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Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Seeing what Beowulf might have seen

This blog looks at ways of learning about the world without having to get on a plane. Turns out the Dark Ages were a time of amazing metal work, beauty and phenomenal funeral ceremonies.  Words from Nicola Baird.

Sutton Hoo: walking from the Anglo Saxon burial mounds towards
Mrs Pretty's home, Tranmer House. On the right of the picture the NT has
sold the land which is used for pig farming and removing grass to sell as lawn.
So. At last I've been to Sutton Hoo which is a National Trust run property in Suffolk. It's very well-known because the actual treasure dug up in 1939 is on show at the British Museum. But at Sutton Hoo, which isn't too far from Woodbridge, you can see copies of the Sutton Hoo hoard (helmets, garnet-encrusted weapons, massive pots, jewellery) in a well-designed interpretative exhibition centre; visit benefactor Mrs Pretty's home and walk besides Royal Anglo Saxon burial mounds.

The place to frame your shot at Sutton Hoo.
There were three of us in our party - me, my husband Pete and our exhausted post GCSE daughter. Even so we all enjoyed our first long day spent at Sutton Hoo so much, partly because the NT also offers brilliant talks about the objects and because we took a well signposted trail around the grounds towards the River Deben, that we returned for a second visit the next day.

Sutton Hoo: inside the drawing room at Tranmer House which was built in the 1930s
It was laid out informally with toys I recognised, my mum would have played
with and my 16yo enjoyed trying out. Living history!
Sutton Hoo is where King of East Anglia was buried in about AD625 with astonishing pomp.  There are two ship burials mentioned in Beowulf - at the start and end of the story - but as this was originally a tale told aloud and the only surviving copy was from AD1000 it's possible King Radwald's funeral was modelled on the story... Well, it's a nice thought.

King Radwald is a real person. We know this because he is mentioned in the Venerable Bede's book and clearly an extremely important person in the UK's history. It's a shame at school that the starting point was 1066, skipping all this.

The grave robbers missed his astonishingly filled grave by about three feet. But Mrs Pretty, by then a widow, had a dream about where a local amateur archaeologist, Basil Brown, should dig. The first summer Basil (who left school at 12 years!) worked for her he disagreed, and got scant rewards from digging the burial mound nearest her home. His next dig, and what Sutton Hoo is famous for, was in 1939 - ominous because everyone visiting now knows the second world war was about to kick off.

One of Sutton Hoo's amazing guides. Definitely join
a talk. On the days we went talks and tours
were at 11am and 2.30pm
But Basil, with the aid of Mrs Pretty's gardener and gamekeeper, lucked out on this 2nd dig. It was such an important find for the nation that poor Basil got replaced by the professionals. However Mrs Pretty insisted he stayed on the site, and in the team. The result is that at this NT interpretation of the great dig Basil gets a suitably heroic role.

It's odd that the National Trust runs this site - usually the older ones are organised by English Heritage. But that aside (and actually Mrs Pretty gave them her estate in her will) it was a most wonderful way to learn about a history so few of us know. As an added bonus a Beowulf specialist talked us through the links between the poem and the boat burials so we came home with a copy - translated by poet Seamus Heaney - and it is quite magical.

I have a hunch I'd have liked being an Anglo Saxon!

Worth a visit?
I hadn't been away much this year - but in July my family managed two consecutive weekends away from London, camping on each occasion. Re-reading this review it's clear that I'm still rather over-excited about having escaped my home. But i think even if I was travel weary, the information that's on display and the way it's been interpreted makes Sutton Hoo a brilliant visit. If you've got National Trust membership then definitely head there, and have a wonderful time.

Bonus
There's a nice cafe, a second hand bookshop, loads of outdoor seating for picnics and a really great outdoor playground with zip wire and imaginative ship burial style mounds to play on.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sutton-hoo

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