Painted Hall – Greenwich Old Royal Navel College

Visited on a weekday during term time

A very beautiful building, but this was a disappointing visit with too many obstacles and some well-meaning but ineffectual staff. 

The Painted Hall recently reopened following a multi-million-pound project to conserve the paintwork, provide more interpretation and improve the visitor experience. We visited with high expectations, enhanced further by the new £12 entrance fee.    

The Old Royal Naval College in general and the Painted Hall in particular are a really beautiful collection of buildings, world class in terms of artwork and architecture. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call the Painted Hall the British answer to the Sistine Chapel and it had the same architect and artist pairing as St Paul’s Cathedral. 

Entrance to the Painted Hall is now via the under croft. I am pleased to say that there is a new lift, but frustratingly the staff didn’t know how to use it. The lift is positioned away from the new interpretation gallery, so we missed this until we were about to leave. 

Level access is not universal across this site – there are three or four stairs up to the platform inside the hall. This means you can’t easily access the focal point of the room, complete with portraits of George I and his family. We also had problems with stairs at a number of points outside the building – more on this later. 

There are baby changing facilities inside a unisex disabled access toilet, this can be found near the Victorian “bowling alley”. A novelty installation built by retired and convalescing sailors in the nineteenth century, although this unusual attraction is looking a bit shabby and smelling a little damp now. I was encouraged to have a go at bowling a “faux canon ball” down the lanes, a unique opportunity.    

The painted hall is twinned with the Chapel of the ORNC. From memory the chapel is also very beautiful, and this part of the site is free to visit, however a large number of staircases make it really challenging to access comfortably with a pram and we didn’t manage it, I am sad to say. 

We visited the Painted Hall for 30 minutes to an hour, we travelled there by car and parked in the carpark on Trafalgar Road which was pretty quiet on a weekday during term time. The nearest step free tube station is Cutty Sark on the DLR.   

If you or someone you know works for the ORNC please do get in touch, I would really like to help make this national treasure accessible for more people, including parents and small children.  

Changing facilities ***

Access **

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) *** 

Travel ****

Enjoyable Perambulation ** 

Overall **

The Foundling Museum

A genius idea for parents and babies – a “Babe in Arms” tour of the Foundling Museum’s latest exhibition. 

There is a lot of heartache in the story of the Foundling Hospital – a charity begun in the eighteenth century to care for babies who would otherwise have been abandoned on the streets of London. I shed a tear or two at the heart-breaking history to be found in this museum, but there is more here than tragedy, the museum puts research and resources to champion the rights and the needs of today’s children and parents. 

A history of attitudes to motherhood form the basis of their latest exhibition Portraying Pregnancy. This exhibition was made even more accessible to new parents last week when they staged their first “Babe in Arms” guided tour. 

The idea of a museum tour for parents and their babies is new, brilliant and I give much praise to the Foundling museum for thinking of this and making it happen.  

Lily and I were delighted to attend the 9.30am tour which lasted around 45 minutes and was concluded with coffee, tea, treats and an opportunity for the parents to chat. I purchased a ticket on-line in advance and at £10 it seemed very reasonable, considering that the usual adult admission fee is £10.50. After the tour we were given the option to view the rest of the museum’s galleries and rooms at our own pace. 

This was an excellent, well designed and thought through event. Lots of extra facilities were made available for us and here is a summary; a manned room was allocated to store our prams and belongings, a microwave and other baby food preparation equipment was on hand, at the start of the tour we were invited to feed our babies wherever we wanted, to sit on the floor during the tour if desired, to change the baby as necessary. Our guide, the Museum Director Caro Howell was very understanding and accommodating about her youngest visitors, their needs and occasional noises.  

There were very very few down sides to this perambulation. My only niggles were that a 9.30am start necessitated rush hour travel – and with a baby this is not easy or comfortable. Secondly, because of the nature of some of the objects on display it was not possible to take Lily’s pram into the exhibition with us. Baby-wearing is not my (nor Lily’s) favourite system of travel, but we were warned about this need in advance and, with so many positives to recommend this event we attended sling-in-hand. 

The Foundling Museum hope to offer more babe in armstours in the future – click here for details. 

In the meantime, here is a look at the general facilities and practicalities involved in visiting the Foundling Museum on a typical day. 

