Ah, Dad: Why do we have to go to that old castle? Can't we stay home and watch TV instead?

DO you ever get taken to an old castle or stately home, with your parents or perhaps with your teacher from school? Do you enjoy these trips and find lots of interesting things to see and talk about - or are you just glad when you get to the tearoom and can have an ice cream? There are many ways in which you can make the most of such a visit - some to do while you are there and others you can do when you get home. Some historic houses have quiz sheets that you can buy, and you can then answer the questions as you walk around the house. But if there is no quiz available you can easily make up your own that you can adapt to any house or castle of any period.

Castles, of course, were built for defense. When more peaceful times came along most of these were converted into comfortable homes, but many still retain traces of their original function. See how many means of defense you can find; you may have to start looking as soon as you arrive. While you're at it, can you tell why a spiral staircase always spirals clockwise as you climb it?

A task you will be able to set yourself at almost every house is to count the number of animals you can see in any material - how many of each sort. Animals have always been one of the most popular subjects in art and they appear everywhere. On a recent visit to Hardwick House, a great Tudor mansion in Derbyshire, my family was keen to count the dogs because we had heard that Hardwick has more than usual. After two hours one of us had counted 135 but another had counted 136. We never did find the missing hound.

Old houses have a lot to show us about how people used to live and we can see how much things have changed in quite recent times. See how many ways you can find in which people kept themselves warm. It wasn't easy, especially when the house was built on the top of a hill to take advantage of a fine view, or in the bottom of a damp valley to be near to the water supply. Lighting is easy for us: We just switch it on. See how many forms of lighting you can find and note if they have any special uses - such as ``a candle to light you to bed.'' In the days before television was invented - and that is not so long ago - people found many ways to amuse themselves. See how many you can find, both inside and out.

Furniture was not always so plain and functional as it is now. See how many types of feet you can find on tables and chairs; you will find some strange-looking paws, claws, hooves - and even a few human feet. If you are good at drawing you might like to draw some pieces you have not seen before and then do a little research and find out what they were used for and even where and when they were made.

Good gracious, is it time for an ice cream already? Collages

The picture at the top of this page is one of the entries in a children's collage competition. The pictures were recently shown at the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood in London, and are currently traveling to Newcastle, Salford, Ipswich, and Slough.

The theme of the contest was ``Buildings: Past, Present, and Future.'' A prize was given by the National Trust in a section featuring historic houses that the children had visited. They made their pictures from all kinds of materials easily found in their homes, in the garden, and even in the street. You could try it yourself.

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