Straying off the A38 – a family day out in Lichfield
Sunday was a lesson in the amazing gems of local history you can find when you veer off the main roads and break your journey from A to B. That’s how we discovered the gorgeous city of Lichfield, steeped in history, on what was supposed to be just a normal dull drive from Derby (where my mum, Grams, lives) back to London.
So how did we end up there?
Well Chiswick Daddy had already suggested that we didn’t go back to London via the sensible straight route of the M1, but instead took the A38 and cut out a chunk of the motorway, joining the M40 further south.
I think there’s only so much M1 that you can take in a lifetime and we reached saturation point on Saturday, when even singing our way through the *Don McLean greatest hits album (no, I don’t know how it ended up in our car either. Neither of us will lay claim to ever buying it) couldn’t offset the sheer dullness of miles upon miles of motorway. *Affiliate link (couldn’t resist, sorry – let’s start a singing Don McLean in the car revolution).
So A38 it was for our return journey on Sunday. And we were trundling merrily down it when Chiswick Daddy saw an exit for Lichfield, and did one of his jokey ‘Last call for cathedral city of Lichfield’ shout outs, when I shouted back ‘yes’. And there we were, turning sharply left and heading for a city that I knew nothing about.
It was supposed to be a drive through viewing, but Chiswick Boy needed the loo and I needed another coffee, so we parked up at a pay and display round the back of an abandoned hotel, and put an hour on the meter so we could do loo/coffee AND have time to look round the cathedral.
But before we even got to the cathedral, or a loo, or a coffee shop – we were waylaid by a museum dedicated to Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, eminent surgeon, poet and inventor – and reputedly the actual originator of the survival of the fittest evolution theory. No I hadn’t heard of him either. But all that changed within the space of two hours.
Who can resist going into a surprise museum that you pass – especially when it’s open on a Sunday, and has free entry? Not us!
Science and Discovery
So after the very pleasant surprise that the museum was open, came the even better surprise that it was a really fantastic museum! We were greeted by really enthusiastic reception staff, and an informative leaflet, and then left to meander through the rooms of Erasmus Darwin.
It was exactly the kind of museum we like – with lots of bits to look at, and lots of things for kids to touch and play with. Chiswick Boy loved the inventions room, where we all had fun drawing silhouette portraits, rummaging through the dressing up rails, and playing with replicas and models.
His favourite bit was the large, really easy to use microscope, with lots of samples to look at – and your view projected onto a screen.
Once we’d gone through all the samples, we went onto our own body parts. Sticking our nails and hands under the viewer.
Woah! This is eye-opening. Chiswick Boy screamed when he saw the microscopic nuances of the back of his hand. Scales, and pores like pits, and downy hairs like black tree trunks in a nuclear wasteland. A brilliant bit of science revelation in just a few minutes!
And it is yeuuchy seeing bits of yourself blown up like that. I don’t know if you’ve read Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, but it reminded me of the bit where he goes to Brobdingnag, the land of the giants. Far from being mesmerised by the beauty of the female form in large scale, he’s sickened by seeing huge pores on the women, reminding him that underneath all our beauty lies this base human condition.
Of course – we don’t need to be like Gulliver. We can look at our pores and hairs, and even the little creatures that live on our skin (didn’t see any of those at the level the microscope went to, thankfully) – and wonder at the amazing science that is the human body. Still fun watching Chiswick Boy yelping though!
Time for tea
In one of those wonderful acts of fortuitousness that the universe gives you when you abandon plans and let synchronicity guide you, we had come to the museum on the one day that they were serving Georgian cream teas. (At a rather bargain price of £3.50 each.) So we all settled down for freshly brewed tea and scones, served by the wonderful museum manager (Left, below) and a highly knowledgable volunteer (Right, below).
They were nicely chatty and told us lots more about the history of the house, and how their next mission is to raise enough to convert the basement into a history of medicine.
They also told us that there is a Samuel Johnson house in Lichfield too, open to the public. But sadly we didn’t have time to do this – one for our next visit!
Through the garden gate
In the museum garden we only had to walk through the enticing kitchen garden gate to get a short cut to Lichfield cathedral.
When we entered the cathedral Evensong was on, and there were some really kind, and immaculately suited, ushers who said that we could sit at the back and listen – even for just a few minutes.
What I love about English churches (and I extend this to British/European/International churches) is that you can so often just walk in and be hit by the gorgeous sound of a top rate choir lifting its voices to the eaves.
I sat there with Chiswick Boy just breathing in the beautiful moment. Okay, we did manage to punctuate this by a loud reverberating clang when we dropped the decorative tin of teabags that we’d bought in the Cathedral shop and they landed on the stone slab floor.
If you’re visiting Lichfield, then Evensong starts at 3pm on a Sunday.
So there we go – our tour of Lichfield following our straying off the A38 (which we were only on because we were straying off the M1!). Where shall we stray to next, when we’re travelling back from my Grams’ house in Derby to London? Any ideas?