We awoke to pouring rain on our first day in Co Durham but set out undeterred to visit Beamish, the famed open-air museum. It was just half an hour’s drive from our hotel, a good journey and best of all that rain eased off.
Plenty of cars in the car park was no surprise but what did shock me was the number of coaches already lined up. My heart sank a bit but inside the museum it was no problem, Beamish is set on 300 acres and there is plenty of room for everyone.
Shivering as we headed inside – it was properly cold up north in July – we got hot drinks in the cafe to warm up before our explorations. A group of workers were huddled around a table having food all dressed up in period costume. It already felt like we had gone back in time and left the 21st century behind.
Entrance tickets are not cheap but this really is a fantastic day out. Add to that they are valid for 12 months unlimited entry and I thought it was superb value. We were unlikely to be returning so planned to try and squeeze everything into one day – that is possible too.
Beamish is wonderful and one of the best examples of a “living” museum that I’ve seen. There is a small town to explore, a mining village, a farm and a manor house. You can even ride on a steam train. Everything in every one of these areas has been brought here from another location – right down to every brick and piece of furniture.
We jumped on the old tram which runs all the way around the site. An old bus does the same and actually takes you to the front of some of the attractions. We didn’t ride the bus but hopped on and off the tram several times. A double decker with an open top, normally we would have raced to the top but not today – far too cold and miserable. We loved the tram, it is fun but also essential as the site is so huge. We rode it between the different sites but still did stacks of walking.
Our first stop was Home Farm. This is set in the 1940’s, we spied a vegetable garden, some animals and had a look around the farm house. It felt very cozy, the open fire (in late July) was very welcome.
Son was highly excited to see an Anderson shelter in the garden and climbed inside. Every detail is attended to and there were even vegetables growing on the roof.
We found an air-raid warden’s helmet, various war time memorabilia and to Son’s delight a typewriter. Everything is allowed to be touched and handled, nothing is in a glass case or out of bounds.
We walked down the hill from the farm to the Pit Village, a mining village set around 1900. There is a Silver Band Hall reflecting the region’s colliery band heritage and loads of posters around the site advertising concerts and events being held here show it is very much in use.
The Pit Pony stables had a few cute ponies and lots of information about their jobs down the mines. Apparently the Durham coalfields had 22,000 ponies in 1913.
There were old cars on the street and costumed workers going about their business, it is quite surreal and constantly gives you the strange feeling you have stepped back in time.
The old school building was a favourite. We walked through various rooms, Son tried out a couple of desks for size and enjoyed attempting to write on a slate. Interesting display items here too – an adder in a jar and birds’ eggs are not the norm nowadays.
Outside they had playground games. The steel hoops were not easy to master, hopscotch required way less skill.
We found a Methodist Church with a gorgeous interior which once stood in nearby Beamish village and right at the bottom was the colliery.
Husband went on a short tour of the drift mine. Son and I gave it a miss, I checked out the incredible display of miner’s safety lamps while Son got stuck in with a shovel and a pile of coal. We saw the railway and walked through a building where once men and ponies were lowered into the pit.
There is a little terrace of miners cottages, each one slightly different and belonging to a different family. Ladies in each cottage were getting on with crafts and chatting about life in those days. The costumed staff are part of what makes this such an incredible place. They are full of information and knowledge, happy to chat and kept us engrossed and enthralled.
After all that it was back to the tram, this time headed for 1913 and a town Beamish style.