“So where shall we go today?” we asked the children as we trundled along somewhere between the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps.
“Germany!” said Kitty
“Bebe-T’choupi-Land!!” yelled Elma (that would be France then!)
“Comp Vernee?” asked the littlest voice.
I think it’s safe to say that Compton Verney is right up there on Pip’s list of favourite places. It is his first choice without exception for any afternoon out, and it’s a request that’s very easy to say yes to, especially if I get to come too!
Located a few miles to the south of us it’s a big country house that was abandoned after the army left at the end of the Second World War and left increasingly derelict until 1993 when it was bought and turned into an art gallery. H and I had been a couple of times before the little ones appeared on the scene but it was only once we returned with a two year old Kitty and a baby Elma that we realised just how very brilliantly it has been set up for families. I took the little ones off and on over the years but it’s H who has practically adopted it as a second home (yay for an annual pass!) and he, Elma and Pip spent many a long afternoon down there while Kitty was at school last year.
And so of course when we asked Pip what he wanted to do to celebrate his birthday, “Comp Vernee” was right at the top of his list. We didn’t go on his actual birthday because I was working but with Monday dawning the loveliest of hot bright blues, we took full advantage of the bank holiday opening hours and headed down.
The kids’ favourite favourite thing to do is to borrow an Explorer pack from the ticket office (complete with mini pink hi-vis jacket, binoculars and all the bits and bobs you need for mini beast hunting) and to set off to see what they can spot from the bird hide and then get as wet as possible with some pond dipping (if you saw Pip’s birthday video you’ll have seen how much he loves pond dipping) but we weren’t the only ones with that cunning plan and all the bags were out already so we decided instead to head up towards the house, via the willow run and the yarn bombed trees.
First stop, by request of the birthday boy, had to be for ice cream from the cafe, taken back outside to eat on the lawn in the sunshine.
I can highly recommend the strawberry, the mint choc chip, the strawberry and raspberry sorbet and the lemon sorbet, and I’ve every intention of trying the rest another time. It’s nearly impossible to choose; which is why we all ended up trying each others and then coming back for second bites!
Even with a car park full to bursting, it didn’t feel crowded, there’s so much space to explore and in this particular case, have a ‘half-marathon’ race to the tree and back to counteract the effects of all the ice cream.
In the house itself is a huge family room with beanbags and comfy chairs, kids books about art, lots of things to do drawing, collage, look at the world through colour filters, and if necessary just run around and let off steam. There are a couple of tables set up to have a go at drawing Chinese characters and Kitty and I had a good go at “grey sky” which was the simplest thing we could find while the others hopped about.
There are explorer packs for each of the permanent galleries, full of bits and bobs to really engage little ones with what they’re seeing, like a colour wheel, or a challenge to find a picture to match up to each of the four seasons, all set for different age groups, and we’d usually have had a go at drawing volcanoes or Pip’s latest favourite, giant red pictures, but we were tempted into the current exhibition.
I could have spent hours in Britain in the Fifties, it was filled with patterns and fabric and beautiful dresses that I would wear or sew with in a heartbeat, and an enviably gorgeous curvy sewing box/table. I recognised so much of the china and even the colours from my Grannie’s house too; her kitchen had yellow cupboards, bright red drawers, blue counters and a blue lino and must have been the absolute hight of style when the house was built in the early 60’s.
The kids loved watching the coronation on a replica 50’s telly and a trip to a mini cinema complete with genuinely worn cinema seats to watch a snippet from the start of Pool of London (which H and I now really want to watch), and seeing the prints from the Ladybird’s “Shopping with Mother”, but Pip’s favourite (if we can judge by how much he wanted to climb in and explore) was seeing the mini child-sized caravan made for Prince Charles and Princess Anne which they currently have on loan. It was so dinky and cute, complete with tiny sink at one end and teddy sat on the sofa.
There’s a complete ban on videos and photos so alas I can only say that if you love any part of mid-century design you have to go and see it.
And when we could finally tear ourselves away there was still plenty of time to run and play in the sunshine and let Pip enjoy every moment we could spend there; the perfect way to round off his birthday celebrations.