Fancy a day at the gnome reserve?
Offbeat tourist attractions are booming and family days out have never been more bizarre
Sunday 16 April 2006
But now there are rather stranger attractions to choose from: an island of more than 3,000 teapots, the world's longest pencil, a toilet believed to have been used by a young Sir Paul McCartney, a medieval monastery still inhabited by monks, a garden filled with more than 1,000 gnomes, museums dedicated to Bakelite, barometers and bagpipes, and a Cold War warning centre complete with original radar equipment.
Britain has never been so weird. Attractions showing our stranger side are booming. Sian Brenchley of the tourism group Visit Britain said: "We're noticing a rise in unusual attractions for tourists, and there are now more than ever. This is partly due to attractions capitalising on British eccentricity but also because there is more awareness of some of Britain's best kept quirky secrets."
One of these hidden treasures is a nuclear bunker at Kelvedon Hatch in Essex. Buried beneath a 1950s bungalow is a 100ft-deep bunker intended to house government leaders in the event of a nuclear strike. Other sites offer the conventional with a twist. Visitors to 18 Folgate Street, the 1724 East London house of artist Dennis Severs, must remain silent as they are exposed to the smells and sounds of the past. There is no explanatory material in the house.
Curator David Milne says: "Recently we've had queues of people in the street. People come from all over Britain and the world because they are looking for a completely different experience."
There is now even a book recommending the best eccentric attractions, fittingly named Bollocks to Alton Towers. Having sold widely since its release last April, it remains a best-seller. It suggests a trip to the British Lawnmower Museum, a World of Mechanical Music, the House of Marbles and many other venues of weirdness.
Even the wackiest charms of Britain, however, fail to compare to some oddities that have sprung up on the other side of the Atlantic.
Latest discoveries include a giant shell-shaped petrol station in North Carolina, the world's largest praying hands in Oklahoma, an oversized sundial in the shape of a woman's leg, Texas's Cathedral of Junk, gingerbread castles, a church that seats only eight, graves with windows, and the planet's largest ball of paint.
Cumberland Pencil Museum, Cumbria Filled with pencils at each stage of the making process plus the world's longest pencil.
British Lawnmower Museum, Southport Some 200 vintage mowers plus cast-offs of the famous - Alan Titchmarsh and Prince Charles among them.
Secret Nuclear Bunker, Kelvedon Hatch, Essex Shelter built to protect 600 military and civilian personnel, under a 1950s cottage.
Sir Paul McCartney's WC at 20 Forthlin Rd, Liverpool Visit the smallest room in Macca's childhood home (where "Love Me Do" was written) - it's in the garden.
... AND WEIRDER
Pluscarden Abbey, Morayshire, Scotland Alexander II of Scotland founded this place in 1230 - it's still inhabited by monks.
The Gnome Reserve and Wild Flower Garden, North Devon Some 1,000 gnomes and pixies nestling in four acres of meadows, plus a museum of antique gnomes.
Ghosts at Muncaster Castle, Cumbria One of Britain's most haunted castles with strange sounds of children crying and a woman singing. The Beckham Trail, London Tour of the footballer's roots. Includes childhood house, Walthamstow Stadium and the park where he practised his ball skills.
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