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Marbles and memories on a trip to Wallington Hall

Both H and I grew up playing marbles. Our traditions, family history and memories make H and I who we are. No matter what our cultural background and differences growing up, we can always find stories about things that link our past, present, and future.

While there are some things H has experienced that that make me feel worlds apart from him, the stories that have separated us culturally are not nearly as big as those that bring us together. We can go anywhere these days and find something that links us in some way.

Now there is an old saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. So on Easter Sunday we didn’t let the downpour dampen our spirits. We pulled on our waterproofs and still headed out as planned to Wallington Hall in Northumberland.

The National Trust property is only a 30-minute drive away from our home in Newcastle upon Tyne and it’s somewhere I have fond memories of as a child.

It’s been roughly 35 years since I last visited the hall and its gardens, but there are some things that still stick in my mind.

When people ask me about Wallington, I tell them tales of how my family and I explored its beautiful architecture, held family picnics in spectacular countryside and discovered some unusual dolls’ houses. I don’t recall telling them about marbles on a toy coal wagon.

That was until I went to Wallington with H for the first time.

Among the toys that have been lovingly preserved in the children’s nursery are things that have been played with by generations of children. A rocking horse, tricycle, dolls and teddy bears. I’m sure their past owners would have had countless tales to tell about each and every item in that room.

Yet it was the small coal truck filled with marbles that caught H’s eye and sparked his own story of adventure that gave me a personal insight into his world as a child.

“Marbles,” he said excitedly. I acknowledged the word, but not with such excitement.You see, when I played marbles as a young girl, it was at best…OK, but I have fonder memories of playing on the rocking horse, awaiting vaccinations in the doctor’s surgery.

For H however, a simple game of marbles was amazing.

He recalls how he played Tileh Baazi (playing marbles) in the street as a child. The game for him involved shooting marbles into freshly-made holes in the ground. His friends would take turns knocking each others marbles out of the hole with their own and they played for ‘keepsies’.

His tactics proved a clear winner and although he was never bought any marbles of his own as a child, he ended up with a bag full of trophy glass balls which he still has to this day.

It’s little tales like this, along with how he managed to chip the TV screen with one, that show how even a simple item can generate conversation and dig up stories from the past.

English dramatist Sir Tom Stoppard once said that if you carry your childhood with you, you never become older.

As a new mum over 40, I do just that. I love hearing and telling stories about Wallington Hall because it’s the source of happy family memories which are quite vivid.

I’m sure Cyrus will one day want to know stories of when we were little, the adventures we have had on both sides of the globe and the things that help us connect with each other.

For me, I always loved the ‘through the keyhole style mouse house’ on display in the Dolls’ House Room at Wallington. I still remember clambering up the little ladder to get a peek inside the house. It was a magical experience and I couldn’t wait to show it to Cyrus.

Clearly being a lot smaller at five though, I was able to appreciate this area more. It might have been my Wonderland all those years ago, but it was now cramped, smelled damp and hugely claustrophobic for me. I suddenly realised why the other parents hadn’t been so eager to climb up there as I headed back down quickly!

Cyrus seemed to like the mini farm more than the mouse house. H loved the 3,000 lead figures once played with by the Trevelyan brothers, while I was more taken by the Hammond Dolls’ House with its 36 rooms, each lit by electricity.

Our story-telling didn’t end with the Dolls’ House Room though. In the dining room, my husband spotted a silver samovar.

Now while I had to make do with ‘Aunt Violet’s larger-than-life teapot complete with floral cosy’ at family gatherings, traditionally in Persia, tea would be made using a samovar.

It’s hugely symbolic to H’s heritage since his gran had one and therefore whenever we see one it sparks interest, excitement, story-telling and family memories shared.

You see whereas our family gatherings here in the UK consisted of a dozen or so relatives at best, some of whom drank coffee, H’s gran would be serving up copious cups of hot tea for twenty family members at a time, every day. A samovar was a necessity in her home rather than a luxury item.

Now there are a few aromas that take me right back to my childhood and trigger storytelling. Cucumber soaking in bowls of vinegar, a thick slab of meat boiling away in a stock pot and the smell of cheese scones baking in my gran’s oven.

Since the last batch out of the oven at Wallington had disappeared in a flash, poor Cyrus had to make do with just a few crumbs or wait 20 minutes for the next lot. It was therefore time to head to the cafe.

It wouldn’t have been a day out if we hadn’t stopped off for a cuppa and cake at the Clock Tower Cafe at Wallington. It was rather busy with families, but there was plenty of space for our buggy. There were also high-chairs a-plenty, so that meant young Cyrus also got to indulge in some of our freshly-made Victoria sponge cake too…just a little! It wasn’t the cheapest coffee and cake I’ve ever had, with the bill totalling £13.25, but it did give us time for more story-telling and certainly warmed us up ready for our wet walk back to the car.

Entrance to Wallington for two adults and a baby (who got in free) cost £27.40. A little costly for a mum still on maternity leave, but to quote the words of stay-at-home-mum, blogger and creative writer, Melanie M. Koulouris:

“Life is a beautiful collage of priceless moments and memories, which when pieced all together creates a unique treasured masterpiece.”

We will certainly return to Wallington during the summer months, if only to picnic in its beautiful grounds.


Saffron and Cyrus is a Newcastle-based family lifestyle blog, covering diversity, self-care, days out, travel, reviews, recipes and more from our family life.
The blog is written by new mum over 40, Aranda, with input from hubby H and four-year-old Cyrus.

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