A Living History

Weald and Downland Living History Museum, ‘Living Histories Event’ 4/5th June 2017

It seems somehow ironically appropriate that when blogging about an event celebrating the many eras and layers of our history, that my experiences should be verging on historic themselves. It was Sunday when I visited the Living Histories Event at the Weald and Downland Museum, and now it is already halfway through the following week! It has been a busy few days, (see blog post: ‘#30DaysWild: of rescues, raindrops and rhymes’ to find our what’s been happening), and I am only now finding time to put fingers to keys, but here we are, so let’s begin.

For those of you new to my blogs and/or unfamiliar with the Weald and Downland Living History Museum (previously known as the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum, and referred to here on the blog simply as W&D), it is a fantastic museum, set in the countryside of the South Downs National Park, in the picturesque village of Singleton, just north of Chichester in West Sussex. The rolling downland and rich forests that surround the museum, are as much a part of it’s collection and its lessons, as the displays, artefacts and reconstructions that it shares.

This weekend, the collection of 50 buildings and the accompanying 950-year period of history, were brought to vivid life by hundreds of re-enactment volunteers and a fantastic variety of displays and authentic artefacts. From saxon women outside rural dwellings, to medieval knights in armour, to Victorian drunks, to wartime soldiers… this was a celebration of history for everything it can teach us. There was dancing around the maypole, natural dyes, handwriting, herbs, boat building, armour, displays of horsemanship, military vehicles, and so much more!

Over the two days, the volunteers engaged, entertained, and enthused thousands of visitors with the lost and forgotten crafts, skills and ways of living of our own past.

Here is a selection of images captured on Sunday, of history brought to life:

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#30DaysWild: A Natural History

TWT 30 Days Wild_countdown_04I found myself repeatedly distracted from the main attraction throughout the day, by the less obvious characters, the true stars; flowers and trees, invertebrates and birds. In much of my scribblings about the natural world on this blog, I write in reference to the wildlife I see and its future. However, to really understand nature, it is important to remember and consider our relationship with it during our inter-connected pasts.

From the wild flowers that healed us or killed us, the trees that fuelled our hearths, supported our homes and structured our ships, to the creatures that infiltrated our folklore and imprinted on our culture, the natural world has always been interlaced with our own. In the modern day, it is easy to loose sight of the importance of nature and become physically and emotionally disconnected from it.

Many of the buildings reconstructed at the museum are accompanied by period gardens. Here, plants that we might commonly think of as a weed or at least a wild flower are cultivated as they were in centuries past, a reminder of how much we owe to the flora we now often overlook.

I took a walk up into the woodlands that border the south of the museum. Here the sounds of the show were muffled and distant, easy to ignore. The light filtered through innumerable leaves creating a subtle green glow, and trunks rose with strength from seemingly impossible soils. Shallow roots writhed over chalk marred earth. The atmosphere was comforting and restful, lulling me to drowsiness, and it was tempting to wander off the path and lie down to sleep, perhaps to be absorbed by the woodland or transported away into the faye-land of sprites and dryads.

Lunchtime found me sat on a bench at the top of a sloping field, over looking the museum. Tassle-topped grasses stretched up to stroke the underbelly of the swooping swallows, always just out of reach. I resisted the strong urge to roll all the way down the hill, collecting pollen stains from buttercups, and grass seeds in my hair, as I might’ve when I was six. A blackbird sang in the dense hedgerow.

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