On Friday I had the opportunity to travel into ancient Northumbria to visit Ad Gefrin. A few years ago I had visited the site, at Yeavering, where an enormous 'Anglo-Saxon' hall had once stood (you can find my blog post about that visit HERE) so I was excited to hear news that in 2023 a new museum was opening just a few miles away, at Wooler.
In April, Ad Gefrin Tweeted a selection of the books for sale in the shop, and I was thrilled to see one of mine included. A conversation ensued, during which I promised to let them know when I was planning to visit.
So now, let me tell you about my visit, starting with the website and booking tickets. It's maybe not essential to book in advance, though it would be advisable at busy times, and I was a bit concerned because though I didn't want to travel all that way and find it fully booked, I also - because of travelling such a long way - couldn't say exactly what time I'd be there. No need to worry though, because it's so simple to book your tickets online and know that the ticket gives you all day access, from 10am-6pm.
Off I went, tickets secured and, following another conversation via Twitter, knowing that the team there were ready to welcome me when I arrived. I'm afraid the first thing I did when I got there (in my defence, it wasn't my idea; I was encouraged!) was to sing into the 'atrium' and enjoy the resonance. I must say in apology to all who were there that I had given five talks in the week leading up to the visit and have not been to choir practice for a month so my voice was not at its operatic best!
Upstairs I was welcomed into the mead hall, (and asked to leave any weapons at the door)
and it was explained that there was an audio-visual to watch. I imagined the usual run-of-the-mill VT scenario, and I couldn't have been more wrong. The auditorium makes up an imagined half of the great hall, while the audio-visual presentation makes up the other half. It is an extraordinary presentation and does an incredible job of bringing the Anglo-Saxon hall to life. Various characters stepped forward to speak, and explain who they are and talk about their lives. It was mesmerising (though not easy to photograph, so apologies for the picture quality):
I was told that on the dais where there are three beautiful wall hangings there will soon be two replica 'thrones' so that's all the excuse I need to return for another visit.
I was so intent on scrutinising the exhibits that it was only as I made to leave that I fully noticed the paintings behind the displays, and spent a long time looking at them and appreciating how much they helped to contextualise the exhibits:
Of course, me being me, I chatted at length to the staff who were all knowledgeable and friendly. Downstairs again, I had another long chat with the team, and accidentally found myself purchasing a bottle of gin from the distillery... I didn't have time to do the distillery tour so again, that's another excuse to go back again...
The museum has only been open for three months or so and already it is a stunning place and it will continue to grow and develop. What I especially loved is how immersive it all is and how, without fanfare or fuss, it opens a window onto life in an Anglo-Saxon 'court'. The artefacts are well presented, easy to see and with easy to read notes. The backdrops add visual aids which really help to imagine what life looked like and the colours and detail are rich. Anyone who thought that early medieval buildings were drab wooden sheds will leave with an entirely different impression after looking at the intricate and beautifully decorated carvings in the 'hall'. Similarly, anyone who thinks that the clothing of the period was drab, plain, and unadorned will watch the film and discover that's simply not true.
which is, frankly, stunning enough. But back in the hall, you can see a replica of how this shield would once have looked:
I think it's so important to present history in this way; to give an insight into how that world looked. While I was there I noticed that many of the visitors were prompted to ask questions about what they were seeing, and came away having learned even more about the importance of the site at Yeavering, the history of the Northumbrian kingdom, and the Anglo-Saxon world.