The museum has very nicely designed level access to the front, a lift to all floors and baby changing facilities in a unisex disabled access toilet on the ground floor. There is an un-manned buggy park. We travelled to the museum by car and parked in the Brunswick car park over the road, if you do this please be sure to book your space and pay in advance, the savings are very considerable. Alternatively, the nearest tube station with the most complete level access is Kings Cross St Pancras about a 10-minute walk away. 

Thank you very much Foundling Museum for providing this very thought through and well catered perambulation. Both Lily and I loved it.  

Changing facilities ****

Access ****

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) **** 

Travel ****

Enjoyable Perambulation ***** 

Overall *****

York Castle Museum

A very disappointing attempt at a perambulation.

I was very excited to visit the Castle Museum in York, particularly as their permanent exhibition Shaping the Body has direct relevance to another project I am working on. Also, I know their recreation of a Victorian street is very exciting and atmospheric and I felt sure that Lily would be fascinated by it.

Alas, I was turned away at the door. Prams and buggies are not admitted inside the museum.

I was surprised and sorry about this. In fairness, I know from previous visits that the museum is split over a number of levels – is there a lift? This is an obstacle overcome by many (most?) other museums and historic houses, including some with far more strictly protected status and far more complicated architectural obstacles. We couldn’t even have a quick peak at the ground floor.

The only consolation – the museum does provide a buggy park and a selection of baby carriers which can be used free of charge. Alas Lily fidgets terribly when carried in this way, she weighs over 18 lbs now, and I was not dressed for baby-wearing. We were visiting alone, so no one to help put on the carrier (unfamiliar carriers can be tricky to install) and I also had Lily’s sundry paraphernalia to think of – and my coat! Two other perambulating parents were dismissed at the door alongside us – is this a regular occurrence? I remain disappointed and particularly frustrated by a local marketing campaign advertising the museum to families. 

We travelled to the York Castle Museum on foot from York Mainline Station. York is 2 hour train ride from Kings Cross. 

If you work for York Castle Museum and would like some support, advice, ideas about how to make improvements for the parents of young children please do get in touch. I am sympathetic and knowledgable about the conservation and protection needs of old buildings and fragile collections. I would like to help. 

Changing facilities n/a

Access *

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) n/a

Travel ***

Enjoyable Perambulation *

Overall *

National Railway Museum – York

Straightforward perambulation, free entry and lots to see, although not all facilities were perfect.

This was a good perambulation which included the history of the rail industry, various famous and unusual trains and train carriages, a LOT of train memorabilia and a small interpretation gallery about how points and signal boxes work and other logistical matters.

I am not a train nerd, but still found this museum very educational and at times quite spectacular to see. There was a lot for Lily to look at and experience.  The museum is housed in two parallel train depot buildings – the space is very big and not very warm (do dress yourself and your offspring accordingly). There are lifts and ramps between floors although level access is far from perfect. It is possible to see inside, and even underneath many of the train, although access up (or under) them is via stairs only. Completely level access is provided for the Japanese bullet train and the collection of royal carriages.  George Stephenson’s Rocket was a particular highlight for me, while Lily liked the store-room of memorabilia which is overloaded with stuff to look at.

There is very little seating available throughout this museum, it is not always very physically comfortable and the displays are a little tired. There isn’t really anyway particularly comfortable to feed a baby at this museum, and the changing facilities were very few and utterly disgusting. In fact the bathroom we visited looked and smelled so bad I rejected it and waited until we got home.

We visited the National Railway Museum for 3 hours and travelled there on foot from York Mainline Station. The museum is a 5 minute walk from the station and York is 2 hours from London by train.

Changing facilities *

Access ***

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) **

Travel ****

Enjoyable Perambulation ***

Overall ***

Palace of Westminster

An excellent and perhaps slightly more unusual perambulation. 

It meant a lot to me to be able to take Lily to the Palace of Westminster – the building and the tour are not party political and focus instead on the history of the Estate the history of British democracy and the mechanics of the political system (there is no mention of current personnel, personal politics or brexit during this visit – or indeed this review.) Our visit included an opportunity to see inside the chamber of the House of Commons and the chamber of the House of Lords, Westminster Hall, Central Lobby and the Royal areas of the House of Lords including the Robing Room and Throne Room. Visiting all of these areas is only possible when parliament is in recess and you can find information about this on their website (although as a rough guide recess tends to fall during standard school holidays).

