It takes a lot to tempt us out of London early on a Saturday morning. Even more so when it’s rainy and our destination is Basingstoke. But we were meeting family who had come all the way from Australia and, given they’d flown 24 hours for a cousin playdate, the least we could do was to leave the comforting boundary of the M25.
Besides, this particular leisure park had some romantic memories for me and Nathan, as we’d gone on our very first date there in October 1997. The kids were suprisingly uninterested in this piece of family history but it was nostalgic for us anyway.
We were visiting the Milestones Museum and it seemed a popular choice. Here’s how it looked a few minutes before the 11am opening time:
So clearly Basingstoke in the rain wasn’t an insane thing to do after all. Nana had kindly booked online for us all but there was still a little bit of a queue as we had to get issued with wristbands before we could wander freely. Of course, the first place we wanted to wander to was the cafe for some much-needed caffeine. It had been a long drive down. The coffee was fairly basic – from a machine, no soy milk – but it was hot and caffeinated so that’s all I really cared about.
Then we went to explore. If you haven’t heard of Milestones, it’s a large-scale history museum, with life-size streets from the Edwardian, Victorian and wartime eras. Sadly no Anglo-Saxons, which is what Roo’s studying at the moment but he’s still pretty into the Victorians from last term. Trust me, I’ve had to sit through not one but two family “productions” of “A Christmas Carol” in Eva’s room this week. So both kids loved the dressing up in the classroom:
Eva makes a very convincing Victorian waif, doesn’t she? They also enjoyed building a viaduct out of foam blocks:
They had checklists and clipboards from the information desk but mainly just wanted to roam around and see what they could see. The penny arcade proved popular with all the kids, even though some of the machines seemed a bit sticky – the table football didn’t give us any balls and the shooting game didn’t seem to do much. Some I suspect weren’t from the Victorian era. It’s the Wombles that give it away:
And some, I suspect, weren’t suitable for children:
The big hit though was the wartime sweet shop. They’d been bought an old penny each at the ticket desk (thanks again Nana!) and got to choose what “ration” they wanted out of the sweetie jars:
Cousin T opted for the Winter Mixture until he got a whiff of it and decided that jelly babies were a safer option. Mine both went for the A to Z, which I’m happy to say Nathan and I ended up eating in the car on the way back. Shhh, don’t tell them.
Then we had a poke around the rooms exhibition, which showed rooms from the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Anyone want to guess which one this is?
We also spent some time in the toy shop, where the kids spotted a tiny Jar Jar Binks in the 1990s toy display and hooted with derision. Our brainwashing against the gungans has been entirely successful. And we made the revelationary discovery that Lego minifigs used to have blank faces:
It was getting well past lunchtime so we went on the hunt for food and it was harder than we expected. The 50s styled cafe upstairs did jacket potatoes and a few hot mains but it was crowded and there were a lot of us. So we left the warmth of the museum and trekked through the carpark to the Spruce Goose, which a few of us vaguely remembered from some nights out around the turn of the century. They couldn’t seat the 9 of us for an hour and a half but luckily there was a Little Frankies at the top of the steps, which could seat us in just 35 mins.
It wasn’t ideal but we were willing to compromise. So we hung out in the games room of the cinema that I will always refer to as Warner Village Basingstoke – the kids watched some other kids playing air hockey, then played a little air hockey themselves while we pored over photos over the Frankies menu and dreamt of burgers.
Happily, burgers weren’t too far away and by 3:30ish we were all fed, including a good value kids’ menu (£4.50ish for main, dessert and drink…and Eva cleared her plate for once). So it all worked out well.
It was a nice day out too. If I was to suggest an improvement for Milestones, it’d be to have something that children could climb on – Roo kept trying to scale the buses and fire engines but they were mostly not for touching or accessible in a limited way. Honestly, it’s like wrangling a toddler or a monkey sometimes. One indoor climbing frame (in the shape of a vintage bus or an air raid shelter?) would be a great addition for energetic children who’ve just been cooped up in a car for a couple of hours. And the cafe could be bigger. Other than that, it’s a lovely way to spend a few hours and the entry fee gets you in all year so well worth it. If you happen to be in Basingstoke, pop along.