Stately homes have traditionally played up their Upstairs and played down their Downstairs. Knole, for example, the splendid National Trust property near Sevenoaks in Kent, is something of an iceberg for visitors - for three-quarters of it, including the impressive kitchen area, is as hidden as the bones of the Yeoman of the Pastry who once worked there. But the National Trust has just published Behind the Scenes: Domestic Arrangements in Historic Houses (pounds 24.99) in which Christina Hardyment celebrates the intriguing world of the Mrs Bridgeses and the Mr Hudsons whose labours kept the stately homes stately. Here are four properties, recommended in the book, which specialise in such family attractions. Apart from Wimpole Home Farm, entrance is free to NT members

Townend, Troutbeck, Windermere, Cumbria (015934 32628). Open 1-5pm Tues- Fri, Sun and Bank Holiday Monday. Admission: pounds 2.70, children pounds 1.30, family pounds 7. The home of Lake District "yeomen" or gentlemen farmers, this has been preserved in something of a time-warp since the Browne family left in 1947 - and the basic structure remains much the same as it was when the house was put up three centuries before that. It boasts the "earliest and most complete of fitted kitchens", according to Christina Hardyment.

One of the most modern gadgets is the pre-War, hand-powered washing machine in the washhouse. Even now there are few electric lights, which is why the property closes early when the nights draw in. Servants had their own little staircase with rooms off, where you can see their bedclothes rumpled and a nightie left out. As the Children's Discovery Sheet points out, the legs on the bed in the master bedroom were carefully trimmed to compensate for the Alpine slope of the floor. Otherwise, Downstairs rubbed shoulders cosily with Upstairs at Townend. It also rubbed the dark woodwork; today, waxing is a three-month programme left until the property is closed in the winter.

Lanhydrock, Bodmin, Cornwall (01208 73320). Open 11am-5.30pm Tues-Sun and Bank Holiday Monday. Admission pounds 6, family ticket pounds 15. Grounds only pounds 3. It is one of the few stately homes to have been dynamited, in an attempt to make a firebreak when most of the original 17th-century house went up in flames in 1881. It was replaced by what to the Victorians counted as a more "modest" building.

The 43 rooms open to the public take a good 90 minutes to wander through. Their names indicate the sheer scale of the staffing: the Nursery Bathroom, with scales and rule to record the vital statistics of the young Masters and Misses; the Nanny's Bedroom, near the Night Nursery for the younger children; the Men's Staircase, next to the luggage lift for heavy trunks; the Footmen's Livery Room, where uniforms were cleaned; and the Linen Lobby for clean bedclothes.

Erddig, Wrexham, Clwyd (01978 355314). Open 12-5pm (house) 11am-6pm (garden) Sat-Wed. Adults pounds 5.40, children pounds 2.70, family pounds 13.50. Below-stairs and gardens only, adults pounds 3.60, children pounds 1.80, family pounds 9. "The most evocative Upstairs Downstairs house in Britain", according to the NT. The eccentric Yorke family had an unusual relationship with their staff; all stately homes have portraits of their owners; Erddig has pictures and poems celebrating the servants too.

High point of your tour is the tall shower in the bathroom; this late- 19th-century portable version sprinkles water from a small tank above the user, who can then pump it up again and recycle it. One of the watercolours on the wall shows the shower in full flow. Before its installation in what was probably a servant's bedroom, bathing took place in hip-baths in front of bedroom fires. Before that the family ablutions took place in the Bath House in the park.

Wimpole Home Farm, Arrington, nr Royston, Hertfordshire (01223 207257). 10.30am-5pm, Tue-Thur, and Sat & Sun, plus Bank Holiday Monday; daily in July and August. Adults pounds 4, children pounds 2.50. Note that National Trust members pay: adults pounds 2, children pounds 1. (This does not include Wimpole Hall, the adjacent National Trust property which boasts servants' quarters, including butler's pantry and steward's room, unchanged since the 19th century.)

Wimpole was set up 200 years ago as a model farm, and its Great Barn, housing historical agricultural machinery, was designed by Sir John Soane. The Home Farm celebrates not just Downstairs but Outdoors as well. Events include Children's Days on 26 May and 25 August with rare breeds on show and horse-and-cart rides.

Time for a pitstop

Places that positively welcome children: Bumble, 2 Charles Street, Wrexham, Clwyd (01978 355023)

All-day snacks are the stock-in-trade of this popular spot above the gift shop of the same name. Following morning specials of biscuits, tea cakes, scones and pies, the choice gets more savoury - with jacket potatoes, salads, rarebits and ploughman's platters (pounds 2.99 each). Bumble-blend tea with Welsh tea cakes (pounds 1.35) remains a favourite afternoon choice, while assorted cakes, meringues and pies sit temptingly in the display cabinet. Children's portions available. Open 9am-5pm. Closed Sun

From Egon Ronay's Guide '... and Children Come Too' (Bookman, pounds 9.99)

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