Norton Priory Museum & Walled Garden, Runcorn

Earlier this week, me and Mike decided to have a ‘date day’ (with a six month old, date nights are out of the question..) and we ended up at Norton Priory Museum & Walled Garden. Hidden in the depths of Runcorn in Cheshire, its a refreshing little piece of tranquillity where you least expect it. When we arrived, the receptionist was very passionate about her craft and told us a lot of history and trivia about the priory and gardens – which actually helped us make the decision to pay that little bit extra so we could explore the secretive gardens too.

The priory itself is the largest excavated monastic site in Europe, and while only one major piece of the puzzle is still standing the ruins are obvious and have been uncovered excellently so you can follow the ‘plan’ of the priory itself. On site there is a museum, which is stuffed to the brim with various archaeological finds that have been made on the site, from masonry, pottery and trinkets to the more macabre – three skeletons. The background to the skeletons is provided and gives you an insight into what life was like at various points in history at the priory – with the added sentimentality that two of the three are family.

A letter from King Henry VIII is currently on loan to the museum, complete with a transcript so you don’t need to decode the flamboyant, cursive script. Once you’ve explored the museum area downstairs, be sure to head upstairs to the studio space to take part in some of the activities available for both young and old alike!

When you do venture outside, the priory holds some more surprises.

A magnificent replica medieval bell stands in the grounds of the priory, ringing out as people strike it. Yes, I did. My ears are still ringing.

The grounds are also the setting for a meticulously maintained herb garden, flower arches, fenced off woodland and a host of local creatures & critters. For the youngest amongst us, there is a play area consisting of logs and a climbing frame and a ‘woodland music’ area which is tucked away. In the clearing there is a glockenspiel, xylophone and a scraper – the scraper is a little lost in comparison to the melodic charms of its companions, but it still keeps little hands busy.

The walled garden is actually a quarter of a mile away from the priory itself. As I mentioned before, you have to pay a little extra to enter the gardens as well as the priory but you can buy a ticket for either one – and there is a car park right at the entrance to the gardens as well as the priory. We had a time limit so didn’t walk the quarter of a mile sadly, we jumped in the car and drove there.

These gardens are truly magical. I love walled gardens as it is – they feel so secretive and a world away from the cities or towns around them, this one is no exception. Tended with love, its a truly wonderful experience to make your way around – even though the heatwave we have endured in England at the moment has caused some of the plants to explode with life. Some of the less trodden paths were like a jungle, and as we got bitten by mosquitos it turns out we weren’t the only ones out to enjoy a day in the heat.

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