Tractor rides, treehouses, toffees, turkeys and some stealth history too - all in a family day out at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

PUBLISHED: 06:12 26 May 2017

William at the village pump.  Picture: Sally White

William at the village pump. Picture: Sally White

Picture: Sally White

In which a mum does days out in a daze, but is still dazzled by the charm of an old fashioned farm

Playtime! Picture: Sally WhitePlaytime! Picture: Sally White

Dear readers, I had every intention of packing my passport and heading to Suffolk this weekend to see what that side of the border offered in the name of family entertainment, but I got side-swiped by a hideous virus and husband’s last-minute trip away and ended up solo with two kids and a Day Nurse fugue. I couldn’t venture far so went with the ever-reliable Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. Now, native readers, odds-on you went there for a Key Stage Two school trip. I am no local (that takes three generations, right?) so I’m talking to others who may not know about the charms of the workhouse.

Gressenhall is an old workhouse housed in an imposing Georgian building where kids can follow in the footsteps of orphans, ‘fallen’ women and broken men who relied on the parish to house them. It sounds bleak but it’s a great day out and can make you feel like an ace parent: “I know mummy wouldn’t let you have that thimble from the gift shop, but at least you’re not picking oakham.” This fraction of Gressenhall was lost on my entitled, sheltered brats who were distracted by the brightly coloured shepherd huts, threshing machines and – glory be!- traction engines in the displays about farming life.

Essentially, Gressenhall is a museum about what life was like in rural East Anglia. My children were in a giddy spin of tearing around the reconstructed row of shops – “Two tins of treacle and a bag of toffees, please!” - and the old school room where William did an unnerving impression of either me or his reception teacher: “Why do I have to say everything twice?!” Then there’s an old forge and a garage which boasts Norfolk’s oldest working car, which my children are convinced is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

If the recreated cottages, the immaculate vegetable gardens or the reasonably priced café aren’t enough to impress your young ‘uns then perhaps the brilliant play area will. My kids went wild for the slides, tree house and zip-wire. Any parent who has tried to extract their children from a park knows the struggle is real; it takes something pretty special to bribe a kid out of a sand pit or swing. Happily, if you’ve paced it right, Gressenhall has a working farm with FREE TRACTOR RIDES. These are key words for my two and worked a charm.

The Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse heavy horses  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse heavy horses Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The farm is a small potter across the road and down a track. At the moment, there are friendly lambs and oddly endearing baby turkeys (you can tell I’m not Norfolk-bred because I’ve just had to google the name for a baby turkey - a ‘poult’ if you will). William channelled his inner Tess of the D’Ubervilles and learnt how to milk a cow/bucket with udders. We had an intense chat about war and bombs prompted by the Anderson shelter which was the only dark cloud on a joyfully nostalgic day.

Gressenhall actually encapsulates the realities of our dangerous nostalgia for ‘times past’. It is easy to yearn for a time when food was locally produced and neighbours knew each other’s names and the land was unspoilt, but the workhouse exhibition is a good reality check. We may well have lost our Post Offices and mourn the loss of the cane in schools but it wasn’t all pinnies and freshly laid eggs. The workhouse shows what happens when a society doesn’t have a well-funded and nurtured welfare state. It’s a great number of funding cuts away from food banks still but a stark warning nonetheless.

Oblivious to their privilege and high on tractor rides, my children rate their time at Gressenhall with top marks. Keeping in mind I was three sheets to wind on Lemsip, I too enjoyed the fresh air and chance to snooze in the sun while they romped about. Gressenhall’s only failing is that it isn’t in Suffolk but I’ve tried to scatter a few digs at Norfolk in here to appease southern readers. Do leave any ideas for East Anglian days out in the comments, especially if they involve good cake, and do come and check out what we’ve been up to at my website or come and troll me for my lack of turkey knowledge on Instagram @wifeofawigwearer

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