History comes to life at Celtic Harmony in Hertfordshire
- Credit: Celtic Harmony
Hidden away in the depths of the Herts countryside is a land that time forgot.
Celtic Harmony, located close to the picturesque village of Brickendon, is an outdoor heritage experience centre which has been taking visitors back through the centuries to Prehistoric Britain for over 21 years.
At the end of a countryside track, through huge wooden gates, is a settlement of thatched roundhouses nestled away in native woodland, a reflection of a simpler age of hunter-gatherer tribes, bards telling stories passed down through the generations, and roaring fires to keep the beasts at bay.
Run by an award-winning education charity, Celtic Harmony was set up to provide school trips and residential visits with a first-hand experience of changes in Britain from the Stone Age to the Iron Age and the subsequent impact of the Roman invasion.
Although this continues today, the centre has expanded to offer activity days and sleepovers in the roundhouses, providing something truly different for all the family to enjoy.
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The roundhouses have been authentically built using natural material (probably not cow dung mind) and sleep up to five people in one king-size and three single beds, with electricity points and heating hidden away if required!
It's definitely worth spending the day at the centre before your sleepover, as it allows the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the past, whether it be spearing mammoths and boar in the depths of the forest, or shaping your own talisman necklace out of clay and hemp twine.
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Friendly and well-informed costumed guides are on hand throughout the site to demonstrate skills and crafts from this period of history, including friction fire lighting, cave painting, carving arrowheads from soap (!) and weapons training.
The recently constructed Prehistory Centre provides an indoor space for workshops, artefact handling, demonstrations of archery and flint knapping and the exploration of a mock cave complete with Palaeolithic paintings copied from Lascaux in France.
Unfortunately activities are restricted due to the pandemic, and although there is still plenty worth checking out inside, it has to be said that the outdoors is where it's all happening.
Blocks of weeks throughout the summer holidays are themed around different periods of history, from Hunter Gatherers and Stonehenge Builders through to Celtic Warriors, but there are also other events at key festival dates during the year, including Beltane (May 1), Summer Solstice (June 21) and Samhain (October 31).
We rolled up not sure what to expect from our visit, but were immediately taken by the warmth and atmosphere of the venue, and before long were heading off on a quest through the woods, which included making dens out of tree branches and answering riddles on the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, and Neolithic Ages, starting at the very dawn of human culture in a landlocked Britain.
Lunch was exceptionally good, but with a chef who has cooked in a Michelin-starred restaurant then that's to be expected, and we enjoyed delicious stonecooked pizzas fresh from the oven, before heading off to carve our arrowheads.
One of the highlights of the day for our girls, five and one, was the chance to hang out with medieval musicians - actually members of Herts heavy metal band Neverworld - and have a go on their selection of drums.
I enjoyed chatting away about unusual instruments from the hurdy-gurdy to the lute, and made a point of checking out their music online afterwards.
After a packed day exploring the camp, we wrapped up with a fire procession through the woods, at which stage those members of the public not staying the night were asked to leave.
Alongside four other families who arrived later, the evening was a completely different feast, comprising of a barbecued meal, marshmallow roasting on an open fire, a story of giants and heroes told with wit and flair by one of the guides, and a post-sunset bat walk which fortunately yielded a couple of sightings of the flying rodents.
If you're looking for a different day out for the kids this summer holidays, where education and play work hand in hand, then this hidden gem is on our doorsteps and comes with the highest recommendation. For details see celticharmony.org