Shhhh…this is a very secret post. Although I’ve been told recently that I’m terrible at stealth, yesterday was my chance to acquire some spying skills. We were meeting my brother and his family at the National Archive in Kew and booked on to their free summer holiday activity – “My Grandad: The Spy”. If you fancy doing the same after reading this post, it’s booking now till 14th Aug and the link is here. The start time isn’t exact – you can start as soon as you get there – but it’s best to book before you turn up.
But yes, first there’s the getting there bit. Kew isn’t exactly near to us and we considered driving because it’s on our frequently driven route to Hampshire…but the tube is straightforward enough if the kids have plenty of books and snacks. In this case, Eva had packed “The Restless Girls”, her sunglasses and a parrot called Sita wrapped up in bits of neon coloured wool. Standard.
Plus I always like to try out new bits of the tube I haven’t been on before. There are lots of envy-inducing houses on that bit of the District Line and look how pretty Kew Gardens station is!
It’s an easy walk from Kew Gardens station to the National Archives. It’s a left as you come out of the station and then another left at this big, helpful sign:
And from the end of that road, it’s pretty easy to spot. It’s a massive brutalist building, surrounded by lakes, ponds, swans and palm trees:
Perfect for a picnic before we started spying.Even if we were ourselves being spied upon by these geese:
Are they geese? Or some kind of big duck? I’m still no good at wildlife.
The kids – Reuben, Eva and CousinZ – also took the opportunity to practise their stealth skills:
Once we’d had some lunch, we were ready to start the adventure. It’s self-led, with just a few trips to the bookshop for clues so it’s very much start when you’re ready. The instructions had told us to have a charged smart phone and they weren’t wrong – my phone is fairly new still but the adventure took the charge down from 65% to 35%. There are texts to send, incoming calls, videos to watch and clues to input….all through the phone. So definitely have it ready-charged and take advantage of the free WiFi because the reception inside the building can be a bit patchy.
Anyway, all of that is included in the instruction e-mail. The first thing we had to do was to go to the bookshop and ask for the first clue, which sent us back outside. I’m not going to tell you any more of the steps because that would be cheating…but we went in and out of the building about three times and all around the Cold War exhibition. We found a little quiet place near the cafe to listen to the videos because we got slightly disapproving looks from other exhibition visitors for being gathered around a phone instead of looking at all the exhibits. I swear they thought we were watching YouTube or something.
At some point it’d be nice to go round the exhibition a bit more slowly because it looked really interesting. There was a Cold War bunker and a Cold War-era house, complete with mini-bunker under the stairs. As it was, we rushed round finding answers to questions that would unlock the next video for us. We did learn a few things though, like how we live outside the zone of “Total Destruction” in the event of a nuclear strike on London..but not far outside. Romford, where the kids and Nathan had been the previous day, was helpfully marked out on the map, in the “Severe Damage” zone:
We also had enough time to write out our own ID stickers and make our own travel passes. Reuben wrote his name on one before binning it and choosing the more secretive name “Not S. Pie”. Nathan, in search of spires to visit, chose “Ivan Sparkov”:
I’m pleased to say that we did get to the end and unravel the mystery of Tanya’s Grandad and his career in espionage…only one mystery remained, which is where the teabag and silver spoon came from. The ending to the story suggested they might have been related somehow but it was probably just a coincidence. We also lost Nathan a few times, which makes him the sneakiest of us all. At one point,I thought this was him:
We celebrated the end of the spy adventure with drinks and cakes in the cafe before we had to rush back to HP because Eva had a party to get to. There was a nice little play area for smaller children in the cafe so it seems like it would be a nice place to hang out and have a coffee with a view if you’re ever killing time in South-West London.
On the way out, Eva insisted we stop and watch the swans perform their ballet. They seemed more interested in trying to eat the small girls instead so CousinZ provided the ballet moves and we headed back to the tube.
So a definite recommendation if you’re looking for something to fill up these long summer holidays. It’s free to take part and we brought our own lunch so a very cheap day out even with buying coffee at the end. It takes 90 minutes and the 6-. 7- and 10-year-olds were all absorbed for the whole time. For more information, have a look here. Happy spying!