When it comes to brilliant days out, Annie Caulfield finds that the biggest attractions can come in the smallest packages.
I thought it would be just me and some model railway enthusiasts. No, that doesn’t sound like the start to a promising afternoon out, does it? But Bekonscot Model Village was exuberant with under-sevens, darting from detail to detail and whooping, “Granny, look at the little…”
They could be pointing at the little zoo full of miniscule animals, the fishing port, the farm, the racecourse, the nun-filled nunnery or the little thatched cottage on permanent fire, with a tiny fire engine in attendance. It could be the Grand Hotel, the football match, the school or the airfield.
Outside a tiny church, choir music came wafting through dainty stained glass windows. The signboard detailed the rector as Canon Ball. One of the pleasures of Bekonscot is the bad puns on shop signs and business titles. My favourite: the painter and decorator Juan Coat.
“Then there were sentimental adults like me, charmed to see… What? Something made with so much care in a careless world? Or maybe it’s the puns. Oh come on, they have a baker called Ivan Huven.”
I’d been here as a child and expected to find the attraction neglected and sneered at by kids dragged to visit, but Bekonscot’s one-and-a-half acres of very small life were thriving and shiny with good care.
The Buckinghamshire attraction was opened to the public in 1929, leading to an English model village craze that only petered out in the 1950s. Around the world, however, new model villages spring up all the time. From Canada to Istanbul, it seems there’s always someone who wants to preserve an ideal world in miniature.
Bekonscot’s beginnings were not exactly harmonious. In 1928, Mrs Roland Callingham told her accountant husband that his extensive model railway had to leave the house, or she would. He moved it to the garden and started to build a village around it. Today, the count of buildings has reached over 300, with 3000 tiny inhabitants and hundreds of finely detailed small animals. There are over 10 miles of railway track with three circuits of model trains running on continuous loop.
There is a light railway to ride around the village and remote controlled speedboats to play with. A small workshop allows visitors to observe repairs and new creations in progress.
In a bright-coloured playground alongside a café and picnic area, young parents expressed amazement that their children could enjoy something so simple. Grandparents looked more knowing, experience having taught them that whatever happens in the world of electronic games and blockbuster movies, small children still just love small things.
Then there were sentimental adults like me, charmed to see… What? Something made with so much care in a careless world? Or maybe it’s the puns. Oh come on, they have a baker called Ivan Huven – you have to go.
Open from February to November, Bekonscot is a five-minute walk from Beaconsfield station (which itself is just a 25-minute journey from London Marylebone). More details and prices for admission and kids’ parties at www.bekonscot.co.uk
All profits go to charities including NSPCC and RNLI.