New Lanark with Kids – I occasionally feel like my tots are a bit, well, ungrateful and unappreciative of how lucky they are. They ‘don’t know they’re born’, as my mother would say. I too, forget how lucky I am that my kids access free education and healthcare. A trip to New Lanark is a fun wake up call.
New Lanark is a site for Scotland to be proud of. A Unesco Heritage site that deserves attention. This mill town is picturesque to walk around, but offers so much more.
Visitor Pass, a Ghost & a Very Cool School
When we arrived, we checked in at the New Lanark Mill Hotel and collected our Visitor Pass enabling us to visit the five main attractions — the school, the Visitor Centre (featuring the Annie MacLeod ghost ride, operational mill and roof garden), the millworkers’ houses, founder Robert Owen’s home and the Village Shop. Each venue is scored off your pass when you visit, which is super useful when visiting with kids. You don’t have to do everything in one go. And if you choose to overnight you can visit the sites over two days, or return at a later date. For prices and tickets click here.
Annie MacLeod Ghost Ride
The main attraction is the Annie MacLeod ‘ghost’ ride, but don’t worry, it’s not too spooky for wee ones. Climb into a pod, and get whisked along in the darkness for a twelve minute ride, where you meet wee Annie, a mill worker from the 1820s. She tells the story of her family, life in the mill and about its revolutionary owners. Annie’s ghost is a great way to express history in a way everyone can understand and relate to.
In the 19th century children of the poor received no education, and simply worked all day from roughly five upwards. The more I thought about this the more distressing I found it. Mill owner Robert Owen made sweeping changes. He established the world’s first workplace nursery, but also set up a school. Children stayed at this school till at least ten, or a maximum of twelve years old.
Owen realised that ‘No infant has the power of deciding at what period of time, or in what part of the world he shall come into existence’. This is still painfully true today.
When kids came of age, around 10-12 years old, they’d join the grown-ups at work, then attend school in the evenings. We’re talking very, very long days, but at least education was on the table, and kids were somewhat protected and sheltered till they were ten. Apparently the food and housing were pretty good, compared to the dark, satanic mills of the south.
From the Annie MacLeod ride we wondered through the noisy mill, where wool is spun for sale in the gift shop. Here it’s explained that the mill originally worked in cotton, and clearly had links with the cotton plantations overseas, but New Lanark tried to treat its own staff relatively well. Here you learn that a Sickness Fund was established providing medical care and a Savings Bank encouraged saving.
Heading to the attractive roof top garden. The kids liked finding the animal sculptures and climbing super high to scan the view. Many people were born, lived and died at this mill. We’re so lucky to consider New Lanark a holiday.
On the ground floor is a pretty good gift shop and a regular Makers’ Market. We browsed as much as we could with two youngsters in tow.
An informal café dishes lunch boxes for kids, and casual fare such as baked potatoes and chunky soups. Great cakes and the famous New Lanark ice cream. An easy stop for families and visitors of all ages.
I was intrigued by the school, and I think most parents are pretty complacent about the education available to kids. Children can dress up in the school uniform. They were also pretty fascinated by the gigantic globe and the animal mural on the wall. Bear in mind that most poor people’s children simply worth considered worth educating historically. Robert Owen’s school was so unusual it received international visitors, and it still does today.
Seeing how cramped families were, and how basic houses were, was a bit surprising for our children. These homes were considered pretty decent by 19th century standards.
Robert Owen’s House
The founder’s home wasn’t overly flash or expansive. Here we learned how Owen tried to create more settlements like New Lanark in America. He was also a feminist and whilst he still made a profit from others’ labour, he basically believed in education, greater equality for all and greater reward for hard work.
Turns out New Lanark was pretty much the birthplace of the cooperative movement. Rather than overcharge workers for essential goods, New Lanark’s shop had the lowest prices and high prices. Profits were fed back into the school and community projects. The children couldn’t resist playing shop with the fake veg, but I’m not entirely sure they were meant to.
A real shop, adjacent to the historical shop, sells sweets and souvenirs.
If you want some fresh air and a hit of natural beauty then walk twenty minutes to the clearly signposted Corra Linn waterfall.
Adult supervision is definitely required as the boardwalk runs alongside a very powerful river, a river strong enough to power a mill. Our children enjoyed the walk, and were fascinated by how loud and fast the river ran, so we held their hands and kept them on the inside of the boardwalk. The waterfall was worth the short walk. Dramatic and surging. The were a bit dumbstruck. Older families can carry on to the Falls of Clyde, but I’d recommend Corra Linn for shorter legs.
Overnight at the New Lanark
A hostel and self-catering cottages are available, but we opted for the four-star New Lanark Mill Hotel. If you overnight New Lanark becomes a bit of a resort – you don’t really need to leave.
Pool and Facilities
The headline is the pool. The kids were in it every day! It’s a little on the cool side, but our tots adored it. The jacuzzi is part of the pool, so youngsters can get in it too. For a blast of heat head into the sauna. A spa is also available, and I even hit the gym one morning.
Occupying Mill 1 and Mill 2, guests really are experiencing a slice of history. The newly refurbished hotel rooms are modern and spacious. We were staying right in the heart of the mill, and the staff were so friendly. Really chatty, nice folk, who offered me a wee biscuit for the kids when one of them was crying, or brought me loads of extra milk when I requested it.
The restaurant is full of relaxed groups and families, very chilled and a great place to bring children. I thought the food would be nice, but it was really good. My monkfish special was of a notably high standard. Mr Husband felt the same, again thinking the food would be good, but delighted when his roast chicken supreme with Stornaway black pudding was great. The kids ate off the children’s menu, choosing chicken strips and ice cream. Eating with kids can be stressful, but this was such a relaxed meal.
Look out for a book festival on 14 September, Chrismas events over the festive period, and the illuminating Shining Lives, a lighting, projection and history event on 11-13 and 17-20 October.
When we left New Lanark I really admired what had been achieved there, and how a few individuals tried to make their workers’ lives a better place. The Scottish Enlightenment brought a lot to the global table, but Robert Owen’s place in the Enlightenment educated children and, as importantly, gave them a childhood.
We drove from Aberdeen to New Lanark, which took around three hours.
By Car: New Lanark is around an hour’s drive from Glasgow (25 miles/40 kms) or Edinburgh (35 miles/56 Kms) and is well sign-posted from all major routes.
Code for Sat. Nav. ML11 9BY. Some online route planners and Sat Nav devices give directions to enter New Lanark via The Beeches. However this country track is NOT recommended for vehicles. Please follow brown road signs which will direct you to New Lanark via Hyndford Road.
For train or bus info click here.