Sunny reflections at the Arboretum

Venue: National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire
Date: 05 May 2018

Rachel Bailey reports back from a very warm Reader Club Trip at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, which proved a major hit with GLT readers.

We frequently hear from GTOs how much the weather can affect a group trip – so it’s great to be able to report back from a day out where the weather was truly on our side. I, along with a party of Group Leisure & Travel readers, enjoyed a trip to the Arboretum with sun cream and hats at the ready, and marvelled over the outdoor offering under clear blue skies.

This Reader Club Trip provided attendees with an overview of what the National Memorial Arboretum is, and what groups can enjoy there. As well as witnessing a Daily Act of Remembrance, we were taken on a guided tour around many of the major memorials, before enjoying a delicious lunch and an informative talk.

The feedback from those who were on the trip was very positive and many of those who attended are already planning to return with their groups. 

Two minutes of perfect silence

Everyone who visits the Arboretum has the chance to observe a Daily Act of Remembrance in the Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness. As a national site of remembrance, the Arboretum holds the two minutes of silence at 11am on every day of the year without exception.

It is the only place in the UK where you can do this, and serves as an appropriate reminder that even though your day out is going to be a fun and interesting one, the thinking behind the Arboretum stems from poignant origins.

You don’t have to sit in for the silence, but I’d recommend doing so, as it really brings together those in attendance and offers an informative introduction to the history of the Arboretum. The volunteers who run the introductory talks are full of knowledge and happy to be questioned about everything from donations to the symbolism behind some of the memorials.

A tree-filled landscape at the Arboretum

Pictured: A tree-filled landscape at the Arboretum.

A grand tour

Our group was split into two to explore some of the Arboretum’s main memorials, and we went on foot to see them up close. There are more than 300 memorials overall, each nestled in a woodland landscape, with a story waiting to be shared. The site overall is almost like a giant art installation; many of the commemorative pieces are colourful and incredibly interesting to look at.

The walking tour I was on took in highlights including the Evacuees Memorial, which is intended to portray the social upheaval of World War Two; the Basra Memorial Wall, which commemorates the UK Service personnel who lost their lives on combat operations in Iraq; and The Gift of Life memorial which pays tribute to organ donors.

The most recognisable memorial is that of the Armed Forces, which remembers those members of the Armed Forces who were killed on duty. The memorial is a jaw-dropping piece of architecture comprising a 43 metre diameter stone structure with two curved walls and two straight walls containing the names of those honoured here. It’s unlikely you’ll miss it; it’s gargantuan compared to the rest of the monuments and statues.

Group who don’t want to walk around the Arboretum will find land train and golf buggy tours available which head to different parts of the site. Land train tours can take up to 70 people at one time, just make sure you book your group onto one ahead of your visit.

GTOs enjoying the many sights on our walking tour.

Pictured: GTOs enjoying the many sights on our walking tour.

More at the Arboretum

In addition to the outdoor offering, the National Memorial Arboretum has a number of exhibitions running throughout the year. Our trip gave us all a chance to explore to Fashion and Freedom – an exhibit running until November that looks at how women’s fashion in World War One has influenced fashion today.

And in Landscapes of Life (a permanent display), you can enjoy a variety of moving and fascinating stories, providing a great insight in to the Arboretum and its rich collection of memorials and wildlife.

Benefits for groups

Groups of ten or more are asked to book in advance of their visit to the Arboretum. Dining packages in a private room, special tours, and discounted rates on features like the land train and the exhibitions are available.

GTO John gives his account of the day:

Members of Group Leisure & Travel's Reader Club gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum on Saturday 5th May in anticipation of an interesting introduction to the Arboretum with opportunity to discover at first hand its attractions and appeal; its symbolism and creativity; its splendour and significance.   Little did we know what a memorable day we were about to enjoy under the expert leadership of our tour guides.

Our knowledgeable team of admirable volunteer guides were all passionate about the Arboretum. They made our day hugely enjoyable, informative and enlightening – key to ensuring a successful visit for our group.

Harry playing the organ in the Millennium Chapel

Pictured: John playing the organ in the Millennium Chapel.

We were immediately impressed by the intriguing design and ambience of the Millennium Chapel where we took part in the Act of Remembrance which is observed every day.  Here the symbolism is deep and profound yet with an immediacy and relevance which blends the past with the present in a poignant and endearing manner. It is truly awesome.

Armed with our welcome bottles of water we divided into two groups and began a fascinating exploration of the memorials throughout 150 acres of the land dedicated to those who made the final sacrifice in serving God, King and Country. There are more than 330 memorials, an amazing range of flora and fauna, plenty of benches to sit and admire some of the 30,000 trees planted here. 

This truly is a worthy place to honour our dead. Yet this place is vibrant with activity and life; a land train, buggy tours, exhibitions and hundreds of spectacular events and activities throughout the year. Excellent parking facilities, magnificent restaurant and gift shop and, as one Group Leader observed, “super loos”; a comprehensive education profile linked to the National Curriculum. Little wonder the Arboretum has earned the distinction of two major National Awards.

This truly was a Day to Remember and it will be so for our Groups.

Harry John Stratton (Friends in Retirement)

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