Days Out: Discovery, Gibside and Preston Park

Sunday, May 3, 2009 7:20 | Filed in Life, Local Interest, The Pickards

Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen something of a return to our ‘Summer Days Out’ plan where at least once every weekend we try to take a trip out somewhere with the kids, to see something a bit different (you know, other than “shops”) and generally have a nice family day out.

Discovery Museum

At the start of April, my Dad (plus his GLW and their daughter) came up for a visit, so we had a combined trip out to the Discovery Museum. Now, as the more astute of you may remember, we have been there before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to go again some times.

We spent a little more time in the ‘Science Maze’ part with the kiddies this time (prior planning!) and generally had a lovely time. I don’t want to go on about it too much — you can read more details in my previous post about it — but as a free afternoon out with the kids, it’s not a bad place to visit at all. It’s fun, there’s lots to see — most of which would be easier to see if you weren’t yanked at breakneck pace through the museum bits by your children so they could get to the science maze faster — and, being located right next to Newcastle Central Station, it’s easy enough to get to as well.


Gibside is not as easy to get to. If you plan on going there, I would recommend three things. Firstly, look where it is on a map prior to going. Secondly, go by car. Thirdly, be a member of the National Trust. Admission is free for National Trust members (which, fortunately, we are), and not exactly cheap (£6.50 adult, £4 child) for other people.

But, assuming that those things are okay with you, then it is well worth a visit.

Gibside - View across the Tyne Valley (flickr)

Firstly, there are some views across the Tyne Valley which are simply stunning. There is also an awful lot to see: there’s Gibside Hall itself, which we didn’t actually get to, but we did see the chapel, the sundial, and an awful lot of nice green spaces to walk around in. There is also a lovely path flanked by trees on each side, and a lovely little dene to investigate.

Gibside has royal connections, for those of you who are interested in that sort of thing, and used to be owned by the Bowes-Lyon family (think “Queen Mother”). It’s also a site of special scientific interest, for those of you who like that sort of thing. It’s got all squidgels and stuff.

Gibside - ruined but nice looking building (flickr)

There’s also another building, only I’m not entirely sure what it is. It has some lovely classic columns at the front, has some more lovely looking views over the Tyne Valley at the back, but all that I can remember about it was something about a boiler under the building, so despite the references to ‘garden rooms’, I presume this is the ‘ruins of a bathhouse and hall’ mentioned on the National Trust site. But it’s nice anyway.

What else was nice is that they sometimes have special events on. And, because we went on Easter Sunday, they were having (provided by certain chocolate company, who, if they are grateful for the plug, might be interested to know that I like Creme Eggs) a lot of activities for the kiddies.

Gibside - SWP with Dragon face paint (flickr)

These included an Easter Egg trail (pay £2, follow the clues, fill in the answer sheet, and get a chocolate egg prize) which we took part in, they had storytelling for the kids (again, someone else in a Cadbury uniform telling a story about how foxy loxy stole eggs that the Easter Bunny was supposed to deliver, only he ended up delivering them by accident), and they had free face painting.

Sadly, the face painting was only for the kiddies, who both went with the ‘dragon’ motif. And what tif they had…

There’s also a little shop where you can purchase various produce, including some venison sausages which we decided to have a try of (and were very nice, actually).

It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area, although do try and pick a sunny day, do try and pick a day where they are having some sort of specific event on, and do try and be a member of the National Trust, otherwise it’s quite expensive…

Preston Park

Preston Park is in Eaglescliffe (Teeside). It’s a park, which you might have been able to work out from the title ‘Preston Park’ there, but it’s not just a park.

“This is Stockton” sum it up quite nicely:

Preston Hall Museum is set in 100 acres of beautiful parkland overlooking the River Tees. The museum has displays of art, armour and social history. Visitors can discover what life was like in the home since 1825 and stroll back in time along a typical local street of the 1890s where the museum’s resident traditional craftspeople can be found at work.

