Bolsover Castle review by Laura Rowan - Derby Days Out Blog
23rd July 2020

Hello! It’s Laura here again, forty-something mum of one. Back in May I wrote a piece about enjoying nature and the outdoors during lockdown. Two months on and lockdown has eased, non-essential shops are open, we can eat out and visit family again and we have formed a ‘bubble’. Personally I have taken my time to go out and about. I haven’t visited a large supermarket or shop - with the exception of a branch of B&Q - where I got altogether confused about the one-way system. I have ventured further out for leisure though - country walks and coffee and cake take-out-tours of Derbyshire. Where we head is very much led by three things: Can I get a coffee there? Are the loo’s open yet? And will there be something to interest the little one? Whilst I think kids need to learn that sometimes things are just necessarily boring, I don’t want her to have a miserable time when we are out (yes OK, I admit I also don’t want to be grumbled at the whole time when we are out).

Before Covid, getting out and about would be a mix of planning in advance and deciding on the day dependent on the “good old British weather”. With social distancing and reduced capacity in a lot of places, advance planning is more the order of the day - and it turns out I am not the best at this! I am getting used to the new-normal of taking face-masks and two hand sanitizers out (in case we lose one, which I am confident we will do at some point) but not at booking tickets in advance. I keep forgetting and therefore missing time slots that work for us. However, I did get lucky this week with English Heritage and Bolsover Castle. Tickets for the very last time slot of the day which worked well for my working hours.

Sitting high on a hill, Bolsover castle is the remains of a Stuart era mansion that was designed to impress. The rooms were lavish, and the views across Derbyshire are spectacular. The history of the site goes back to William the Conqueror, but what remains now is largely the work of the Cavendish family during the 1600’s. It has been in the hands of English Heritage since 1984, and has had extensive restoration.

The site is easy to find in the centre of Bolsover town. Parking is free at the site and in the town centre. Spaces nearest the entrance are quickly filled, though I expect that staggered entry will mean it’s easier to find a spot. We had no problem at all. Visitors who have limited mobility can be set down at the visitors centre. Some of the site is wheelchair and pushchair accessible, some not. There are stairs and steps throughout the site (I didn't spot if there was anywhere secure to leave pushchairs or wheelchairs).

There are additional hygiene and safety measures in place. As well as timed tickets there are one-way systems in place where space makes it difficult to maintain social distancing. I liked the ‘priority’ system that was in place where it wasn’t possible to go one-way only - “You have priority over oncoming visitors” notices. This is the first time I have seen this, and it makes very good sense. There are hand-sanitiser stations at various points throughout. The cafe is open for take-away and there are plenty of well-spaced tables outdoors, but also room to have a picnic on the grassed areas. The toilets are open and clean, and the shop is open. There is a charming little castle themed play area for under-12’s but this is closed at the moment which is understandable. I have to say that at the time of our visit it was very quiet - we were probably the last visitors so didn’t see the systems in full swing. But it seemed easy to follow so I would have felt comfortable on a busier day.

Bolsover Castle is great for events and activities throughout the year (jousting for example), however understandably these are scaled back this year. For the school holidays English Heritage has created a Summer Explorer Quest for younger visitors. There is a trail to follow around the castle grounds, solving clues and claiming a certificate at the end. Our visit was during term time, so the trail wasn’t officially on - but the tour trail was available to download on the website so we did, and we were able to complete most of the trail.

What worked well about this was the downloading. It's a PDF that can be edited, so the little one was able to use my phone to complete it. Though she does enjoy time out in the fresh air, given the choice she would spend most leisure time gaming. Having the trail on a screen was more appealing to her than having it printed out. I would say the trail is broadly aimed at primary age children. The younger ones will need help, the older ones will be able to follow it fairly independently.

Aside from the trail, we found the place fascinating. Within the grounds are The Little Castle, The Riding House, Fountain Garden, Wall Walk and the upper Terrace Range (the latter being the remains of the grand house). There are information boards throughout for grown-ups and lots of space for little ones to explore and run around. Some of the steps are uneven, the wall walk and edge of the terrace area has a steep drop (there are warning signs) so children need close supervision (the wall walk was roped off at the time of our visit, and I am not sure if it will be re-opening later). There are numerous murals and antique furniture in the ‘Little Castle’ that even the little one found interesting. The castle has a reputation for ghostly going on, and has hosted spooky night-time events. We didn’t have any supernatural encounters although there was one very small room off of the kitchen which had a definite uneasy atmosphere.....

The favourite thing for the grown-ups was almost having the place to ourselves and the view from the terraced area, out over the Vale of Scarsdale. You can see across to the derelict Sutton Scarsdale Hall (Also English Heritage, free entry for exterior viewing only as it is undergoing renovation) and beyond towards Chesterfield (and the M1 but that’s not so spectacular...). The littles ones favourite thing was ice cream from the cafe, the kids activity being a close second.

The cost for 2 adults and 1 child was £32.80. I am thinking about buying membership, so we are likely to return, perhaps when events are running again.

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