Each month, my eldest little dude focuses on a different topic in pre-school. In April, that topic was pets. So you can probably imagine the wonderful requests that he came home with. Yes, each day, he NEEDED a different animal. One day, it was a dog. The next, a fish. He thought that a pig would probably take up too much room but maybe, a horse would be happy in our garden (it would not). As a family, we've almost set our hearts on a rescue dog from the RSPCA when the boys are a bit older (and more gentle) and we, hopefully, have some spare time on our hands but, being huge Peter Rabbit fans, the boys are making a strong case for a bunny. According to my eldest, to properly look after a rabbit, you need to do four things. One, feed it. Two, clean it. Three, stroke it. Four, play with it. His intentions are good but I can't help but think ahead to the week after the rabbit has arrived and how many of those four things have become my responsibility. All four, perhaps?
Anyway, this weekend, we decided to head off to the Lake District (the once home of Beatrix Potter) for the weekend to go in search of the real Peter Rabbit. If we're not quite ready for the little ones to co-own their own rabbit, then trying to catch a glimpse of Peter stealing carrots from Mr. McGregor's garden surely comes a close second best, right? We'd heard a rumour that Peter and friends had found a new home at Wray Castle on the banks of Lake Windermere so we headed there at speed! Well, not really at great speed. Have you ever driven in the Lake District? Despite signs saying 60 miles per hour, you're hard pushed to go faster than thirty as you tackle the blind bends and country lanes through rolling hills. So, we headed to Wray at a reasonably moderate pace, instead.
When it comes to keeping children entertained, Wray Castle is a very precious jewel in the National Trust's golden crown. It is an absolute joy to spend time in and at. The castle building is a young child's dream. It's the castle of fairy tales and story books, exactly how you'd imagine one if you were crafting your very own fable of wicked kings, brave queens and gallant knights. It's picture perfect. The grounds are simply stunning too. Croquet on the lawn, badminton if you're feeling energetic, the most wonderful outdoor playground, an abundance of bluebells (at the start of Spring) and a five minute meander from Lake Windermere itself. You could truly spend a whole day there. Weather permitting. The Lake District weather is not entirely kind, but when the sun shines, you'd struggle to find anywhere more beautiful in the world.
But the real treat for my boys was hidden indoors. No, not the snooker room, although they very much enjoyed potting balls even if they struggled to see over the table. No, not the playroom, but chalking on the blackboard wall was hugely enjoyable. Not even the drawing room where real drawing and colouring did actually take place. Nope, none of the above, but somewhere altogether more magical for two massive Peter Rabbit fans.
Hidden along a narrow corridor off the first floor and down some creaky steps, lies Peter's burrow, Mr. McGregor's garden, Old Brown's nest, and the loveliest treehouse where no end of secret adventures can take place and wily plots concocted. I was amazed so I can't imagine how wonderful it must be to see it all through a child's eyes. My eldest was like a whirlwind, spinning from room to room, his smile getting bigger and bigger, while my littlest was so excited to be 'making tea' in Peter's kitchen. As a parent, it was just perfect (apart from having to break up a fight over who got to look through Peter's telescope first ... but I'll gloss over that).
Wray Castle is open from 10:00 until 17:00 and you really could spend an entire day there. Bring a picnic; there are tables to eat at and the views are amazing. There's limited parking (we arrived around 11am on an overcast Saturday and there were still quite a few free but it did get busier after lunch) but regular boats run from Ambleside. It costs £9 per adult, £4.50 for children (under 5s are free), and £22.50 for a family pass. I'd say that it's worth every penny and then some. We will definitely be returning.
Of course, while Peter Rabbit is a well-loved fictional character, there are plenty of real-life rabbits that need our care and attention too. Rabbit Awareness Week (RAW) runs from May 9 until May 17 and its aim is to spread awareness about the welfare needs of pet rabbits, from what to feed them to how to look after their teeth. The RSPCA is one of the key partners in supporting RAW because, sadly, thousands of rabbits end up in their care every year. If you have a pet rabbit and want to know more, do check out the RAW website, or if you would like to offer a home to one of the rabbits, or indeed other pets, in the RSPCA's care, you might want to consider adopting one.
This post was written in collaboration with the RSPCA.