The level of access offered is very generous and it was thrilling to be able to show Lily the Queen’s Throne, the statue of Winston Churchill (with one polished shoe following decades of MPs rubbing his foot for luck) and the places where the Prime Minster and the Leader of the Opposition stand in the commons chamber. There is a pretty comprehensive audio guide included in the ticket price of around £20 for adults. Tickets are sold online only and are timed. This perambulation included the opportunity to see many nationally significant paintings, objects and places. Westminster Hall alone is pretty astonishing.

Access to the Westminster Estate is strictly regulated by the Police and all visitors experience airport style security including the scanning of all luggage (and all prams). Once inside the visitor route has level access throughout, with the exception of a rather grand staircase in Westminster Hall. I carried Lily in her pram up and down these stairs with the assistance of niece and nephew. Although I have since learned that had we asked, there is a level access option available. The front-of-house team were chatty and encouraging, and I even managed to discreetly feed Lily during our visit. There are many sitting opportunities during this perambulation, all with wonderful scenery and things to look at. Even though we visited during peak tourist season (August Holiday) no part of the building was crowded and it was possible to perambulate in a very leisurely manner. Lily particularly enjoyed looking at the decorated ceilings, the collection of murals and the statues. 

I didn’t change Lily during this perambulation so I am afraid that I cannot comment on facilities, although I did notice visitor toilets at the back on Westminster Hall (where you will also find a little gift shop). We visited for around an hour and a half and travelled to Westminster via tube. Westminster Station is exactly outside and has level access from the District, Circle and Jubilee lines.  To get in to the Palace you need to use the visitor entrance opposite Westminster Abbey (St. Stephen’s Entrance).

Changing facilities N/A

Access ****

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) *****

Travel *****

Enjoyable Perambulation ****

Overall *****

South Bank

Easier than anticipated, but a little local knowledge was vital for the smooth running of this perambulation. 

There is a lot to see and do on the South Bank and this was a reasonably spontaneous perambulation. Unless you are in the area a lot I find that it is always a surprise what you might discover on the South Bank. On most Sundays there is a reasonably large used book market near Waterloo Bridge. This time the area had been cleared to make way for a pop-up gourmet hot dog stall (among others) and some bars. This suited us and when we had intended to read, we ate instead. It was very busy so queues for the food trucks were typical and we got lucky finding a table. The area isn’t the cleanest (understatement) and I prepared a bottle for Lily with great care to keep all components sterile – this was not easy.  

There isn’t much shade / shelter on the South Bank unless you go into one of the restaurants or The South Bank Centre. A rather less attractive option might be under one of the bridges. On this occasion the sun was an issue and Lily perambulated was complete with factor 50 and a sun canopy.

There are many exciting and unusual things to look at, smell, see and hear in the area so Lily’s perambulation included a lot of new experiences for her. I lifted her up to be able to see the boats on the Thames and she was fascinated by the bikes. I wanted to keep Lily out of the sun so this perambulation lasted around 1 hour or so.

The layout of the riverside, bridges and back towards the road is set over several levels so there were many sets of stairs.  The Southbank Centre too is very multi levelled and I really wanted to avoid carrying Lily’s pram up or down stairs. I used to work in the area so know it quite well and I did manage to devise a route that included only ramps and lifts. Here is how we did it.

I wanted an a > b perambulation rather than a circular route so we travelled by tube to waterloo station were the Jubilee Line (only) has step free access. From there we approached the South Bank via Waterloo Road and York Road. There is a ramp down to the South Bank between the Royal Festival Hall and The South Bank Centre. We perambulated towards Westminster.

There are stairs from the South Bank up to Westminster Bridge, but these can be avoided if you walk around the back of County Hall instead of in front. This worked well for step free access, however Westminster Bridge was horrible. Far too busy and pushing Lily in her pram was very difficult. While Westminster Tube station does have step free access I would instead recommend returning to Waterloo for a far more civilised and peaceful end to a perambulation.  

On the plus side there were unexpectedly good changing facilities on the South Bank in the form of some public toilets installed in honour of Her Majesty’s Jubilee (or Jubiloo as they have titled themselves). This is to be found near the London Eye. For 50p you can access bathrooms with baby changing mats (unisex availability). The attendant on duty provided general customer service while he did some cleaning. It was a lot nicer and more straightforward than I predicted. While I am not sure what The Queen would make of this, I was pleased. This perambulation would have been more successful on a quieter day and in lower temperatures.   

