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Review: Frost of Forgetfulness at Woodhorn Museum

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A Northumberland Winter Quest

The Frost of Forgetfulness Winter Quest
Woodhorn Museum
Until Friday 23rd December 2016

Woodhorn Museum
Canaries hold the memories
Unfolding Theatre and visual artist Bethan Maddocks have created a winter trail in Northumberland’s Coal Mining Museum. As the Northumberland schools start their Christmas holidays we try it out.

The Cutter is the main collection building
Woodhorn Museumdoes not charge admission for entry or participation in the winter quest but it does charge £3.50 for parking per car. The Trail begins in the building adjacent to the car park and takes at least an hour to do as it involves exploring the whole site. 
The bird cage is pre-cut ready for assembly
You may need to add time to play in the play area, which the trail guide encourages, to go skating (at extra charge) or visit the café. The suggestion is that the last trail begins at 3pm though your might want to leave more time before the closure at 4pm. You are advised to book in advance if you also want to include a visit to Santa – see
You can customise and name your canary

Upon arrival we were asked to build a cage and make a canary as canaries are wheat are needed to capture memories that can be lost in the frost.  The cage design has been pre-cut and needed appropriate folding and assembly with double sided sticky tape.  The canary starts with a basic template which needs to be drawn and cut out. The bird can be easily customised. As a child I used to watch Blue Peterand so I was in my element supervising my son.
Double sided sticky tape - our Blue Peter moment
All complete for the trail
Once our canary and cage were finished the drama began. We are issued with a passport which has seven challenges dotted around the museum to complete at our leisure. The passport is intended to capture our memories and we can then use those to help a character at the end of the trail.

Starting point
You can attempt the exercise in any order and we headed off to the Jack Engine House for the first double challenge. This was followed by a trip to the place that the miners used to board the lift below ground. History, numeracy and literacy skills are tested in a fun way. There are other buildings in the area which are not part of the trail but are still worth visiting. They include the noisy ventilation fan room.

The site is lit up for the Winter Experience
The children are encouraged to play in the play area as part of their experience and to record it. Anything non-electronic which encourages play is a positive in my book. This area, outside of the main museum building, also contains the artificial ice rink which also seemed popular.
I is for...
M is for...
We then headed into the building to finish the tasks off. These continue to involve enjoying the collection and making a response (a memory) to it. If you’ve not been to Woodhorn before then this could take some time. There is Coaltown exhibition that looks at the life of the miner, their family and the larger community. This includes the heavy work underground, the hobbies and the brass bands.
Historic Banners
Mine model is worth a donation
This leads into a display of impressive miners banners which act as an inspiration for the children to create another memory. Funnily enough at this point we spotted a model mine that operates in return for a donation. It was well worth it.   

Pets galore in the Pitmen Paintings
The final section is an exhibition of paintings by the infamous pitman paintings. These are worth look in their own right. Theatre fans will be aware of the Live Theatre production Pitmen Painters (which was recently in the region NETG Review). 

Time for tea
At this point we paid a visit to the café for a cup of tea and a chance to discuss what we’d been up to.

Memories captured
We had been asked to return to the start for the big finale and were met a character who was ‘so cold she had forgotten everything’. The children then get quizzed about their memories before going through the gold curtain to a room full of canaries and memories.

Trail finishes at 4pm - last entry 3pm
As a free activity, this was a big cut above the usual “write down the names of the fairies scattered around the garden” type activities. The children are encouraged to play and be creative too.  It is also an excuse to see a good museum that celebrates a part of the region’s history and culture. Seeing the paths lit up and the pit wheels illuminated is a nice touch too for the winter festivities.

Review and photos by Stephen Oliver (Twitter: @panic_c_button)

Cast & Creatives:
Worth a visit
Created by Unfolding Theatre
Visual Artist: Bethan Maddocks
Co-artistic Directors: Annie Rigby and Ruth Johnson
Production Manager: Jill Bennison
Sound Designer: Nick John Williams
Community Project Co-ordinator: Morag Iles
Textile Artist: Kate Eccles
Frosrty Team: Danielle Burn, Matthew Gundel, Kat Pierce, Karen Traynor and Verity Quinn


The Frost of Forgetfulness Winter Quest is open Saturday 17 to Friday 23 December 2016 from 10am to last entry at 3pm. Admission is free, no advanced booking required. Please allow an hour to complete your quest.

The Winter Quest is part of a busy winter programme at Woodhorn, including skating and Meet Father Christmas (weekends from 26 November and every day from 17-23 December, early booking recommended), and the Winter Market (10 & 11 December). For more information or to book tickets for skating or to meet Father Christmas, visit

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