What is northern England all about? Best not to ask us because for much of our two weeks in Leeds, we were knocked flat and bedridden for the second TeamBuss mega-gastro-sharing-event. Squirt again being the infectious agent (maybe we should change her name?), we went down one-by-one like flies at an Aussie barbeque. Bug this time took the brunt of the viral force (maybe we should change his name too?) and spent the better part of a day under the care of wonderful staff at the Leeds Infirmary. The view from his hospital room was the one and only time we saw the centre of Leeds.
Thankfully we were housesitting a lovely comfy townhouse up on a hill with views over the suburbs (peering over the most vibrant flower boxes I’ve ever laid eyes on) in the company of three handsome cats – Boo, Sabrina and Zeus – who must have been watching our demise with some degree of feline horror or mirth or both. They outwardly seemed unconcerned so long as they could take up their favoured sleeping posts and food was plentiful.
We had planned a mammoth fortnight scouring the historic city of York, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District. There’s also a surprising number of attractions in and around Leeds such as the Thackray Medical Museum, Temple Newsam House, Armley Mills, and Donkey Sanctuary. Nope, didn’t get close to any of them. But, just before our group demise and once we sprang back from the living dead we had some lovely days out and about, giving us a tantalising whiff of what Yorkshire has to offer.
With a sprinkle of genuine spring in the air and buttercups beaming yellow from our backyard and beyond we shimmied a couple of suburbs away to the ruin of 12th century Kirkstall Abbey for their weekend markets. It was wonderful to sit in full sunshine tucking into waffles after rifling through our favourite kind of stall – second-hand books! We bought up big on kids books, sweating on the what would be added to our already strained luggage zips. After a stint at the playground we then piled into neighbouring Abbey House Museum. This unassuming Tudor building is like Doctor Who’s Tardis. Looking barely bigger than a family home on the outside, it seems to defy physics, housing a full replica Victorian-era street, dress up area, art space, historic arcade games and toys display, and a cosy kid’s library in the shape of a giant old lady’s shoe. The kids did a quiz to find out what they’d become should they have lived in Victorian times – Bug was a poo boy (picking up everyone’s ‘night soil’), Squirt was a maid and Koala a cook’s helper (“just like on Nailed It!” she happily concluded).
I think we’ve said before that the UK has fantastic museums. Another beauty is in the nearby town of Bradford – the National Science and Media Museum – and it’s free. There’s almost too much packed into the place to cover here but our favourite space was the WonderLab science exhibition, holding a raft of hands on experiments (focussing mostly on light and sound) that were a hoot for the kids and us adults. A gaming room is the best hang out for anyone nostalgic about the simplicity of Pac Man and Space Invaders (me!). And pods have been set up for private chillaxing and viewing old movies and TV shows.
Leeds Zoo’s Tropical World was a winner. The playground at the top of a neighbouring hill was equal part amazing views and bitingly cold winds. However true to British spirit, and with the optimism that comes with the start of ‘spring’, there was an ice cream truck doing a brisk trade! On a warmer day, it would be easy to while away a whole day through the surrounding gardens. But. Not. Today. We gratefully retreated into the balmy humidity of the butterfly house and through the maze of reptiles, nocturnal bats, meercats and aquaria, enjoying the kid-friendly activities along the way.
The Royal Armouries Museum was definitely our pick of the week. A museum about armour and weapons? Yep, I was sceptical. But it had been recommended to us by staff at Warwick Castle and with fortuitous timing, we were in the midst of local school holidays so there was the added lure of live shows and talks. It was brilliant (and free). Nothing stuffy here. A modern, airy building that would require days to fully cover. We could all fire real life crossbows, go to knight school (although sadly not on this occasion), sit inches from a knight’s demonstration battle, get up close to King Henry VIII’s grotesque armoured mask plus laughably well-endowed suit of armour, witness Waterloo battle unfold in a wonderful display, and attempt a slobbery blow on a hunting horn. After all the action, it then naturally became the ideal place to submerge the kids in parental moral soup with talks about peace, violence, prejudice, patriotism and cruelty to animals.
A day trip to York was going to be a search for Bug’s Viking heritage (being a proud red head) but the kids seemed a bit cold on the idea of yet more defensive town walls and castle-y things, so we opted for a change of scene and the vast National Railway Museum, gazing at the opulence of Queen Victoria’s personal carriage and lounging in a Japanese bullet train. Card games, fish and chips and an ale followed at the Old Starre Inn – reputedly the oldest pub in York.
Another day we headed in the opposite direction to Harrogate, if only to throw frisbees, play mini golf and make some new friends at the playground.
Leeds is home to much high quality theatre, dance and music. And with school holidays in full swing we scoured for an opportunity to get in the action. We struck a little piece of gold with tickets to the kids’ first ever ballet. Puss in Boots was being performed by the Northern Ballet Company at an intimate theatre with live orchestral accompaniment. The girls loved it, decorating then donning the cat masks provided in the foyer beforehand. Bug dragged his feet through the entrance and came skipping back out at the end with his usual mantra of “that was way better than I expected!”.
It took till our last day to get out into nature. A 45-minute drive away is the National Heritage place of Brimham Rocks, a smallish park of massive crazy rock formations that people are fully encouraged to scale, rappel, squeeze through and scramble over (very few ‘Don’t Do This or That’ signs here!). At the information shop, backpacks can be borrowed at no cost that contain several kits for self-guided family activities. Such a great idea. So, we had ourselves a mini-Scouting day, playing with compasses, estimating the age of trees by measuring their trunk circumference, and trying (and failing) a spot of orienteering. And we were all thoroughly glowing with the adrenaline of our rock scrambling adventures …. and multiple kid rescues (by yours truly while vainly hiding my fear of heights) from a few tight spots.