Caroline Millar and her family saw how the monks lived at Norton Priory
The sign for Norton Priory looks incongruous, surrounded by the shaven lawns and hi-tech structures of a Business Park. Your heart starts to sink. It doesn't recover much as you approach a low, modern building in tastefully landscaped surroundings.

Then you step into another world. You see a medieval stonemason hewing stones for a long-gone priory. There's a black canon crouched over his missal. You hear monks chanting. Yes, this is a museum. But it's one that brings you very close to the people who lived and died on the land around you - the monks who were here for four hundred years, until the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Brooke family, who demolished the priory and built two fine houses, have now also gone.

Your footsteps echo as you walk through the Undercroft - part of the old priory that was used as a cellar. And then outside to the ruins - the Cloister Walk, the chapter house and the graves in the church.

You hear the bell tolling as you walk past the kitchens, to the herb garden and woodland beyond. There is an elegant Georgian summer house and, hidden in the woods, a Victorian cottage where the ladies and gentlemen used to take tea.

Crossing the bridge over the dual carriageway to the other part of the estate, the 20th century intrudes . But then you enter a swathe of ancient woodland, oaks, elder, and horse-chestnut. The walled garden is closed for the winter, so the day ends in the old pear orchard, with the trees outlined against a darkening sky.

The visitors

Caroline Millar, a freelance writer, went to Norton Priory Museum with her husband, Malcolm, a university lecturer, their son, Thomas, aged seven, and daughter, Claire, aged three.

Caroline: The museum presents the life of the priory very clearly, and Thomas was fascinated. He especially loved the models of the priory as it was being built, and he was still young enough to ask the question, "What happened when they went to the loo?" We satisfied our curiosity later by tracing the path of the drain from the monks' latrine.

On a misty afternoon, it's easy to imagine that the black canons still pace the cloisters. Not easily spooked, Claire climbed over the ruins. We had to watch carefully, as there are a couple of steep drops.

We saw rabbits, squirrels and birds in the woods. Prepare for a cold winter - the holly was absolutely splattered with red berries. In the clearings you come across work by living artists, a statue or maybe an abstract sculpture. Some of them reminded me of rusty old cars, but then I'm totally unartistic. I did like Coventina, the Celtic goddess of streams and wells, who crouched at the head of the brook.

Thomas: I didn't like walking all day because it made my legs hurt. I liked the model of the church being built. There's scaffolding and ladders and the little people can climb up. There's stone-masons, and even a little bit of cement. I liked learning about the monks in the church and how they lived, and where they put their food.

The Undercroft would be a bit scary at night - you might think ghosts would come out of the bits in the wall. If they did make a noise it would echo. There's a very old chair in the Undercroft, and very old wood in the fireplace. In one of the graves there is a daddy, and then there were three babies. I think that's very sad.

The bell was good. At first I was scared of the noise but I just swung it very hard and it went whack!

Claire: The skeleton looks a bit scary to me. It's happy because I can see its mouth laughing. He's got no clothes on. He was once a people and then the people died.

I liked the bricks to play with because I like to climb on them. The summer-house looks nice. I can play with the leaves in it, sweeping the leaves up with a brush. Mummy and Daddy say "come on", and I stay because I like to.

Malcolm: A still winter day was a good time to come - it's quiet and very atmospheric here. You see the way life has ebbed and flowed in this place.

I think the sculptures are to show the continuity between the land and man-made objects. The priory stones came from the land, and later went back to the land. It's an interlinking of nature and man, death and rebirth.

The deal

Norton Priory, Manor Park, Runcorn, Cheshire (01928 569895)

Location: From M56 take Junction 11 for Warrington and follow signs for Norton Priory. From other directions follow "all other Runcorn traffic" and then "Norton Priory" signs. By public transport, go by train to Runcorn then take bus 14 to where the Busway crosses the Bridgwater Expressway. It is then a half-mile walk.

Winter opening: 12 noon to 4pm daily. Walled Garden closed.

Entrance: adults, pounds 2.60; concessions, pounds l.40; under-fives, free; family day-ticket for two adults and three children, pounds 6.95.

Access: Good for wheelchairs and buggies.

Food and drink: Cafe in the museum - a few home-made cakes, but mainly wrapped biscuits, sweets and crisps. Coffee, tea and soup available.

Toilets: In the museum. Disabled toilet and baby-change room. Clean and warm.

Education: Extensive educational activities. Contact the museum for details.

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