I admit. I was hoping to go somewhere last weekend that didn’t mean big crowds but still with a nod to Halloween. My children have reached the stage where dressing up as witches and following pumpkin trails, in broad day light…it’s just not going to happen. (After dark is a whole different matter!) We chose to avoid the obvious National Trust properties and tried our luck with Lytes Cary down near Somerton, Somerset.
It is a small property, with an interesting garden. Showing the children a medieval hall and how it had been added to, was on my list. They enjoyed wandering around the house and hearing the stories about some of the objects. I was intrigued by the brandy warming table. Ingenious!
The boy was interested in two unusual, elizabethan looking ladies, made out of leather, in one of the rooms. About a metre high. The guide told him a couple of theories about them – servants moved them round so their shadows, cast by the fire, deterred burglars, or being the fourteenth person at the table. Why two? A lady can’t possibly be seen in the same dress two days in a row.
It was the garden that the children really enjoyed. There are lots of high hedges and topiary. Breaking the garden up into rooms. The children could go off and explore without us. Playing an unofficial game of hide and seek.
“Oh there you are,” as I look up from taking another photo. Only to see them disappear again.
For the end of the season, there was still plenty of interest in the gardens.
I’m not sure if I missed a herbal garden, but I had hoped to see one. In the house, they have one of the few copies of an old herbal remedies book, Niewe Herball, which a former owner Henry Lyte translated. Maybe I missed the herbs, but I did see the book.
We did find medlars on one tree, alongside blossom. They also have apple and quince trees. I couldn’t resist making sure everyone breathed in a little bit of the quince fragrance. I miss our tree. It’s been a few years. Youngest wanted to know if it was meant to have fuzz on it. Oh yes.
I quite like the idea of adding a medlar tree to our little orchard.
We were too late to hunt for conkers. Hoards of other children had beaten us to them. Not that it stopped the children searching through the empty cases, just in case. They tried to catch leaves as they fell from the impressive avenue of broadleaves.
They may have grown beyond the fun trails offered, but put the children in a landscape with trees and a place to run, and they will have fun. Our trip had the perfect balance of autumn and interest for my growing family.
Imagine walking into a museum. It is light and airy. Looking up, you can see the ceiling towering above. Display cabinets form rows in the middle, on the ground. By sheer osmosis, you seem to absorb information as you walk in. At the back, you come across a door way. It opens up into another room of similar size. This time darker. Like a twin to the first. This is the Natural History museum and the Pitt Rivers museum in Oxford.
Sparking curiosity. It made the perfect atmospheric outing, this weekend, especially running up to Halloween. If you are a fan of Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials, you will find it strangely familiar.
The first part of the building is the Natural History museum. It’s housed in the most beautiful, victorian building. It is light and airy, and set up to educate. Even the columns are made from different stone, with the type and location chiselled in at the base. Intricate iron work all the way to the roof.
There is nothing fusty about the exhibits. There is a lot. I’m not sure at what point during our visit, the Boy stopped saying “Look at this”, every few seconds. Or when he conceded that he couldn’t possibly see everything in a day.
I love beetles. Thrilled to find this display. Regular readers may notice that I have the same quote in my sidebar. Each beetle has a series of tiny squares of paper behind it, with tiny printed words, skewered by the same pin as the beetle. Intricate and precise. Keeping important information with each beetle.
Not into beetles? No worries. There was something to interest everyone. We haven’t visited for a few years (here), so it felt new and fresh to the children. They’ve reached the stage where they spend more time reading the displays and sharing interesting facts. Walking each other back to view something of great interest.
Each had their favourite. For Eldest, she spent time examining all the bird displays. We were all shown the origins of bird nest soup.
For Middle one, she loved the elephant skeletons and the size of them.
And the Boy. Well, his favourite was through the door, in the Pitt Rivers part of the museum.
Strangely enough, I don’t seem to have a photo of the shrunken heads that he found fascinating, so instead I’m showing you an entirely separate display of toys that I liked.
The Pitt Rivers museum has the most amazing collection. If you are interested in anthropology then this is the museum for you. They have cabinets full of musical instruments, weaving, masks, votive offerings and witchcraft, fire starting implements, native canoes, samurai armour and swords, ceremonial paraphernalia, tally sticks…. and so much more. It is like wandering into the most amazing, old curiosity shop. Each item labelled to enlighten you. Often handwritten in the most precise, tiny writing, which makes you question the size of the writer.
