* Prices may differ from that shown
I'm always looking for quirky things to do on my days off, because I'm not one of these people who can just sit around and do nothing. Much of my research starts on t'internet, as we say Up North, and the other day I stumbled across the website for the Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Art Gallery (http://www.boltonmuseums.org.uk). Bolton isn't far from were I live so when I noticed that it's free to enter, we decided to pay a visit and I'm pleased to say that I'm glad I did.
The Bolton Museum is in the town centre on Le Mans Crescent (behind the town hall) and is conveniently located next to a multi-story car park and just opposite the bus station. The museum and aquarium are in the same building as the library, with the museum being above the library and the aquarium being below, in the basement. There is a lift to all floors, so all parts of the building are easily accessible by wheelchair users.
The museum itself is split into three separate sections which span out from the central gift shop. The gift shop is small and has the usual museum paraphernalia (fridge magnets, postcards, pencils and the like) as well as a selection of souvenirs matching the various temporary exhibits on display.
The first room you go in, if you work your way round in a logical order, is split level. The first level is a history of Bolton and the surrounding area, focussing mainly on Bolton's industrial past. There are a variety of displays showing what life was like for the local people in times gone by. Of particular interest were the original fire engine (a cart pulled by a horse and made out of wood of all things!) and the collection of pieces of meteorite that have been found in the area. The displays are all very well labelled and clear. I thought it was particularly nice that they had lots of input from the people who'd actually used the items on display.
This floor also features a temporary exhibition of the history of sport in the area entitled 'Sports and Games in Worktown'. This is an interesting exhibition full of emotive pictures and videos that show what the area was like in the 1930s. Wandering round it really did make me fill like I'd stepped back in time.
Upstairs on the second level, the displays are all about the natural world, featuring displays of stuffed animals, clothing and tools used in the various areas of the world. The star of the show is a life-size elephant head replica hanging from the ceiling, accompanied by an interesting little display about how they got it into the museum (not as easy as you'd think considering the size of it!). There is also a little section that was helped designed by local school children, that shows the effects that pollution has on the environment.
The next room as you leave the gift shop again (they really want you to visit the gift shop!) contains a temporary exhibition about the FA Cup (borrowed from the National Football Museum in Preston). If you're planning on visiting this exhibit (and you should) go before the end of May, when it leaves for pastures new. Again, this room is very well laid out and the displays are clear and concise and not too overpowering. There is information about the history of everything about the FA Cup, from its humble beginnings to the glorious competition that it now is. There is an interactive bit that will keep children entertained. In the centre of the room there is a table full of 'mystery items' all of which are explained in the surrounding displays. As 'big kids' we had great fun working out what the items represented from the clues given! Also in this room, there is a small section about Bolton Wanderers, which includes turnstiles and seats taken from the old stadium, as well as a scale model of the ground itself.
The final room on your tour around the gift shop, is currently devoted to a collection entitled 'Egyptomania' which, you guessed it, is about Egypt. Specifically the influence of Egyptian Art and Culture on other civilisations. It's a nice little exhibition that includes some great examples of Egyptian art and culture, the centre-piece of which is the four mummified bodies in the centre of the room. Interestingly, one of the bodies in the sarcophagus wasn't buried at the same time as the tomb it was in! There are also sections of various temples which give a great insight into the culture. As someone who has been to Cairo and Luxor and many of the famous wonders there, I was still impressed by the display here.
Finally, you head downstairs to the aquarium, although expect to be under-awed by the display! The aquarium consists of about 20 tanks, the first ten of which contain the kind of fish you expect to see in a fish shop. The second set of tanks are slightly more impressive, with huge piranhas and a giant eel type creature. I had a fun time engaging in a face-off with one of the piranhas that, I swear, was giving me dirty looks, but it got bored before I did - aha victory!!
Overall I would say that the museum is definitely worth a visit, not least because it's free, but more importantly, because it has a great display of exhibits. Granted, there is nothing there that is going to blow you away, but everything is really well displayed and it's a great place to wander round leisurely.
Children will enjoy it as there are various interactive areas for them to explore - probably the most fun one being in the permanent room, where there is a selection of old toys for them to play with. The museum is obviously designed with children in mind, as they will no doubt enjoy the huge elephant and the working engines in the industrial section as well as the more gory mummies in the Egypt section.
So, if you have a couple of hours to spare, head to the Bolton Museum and Aquarium - you're bound to learn something, it won't cost you anything and you'll have lots of fun in the process!