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EUROPE SPECIAL ISSUE

For Kids, a Jolly Good Show

Shedding its stuffy act, England's attractions can entice the younger crowd.

April 29, 2001|TOM O'BRIEN | Tom O'Brien is freelance writer based in Washington, D.C

Adults can mine Wiltshire's history--the Neolithic (Stonehenge), Roman Britain (Rockborne Villa, AD 200) and the Middle Ages (Salisbury Cathedral). If a cathedral visit sounds hopelessly stuffy for kids, this one was yet another surprise, offering a children's tour of its artwork. They got supplies to draw all the unicorns and griffins they could spot in the stained glass and sculpture. We got quiet.

We also found historic sites--with one major exception--family-friendly. Stonehenge was a bomb; to young kids, it's just big rocks to look at from a distance. (The monoliths have been roped off for some years because of crowd control problems.)

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 29, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 Foreign Desk 2 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Travel--The "Guidebook" that accompanies the article "For Kids, a Jolly Good Show" in today's Travel section incorrectly reports that Ville et Village can book cottages for travelers to England. It no longer does so. The error came to light after the Travel section was printed earlier in the week.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 6, 2001 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 6 Travel Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
England--The Guidebook that accompanied the article on London, "For Kids, a Jolly Good Show" in the April 29 Travel section incorrectly reported that Ville et Village can book cottages for travelers to England. It no longer does so.

But the children were enchanted and engaged by things to see and do at other sites. The best was two miles north of Salisbury at Old Sarum Castle, a hill fort on the elevated site of the first city in the area (abandoned in 1226 because of water supply problems). After circling the ruins, we sat in the castle yard and watched "The Bard and the Blade"--swordplay from Shakespeare, in another case of inventive staging. This one was from "The Taming of the Shrew," with blades replacing slapstick between Katherina and Petruchio. The lead actress (she was what Shakespeare would term a buxom red-haired lass) invited kids in the crowd to learn how to fake a fight, and takers were plenty, including our 7-year-old, who gleefully "tossed aside" a hefty attacker.

Estates--the grand blueblood homes within parks--that we visited also were open with pint-size visitors in mind. One was Wilton, whose grounds were used in the movie "Sense and Sensibility." Aware that room after room of elegance brings out the fidget in children, Wilton has an outdoor play area with trampolines, slides and rope ladders, where our daughters cavorted. Afterward we strolled in the gardens, discovering a picture-book-perfect Palladian bridge over a stream (actually the River Nadder).

Longleat, an estate of the Marquess of Bath, also had a playground, this one tapping into imagination with a large wooden castle and a maze said to be the longest in the world. (We tried to navigate it but were baffled.)

When we tired, we buckled into our car for a tour of Longleat's Safari Park, 350 wild acres with lions and tigers (but no bears), stocked by the marquess. The car had to be locked tight because the big cats came up, mostly, it seemed, to inspect the side mirrors.

When a monkey later jumped on the car, I heard a sweet little voice in the back seat blurt out: "This is the best day of my life."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Guidebook: Taking Tykes to England

* Getting there: From LAX, nonstop service to London is available on British Airways, American, Air New Zealand, Virgin Atlantic, United and TWA. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $934.

* Where to stay in London: When booking a hotel, ask if they have family rooms or suites--two bedrooms and a shared bath. They're often not advertised, but they can lead to savings. We got such savings at the Basil Street Hotel, Knightsbridge, London SW3 1AH, telephone 011-44-207-581-3311, fax 011-44-207-581-3693, Internet http://www.thebasil.com, one block from Harrods. A family suite there goes for about $380 a night.

Also recommended: The Gresham Hotel, 116 Sussex Gardens, London W2 1UA, tel. 011-44-207-402-2920, fax 011-44-207-402-3137, http://www.the-gresham-hotel.co.uk; family suites from $150 a night.

Also welcoming families: Allandale Hotel, 3 Devonshire Terrace, Lancaster Gate, London W2 3DN, tel./fax 011-44-20-7723-8311, http://www.allandalehotel.co.uk. Rates for a family room begin about $150.

* Where to eat in London: Rouge, 15 Frith St., W1, Piccadilly, local tel. 7437-4307, a chain with a French accent, is for adults as well as children. Maxwell's, 8-9 James St., WC2, in Covent Garden, tel. 7836-0303, has good pizza, hamburgers and milkshakes. Both Rouge and Maxwell's have a kids' menu for about $10; adult fare will cost about $15 to $20. In southwest London, try the Chelsea Kitchen, 98 Kings Road, SW3, tel. 7589-1330, which features inexpensive roasts and chops. At the Globe, walk a block to the Anchor Pub, Southwark Bridge, tel. 7407-1577, where the Sunday roast beef is hearty.

* Getting to Wiltshire: You can take the train from Waterloo station to Salisbury (about 90 minutes) and rent a car. A similar strategy is practical for other cities with historic attractions (Bath, York, Durham, Edinburgh).

* Where to stay in Wiltshire: Renting a cottage provides a good home base. As You Like It, PMB126, 38 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA 94941; tel. (415) 380-9848, fax (415) 380-9850, and Ville et Village, 2124 Kittredge St., No. 200, Berkeley, CA 94704; tel. (510) 559-8080, fax (510) 559-8217, http://www.villeetvillage.com, provide good selections.

Through As You Like It, we arranged to stay on Witherington Farm near Salisbury. The cottage (with three bedrooms, a kitchen, big living and dining rooms, garden and a pool) was $2,500 for a week.

* For more information: Helpful in trip planning: "Kids' London," one of the Dorling Kindersley travel guides for parents, and Cadogan's "Take the Kids to London." Useful Web sites: http://www.aboutbritain.com and http://www.kidsnet.co.uk. Also check out family-oriented events at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk or http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk or http://www.salisbury.gov.uk/tourism.

Also, the British Tourist Authority, 551 Fifth Ave., Suite 701, New York, NY 10176-0799; tel. (800) 462-2748, http://www.btausa.com.

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