This is a slightly strange one as it feels a bit like a travel blog more than anything else though I only travelled five or six miles from home, to Guernsey’s most south-westerly parish, for the 14th annual Torteval Scarecrow Festival.
For clarity I’ll add that, in many ways, Torteval is something of a home away from home for me being the parish where my grandparents have lived for more than half a century and where I spent a fair amount of my childhood exploring its lanes and fields.
For those who don’t know Torteval is generally regarded as Guernsey’s most country parish and, while that means it has some of the island’s best and most varied scenery from rolling green fields and hills, to dramatic cliffs, to a couple of the most picturesque beaches you’ll find anywhere, it also means it has come in for more than its share of ridicule over the years.
What the Scarecrow Festival seems to have done, fairly brilliantly, is take some of this and combine it into a celebratory and slightly surreal weekend that at its best moments marries an old-fashioned country show with a streak of dark satire that I’ve not seen anywhere else locally, along with a lot of good fun.
The event begins in the shadow of the parish’s church, a rather unique structure with a round spire that provides a real central landmark for the community (though it’s currently covered by scaffolding).
This field feels like it could be the central part of a small country show anywhere with a tea tent (and bar), book stall, bric-a-brac, vintage cars, of a sort, and of course a raffle (to be drawn at an indeterminate point later in the afternoon) all run by people from the area.
As I arrived, shortly after lunch, this area was packed with people soaking in the atmosphere and sun and meeting up with friends in a way that, despite the trappings of modernity, felt like it would have been the same whether it was 2017, 1957 or 1927.
Heading out into the lanes for the trail of scarecrows (or les babouains, to use the Guernsey French name) this feeling largely persists, in general if not maybe in the specific details of the entries.
The scarecrows themselves are all in competition for a range of prizes and, with 51 official entries this year, it’s fair to say competition is fairly stiff.
I’ll get to some of the more striking entries shortly but it’s clear right away that there is a real mix of subjects being tackled in varyingly elaborate ways with just a glance at the guide map suggesting this with names ranging from Teddy Bear’s Picnic to Jonah & The Whale to Trumplestilskin…
The trail itself is a relatively gentle stroll through the parish’s back lanes with only one particularly treacherous hill for which a diversion is well signposted and, while a little more circuitous, means you don’t miss any of the entries. The other bonus of this is that, with it closed to traffic it makes walking the lanes far more relaxing than normal and allows everyone to go at their own pace.
The scarecrows themselves are, of course, the main attraction and didn’t disappoint. For me the highlights came with the more political and darker edged entries which stared out by the church with Warning! Do Not Climb The Scaffolding laid out like something from an episode of CSI.
A strong theme this year was the current President of the USA with many and varied effigies of ‘The Donald’ dotted around the lanes with varying takes on his time in office so far.
English politics wasn’t far behind with a spooky looking Jeremy Corbin lurking in the trees at one point and, in my favourite entry, an interactive Theresa May running through the Fields of Wheat, complete with a specially recorded soundtrack that you can listen to by clicking here.
The most locally controversial and political entry went by the name of Emilie and was a rather pointed comment on one of the newer members of the States assembly who, it’s fair to say, has ruffled some feathers since the last election.
With more lighthearted entries including a Star Wars themed entry and what felt like a slightly outdated reference to the late 90s Budweiser frog commercials it’s safe to say the whole event is a mixed bag but the effort that goes in to the entries is hugely impressive.
This makes it something genuinely unique that combines a lot of traditional countryside type things with a modern, and in many cases almost post-modern, twist to make a perfect way to spend an afternoon either with a family or friends in what is an event that genuinely has something for everyone.