Here’s the first of what may become an occasional (or very occasional) series of suggestions for days out.
It’s my opportunity to recommend places that you might not otherwise hear about, or think of to visit.
My rough criteria will be that it has to be doable as a day trip, and have admission charges that won’t break the bank – though I may stretch those criteria in special circumstances.
I’ll start with the Pendon Museum (OX14 4QD), located in Long Wittenham near Didcot, Oxfordshire.
A model railway exhibition?
At first glance at the website you might think “oh yes, a model railway exhibition”, but that would be grossly underselling it. Yes, there are model railway layouts – but that is not the purpose of the museum.
The exhibits depict the rural landscapes of the 1920s and 1930s of which the railway forms a part.
The museum was founded 60 years ago by an Australian named Roye England. He saw how the area of the Vale of the White Horse (which runs roughly from the Didcot/Abingdon area westwards towards Swindon) was being permanently changed by modernisation.
Thatched roofs were being replaced with slate; stone roads were being relaid with tarmac; old buildings were being demolished to make way for new ones.
Building a scale model of a typical village
Roye decided that he would preserve the memory of how thing were by building a scale model of a typical village. The idea of Pendon was born.
Sixty years on, and the idea is nearing completion – quite possibly far beyond Roye’s original vision.
There are two large layouts (and a few smaller ones): one depicts a Dartmoor scene, the other the Vale of the White Horse. Every model is based on a real building from the area, and is the result of painstakingly careful measurement and observation.
The models – and their setting – are incredibly detailed and realistic (binoculars are on hand so your can get a closeup view). When surveying one barn, a large spider’s web was noticed in the corner of the doorway. That web made it to the finished model.
Pioneer of modelling techniques
These aren’t models that are put together during an evening while watching TV. They take weeks, if not months, to complete. Many modelling techniques that are now used throughout the world were pioneered on these models.
The models are set in a large tableau that accurately represents the local landscape. Gently rolling hills, realistic variations in vegetation colour, roads, railways and a disused canal.
A guide told me that it took half a day to set the sheep in a pasture, until a sheep farmer was satisfied that they were arranged in a way that sheep would naturally position themselves.
A glimpse into the past
Pendon Museum provides a glimpse into the past that photographs cannot provide. Here the images are in colour and three dimensional.
You can almost imagine yourself to be an inch high and wandering through the scene. You can marvel at the skills of the model maker. And yes, there are some model railways.
Address: Pendon Museum, Long Wittenham, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 4QD
Distance (approx.): 60 miles; 1 hour
Opening Times: Most weekends and bank holidays; some Wednesdays during the summer and school holidays. Opens at 11:00. Last admission 16:15 (summer), 15:15 (winter)
Admission Price: adults £7; OAPs £6; Children (7 – 16) £5; Under 7s free. Family ticket (two adults, three children) £23
Visit Time: two hours
Website: Pendon Museum
Disclaimer: these details are (probably) correct at time of writing. Please check website before visiting for variations in opening times and for information on facilities provided.