Remember Amberley Museum, which feels like a very long time ago now, even though it was just in late August? Well, Weald and Downland Museum is also an open air museum, and is also in West Sussex, though they’re not quite the same sort of museum. I went here back in September with Marcus and the same friend I went to Amberley with, since we were still allowed to be inside with people from outside our household at that point, and I thought it was a better option for spending time in close proximity to someone I don’t live with than a traditional museum, though we had chosen a day with absolutely awful weather and ended up having to shelter inside at various points to get away from the driving rain.
The Weald and Downland Museum is set on a forty acre site in the South Downs, and contains buildings from various eras in the last thousand years, the idea being that they all showcase the culture of the Weald, an area of South East England including the North and South Downs (basically chalky ridges through the countryside where middle class people like to go walking, if you’re not familiar). Similar to Amberley, I had to pre-book tickets for a timed slot and we had to turn up at some point within that slot, but we were welcome to stay as long as we liked once we were inside. Tickets are £14 – no Art Pass discount.
Once we entered, we were free to wander as we liked, though we often had to queue if we wanted to go inside the buildings, as only one group was allowed in at a time, which led to a lot of awkward conversations with staff/volunteers to try to pass the time whilst we waited (awkward only because I hate thinking up questions to ask, so it’s lucky my friend is a lot more talkative than I am). As you can probably see, there were a good assortment of historical eras represented here, though my issue with most of the houses is that there wasn’t much inside them, and since I’m far more into period furnishings than architecture, it kind of negated the point of waiting to get in, so we did start skipping some of them if there was a queue.
However, we were absolutely cracking up when we spotted the “workers’ cottages” above left, built in the 1860s, because we were essentially going inside my and Marcus’s house, which was built in 1864, and is made of brick, but is otherwise very similar indeed to the house above. When we got inside, we realised the layout was the same too (although my house has a small extension on the back, and the upstairs has been divided up a bit differently over the years from the traditional two up two down (we’re more of a four up three down if you count the bathroom and the tiny depressing box room that I never go in as rooms)) right down to the beams overhead, which looked exactly like the ones in our loft. I don’t know, there was just something amusing about going to the trouble of visiting a museum and ending up basically walking through your own house.
The Weald and Downland Museum is also where The Repair Shop is filmed, and though I haven’t watched the show in ages (I get why people like it, but it’s just too boring for me), Marcus was quite keen to get a picture with the building where they film it. As you can see, you aren’t allowed anywhere near it, but I think they might have been filming that day, as we could see people waiting to get in way off in the distance.
We ended up having to hang out inside a building full of tools of various local trades for quite a while to avoid a torrential downpour (fortunately, no one else was waiting to get in, though I kept running to the door to check since I didn’t want to be a jerk), and by the time we emerged (after spending far more time studying bricks than I find ideal), I was ready for a tea and a snack, so we headed over to the cafe/shop area so I could grab a tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake, as well as a bag of flour from the on-site mill (it’s a fairly coarse wholemeal, but I mixed it with strong flour to make some wholewheat pita to go with hummus and fried halloumi with sesame seeds and honey, and it was very delicious), and ended up buying a bag of duck feed as well for the ducks that had been following us around throughout our visit. As you can see, I did not socially distance from those ducks, but fed them right out of my hand, and I have no regrets (other than the awful face I’m making in the photo. It’s not a good angle for me). It was easily the highlight of my visit (I felt terrible for this one duck with a twisted leg who was being bullied by the other ducks, so I was basically feeding him directly by the end).
My other favourite part was in a building we stumbled upon when looking for the toilets (which I had entirely to myself, as I was advised to lock the main door when inside (it was what would normally be a multi-stall, multi-occupancy deal), and there was a women waiting outside to clean as soon as I left, which was a bit awkward but impressively proactive), that contained a temporary exhibition full of the objects collected by various volunteers and other people associated with the museum. The woman working in here was very friendly and told us all about them, plus I just enjoy seeing what other people collect (I have a lot of crap, but I wouldn’t say I’m a collector of anything specific per se, other than Presidential Pez dispensers).
Prior to this, all the houses had been relatively close together in a village type formation, but after we left the collections building, we were just wandering through the woods looking for the other properties, including a re-creation of a Saxon long house (most of the other buildings were original, albeit moved from their original locations to this museum). This was quite nice, actually, since no one else was back here, so we didn’t have to worry about avoiding other people, apart from a man we encountered wearing the very unaesthetically pleasing combination of long shorts and wellies.
The final couple of properties we found were also the best ones, even though we had to wait for ages to go inside, since they actually had furniture in them, and, in the case of the medieval hall, had a garderobe so I could make my pooping face (my favourite pose of all). I did worry somewhat about the structural integrity of standing on something that was just jutting out the side of the house, but I guess if it’s stood for this long…
I also enjoyed the chickens we encountered at the end of our visit, though I was sad I had given all my food to the ducks, so I didn’t have any left for them! I did feed myself, however, with another piece of lemon drizzle (to match the ongoing drizzle outside), since Marcus had eaten half of my first one, and I was still hungry. Although I wish that more of the properties had furniture and other things inside to look at, I think I liked the variety of buildings here better than the ones at Amberley, which tended to be from the same era and more industrial in nature, but I did really enjoy all the excellent quirky museums of Amberley that didn’t exist at Weald and Downland, so they’re ending up with the same score in the end. 3/5.