I’ve been to Compton Verney twice before. The first time, back in the days of marathon training, general fitness, and running club summer pub runs, cresting the hill at the tail end of the pack, faithfully following our fearless leaders down a gentle valley until the house appeared before us, and the fearless leaders realised that they’d read the map wrong. The second, a trip with H in the pre-baby days to linger over pictures, stroll gently through the gardens and stare down the textiles, willing their construction to magically reveal itself through plate glass.
We were tempted back by the Turner and Constable exhibition and it turned out to be a wonderful afternoon. I’m not sure whether Compton Verney’s staff have spent the last couple of years making the gallery as family friendly as possible, or whether we just didn’t notice it before.
Kitty acquired a little gingham suitcase activity pack to carry around, which just about made her day even before she discovered the dolls inside, together with a little book for Mama to read, I-spy cards for the paintings and clues to the story, and then when we went into the exhibition itself she acquired another little drawstring bag of goodies.
It was simple enough stuff; a colour wheel, mini telescope, coloured lenses to peer through, and postcards of the seasons to match with the paintings on display, but it was perfect to engage Kitty with what she was seeing, rather than simply asking her to tolerate wandering slowly through a forest of long legs for as long as she could. Once she’d figured out how to see through the telescope I think that was her favourite, and she scuttled off to look for snowy pictures to match with her winter postcard, dolly tucked under one arm and suitcase trailing from the other. Truth be told, H and I rather enjoyed the goody bag ourselves, it’s always fun to look at the familiar from a new angle.
Once we’d exhausted the contents of the bags, we headed for the resource room; a treat for anyone with an interest in history of art, and the gateway to the family room; a bright corner of the house with comfy sofas, lots of beanbags, all sorts of art-related children’s books, puppets, jigsaws, colouring pens and paper, and, just in case that wasn’t enough, a camera obscura focussed on the trees across the lake.
Both girls could have quite happily passed the entire afternoon there, and we never did make it to the family explorer room downstairs, despite its enticing invitation to come and mix your own colour, because they were having so much fun; Elma chewing coloured water cubes and giving them the occasional shake, and Kitty putting on her one-girl puppet show, interrupted occasionally by the need to further instruct her father in the ways of purple colouring.
It was a parting comment from the lady in the shop as we headed out that led us to The Empty Nest; a giant bird’s nest, built into the side of a 250-year-old cedar of Lebanon tree overlooking the lake. Our little fledglings might have been too little to see over the edge of the nest without a piggyback but the spiral staircase up a tower made of twisted branches was pure fairy tale, admittedly more Messrs Grimm than Disney.
Our hunt for the adventure playground took us to the little thatched ice house. Kitty was enchanted with the outside, which also looks like it’s fallen out of Cinderella, but took a while to be persuaded that there was nothing scary about the big empty space at the end of the tunnel, but once she’d decided she liked it she loved it, running back and forth between us, the door, and a good crop of random strangers, telling everyone in earshot,
“Nothing scary in there! No, not scary at all!”
She was eventually persuaded onwards by the promise of a big swing, and the playground didn’t fail us; even Elma got a little gentle swing, although I suspect she preferred the train.
It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon; my only slight regret is that we bought day tickets and not season passes, but it proves once again that we should always let H organise the days out.