For a while now, years in fact, we have been meaning to visit the National Memorial Arboretum. It is literally a 15 minute drive from us in Staffordshire and so there’s really no good excuse except we had just never gotten around to it. That is until a few weeks ago, and since then we have been back three times already – a testament to how amazing it really is.
The National Memorial Arboretum is the UK’s year round centre of remembrance, to honour the fallen and recognise service. Set in 150 acres with more than 300 memorials and 30,000 ‘living memorial’ trees in its grounds it is both stunning and breathtaking as you take in the surroundings and discover the individual story behind each one.
As soon as you walk through the new remembrance centre which houses the temporary exhibitions, the restaurant, lots of information and also the shop, there is a very real sense of peace. I can’t even describe it because it isn’t the kind where you feel uncomfortable or like you can’t make a noise or must shush the children but of course with visitors there to reflect and to think about loved ones lost or people whom have given their lives for our country, respect is the top of everyone’s mind, which is clear to see and feel. It is the only site in the country that has a daily act of remembrance at 11am in the 120 seater Millennium Chapel which is relayed over a public address system to the surrounding areas too.
That being said though it is so family friendly, there is that sense of peace and thoughtfulness all around but it is actually amazing to see the life that is brought to it by the many visitors old and young alike. Respectfulness is something I am really quite passionate about with my girls and although of course Roma is more oblivious than Eva is, I like to think that they are respectful children and with some carefully chosen words I also found it lovely to talk to them about the meaning of the place as we walked.
Our first visit was in half term and there was plenty of activities for the children to get involved with like digging for dinosaur fossils in the sand, pond dipping (our personal favourite), den building and not to mention the wonderful sensory play area. It really is respectfully tailored for all generations.
There is something for all abilities and interests too with guided walks, buggy tours, a land train to help you see the wider area and so many special events throughout the year. I really want to go to their outdoor cinema event next month and for a few years now I have seen that there is carol singing at Christmas, so come December that will be at the very top of my Christmas to do list as I think it will be just stunning.
The most striking memorial for me, and probably for most people was the Armed Forces Memorial here which is just breathtaking, the gravity of all the names listed on the walls all around, and especially all the now empty space in between, makes you think. The gap in the wall for the sun to shine on the eleventh hour just shows the design and perfect thought that goes in to each and every one and it is utterly perfect. There are details by each memorial and information on the website about every dedication but this once really struck me.
Here are just a handful of the other 300 memorials we saw.
Every memorial, every bench, every tree has it’s own special story and meaning, they all have their own part to play in creating this extraordinary place. Which makes it even more beautiful than it already is to the naked eye. Eva especially loved reading the plaques and asking questions.
It is such a vast place that you could spend all day here and still not see everything, but it is catered for that, there is an onsite restaurant within the gorgeous courtyard and a cool little coffee shop that I love. This just so happened to come in very handy to sit outside with the children and my sister when I accidentally left my camera bag (including the car keys) at the very other end of the Arboretum and Eddy had to run back to get it! Oops. However there is also a few picnic areas to bring your own food too.
The sensory play garden is relatively new I think and I just adored it, there was plenty for the children to play on, many benches for us to rest on and also words and lines from poems everywhere, it was lovely to see the children confident in running around and exploring.
I was particularly taken by this quote below taken from the poem ‘Leisure’ by William Henry Davis in 1911, and gosh is this indicative of life today. What is life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare. This is something I am constantly striving for and it has stayed with me since I first saw it. I even think I am going to make a print for the playroom as I love it so much.
The children’s activities in half term were amazing like I said, the staff were brilliant with them chatting and telling them all about it and I think the girls would have spent all day in the sand if they could. And pond dipping, and den building too! We really did have to pull them away!
Another boy that was there had caught a newt and Eva was so determined to catch one (like Matilda) bless her. We didn’t quite manage it but we got lots of small fish, pond skaters and other pond creatures to talk about, and didn’t fall in which is always a bonus!
They loved that they found a huge den they could both sit in and then put their own stamp on too!
On the walk back down by the river from pond dipping (as this is the very far end) you can see the gold top of the Armed Forces Memorial in the distance. I just love that anywhere you are in the Arboretum you can spot it standing over you.
It is a great place to wander and contemplate aswell as photograph with all the clean lines and green surroundings. Everything is uniform as you can imagine which obviously makes for great photos! This one was taken by Eva as she does enjoy being that side of the camera!
Here also is a sneak peek at what tomorrows Me and Mine posts look like. This is from our third visit just this weekend as I wanted desperately to see the poppy fields in full bloom so despite the black clouds and the sudden heavy rain we stood for family photos and got absolutely drenched! The fields were stunning though and you can just about spot Eva in there with her own flowery top as camouflage.
There are so many more pictures I could share and so much more to say about this amazing place and no doubt I will visit and write about it again. It really does have so much more to it than I knew and I don’t even feel like we have scratched the surface. You really do have to see it for yourself though to get the impact so if you are ever in the area it is well worth a visit, and even if you’re not it will not disappoint if you make that journey.
The National Memorial Arboretum is free entry however as a charity of course donations are welcome to help with the sites running costs, there is a £3 daily fixed parking charge and it is open every day (except Christmas Day) from 9-5.
We will definitely be back, until next time.