Saturday, 19 November 2016

Plimoth Plantation.

Wednesday 16th and Thursday 17th November.
We both slept very well and awoke to a much brighter day, yesterday's heavy rain had given way to a pretty, if rather cloudy, morning.
Our hotel is on an attractive bay just south of Plymouth and the view from our room and the sounds of the ocean provided a delightful start to the day.
Plimoth Plantation is opposite the hotel in the trees and it was just a five minute drive to get to the car park and entrance. The recreated village uses the most common spelling of the name found in the many original accounts written by the Pilgrims themselves.  It is 30 years since R was here last and he has always wanted to come back and to bring M to see it, particularly given how much we have enjoyed volunteering as Tudors at Mary Arden's Farm - where we are about 60 years older than the Mayflower Pligrims!
We started in the Indian Village, which has grown a great deal since R last visited. The Plantation now classifies itself as a truly bi-cultural facility with almost equal emphasis given to the Wampanoag Tribe, who were here before the Pilgrims and who helped them considerably. Massasoit, their leader, even entered into a mutual alliance with the Pilgrims that lasted for 50 years. The individuals in the Wampanoag Village were all members of the tribe in traditional dress but they talked of modern things as well as their traditions and history. The Indian here was demonstrating how to hollow out a log with fire to make a canoe.
The 17th century Plantation Village is a recreation of the village as it was in 1624. At the top of the hill is the fort, which also served as a meeting place, and the street leads down towards the water. The original Pilgrims kept good records, so the layout of the houses, and who lived in each one, was recorded and has been recreated faithfully. In many of the houses one can find individuals who "are" the individual and who know their background, where they came from, all about their voyage across the Atlantic, their lives since they arrived - but nothing after 1624.
We spent time talking to a number of the "Pilgrims" including Master Myles Standish, the Captain of the Militia, Mistress Bridget Fuller and a servant girl called just Christina, who told us that we did not have to address her as "Mistress", as she was not married. They were all brilliant at explaining their backgrounds, the history of the Plantation (up to 1624) and their current circumstances; they never stepped out of character. They were also incredibly patient, and they needed to be; that day there were 1,250 school children visiting, and each child had a script of questions to which they had to find the answers. So the poor "Pilgrims" were asked the same questions over and over again by each group as they trouped through each house! They did try to educate the children a bit too, such as teaching them how to bow when they entered a house (below) and that you should introduce yourself before asking somebody their name.
We were disappointed to learn that the replica "Mayflower", built in England in 1957 and sailed across the Atlantic to Plymouth, had been removed two weeks before to start a three year renovation programme to get it into tip-top condition for the four hundred year celebration in 2020. Very sad that we missed it, but the Plantation also has a recreated grist mill, and we visited that after leaving the Plantation. The mill stones are driven by a water wheel and they still grind corn (maize) every weekend. The Mill is on the site of the first mill to be built in Plymouth, the original having burnt down in the last century. When we arrived, the top stone had been lifted for maintenance but we still had an interesting tour thanks to the guides who were there.
We had decided to spend a second day at the Plantation and so decided to join as members because the membership was much less than two days' entry fee. An extremely helpful lady in the souvenir shop credited our day tickets and sold us a membership and then told us that membership entitled us to a one time 30% discount on things bought in the souvenir shops. As we had bought several things in the Plantation shop, she very kindly credited all our purchases and then recharged us at 30% less. So, the membership effectively paid for itself!
On Thursday morning, we had to change hotel rooms as we had decided to stay an extra night and our original room was pre-booked. The new room was literally next door, so it didn't take us long to move our things.
We knew that the Plantation was expecting 1,400 school children today so we decided to go to spend some time in Plymouth first in the hopes that by lunchtime the children would either be leaving or having their lunch. We started by visiting Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims are reputed to have stepped ashore for the first time.
Leading up from Plymouth Rock is Leyden Street, named after the Dutch town where many of the members of the Reformed Church took refuge and were welcomed before they decided to move to the New World. The street used to be known as First Street and runs along the central street of the original Pilgrim village. As we walked up the street, we saw plaques on each of the houses indicating whose house had originally been built on the site. It was fascinating to recognise the same locations as are reproduced in Plimoth Plantation three miles down the road.
Returning to the recreated Plantation, our strategy to avoid most of the school children worked well. We first spent some time talking to a very knowledgeable young lady in the Wampanoag "Wetu" long-house, which is covered in oak bark. It was fascinating to see how they used the materials available to them so effectively and how they adjusted to the seasons.
Yesterday, we had spent some time talking to Mistress Alice Bradford, who had arrived in 1623 on the ship "Anne". We went back again today and spent a lot of time talking to her as she cooked a rabbit for dinner. We talked to her, as far as we could, about our Tudor experience at Mary Arden's and how things had changed in the "last" 60 years. She never quite came out of character but, when there were just the three of us there, she did indicate that all the Pilgrims are full time because of the amount of research they have to do and the amount they have to learn about their own character and the life of the colony. She also said that she spends the winter cleaning and repairing all their clothes, along with another lady. She was so very knowledgeable that it would also have been very interesting to talk to her out of character, but we still had some good laughs about the interactions with the visitors.
As the light faded, the Plantation became even more atmospheric. In the end, there was just the two of us and the "Pilgrims" left in the village. Looking across towards the water, you could believe that you had travelled back to a very similar sunset in 1624.
Eventually we bade farewell to the Pligrims and left the village as they closed the gates behind us. What an outstanding place!

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