If you are looking for something to do during the summer holidays and find yourself in the south of England, take a trip out to Down House, the home of the English naturalist Charles Darwin and his family.
Although difficult to reach – and I certainly would not want to meet a tractor bowling towards me along one of those twisty roads in the summer – the house is well worth a visit.
The English Heritage Society has done a fine job in recreating the house to look as it did when Darwin was alive. Filled with original pieces of furniture and memorabilia, you could quite imagine Darwin himself walking through the door at any moment.
Once you've bought your ticket, pick up one of the interactive multimedia guides before exiting the shop, then you can stroll through the house and gardens accompanied by the voice of no less than the great Sir David Attenborough. Facts and figures abound, giving a glimpse into the fascinating history of Charles Darwin and an intimate behind-the-scenes look into his domestic life.
Darwin lived at Down House with his wife Emma and their children and the house was very much designed as a family home. A wooden indoor slide bears witness to the creative approach to play Darwin took with his offspring. The dressing closet of Emma and Darwin’s bedroom features period costumes in child and adult sizes and dressing-up is very much encouraged. It's a lovely way to feel the vibes of the 19th century.
Set-up as an ‘outdoor laboratory’, the gardens of Down House are where Darwin conducted many of his botanical experiments. These later formed the basis of his book 'Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species', published in 1877. There is much to explore and lots to learn as you wander around the grounds.
Located at the back of the house is the old kitchen where Darwin’s meals used to be prepared. Now transformed into a café, it is a pleasant spot for a delicious lunch, tasty snack or afternoon tea. If the weather is fine, you can sit outdoors on the patio and delight in the peace and quiet of this extraordinary place.
Before you leave, make sure to look around the gift shop. Besides Darwin’s books, it offers an amazing selection of goods that all make lovely presents.
By the way, if you are wondering what the flower in the photo is, it is an Erythronium also known as a Trout Lily that I saw in the gardens of Down House.
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/home-of-charles-darwin-down-house/ for more information on Down House.