Review: Mary Arden's Farm
Of all of Shakespeare's Family Homes, the farm where Shakespeare's Mother lived as a child is probably has the most to offer families looking for a fun day out. We have some great memories of visits there in previous years but hadn't visited for a little while so, after hearing about some of the improvements that have been made for the 2018 season, thought it was about time we headed over again.
The first thing we noticed was that there is a packed schedule of daily events planned. We arrived just in time for the Goose Herding so, wondering what on earth that would involve, we went along to find out more. The Tudor ladies running the session struck a really nice balance between talking about the geese themselves and giving a background on how they fitted into life on a Tudor Farm - my boys were really interested in all that they had to say. We found that this was the case with all of the "Tudors" we met during the day. They were able to talk to the kids and answer their questions keeping it engaging and fun at their level without making the educational element too dry.
Next was the Falconry display. Now, if you have been to Mary Arden's Farm before you will know that this has traditionally been a highlight. Today was not a disappointment. The half an hour session was full of interesting information on the birds, a great helping of humour and plenty of audience participation! If you do visit this year, make sure you make time for this in your day.
There are plenty of farm animals to see on the farm in your own time too. Many of them are rare breeds which would have been found on the farm in Mary Arden's time. They are spread out in different areas of the site which allows you to wander, explore and see them all without needing to deal with crowds of other parents and children trying to follow the same route. We bought packet of feed for the sheep and goats for 50p on the way in and had lots of fun feeding some rather enthusiastic goats who clearly knew exactly what the deal was!
Take the time to take the walk away from the main cluster of buildings and explore the new Woodland Trail around the wild flower meadow and orchard. As well as more animals to see there is a willow tunnel which added some hide-and-seek opportunities and was declared "the most massive tunnel like this we've seen anywhere"! I can't categorically promise that this is case but my kids were at least impressed enough on finding it!
This year a new playground has been added with some great timber framed equipment. It is intended for children aged under 12 and my boys aged 10 and 6 both had a great time clambering around. There are also the usual swings and slide and well as some small sit-on wooden animals which would appeal to younger ones but it is probably fair to say that the older/ school aged children will get more out of the playground as a whole as the larger equipment may be just too challenging for the smaller kids.
There is a cafe on site which offers a simple menu of sandwiches and some Tudor inspired dishes but it does have enough to offer children including a healthy lunch-box style meal option. If you prefer to save some pennies and bring your own food with you, there are plenty of picnic tables around where you can set yourself up for a lunchtime pit stop (including a few that are under cover should the British weather be it's usual unpredictable self!)
Depending on the age and interest of your children it is worth thinking about joining a tour of one of the houses. We joined Mistress Sally on a tour of Mary Arden's House. My boys have always been into their history and, thanks to an obsession with Horrible Histories, know quite a bit about the Tudors already. Sally did a great job of holding their attention and they did enjoy the tour but you would need to judge your own child's interest in this kind of thing before deciding whether to join in. We spent almost an hour looking around the house - and all learned a great deal more that we would have done if left to our own devices. If it would suit your family more to make your own way around, you will find information boards throughout along with some hands-on displays which should give you more than enough to be getting on with.
Don't miss the craft barn and the opportunity to try out archery and be sure to pick up a trail leaflet when you arrive.
We visited in April when the weather was not at it's best but this really didn't affect our enjoyment of the day. If you take advantage of all of the daily activities on offer and make your way around the whole site you will easily fill a full day without really stopping for breath! On top of this there are also extra activities planned for families here each school holiday - it's a good job that your ticket is valid for a whole year so that you can come back to pick up where you left off another time. We left discussing plans to return on a warmer summer day to continue the fun, we certainly won't be leaving it so long before we come back again!!
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