Changing facilities ***

Access **

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) **

Travel ***

Enjoyable Perambulation ****

Overall ***

Warner Brother Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter

A world class a magical perambulation

This “Harry Potter World” is a truly majestic and fantastical day-long treat which just keeps on giving. The experience is all the more meaningful if you are a “Potter-head”, but even if you are not, there is a huge amount to see and experience. The ticket price is very considerable at £47 for an adult (Lily was admitted for free) you also need to be very organised, booking 3 months in advance is necessary. 

As a keen and devoted Gryffindor I could write at length about the exciting objects, sets and spectacles on display, but it is my job here to talk practicalities. Therefore I am happy to report that visiting with Lily and her perambulator was straightforward, very comfortable, everyone was very welcoming and some of the special attentions offered to us by the front-of-house team were utterly charming. 

First of all WBST does all of the basics very very well. There are plenty of baby changing stations in unisex toilets in three different points evenly spaces across the site. There are a goodly number of seating areas. There are spaces of excitement, but also spaces of calm and lower sensory engagement. They even have a parent and baby room next to the back-lot café which offers seating for feeding and spaces for changing. The whole site is step free including some very nicely designed ramps and level-access architecture. I was impressed and relieved.

More impressively however, they get the added extras right. The front of house team welcomed Lily and I and engaged with her beautifully throughout. We were asked some lovely questions and particular care was taken of our welfare. At the beginning our tour group was encouraged to applaud quietly so as not to disturb Lily while she slept. Some sections are dark and others a bit scary (particularly if you don’t like dragons or spiders) and were relevant a team member was stationed ready with a warning and the offer of an alternative route, if desired. So careful steps are taken to avoid nightmares. The whole experience involves a lot of sights, sounds, lights, movement and stimulation which Lily just loves.  She had a really great time too – mainly from her perambulator, although I did carry her for some sections just so she was a little higher up and could get a better view.   

We travelled to The Warner Bros Studio Tour by car and parking was very plentiful. We stayed for around 4 hours – including a fairly leisurely lunch. My pedometer informs me that we walked around 1.5 miles around the site – so it is very big. The tour route is one-way and linier, although there are shortcuts and the opportunity to miss bits if you ask or if there are sections you want to avoid (such as the forbidden forest). Entry is via timed ticket, although once inside you can travel at your own pace and the group quickly disperses so it isn’t too crowded. 

This is a very pricey day out, and one which requires a fair deal of planning, but it is my favourite perambulation this year and one I will never forget – a truly happy and highly encouraged perambulation.

Changing facilities ****

Access *****

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) ****

Travel *****

Enjoyable Perambulation *****

Overall *****

The British Museum

A horrific visit, unlikely to be repeated. 

The British Museum was overfilled with many thousands of visitors populating every available surface of every room and corridor. The central courtyard housed hundreds of people, many of whom were sitting on the floor for lack of seating, available space or alternative sources of entertainment. The sound of the visitors echoed against the glass ceiling making it very difficult to hear any conversation held at a normal level. It was impossible to walk in a straight line so overwhelming was the crowd and I was concerned that the volume of people (in every sense of the word) would be frightening or overwhelming for Lily. As it happens, she took it in her stride more successfully than I did.

On to the slim list of positives. When we arrived at the museum the entrance queue spanned the fully length, and half the depth, of the building perimeter. The queue included perhaps two thousand people, or so. As we had pre-bought exhibition tickets which included a set entry time we were permitted to jump this queue. We were also excused the airport style security. Had these exceptions not been offered it is unlikely we would have continued with this perambulation.

The museum’s classical style entrance with columns and staircase is attractive to look at, but awkward with a pram. A small and unattractive lift is available, but was out of order, so Nephew E, Niece A and I carried Lily and her pram up the stairs.

We visited the Manga exhibition. This exhibition was very interesting, I knew very little about Manga in advance and learned a lot. The exhibition was installed in one large gallery with partition walls positioned to guide the visitor and portion off themed sections. It is useful sometime to be able to take Lily to a quieter area, or somewhere which is out of the way and ideally darker to lower input if she becomes overwhelmed. The Manga exhibition offered space and opportunity for this which was very welcome, particularly as the rest of the building was so over-populated. 

There was an opportunity to sit and read a small library of manga books and the colourful exhibits and videos made for a very attractive and entertaining space for Lily. It was also good to show her a culture and an art form from a different country and for her to hear a different language. At the end of the exhibition there was an opportunity to take a selfie, which was then transformed into manga style artwork. This was a fun and popular extra, which really helped us to feel a closer connection with the manga world and created a different sort of keepsake from the day.

