Keeping cool, wearing masks, and Tudor Re-enactment Days

So here is the summer we have all been so desperately waiting for – and I am probably not alone in saying that it’s almost too much summer. It’s rather hot, isn’t it? But there are a few lovely spots to go for a dip, even here in Exeter. We cycle out to Stoke Canon and walk across the valley to Brampford Speke, where you can always find a quiet spot along the river. Or join the local youth at the pillars of the old railway line – some great diving to be seen there, and the rope to swing on before you loosen your grip and drop into the cool water… well, all I can say is not a single one of the young people there was on their smartphone.  And that’s saying something. There are other spots along the shipping canal and the river, and we prefer a spot further down river where we see a heron and a kingfisher. We can float in the water and get really close to watch the beautiful creature (while he is watching our every move – he’s a suspicious fellow) on a low branch just above the water. When you know what it looks like during winter storms, it’s surprising how clean and clear the water can be. A cool drink afterwards at Double Locks is a bit of a must, really, before returning home.

Last weekend we were tempted by the great weather and took the train down to Penzance. What a great place to explore the peninsula from – excellent bus service even to the smallest of fishing villages, and the open-top coaster bus was a treat in this weather. You can’t really be in Penzance and miss out on St Michael’s Mount: the boat service is speedy and very frequent, and the subtropical gardens are amazing – I’ve never seen them quite like this before. And it is a special thing to see an agave in bloom; 45 years old and it’s the first and only time it flowers. Staff were amazingly helpful and all Covid-19 regulations were enforced without anyone even noticing. They got that one right – we felt safe and looked after but not told what to do. It’s a fine line to tread.

At the priory, we are doing our best to make it work, too. On the one hand, restrictions are mostly lifted and people are ready to go out again and engage with the heritage around them. On the other hand, the number of cases is rising and people are worried. It’s almost like wearing a mask is a political statement. And it really shouldn’t be. We now have the choice to wear – or not to wear – a mask. It’s up to us now to decide – and maybe that’s scarier than many of us would like to admit… But when it comes to events, the organisers have to make a decision. So what is best practice in a situation like this? That’s just one of the many things we discussed last week with the Exeter Heritage Partnership, a group of heritage organisations in Exeter working together on making heritage accessible to all. We want people to come and have a great experience at our heritage sites. And we want them to be safe and feel safe when at the priory. We decided that we will encourage people to use the hand sanitisers provided; be patient if they have to wait for a bit because the building is just a bit too busy for comfort; stick to the one-way system. And yes, wear a face covering. Not to make a political statement but because it seems by and large a simple thing to do to make as many people feel as safe and welcome as we can.

In this spirit, I hope to see you at the priory for our Exeter Siege Re-enactment Days with Commotion Times in residence for the Siege of Exeter in 1549: 31st July – 3rd August, 11-4pm. The event is free for all and there will be weapon and armoury demonstrations, Tudor music and dancing, talks about Tudor clothes and ways of dressing, Tudor surgery, and archery display in the garden. We’ll have Tudor games and children’s activities as well as a session with Devon and Exeter Medical Heritage Trust and their ever-growing collection of historical medical instruments. We’ll have our gazebo up, and tables and chairs in the garden for those who want to bring a picnic. And if you have one, do don your medieval outfit or Tudor costume to join in the fun!

Until then, stay safe and be in touch, Judith

Dr J Morgane, manager of St Nicholas Priory, Exeter