August 14, 2013 by talkaboutyork
Good people of Britain, I know that there is much to complain about living on these small isles. House prices going up. House prices going down. The unpredictable weather. The cost of rail fares. The state of the NHS. The state of the education system. Benefit cuts. Too many benefits. I could go on.
But this blog post serves to give heart, add cheer and give you two reasons why living here is bloody brilliant.
1. We look after old stuff (buildings, if not people)
2. We bring history to life and make it accessible to everyone
In this country, rich in history, there are countless museums and organisations who preserve old buildings and artefacts so that we can travel through centuries of time, the National Trust being one of them, with an amazing array of properties up and down the country and its excellent ’50 things to do before you’re eleven and three quarters’ initiative. But if I was forced to choose, I would have to put English Heritage at the top of my list.
As it says on its website, English Heritage ‘helps today’s generation get the best out of our heritage and ensure it is protected for future generations.’
And it really does.
This summer (so far) we have been to two English Heritage properties. We normally go to more but we’ve been busy (and one of the properties we went to three times!). But at both properties I have been astounded at the quality of the experience created particularly for children.
At Whitby Abbey, my boys took part in the Time Travellers Go activities, which are held most summers (they collect stickers at various English Heritage properties by taking part in activities and are rewarded with little prizes at the end of it). They liked getting their stickers, but more than that, they LOVED learning how to sword fight. The man giving the tuition on medieval manners was packed to the gills with fascinating historic facts that kept kids and their parents hanging on his every word. Even the coolest pre-teen slouching child will gradually swap their ‘this is so lame’ face to one of rapt attention.
See the children learning to sword fight in this short video (excuse the poor sound quality, it was windy – the action starts about 20 seconds in).
While Whitby Abbey gave us a taste of Medieval life, Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight allowed us to fully embrace it. We visited while a fantastic Grand Medieval Joust was being held. The castle, which we have visited many times, was transformed with a range of medieval stalls and tents showed what life in Medieval times was like. The Tilt, a large expanse of lawn, was transformed into a jousting stadium. In each corner was a tent for the knights of the North, East, South and West. Jesters and musicians roamed, entertaining the crowds picnicking on the sloping embankments, and falconers displayed the talents of their hunting birds.
And then the jousting tournament commenced. Real (very big) horses bedecked in their respective colours were ridden by knights fully-clad in armour (which you got to watch them put on with the assistance of their squires – all 45kgs of it – while learning more fascinating facts). They were presented with deadly-looking lances before facing each other on either side of the tiltyard. The cry of ‘away’ would be yelled before the two knights would charge at each other, smashing the lances against each others’ breast plate shields. The lances would shatter into flying pieces of wood, making the crowd gasp. This was no pretending. It was real jousting.
The tournament would progress, the spectators cheering on their chosen champions by waving flags (purchasable obviously) of the relevant colour.
It was bloody marvellous. I have a very poor quality video – which isn’t very clear – but you do get to hear me whooping for the knight of the north (well, we do live in York).
If that wasn’t enough, the children could have a go riding on hobby horses having joust practice where they had to hit a target and spear a quoit. Again, the squire in charge of the kids was absolutely brilliant with them, calling them all ‘My sir’ and encouraging them to name their horse, before loudly announcing, ‘This horse is named….’ in a suitably majestic way, making the kids feel as though they were indeed king for a day.
I would like to thank all the staff at the English Heritage properties we visited for making history come to life for my children. They were all completely in character, knowlegeable and brilliant fun. And to the people in charge, I have what I think is a pretty marvellous idea for next summer….Historic Sleepovers. Wouldn’t it be fabulous for brave, slightly older children to go with their mum or dad with just a roll mat and sleeping bag and get to sleep in an old spooky castle while historians re-enact the past residents of the place? I’d be up for that!
I know that there are a range of other fun days coming up at Carisbrooke (and no doubt other properties across the UK) – like Clash of Knights and more Grand Medieval Jousts and Castle Quest. So if you haven’t been to one yet, take a look at the website to find something fun near you.
Aren’t we lucky to have such a wealth of history so accessible on our doorstep? Embrace it!
PS – this is not a sponsored post. I have paid my membership (Joint Adult membership costs £84 per year which gives you free access to all the properties and up to six kids go free).