As someone who has grown up in the North West, I have visited Norton Priory many a time on school trips and with my family. Recently they received a Heritage Lottery grant for building and modernisation work. We visited this past weekend and it is definitely a new and improved Norton Priory. And definitely worth a visit!
The first thing we noticed as we drove into the car park was how big the new museum was – not to mention beautiful! It really has transformed from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan of a place. The once small, dark and tucked away cafe is now light and placed right at the front with some outdoor seating too giving it a lovely welcome.
The inside of the building is no less impressive either. The once external porch is now inside making it a lot easier to see and enjoy. We were told that one of the visitors had asked whether it had been brought inside.
For those of you who don’t know, the porch is the only remaining part of the house that was built on top of the original Priory in 1868, which I think you’ll agree by looking at it is very impressive!
To be honest, on previous visits I noticed that the exhibitions hadn’t really changed at all since I was a child, so I never really spent much time on them when I would be there. I totally understand that many galleries are short of funding and changing exhibitions regularly is both a logistical and costly process. So walking into the refurbished ground floor space, I was delighted to see lots of new items on display, more interactive areas and new videos telling the stories the people who lived and worked at the Priory in its day.
Being a sunny day on our visit, it was pleasantly quiet meaning that we were able to really check out the artifacts, enjoy the videos and have a play with the interactive bits. And that, of course, included the dressing up box. You’re never to old for the dressing up box right?
Lots of space
So many galleries and museums add to the displays without considering movement of the visitors. Not Norton Priory though. We we were really impressed how the interpretation and curation staff have managed to include so much more without it feeling overwhelming, difficult to navigate or cramped.
Bringing in some of the coffin lids and stacking them allowed us to get a real feel for the size and dimensions of them as well as get a closer look at the carving and patterns in the designs. It is also nice to see items without a shield of glass too.
Previously to get a view over the remains of the priory, you would have to access it via some metal stairs outside in the open air. Now they have included it into the main building, making it disabled friendly and adding a vast array of other displays in the process to enrich the experience. We loved how all details were through about, meaning that from the main landing you can see the ruins of Halton Castle too.
Through to the main upstairs exhibition area, you are greeted by views over the ruins and interactive displays to help you understand the growth of the priory and abbey.
The space is light ad airy, making it a pleasant place to spend some time – even on the sunniest of days as you still get to enjoy the outside through the large windows. This floor didn’t just cover the priory either, it included information about bee keeping, the plants that were grown there and the medicinal values of them too. Which you can see and learn more about in the garden.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed the hour and a half that we had been exploring inside it was time to get outside into the sunshine for a bit. I am always amazed when I visit Norton Priory that you can walk on and explore inside the ruins. There are certainly not many places where you can reminisce (and reconstruct) the fun of lying in a stone coffin as a child. (perhaps where my enjoyment of the alternative stems from?)
There is also plenty of space to explore in the grounds as well as the ruins. Oh and we did also spot an excellent looking play area which is definitely a new addition to the space.
Once you’ve done the rounds of the grounds you can either head out to explore the local area which is way marked from the entrance to the car park or you can head over to the gardens (the entry fee is included on your ticket to the museum) which is straight over the bridge from the car parking facilities.
Time for a wander
Being springtime I really wanted to head over to the walled garden to enjoy the bulbs and flowers of the early season (my favourite season for plants and flowers, I think!) Once you leave the car park you just have to take a short walk over the bridge (take a look at the traffic below on your way too) and then follow the path down towards the beautiful tree gate with glimpses into the garden.
Inside the Walled Garden
Once inside the walled garden you will be treated to an abundance of plants, flowers, precisely cut hedges and beautiful lawns as well as some quirky sculpture and art to spot as well. There are also some pot people that the kids can spot on the way around too, including Harry POTter! (punny!!)
The garden is by no means as large as many of the National Trust walled gardens, but it is well-tended and beautiful. Enjoy walking through the plants and flower beds, hunting out the sculptures and keeping an eye out for hidden bug houses.
The highlight for me in the garden is always the arbor where the original glass house used to be positioned. Not only is it a total sun trap, but they have the most beautiful climbers covering it from top to bottom. So nice I actually had to explore what they were when we returned to the garden ticket office.
For those of you who are plant fans or generally curious, it is Akebia Quinata or the Chocolate vine. I’m planning on getting some for my garden and will probably update that over on Susty’s if you fancy checking out my home-y stuff too.
All in all, if you’re looking for a fun and affordable day out in the North West (and under 1 hour from Manchester) then Norton Priory is worth a visit. There is lots of edutainment for the kids, walking and exploring as well as something for the adults too. And, if like me you haven’t been since your school trips I would, it is definitely a must!
I’m now going to get back to planning our next adventures for the bank holiday weekend (to also include sorting some stuff in the house and garden too) Oh yes and a trip to the garden centre for my Akebia!!
Have you been to Norton Priory, either before or after the renovations? What do you think of it now?
Let me know in the comments below
Tudor Rd, Windmill Hill, Runcorn WA7 1SX
Features: Cafe, Toilets, Disabled Access, Free Parking, Gardens, Play Area, Woodland Walks,
External Walks, Museum, Interactive Displays, Shop
Entry fee: Adults £6.70, Children £4.75 (includes the museum, grounds and garden)