On Saturday I took the two boys on a Magical Mystery Tour to Britain's second city and home of my alma mater Birmingham.
Our destination was Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for a look at the recently openend Stafordshire Hoard gallery.
I've been fascinated by the hoard since it's discovery, and recent activity on Twitter reminded me it was now installed in a gallery at the museum, so the weekend provided a great oportunity for me to take a peek and, hopefully, show the boys something a bit unusual.
We went by train and passed the time playing the card game Guillotine.
Pro-parenting tip: Guillotine is great for on a train with kids as the row of nobles awaiting execution will just fit on one of those small train tables.
We arived in a Brum much changed from my student days, to find the "traditional" German Market that seems to have sprung up in most cities over the last five years or so, in full swing. The boys were amused to note the women mostly sipping from small ceramic mugs, whilst their menfolk swilled from oversize Beer Steins.
I'd kept the destination secret from the boys in order to prevent them mithering for the two hour journey, but they were both actually quite excited by the huge images of ferocious looking Saxon warrior.
We headed straight for the hoard and after queuing for about five minutes (they restrict numbers so there's plenty of space to look at the exhibits) we were allowed in.
Now I am a cynical bugger and not easily impressed but I found the whole thing genuinely astonishing. There are several cases all packed with beautiful pieces of intricate gold and silver work. The hoard contained over 11lbs of gold (about the weight of your head I informed eldest boy) and 3lbs of silver, most of it beautifully worked. It appears to have been either stolen treasure, or possibly a ransom (for a king, presumably) and most of the pieces were damaged before the hoard was buried. It was found nowhere near any known Saxon settlement, so was presumably buried to keep it safe or hidden.
I duly took loads of pictures, here's a few:
There's also a special gallery within the exhibition with some of the more precious pieces, including a (folded up) cross and a simply jaw-dropping sword pommel.
The interpretation is also really well done, videos of battles, plentiful explanation boards, dressing up opportunities and the option to play Nine Men's Morris. The boys were especially pleased with a couple of big screen/tables - like something out of CSI - where you could move images of the items around, expand them and play videos to see what they would have looked like originally.
In addition there were recordings of people speaking Old English and even a little diorama for the toy soldier buffs.
We were in there for over an hour, and I culd have spent much longer. The delicacy and craftsmenship of some of the items was absolutely stunning - and all done by people without (as far as we know) access to much in the way of magnification.
Here's way more pictures:
The whole thing is fantastically well done and I'd recommend anyone who can to get along and have a look at this unique and fascinating exhibition. One that really challenges our pre-conceptions of the "Dark Ages". And, its all completely free - well done to Birmingham and all concerned.
If you'd like to see better quality pictures there's quite a few in the gallery on the Hoard website
The rest of the museum is non too shabby either, we had a great time in the history of Birmingham section, and finished off in the rather more antiquated, but still fascinating Greek, Roman and Egyptian exhibitions.