We write our treasure hunts using permanent plaques memorials and markers. The National Memorial Arboretum has over 300 significant memorials, with half a dozen or so added every year. This, along with more than 40,000 maturing trees, makes it a clue writers paradise.
Explore, Discover and Remember
The National Memorial Arboretum is the brainchild of David Childs who was inspired by a visit to the National Arboretum in Washington DC in 1988. The UK’s arboretum was officially opened in 2001.
It is an incredible 150 acres of lawns, wild areas, trees and gardens. There are lakes, ponds and two rivers. Walking around I got the sense that it teemed with wildlife.
The guidebook lists loads of birds, mammals, fish and insects all seen at the site. I only saw a jackdaw and a couple of ducks though. There are guided walks, buggy tours, a land train and a children’s sensory play garden there. So much to do!
The Past is the Key to the Future
Soon after arriving we joined the land train tour. It slowly wound its way around with a running commentary on the memorials we passed. We followed that with a talk from one of the volunteers. The stories are varied and interesting and there is so much symbolism. In the Millennium Chapel is a beautiful wooden carving called The Storyteller which is very appropriate.
One story I loved is of the avenue of trees called The Beat and is where the police memorials are. The trees that line the avenue are all horse chestnuts as that was the wood used for truncheons. There is one tree planted for every police force in the UK. At the entrance to the police memorial garden is a chestnut grown from a conker collected from the grounds of Drayton Manor Park. This was the home of Robert Peel, the founder of the modern police force.
I came across a time capsule buried under one of the paving stones. Due to be opened in 2116 it would be interesting to know what they buried in there last year. Maybe some of the items available in the shop. I bought a guidebook, a foldaway shopping bag and a packet of poppy seeds.
Lest We Forget
Every good outing involves refreshments. Afternoon tea had been booked for us. After all that emotion around the memorials we were ready for it. Sandwiches, scones and cakes were quickly devoured before heading out again.
This time for a walk to see some of the memorials not visible from the main paths. The most poignant is called 'Shot At Dawn'. 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers were shot during WW1 for desertion, cowardice, striking an officer, disobeying an order, casting away arms or sleeping at post. We now know many were suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Symbolically the memorial is on the eastern edge of the site where dawn strikes first. It is an incredibly emotional spot with 306 posts arranged in the form of a Greek theatre around the statue. This symbolises the tragedy of these events. The six trees facing the posts represent the firing squad. It has left me with a lasting memory.
I tried to find a memorial to spies but unsurprisingly couldn’t. But if you fancy doing a spy mission, then the nearest one is at Alrewas. A day trip combining a visit to the arboretum and a walk around Alrewas would make a full and fabulous day out for all the family.
Amanda Ingham 2nd August 2017