Mini marvels!

Top: Bekonscot, a fantastic world in miniature! Centre: The famous house on fire which, now I come to thnk about it looks worryingly like Victoria Farm! Bottom: No detail is too small…When I was a child growing up in Buckinghamshire, one of my absolute favourite days out was a trip to the nearby model village of Bekonscot, near Beaconsfield. It seemed such an entirely perfect world to me, I would spend hours crouched down, peering in through the windows of the houses or watching the train come past again and again. I never tired of it!

What is our fascination with things in miniature? A friend of mine seemed to spend almost all her early years hunched over her dolls’ house, my brother was besotted with his train set, while another friend had a Britains model farm which I was rather envious of! I am guessing our fascination comes from being able to create a world just as we want it, and that we have control over, something we rarely get to do in real life. And as we get older of course it becomes a huge nostalgia trip too. 

Even in these days of computers, smart phones and CGI, I was delighted to discover that about 160,000 people a year still visit Bekonscot – I just hope they aren’t all people of my age, and that it includes plenty of youngsters! It is a1930s-styled village, with around 200 buildings, including a house on fire and an operational coal mine.

There’s also a model of ‘Green Hedges’, the home of Famous Five and Noddy author Enid Blyton – don’t get me started on the Famous Five or we’ll be here all year! Generally accepted as the world’s first model village, Bekonscot opened in 1929 when Roland Callingham – under strict instructions from his wife – moved his model railway from his home to a neighbouring garden. How wonderfully British!

Surprisingly, the UK is home to over 30 miniature villages, ranging from hobbyists creating their own tiny worlds in their gardens, to big tourist attractions employing professional engineers.

Babbacombe, just down the road from me here in Devon is a grand affair with its new fishing village being a mix of three real villages in Devon and Cornwall. It is home to what was the world’s smallest working television, as well as a miniature Stonehenge and a fire-breathing dragon! It opened in 1963 and it still attracts 150,000 visitors a year, wonderful!

But Babbacombe will never be as dear to my heart as Bekonscot because I never knew it as a child. And in a An amazingly detailed Britains model farm garden.way, I think that answers my query on why we like miniature things so much… it’s all about our happy childhood memories!

Did you visit a model village when you were young? Did you have a dolls’ house – or do you still have one?! Come on, tell me your memories – such fun!





Ladybird, ladybird…

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for ladybirds. I can’t remember now whether I just enjoyed seeing their bright shiny toy-like bodies on plants in the garden when I was a child, or whether I was influenced by my beloved Ladybird book collection – probably a bit of both!

Ladybirds are generally considered useful insects – nature’s own ‘pest’ controllers – and far more effective than poisonous chemicals. A few species feed on plants or mildew but most ladybirds eat aphids, like greenfly, or scale insects. Both are garden pests and this is why gardeners love to see ladybirds. The seven-spot ladybird can eat 5000 aphids during its year-long lifespan – not bad! 

Their bright colour and pattern not only make them attractive visitors to the garden, but also help to protect them by warning potential predators of their distastefulness. Their colouring is a reminder to any animals that have tried to eat their kind before: ‘I taste foul’.

They come in a range of colours, most commonly yellow, orange, or scarlet with small black spots on their wing covers. There are 2-spot, 5-spot, 7-spot… and so on right up to 24-spot! One does have to wonder, with so many spots whether there is any room left for any non-spotty bits and it just actually a black ladybird! And then, of course, not all ladybirds have spots – some are striped. There are heather ladybirds and pine ladybirds and the rather wonderful sounding Adonis ladybird, and many more…

A 7-spot ladybirdThe most common species of ladybird in Britain is the 7-spot ladybird. This bright red ladybird has seven spots (of course) and is thought to have inspired the name ladybird: ‘Lady’ referring to the Virgin Mary (Our lady) who in early paintings is seen wearing a red cloak; the seven spots are symbolic of the seven joys and seven sorrows of Mary.

They have many regional names, sadly now mostly lost, such as lady-cows, may-bug, golden-knop and golden-bugs. I must remember to casually remark that I have just seen a lady-cow in the garden and see if Richard runs out with a broom to shoo it away – no, perhaps not. 

A common myth is that the number of spots on the insect’s back indicates its age, it doesn’t. Throughout the world, superstition states that it is unlucky to kill a ladybird and there are myths surrounding their good fortune… which is odd when you recall the nursery rhyme that many of us learnt as children: 

‘Ladybird, ladybird,
Fly away home,
Your house is on fire
And your children all gone;
All except one
And that’s little Ann,
And she has crept under
The warming pan.’ 

… which wasn’t very lucky for the poor old ladybird!


Happy National Cream Tea Day!

Happy National Cream Tea Day! Yes, 26th June is officially the national day for celebrating our traditional cream tea. While I am (very much!) in favour of tucking into a cream tea… do we actually need a day to celebrate it?

The introduction of ‘awareness days’ and ‘national’, or even ‘international’ days or weeks, seems to be a growing trend, which I am guessing is fuelled by Facebook, Twitter and the like. If you search online, there is virtually an event on every day of the year – amazing! I have had to chuckle at some of the ones I have come across lately.

