Thursday, 31 March 2011

Random Brown Sign of the Day - The Darlington Brick Train

brick_trainExactly what it says on the tin: a massive train made from bricks just on the outskirts of Darlington, or more precisely "situated next to Morrisons on Morton Park Industrial Estate" it's location is rather depressingly described on tourist information website.

Interesting when you learn a little more about it though so here's a little about what they have to say:

The sculpture was built in 1997, designed by David Mach, to celebrate the rich railway heritage of Darlington.  The adventurous can climb to the platform overlooking the train from above. The sculpture is signposted from surrounding roads (those'll be the brown tourist signs people!)

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Random Brown Sign of The Day - The World of Model Railways

Today's brown sign of the day is The World of Model Railways in Mevagissey, Cornwall. I knew I'd love it even before I'd had a butcher's at their website but all the pictures and descriptions of this little attractions only compounded my love for them even more. When answering the question "Why is your attraction important and why would Britain be worse of without you?" on the form on my website they said this:

"We are almost unique in Britain, one of very few model railways operating daily for the public, and the finest in terms of model detail and operational interest. 2011 sees us established 40 years and we are very well known in the model hobby, having set the standard for others to aim for and been an inspiration to many people" Ahhhh, how can you not love that? And here's what they say on their website...

The World of Model Railways is one of Cornwall's premier tourist attractions, with one of the best model shops in the South-West of England.

Our OO gauge Main Layout has over 30 trains travelling through varied landscapes including town, country, seaside and even an Alpine Winter.
The 'Junior Junction' childrens' railway features Hornby Thomas The Tank engine characters and a model circus.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Random Brown Sign of the Day - The Kingcombe Centre

I'm getting so many unique and amazing attractions signing up to The Brown Sign Way through the "I'm a brown-signed attraction, get me involved!" page on my website that I think it's time they were shared, so in their honour I'll pick one randomly every day and feature it in my new daily post called "Random Brown Sign of the Day". It won't be a normal blog about me doing a brown sign visit, it'll be more about how surprising and interesting these places are when you start finding out just a little bit about them, and hopefully inspire you (even more than you are already!) to get out there and follow brown signs just for fun and to discover all these cool places all for yourself.

My very first Random Brown Sign of the Day is The Kingcombe Centre in Dorset, and in their own words here's a little bit about them...

Kingcombe meadowsNestling at the heart of the peaceful hamlet of Lower Kingcombe in West Dorset, our educational charity offers an engaging array of natural history, archaeology, craft and art courses throughout the year.
Surrounded by 185 hectares (457 acres) of Dorset Wildlife Trust's Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve, the centre offers tranquillity in a landscape miraculously untouched by modern agricultural practices.

Delving into our exciting programme you will discover something for all ages and abilities from day to week-long activity holidays. We are renowned for our friendly hospitality, scrumptious food, environmental guest accommodation and as a flagship for sustainability.
Whether you join us on holiday, gain inspiration from a walk in the nature reserve, explore the Visitor's Centre or take refreshment at the Kingcombe Café, you are always guaranteed a warm welcome.
The Kingcombe Centre Café is now open every weekend and most days from 1 October – Easter (11.30-3.30) and Easter – 30 September (11.30 – 5.00). The Café will be closed for a short time over Christmas and the New Year.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Day 2 of Matt and Amanda go brown-signing: Visit to a repile zoo at the deceptively named Beaver Water World

Matt and I decided that another brown sign trip was in order after the mildly disappointing day we'd spent wasting petrol driving around South West London/Surrey, being turned away from Hampton Court Palace and getting stuck in traffic jams that made us go a bit mental. As an ode to our "Henry VIII says no" day we took this picture of us eating our packed lunch in the car, kindly bought by Matt from the petrol station consisting of Ribena, donuts, Revels and Wine Gums (both big bags) which we ate all in one go and regretted straight away.

In order to choose the destination of the day Matt went onto Google maps and located a random spot. I asked him to try and randomly select somewhere in the south east because 1) I have no money to buy more than £10 of petrol 2) I was working at 5 and 3) My car is very likely to explode on the motorway, so his initial selection of High Wycombe in Oxfordshire was vetoed. After re-selection he told me we were going to Pilgrims Way near Biggin Hill and which we'd navigate to via The Brown Sign Way. Much to my joy I noticed a "Beaver Water World" in Tatsfield marked on the map, which I hoped beyond all hope had a brown sign because I don't think I've ever seen a beaver before and I'm a big fan of doing new things (even if that does just mean looking at a beaver).

Thursday, 17 March 2011

My very random phone conversation with a chap at the London Development Agency just now...

