Most Londoners will be familiar with the Natural History Museum in South Kensington. But did you know it has an offshoot in the Home Counties?
A 45-minute train ride out of Euston will bring you to the pleasant Hertfordshire town of Tring. Every person who visits this place does two things: remarks how peculiar the name 'Tring' is, perhaps while making the sound of a bicycle bell; and visits the Natural History Museum.
It was in Tring, from 1889, that the rich and eccentric Walter Rothschild built up a personal collection of animals — live and stuffed. The museum opened to the public in 1892.
Walter gifted the collection to the nation on his death in 1937 and it immediately became part of the Natural History Museum. It still is. And like its more famous sibling, you can visit for free, any day of the week.
Naturally, NHM Tring is much smaller than the grand juggernaut of South Ken. You can get round the whole thing in one to two hours. It is time well spent.
The museum is almost entirely given over to taxidermied animals. Any creature you can name — and many you can't — are displayed Victorian-style in room after room of cabinets. There are few push-button commentaries or interactive touch-screens here. Just a cavalcade of animals, red in tooth and claw. It is mesmerising.
The curators are sparing with their labels. Most specimens are explained with just an English and Latin name. When further info is given, it is always to tell a story worth hearing.
For a small museum in a small town, NHM Tring attracts a large audience. We've visited twice at weekends and had to jostle and squeeze on both occasions. But don't let that put you off. The unfussy style of exhibiting and the wide corridors mean that the crowds don't become a trial.
The museum also comes with the usual cafe and gift shop. If the weather's nice, you can extend your trip to a walk around the adjacent Tring Park.
NHM Tring is open seven days a week, but watch out for the limited Sunday opening hours. Regular trains to Tring from Euston. Entrance is free. Car parking available on-site, but it soon fills up at weekends. Plenty of pay-and-display nearby.