My first week at Ford Castle

MY FIRST WEEK AT FORD CASTLE

By Jack Franks

 

During the last week in February I experienced what it was like to be working in and around a medieval castle, something that I would not have imagined myself doing a few months ago. If someone had proposed that idea to me before I started my apprenticeship at Ford in January, I would have been very surprised. Yet from the 24th-28th February 2014 I had a taste of what goes on at Ford Castle, a picturesque and historical building which provides visiting flocks of children a whole lot of fun as well as education all in the space of a few days. I was intrigued to see what the castle was all about, as well as to brush up on my historical facts.  I managed to jot down some notes about my experiences throughout the week, in the hope I would come back with a better knowledge and understanding of the castle. It turned out to be the most fun week I’ve had in a long long time!

photo 4

 

After a short journey on Monday morning, we arrived in Ford Village. I don’t know how I imagined Ford to be, but I was surprised at how huge and rural it is, with miles of stretching countryside in every direction. When the castle came into view I was very impressed with the sheer scale of the building as I had previously only seen the castle on photos. We unloaded all the bags into reception and I met the castle staff who made me feel welcome from the first minute to the last. The first job was to unload all the shopping that had been delivered for the upcoming week; I’ve never seen so much food in my life! Once the goods were stocked up I was shown where I would be sleeping for the week. I had a small room in the cottage which is a separate building located to the east of the castle. After getting my uniform and a quick tour of the maze-like castle it was time to meet the first arriving schools from Byker and Kirby Moor. That afternoon, I got to try my first scheduled activity: fencing. I would be shadowing the staff throughout the week on various activities, helping out and picking up some knowledge along the way. After a beginner’s fencing education I helped on a low ropes session with some of the younger children from Byker. It’s great to see the groups working together and having fun. Later that day the staff told me some ghost stories about the Castle’s past; flickering lights, creepy laughter and doors opening themselves. Thankfully I think they were messing with me – not a Grey Lady in sight! I also took the opportunity to go down into the castle’s dungeon. Simply put, I didn’t go back in a hurry.. Later, for my first evening’s entertainment, I led the Grail Hunt, which was a puzzle style game which had riddles and questions about the castle. It reminded me of a 90’s adventure quiz show, Crystal Maze springs to mind…

photo 2

 

The second day we were up and at ‘em early for breakfast, with first session at 10.40am. It was a busy day ahead however, with Initiative and Nightline all morning. These two games are all about communication and working as a team, and I thought the children rose to the task brilliantly. After watching several kids tackle the assault course I helped Group Leader Rosy put some of the final touches to the eagerly awaited Knights Quest. I made a crown for one of the skeletons; it was truly a work of art. The day ended with a disco which took me back to my very own primary school days. Classics such as the ‘Cha Cha Slide’, ‘The Macarena’ and ‘Saturday Night’ were all blasted out and it definitely took me back. I can’t say that I sioned myself doing the ‘Cha Cha Slide’ in front of 20 plus children, but I can safely say I’ve still got the moves…

 

 

Wednesday arrived and it was definitely the most hectic day of the week, as we said our goodbyes to two schools and welcomed three. The whole castle was turned upside down as we prepped each room until it was gleaming. I was housekeeper all morning, which admittedly is not my strongest point, however if I can take anything from my week it’s that I can now make a bed to a very high standard. Once the children had all settled into their rooms and were ready for their Ford Castle experience to begin, I led an Initiative session and a double session of Nightline, leading a blindfolded group across an obstacle course that requires them to work together.

 

Upon waking for my final day, I was on pot wash duty (earning my keep!), followed by a clever and well-constructed CSI session in which the groups have to solve a murder mystery and guess who did it. As it was my first time experiencing the activity, I was basically one of the children as I was trying to solve who committed the murder, which I was surprised to hear was a real life crime. I had a stab in the dark (excuse the pun) and went for a suspect who was the least likely on paper. Don’t ask me why I thought this, but unsurprisingly I was incorrect. It reminded me a bit of life-size Cluedo. Next was Knights Quest, and it was something I was looking photo 1forward to seeing as I had a little hand in the preparation of the session’s various props. I was impressed at the idea and the puzzle elements within the activity, and the children got right into it trying to solve riddles and find the treasure which was the goal of the quest. After a huge lunch, afternoon arrived and began with Team games which allowed me to choose my own activities throughout the session. My group for the hour was from Lanchester School and the children were excellent, fun and well behaved. I opted for a game of Splat to begin with; a game which I learnt throughout the week is a favourite with all young children. I then went with what I know best and that is football, and thankfully the group all were in the mood for a kick about and I was impressed with some of the skills on show. Kwik cricket was my final choice for the session and a big hit with the group. Next, I led Nightline myself for the first time. I had watched 3 sessions of Nightline throughout the week so I was quite familiar with how the session should be handled. This time I had a great group from St Michael’s C of E School. With this session I opened up with a few starter games which showed them how important communication is, communication being the key word for the session. My confidence was growing and I took the children round the rest of the activity, guiding them to the obstacle course that they had to navigate through whilst seeing only complete darkness. They worked so well in a team that we had ten minutes at the end to play everyone’s favourite game; Splat. I felt proud of myself and felt like this was the final thing I needed to try to get a full Ford Castle experience for the week. My final night was capped off with a disco for the Lanchester students. A dance off between the boys and the girls began and the boys tried to get me to participate for them, but that was a step too far for me. I had a few children come up to me and say “You can’t dance”. All I could do was agree with them…

 

The Friday started with another Team games session on my own and I used the same format as the previous day, however I decided to throw in a fun relay race as well. I had created the most random relay of all time, with hoop throwing, pole spinning, hopping and cone juggling just some of the features included. The children thoroughly enjoyed themselves though and wanted to race again, but sadly time was against us. Next up for me was something that I had been looking forward to which was the castle tour, as this would give me the chance to learn some of the history of the castle as well as get some photos. Part of the tour took us to the James’ study which holds some memorabilia and historical artifacts. There were swords, muskets, helmets, armour and paintings which all dated back to the 1500’s; around the time the Battle of Flodden took place. The children were shown the dungeon and had the choice whether they wanted to be locked in with the lights turned off for a short period of time. I had already seen the dungeon so I chickened out of it; however a brave bunch stayed and were surprisingly calm about the whole situation! We had a small tour of the grounds and I realized

photo 1

just how close we were to where battles would have taken place, after being told arrows were found under a mile away. The tour showed to me how the castle is steeped in history and made me realise what a beautiful building it truly was. Once the tour had finished I had one last spot of housekeeping to attend to, as there were teachers from France coming to stay over the weekend as part of a teacher preview. It was. This brought the curtain down on my week at Ford Castle, and what a week it was!

 

My experience at Ford Castle has been a very important one and one I will take a lot from. For one it has allowed me to get a feel for the castle and see how it works on a day to basis, as well as meet some of the people who work there and get to know the team dynamic. I have to say that I respect the team who work there all season, as they are professional, helpful and dedicated people. As my role is in marketing, seeing the castle with my own eyes will allow me to market the company better, as well as add the photos I took to the collection we already have. I will take a lot from my week at Ford Castle; instructing sessions, learning about the castle and of course most importantly, learning the dance moves to ‘Saturday Night’…

About editor-ruth