Family Travel

Taking the Kids -- outside of London

Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle  (Andy Yemma)

What could be more English then coming face to face with a snowy owl, exploring a "Lost in the Willows" maze, inspired by the classic children's tale "The Wind in the Willows," playing hide-and-seek in huge hedges and then climbing a haunted staircase at a centuries-old castle?

Let's not forget the kids' favorite at  Sudeley Castle  -- the red velvet toilet designed for queens.

There's also the chance to learn plenty of English history and customs (it was considered an honor to be the groom of the stool, the assigned bottom-wiper of a queen or king) in a castle that was home to  Katherine Parr , King Henry VIII's last wife, who is buried here. Richard III, who was killed in 1485 and whose remains were recently found and reburied in  Leicester , also lived here.

Tell your kids Americans can grow up to live in an English castle -- this one is now owned by Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe, a grandmother now in her 80s, who was raised in  Kentucky . Her first husband inherited the castle and brought her here to live. After his untimely death, she raised her two kids here and has been welcoming visitors for decades.

"My kids like to play medieval battles with wooden swords and bow and arrows," said her son  Henry Brocklehurst . "The yew hedges provide a mazelike environment and are great for hide-and-seek games. Visiting the castle is English history made fun ... kings, queens, ghosts, animals and lots of great areas to play."

It seems a bargain too -- admission is less than  $56  for two adults and up to three kids and you could happily spend much of the day here. Even the train ride here can be an adventure with a stop, of course, at the world's only Paddington Bear Shop in  Paddington Station .

After seeing  London's  great sites, it's a joy to explore  Britain's  famous Cotswolds towns, which are just about a two-hour train trip from  London's   Paddington Station  -- ideal for a day or a weekend when you've had enough of the city, as fun as it is.

The towns here are small and so pretty that they seem right out of a movie set, though they are real villages, home to 21st-century families, but they evoke a much kinder, gentler time, complete with narrow country lanes, open fields with bleating sheep and thatch-roofed cottages.

While there aren't too many of these big estates left, many well-heeled Britons live in the Cotswolds, even royalty.  Princess Anne  has long lived here -- so do her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter.  Prince Charles  also has a residence here. Artists and writers love this area. They've flocked to the picturesque villages for years, hoping for inspiration.

There's a lot in the Cotswolds to see --  Oxford , Stratford-upon- Avon ,  Blenheim Palace  and Sudeley castle. But it's fun to just amble through the villages with names like  Broadway , Upper and Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water where there is an entire miniature of the town to visit, as well as the town itself (the miniature village has its own miniature village, which has its own -- you get the picture.

We took a walk on the  Cotswolds Way Walk National Trail , the famous 102-mile footpaths connects the picturesque villages through fields where you might pass grazing sheep. This region is famous for its wool, but there are plenty of farmer's markets, gardens, bike paths and options for horseback riding

Hikers can arrange to have their bags transferred from inn to inn, as they make their way along the  Cotswolds Trail . And there are numerous B-and-B's and rental apartments.

You can live like royalty at  Ellenborough Park  that dates back to the 16th century, but offers all of the latest amenities, including an award-winning spa and outdoor heated pool -- along with a lot of tradition. Ready for Afternoon Tea in the Great Hall, complete with freshly made scones, clotted cream and jam? Yum!

The town of Winchcombe, where  Sudeley Castle  is located, means "valley with a bend" and the town has historic houses and buildings made from traditional Cotswolds stone sitting on curved streets. As far back as the 9th century, Winchcombe has been one of the most prosperous communities in  Britain , owing in large part to Cotswolds sheep whose wool is exported throughout  Europe .

Richard III set about transforming Sudeley into a home for a king, but he was killed two years later in the Battle of Bosworth Field. He was succeeded by Henry VII and then Henry VIII, who spent time at Sudeley with  Anne Boleyn  in 1535 -- a year before he had her beheaded.  Katherine Parr , Henry's final wife, came to live at Sudeley after he died. She remarried six months later. Sadly, she died soon after giving birth to a daughter, who is thought to have died as a young child.

When  Mark Dent-Brocklehurst  inherited Sudeley and brought his young wife Elizabeth to the castle, it was on the verge of falling down. Like others in their shoes, the young couple decided the only way to preserve it was to renovate it (family treasures were sold to finance the renovation) and then open it up to the public.

After Dent-Brocklehurst's death in 1972, Elizabeth remained with her two young children and has devoted her life to restoring and preserving the great castle.

"Ever since I have lived at Sudeley and watched two generations of family growing up here, all children have loved hiding and playing games in the yew hedges," Lady Ashcombe said.

Some things never change.

Eileen Ogintz is the creator of the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids. She is also the author of the ten-book Kid’s Guide series to major American cities and the Great Smoky Mountains. The third-edition of the Kid’s Guide to NYC has just been released.