My children are palms-up against the plate-glass window, peering in at what they believe to be the Tardis. Thank goodness you can see inside – it’s an icy, blustery day and there’s a queue running the length of the building. As I sit on a bench to breastfeed the baby, gritting my teeth against the cold, I exchange a look with my husband, a look that says, ‘Never again on a bank holiday.’
But it’s too late now. We’ve made the hour-long drive from south Manchester to the Pennines, so we’ll butch it out for the children’s sake, although we’d really rather go and find a cosy country pub for lunch. For us parents, the prospect of an entire children’s museum is both exciting (they’ll be happy all day, with minimal effort from us) and daunting: will we be wearing insane fixed grins by the end of the day, or is there something to entertain us too?
"The Dinosaur Dig in in the grounds was by far the most popular feature with our boys, who loved sifting through the sand for fossils and bones."
Eureka!, sited in Halifax at the behest of the Prince of Wales as a way of regenerating the town, has six galleries containing several hundreds of hands-on exhibits. Knowing where to start is your first problem, although two of the galleries are specifically designed for under-5s: Desert Discovery, themed around the Mojave Desert and including a cosy cave and construction work involving boulders, and Baby Oasis, a sort of giant padded cell for those who can’t walk yet, with peek-a-boo palm leaves, mirrors and feely shapes.
Our oldest boys seem happiest in the Living & Working Together gallery, which is actually spread across a number of rooms and includes a branch of Marks & Spencer Simply Food that looks so real I get excited about my lunch prospects. There is also a bank, a post office, a town square with a police-box (not, alas, the Tardis after all).
But the boys make a beeline for the Garage, where they can don overalls and become mechanics, and get child-sized cars filled at the petrol pumps, among other things. The House, with a living room, kitchen and so on, thrills them less – perhaps it’s all a bit close to home. Me and My Body goes a bit over their heads, although there are a few things they enjoy, such as a climbing inside a giant mouth complete with a wobbly tooth. The SoundGarden is a bit underwhelming too – all sound and flashing lights but no substance, it seems to us, although this may be an age thing too.
We leave the museum, which has a large and naturally child-friendly but hellishly busy café, feeling frazzled. Our fault, really, for coming on a Bank Holiday – a mistake we won’t make again. There are an uncomfortable number of people here. But there also just seems almost too much to do at the museum, spoiling young visitors with choice and, perhaps, making them less able to focus on specific exhibits.
Certainly, I feel that my kids have better times in some of the smaller Centres for Curiosity & Imagination, of which Eureka! is one. The one at London's Science Museum, for example, has enough to occupy them for a good hour, and is free to boot, unlike Eureka! For me, £30 is quite a lot to cough up for a family if your children are going to lose interest after an hour or two, and children’s concentration spans are limited, even in a museum dedicated to them.
Still, if you’re in the area, it’s worth a jaunt, especially if you time your visit to coincide with one of the many special events. On our visit there was a Dinosaur Dig in a marquee in the grounds, and this was by far the most popular feature with our blys, who loved sifting through the sand for fossils and bones.
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