Saturday, 11 August 2018

Childhood's Wonderland may not be where you expect.

April '18: Waiting for the train outta Sherborne, expectations defied...

The Child's Wonderland?

Let's go back in history a bit...
Last Summer, whilst holidaying near Manchester, we paid a visit to Eureka! The National Children's Museum in Halifax. It came highly recommended - at a price - and we arrived to find a queue so long we had enough time to pre-book tickets on the phone while waiting so that we could be fast-tracked. Inside it was like something from a kid's dream: play shops, buttons to press, pretend houses with real staircases, flaps and noises, flashing lights and apparently everything else that a child could possibly want, with a fair amount of education thrown in.

And yet, after a couple of hours of this wonderland Graham was ready to leave. He'd whizzed up and down the staircases, pushed all the buttons he wanted to push and was only interested in going elsewhere. After an expensive and high-tech morning we wound up the day watching the ducks and barges at Hebden Bridge.

The Child's Boredom-ain? 

The next day we headed for the Peak District National Park.
Now the Peak District has been around for a long time. In basic terms it contains lots of grass, water, hills and a goodly amount of rock. Marketing materials for the Park contain very few (if any) references to video games or electronics. The emphasis is on the great outdoors rather than man's mastery over fibre optics. On the face of it, not a day for the kids then...

But you'd be wrong. Our children loved it. They loved hopping on stepping-stones over a racing stream on the Snake Pass, clambering over rocks and climbing the massive steps up to Mam Tor, bracing themselves against the blustery wind at the top. We wound up eating chips in the public gardens in Bakewell and returned home, full of rich country air, as dark fell and lights lit up in glittering skeins in the valleys.

A one off? Maybe... Or maybe not.

There's not much to do in Sherborne

Spring 2018. There's not much for children in Sherborne, we were told. Nice for the adults, all that old-fashioned architecture, but pretty dull for the kiddies.

Well, dullness is what you make it.

Going on a train is pretty dull for a seasoned commuter. They take a book to while away the time. But for a three-year-old boy even the humblest, most ordinary, dirt-streaked commuter train is a wonder. Isaac shrieked with excitement as our grimy, London-bound transport ground into Axminster station. Not that we were going to London. We were only going to Sherborne, that dull jumble of stone where kids fall asleep standing up for tedium.

Our two, strangely, didn't fall asleep - which is probably because they were too busy enjoying themselves. After all, it isn't every day that you get to have a meal out in a backstreet cafe, where the chefs cook your pizza in front of your eyes. It isn't often that you get to race around in the grounds of an ancient abbey, balance on fallen trees in a riverside meadow, stalk grey herons in the shallows or sit on the ramparts of a ruined castle after nearly a mile's walk out of town. 

Perhaps our children are just unusual. Or perhaps it is us all-knowing adults who simply underestimate the simple pleasure that can be obtained from a short train ride through green countryside and unfettered adventure in the open air. As one burly dog-walker pointed out, passing by as Isaac teetered uncertainly but triumphantly on a fallen tree-trunk, "It's free entertainment innit!"

The Summer holidays aren't over. There's still time for a bit of non-electronic 'free entertainment' yet. Even in Sherborne...     


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