Charge! At the Discovery Museum

‘A museum should not just be a place for fancy paintings but should be a place where we can communicate our lives through our everyday objects’ – Orhan Pamuk

If you’d have asked me what my ideal way of spending a Saturday afternoon I’d be talking for a very long time before the word ‘museum’ ever passed my lips. However that’s exactly where I found myself last Saturday as I went along to the first day of the Discovery Museum’s newest permanent exhibition ‘Charge!’*

Of course it’s not probably something I would have ordinarily gone to had it not been the fact that dad works there and had a hand it putting the whole thing together. As such we were treated to a personal tour from the man himself, and whilst I may scoff at how middleclass I’ve sudden become, and I definitely did stress too much over what one wears to a museum on a Saturday afternoon, I ended up having a brilliant time (and I’m not just saying that because my dad will be reading this – I promise!)

I grew up in an Army family, living in Holland and Belgium for the majority of my childhood so I have always been a fan of anything Army related. Charge! Is the Story of England’s Northern Cavalry bringing together collections of The Light Dragoons and the Northumberland Hussars since becoming the Command & Support squadron of the Queen’s Own Yeomanry. Both regiments, which are formally affiliated to each other, are the only cavalry divisions today which exclusively recruit from the North of England.

Rather than following a traditional chronological format the exhibition is laid out in categories instead, which I find much easier to follow as you can see side by side the contrast between traditional and modern incarnations of the regiments. Despite the exhibition room being relatively small, there’s loads to see and read about. I also love how interactive it is (so definitely somewhere you can keep the kids interested for an hour or two). A real highlight for me where genuine copies of letters that had been sent home to family members from World War II (which were also available to listen to audibly).

There’s replicas of some of the regiments uniform to dress up in which displays perfectly the evolution of military fashion (if fashion is the right word!) and examples of different ration packs and that are taken into the field – something which brings back memories for Dave who took many a ration pack with him on his bike trip round the word in 2009 courtesy of the British Army – the fruit biscuits are amazing apparently!

The balance between interest for young and old is just perfect in my opinion, there are games for the children to play throughout, explaining about different animals who were kicking about during that time – the story of Peter the cat is my particular favourite. And ever wondered what a soldier smells like after 2 months in the field? Wonder no more as there are smelling pods which have recreated different scents of battle. Believe me when I say it’s not for the faint hearted – and I’ve smelt the inside of a cricketers dirty kit bag!

If you’re not particularly pushed for time, half an hour in the cinema room would be time well spent which has multiple short films on display featuring real soldiers and their families talking about their experiences – good and bad. Some of the films are difficult to watch but extremely well put together and really brings home what soldiers go through.

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Much as my dad’s my biggest fan, likewise, I’m his and it’s lovely to see him able to work on something he’s so passionate about (he himself was a member of The Queen Own Yeomary before he retired a few years ago) and the team at the Discovery Museum have put on an excellent display.

* Don’t worry, we went to the pub afterwards!

Hadrian’s Wall & the search for Robin Hood’s Tree

‘Once again a geography question rears it’s ugly head and stumps the American’ – Keith Murray

My name’s Helen and I’m a Robin Hood nut. Sadly I’d love to pretend that my interest peaked when I was taught about the legend of Robin Hood at school, all factually correct and accurate but sadly, my obsession started with this handsome chap:

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Disney’s Robin Hood was (and in my opinion still is) the best Disney cartoon ever made and has remained a firm family favourite. A few years later, quite arguably the best film ever made (I said arguably). Robin Hood Prince of Thieves and thus my obsession grew, and Kevin Costner rightfully earned the accolade as ‘first ever crush’, despite the dodgy accent. When it was released in 1991 I was 9 and there was no big cinema near where we lived in Belgium so we traveled all the way to Brussels to see it. In fact, me and my brother liked it so much we actually forced my parents to take us to see it again when we visited my Gran in Birmingham later that year.

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Back then, I’d never lived in the North East of England and had only visited our Grandparents a hand full of times so despite an average grasp of the geography he British Isles, I wasn’t really aware until I was older that if you land at Dover and heading for Nottingham, you probably don’t want to go via Hadrian’s Wall. But Kevin Costner’s historical inaccuracies are the North East of England’s gain as we are proudly home to a tree upon which the great KC and Morgan Freeman have rested upon.Seeing as we actually only live about 40 miles away from this tree and have done for the last 23 years, we thought it might be about time we got out to visit it.

You can find Robin Hood’s tree (or Sycamore Gap as it’s actually called)  2 kilometres from the old Military road that runs parallel to the A69, in fact you can see it from the B6318 as you drive from the East. We parked up at the Twice Brewed pub so we could go for a drink afterwards but there seemed to be lots of non chargable parking along the road which lead up to  the Hadrian’s Wall path.

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Even if you’re not a nerd for the film it’s still a really beautiful spot t visit. We went on a sunny bank holiday and there were loads of people milling around taking pictures, stopping for a rest or eating lunch.

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Like anything big and tall, the best views are actually from further away (go figure!) we found the nicest views were from either side halfway up the wall itself. But be warned, it’s pretty steep so not for anyone with walking difficulties (or teeny tiny legs like me – it was a hands and knees job at one point #shortgirlproblems)

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As it only takes about 20 minutes to walk there from the road it would be a shame not to have a cheeky class of wine at the pub (Twice Brewed) which is dog and muddy walking boot friendly and has a good range of local ales including their own Twice Brewed Bitter, just be warned it was over a tenner for a pint and a glass of wine (so we just had the one 😉 )

While you’re in the area there are loads of other parts of the wall you can visit too. The National Trust car parks are £4 all day, which may seem steep but if gives you access to all the car parks all day, so if you’re making a day of it, it’s much better value. Go North East have also resurrected their Hadrian’s Wall Country Bus which runs between Easter and September between Hexham – Chesters Fort – Housesteads – Vindolanda – Walltown – Greenhead – Haltwhistle for those who are under their own steam but may not have a car or the inclination to walk the whole distance!

About 15 minutes down the road back to the East and definitely worth a visit particularly if you have kids is Chesters Roman Fort which is an English Heritage site and includes small but extesive museum of Roman artifacts, tea and old Roman Cavalry Fort so something for everyone (if only there was a pub too *shakes fist*). The Cavalry Fort is really great for exploring, it’s well signposted so you can really get a picture of how it would have looked back in the day, and who doesn’t love learning about the yucky toilet habits of yore?!

Thanks very much to Samantha from North East Family Fun for use of the pictures above, you can read her full review of Chesters Roman Fort here

If you’re travelling from further afield there’s loads of quaint little locally run accommodation options for somewhere to refuel and rehydrate after a long work in the great outdoors all day. Herding Hill Farm is a particularly popular choice offering lodging, camping, glamping (for girls like like who can’t live with out their hair straighteners and a working toilet) and caravan and campervan parking.

So even if you’re not a massive Robin Hood/Kevin Costner nerd like me there’s still loads to do right on your door step if you’re prepared to drive an hour or so to get there. I’m sure we’ll be back later in the summer, if only to re-create Bryan Adams’ music video: