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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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Tree-mendous!

Trees are such a familiar part of our countryside that I think we often take them for granted. Not only are trees ‘the lungs’ of our world they are also incredibly beautiful, varied and inspiring. People write poetry about them, paint them and hug them.

I am lucky in that I live quite a rural life and Devon has a reasonable amount of woodland. However, I was somewhat surprised to read that the UK has one of the lowest tree cover rates in Europe, just 13% compared to a European average of 37%.

The Woodland Trust has launched an ambitious plan to plant 64 million trees by 2025 and they want us all to help. They are offering a free pack of seeds containing rowan, dog rose, alder, buckthorn and holly, and it comes with full planting instructions and care advice. What a great idea! They will also offer help and advice as your seedlings germinate and grow.

The seeds they send you will be kept moist with compost to help them germinate. This means it will be harder to tell the different seeds apart when they arrive. If you would like to try and identify the seeds you’re planting you can wash the compost off but then the seeds must be sown immediately. It will be much easier to identify your seedling once it has germinated. To claim your free seed pack click on the link here.

I think this is an absolutely brilliant scheme and the more of us that get involved the better. I will be claiming my pack today.

If you are lucky enough to already have trees in your garden, have you ever considered collecting seeds from them, propagating the seedlings and then either planting more yourself or perhaps giving them away as gifts?

The top four methods for seed collection used on the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) are easily remembered through the handy acronym SEED:

Shake tree over a large laid out tarpaulin

Extra-long pole to prune off seeds clusters

Encase branch ends in a cotton fine-meshed bag to collect small wind-dispersed seed

Delicately hand-pick fleshy berries

When collecting seeds it’s best not to collect from the ground, to avoid collecting old seeds from previous years. Never take more than 20% of the seed crop, remember seeds create the next generation of plants and sustain wildlife. There are lots of good reasons to collect seeds and you can read all about it here.

So, the next time you’re out collecting seeds or growing them in your garden, just think of the extraordinary journey their counterparts are on. Heading towards the ultimate goal of ensuring your great-great grandchildren can have the same experience you’re having. The simple yet irreplaceable delights of planting and watching your own seed grow from a tiny speck into a monumental tree.

The Woodland Trust is well worth supporting, and its website is full of interesting facts. Do have a look if you have a moment…

All photos copyright Julia Wherrell. Top illustration – The Woodland Trust.

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A Christmas cracker!

You can’t have Christmas dinner without Christmas crackers – well, that’s my view anyway! We groan at the awfulness of the mottos, we laugh at the pointlessness of the ‘gift’ and we feel silly wearing the paper hats… but it is a tradition and we stick to it every year.

In moments of great industriousness, I have made my own crackers and spent ages thinking of appropriate gifts and jokes to go inside. They always go down well, but they take a lot of planning.

This will be my first Christmas without my parents, Diana and John, so this year will be tinged with sadness for all the family. But Mummy’s enthusiasm for a traditional family Christmas is firmly entrenched with all of us and I shall be filling stockings, dressing the table and fussing about the sprouts just as always.

I love decorating the table, I think it makes such an impact with pretty napkins, candles and, of course, a special Christmas table centrepiece. I have produced so many over the years and always find myself getting excited as I add the finishing touches. If you don’t have a large table, you can still make it look lovely with a table runner ­– cheap enough to buy even in supermarkets these days – or run up one of your own very simply. Table sprinkles are also great fun and really do add a touch of glitz and sparkle… but you’ll be hoovering them up for weeks afterwards!

Returning to the Christmas cracker… did you know they were invented in 1847 by a London sweet maker called Thomas Smith? Rather unromantically, he devised the Christmas cracker as a money-making idea when bonbon sales slumped. They originally contained love messages and a sweet. The enterprising Mr Smith then went on to the snapping strip to replicate the sound of a crackling log fire!

