North Norfolk tourist attraction Alby Crafts to celebrate its 40th year with a fairy-themed garden party
- Credit: Archant
One of north Norfolk's oldest and best-loved tourist attractions is celebrating 40 years in the industry this weekend, with a fairy-themed garden party featuring cabaret performers, live music, children's entertainment and a picnic.
Alby Crafts and Gardens, at Erpingham, started life as an idea sewn in the minds of farmer John Alston and his wife Valerie, who, in the mid-1970s, converted a row of semi-derelict barns dating back to 1850 into a craft centre.
Mrs Alston ran the tearooms, gallery and gift shop and local artists and craftspeople selling their work from a series of rented units.
Under Mrs Alston's expert guidance, the couple then set to work on transforming the surrounding five acres of meadowland into spectacular gardens boasting four ponds, a wild area, a stream, an island and beds and borders containing rare shrubs and plants.
The centre went from strength to strength, attracting locals and holidaymakers alike, who were drawn to both the unique beauty of the site and the eclectic mix of arts and crafts on offer, which, over the years, have ranged from sculpture, glassware and textiles, to bespoke furniture and bee-keeping supplies.
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As well as running art and craft workshops, the centre has hosted events from craft fairs, to a mental health awareness day.
Mr Alston, who headed farming groups and organisations including the Aylsham Grain Co-operative, the Royal Norfolk Show and the Norfolk National Farmers Union, died in 2013 - but Mrs Alston has continued to oversee the gardens.
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The couple's son David, who now runs the craft centre with his three brothers, said the attraction was enjoying a new heyday and the family was keen to celebrate its four decades of success, as well as his parents' vision and dedication.
'In 1970, my mother and father were sat on the bank facing the old tumbledown barn and the un-mucked out bullock boxes with brambles growing out of every crevice and, after he gave her three months to come up with a plan, Alby Crafts was born,' he said.
'And now, although and the size of the trees in the gardens has changed, precious little else is different.'
The garden party runs at Alby Crafts on Saturday from midday until 6pm.