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Quirky museums for Easter holiday fun

The year seems to be galloping by and, tomorrow, it will be April! If you find yourself looking for a way to entertain youngsters during the school holidays, why not try some of the country’s more quirky museums? There are some amazing ones around – have a Google and you’ll see. I’ve picked out a few ‘interesting’ ones that you might like to visit…

(Click on the museum names to visit their websites).

The Dog Collar Museum

Copyright: Leeds Castle.

I absolutely had to include this museum! Leeds Castle (which is in Kent, not Leeds) has a unique collection of historic and fascinating dog collars that is now the largest of its kind on public display anywhere in the world.

The colossal collection of canine neckwear, spanning five centuries, is fun for children and adults alike. There are over 130 rare and valuable collars with the earliest dating back to the late 15th century – a Spanish iron herd mastiff’s collar, which would have been worn for protection against wolves and bears roaming Europe at the time.

Other collars range from 16th-century German iron collars with fearsome spikes to ornate gilt collars of the Baroque period, through to finely-chased nineteenth century silver collars and twentieth century examples fashioned from tyres, beads and plastic.

Museum of Witchcraft and Magic

Copyright: Museum of Witchcraft and Magic.

Located in the picturesque Cornish harbour of Boscastle, this museum was started in 1960 and is now one of the most visited museums in the Westcountry. It claims to have the world’s largest collection of items relating to witchcraft, magic and the occult. Exhibitions change regularly so there’s always something new to see. 2017 boasts an exhibition of ‘poppets, pins and power: the craft of cursing’, which sounds well worth a visit! Being in such a lovely coastal setting, there’s plenty to see and do as well as explore this mysterious museum.

The Bakelite Museum

Copyright: The Bakelite Museum, above, and main header.

Anyone who has clocked up their half century will have come across Bakelite! The first proper plastic, Bakelite was a revolutionary material. It enabled mass-production and was known as ‘the material of a thousand uses’ and, in various guises, was used by everybody. The museum is an enormous collection of vintage plastics, from the earliest experimental materials to 1970s kitsch. It includes Bakelite objects in a huge variety of shapes, colours and functions – radios, telephones, eggcups, musical instruments, toys, tie-presses and even a coffin. There are also domestic and work related things from the Bakelite era, mainly the 1920s to the 1950s, and the whole collection is a nostalgic treat, a vintage wonderland and an educational eye-opener.

The exhibits are displayed in an atmospheric 18th-century watermill, in the heart of the beautiful Somerset countryside between Taunton, Minehead and Bridgewater. Williton Station, on the West Somerset Railway, the longest stretch of restored steam railway in the country, is just a 20-minute walk away. They also serve Somerset cream teas – so what’s not to love about this museum as a great day out!

Gnome World

Copyright: Gnome Reserve.

Yes, really! This north Devon attraction promises ‘a completely unique 100% fun experience, simultaneously 100% ecologically interesting, with an extra 100% wonder and magic mixed in’.

Set between Bideford and Bude, the 1000+ gnomes and pixies reside in a lovely 4 acre-reserve, with woodland, stream, pond, meadow and garden. Visitors will be delighted to learn that gnome hats are loaned free of charge together with fishing rods and you are encouraged to embarrass the family with some truly memorable photos for the family album!

The House of Marbles

Copyright: House of Marbles.

I don’t know why most of these museums are in the Westcountry, I was looking nationwide… goodness knows what it says about those of us that live down here! Anyway, I absolutely must give a final mention to The House of Marbles, here in Bovey Tracey, Devon, owned by some old friends of mine. Whenever you look up unusual museums or great places to visit – the House of Marbles is up there at the top of the list. No less than three museums, an enormous marble run and the chance to see glass being blown, it’s a great place to visit whatever your age. Oh, and it also has a very popular restaurant and great shops!

Have fun!

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A heart-felt experience…

Today, I am handing over the blog to my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has been on a course to find out about the wonders of needle felting…

“Felt wasn’t a fabric I had really thought much about since I last made dolls’ clothes out of it as a child – it didn’t need hemming, so a great advantage. Having recently read about Sue Lewis’s lovely wet felt pictures and visited the Bellacouche studio near where I live in Moretonhampstead, I’d started to think about felt in a new light…

I booked myself on a needle felting course at the lovely sounding Cowslip Workshops on the other side of Dartmoor. Run by mixed media artist, Kate Toms, the course was entitled ‘Make a Dog in a day’, so how could I resist? As some of you may know, I am the owner of Moss the Dartmoor Dog Blogger and, like Joanna, am a confirmed dog fan. Kate creates 3D characters as well as being a published author and illustrator of books for the very young. Needle felting is currently her favourite technique.

NeedleFelt1

Left to right: Kate starting to create the dog’s body using a large needle felting mat; Rovings!; These strange looking items went on to form Moss’s legs!

I, and nine other enthusiastic students, gathered at 10am for the workshop that would take us through the process of making a small felted dog. Needle felting is a wonderfully simple technique where barbed felting needles are used to interlock wool fibres forming a solid mass.

Kate is an excellent tutor, extremely knowledgeable and with a great sense of humour. She patiently took us will through the various stages to ensure we all managed to take our own little dog home with us at the end of the day.

We were faced with huge balls of wool (actually called ‘rovings’) in a mix of lovely natural colours. We made our selections and dutifully copied Kate’s demonstrations as we built up our little canine figures. And then the fun began! Stabbing yourself with a felting tool is painful… when you somehow manage to keep doing it, it is extremely painful! The air was peppered with little squeaks and cries as we all managed to stab ourselves every few minutes. (Note to self: buy a finger guard!) But never mind the pain, it was so exciting to see these amazing structures emerge out of wispy scraps of wool, that none of us showed any signs of flagging.

NeedleFelt2

Left to right, adding the legs to the body; Kate patiently demonstrating; A fellow crafter having a go!

It is a fascinating technique and, once you know the basics, easy to create 3D figures. I assumed needle felting was an ancient technique, like wet felting, but apparently not. It was ‘invented’ in the 1990s. You can use a variety of tools, from a very fine single needle to create detail, to a long vicious-looking sturdy three-pronged affair that Kate calls a ‘claw’, to the smaller and very effective five-needle tool that allows you to stab away and create shapes really quickly. To minimise pain and blood loss, you work onto a foam block or a thing that looks like an enormous nail brush, the latter being a great way of carding the wool as you work.

After lunch (there’s a lovely café selling loads of delicious home-made dishes!) things got a bit more mellow as we all wallowed in a post-lunch slump. Kate, who had run the workshop the previous day, realised we were getting behind schedule and chivvied us on, saying she was happy to stay until we had all finished. We were scheduled to finish at 4pm… I finally left – ­tired, battle scared and not a little emotional – proudly clutching my little dog at 7pm!

The studios were as delightful as I’d imagined and Kate was an inspirational teacher and I can’t recommend them highly enough. A regular supply of tea, coffee, biscuits and even cake, throughout the day, ensured we didn’t run out of energy. I had a wonderful time and, as promised, everyone on the course produced a dear little dog at the end of it. They were all very different, reflecting their creator’s own personality. I, rather predictably, was trying to make a dog that looked like Moss… you can judge for yourselves whether I succeeded or not!

NeedleFelt3

Left to right: Kate’s own gorgeous dogs! Everyone’s efforts – what a motley crew… and my version of Moss. She was not impressed!

If you fancy having a go at needle felting, you can find everything available online. It is a relatively cheap hobby to take up, so if it appeals to you, why not have a go? I intend to make more figures… after I’ve bought a finger guard and some sticking plasters!

 

 

 

 

 

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