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Sunday, 5 July 2015

Day trip to Jorvik, and Quilt Museum

I've taken a few days off work for a long weekend and on Friday I went to York on a day coach trip. It's a long way, made longer when you have to pick up travellers from 3 towns before you even start, and then have a "comfort break" half way there and back in Derbyshire. But the coach wasn't full and I had the whole back seat to myself so I could spread out.

I did the same trip a couple of years ago with my daughter, but we didn't get to see inside the Minster as there was a wedding in progress, or go into the Jorvik Centre, so those were my plans for Friday. We arrived in York just after midday, and I headed directly to Jorvik. I had been looking forward to looking at the exhibition, and just managed to get in ahead of a party of school kids.

To say I was disappointed would be understating. I should mention here that I did my degree in Heritage and Landscape, and while I'm by no means an interpretation/exhibition expert, I do take a more professional view of things like this than your average tourist probably would. So with my critical eye, I have to say that a £10.50 entry fee - even if you can use it multiple times in a year - is a rip off. Given the huge amount of archaeology in York, there is very little on display in the Jorvik centre. The first room has a glass floor which covers a reconstructed "dig" or excavation of a typical Danelaw-era building. Not a real one, just a representation of one. There is a video screen on one wall, and a few interpretation panels set into the walls, along with a shoe which I think was a real one, but as it had no label I couldn't be sure. The lighting is very low, I assume so as to not have reflections on the glass, but it means you can't actually see very much of the shoe in its display case set into the wall.

Then you take a mechanical ride "through ancient Jorvik" in a moving gondola seat. The noise of the mechanics driving the seats around was too loud and distracted from the commentary coming from the head rests. The display was, well, embarrassing to be honest. Mannequins moving jerkily with their glazed expressions, some pretending to talk (to which the lady from the head rest responded - without explaining that the language would have been a mix of local dialect and imported Danish/Scandinavian). The smell I suppose was meant to evoke the varied smells of close-dwelling inhabitants of York in those times, but it just smelled like glue. I was rather glad to get off the ride, helped by a young lady who certainly looked of Scandinavian descent, and spoke with a slight Yorkshire accent, unlike some of the other staff in their too-clean clothes. There was even an American girl working there, and while I'm all for anyone getting a job here if they want one, having an American with a strong American accent in first-person interpretation set in a city in England before American had even been discovered, was just wrong!

The second room had more exhibition cases set into the walls, an interactive touch-screen "game" with Danelaw characters that you could take shopping and learn about the foods (except it didn't work very well, and wouldn't show me anything in the section on honey and bees), some skeletons in cases, and possibly the best part of the whole exhibition: a life size digital skeleton standing up with highlights of the medical wear and tear on the bones and possible causes, that then was dressed and had a facial reconstruction overlaid. She looked more real than the staff. But again, most of the exhibit cases were poorly lit and for items such as bone combs and jewellery, you really should be able to see all of the detail clearly.

It took me around 45 minutes to do the whole thing, and that was stretching it to read all of the interpretation and spend a few quid in the gift shop. Very disappointing and they seem to have taken the "pitch it at a 7-year-old" way too seriously as I didn't learn anything new from any of it. By contrast, you can go to the centre of Gloucester and look down on glass covered Roman remnants of the city in situ (not a reconstruction) for free, and as far as exhibits go, I prefer the Cirencester museum with lots of natural light and well thought-out displays of the roman and other jewellery and other artefacts.

From there I decided to pop into Duttons Buttons, a real treasure trove for the haberdasher! I bought some  gently sparkling cream with grey marble buttons for a cardigan I am currently spinning yarn for. Could have spent a lot more in there than I did.

Next on my list was a visit to the Quilt Museum. It took a while to find it, as the signage pointed down the wrong road! Eventually I managed to track it down, and what a gem of a place it is! A little more than half the entrance price of Jorvik, but well worth every penny. Sadly, the museum will be closing at the end of this summer as they can't afford the rent on the Guildhall that they currently inhabit. This is such a shame, and means the 800 historic quilts that they currently own will not be shown to the public until or unless another suitable building can be found - surely with 2 Universities in York, some space could be made available to the Quilter's Guild?

Over the summer, the museum has an exhibition of 15 historic quilts paired with 15 new quilts designed and made by the designer Kaffe Fassett under the title "Ancestral Gifts". Kaffe is well known as a knitware designer, and known for his colour work especially. The quilts he has made for this exhibition are a gorgeous riot of rich colours, predominantly reds, oranges and pinks, but a couple of pastel quilts are there too. And the building itself is prefect for displaying them, with its very high beamed ceilings and simple white walls. I'm really glad that I decided to visit while it is still open, and I'd encourage anyone else with a love of textiles to go if you are in York between now and September.

 My final destination was meant to be York Minster, but for the second time they seem determined to keep pagans like me out of the place! Last time we were in York there was a wedding at the Minster; this time they were ordaining a new lady Bishop and the Minster was closed to the public all day. I had wondered why there were so many black-clad vicars wandering around the streets while I was trying to find the Quilt Museum, and it got me thinking what is the collective noun for clergy? A "cassock" perhaps? I decided to sit in the gardens to the side of the Minster for a while and read my book in the sunshine, and I could hear the choir inside singing which was nice.

At 4pm I went to find some sustenance for my long journey home, and settled on some fudge and a hog roast in a bun with all the trimmings. I felt a little bit of olde worlde was called for after the Vikings had let me down!