A GRAND OLDE DAY OUT | Beamish Museum Review
[PR GIFTED VISIT]
Entertaining toddlers can be tricky the best of times. So when your little one is actively on their feet, your options can be quite limited. If you’ve done the soft play more times than you can bear or you’re stuck in a rut craving something engaging, then here’s an idea: an open air museum that’s fun, educational and great for lively kids. Beamish!
Finding suitable places to take Reuben these days is getting increasingly difficult. When he just wants to run about and get his hands into things, it’s challenging making sure Reuben’s safe while having the freedom to explore.
I never really considered taking Reuben to Beamish until I started looking into days out in our region. Just up in County Durham it’s only a forty-five minute drive away, so not too far to be travelling with the little one in the car.
If you’ve never been to Beamish, let me tell you it really is another world. A huge open air history museum recreating bygone eras from the 1820s, 1900s to the 1940s (soon to be 1950s too!), Beamish gives you the unique opportunity to experience history first hand.
A couple of weeks ago, at the backend of September, we had some amazing sunshine which made for a perfect early Autumn outdoor adventure. There was a brisk wind out but because it was mostly sunny and we were doing a lot of walking we were warm enough. Not that we needed to walk as much as we did. As Beamish covers such a vast area, moving around the museum is made a little easier thanks to the ample means of vintage transport. From old fashioned motor buses to the majestic trams and trolley buses, there’s an interesting range of vehicles darting to-and-fro, ferrying passengers around the site.
Taking a ride on a tram was actually the very first thing we did once inside Beamish. That’s because once you leave the ticketing office, visitors are weaved down a path that leads to the tram lines, where you either wait at the stop for the next bus or tram or take a stroll down the pavements to your destination. Depending on whether you take a left or right turn, you could find yourself in the midst of a 1900s town or at the foot of a colliery.
Getting on the tram was easy enough. Pushchairs can ride if they’re collapsed, so the other half brought it down while the tram officer helped lift it on and into a holding bay. I wanted to ride on the top so carried Reuben up and, having the pick of the seats, we chose to sit at the back. I was a bit nervous about Reuben being so exposed so I decided to pop his safety reins on, which proved a good idea since he was keen to look out over the top. Yelp! Thankfully once we were moving he was happy to sit on my knee. The ride was swift but great fun. The tram moved gracefully and felt rather comfortable, I’d be happy to see the return of the tram in this day and age!
We decided to take a trip into the 1900s town first; the tram coming up from the entrance leads you through the town centre, stopping alongside the park with a band stand. To the opposite side of the road is a terrace of houses with a dentist’s surgery in the middle. This is where the dentist worked – offering examinations, procedures such as extractions and created dentures – and where they lived with their family.
To the right of the dentist surgery is a family home where you meet a housemaid tending to the household’s daily chores. This is a cosy room with the range fire burning away, breads and biscuits cooking in the ovens and laundry drying on the indoor airer. The maid was so good and played in character really well, talking about what she’d been busy doing that morning. We chatted to her like we really had just stepped back in time. We don’t know her name but we’d award her best Beamish resident!
It wasn’t suitable to take a pushchair into these buildings, like some of other shops further down the road, because of narrow doorways and steps, which meant we had to leave the pushchair outside on the path. But most places we were able to get inside. Not that the pushchair was serving its use half the time, since Reuben decided he wanted to run free and explore, and was at times practically pulling me off my feet like a ten tonne dinosaur.
The printers was an interesting one to see at work, since it does actually work as a proper functioning printers. Up a staircase above the newspaper office, we watched as two workers compiled the printing press for a poster they’re currently working on, and around the room were vintage inspired posters, made by the press, displaying various newspaper headlines and signs.
The sweet shop was probably the most popular shop, where you could buy old fashioned confectionery held within glass jars and Beamish’s very own retro chocolate bar, the Jubilee, although at £3.50, it definitely wasn’t as cheap as the good old days so as a tight Yorkshire lass I declined to buy it.
Paying a visit to Herrons the Bakers I bought three cherry rock buns (that had been hand made earlier on the very same premises right next door) for a more reasonable 80p each, and we found a bench to sit and devour them. I have funny memories of rock buns from my childhood. After my mum had spent an afternoon baking I’d impatiently raided the cake tins in the pantry sending every single just baked rock bun to the floor. My mum was livid. Ha ha.
From the 1900s town we walked up to see the fairground but we found it looking quite forlorn. The carousel, which I had fond memories of from a childhood visit to Beamish, sadly wasn’t there and there wasn’t really anything else Reuben could play on. He wasn’t too bothered though, as he spotted some old canons so he had a play with those.
It wasn’t too far to the war-time set 1940s farm so we headed there next. This turned out to be Reuben’s favourite era because it had tractors and animals, both which gave him serious giggles. There he sat upon a tractor, steering the wheel in sheer delight, and met a particularly friendly sheep. In all fairness, this made me silly giddy too! I liked the farm because it was a proper working site, busy with costumed farmworkers going about their old style day. It was hugely interesting for Reuben watching a shire horse getting washed down, and then a lad driving a tractor through carrying a hay bale for the cows.
Across this way was the aptly named ‘British Kitchen’, in homage to the British Kitchen restaurants (which Winston Churchill gave name to) that were introduced across the country during the war. In those days the kitchen fed the most destitute including those who’d ran out of rations, but today at Beamish it serves as a tearoom on the go.
Reuben had a mini tantrum at this point (actually we’d had several by now) because we weren’t walking in the direction he wanted to go in, but he was swiftly diverted back on track. Go mummy!
Shunning the tram in favour of walking and giving Reuben a good run (I swear there’s little difference between a toddler and a dog), we made our way over to the pit village. This is a more developed site where you find a row of cottages, a church, a school, the stables where the pit ponies are bedded down, and a proper working fish and chip shop.
The school gave me the feels of my old primary school, not that there was anything especially in common. We certainly didn’t have a burning coal fire in the corner of the room and slate to write on. Reuben ran out into the school yard where we came across people trying to hoop roll and we gave it a go. There was a costumed member of staff helping out so I asked him how to do it properly. He told me how to hold the hoop, when to roll and where to keep the stick, but it was so hard. I would have been rubbish at that game back in the day!
The chip shop was a real treat to experience as it had a retro feel, thanks to its vintage style and old fashioned method of cooking in beef dripping. Of course I needed to taste the chips for myself so we bought a couple of portions of chips which came served in coned paper. At £2 a pop they’re more expensive than you’d pay in a regular chippy so you’re paying for the experience really. I thought they tasted quite nice, and Reuben enjoyed them too, although the other half found them on the greasy side, and unfortunately my tummy agreed before we’d left Beamish at the end of the day. (Read face palm emoji here.)
Once we’d finished our chips we wandered back through the village and Reuben began dropping off to sleep. Time was getting on anyway, with closing time approaching within the hour, so we called it a day.
While we saw a fair amount of Beamish, we sadly missed a lot of it too. In my opinion, Beamish is too big to do properly in one day. So we didn’t get to see the colliery, although it wouldn’t have been suitable to take Reuben down the mine anyway. Additionally, we never made it to 1820’s Pockerley and don’t even tell Reuben we totally missed the steam train or engines at the wagon works. We just had day tickets but the normal retail ticket pays for a whole year’s return visits. So if you find yourself running short of time like we did, you can always pop back.
Where’s your favourite place to take the little ones? Have you ever been to Beamish?