A day out at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall
My longstanding interest in the Vikings whether historical or in miniature meant the Vikings exhibition at the NMMC in Falmouth was a must see! Because of the distance it meant little time to see the rest of the museum although we found time for the cafe funnily enough. Walking through the museum I did like the Viking inspired decoration of the learning area.
The Vikings in Cornwall
Most people think of the raids on the North East coast, York and Alfred burning the cakes when Vikings are mentioned. However, they really got around and that included Devon and Cornwall. The Great Army burnt down Exmouth in Devon where I live and some residents think they should do so again! In Cornwall there is evidence of settlement and trading which the exhibition included. The combination of interpretation, reconstruction and objects really brought this out clearly I thought.
Vikings – raiders or traders?
This argument has a long history and I’ve encountered it since university days in the late 1970s. Coincidently this same argument applies to the Homeric world of the Iliad and Odyssey which I studied in the context of ancient banditry but that’s one for another blog.
I liked the way the exhibition clearly brought out both sides of Viking life. The combination of the large clear interpretation panels and related objects was excellent. Being able to handle objects was good too. My mother was amazed at the weight of a mail shirt and said being able to touch it really helped imagine it in use.
Including weapons and slave fetters illustrated the dark side of Viking life. Backed up with DNA research showing how many Icelanders are descended from Irish women taken as slaves. The Irish connection was well documented in the exhibition too.
Trading ship Walrus
My favourite part of the exhibition was the recreated Viking trader the Walrus. Visitors are allowed on this boat which was both fun and informative. Moving about on the deckspace really made both of us appreciate the skill and courage needed for sailing shallow draft ships on the high seas.
Speaking with a well informed volunteer about how the ship was made at the NMMC and finding out more about some of the recreated objects was really interesting. I didn’t know that the Vikings used hazel as barrel hoops which makes perfect sense in terms of time and resources. After all splitting hazel is quicker and cheaper than making iron hoops.
How the Vikings made things was a really strong theme in the exhibition. From nails for ships to rigging from intestines there was enough information to appreciate how preindustrial societies relied on skills, crafts, time and effort. I also learnt that saws were not used but a broad headed axe provided a means of splitting wood into planks.
No, not some form of dark undead from the Sagas but women and children. Another strength of the exhibition was including women and children in the interpretation and the objects on display. A lovely object was a child’s toy boat and imaging it being played with really brought the past closer. Having a reconstructed trader’s booth with a female mannequin was a nice bit of trading interpretation. The clothes worn were plainer than often shown which seems sensible as the cost of fine clothes with tablet stitch decoration would make plainer working clothes more practical.
As you leave the exhibition
I enjoyed the display of modern items inspired by the Vikings. Everything from films to comics, toys to the Rover badge. A good assortment of souvenirs were in the shop although I didn’t buy anything. Most of the items were very reasonably priced as well which is always good to see.
Three men and a Viking boat
By odd coincidence a week after visiting the exhibition I was at Legionary, the Exeter Games Show, talking to a friend and a trader about Viking ships.
Falmouth boats and food
Falmouth encapsulates two interests for me – maritime culture and food!
The National Maritime Museum there has a good permanent collection and has interesting exhibitions extending beyond Cornwall. I found the two exhibitions on when I visited with a friend were both enjoyable. I learnt a lot from the arctic exploration one and the lighthouse exhibtion indulged my fascination with lighthouses. I find lighthouses fascinating as feats of engineering, displaying true humanity in trying to save lives and the history of Trinity House running in tandem with supporting commerce.
The permanent collection covers all aspects of Cornwall’s relationship with the sea. This includes a photograph of one of the fishermen my grandfather used chat and smoke with in the fisherman’s shelter at Gorran Haven. And there’s a Tuke or two to enjoy in the town art gallery too!
But what about the food?
Like most tourist destinations Falmouth has eating places to cater for all tastes. It’s worth taking time to find one that suits you.
We found the Courtyard Deli Cafe just off the main street. Its courtyard dining area was an oasis of calm on a busy day in the season. Oh, and everything we had was really good and served by pleasant staff too!
Penzance is not a penance
A day out in Penzance is always a treat with its mix of architecture and Penlee House Museum and Gallery to enjoy. I still find it being one letter away from spelling ‘penance’ very amusing too!
Having had a long train journey due to a breakdown at Devonport (although seeing the old yard and modern ships made it bearable) finding lunch was a priority.
At Archie Brown’s
After increasingly annoying my hungry friend by turning down several cafes we spotted Archie Brown’s and raced through the shop upstairs to the cafe. For the uninitiated there are two Archie Brown’s and they are a health food shop with a vegetarian cafe above. The other one is in Truro near the Royal Cornwall Museum (which has a fine cafe of its own).
We had a good lunch with warming puddings served by friendly staff. The wine, custard and coffee were particularly remarked on with satisfaction. The service was good and the cafe is one large room with plenty of space and very busy on the weekday we were there.
A bit of serendipity
I popped down to Cotehele over the Heritage Open Days weekend. The house wasn’t taking part in the scheme on Sunday so I decided to save it for a rainy day (and when reception wasn’t manned by upper class twits).
Instead I went down to the quay. Not only were there the expected pleasures of buildings, views, boats and industrial junk but there was a local food festival too!
Terrific Tamar Tuck!
Lots of stalls selling all sorts of produce from the Tamar Valley. Everything really was local and not as expensive as farmers’s markets can be. Lots of apple juice but disappointingly no cider. By the way Cotehele has talking apple trees in one of its orchards. Yes, the trees use some multimedia malarky and speak in the accent of the area the apple comes from! I look forward to returning and experiencing this.
But the cafe?
There is a small refreshment kiosk at the Quay but as part of the event there was a cafe tent. It’s the yellow one in the photograph.
Friendly people and well made coffee. Their local product was Dutch apple pie made with Tamar apples and currants. I have had Dutch apple cake (and Devon and French) many times and Route 2 in Topsham serve a nice one but Dutch apple pie was a new experience.
Whether the fact it was made by a Dutchwoman or I was eating it in its home surroundings it was very good. And dining outside is always good.