It’s Adventures in Heritage time, yay! I’ve had a lot going on this week including helping out with a brand new trail at the Herbert and checking out some interesting trees at Calke Abbey.
My time volunteering at the Herbert was great fun this week. My first order of the day was to write a short blog about my voluntary role for their website. You see, the first week in June is National Volunteers week and they decided that it would be great to showcase the work that we’ve been doing – especially considering the fact that I just finished the press cuttings on the Rootes project.
Whilst I was writing this, Damien (who’s been off sick for a few weeks) popped in to say hello and was delighted to hear that I’d finished the press cuttings. Still plenty to do on the Rootes project, though, but it will be done!
Once the blog was complete the staff were at a bit of a loss at what I should do next. Thankfully, someone remembered that the microfilm needed sorting into chronological order, which kept me out of mischief for a few hours. I found sorting these really interesting as a) they have records of the Coventry Evening Telegraph dating back to the end of the 19th Century and b) the fact that people seem to get bamboozled at the idea of putting things back in chronological order. Perhaps I’ve been blessed with an analytical mind that likes sorting things out into order, but putting things back in date order just doesn’t seem that difficult to me. Oh well, it kept me busy!
I was then back on the hunt for jobs to do. The only thing that seemed to be available was logging newspapers, and I really wasn’t sure that I could cope with doing that a third week in a row. Then someone remembered that Nicki wanted to work on a Heritage Trail that would link the Coventry Gallery to the History Centre. Trails? That really sounds like my kind of thing!
Our first task to this end was to find out what was in the Coventry Gallery that could link back to the archive material. Most of it could, as it turned out, so I was asked to make photocopies of all the information sheets available so that we could look at them once Nicki had finished dealing with a member of the public having trouble with Ancestry – which is a programme I must make time to take advantage of.
A couple of us then gathered round a table with the brand new photocopies to think up ideas for the trail. We decided that somewhere between 5 and 7 questions, with a selection of activities, would be a suitable length and that perhaps we should create a trail that would be accessible for people who struggled to read. My experience with the National Trust trails actually came in handy here as I was able to tell them what really worked, and what didn’t.
We also had a think about what kind of things that children would like finding out about. It was decided that they would probably like gross and gory stuff (I mean, there is a reason why Horrible Histories are so popular) so we ended up browsing through their collection of so-called ‘murder books’ to see what we could find. Sadly the meeting was interrupted by a member of the public looking for the location of a plaque about the auxiliary fire crew who tackled the blaze at Coventry Cathedral in the Blitz. I’m pleased to report that the staff were able to help him, but by the time they’d finished it was time to go. We resolved to meet up again next week and I’m really excited to see what we get up to.
Rachel Reviews… Calke Abbey
Again, it was another busy week which meant that I had to leave my National Trust trip until Saturday. As we had another whole day it meant that we could visit somewhere a bit further away. Not wanting to get tangled up in the traffic for the rugby match in Twickenham, we decided to head north to Derbyshire to visit Calke Abbey. Unfortunately, we got tangled up in traffic for a vehicle fire – but the response must have been very efficient as we were soon on our way.
Calke Abbey is a very interesting National Trust property. It is a baroque mansion that was owned by the Harpur family for centuries until it was given to the National Trust in lieu of death duties. The house was too big for the family to maintain properly, so many of the rooms have been preserved in the state of dilapidation that they were found in.
The first thing we saw on entering was a herd of deer – a very good way to start the day I suppose! There was a mix of red deer and fallow deer which was really lovely to see. We grabbed ourselves some lunch and then got ourselves booked in to see the house, as we required a timed ticket. Whilst we were doing this, we were told that there would be a guided walk around some of the grounds, including the deer park, that was due to set off at half 2. We decided that would be fun to join in with, and with the half an hour that we had spare we went to check out the stables where the introductory video was.
While we were here, we found the children’s activity area which kept us entertained for ages! There was a variety of activities and games, including dressing up – with a flower crown! – and a microscope. I’ve never had such fun looking at seashells as I did under that microscope, but I guess that’s the science nerd in me. I was also the best in the family at the little game of horseshoes that they had which put me in a very good mood for the rest of the day.
Soon enough, it was time to depart on our adventure through the grounds. We started with the deer park, where our guide showed us some of the native flora (including the poisonous henbane) and got us really up close to some of the deer. She also showed us a comparison between the antlers of red deer and fallow deer, which led to this rather amusing moment from my parents…
We were guided down the hill and by some rather impressive sculptures of a green woodpecker and a wasp beetle. They were huge! The wasp beetle reminded my mum of the fact that my sister, who is currently in Taiwan, had sent us a picture of a gigantic moth. This was too good an opportunity to miss.
We were then taken down various woodland paths to check out the various veteran trees around the site. There was a surprising amount of history around these trees. One is called the Old Man of Calke, and they think that it’s over 1000 years old. There are some trees that were brought as a gift from America. There was also a rather tall, but dead tree, with a tiny new sapling growing out of the top. My favourite though was their small leaved lime tree that was literally moving across the park. You see, this tree has two trunks, and it puts down branches which means it walks across the park. It takes years and years for this to happen but it’s still extremely impressive. Plus, it had a nice place for me to sit and I felt like a forest princess.
We then made our way back to the house to have a look around. We had to leave our bags behind which was a bit annoying, but they would be safe so that was good. Early on it was explained to us that not only the house had been given to the National Trust, but it’s huge collection as well. Turns out the Harpur gentlemen were quite the collectors, and were especially interested in taxidermy. Like really interested – the largest room in the house was packed full of stuffed animals as well as a huge selection of sea shells and insects. No wonder so many species have gone extinct if this was such a popular historic pastime.
The house was so full of stuff! It was amazing what had been accumulated by the previous occupants but it was almost overwhelming. Why did they have all these things? What was the point? It just seemed so… opulent. I quite liked the house – the dilapidated bits were particularly good, and would have good production value for a horror movie – but the quantity of stuff was just too much. I have to admit that their collection of Eygptology artefacts was pretty interesting.
We then found out that there were tunnels under the house and we absolutely had to go and check those out. Of course, my mum had to make me jump so I’m sure many people were confused by the random scream at quarter to five in the afternoon. The tunnels brought us out by the old brewery where a couple of barn swallows were very happily chirping in the rafters.
We wanted to run to the cafe as it was nearly closed but we then remembered that our bags were round the front of the house. That was really, really annoying because we hadn’t really needed to leave our bags behind – there was no way we could have damaged anything with them, and the house didn’t lead you in a circle so no matter what we did we would have had to go out of our way to collect them again. And then we missed the cafe. It was a shame to end what had been a good day on a sour note, but what can you do?
I really enjoyed my time at Calke Abbey, despite all the hassle with our bags in the house. It’s a very interesting site and there’s still plenty for us to explore when we next go back. The guided tour of the grounds was definitely the highlight of the trip. Not only were we able to access parts of the grounds that we wouldn’t have by ourselves, but they were able to give us really detailed information about the history of the site which was just fascinating. An absolutely brilliant tour, but the house was a bit overwhelming. 4 stars – ★★★★
See you next week!