Naomi MacKay lists a selection of group-friendly attractions in Cheshire, Lancashire, Cumbria and Greater Manchester
There’s 2,000 years of history to explore in Chester, so even the most avid heritage buff should be kept happy.
A walk of the city walls is a must. Along the way, explore the towers, see the River Dee, the Eastgate Clock and visit the biggest stone-built Roman Amphitheatre in Britain – entry is free.
Events and outdoor theatre still take place here. Be in The Cross at midday to see the Town Crier – the only place in the UK where this happens (Tuesday to Saturday between May and August).
Sightseeing Tours leave from the Town Hall (Chester Cathedral on Sundays) or take a Chester Heritage Tour on an Edwardian omnibus. Entry is free to the 1,000-year-old Chester Cathedral, home to some of the finest medieval carvings in Europe.
Groups: Must be booked in advance. Take afternoon tea in the Refectory where monks once ate in silence or go behind the scenes on the new Cathedral at Height tour.
The Lion Salt Works, Northwich
Recently restored, the Lion Salt Works is a historic open-pan salt making site near the Trent and Mersey Canal, Weaver Hall Museum and Workhouse, and the historic Anderton Boat Lift. It offers a journey through the life of the country’s last open-pan salt making site.
Groups: To book, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. The Lion Salt Works charges £30 for 10 people.
Beeston Castle and Woodland Park
Sitting atop a rocky crag and offering fantastic views, Beeston Castle is one of the most dramatically sited medieval castles in England.
If the weather is clear you can see all the way from the Pennines to the Welsh mountains. The castle offers an insight into its 4,000-year history, plus there’s a 40-acre woodland park to explore.
Groups: 15% discount for groups of 11 or more visitors paying together. Free entry for coach drivers and tour leaders. Guided tours are available for 11-20 people, booking one month in advance.
Telephone: 01829 260464
This Georgian mansion is set in a vast estate that is famous for its formal gardens, laid out by Humphry Repton and Sir Joseph Paxton. There are 52-acres of ornamental and woodland gardens, as well as a 1,000-acre country park. Take a guided tour of the Tudor Old Hall (the original manor house), explore a working 1930s farm and let the kids run riot on the adventure playground.
Groups: Discounts for parties of 15 plus, free coach parking and a meal voucher for coach driver. Call 01625 374416 or 374400 or email email@example.com.
Little Moreton Hall
The first time you see this timber-framed, higgledy-piggledy house with leaning walls, elegant gables and windows; you’ll wonder how on earth it is still standing.
Its Great Hall and Long Gallery have original panelling and flooring, and fine wall paintings. Free guided tours tell the story of Little Moreton Hall and give a taste of life in the 1600s.
Groups: Small discount, no child group discount available.
Quarry Bank Mill and Styal Estate
Find out more about Britain’s industrial heritage at this preserved 18th century cotton mill, which provided the inspiration for Channel 4’s popular drama The Mill.
Set in a picturesque valley alongside the River Bollin, the Mill offers visitor demonstrations and hands-on exhibits of traditional spinning and weaving techniques. A guided tour of the Apprentice House explains how and where the pauper children who worked in the Mill lived.
Groups: £12.50 for adults (usually £14.40 and no discount on child tickets)
This 16th century Elizabethan fortified manor house is set in stunning grounds.
Take a guided tour and discover the house’s history and the story behind the knighting of Sir Loin. The walled gardens offer fantastic views, while children will love exploring the ramparts, dungeons, underground passages and Dolls House collection. A farmers’ market is held monthly.
Groups: Private tours are available by appointment.
Built in the 14th century and situated between Blackburn and Preston, Samlesbury Hall is steeped in fascinating history.
This black and white building was saved from demolition in the 1920s. Inside, discover exhibitions from local artists, antiques and collectibles.
Groups: Pre-booked parties of 20 or more can be treated to tours approximating 60 to 90 minutes. A specialist tour guide costs £6 per person. The resident witch will enthrall with the true history of the Samlesbury witches, or learn about the boggarts of Samlesbury.
There is free on-site parking for coaches and cars. Call 01254 812010 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book.
Leighton Hall opens its doors to the public from May onwards.
Visitors are welcomed by the entertaining guides and are encouraged to sit on the furniture, touch things and get involved.
The outdoor play area has climbing apparatus, swings and a slide, as well as garden dens, a caterpillar maze, tree face trail and the Woodland Walk.
Groups: Birds of prey will fly in the morning for pre-booked groups. Free coach parking is available, with free entry and a meal for the driver and free entry for the organiser. Candlelit tours are available from November to February for groups of 25 or more.
Lancaster Castle was Europe’s longest-serving operational prison until it closed four years ago.
Its courtrooms have witnessed many famous and infamous trials over the centuries, including those of the Lancashire Witches and the Lancashire Martyrs. See the branding iron – which was used until 1811 – and find out what it feels like to be locked in an 18th century cell.
