Our top natural play areas

Splashing through streams, crashing along muddy trails and peering through the branches of a woodland den - there’s nothing quite like playing outdoors. We’ve picked our ten favourite natural playgrounds for children to explore at the places we look after. They are perfect for family wild time, and great for ticking off some of our 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾.

Children running across the grass

Arlington Court, Devon 

Defend the fort, climb the tree perch, spot the elusive herons or scramble up the mud slide; Arlington Court’s play trail has something for all ages. The route, which is just less than two miles, takes your past the old lake, into the bird hide and through two woodland plays areas – Monkey Puzzle Mania and the Wilderness.

Girl running in a garden

Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire 

Starting at the beautiful moated Tudor manor house, follow the horseshoe waymarkers for the ‘playful journey’ trail. Discover lookout spy trees, a hideaway hill, hop along balancing beams, creep around the labyrinth and take a break in the rest awhile shelter and share a story or two. Visit the family hub in the summer months for even more fun activities to discover.

The natural play trail at Box Hill Surrey

Box Hill, Surrey 

Discover Box Hill’s natural play trail, a two-mile family walk that takes you through all the very best places to play in the woods around Box Hill. Build dens among the Yew trees, test your balance on fallen trunks, and climb around the roots of an ancient beech.

Children playing in the garden at Erddig

Erddig, Wales 

Are you brave enough to head into the Wolf’s Den? Try the rope swing, build a den and test your balance. Named after the Norman earl Hugh d’Avranches – nicknamed ‘the Wolf’ – who spent most of his life fighting in Wales, this natural playground is a well-loved spot in the shadow of one of the nation’s favourite stately homes.

Visitors walking in the woodland at Gibside

Gibside, Tyne & Wear 

A woodland playscape, created from materials found on the Gibside estate, is the perfect place to climb trees, make dens, crawl through tunnels, balance on log bridges and scramble up the wooden climbing wall. Gibside is also home to an adventure playground, inspired by the lost Strawberry Castle, a low ropes challenge, den building and wildlife hide complete the selection. The Family Scramble walk links all these places to play in a two hour trail that takes in all the best Gibside has to offer families.

Two children in wellies, jumping in a puddle

Ightham Mote, Kent 

There’s a stream running through the natural play area at Ightham Mote, a romantic moated medieval manor a short drive from Sevenoaks. Recently opened after storms tore through the old play area, everything is natural. Play with wooden mushrooms made by gardeners at nearby Scotney Castle or the musical bamboo hanging in the woods. Lie on fallen branches and explore the caving area, and discover the trip trap bridge, curly wurly tree and other special places in the gardens and park.

Children climbing a tree at Mottisfont

Mottisfont, Hampshire 

Inspired by the family of ten children who made this house and estate their outdoor playground at the close of the 19th century, the team at Mottisfont have created a wild play experience that’s full of adventure. Explore the boggy climbing area in the meadow, attempt to balance on snaky beams and spiders’ webs without falling in the mud and dam the stream in the wild pool.

Children exploring the garden at Sizergh

Sizergh, Cumbria 

You’ll find yourself crawling through walls, abseiling, balancing on logs and swinging from the trees at Sizergh’s wild play trail, designed by the estate’s family volunteers. Starting from the car park, you’ll need to follow the clues to find the play trail, which tracks through the woods on a mile-and-a-half loop.

Four girls play on a tyre swing at Springhill, County Londonderry

Springhill, Ulster 

Tucked away in a woodland clearing, Springhill’s natural play area combines natural materials like tree trunks and willow structures with more conventional timber play structures to create a magical place to play. Children love exploring the natural climbing frames, rope swings and dens, mystical creatures and thrones.

A boy on a rope swing at Woodchester Park

Woodchester Park, Gloucestershire 

In a secluded valley deep in the Cotswolds lies a playground in the woods. Playtime opportunities abound. Swing in the trees from ropes, balance on beams and tree trunks or drum out a melody on the musical logs. The play trail is an easy walk, following the blue markers from the car park.