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Review: A Grand Day Out at the National Coal Mining Museum of England

Gone are the days when a trip to a museum meant looking at a load of dusty relics and praying that the kids don’t sit on or break a national treasure. Most attractions have realised that they need to be exactly that – attractive, to kids and parents alike. And the Kids in Museums Awards are rewarding the best of the best museums for little visitors. One of this year’s finalists is Yorkshire museum, the National Coal Mining Museum for England, so we thought we’d head over to Wakefield to see what makes it so special for children.

The concept – The NCMME is located in the Yorkshire countryside, just outside Wakefield (about an hour from York) at a former mine. This relatively small but perfectly formed attraction is a celebration and record of all things mining-related. We weren’t big mining enthusiasts when we parked our car (for free) in the car park, but we all had a new-found respect for miners (and their horses) by the time we left.

Things to do and see – For a fairly small museum, the NCMME packs a lot in. It tells the story of mining throughout the years in a very accessible way, with props, sounds, activities, pictures and even actors to bring the stories to life. There are three main parts to the visit: the museum itself, the underground tour and the train ride. Head outside to meet some real pit ponies too. The museum’s free to enter and the exhibits are presented to appeal to kids of all ages. Ours loved borrowing a stack of art materials from the ‘Art Cart’ and going around the museum doing rubbings, drawing pictures inspired by what they saw.
When it came to the underground tour, we split up because you have to be five and over to don your helmet and go down in the lift to the real mine. While our two under-fives had a fantastic time in the small but thoughtful indoor play area, our eldest headed down the pit (£3 per person). It was an eye-opening experience that he enjoyed but also found quite an assault on his senses. Older kids and adults will find it fascinating as they can really see what life was like for people working underground. It’s an unforgettable thing to do. Above ground again, we were pleased to enjoy some time outdoors by heading up the hill on a short train ride (£1.50 per person).

Eating and drinking – There are some small picnic areas indoors and out, or you can eat at the cafe. We ate there and had a decent lunch for around £20 (sausages and mash for the kids; a huge Yorkshire pudding fest for the man of the household and a hearty bowl of soup for Mrs Viking, plus drinks). The tea is Yorkshire. Quite right too.

Our verdict – We thoroughly enjoyed our visit the the NCMME and can see why they’ve been shortlisted for the Kids in Museums Awards. They’ve gone the extra mile to engage and entertain younger visitors. Even really little ones will find plenty to get involved with (our 3 year old had a lovely time and the 9 month old had a wild old time in the play area). The underground tour is unmissable for those old enough not to be worried by the dark! The museum runs regular special events and activities for families, so check their website for details. You could combine your visit with a trip to the new Hepworth gallery in Wakefield too – it’s not far and has a decent outdoor play area outside (and some decent sculptures inside…).

National Coal Mining Museum for England, Caphouse Colliery, New Road, Overton, Wakefield WF4 4RH – ncm.org.uk – open daily 10am to 5pm

This article was first published in the Autumn 2015 issue of the Little Vikings magazine.

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