First of all, apologies for the terrible play on words in the title, but this is about a trip to a marble museum so it had to be done (whether or not we actually had a marvelous time).
The little lady has a current obsession with collecting marbles. Along with wearing tacky clip on earrings and playing Toca games on the iPad. I’m hoping she’ll grow out of the earring phase soon and I keep hiding the iPad. But the marble obsession can stay. I’m just happy that they seem to have taken the place of her previous obsession with collecting Shopkins (strange little things).
We, AKA Father Christmas, bought her a marble run for Christmas, which is brilliant, but it only came with pretty boring standard marbles. Then her Nana bought her some crazy coloured House of Marbles ones. I’d heard a bit about the House of Marbles, a visitor attraction in Bovey Tracey, where they make their own marbles and glassware. If anything was going to satisfy her addiction this was it, so one rainy Sunday a couple of weeks ago we thought we’d pay it a visit.
On the journey there (about a half hour drive for us) I didn’t tell E where we were going because a) I’m a mean mummy who enjoys winding my child up, by saying ‘wait and see’ over and over (I did this all the way to Disneyland last year) and b) I actually thought the surprise of visiting a marble factory would blow her tiny five-year-old mind and confirm my status as The Best Mummy Ever.
The House of Marbles is a working factory and museum dedicated to marbles and the craft of glassmaking. They also make traditional games and toys and their products are sold worldwide. The building itself is based on a historic pottery site, so there’s a focus on local pottery as well. It’s all undercover so ideal for a rainy day. Entry and parking is free. I guess this is possible because most of the revenue comes from a very large shop, which is at the centre of the building and sells a huge range of gifts, toys, puzzles and books. Like most tourist attractions, the gift shop is impossible to avoid, you have to walk through it to get to the other bits of the museum.
As predicted, E’s eyes lit up when she spotted a huge display of marbles available to buy in every colour and size imaginable. Then she saw a massive wooden crate filled with clear glass decorative marbles that can be bought by the bagful. I was slightly worried that she was eyeing this up as some sort of indulgent-yet-ultimately-painful ball-pool, so ‘mean mummy’ appeared again and dragged her away to look around the museum first.
First up was a room dedicated to the history of marbles. There are display cabinets filled with many different types – from ancient Greek stone marbles through to modern day glass ones.
This room also houses three amazing and intricate metal marble runs, which are brilliant to watch. We spent a fair amount of time just staring gormlessly as the little balls whizzed their way around cleverly designed metal contraptions, safely tucked behind a glass display cabinet.
The boy especially was mesmerised as he sat watching from the buggy. I started pondering whether Jim could knock one up at home as it would come in handy while I’m trying to get tea ready.
The next room housed the world’s largest marble manufacturing machine which had been shipped over from the US, as well as all kinds of interesting antiques and artifacts such as a display case filled with rows of very
creepy lifelike Army issue glass eyes.
From here you can enter the Teign Valley Glass shop and workshop, to watch glassmakers craft various glass objects using traditional glassblowing methods. There’s a balcony overlooking the workshop so children can get a good view. It was fascinating to watch and E really enjoyed this bit, especially seeing the glassmakers colour the molten glass and mold it into different shapes. The shop sells beautiful handmade vases, ornaments and sculptures made in the workshop – I could be seriously tempted by these amazing ‘beach’ vases if I lived in an equally beautiful minimalist house with no children.
At the other end of the main gift shop is a staircase leading to a balcony overlooking the largest marble run in the UK, and possibly the world, bizarrely named ‘Snooki’ (I assume no connection to the annoying Jersey Shore person). The huge marbles, which are actually pool balls, clunk and rattle their way around a massive metal run which spans three walls. It looks like something you’d expect to find in a mad scientist’s laboratory. As you can see from the video below, there’s something bit hypnotic about just standing and watching it.
All that staring at marble runs had made us a bit thirsty we decided to find the cafe before we headed home. Not before going back in the shop, though, as E had £5 to spend on marbles. This was more than enough, as the machine-made ones range from 10p upwards. There are also some beautiful, more expensive handmade ones. She ended up with about 15 machine-made marbles, a couple that were handmade, plus a bag and a little book about marble games, all for a fiver, so she was a very happy girl.
The ‘Old Pottery’ restaurant has a lovely old-fashioned tearoom atmosphere and serves breakfast, lunch, traditional afternoon tea and homemade cakes. We’re usually coffee drinkers when we’re out, but by then it was quite late in the day and we both just fancied a proper cup of tea. Which was served in a proper teapot (always a good sign). The restaurant overlooks a courtyard garden with outdoor games and a nice play area for children. It looked great but sadly the weather was so awful that day we had to give it a miss.
We will definitely come back, as E has already said she wants to save her pocket money and add to her marble collection. It’s not far for us and no doubt the sort of place we would call into for an hour or two if we’re passing that way.
If you live in Devon and haven’t been before, or you’re visiting the Westcountry on holiday I really recommend squeezing in a trip. You don’t need to have marble-mad kids to enjoy the quirky museum and marble runs. The fact that it’s all under one roof, with free entry and parking, makes it an ideal place to spend a few hours even on a rainy day.
It really is quite marbelous (sorry again).