It feels good to sit here and think back to the Easter holidays and realise that we did actually do something and go somewhere, it wasn't all building work and spring cleaning. This time last week we visited the wonderful Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex with my parents, sister and nieces on a sunny day that was just warm enough to eat a picnic lunch outside, so long as you wore a coat. It's a collection of buildings set in the most beautiful rolling South Downs, a few miles north of Chichester. In the picture below you can just see the impressive buildings of West Dean College on the left and West Dean Gardens on the right, which I visited last year.
Some of these buildings are many hundreds of years old and over the years they have been dismantled and moved, brick by numbered brick, from other locations around the country to their new home where they now sit, Tudor farmhouse next to thatched cottage, water mill next to Victorian schoolhouse, to be preserved and enjoyed.
By far the best thing about this place though is how approachable and interactive it all is; doors are to be opened, staircases climbed, windows to be leaned out of, chairs sat on, objects handled.
Fires burn in grates and the smell of woodsmoke fills the air. Dogs are allowed everywhere and no-one cares if your boots are muddy.
My favourite building was Whittaker's Cottages, a pair of Victorian homes for agricultural labourers. Unprepossessing from the outside, the interior was rich in detail and life. The volunteer showed the children how to beat carpets to clean them, and outside were buckets of water, collected from the standpipe at the front of the house. This was an eye opener for us - how much water we use on average a day (literally hundreds of litres in modern households) compared to what would be collected, carried and used "in the olden days".
The warmth of the small kitchen was very welcome. I was getting quite chilled with walking around and going from one cool, damp house to another and it was a good lesson in how cold - and how poorly insulated - houses must have been then.
Upstairs, the clothes air in the sun over the end of the bed, and the hot water bottle takes the chill off the bedding. The children were fasincated by the old fashioned moses basket and cot, by the children's beds and most particularly the lack of toys and books. And of course there was no bathroom.
And then there are the volunteers, those interesting and knowledgeable people who are passionate about history and don't mind dressing up in Medieval costume or as a Victorian blacksmith, or patiently showing a six year old boy how an arched bridge is built. Always friendly and happy to chat and show you what they are doing or making, they make the place what it is.
It makes it all the more real for a child (and adult!) if you can actually taste the bread and pottage soup made in the Tudor kitchen, or grind the wheat into flour in the mill. It was a good day out for all the kids there - largely because they can run everywhere in the fresh air and there is so much open space - but Angus especially was fascinated by the history. How the houses were built, who lived there, what they did, what they ate, where they slept - so many questions and all answered, and they don't even realise they learnt something because they are having so much fun.
But I think my favourite part of the day was watching the sheep and lambs, particularly this pair below.
Nice memories to take with me into the new school term.