(images of spectacled, learned mice writing labels by candle light)
Under some of the display cabinets are more exhibits in drawers which you can pull out to view. There is so much to see. Something for everyone. A dream of a place for anyone that has ever wondered about something from the past. Just about anything.
This is the part of the museum that I would not like to be alone in. Kept darker to delay fading of the exhibits. It has a more eerie feel to it, but maybe that’s just me.
Back in the Natural History museum, among the animal skeletons. I think it was Eldest that suggested how interesting it would be if everything in the museum came alive again. I’m not sure I share the same understanding and appreciation of the word “interesting” as she obviously does, but I do admire her curiosity and imagination. The perfect place to spark both.
I’ll stick with the beetles.
Please, don’t come back to life!
There are lifts between floors, giving access to wheelchairs and prams. There is nearby on-street parking, as well as a park and ride. Not the cheapest options, so if you are prepared to walk and make a day of it, then there are alternatives.
The museum is free to visit, with donation boxes around. There is a cafe on the second floor with cakes, sandwiches, children’s box and drinks, giving excellent view of the ground floor of the Natural History museum and the building as a whole.
Yes, those are waxed leaves. Leaves covered in wax to preserve them.
I’ll admit. Any craft that involves beeswax is probably a winner with me. The fragrance and smoothness. Add in nature finds and you have the makings for a lovely morning of crafting.
The wax helps to preserve the leaf by sealing it in. It keeps the colour, and prevents it drying out and disintegrating. Perfect if you want to use them in wreaths or as table settings, where they need to keep their appearance for a while.
Alternatively you can sandwich your leaves between sticky back plastic and cut around the shape of the leaf. They tend to be flatter, but there is no hot wax involved.
Want to know how to wax leaves?
How to make waxed leaves
You need: fresh leaves, beeswax, ovenproof container and greaseproof paper.
1. First collect interesting leaves. Different colours and shapes. With stalks. That is important. Pat dry in a tea towel or kitchen paper towel.
2. Melt the wax in your container. I pop it in the oven for 2 minutes at about 175 °c or 350 °f. Needless to say, melted wax is very hot, so please take care when working with it.
3. Holding the stalk, in one smooth movement sweep the leaf in the melted wax.
4. Repeat for the other side of the leaf.
5. If it is not totally covered, repeat. I use a wooden peg to push the leaf into the wax briefly.
6. Hold the leaf above the container, to allow excess wax to drip off the leaf. I give it a small shake to prevent the wax pooling on the leaf.
(whoops! a different leaf pictured. The wax does not change a red leaf into a yellow one. I just missed the dripping red leaf.)
7. Place the leaf on the greaseproof paper to set. Wrong side of the leaf down. Allow your leaf to set on the paper. It shouldn’t take more than a minute or two.
And that is it. You now have a waxed leaf. Ready to use in another crafting project. Repeat for all your leaves. As soon as the wax is showing signs of setting in the container, then melt it again, before waxing another leaf.
If you are the sort of person who likes to collect the dripped candle wax and scrap off the candle drips from the table, you’ll love this craft. If you are careful, any cooled pools of wax on the leaves can be eased off. Any wax on the greaseproof can be peeled off and put back in the container, for remelting. Nothing is wasted.
Treated carefully, I have kept waxed leaves for a few years. They are delicate, but if you store them in a cool place, in a rigid container, they can be brought out every autumn. Alternatively, they can be added to firestarters when they grow too tatty. Nothing is wasted.
This is not a craft for every age. I’ve heard about people letting toddlers take part, but I kept this craft to myself until my children were older. If they can fry onions, then they are ready to wax leaves, in my book!
Now, collecting leaves is good for any age.
Yesterday, we went to Stourhead and collected our leaves. We’re making good use of our National Trust membership this year. The children loved the paintings in the house and were really struck by how friendly everyone was in the house. They spotted lots of mini pumpkins dotted around the house as part of the autumn trail.
The sun shining and the turning leaves had brought everyone out to visit. It was incredibly busy.
There were still quieter areas, where we collected leaves and a handful of sweet chestnuts. Generally admired all the different, beautiful colours that leaves can turn.
The greenhouse was a great place to warm up. How I wish I had a greenhouse like this one.
Today it is raining. Waxing our leaves seems a fun inside craft. I left the leaves in the kitchen over night. I should have left them somewhere cooler, as they started to dry out and curl up at the edges. I do quite like the effect now they are waxed.
It was good to spend time crafting with my daughter. We have plans to add this to an autumn wreath for the door. Hopefully I’ll post up the result of that project later in the week.