First, please don’t be scared off by the very sinister gnome in the opening picture. Most of the gnomes here are rather more jolly. Now, this post is a total blast from the past. I visited the Gnome Reserve about three and a half years ago, and haven’t managed to return since, so I can only hope it is still as amazing as it was when I was there. If not, I’m sorry! But I had all the pictures sitting around, so I thought it was high time to inject a bit of humour and whimsy into the greyness of winter. (Although the Reserve is only open from late March- October, so you’ll have to wait til then to visit!)
The Gnome Reserve is tucked away into one of the prettiest corners of England I’ve yet had the privilege of visiting, in North Devon, quite near to Bude. I mean, really, they could illustrate “idyllic” with a picture of these gently rolling hills. Judging by the local attractions, which include a sheep-themed amusement park and a cryptozoological library, there’s a lot of eccentrics in these parts (my kind of place!), but Ann, owner of the Gnome Reserve, probably takes the idiosyncratic biscuit.
She’s pretty much made the Reserve her life’s work, in addition to producing gnome and pixie themed art, which is for sale in the gift shop. Sometimes it can be hard to tell how much of the experience is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of the fun! Admission is only £3.75, which is frankly a bargain relative to how much you will enjoy this place if you visit with an open mind and a willingness to laugh at yourself. Visitors are required to wear a gnome hat from Ann’s extensive collection, so as to not “embarrass the gnomes,” but they look surprisingly fetching, as I can clearly attest to.
Once properly attired, you are free to enter the woods where the gnomes dwell, and let me tell you, Ann has collected some real gems of garden gnomes from all over the world; the oldest ones are 19th century gnomes made in Germany. Yes, you are just wandering around a forest looking at lawn ornaments, but these are gnomes as you’ve never seen them before! I’ve included some of the highlights below.
There are also some larger gnome tableaux (and I do love a good tableaux, not least because it’s a fun word to say), from the standard gnome picnics to a helicopter and a gnome rocket, operated by GNASA, obviously. And some random Teletubbies, though I don’t think they count as gnomes.
In addition to simply admiring the gnomes, and having your photos taken with them, there are a few activities scattered throughout the woods like fishing for lucky numbers on the bottoms of rocks, and a thinking stump, where I guess you’re supposed to think about becoming a tree. My boyfriend claimed he later played his “lucky numbers” in the lottery, and won 5 quid, so perhaps there’s some real gnome magic at work.
Once you’ve finished with the gnomes, there is still a pixie garden to explore. Unfortunately for me and my raging lepidopterophobia, it was also a butterfly garden, so I spent most of the time fleeing in terror whenever one of the winged hell-spawn fluttered near me, and hiding amongst the trees. However, if you are a normal person who does not fear butterflies, there’s a scavenger hunt to complete in this section where you must find the hidden pixies, which seemed quite challenging. Even if you didn’t spend most of the time running away.
(I am totally hiding from the butterflies in that picture.)
Fortunately, there was a convenient shed to hide in along the path (it looks like I’m walking out of an outhouse in the below picture, but I can assure you it was a shed! However, the bathroom there did also share the gnome theme, and had a gnome’s (g)nose serving as a toilet paper holder, whilst the gnome himself stared at me in a most unnerving manner), where visitors were encouraged to sign the walls. There were already lots of winning comments, but my particular favourite had to be, “I’m 42 years old and live with my parents, and I love gnomes.” (I was going to stick an exclamation point at the end, but it’s more disturbing as a flat statement, which I think is how it was written).
After leaving the garden, we had a cream tea on the lawn in front of the gnome cottage, which had a stunning view of the surrounding countryside, as I couldn’t bear to part with my gnome hat just yet! Really, the only way you are not going to enjoy this place is if you are a humourless turd or are afraid of gnomes (the latter problem I can understand, as some of the specimens here were fairly creepy; see the first gnome of the post); everyone else will have a blast! 5/5; a practically perfect afternoon. And for a summary of some other weird places I love around England, please see my guest post over at Smitten by Britain!