Monday, 19 September 2016

Free English Heritage August Membership with British Gas

Everybody loves a freebie, and so it was like a shot that I signed up for an e-mail offer from British Gas giving away several thousand English Heritage memberships for August. The membership covered two adults and up to six children, who seemingly didn't even need to be related to you.

We are National Trust, Historic Houses and Royal Horticultural Society members, which always seemed like more than enough to keep us going. To join English Heritage as well felt excessive. Plus we've been a bit snippy about English Heritage properties in the Yorkshire region since most of them are, not to put too fine a point on it, ruins. It didn't seem worth paying to go in them since you think you've kind of seen enough just walking or driving past them. They haven't got a roof, furniture, wallpaper or windows so what could they possibly have inside?

Well, here was our chance to find out what they were hiding. Quite a lot more than we thought, to be honest. The chance to step back and enjoy a beautiful setting, for one thing. A little museum or two of salvaged artefacts. The eerie atmosphere of abandonment. The consequences of wanton destruction by Henry VIII's army. A batty sheepdog. The chance to brush up on some important history and imagine a bygone age.

We made it to:

1) Clifford's Tower.

I'd been before as one of my 40 challenges for turning 40, but given that it is down the road and it was going to be free, it would have been crazy not to go again, this time with daughter in tow. She loved climbing up the spiral staircase to the ramparts and trying to spot our house from the top. You can't actually see our house from the top, but you can see the Terry's chocolate factory tower, which was good enough for her.

2) Kirkham Priory.

This has a peaceful setting beside the River Derwent, and the slightly less peaceful York to Scarborough railway line. There were cows. Our daughter assigned us each a house amongst what was left of the buildings so that we could all play happy families. Sigh. Mummy and Daddy aren't very good at these sorts of games.

3) Rievaulx Abbey.

We have often looked down on the abbey from the National Trust owned Terrace above, but never ventured down into the valley. More fool us. The abbey is absolutely stunning, with a delightful, well presented museum. A children's trail helps you locate the monks' toilets.

4) Helmsley Castle.

Similarly, we have often looked up at Helmsley Castle from the Walled Garden, but had never been inside. It is much more substantial than the severed keep you see from the market square. It being a castle rather than a former monastic establishment, this is one of the few local ruins not destroyed by Henry VIII, but rather by the Civil War, and a bit of neglect. Walking around the mound above the moat ditch was a particular highlight. Our daughter spotted her beloved chickens in the walled garden below.

Helmsley Walled Garden

Above the moat

5) Byland Abbey.

Home of the aforementioned batty dog, who actually lives on a neighbouring farm, but spends his day hanging out at the abbey seeking out unsuspecting visitors to throw him sticks. Our daughter is terrified of dogs, so ran off screaming as soon as she saw him, but eventually came around to his persistent pestering. Good dog.

Batty sheepdog

6) Brodsworth Hall.

Not a ruin! A beautiful house and garden just outside of Doncaster that we'd always wanted to visit. Loads of activities for kids - a mini beast hunt in the garden, and a trail of giant knitted insects around the house that were to be identified as friends or foes, depending on how much damage they tend to do to building fabric. The house was kept in the same family for years and years, and they continually patched it up or just let it evolve, so it's an odd mismatch of period and repair. A beautiful wooden Victorian kitchen table with a Formica top, for example. A lift that was forever breaking down. A lot of it is currently undergoing more significant structural restoration - mainly the window shutters, and the billiard room, which had everything in tea crates. But the garden is just stunning - a fern grotto, sun room and croquet lawn amidst a formal parterre, rose dell and arboretum. And statues of whippets. The usual play area and tea room you would expect in such establishments.

As it was school holidays, and there are 31 days in August, really we could have got a lot more mileage out of this freebie. But despite best intentions, owing to various prior commitments and visitors, days and weekends ran away with us, so we didn't quite manage to get to as many places as we hoped. Notable local places we missed out on included Richmond Castle, Whitby Abbey, Scarborough Castle, Middleham Castle and the York Cold War Bunker. Further afield, I would have been tempted to revisit places like Eltham Palace and Audley End (which definitely aren't ruins), and Stonehenge. Maybe next year, we will add English Heritage membership to our list so that we can see the rest.

Richmond Castle (taken June 2016)

Eltham Palace (taken July 2015)


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  2. Wow! those places are beautiful. In how you describe every place they sound interesting.

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