As well as the museum, Preston Park also has a range of permanent attractions including exotic bird life in the aviary and wildfowl pond and many riverside and woodland paths. You can walk amongst hundreds of beautiful butterflies at Butterfly World, take a ride on the Tees Small Gauge Railway or boat on the river. There’s also a safe surface play area for children and a café.

This is Stockton: Preston Park & Museum

But what they seem to have missed out is that there is also a crazy golf course, which was our first stop. I wouldn’t exactly say that we demonstrated any ability — although we did have an enormous amount of fun, which I think was rather more the point of the exercise.

Next we went off to Preston Hall, and more specifically the Museum. Now this was something you actually have to pay to attend, but the price was hardly extortionate. The cost for this was £3 for a family ticket (2 adults and 2 kids) which was valid for as many visits as you like in a 12 month period. As admission prices go, that’s pretty darn cheap.

Preston Park - SWP with Victorian water pump (flickr)

There were various “indoor” things in the Museum (including the Kirklevington Stones, which are from, well, Kirklevington, and date back to the era of the Vikings), but the best part of the Museum was the Victorian Street, which you could walk along.

This had the usual sorts of things like Victorian metal and enamel adverts, the not-so-usual things (like the Victorian urinals you could peer into), and also a water pump which very much entertained BTP and SWP who were completely shocked and vastly entertained by the idea that people didn’t always used to have water quite literally ‘on tap’ at their homes.

There was a wide variety of victorian shops, including a “registered hairdressers” with quite a disturbing collection of razors. You are able to go into some of the shops, where the Victorian items (or replicas thereof) are behind glass screens, so you can have a bit of a closer look.

Preston Park - Victorian Police Weaponry (flickr)

But the thing I liked best was the Victorian cop shop. They had the classic blue police lamp outside, but it was what was inside that was more impressive, and somewhat disturbing. As well as a selection of solid-looking truncheons, including one owned by a previous Mayor of Middlesbrough, there was what looked like a vicious looking mantrap (although smaller) with sharp and unpleasant looking metal teeth.

However, what was even more disturbing still was the selection of brass knuckles which I can only presume were standard issue for Victorian police, being placed along next to the handcuffs. These really were vicious looking implements: ideal for the Victorian copper who wanted to do the 19th century equivalent of “beat up hippies”.

And there was still more.

When we had finally finished in the Victorian Street and the Museum, we went to the cafe for a well-deserved break (not particularly good value, but I certainly felt scalped less than in cafes in equivalent venues), and then went to the playground.

Preston Park - BTP on chain-link climbing frame (flickr)

While the playground may not have great cultural or historical value, it is probably the bit that the kids liked best, having a climbing frame, some tyre swings, slides and monkey bars for the little monkeys to swing across (which they did, albeit with myself and my GLW taking some of their weight to make it easier).

And then — after the crazy golf, the museum, the victorian street and the playground — it was time to visit butterfly world (and watch another tenner flutter out of my wallet). This was basically a few enormous greenhouses shoved together, kept very hot and humid, and filled with plants and butterflies. Pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of thing, to be honest.

And then, finally, it was time to go, feeling absolutely bloody knackered, but like we’d crammed an awful lot into one day. And that’s the thing about Preston Park: there’s just so much you can do there — we had only a quick glance at the aviary, and missed out boating on the river and venturing on the small gauge railway entirely.

Still, there’s always next time. We’ll have to go back. After all, I need to get some value out of that museum ticket…


Well, I don’t know 100% what we’ll be doing next, but there are a few things worth doing. It’s been too long since I’ve paid a visit to Warkworth Castle, so that’s on the list, as is visiting the BALTIC art gallery, and there’s the slightly frighteningly named Eat Newcastle Gateshead festival thingy (not quite that hungry, thanks) which I think it would be nice to see at least some of…

Any other thoughts and suggestions always welcome (although if they aren’t in the North-East, they really aren’t much good to us for a little day out).

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