry for those who arrive by bus.

Parking: free.

Website: www.harewoodhouse.org.uk Phone: 0113 218 1010

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