Me: *Sounding very serious and worky* I would like to hire an intern/work experience person to help with a project I'm currently undertaking and wondered if you might be able to assist me?
Man: OK, I'll just get some details, can you describe the project for me?
Me: Yes of course... *blah blah usual stuff about brown signs etc*
Man: Can I just stop you there, do you have a twin?
Me: Err yes I do, do you know her?
Man: Well not really, but I did meet both of you outside the Draft House pub near Tower Bridge once.
Me: Oh my God I remember you! Was I banging on about brown signs?!
Man: Yes you were. The conversation was definitely unique, I'll give you that.
Me: Cripes. Was I hammered?
Man: Errr yes.
Me: And probably not very professional?
Man: *Laughs* No. Not at all!
Me: Belter. I really know how to impress don't I?
Man: *Can't get his words out for laughing* Oh yes, you really do!
Me: Magnificent

Monday, 14 March 2011

King Henry VIII's computer says "NO"

Luckily for me my best friend Beaker's brother Matt, who works abroad, has been back in the country for the last week. This is great for me because it means I get some variety in the person sitting next to me on my brown signing trips. People who don't have proper 9-5 jobs or children suit my needs brilliantly. Score. Matt's known me for a long time and was therefore totally unphased by my suggestion that we should get in the car and drive in a random direction to discover some brown signed attractions when he called to arrange a catch up.

I was lucky enough to be a book giver on World Book Night and had arranged for my 58 copies of A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry to go to a lady who runs book groups in prisons. She is a professor of Creative Writing at Roehampton University and (as it turned out) is an exceptional lady. So Matt and I thought we'd use the opportunity when dropping the books off to get discovering the brown signs around the west London/Surrey area. After a nice long chat in the university coffee shop (feeling a bit old and a lot out of place) with Professor Jenny talking about her book groups and what I was doing with my project we were raring to get brown signing.

We found (as I've noted before on the blog) a frustrating lack of brown signs in Surrey. I was bemoaning this fact when Matt grabbed the camera because he'd seen this sign. Knowing we were unlikely to happen upon racing at Sandown Park (and being wholly inappropriately attired) we hung a right towards the unique brown sign symbol telling us we were heading for Hampton Court Palace. I was a bit dubious about the prospect of a visit here though. The bigger the attraction and the more people there are to talk to about my project when I arrive the harder it is to get in for free or even talk to anyone who really knows and cares about the place, but we thought we'd try, so we drove into the expensive car park anyway and entered the massive hi-tech ticket hall. I began my explanation of what I was doing, said I was singing the praises of brown signed tourist attractions, highlighting the joy of spontaneously turning off the road when you see one and showing how brilliant going brown signing is as a way of discovering Britain. I added that I was doing it out of sheer love and not making any money from my pursuits so could we possibly get in for free/reduced entry.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

An actual Living Rainforest in the middle of the Berkshire countryside?! Strange, but believe it people, it's true...

This weekend I went away with my uni gang to the Cotswolds. My friend Kat (far left) moves to Singapore for an indefinite period soon and we all needed a weekend away slopping around in our pyjamas 'til noon, pootling in picturesque villages buying things we didn't really need, breaking casserole dishes we found in the cottage and eating massive pies in country pubs (accompanied by lots of wine) to make us all feel like we'd spent some quality time together before she left.

Now that the Brown Sign Way has truly overtaken my life most of our trips out were dominated by frequent shouts which resulted in screeching halts when anyone saw a brown sign. One such time was when we saw this one pointing to a 17th Century Quaker Meeting house in Nailsworth. It excited me. I was sure it would be a cool crooked little house with information about it presented in a plastic sheet on an A4 piece of paper typed in around 1989 on a typewriter and pinned to the wall with drawing pins (the very best kind of information) so on my insistence we headed up the hill and followed the brown sign. Sadly Lisa's mini with all of us in it was no match for the hill it was on, so I only got a glimpse of the house as we powered on past in 1st gear. The hill was so ridiculously steep that when we finally found ourselves up a dead end with only one way to go (down), the anxiety, sweat and tears exuding from the car was undeniable and there was no asking if I could get out and pay the meeting house a little visit. Instead I sat quietly while we slid slowly backwards with my friends bellowing "left!" "right!" "no left, left!" trying hard to avert nasty ploughage-into-dry-stone-wallage. Well here's another fine mess you've gotten us into brown signs...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Mission: Explore via The Brown Sign Way. Geography is COOL man...

I was very excited to be tweeted at the other day by a cool bunch of geographers (they exist, I promise you) called The Geography Collective who launched a great website last year called Mission: Explore. They have an affiliated iPhone app and now 2 books that are packed full of missions for kids to do. They aim to get children noticing the world around them and engaging with their surroundings by completing lots of fun and diverse exercises. They're designed to get kids actually doing and thinking for themselves, and (thank God) encourages them to move away from their computer and TV screens and playing in the outside world. There are hundreds to do and the variety is huge so every mission makes you think in new and interesting ways. Some missions are location specific so if you are using the iPhone app it recognises your location and lists missions near you (oh iPhone I say I don't want you, but I really do) and many can be completed anywhere.

Here's an example of one of my favourites:

Design a game

Design a game that can only be played in this place.
Mission image


Think carefully about the objects, patterns and other things you can use to help you make up your game.
Mission number: ME1154


Try to design a game that doesn't involve a lot of shouty stuff or throwing spiky objects.

Cool huh? Clearly I am a big fan of getting kids noticing and doing and engaging so when cool geographer Dan from The Geography Collective tweeted that my brown signs idea would make a good mission for Mission: Explore I jumped at the chance to write one for them, and they liked it!

It has just been added to the site and is here if you would like to have a look... Go Brown Sign Collecting! and even better accept the mission and do it yourself or with your kids, and be sure to tell me how you're getting on!