Understanding privilege

I have just returned from a week’s holiday in north Yorkshire with my husband and 8-year old son, which was blessed by surprisingly warm and sunny weather. In the course of the week, I have been nagged by a series of thoughts which I want to explore in this blog today.

When viewed through the prism of my new educationally aware eyes, our holiday had a noticeably cultural and historical dimension. We did of course spend some time at the beautiful beaches, exploring rock pools, building sand castles and paddling our feet (water much too cold to swim). Aside from these fairly traditional pursuits, we also did the following.

Our first day was spent doing a long circular walk around Whitby, exploring the course of the old railway line on the Cinder track, walking along a beautifully engineered Victorian viaduct and culminating in a visit to Whitby Abbey. Walking around the impressive ruins of the Abbey, we learned about the rich and powerful institution it once was, how the dissolution of the monasteries had brought the building into the ownership of the Cholmley family, who made their home in the Abbot’s lodgings and allowed the main Abbey building to fall into disrepair under the ravages of the sea wind and rain. All through the course of our holiday, from far and wide, we regularly caught sight of the Abbey in the distant horizon. We could well imagine its potency as a symbol of the Church’s power in its heyday and the impact it must have made on the local population and pilgrims coming to visit.

The magnificent ruins of Whitby Abbey
The magnificent ruins of Whitby Abbey
Listening intently to the audio guide
Walking along a Victorian viaduct. Everywhere we went, we could see the Abbey in the distance.

We are a family of train buffs, so naturally we could not miss travelling on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a heritage railway going from Whitby to Pickering, stopping at picturesque historic villages along the way. Of course, the boys (man and child) were in thrall to the magnificent steam engine but, surprisingly, the consensus was that the diesel locomotive we took on the return leg was far more interesting. Maybe we’ve had our fill of steam locos?

Our favourite loco was the diesel.

The latter part of the holiday was spent exploring the disused railway line that stretched along the coast, cycling along the track, as well as doing some detective work to spot old tunnels and railway buildings. We visited Ravenscar, the ‘town that never was’, planned as a new town with a railway station in Edwardian times, but never fully developed because the company behind it went bankrupt.

We stopped along the way at charming coastal villages, many of which look like they have been frozen in time, and of course we had our fill of cream teas and fish and chips. Most everywhere we went, we encountered predominantly white and middle class fellow holidaymakers. It may have been a ‘staycation’ but this was certainly not an area frequented by the inner city London families of the children I taught last year.

I am happy to report that we all had a lovely time, despite my mishaps on the bike (detailed in this thread). But that’s not all. In the course of this short holiday, my son got exposed to so much historical knowledge. He saw first-hand a magnificent Church building and learned about how it was once a hugely powerful institution and how this power was lost. He has seen how railways once connected isolated rural villages and the amazing feats of engineering that underpinned these railways, including viaducts and tunnels. These railways too, have now mostly disappeared. It’s a lesson in the transience of human endeavour.

This is one holiday of many my son will have had by the time he goes to secondary school. When he encounters topics such as the Industrial Revolution or the dissolution of the monasteries, or even learns about erosion in geography, he will be well placed to understand and make sense of it all. It won’t be some obscure abstract facts he learns, but pieces of a jigsaw that are already falling into place to form a vivid picture in his mind of what the past might have looked like. What a lucky boy he is!

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