Reviewed by Angela Paull
Today (28th July 2018) we took a trip to the Weald and Downland Living Museum, near Chichester. Nestled in the heart of The South Downs, the museum occupies a 40-acre site in stunning countryside. It’s a place we’ve been to a couple of times before, but this was our first trip there since the new visitor centre and cafe have been completed.
Wow, what an improvement they made! We moved straight from the reception area into the new gallery and found that it was full of fun, interesting and, most importantly, interactive exhibits that our 7-year-old really enjoyed (almost to the point where he was reluctant to explore outside!)
However, it was a pleasantly sunny, but cool, day so outside we went! There are more than 50 different buildings to explore which are loosely categorised into different areas (such as Craft/Industries, Market Square, Stables, Early Dwellings).
Our first destination was the Craft & Industries area. The main draw here was the Lurgashall Watermill, which is a working mill and produces wholemeal flour that is available to buy. You can see the waterwheel in action from the outside and then see how this powers the mill inside. With lots of turning cogs over two floors our son was in seventh heaven. He also had a go at grinding some wheat on a pair of smaller stones and making his own flour. This gave us adults the chance to ask the staff inside some mill related questions and very knowledgeable and enthusiastic they were in their response.
Onwards to the Market Square where we explored the Church, Market Hall, Crawley Hall (complete with a costume exhibition) and Toll House. By then hunger had kicked in and we decamped to one of the many picnic benches to enjoy our picnic.
Energy restored we set off again. So far most of the exhibits had been in close proximity to each other but now it was time for a little walking. There are several routes to follow. The main route is broadly circular and 2km long (1km of which is classed as accessible) and takes you past pretty much every building. A firm favourite was the schoolhouse, including the lesson in pre-decimal coinage, closely followed by the stables with their resident horses. By the time we had explored every house (climbing several sets of stairs in the process) it felt like quite the workout! As we explored, we encountered several members of staff tucked away in the properties. Without exception they were friendly and keen to share their knowledge (we may have missed the toilet dangling over the garden in the Bayleaf Tudor Farmhouse had we not been advised to look in the cupboard!)
The route takes you through beautiful woodland and a small diversion will take you along a 0.5km sculpture trail. At the end of the woodland is a small play area for kids with a carved dragon, stepping stumps and a clutch of mini wicker hideouts. There is also the Downland Gridshell Building which is worth checking out for it’s amazing roof/construction alone.
By this time we had spent an easy 3 hours at the museum (having got there just after the opening time of 10:30) and more refreshment was required. Off to the cafe we went and very impressive it was. Lots of seating indoors and out by the lake as well as a good selection of cakes/baked goods to accompany our pot of tea and juice. We found the prices to be very reasonable too.
We then headed to the shop where there was a good range of traditional goods, edibles and knick knacks. One final mooch around the gallery and it was time to head for home.
We had a really fun day at the Weald & Downland. There was plenty of car parking, good facilities, knowledgeable and friendly staff and lots of room for exploring both the buildings and the beautiful countryside. There really is something here for all generations!
Tickets cost £15.50 (adults) / £7.50 (children)
For more information visit www.wealddown.co.uk.
Weald & Downland Living Museum, Singleton, Chichester, PO18 0EU