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!

 

 

 

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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!

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Seaside memories – help the National Trust celebrate caring for our coast!

Sand between my toes, shivering (and slightly terrified!) in the waves and enjoying a fast-melting ice cream – just a few of my cherished childhood memories of seaside holidays! This year, The National Trust is celebrating 50 years of caring for the coast with the Coastal Festival. It is collecting stories from people who love the coast and are asking them to take part by answering seven coastal questions and then posting their answers on their blog or Facebook page.

So, here are my seven answers.

Teignmouth Beach… complete with groynes!1. What’s your favourite beach?

Now remember we are talking about British beaches here, I will pipe down about Caribbean sand(!). I think my favourite has to be my closest as that’s where we have built so many memories. Teignmouth beach has a lovely long promenade and so has been useful for newly walking babies, elderly folks who can’t walk far and dogs that need to use up some energy!

2. Sea or sand?

I like damp, firm sand, but the kind that gets in your sandwiches … mmm not so much! So I’ll go for sea.

3. Tell a memory of being by the sea.

I have happy memories of my girls playing on the beach but the most amusing was probably Emily when she was little, bouncing along the beach with Richard until they got to a wooden breaker water – I think the official name is groyne … but anyway a strip of wood that runs up the beach to help keep the sand in place etc. They were both running and jumping, they ran up to it, jumped over it … but, unfortunately, the level the other side was three feet lower and it was full of water … so they had an early bath that day!

Ah, the good old 99!4. What’s your favourite seaside food?

Favourite seaside food … ooh what to choose? Fish and chips or a 99…? Hard choice, can I have one of each please? 

5. Favourite ice cream flavour?

As this is talking about the seaside I will restrict the range to choose from (ie skip all the Ben and Jerry ones on my list!) and I would say coffee followed by chocolate – but to be honest, if you are offering I’ll be thrilled with any of them

6. Have you lived by the sea?

Does three miles from the beach and one mile to a panoramic vista across the coast count? I would love to live actually on the edge of the beach (assuming I had double glazing) I think a sea view is wonderful.

Fossils on fascinating Lyme Regis beach.7. Favourite place on the coast?

I chose Teignmouth for my favourite beach so I don’t think I would choose it a second time and I would probably opt for Lyme Regis as there are such exciting fossils to entertain the children with – happy memories.

I’d love to hear your memories too, and so would the National Trust! It asks that you take part now with 7 questions tag – coast facts. Post with answers on your blog or Facebook page and then tag 7 friends or bloggers. 

 

 

 

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Miniature ponies – maximum fun!

Top to bottom: Eros the baby donkey, getting hands on with a tiny foal, Professor Bumble in action, a pony ride – of course! – and the pony drive at the end of the day.The school summer holidays will soon be upon us and it’s always tricky to think of ways of keeping children and grandchildren amused. If you are fortunate enough to be visiting this part of the world, then I can highly recommend a trip to the Miniature Pony Centre, just outside Moretonhampstead.

I took my eldest daughter there, many years ago now, and she loved it so much, she wanted to move in! I recently visited again with a friend and her eight-year-old… and I can confirm it is just as much fun as I remembered!

Small or baby animals are always going to be a hit with children, but at the Miniature Pony Centre, they seem to have a knack of making it extra special. Children (and parents) can have lots of ‘hands on’ time with all sorts of animals, from foals to lambs to pigs and more. ‘Eros’ the baby donkey was an absolute delight, utterly cuddleable and with the softest fur (do donkeys have fur?!) you can imagine, and so gentle! The children can get right in among the donkeys and ponies in the barn area, or out in the fields. A pony ride was also on the agenda and the staff are all friendly and knowledgeable.

An added bonus was an excellent children’s entertainer, Professor Bumble, who kept around 30 children utterly enthralled for over half an hour… which left plenty of time for we adults to enjoy a coffee in the very pleasant café! I’d give the Professor a gold star as he juggled, rode a unicycle, made animals out of balloons, performed magic and told jokes endlessly, with all the children ranging in age from about two to 12, genuinely captivated. Talented chap!

