Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Where? The What Museum? - Avoncroft

I'd never heard of the Avoncroft - and the name didn't exactly tell me much but the tag line was 'Museum of Historic Buildings' which sounded more intriguing.

Having said that, I won't lie, not really the sort of museum that I'd put on my 'I need to go there list'. For me the atmosphere in a museum is key, and I couldn't see how an out door one with different buildings could carry that but crikey I was wrong. Because of where it is and the variety of saved brickwork it feels like 5 museums in one.

Just outside Birmingham, in Bromsgrove and hidden behind an industrial estate lies not quite a graveyard for what would be destroyed buildings - more of an old peoples home. The whole story of the museum is fascinating, it started with a group of people wanting to save one building and that was moved to this site - but in the 1970's (might have been 60's and I wasn't paying enough attention) a time when pretty much most of the country were ripping down old features and buildings to make way for clean lines and boxes.

The open space lies home to barns, a windmill, a cathedral roof, spire, giant chimneys all but one building taken apart brick by brick moved to the site, and put back together exactly - as if it was Lego. If the place had money and time I would have loved to have seen monitors with films showing you the move and why the likes of Channel 4 haven't thought of using it in some George Clarke program is beyond me.

One of the highlights is the telephone boxes, they have one of each kind (again, I'm wondering if I was paying attention or distracted by the TARDIS) and you get to go in and dial. Something that everyone under a certain age (no idea what that age is though) needs to see - life before mobiles, waiting for that call at home and knowing its late because someone else is using the phone box and your boyfriend is having to wait, or when both of you don't have phones and having to arrange being at the phone box at a certain time it comes back when you see them.

Second highlight and most importantly for a museum - the cafe, this didn't disappoint; an Edwardian style tea room that you can go to without paying or going into the museum itself and if you are nearby then so worth a trip for tea and cake.

Probably my favourite, a post war prefab kitted out with interior of the time makes you realise you don't need much of a building to make a home. 

Avoncroft was a real surprise, heaps of space for kids to run around so unlike most museums they won't get confinement boredom. Any location researchers, this place needs to be in your book I wished I'd known about it when working in TV. You do need to drive there, or its a long walk from the station but if you are around the midlands then I really think this is a fab destination and (like all museums) it needs more support. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

A Shoppers Guide to....

I've just come back from a couple of days in Northumberland with the boys. Staying at this gem of a B&B/glamping site, Alnwick Lodge was like stepping inside something from Harry Potter (which incidentally pretty much was the theme of the trip) The place also had a an antiques market in one room! no, I didn't buy anything but oh there were things I wanted!

Yes that is a chair on the roof

Glamping, nope it was a room for us

Bamburgh was our first experience of Northumberland, not much I can say except I have never seen a more stunning beach - just incredible. Didn't get to do the castle this time but did go to the RNLI Grace Darling Museum, not only a real education and humbling place but also a fantastic collection of artifacts including lovely examples of memorial hair jewellery. Worth the visit and a few doors down the best ice cream I've had in ages from a local maker.

The Harry Potter theme continued when after our nights sleep we went to Alnwick Castle, in other words Hogwarts. The grounds were used in The Philosopher's Stone during broomstick training and guess what we got to do there?

see he really did learn to fly! book a place as soon as you go they do fill up quick.

Alnwick Castle is beautiful, the inside is breathtaking and I still keep thinking we were in two different places with such a contrast. On the gift shop front, big disappointment. The location has been used for not only HP but also recently Downton Abbey, I can't imagine the amount of visitors that go and it's truly worth the trip but for someone that does love a memento I came home with nothing for myself or anyone else - a Tina first. There are two shops, one outside that has lots of Harry Potter merchandise and there is one inside that you might miss, after walking around the interior if you're anything like me you'll be desperate to get something to either remind you or give you a piece of the place to take home - it's a shame they' haven't got a third shop with maybe more contemporary gifts (and no I'm not talking me I'm talking with my visitor shoppers head on!).

Next stop Alnwick Gardens, separate to the castle but get a combined ticket to make it worth while. The gardens are nothing like anything I've seen, tons of water feature sculptures that work not just for kids at all. You won't find the Chelsea Flower show here, this is something very different only 11 years old but because of the castle doesn't feel it. If you do take kids it's worth bringing a spare set of clothes and a towel!

The highlight was without doubt the Poison Garden, guided tours only so don't leave it till the end. A fascinating and educational tour of everything you need in the garden to send your body doo-lally. I was really desperate to find something in the shop after this - especially after working on the Remedy Garden for Kew I was looking forward to seeing how it would be translated - nothing, well the guide book which I did buy. My brain was buzzing with things they could have (and NO I'm still not talking about my work!) I was glad to have saved the money but would really have loved to have bought myself or others gifts from both shops - you forget how despite paying quite a bit to get in and well, having no money in the first place when you visit or go on holiday it goes out the window the spare credit card comes out. 
Yes more HP - ness it was like Hagrid's Hut!

well, its not wrong....

Written with my visitor head on - honestly and it is only my opinion.  I know those that be in the shops have there reasons (as I did speak to them and ask) but as a tourist you might only ever get to these places once in your life, I want to be able to have a choice of cheap and tacky stuff, beautiful products and the unusual but things I could only get there just to make it really special. Honestly, I was expecting to find half my Christmas presents for people between those shops sorry Alnwick fantastic places, definitely ones to make the effort and visit but blimey you could be making a fortune from visitors like me!

Next up, Cragside. The last day was spent at this - well possibly the best National Trust property I've been to so far. The grounds, the history, the decoration... if you go anywhere near here then visit! A stunning arts & crafts house amazing walks and drives, I felt like we were back in the Rockies. 
The HP theme continued when half the grounds looked like something from the Deathly Hallows.

And the shopping experience? well despite going to a crazy amount of NT shops, I did spend, nothing exciting but after walking round the grounds I seem to need a backpack. There were also 5 customers that were asking about the lights that were used as display - and the shop assistant said they get heaps of enquires about them her answer is to look on the internet they are available - call me old fashioned but my answer? STOCK THEM! 

All in all one heck of a short visit - 2 nights and it felt like a week away. We will be going back - so many more places to visit and the ticket to Alnwick Castle last for a year - hoorah!