The highlight of my week was visiting Avebury with Noémie Caillat, our Rempart Service Civique Volunteer, and Monty, my son.
Avebury is an unusual National Trust property. Not only is it a World Heritage Site (together with Stonehenge) it also has a manor house which was dramatically refurbished as part of a BBC TV mini-series (The Manor Reborn) a few years ago, meaning that everything (well, everything apart from the hand-painted Chinese dining room wallpaper!) can be touched, sat on, bounced on (more about that later), jumped into (ditto!), drunk, eaten, etc, etc – you get the gist.
This was a revelation to our son who fully indulged his urge to do all of the above. It was great to see him trying on clothes, hopping into beds (now hoping for a silk-sheeted, Queen Anne style four-poster in his own bedroom …), bouncing on the exercise horse (in an attempt to avoid gout).
Part of me wonders whether the experience will ruin his enjoyment of future NT places with their – everso tasteful – golden ropes and holly leaves on chairs to indicate ‘please don’t sit here’? Will he be able to contain himself or will I have to wrestle him out State Beds in the future?!
There was something quite magical about the mandate ‘be a guest, not a ghost’ given to us by the very welcoming volunteer at the door. Each room interprets a different story from the Manor’s history through the eyes of the then occupant, so there is the 1930 salon of the archaeologist, Alexander Keiller who set the stones of Avebury standing again, the dining room of the Governor or Jamaica and the Tudor bedchamber. It was a romp through history which Monty lapped up.
Sarah Staniforth, then Museums and Collections Director for the National Trust said: “An empty house is like a blank canvas, so this was an exciting opportunity to interpret the interiors in an authentic but imaginative way. The Manor Reborn has broken new ground in how we bring our places to life and we hope that Avebury Manor will be an inspiring experience for our visitors.”
On leaving the Manor house, somewhat reluctantly, we visited the musuems (‘awesome’) and then wandered around the village (‘better than Stonehenge’) with its largest stone circle in the world, before stopping at 5,000 year old West Kennet Longbarrow (‘cool’) on our way home.
The ability to bring to life the real stories of the past occupants of a place really is a special gift.
Thanks for reading!