I should have known something odd was coming up when, meandering south out of Oundle in Northamptonshire, we got to the village of Stoke Doyle. Almost the only things in Stoke Doyle are a pub and a sign announcing that Stoke Doyle is twinned with Barcelona. We then hit the village of Aldwincle, where a man stepped into the road and ushered us into a car park that had been created in a field. When we were neatly slotted into a row of 30 cars, I asked why he had done this, and he explained that Aldwincle's annual Scarecrow Trail was in full swing and that he'd assumed we'd come to see it.
Aldwincle is a Saxon name meaning "little corner". The village hall is full of photographs of a Lord Lilford opening the hall in 1907. There are also many photographs from a village pageant held in 1909, most showing the villagers dressed in periwigs, ruffs and frock coats, and bowing to each other elaborately. Many momentous events were re-enacted at that pageant, such as scenes from the life of Henry de Aldwyncle, and the granting of market rights by King John to Thrapston. I assumed that the Scarecrow Trail was also of medieval origin, but, in fact, it dates all the way back to 2000.
Every house in the village takes part. Scarecrows are created in the image of figures from British culture and displayed in the front gardens of the houses, on top of walls, in haystacks, trees and so on, producing an overall effect of Stars In Their Eyes meets The Wicker Man. Among the scarecrows I saw in the first five minutes, for example, were representations of St George, Charlie Dimmock, people with bubonic plague, David Bowie, Boudicca plus chariot and two full-sized horses ("I'll bet the people who did that used to live in London," said my wife. "It's very competitive"), Fanny Craddock, Mary Queen of Scots being executed, Michael Foale ("the first British astronaut"), Robin Hood, Mr Bean, and Sir Francis Drake shown playing bowls, with the Spanish Armada, represented by three plastic bathtub boats, approaching across the grass.
After the first five minutes, I lost my wife and children - they had nipped off to move the car, which meant that when I tried to rendezvous at the car, I could not. So I wandered around in a growing panic, with the straw figures seemingly mocking me: a triumphant Alan Titchmarsh set up on a garden bench with champagne glass in hand, two further Charlie Dimmocks, a gang of punk rockers, Winston Churchill drinking gin under a parasol, another Winston Churchill by the roadside, this one with a tape recorder from which boomed the words "We are entering a new dark age", John Bull, Phil and Dan Archer, W G Grace playing a forward defensive, and Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Potter everywhere I turned.