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North Norfolk tourist attraction Alby Crafts to celebrate its 40th year with a fairy-themed garden party

PUBLISHED: 12:06 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:18 12 June 2017

Alby Crafts and Gardens, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

Alby Crafts and Gardens, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this weekend. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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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.

David Alston, whose parents John and Valerie founded north Norfolk attraction Alby Crafts and Gardens 40 years ago. Photo: KAREN BETHELLDavid Alston, whose parents John and Valerie founded north Norfolk attraction Alby Crafts and Gardens 40 years ago. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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.

One of Alby Crafts' longest standing resident craftspeople, furniture maker Keverne Dewick. Photo: KAREN BETHELLOne of Alby Crafts' longest standing resident craftspeople, furniture maker Keverne Dewick. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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.

Sculpture and bee keeper Helen Dixon, who is one of Alby Crafts longest standing resident artists. Photo: KAREN BETHELLSculpture and bee keeper Helen Dixon, who is one of Alby Crafts longest standing resident artists. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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.

Alby Crafts and Gardens founder John Alston outside the popular north Norfolk attraction. Photo: KAREN BETHELLAlby Crafts and Gardens founder John Alston outside the popular north Norfolk attraction. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

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.

The dilapidated farm buildings photographed in the early 1970s, before they were transformed into a thriving craft centre. Photo: KAREN BETHELLThe dilapidated farm buildings photographed in the early 1970s, before they were transformed into a thriving craft centre. Photo: KAREN BETHELL

“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.

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