Tuesday 25 August 2015

Review: Blists Hill Victorian Town #CountryKids

Last week we had a family week away in Shropshire and this most unlikely destination became the base for an amazing family break. As this is an area of the country that we do not know at all I put a shout-out on Facebook to ask friends were they would recommend we should visit. The response was varied but one place kept coming up again and again. 'Go to Ironbridge Gorge' people kept suggesting and specifically Blists Hill Victorian Town which was described as 'amazing, the best museum ever and fabulous for kids'.

So with those recommendations ringing in our ears we headed there Sunday lunchtime for an afternoon of fun. Ironbridge Gorge is a collection of ten varied museums all set close together by the original Ironbridge. You can buy an annual pass which allows you/ the family to access all the museums as much as you like (for a year) and had we lived closer we would definitely have taken up this option as £68 for a family of 5 is great value.

With just an afternoon to spend there we focused on getting the most out of our visit to Blists Hill Victorian Town. As we arrived, we thought we might have to turn away and come back another day as the two car parks we could see were chocka full but drive up a little further and we came to two more car parks with plenty of space. It is £2 for the day to park but as Blists Hill is a charity we didn't mind this.

Accessing the attraction was easy and queue free and we found the staff to be professional and friendly. Over the summer there are different theme weeks running so we were given a list of what was going on that day (it was Children at Play week when we visited) and also a 'spot the animals' type quiz for the kids with a promise of a lolly at the end. You head straight from reception into a very large room with all sorts of massive screens all around you and then you can watch some clips about the area and the crafts and trades that people were undertaking over 100 years ago in the Victorian age. At this point I could see my girls eyes rolling as if I had taken them to some boring educational museum but JJ, my age 11 year old boy was engaged as he loves history.

We then climbed a long winding staircase with no idea of what we might find outside but the kids started to smile as they saw the street ahead and we promptly headed into the bank, where we were informed that both dh and Miss E being left-handed would not have been tolerated in that day and age and that I would only have been fit to clean the bank as a working woman. My, how times have changed and thank goodness but it was our first taste of understanding just how different life was. The kids loved buying some Ironbridge Gorge pretend Victorian money and being able to spend it in many of the shops/ attractions within the village.

I won't give away all the secrets of the place as you really must visit. It is good enough there that you should travel a couple of hours for it. We spent about four hours here in total but easily we could have stayed longer, had it not been closing at 5pm. We went into so many interesting places and in most were actors in full costume and staying in part playing along and answering our questions about what it was like to live in the Victorian age. Just a few of the places we visited were the doctors surgery, candle makers, iron mongers, blacksmiths, post office, school, grocers and the village pub.

We bought fresh fruit cobs in the bakers, chips cooked in beef dripping in the chippie, signs and postcards at the printers and plaster plaques to paint at the decorative plasterers store. Prices were reasonable and the kids (well actually all of us) had a whole ton of fun. Miss E spent the rest of the holiday referring to Sunday as her best day ever and considering we went to Alton Towers I think that is pretty high praise! Miss M's highlight was getting to stroke Casey the shire horse and she was a little sad she had missed the horse and carriage rides, but there really is so much to do that it is hard to fit it all in unless you are there for the full day. JJ was over the moon to win a dog hand puppet on the old fashioned fun fair and dh enjoyed the chips.

For me, the highlight had to be spending half an hour in the school having a proper school lesson. Oh yes, it was so realistic with the national anthem, the Lords prayer, a hymn, some work and even a nail inspection. Miss E was called out the front as a leftie and made to recite after the teacher that she was sinning by using her left hand to write and she would change her ways and we all had to recite that we were working class children and not to get above our station. Parts like that made me sad and you see why so few people aspired to change in those days but it is important that we all understand how our country has changed.

Our day finished with two of the kids building Meccano in a large hands-on meccano display and the rest of us in the village pub having a good old-fashioned sing-song around the piano. I could just imagine my great-grandparents doing this back at the turn of the century, it was very good and easy for the kids to join in and I know many parents were super happy as you could buy a pint to enjoy at the same time. I haven't even begun to mention all the attractions you can see at Blists Hill as there are so many - you can ride the cable car, walk the toll path, see original parts that have past the test of time like the mine shaft and blast furnaces and you can walk up to the Hay Inclined Plane. As the majority of the attraction is outside do make sure you dress for the weather.

You could visit Blists Hill and just spend on the entrance fee but realistically to have a really fabulous day you are going to want to spend on the little extras in the village. So I'd say budget in another £5 each so that the kids can choose what they want to do, like have a go on the fairground (£1 a go or for the side-stalls, but they did make sure my kids won a little prize), buy sweets (by the quarter, I remember those days! - about 60p - £1), buy a fruit bun (40p), have chips for lunch (£2.40 but a decent size portion to share and so, so delicious), indulge in a plaster item to paint at home (from 20p each), buy a hand printed postcard (from 40p) or maybe have a go at the candle dipping in the Boys Brigade hall (£1.20 a child). We have some marvellous keep stakes now to take home with us and great talking points.

If our family of five had paid for entry for Blists Hill alone it would have been £67.55 (without gift aid) so it would have been better in my opinion to get the annual pass and enjoy more of the museums. I'm told that Enginuity is amazing too and the kids would have loved the hands-on science learning there. We only had a couple of coffees whilst at Blists Hill (and the chips of course) and we bought these from the Forest Glenn refreshment pavilion which was super quaint and a great quick stop. They were serving hot meals, sandwiches, cakes, drinks and ice-creams, as was the cafe by the entrance and the food looked good and the prices were reasonable for a major attraction. We also found the toilets to be clean and well stocked across the site.

Many of the paths are hilly and the roads not-made (as they wouldn't have been back in 1900) so things may prove more difficult for those with buggies or wheelchairs but I see there is an accessibility guide available at reception and if you arrange it in advance there is a closer car park for those with a wheelchair user.

We had such a wonderful time at Blists Hill that I would not hesitate to recommend it and we will definitely be back again in the future.

I'm linking this post up with Fiona at Coombe Mill for #CountryKids.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall 
Disclosure: We were gifted our entrance tickets for the purpose of this review. I have not been informed what to write and I remain honest.
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