While I was growing up during the 1950s and 1960s, most provincial museums were grim, unwelcoming places full of dusty bits and pieces in big glass cabinets. There was nothing to touch or hear, and there was certainly nothing to taste or smell. All visitors were expected to do was look at everything respectfully and then to go away again.
How things have changed! The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in central Exeter is a wonderfully accessible community space and a big treat for all five senses.
A very impressive collection
As you walk up the imposing stone steps to the entrance, a member of staff will open the door for you, greet you with a friendly smile and then tell you about anything special – art exhibitions, talks, workshops, events – that's happening today.
Prince Albert presides the main staircase
Once you're in the bright-pink-painted foyer – bright pink shouldn't work here in a Victorian museum, but it does – the smell of coffee and delicious cakes, breads and pies wafting from the warm and comfortable café/restaurant will get your taste buds tingling. I never manage to pass the café without getting myself at least a frothy cappuccino.
If you've popped in for five minutes on your way to somewhere else, that's fine. The permanent collections are a fascinating mix of artefacts dating back to Exeter's Roman foundations, geological specimens from Exeter's even more ancient past, and a range of natural history exhibits from all over the planet.
The Roman collection is particularly good
The original museum was built back in the nineteenth century and commemorates Queen Victoria's beloved Prince Albert, whose statue stands in the entrance foyer. Over the years, the whole place has been sympathetically enlarged and developed and it's an absolute pleasure to explore. There's always something new to see and admire or even to touch. If you wish, you can build your own bird on a touch screen and see if it could fly. You can experience Exeter in the blitz and listen to the sound of falling bombs, together with some moving testimony from citizens who experienced air raids first hand. You can play an oriental musical instrument.
Intricate design of Roman masonary
There are almost always groups of excited, fascinated schoolchildren making drawings, taking notes, or listening to a Roman soldier in full kit explaining what it was like to live in Roman Exeter.
Anyone interested in nature will certainly be in their element
The RAMM is one of my favourite places, one to which I return again and again.
Figure of St Peter, believed to date from about 1500
But doesn't this get rather expensive? No, because entrance to all this sensory stimulation is always free.
To find out more visit www.rammuseum.org.uk