Saturday 26 January 2008

Horniman Museum, London Road, Forest Hill, London

A quirky and sometimes charming museum set in 16 acres of manicured gardens perched on top of a hill providing fine views across much of south London. Entrance to the permanent exhibits is free. These include a large gloomy Victorian room stuffed full of stuffed animals, a full-scale model of a walrus and a couple of skinny, but living, snakes. More entertaining and interesting is the music gallery, which contains a dizzying array of instruments from all over the world and interactive screens that enable you to hear the sounds many of the exhibits make in the hands of a musician. In an adjacent room, kids can bash a jumble of unusual percussion instruments to their hearts' content.

Also worth seeking out are the imaginatively decorated tanks of jellyfish, sea horses and radiant Angel fish in the recently refurbished aquarium downstairs. By comparison, a small ground-floor room containing a beehive in a transparent box seems neglected and run-down. The temporary exhibitions, which usually involve an admission fee, are also hit and miss.

When you have seen enough, a reasonable cafe is on hand to provide refreshments or you could enjoy a picnic beside one of the colourful flowerbeds that surround the museum. The hillside gardens are partitioned into themed sections, many with elaborate borders dotted with sculptures of exotic animals, birds and mythological creatures. Alongside the museum is a large, gleaming white Victorian conservatory available for hire for wedding receptions and the like. Elsewhere in the gardens, there is a large animal cage containing a trio of grumpy goats, some equally grumpy geese and fluffy rabbits. 7/10