PRESTONGRANGE Museum isn’t the most conventional family attraction, but it is a great one. An open-air museum near Prestonpans, it was the location of a 16th-century harbour, a 17th-century glass works, 18th and 19th-century potteries and a 19th/20th-century coal mine and brickworks.
Remnants of these former industries can be seen, including the rare Hoffman Kiln built in 1937 and the Cornish Beam Engine, unique in Scotland as the only beam engine still on the site where it worked.
With my children being three and one, the appeal to our family, however, is not really the history aspect, but more the opportunity to run free through the woods, clamber over train tracks and jump aboard the train. We usually start with the woodland walk – which is relatively buggy-friendly with an off roader. As you follow the trail you can also take an audio guide with a suggested donation of £1. Meghan and her friend Rick were intrigued by the brick ovens which took the “why” questions to an entirely new level, but their main interest was the train which they could hop on and off, and the clay-coloured puddles which just had to be jumped in.
The biggest hit, however, is always the visitor centre, which is simply brilliant and not just because it serves Luca’s ice-cream. On a nice day you can sit outside and take advantage of all the free toys and games that are available. Kiddie deck chairs, mini-Connect Four, chess, train sets, badminton – it’s incredibly well equipped and inside is just as good.
The Prestonpans High Street, with products to create your own shop, is inspired and the dressing-up clothes ensure that your child looks the part whatever role they choose. The attention to detail is excellent and there are even foam bricks if the kids decide to play at being workers from the brickworks.
Once they’ve run out of steam playing dress up, there is an abundance of paper and pens for creative types.
This all sits amidst the more adult part of the centre, where an exhibition is always in place. I have yet to get all the way around the exhibits without being interrupted by “Mum, look at me!”, but all the bits and pieces I have seen and read have been fascinating. It’s a brilliant look at our industrial past and how people lived during that time.
The Pithead Canteen in the visitor centre once served as the miners’ canteen. It doesn’t serve lunch but packed lunches and picnics outside are encouraged. The gift shop is another rarity in that there’s no hard sell and everything is ridiculously cheap. We came home with a gorgeous, hand-painted, piggy bank for £1.50 and of course, the obligatory temporary tattoos.
I have a huge soft spot for Prestongrange. It appeals on so many levels and to both sexes. What you see is what you get; it’s simple, hard-working and just like the original site which has evolved over the centuries, I know it will evolve with my children, which means that hopefully, one day I will get to actually explore an entire exhibition.
The Prestongrange site is open all year round. The visitor centre and exhibitions are open until 31 October, 11:30am–4:30pm. Prestongrange Museum, Morrison’s Haven, Prestonpans, EH32 9RX, tel: 0131-653 2904, www.prestongrange.org
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