One of my absolute favourites and, to be fair, it has been around a while now, is ‘International Talk Like a Pirate Day’, always held on 19th September and a great example of the British sense of humour! 

Other gems I have stumbled across include: 

Obviously, some of these appeal much more to me than others!

Generally, there is a difference between national days and awareness days. Usually awareness days are health related, and help raise awareness of particular conditions and usually involve raising money for associated charities. International days often aim to raise awareness of important humanitarian, cultural, social and political issues around the world. 

National days generally have a fun or quirky side to them and are, in some cases, run by commercial organisations to help promote their products and services. These national days are often fundraisers for associated charities and can be a very successful way or raising both money and awareness in a fun way.

Have you taken part in any of these special days or weeks? If you have, we’d love to hear more!


Veteran trees – a link to our past

The magnificent ‘veteran’ oak tree.My partner in crime writing, Julia, met a man recently who could be termed a bit of a ‘tree hugger’! But it is not as daft as it sounds as you will find out… 

“Look at that – absolutely perfect!” It’s a blustery afternoon and I am standing in a field on the edge of the moorland town of Chagford, with Mike Palmer, one of the Dartmoor National Park’s volunteer Tree Wardens. And Mike is a very happy man.

“A prefect specimen! Look at the shape of it – lovely!” Mike is almost hopping up and down with excitement as he rummages in his rucksack for a piece of string to measure the size of the tree’s trunk.

As tall as a house, its canopy spreading wide above us, it is a very beautiful oak. The bark is incredible, twisted, deeply ridged and speckled with lichen. How many years has this magnificent tree stood here, I wonder?

Estimating the age of a tree is more art than science. Having measured a metre and a half up from the base of the tree, Mike asks me to hold one end of the string while he disappears around the other side of the trunk. 

Mike measures the girth of the huge trunk with his faithful piece of string!With age, the height and spread of a tree reach a maximum, and then decline. So this means it’s really difficult to estimate the age of a tree but as the trunk itself increases in circumference throughout its life this can be used as a measure of age.

Mike, re-appears next to me and marks where the two pieces of string meet, and then we measure it. We guess the trunk is about 12 feet round, but it is actually 17ft! Most trees reach a point when fully mature, with a full crown, when the circumference is one inch for each year of growth. So a tree, like this one at 17 feet, measured at chest height, is over 200 years old. Wow!

“The trouble is, the only way to date a tree accurately is to cut it down and count the rings, which defeats the object really,” says Mike. He has a point!

Veteran trees are defined as: ‘Trees which, by virtue of their great age, size or condition, are of exceptional value culturally, in the landscape or for wildlife’. 

Veteran trees are a link to our past and have stood for many hundreds of years. Some veteran trees are well known such as the Meavy oak on the south side of Dartmoor, but there are many others, often in isolated locations, which have not been mapped. Tree Wardens with their local knowledge are ideally placed to locate these valuable trees.

Beautiful ancient bark.“In general terms, you can say an oak will grown for 300 years, rest for 300 years and then decline gracefully for 300 years. Often, the crown will die and blow down which can make the rest of the tree grow even more vigorously,” says Mike.

A dead tree is also of enormous value, he adds. Often supporting over 100 different species of insects, mammals and fungi, it puts a great deal back into the environment as it rots away. We would do well to take more notice of trees.

Now thoroughly chilled in the late afternoon, Mike and I set off back to Chagford for a warming cup of coffee. As we start to thaw out, he tells me that he is a retired bank manager from Sussex who loves his new life and the chance to be outside for so much of the day rather than stuck behind a desk. I instantly think of a range of daft jokes about him becoming a different sort of branch manager, but decide I’d better just drink my coffee instead…


The Ethicurean

It is rare that I go out for a meal with friends or family and come home bouncing and raving about how fabulous it was both as an experience and as a delicious meal. Well this week I did just that. We had two American friends to stay and to contrast with their fast, flashy Los Angeles lifestyle, we went to The Ethicurean in Barley Wood Walled Garden near Bristol.

I can honestly say that the food was something I will remember for a very long time and the view, wow! It just stretched for miles! Basically, this is a garden designed and built in the early 1900s for the Wills family (of cigarette fame). The old orangery has been turned into a restaurant and some of the outbuildings converted into craft workshops. The decor in the orangery is gentle, reminiscent of times gone by, and just wonderful.

The enthusiastic waitresses were both charming and very sweet – for example our waitress gently said to my American friend when he tried to add a 20% tip onto the bill, no sir, that’s too much just half that would be very generous. Well, how many times have you heard that?

Everything – and I mean everything – is home grown or raised by friends and locals. Home made drinks, bread, food – all from garden to table – yum! I had a welsh rarebit for starters, then some Cornish hake followed by local blue cheese with quince jelly. Richard chose beef followed by a sticky toffee apple pudding that I suspect he will mention over and over again (sigh) and yes, they do a cookery book and, no, I don’t know if the recipe is in there!

I took a few pictures, my apologies if my camera skills aren’t quite what they should be but you can get the gist of it – I just wanted to share with you all! Contented smiles!

PS. An ‘ethicurean’ is someone who attempts to combine ethical food consumption with an interest in epicureanism, eating ethically without depriving oneself of taste – and yes, I had to look it up!