We didn’t manage to get to the bottle-feeding session as we were too busy petting a lamb, but instead ended up in the ‘Fort Bovey’ – a sort of indoor assault course that meant going up a climbing wall, down a slide and through various tunnels again and again and again – you have so much energy when you are eight!

At the end of the afternoon, as ice creams were being consumed, we all lined up and shouted and clapped to drive the ponies out of the field and up into the main barn for feeding. This was great fun as the ponies (who know perfectly well where they are going!) all go cantering past at speed to the delight of the watching, and squealing, children!

When asked what she had enjoyed the most, our eight-year-old guest said simply ‘Everything!’ Now you can’t ask for any more than that, can you?

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Kitty Jay’s grave – the making of a Dartmoor legend

Hound TorThere is a very pretty drive that I enjoy up over Dartmoor that is especially lovely just now with primroses and gorse in flower. It takes you down winding narrow lanes and then up over wild stretches of moorland, and past some of the best know tors such as Haytor and Hound Tor. Abount a mile from Hound Tor, I always glance to my left as we go past a small junction to check that there are flowers on the grave… and there always are! This is Jay’s Grave (or Kitty Jay’s grave), supposedly the last resting place of a young woman who is thought to have died in the late 18th century. It has become a well-known landmark and is the subject of local folklore, and several ghost stories…

Since it was first set down in the late 19th century, the story attached to the grave has changed and been greatly embellished, as these things so often are. An early newspaper account of the discovery of the grave appears in the North Devon Journal for 23 January 1851, under ‘County Intelligence’: 

Kitty Jay’s grave, complete with flowers, when I drove past earlier this month…“In the parish of Manaton, near Widdecombe on the moor while some men in the employ of James Bryant, Esq. of Prospect, at his seat, Hedge Barton, were removing some accumulations of way soil, a few days since, they discovered what appeared to be a grave. On further investigation, they found the skeleton of a body, which proved from enquiry to be the remains of Ann Jay, a woman who hung herself some three generations since in a barn at a place called Forder, and was buried at Four Cross Lane, according to the custom of that enlightened age.”

There are numerous other reports, with the name changing from Betty Kay to Mary Jay and then Kitty Jay. But the unchanging fact is that it is the body of a young woman who took her own life in tragic, if sadly predictable, circumstances.

As told by one ‘Granny Caunter’ the sorry tale was:

“Mary Jay was the poor maid’s name. I heard my mother tell of it, when I was a li’l maid. Her was an orphan from the workhouse, ‘prenticed to Barracott Farm between Manaton and Heatree. One day, when her was quite young, her tooked a rope and went to the barn there on the Manaton Road, and hanged herself from a beam. Her was quite dead when the farmer found her. Us reckoned ’twas the same old story – a young man, who wadn’t no gude to her, poor maid.”

HaytorBy 1965 Jay’s Grave had become a major Dartmoor attraction, with tourist coaches stopping there while the driver related his own version of the story. The mysterious appearance of fresh flowers upon the grave was always mentioned. 

Recent versions of the legend include embellishments such as the orphaned baby being taken into the Poor House in Newton Abbot where she was given the name Mary Jay. She sometimes acquires the name Kitty after being sent to Canna Farm as a teenage apprentice. In one version she is wronged by a local farmhand, in another, she finds romance with the farmer’s son. Either way she becomes pregnant which results in her being thrown out of the farm. Such is her shame and despair that she hangs herself in a barn, or perhaps from the great kitchen fireplace lintel, or else she drowns herself in a shallow pool.

It is said that the three local parishes of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, North Bovey and Manaton all refused to bury her body within consecrated ground, so she was buried at a crossroads, which was standard practice for suicide victims at the time.

There are always fresh flowers on the grave, but how they get there is the subject of local folklore – some claim they are placed there by pixies. By 2007 the placing of flowers had expanded into all sorts of offerings: coins, candles, shells, small crosses and toys. Motorists, passing at night, claim to have glimpsed ghostly figures in their headlights, others report seeing a dark, hooded figure kneeling there.

All I know is that whenever I have driven past, and that is quite a few times in the past 25 years or so… there are always fresh flowers there. So who knows, perhaps it is the Dartmoor pixies looking after the poor girl… 

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