Paying our respects at the National Memorial Arboretum

The National Memorial Arboretum is our national monument in the UK to those fallen in the wars since WW2. I always see it on the news – normally the Queen is there laying a wreath on poppy day – so I thought we should pay it a visit.

It feels very inappropriate to say, but we actually had a nice day out there. There is a large glossy visitors centre (which feels very american – the type of thing you get in the National Parks) so we had a lovely lunch in the cafe there first, before going for a stroll round the park.

The park itself is a vast expanse of green, bordered on one side by a river. There is a large memorial in the centre (the one where the Queen lays the wreath on TV) engraved with the names of all the servicemen who have died on duty. A lady pointed out Lee Rigby’s name (the solder who was tragically murdered on London’s streets). the vast wall is engraved with goodness-knows how many names, in date order, and Lee Rigby’s name was one of the last. I found the blank wall ahead just as poignant and tragic, thinking of all the poor souls who may die in service in the future. A very sad memorial.

All around the rest of the park there are smaller memorials – either commemorating a particular battle where there was a loss of life, or to commemorate a particular division – eg the Navy, the Royal Air Force, the RNLI, etc. Some of them are very pretty and  sculptures in their own right.

We strolled down along the slow-flowing river looking out for otters or other wildlife. We also found a little playground and tried out going on the balance beams and stepping stone-logs. I wasn’t very good. We ended up at the far end where there is a hut with plenty of information about pond-life and wildlife, and some fishing nets for children to try and catch stuff.

Here there was also a model of a Trench from WW2. We have already been to a real trench in France, so I didn’t have high hopes. But I was wrong – this was very interesting; they have maintained a proper model of a trench so you can see exactly how it would have been, complete with small toilet, and shooting range (where i think you could have a go at shooting – but we arrived too late and they were packing up!).

It was a vast park and by closing time we had only got round half of it – but that’s ok as we can go another time. There is also a “Land Train” which drives you around. I found it very funny, as all trains are land trains really – i mean they’re not sea trains are they?! I was keen to ride the land train – until i found out the price – at £6 per person, I’ll walk!

Overall I’m glad we visited this interesting place. It was a bittersweet place as we had a nice day out – a nice lunch and a nice walk in the sunshine around this beautiful site by the river…. BUT you don’t want to be disrespectful, especially if other people have come to see monuments to their own relatives. I was conscious to not be too loud or laugh too much etc. But I would recommend a visit.

Travel Tips:

  • You have to pay £3 to park. Annoying, as it’s in the middle of the countryside so could have provided free parking! They have evidently spent so much on the glossy visitors centre they have to recoup it somehow.
  • It is then free entry, but there is a suggested donation of £5 per person.
  • There is a nice cafe at the visitors centre with a good array of healthy choices (and cakes!)
  • If you are planning a visit, consider coming early to attend the daily act of remembrance with a minutes silence at 11am.

Next blog: Cap D’Agde, France

previous blog: Coniston, Lake District, UK

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