Proper British - baked beans and mad museums
I can't quite remember how I found it when browsing online (yes yes, that old chestnut), but I recently came across something so joyous that it almost moved me to tears. There is a baked bean museum in Britain. Run by a gentleman called Captain Beany (his official, changed-by-deed-poll name), in his home in Port Talbot, and with the full official title of the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence.
'This must be among...the most wackiest museum I've ever BEAN invited to launch!' said writer Danny Wallace as he opened the museum in 2009, which I read before I got the cold sweats about how much time I waste online, and so went onto Facebook instead.
But it got me thinking. It seems a very British thing, this type of museum, and there must be more around the country. So I logged off Facebook and did a bit of research looking for the most quirky museums around the land. (I don't quite know why, I must have been on a deadline for something else.)
It turns out there are about 500 museums in Britain just dedicated to one thing, like lawnmowers or baked beans (do baked beans count as one thing?), and loads more that can most kindly be described as quite weird. Here are five of them, complete with places to stay nearby. Because of course you'll want to go to these museums once you know about them.
Museum of Witchcraft, Cornwall: This museum has been in Boscastle for fifty years and is one of Cornwall's most popular, something I can't be judgey about as I really really want to go to it. It has the world's biggest collection of witchcraft related artefacts and regalia (hats? cats?), as well as a library of over 3000 books relating to witchcraft or the occult. You can take a virtual tour of the museum at their site, just to keep you going til you get there for proper.
Stay: Budemeadows Touring Park at Bude is less than ten miles away from the museum, and a mile away from the surf at Widemouth Bay. The park has an adventure play area for the kids, a pool, bar, TV and games room and a licensed shop, and is open all year round.
Pencil Museum, Cumbria: Not everyone is into stationery, but they've just never been somewhere like this. The pencil museum has exhibits including a James Bond type pencil from World War II, the world's longest colour pencil, displays on the history of pencil making, and an art studio for children. There's also a full programme of workshops and family fun days, so really no excuse not to visit – you can even buy a season ticket with unlimited entry for a year, for maximum stationery geekiness.
Stay: The pencil museum is at Keswick, where we have Borrowdale Youth Hostel, a four star hostel at the head of the Borrowdale Valley and open all year round. In Cumbria and the Lake District as a whole, there are camping pods at Pound Farm Park and Hillcroft among others, with pitches for tents, tourers and motorhomes at Flookburgh's Lakeland Leisure Park.
Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum, Northumberland: This nifty little museum is based in the medieval chantry buildings at Morpeth, and has a collection of bagpipes and small pipes including the collection of bagpipes amassed by amateur pipe maker and performer William Alfred Cocks. You can borrow a set of infra-red headphones at the museum, so you can hear an individual soundtrack for each bagpipe you approach. And clicking on the museum's website brings the loud sound of bagpipes, which is great fun if you're doing your blog research in the local library.
Stay: Book a hardstanding pitch at the Morpeth pub campsite The Railway Inn on the edge of Acklington village, or make a Northumberland week of it with a camping pod stay at Riverside Country Park in Wooler, with indoor pool, jacuzzi and fishing on site.
Dog Collar Museum, Kent: This museum has a collection of over 100 dog collars, with many of them so ornate that you might have to reconsider your costume jewellery. It's at Leeds Castle, where there's loads going on throughout the year – Shakespeare performances, an exhibition about life below stairs in the 1930s, jousting tournaments, medieval knight days, open air cinema and open air classical concert all coming up this summer.
Stay: Neals Place Farm at Canterbury has pitches for tents, tourers and motorhomes on a working farm with apple orchard, about twenty minutes' walk from Canterbury city centre. Elsewhere in Kent, families and/or fans of oysters can book a pitch at the action-packed Seaview Holiday Park with both Whitstable and Herne Bay a stroll away.
Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker: This is my absolute favourite of the lot, mainly because of the prominent sign nearby declaring SECRET BUNKER to all and sundry. The bunker's location isn't secret now, natch, but was during the Cold War when it was built in case of a nuclear war. It's now a museum covering forty rooms of artefacts, maps and instruments, including a BBC studio where Britons after a nuclear attack would have heard the closeted words of their esteemed leader. If they'd still been alive to hear them, that is. Still, we're all in it together.
Stay: Alack, it's no longer possible to bunk down in the bunker, but from our sites in Essex there's Lee Wick Farm Cottages and Camping at St Osyth, beside the Colne Point Nature Reserve and with passes provided for guests. The Mega Pod sleeps up to four and has its own loo, sink and shower.
Plenty of quirky British museums to keep you going then. And if you do want to check out Captain Beany's Baked Bean Museum of Excellence, we have sites near Port Talbot too.