Groups: Groups can visit during the day or in the evening. Parking spaces for coaches are available by prior arrangement. Call 01524 64998 or email email@example.com
Carlisle Cathedral is one of the gems of the North West.
Almost 900 years old, it has plenty of history, which can be discovered during a group tour. Call 01228 548071 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss potential dates and costs.
Sizergh is an imposing medieval house with a stunning garden including a pond, lake, a national collection of hardy ferns and a limestone rock garden.
Still the home of the Strickland family, the house feels lived-in and has fine furniture and ancient portraits sitting next to modern family photos.
Groups: £1 off adult admission and 50p off child admission.
On the shore of Lake Windermere sits this mock-Gothic castle with its towers and turrets. It was empty when it was entrusted to the National Trust, therefore isn’t full of furniture and paintings.
Instead, join a free tour to discover its life story and let children have fun in the castle building and dressing up spaces. Outdoors, there’s space for den-building, trails and rope swings in the gardens and grounds.
Groups: £1 off adult admission
Muncaster Castle and Gardens
This historic building – which is still lived in – is also famous for being haunted.
Find out more about the Pennington family, who have lived in the Castle since 1208, and about Muncaster’s colourful history and residents, including Tom Fool aka Tom Skelton, court jester at Muncaster, with his links to Shakespeare and the ghost stories about him causing trouble.
The Muncaster ghost sit allows six to eight people to stay in the Tapestry Room overnight, with the chance to witness any ghostly happenings.
Coffee and breakfast is included. Prices per group start from £460. Call 01229 717614 or email email@example.com
Lowther Castle sits in the Lake District on a 75,000 agricultural estate and 3,000-acre medieval deer park, which was remodelled by Capability Brown.
The current castle was built in 1806 and its grounds have since been used as a secret tank weapon testing area during World War Two, chicken farm and commercial forestry business.
Groups: Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more, free coach parking, special rates for guided tours, plus free entry for organisers and coach drivers. Call 01931 712192 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a familiarisation visit.
More than 900 years old, Carlisle Castle has been a working fortress until recent times. As well as standing up to numerous sieges, it has also held a valuable royal prisoner and been home to the King’s Own Royal Border Regiment.
A family-friendly exhibition reveals the Castle’s history, while visitors can also explore medieval castle rooms and 19th century military buildings and visit Cumbria’s Museum of Military Life.
This little cottage in Grasmere in the heart of the Lake District was home to William Wordsworth, arguably one of the most famous English poets.
A visit to Dove Cottage takes you back in time with stone floors, panelled rooms, glowing coal fires and the family’s own belongings.
Take a stroll in the garden where the Wordsworth’s planted flowers and vegetables, read, talked and wrote poetry.
Groups: Numbers on each tour are limited to 15 so larger groups will be divided and set off at five-minute intervals. Group prices and free organiser places are available for parties of 10 or more.
Barrow Bridge Village
This former industrial village near Bolton once had three mills – you can still see the chimney of one of them, reminding visitors of its past.
Take a walk up the famous 63 steps, which mill workers used every day to get to work. Now, they lead onto the beautiful West Pennine Moors.
There’s a lot of firsts in this Salford street.
Walk down from Salford Crescent station and go past the UK’s first public park, one of the country’s first public lending libraries, the University of Salford, the pub where Marx and Engels debated society over a pint, Salford Cathedral, the Working Class Movement Library and Greater Manchester’s first five-star hotel.
Elizabeth Gaskell’s House
Elizabeth Gaskell wrote novels including Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, Ruth and Wives and Daughters.
Her house is a rare example of the elegant Regency-style villas that were once popular in Manchester. It has spectacular period rooms, a garden and a tearoom.
Groups: Private tours are available on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays by arrangement. Call 0161 273 2215. One free ticket is awarded per 10 tickets.
Ordsall Hall Museum
More than 600 years old, this Salford museum is one of the finest examples of an Elizabethan black and white half-timbered manor house in the area.
It has been home to medieval gentry, Tudor nobility, Catholics loyal to the crown, butchers, farmers, an Earl, an artist, priests, scout troops, mill workers, cows and several ghosts. Visitors get the chance to find out about Tudor lifestyles and enjoy the Victorian showcase and kitchen. Entry is free.
Groups: Guided tours can be arranged, which tell the story of the building and bring to life some of the characters it has seen over that time. Costs include £2 during the day and £5 (including tea or coffee) in the evening.
Stockport Air Raid Shelters
Step back in time to Britain’s Home Front and the Second World War.
These reconstructed tunnels will offer a first-hand experience of daily life in 1940s war-torn Britain. The shelters were the largest purpose-built civilian air raid shelters in the country with space for 6,500 people. Now visitors can discover them using a state-of-the-art audio guide.
Guided Tours: Adults cost £4.75 and concessions cost £3.50. Children under 16 are admitted free of charge.