I can’t remember quite how we ended up deciding to visit the National Memorial Arboretum. We were staying in a Youth Hostel nearby in a large extended family group. What we really wanted was somewhere to stretch our legs and chat to each other, and the other thing we wanted was lunch. The thing that clinched it was the free admission, so off we went.
Arrival and Entrance
We managed to find a very winding country route to get there, which was probably us being daft. In fact the National Memorial Arboretum is in Staffordshire just off the A38 between Birmingham and Derby. Our car park was a few minutes’ walk from the main entrance and we paid £3 to park for the whole day.
There is a large modern entrance building with a gift shop, cashpoint, art exhibition, WCs and a big self-service restaurant. You can also buy tickets for special events and exhibitions or for the road train service around the park.
We headed straight for the food and between 11 of us we sampled many of the things on offer. There were pick and mix sandwich lunch bags for children, jacket potatoes, soup, sandwiches, cakes, cream teas and a hot buffet. The soup went down very well. The hot buffet prices were between about £7 and £10 but the portions were really big because there was such a vast selection of self-serve vegetables.
It was bank holiday Monday and fairly busy, although there were plenty of tables. Quickly they ran out of jacket potatoes, sandwiches on brown bread and children’s sandwiches. By mid-afternoon there was only one type of cake left and no cream teas. I think they could have been better prepared but it was nice food.
Exploring the Park with Kids
The park itself is large with plenty of paths in all directions. Most of the trees are still young. Although it is an arboretum, very few tree species are labelled. And although it is a memorial park, it’s not morbid or dour. It is not so sombre that you feel you can’t take children. In fact there is a play park and ice cream kiosk. Nearby there are picnic benches. Running around and playing is quite acceptable. When we visited there was an Easter egg trail.
Essentially the National Memorial Arboretum is like a sculpture park. The memorial artwork is stunning. I always find that children respond really warmly to sculpture (to show paintings to children is hard work in comparison). There were also areas scattered with more humble memorial benches and trees with small plaques to remember individuals. Many large memorials are military, but hundreds of smaller ones are not.
Of course there are sombre aspects to the park. If you take the time to read some plaques and contemplate, it is moving and thought-provoking. We didn’t take the road train tour, but we heard some of the commentary and that was certainly full of pomp and grandeur. There are special events on some days, which I imagine are quite formal.
Although admission is free, the park relies on donations to remain free so there are places near the exit to deposit some cash. The gift shop struck me as being a little odd. I suppose it’s because you can buy memorials of memorials, which to my mind is a bit weird. It’s a very personal opinion. There is a strong memorial poppy theme: poppy aprons, poppy trays, poppy notebooks, poppy tea towels.
We were all pleasantly surprised by this lovely park and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to families.
Read about our recent family day out at Leeds Industrial Museum, Armley Mill by clicking here
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Read about visiting Yosemite with children. Click here
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