With Belton House, things work a little differently than the other National Trust properties we’d been to. First, it’s so popular that visitors have to reserve spots for timed entry. We were going on a weekday, so we didn’t reserve online, but we were lucky to get timed entry for two hours after we got there. If we’d been going on a weekend or school holiday, the tickets to the house probably would have sold out before we got there. To make the most of our time, we booked the basement tour before the house entry, and it was free for National Trust members.
With the popularity of Downton Abbey, I could understand the compulsion to learn more about how the servant class lived, and the tour was eye opening. I loved the real life examples the tour guide gave us about people who’d actually lived and worked at Belton House, how much they got paid in comparison to today’s salaries, and how the family took care of the servants – even going so far as to pay for the treatment of one of the servants who had cancer. It painted a picture that was kinder than the one I’d had of how families treated servants (too many error-filled historical novels?). I left the tour with a much better understanding of the hierarchy and duties of the serving class. It was fascinating.
Like I said, entry to the house was timed, and we made sure not to miss our window. The girls loved the “tickets” that provided entry to the house — an old-fashioned key. We gave the keys to the woman at the door, and we entered to begin exploring the house.
I will say that navigating the house was sometimes confusing. While trying to catch up to my husband and the girls, I took a wrong turn and missed an entire level of the house, finished the tour, tried to figure out where my family was, returned to the entrance, asked for help, and finally realized that they had gone upstairs when I had gone across the landing.
The house itself was incredibly grand. I was fortunate to spend some time in a small room filled with paintings – just me and the room guide. I call it lucky because I may have missed the Frederick Leighton painting if she hadn’t pointed it out to me. Of all the famous painters, I love the Pre-Raphaelite painters the most, and the painting of Countess Brownlow by Frederick Leighton was stunning. Because of my interest in that painting, the room guide pointed out a few of the other more popular paintings. But my eye caught on one that reminded me of The Swing by Fragonard. It was called The Belton Conversation Piece by Philippe Mercier. When it caught my eye, the sun was shining on it in such a way that the woman in the swing was illuminated. Truly exquisite.
The other truly noteworthy aspect of Belton House is that it is also known as Rosings Park in the Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. I was so impressed, I even took photos of the Blue Bedroom, where Mr. Darcy stays during his visit to Rosings and where he writes his letter to Lizzie.
I toured the rest of Belton House by myself, having lost the family. It’s always nice to go at your own pace.
As a rewarding ending to the day, the girls played in the indoor play area for a while before we took them to the Outdoor Adventure Playground. It was extensive. We made it right before the cafe closed, so the girls got some ice cream, and I got tea with milk and sugar. It was perfect for the quickly cooling afternoon. We didn’t see the girls again until it was time to go, and of course, on their way back to the entrance, they tried all the outdoor adventure play things that they could. I also had a go at some of them! The area was so extensive, we could easily have stayed an entire day there without the girls getting bored.
To summarize, our trip to Belton House was great, and we’d go again with extra time for the Outdoor Adventure Playground.