Along with the children’s library at the Millenium Library in Norwich, the Castle Museum is one of Little Man’s favourite hang-outs. He loves things to do with Knights and he really, really loves the massive stuffed Polar Bear in the Natural History section.
At £6.60 entry (which includes access to any ‘special’, temporary exhibitions), and free for under 4s, it’s a decent way to spend a day, especially in poor weather.
Obviously, Norwich Castle itself is massively impressive. Almost 1000 years old and founded by William the Conqueror himself shortly after the Norman Conquest of England, the keep (the squarish stone building we think of as the ‘castle’ today) has been amazingly well-preserved, providing a really classic, fairy-tale-esque castle to dominate the Norwich Cityscape.
Inside the Castle are various galleries and displays, including fine art and a large natural history section (some of the content of which I distinctly remember from my own visits as a child). Older children will (probably) find the Ancient Egyptian section (complete with a real bona-fide ‘Mummy’ – try explain that to a toddler…umm…) interesting, while Little Man loved the virtual Chariot Ride in the Boudica Gallery (we had to keep revisiting it – ended up going on it about 6 times).
Despite the fact that, like most museums, Norwich Castle clearing doesn’t receive the investment it deserves (some of the exhibits are looking a bit tired and some of the more recent ‘interactive’ bits, which are obviously well-used, clearly need replacing), they really are trying to engage the younger, even pre-school audience, which is great to see. The recent introduction of buckets and an eclectic selection of toys including plastic models of animals and toy binoculars, magnifying glasses and rulers to measure stuff near the entrance is a great idea. Young children will love finding something they can actually identify with (toys) and it not only helps maintain their attention, but provides a connection to the rest of the museum by offering the opportunity for discussion and interaction (“How big is that? – Lets measure it”, “Lets pretend we’re bird-watching with our binoculars”, etc. etc.).
Little Man has long been a fan of the special small-child corner of the main keep. With a cushioned area, books, dress-up stuff and toys relating to castles and knights, he always makes a bee-line here.
The Castle also has ‘Little and Large’ booklets, encouraging you to seek out various artefacts throughout the museum – a huge teapot, lucky charms in the shape of beetles, a cluster of small chicks…, and a print out of suggestions of ways in which Parents and their pre-school offspring can enjoy the museum together. It’s a good thing for visitors and museums alike that they are trying to be more alive – interactive, noisy, in short, enjoyable. After all, they are not meant to be tombs and their very future depends on capturing the interests of future generations of visitors, who will, in turn, bring their children to visit.
From an adult perspective, the temporary Restless Times exhibition of wartime and inter-war Art In Britain 1914-1945 (now finished I’m afraid) was excellent. One word of warning – if you’re serious about perusing the exhibitions yourself, a return visit sans pre-schooler might be required…
We Love: Good toilet/baby change facilities. Lots on offer for pre-schoolers – just add imagination (see above). Good buggy store/cloakroom and site is buggy friendly with plenty of lifts. Can eat own lunch in picnic room.
Not Crazy About: Cafe could do better, as could gift shop – choice/offerings a bit limited and not very imaginative. In similar destinations such as York, residents receive free or reduced entry to the City museums – while I am aware of the Museum Pass, this might also encourage us ‘locals’ to visit whats on their doorstep more often.