Saturday Walkers Club www.walkingclub.org.uk

Comparison of Membership Schemes

Individual property entry fees tend to be very expensive - after visiting 3+ places, its often cheaper to buy an annual pass, but which one to choose?

Each of these annual membership schemes give free entry to all their properties.

National Trust (NT) England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Membership: £63 / £105 Joint / £11 Family. Includes most NT car parks.
National Trust Scotland (NTS) Scotland. Membership: £48 / £84 Family
Historic Houses Association (HHA) Association of independantly owned properties. Membership: £48 / £77 Joint
English Heritage (EH) Government run properties in England Membership: £52 / £92.50 Family (*)
Historic Scotland (HS) Goverment run properties in Scotland. Membership: £47 / £82 Joint (*)
CADW Goverment run properties in Wales. Membership: £40 / £61 Joint (*)
Art Fund National Art Pass Membership: £62 / £94 Joint

The National Trust

  • Do read about a property on the internet before visiting, as they rarely have much information displayed once you're there - they want you to buy the guide book - this is because most visitors are members, and book sales are a big source of an individulal property's extra income. This can be very annoying if you've brought an expensive day tickets though!
  • The National Trust includes car parks in many countryside places - for Lake District walkers, this can cover the membership alone
  • Covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. NT properties in Nortern Ireland are excellent by the way, very cosy, often with free tours by experienced and enthusiastic volunteers. Giants Causeway excepted!
  • NT and NT Scotland have recipricol membership schemes. It covers properties only, not car parking!
  • They often have 1/3 off in the first year promotions if you sign up to direct debit. Cheekily, they send out your new card after 8 months of so, i.e. several months early, to harrass you into not cancelling. If you do cancel, beware they check the card electronically in places, but do keep the car park sticker :)
  • A bit corporate nowadays compared to my youth. No local lady volunteers in the tea room with homemade cakes but corporate catering with Starbucks pricing. Or maybe its the sad march of health and safety. One very elderly volunteer was been publically scalded for not standing up when we entered a room last time we visited a property by a manager at least 50 years her junior...
  • Having said that, its still the one to beat. And some of their best places, like Avebury, and an awful lot of countryside and coastline, are free (did I mention the parking)
  • To be fair, they usually don't mind you bringing a picnic in many places
  • For: lots of big houses, gardens, and countryside car parking
  • Against: expensive, corporate, not so cosy

English Heritage

  • English Heritage, CADW, and Historic Scotland also have recipricol membership.
  • Many of there properties have free self-guided audio tours (an ipod with headphones) - this is an exceptionally good feature, and can really bring a place alive. Highly recommended. Especially compared to the lack of information at many NT places
  • (*) However, many of their properties are ruins or hill forts with free open access. They do not have many large properties or gardens
  • Some Barclays Bank accounts give free English Heritage membership
  • Does not include Hampton Court Palace or The Tower of London (and 1 or 2 others) - thats Historic Royal Palaces
  • For: some great individual places, free audio guides
  • Against: relatively expensive as not as many places as the others (that aren't already free)

Historic Houses Association

  • Not very well known, but far bigger than the NT - Highclare (as in Downton Abbey), Blenheim, Abbotsbury, Chatsworth, Woburn, Alnwick, Waddesdon, Beaulieu, Hever, Leeds Castle, Arundel Castle, Castle Howard, Scone Palace, and loads of Scottish castles.
  • Nice because the places are locally run by their owners, and much the better for it
  • Highly recommended - we really enjoyed our membership of it
  • For: lots of interesting individually run places
  • Against: nothing

The Art Fund

  • Many London museums, art galleries and an eclectic mix of nationwide houses and gardens belonging to all the other organisations
  • The property count is boosted by many local museums / art galleries which have free entry anyway, so check whats near you before joining
  • Especially if you live near London, the Art Fund is worth considering.
  • For: if you like art and live near London
  • Against: as above!

RHS - Royal Horticultural Society

  • Makes sense only if you live very near one of their big gardens like RHS Wisley and can visit often, or you want 'members day' access at the Hampton Court or Chelsea Flower shows (very crowded, very expensive food, many exhibitors stands)
  • Includes free entry (with blackout dates, e.g. winter only in some cases) at many other gardens, but only for 1 member, even with joint memberships, so effectively 2 for 1

Kew, Wakehurst and Heligan

  • These 3 have recipricol membership - only really useful if you live nearby and can visit often. Wakehurst is also covered by NT membership

Gardeners World Magazine 2 for 1 scheme

  • See the Gardens tab above. Excellent value. Free with each year's May issue of the magazine (about £5), or you can buy it online, e.g. makes Kew £15 for two rather than £30! Highly recommended.

Conclusion

  • Check the map and see which one has the best places near (day trip distance) where you live.
  • Join an organisation for 1 year only in turn, and rotate them, as 1 year's enough to visit all the nearby places.
  • After a gap, a domestic holiday, e.g. to Cornwall's gardens, is a good reason to start again