Well, didn't we have a grand afternoon out!
Belsay Hall, Northumberland, stands in beautiful grounds, with woodland walks, a quarry garden, a ruined castle, and, in recent years, has hosted a range of exhibitions that draw visitors even on days like today when England is playing for the World Cup.
For the first time ever for me, I managed a visit on a day that wasn't cold and windy, and in consequence have a far less bleak impression of Belsay.
We began with the exhibitions in the Hall. It started well - two small boys tumbling out into the sunshine in fits of giggles, saying "We liked the big willie man best!"
And here is the 'big willie man' - Ron Muecks 'Wild Man' - although in Belsay he looked even more imposing, with a look of extreme discomfort and anxiety. We were unable to take photographs, but marvelled at the detail of all the sculptures; the eyelashes, the toenails, the utterly convincing portrayal of the human form, even when scaled up or down. These figures conveyed and elicited emotion, and left us thoughtful. We watched a video of the process of creating such incredible works, and marvelled even more.
Attendants pounced, snapping and snarling, if anyone strayed unwittingly over the viewing-limit lines. We were duly chastened. These were not people who seemed happy at their work, despite the cheerfulness and evident delight of the viewing public.
We walked through the Quarry Garden to the Castle. Birdsong, hot sunshine, and mounted photographs of Slinkachu's tiny, witty works, and in a glass case in the woodland, Tessa Farmer's little stuffed creatures and their tormentors, the malevolent fairies. These were rather disturbingly nasty, and we found we couldn't gaze for long, despite marvelling again at the scale and intricacy of the work.
And some rather short people; this one (me) wearing that familiar expression of one who wonders what's taking the photographer so long.... it's point and click, for heaven's sake!
We emerged to find ourselves at a field where confident-looking people stood about nonchalantly wielding huge bows. Gulp! Those targets were impossibly, scarily, far away for us total novices! Perhaps we wouldn't bother, thank you....
But we had found the real archery competition, not the "Have A Go" fundraiser. That was safely tucked away behind the castle.
And we did have a go. What fun! A patient tutor from Ponteland's archery club coached us through the basics, and we didn't do badly. (Bumblevee, champion archer, don't shudder like that! We had never even held a bow before!)
Lynn, Annie, then me.
The targets weren't very far way. This was a Good Thing. See the yellow area in the centre? Two of my arrows are in there!
We wandered through the castle, to find that Mat Collishaw's zoetrope had broken down. A friendly attendant apologised, and sent us up the winding staircase to look at it anyway, and to poke around in the castle ruins.
But the ruins themselves were interesting too - even with floors, those stone rooms must have been perishing cold in winter, with only those small fireplaces, now used by nesting birds.
The return route through the Quarry Garden took us to Mariele Neudecker's huge, lovely replica of the Belsay sash window.
And dwarfed by it.
The garden itself gives one a sense of being very small in the eyes of Mother Nature.
And finally, to the tearoom, for a cup of tea and a slice of butterscotch cake - let's take a picture... oops, too late! - before driving home to our familiar-sized homes. Such a lovely day out!