Belvoir Castle’s history dates back to the eleventh century. It is the ancestral home of the Duke of Rutland, where the family have lived in an unbroken line for almost a thousand years.
This was a very personal project for the Manners family and they wanted the play to reflect the amazing history of the Castle and the family through the generations.
“Every playground is a reflection of its surroundings and the story of its home,” said Lady Alice Manners, second daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland.
“With Belvoir, one thread was never going to tell our whole story, but I wanted to bring in parts of my father, The Duke, and his tenure, as a homage to him.
One of his great loves is Belvoir’s naval history, so this was the ideal place to start. Published in 2017, my father wrote a book about Lord Robert, our fascinating ancestor and his daring feats as a young maritime hero captaining the HMS Resolution.”
And this is exactly where each child’s adventure journey begins, by weighing anchor and climbing aboard the HMS Resolution, a replica of the ship captained by my Belvoir descendant Lord Robert.
From sailing the seven seas, to daring sword fights against pirates and scallywags, children’s imaginations will be bursting with excitement as they explore this ship’s lower decks and crawl spaces, staring out to sea through the portholes, or shivering their timbers on the poop deck."
This started with a deep dive into the history of the Castle and spent time listening to the stories the family told us of the history and their intrepid and daredevil ancestors. We then started with a magical illustration to capture the essence of what we were thinking and how we wanted the play to feel.
The site itself within the woodland, close to the castle, lies on undulating land, which allowed us to create pockets of play and remain sensitive to the landscape. It also allowed us to use the topography to create and protect key views.
One of the key features is the Castle Tower Maze, which sits proudly in the middle of the adventure play, visible through the trees, as you journey into the woodland.
Inspired by the striking architecture of the castle, the central tower is instantly recognisable to the current Belvoir Castle. Its circular form and multiple levels work brilliantly as a play structure. Ancillary towers add further to the play experience, offering multi-level, high-adrenaline play for older children and families visiting together.
A second key feature is HMS Resolution Adventure. Inspired by the 18th-century ship, the HMS Resolution, captained by Robert Manners, this area of play is again totally bespoke, offering a glimpse into the historical tales to come from Belvoir and the intrepid Manners family. Designed as a representation of the ship, this is the first element visitors come across when entering the play area.
Perched atop the embankment, the ship can be seen from both high and low routes into the play area, with all those taking the high route passing onto and across the top deck of the ship itself. Meaning that the top deck becomes accessible to all visitors.
There's toddler play too, in the form of a 1908 Renault VI. It's perhaps the most playfully themed area of the site, inspired by the Duke's treasured 1908 Renault VI. The toddler play sets the scene of the car driving off past the castle and into the distance.
Shrunk to toddler size, the car is a solid timber structure, allowing the littlest of children to sit in its driving seat and imagine they’re racing off into the woodland. There are two toddler towers to round off the scene, offering different play opportunities, connected by a rickety bridge and with a mini slide from one of the towers' arched doorways.
Opening with a dramatic light show in October 2022 the adventure play has been a roaring success. It's now open everyday 9:30am – 5:00pm, with tickets available on the website here.
But if you want to see something really incredible, this stunt drone video allows you to literally fly through the entire adventure playground for yourself.