It seemed a shame, while we were at the British Museum, not to visit at least some of the Museum’s key objects from the permanent collection. The Elgin Marbles, the Egyptian gallery and the Rosetta Stone at the very least. However, the majority of the museum was so overpopulated and awful that it was impossible to see anything properly or have the space or time to enjoy the objects or learn from them. So this ambition was abandoned.

It was also very difficult and unpleasant to use the bathrooms or the baby changing facilities. The queue for the ladies was twenty, or so, people long and the bathroom was down a flight of stairs making them impossible to access while accompanied by Lily and her pram. One of the disabled access toilets was out of order; the other was heavily in demand with a queue of wheelchair users outside. There was a baby changing room with two changing mats and a sink, but no toilet. The room was dirty, smelled bad and was also being used to store a mop and bucket (ironic). We left immediately.

This was not an enjoyable perambulation and we visited for only 1 hour, spending all of that time in the Manga exhibition. We travelled to the museum by car and parked in the car-park under Bloomsbury square. Parking is not too expensive if you book on line first and there is a lift, although we did need to carry Lily and her pram up one flight of stairs to street level.    

if you work for the British Museum please do get in touch – I would be happy to provide some support, ideas and advice on how you might improve your offering to young children and their parents. 

Changing facilities *

Access ***

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) *

Travel ****

Enjoyable Perambulation **

Overall **

Tower of London

The architecture was brilliant, but the practicalities were not on our side. 

I am a huge fan of Historic Royal Palaces and have held membership for many years. Annual membership is very good value if you live in London and visit the 5 London Palaces in their portfolio regularly or if you are visiting London and want to see more than two or three of their Palaces during your trip. You also get a gift shop and café discount. Without membership this visit would have been around £20 and I am afraid to say that while the Tower of London is iconic and has spectacular architecture, it is a very hard place to manage comfortably with a baby. It isn’t easy to justify this entrance price given the obstacles we encountered. In all we probably managed to see around twenty per-cent of the site, maybe less. Our visit was limited to the outside of the buildings, although we did manage the Royal Mint display and possibly could have visited the Crown Jewels, but were unable to wait in the very long queue (around a 1 hour wait in peak summer season).  

I really want to be positive, because I did enjoy my time during this perambulation, and I genuinely want to encourage others to see the Tower of London. This is a 1000 year-old site with medieval and Tudor architecture. Buildings as old as these pre-date prams and wheelchairs by hundreds of years and so they were never designed with easy accommodation in mind. I think a Tudor stonemason would also be shocked to know the volume of people who pass through his buildings today, and how far they have travelled to see his creations. I also know only too well the complexities of trying to retrofit lifts and ramps today to buildings of such age and national significance.  

So, as a visitor, here are my recommendations about how best to tackle this one. There are a lot of cobbled streets so your little one will experience a pretty bumpy ride during this perambulation. If you have the capacity to lift your pram and carry it up and down a few short flights of stairs it will make your perambulation more straightforward and enable you to visit more of the site. If this is your first visit and you want to see as much as possible then baby-wearing if pretty much your only option. There is a buggy park near to the entrance. You will need to bring your own sling or carrier as I didn’t notice any provided. (as a slight aside I would like to give kudos to the Roman Baths in Bath who do provide baby and child carriers for their smallest visitors). If you are able to carry your child in this way then you will be able to visit the White Tower, the recreated medieval rooms in the curtain wall and several other buildings within the grounds. There are still a lot of stairs and in some areas also low ceilings which may also be an issue depending on the style of your carrier and the age of your child. 

I would like to say a few words in case you are concerned about the suitability of some of the subject matter covered at the Tower. While the Tower of London was used as a prison and place of execution in the past there are no gory or scary displays here. No severed heads, no fake blood, nothing you may wish to avoid with young children. You are safe.  

We travelled to the Tower of London on the tube. There is completely level access at Tower Hill tube station and there is level access from the station to the entrance of the Tower of London itself. We visited in the rain and if you are not able to manage stairs easily then shelter is limited. Shelter with seating is limited further still. Lily was asleep under her rain cover during almost all of this perambulation so I can’t really provide much feedback on her behalf. The baby changing facilities were unisex in the disabled access toilet, and reasonably clean.  We visited for around 1 hour or so and left via the Thames Clipper. More on this next. 

Changing facilities **

Access *

Baby feeding facilities (including seating) *

Travel *****

Enjoyable Perambulation ***

Overall **