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Tea for two

TeaCupBirthdayFor the last 100 years at least, “I’ll just pop the kettle on” has been the British way of handling life. If in doubt … have a cup of tea. Things not going right … have a cup of tea. Long and difficult discussion to have with a family member, I’ll just get the kettle on!

The older members of my family were complete tea-aholics drinking many, many cups a day. But now as the younger generation comes through and flourishes, not so many of them are tea drinkers. I’m a bad example as I mainly drink coffee, then switch to peppermint or ginger tea after lunch, but my daughters – not a sign of a hot drink, what did I do wrong? My younger daughter quite likes mint tea made with fresh mint leaves (bet nobody in the office makes her one of those!) but apart from that, neither of them have anything except water. Goodness me, my granny would be amazed!

I always love sending a card with a tea bag hidden inside it as a little extra – just makes the handmade card even more of a little present. Here’s how to make this card:

Ingredients

Technique

  1. Cut some lilac card to slightly smaller size than the card blank and then white smaller again and layer. Attach to main card using thin foam tape or sticky pads.
  2. Die cut the cups and teapot in white and then stick some scraps of lilac card behind the rose design.
  3. Die cut the Clarissa die in white and trim to fit the card, attach with glossy accents glue or a quickie glue pen.
  4. Now cut a plain circle in the Kraft card and layer onto a scalloped circle in lilac card about 3½” diameter. Attach the teapot and cups using glue gel and curve them slightly.
  5. Die cut the wild rose in cream and green – or you could do it all in white and colour with alcohol pens. Attach to the card as shown.
  6. Finish the card with some flat back pearls and the printed out sentiments.
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Spruce up your garden on a budget!

I am forever sighing over garden makeovers in magazines or on TV. The trouble is, it can all be so expensive! Don’t despair, though, there are lots of things you can do to spruce up your garden, big or small, at little or no cost.

PaintedShedAs pretty as paint

Wood stain and paint for sheds used to come in dark brown or, if you were really racy, green! But not any more, now there are fabulous colours available and, if you choose ‘own brand’ options, rather than some of the posher paints, a litre of paint can cost as little as £12 and will cover about 12 m². Sheds can look shabby and garden furniture frumpy but if you give them a lick of paint in an exciting colour, it will cheer you, and your garden, up no end. Do make sure you use proper exterior wood paint or stain, though, as interior or gloss paint won’t work.

A friend of mine who didn’t feel up to wielding a paintbrush outside bought a very cost-effective pump-action sprayer and covered a fence and a trellis in no time. Provided you clean it out properly after use, you can re-use the sprayer again and again.

Shaping up

CircularLawnOne of the easiest and cheapest ways to transform your garden is to cut the lawn into a clearly defined shape such as a square or a circle or even a heart. It’s important to plan it out first, so mark out the shape with string and use a spade to cut away the excess grass. It’s not a difficult job and shouldn’t take more than an afternoon. But if digging is a bit much… perhaps a teenage offspring could be persuaded to help for a small bribe?!

Stack the cut turf green side down and stack in an out-of-the-way corner. Leave it for a year and you’ll have beautiful stuff that makes great seed compost!

Divide and thrive

GeumsA really cost-effective way to fill flower beds with great colour is to buy perennials that can be divided. This works really well with any clump-forming perennials such as astrantia, geums (love them!) and hardy geraniums. Tip the plant out of its pot and carefully pull it apart into two or three bits, each with some stalks and root. Dig a hole and plant each bit in your flowerbed and water well. Next year when they’ve grown and established, simply do the same again…

See the light!

When I was a child, fairy lights were for Christmas and that was it! Now, you can buy an amazing array of colours and shapes to use outdoors. Fairy lights can be bought online all year around and they’re a quick, simple and cheap way to bring a pretty glow to your GardenLightsgarden. Drape them through tree or shrub branches or attach them to fences, they can be run from a plug inside the house, so you don’t need an electrician. Or, look out for solar powered lights for the easiest option possible.

Shop online and you can find all sorts of bargains… have fun!

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