Our visit to Beamish Open Air Museum had been postponed several times, going back a couple of years then a week or so back, because of bad weather. Today though, we took the plunge and actually visited.

Beamish is a huge site and requires some walking. There are period methods of public transport, a tram and bus but neither of these are adapted for wheelchairs. Luckily my cousin Dorothy had come along with us and took charge of my Mum in her wheelchair. From the entrance, we walked round to the 1900’s pit village. The exhibits are not facades or reproductions. Francis Street is a row of six cottages, transplanted brick by brick from Hetton-le-Hole and rebuilt on site. They are furnished in period, inhabited by ‘guides’ who will give you a totally realistic feel for what a harsh and hard life it was for miners in the Durham coalfield. There’s even a roaring coal fire in the hearth..

We could have spent longer chatting to the occupants but there was a school to visit, an engineering shed for the small shunting engine and a drift mine, down which Susie and Dorothy went, a sobering experience.

There’s fish and chip shop, which uses coal fired ranges and fries in beef dripping. We stood for about 30 minutes to get served but it was worth the wait. We enjoyed a tour round the 1892 school building and read about the corporal punishment given out for what seems minor offences now. Whipping for scribbling in books….

We wanted to move on to the 1900’s town but it was too much of a trek with the wheelchair. Beamish do provide transport adapted for wheelchair users, but it was off the road and they’d hired a slightly smaller modern mini bus to fill in. Because there were other wheelchairs, we had to wait quite a while before we could be dropped off at the town and unfortunately we had little time to look round and were a bit disappointed to have missed some exhibits.

It’s worth pointing out again, that this is an enormous site and because of it’s size it’s been possible to utilise real buildings. No reproductions or cinematic ‘sets’. You’d have to be there early and be quite fit if you wanted to see it all in one day. It’s wonderful and we’ll go again on our next trip…

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