Thursday, October 23, 2008

An Insight Adventure In Advance

Mrs The Millbrooker and I had an adventure yesterday as part of yours truly researching December's Insight Radio broadcast; now that's what I call advance planning. I haven't even recorded October's yet (Simon Pauley's on holiday so it'll be a bit late this month!); November's will be a new experience as Simon will be chatting to me as Mrs The Millbrooker and I get up to whatever we get up to on holiday. And there we were yesterday sorting out some of the stuff for December. Ah, the trials and tribulations of radio stardom (ok, ok - radio extremely minor asteroid-dom).

Anyway, what we got up to was checking out the rail trip on the Gunnislake line combined with a visit to Cotehele House near Calstock. We failed utterly to rise early enough to get the 0934 from Plymouth and instead pottered gently into town to board to 1130.

The trip starts with some dull bits as the train passes through the arse-end of the town named after the mouth of the River Plym. I don't mean to be rude to Keyham - as residential bits of Plymouth go, it's actually quite attractive away from the railside, but from on board, you don't get to see it at its best:
But things soon get more interesting with some grand views of the lower Tamar and its rail and road bridges:
Enough of my railway enthusiasms; we made it to Gunnislake, waited on the train for about four minutes before it started off back down the line and then got off at Calstock, watching our Iron Rooster (closer to a tin chicken really, being a one car set...) make its way Plymouth-ward across the viaduct:
The walk to Cotehele is an easy one; it's marked as a mile and a half, but with me being a teeny bit anal about such things, I've been on Google Earth to measure it; from the platform to where we settled down for a picnic directly outside the main entrance, it's 1.19 miles, so there. Here's Mrs The Millbrooker munching on a cheese and pickle jobber that I'd stuffed daintily into a paper bag only that morning:
The main point of the day was to test out the National Trust's scheme for blind and partially sighted people which allows us to don cotton gloves and touch some of the things on display. I asked about it in the great hall as we went in, and lo! a pair of white cotton gloves were produced from a drawer, and we were away.

I was shown a set of beautifully carved chairs, some dating from the 16th/17th centuries and was given as much time as I wanted to feel around the craftsmanship of the wood. I started to really enjoy myself.

The ladies who were on duty in the hall told us to ask in each room about which items could be touched, and said that the stewards would have a reference guide for the room for just that purpose. As it turned out we had no need to ask.

Next up was the dining room where we met the star of the day; a gentleman who took my arm and showed me just about everything in the room, telling me the histories of several items and allowing me plenty of time to discover the shapes and textures for myself. After the dining room the same chap took me around the chapel, getting me to feel the delicate filigree work of the rood screen and enthusing about the marvelous Cotehele clock (which no one is allowed anywhere near, but which is clearly audible to the visually impaired). The same fellow then took me through to another room where I was allowed into the wine cellar (hooray!), which was sadly devoid of bottles (boo!); apparently he hadn't ever been inside there himself - but he was clearly enjoying taking me around and the particular challenge of helping me to understand what I couldn't see.

The last room we went to with this very helpful man was upstairs; I was allowed to feel around a polished secretaire, and to find its secret compartments (I'm one up on the sighted public, there - what a great experience that was!).

Now, those who know me are well aware that I have some pretty decent central vision still left to me, but Cotehele is deliberately kept in semi-darkness to preserve the array of ancient artifacts displayed there, so even though I can see moderately well in normal lighting (albeit with a pretty narrow field) I was getting a fantastic experience, because in the low lighting of Cotehele I can barely see at all.
I was handed over from steward to steward and word had clearly spread through the people on duty that I was doing the rounds; more helpful, patient and very informative people took me through their own fiefdoms of rooms, allowing me time and space to touch and work out the shapes of many pieces of furniture and objets d'art (including the carving above). I think Mrs The Millbrooker was quite jealous, she wasn't allowed anywhere near as close as I was.

After the trip around the house we made our way for a spot of diet busting in the Old Barn restaurant. We'd already picnicked, so a cup of tea and some of the National Trust's eternally delicious sticky things were in order:
The walk back supplied some lovely photo opportunities, which Mrs The Millbrooker took full advantage of:
We pootled around the wee village of Calstock, new territory for us and eschewed the temptations of a pint in the Tamar Inn - aren't we good?

So - a highly successful day out, a great train ride and the people who work and volunteer at Cotehele did themselves proud. I'm told that this facility is available at all NT properties, so if you are visually impaired or you know someone who is, don't be scared to ask at the entrance to any NT house - you might well find a delightful experience is on offer.

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