Weald & Downland Open Air Museum  


I was hideously grateful to sleep in till 9AM this morning. Lots of travel and little sleep lately. Maggie suggested I take advantage of the pool and hot tub at the Marriott we were staying in. And I did. Really, really nice to sit in the hot tub for a bit before getting ready to travel.

All three of us have lists of things that we would do differently, and things we would do exactly the same again. In particular there are places that we wanted to spend more time at, and places we wish we'd just skipped. However, traveling in the height of tourist season, we had to book our hotels well in advance. So once the plan was made, we haven't had the flexibility that we might have had in the off season. On the other hand, everything is open and staffed, and the weather has been fabulous most of the time.

And although all three of us complain about the long long time that the sun stays up, it is allowing us to pack almost twice as much site-seeing into a day as would be possible in winter. We're tired, but oh my goodness, have we seen England! From the flat lands around King's Lynn in the east, to the rolling hills in the midlands, to the mountains in Wales, to the strangely symmetrical round hill formations in Glastonbury, to the chalk hills here in the Downlands. The hot weather in London, the cold nights in Wales, the gentle rains all over the island. The riotous greens of summer in a place that has water all year round and a temperate climate. I will have to think long and hard about what I would change. Sleeping every night in a new place has been hard, but it has given us a view that we wouldn't have had otherwise.

Weald & Downland

This is the coolest museum you'll ever go to. It is a bunch of old buildings from the Weald & Downland area of England that have been moved to this open air museum. We saw horse drawn water wells, a working mill, farm houses, cottages, kitchens, a market hall, displays on carpentry, roofing, brick making, charcoal making, lead melting, glass production,... oh the list just goes on and on.

Not everything was from the Middle Ages, but a great deal of it was. Or the technologies described had not changed much from that time-- such as coppiced trees, (do you remember I talked about pollarding and coppicing trees when we were at Sherwood forest?) Well I got to see a forest that was being selectively coppiced in the old medieval way of managing a forest.

The furniture in the buildings are all reproductions of museum pieces or are done from period illustrations. It was all made with period tools; the wood all sawn using a pit saw. Pit sawing uses a long saw, where one man stands in a pit below the log, and another stands above it. There are two handles on the saw, and the man in the pit is the one who pulls the blade down biting into the wood. The man at the top just pulls the blade up for it to be pulled down again. Very clever really, because the man on the bottom can use his own body weight to pull down.

The photos today are all about the museum, and I've tried to give good descriptions of everything. There are also photos of the animals. Even though they aren't medieval looking (because there are no medieval looking breeds really), their presence on the farms, and the crops in the fields and gardens really made the place seem real. The bread cooked in the kitchen was ground at the mill, the table she kneaded it on was made with traditional tools. It's all just "right". The people who work the farm do not dress up, they are in mundane "I work here" clothes with name tags. But even that has a certain note of authenticity. They are the museum staff and volunteers.

We spent all day wandering about looking, touching, and reading. They kicked us out at 6pm when they closed. (Which is pretty generous. Many things close here at 5 or 5:30. And don't even THINK that you can get food after 8 at night.)

The grand plan for the day originally had us driving into Salisbury to see something there, then doing the Weald & Downland, then driving to Chichester Cathedral for Evensong, then driving to Battle to the George Hotel. Whew! We ditched everything but the Weald and going to the hotel. Things are just too far apart, and the Weald & Downland was far too interesting to leave before they kicked us out.


So when I went swimming this morning there were two well behaved children in the pool. Their grandmother was watching them carefully from a table. Later in the day I bumped into the same lady in the elevator and she was carting flowers too and fro, "for my daughter's wedding," she said. "I've still got my temper," she added, and I wished her luck.

In the changing room at the pool, the Marriott had provided a playpen in the middle. Such an odd place England is. Many restaurants have signs that say that children are not allowed, or that children are only allowed at the outside tables. But when they decide to be family-friendly, they do a better job of it than the U.S. A playpen- of course that's what you need to be able to change into a swimsuit without your three year old bolting out to the gym naked.

The Weald & Downland was filled with children. Most of them well-behaved with parents and grandparents. An elderly lady called up the steep stairs at one of the farmhouses, "the Shire horses are coming." And I followed her granddaughter down the stairs as quickly as all the other children to go see the big draft horses.

Sunshine, horses, medieval kitchens, flowers, friends, ducks to feed. Such a good day.


Hastings field where Harold Godwinson was defeated by William the Conqueror. Then on to the Cathedral at Canterbury. Perhaps the white cliffs of Dover if the drive isn't too far. And the George Hotel serves breakfast. (I'm getting so blase about old buildings that I forgot to say the George is 300 years old.)

Today's Photos