We gave Stan his first castle experience at the weekend with a visit to Mountfitchet Castle, near Stansted.
Finally I understand why my parents used to take me to all those boring museums and ‘experiences’ when I was a kid – they liked them! To be fair I think Stan did actually enjoy himself at this one, but he was much more into running around pretending to be a knight on the lookout tower than learning about how wool was spun or how rabbits were bred as emergency meat supplies.
This is an open-air museum and although it was cold when we visited the sun was shining and there was no rain. Good weather is essential for a visit here – don’t be fooled by their website, which calls it ‘an all-weather attraction’. It is a recreation of a medieval castle and Norman village, complete with moats, stocks, a guillotine. There are loads of recreated scenes with rather sinister life-size puppet-people who tell you about their role in the village as soon as you go within five feet of them. The day we were there (the last Sunday of the Easter holidays) there was only two or three other families, which lent the place an air of having been put there especially for us. Although there are lots of static scenes, it still feels interactive. You can climb towers, the log fires are lit and smell lovely, there are helmets and chainmail to try on, that sort of thing.
It’s nicely done and definitely worth a visit. In July they have a knights’ tournament, which sounds fun – though it will probably draw the crowds and half the pleasure in this place is the tranquility so rarely found in a kids’ attraction.
There are also loads of rescue animals wandering around – birds and chicks galore, deer, a whole man-made rabbit warren (cute, cute, cute) and this show-off:
Many of the animals were rare-breed and looked like they could have been around in Norman times. On the downside Mountfitchet is pretty expensive for the size (£9.50 for adults and £7.50 for 3-13 year-olds. Under 3s are free.) But you can take a picnic to have on the grass in the village, which saves a bit of money – the cafe isn’t really much to speak of anyway. There is also, bizarrely, a toy museum on site. I personally found this a bit boring, but it’s worth a quick squiz.
It took us 30 minutes to drive there from Tottenham, which means it is perfectly doable without having to make great big plans or preparations. And as Nicola from Homemade kids has pointed out in the comments, it’s also easily accessible by train from Tottenham Hale or Liverpool Street (30 mins from TH and £13.60 day return).