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Villagers braced for seasonal siege

The popularity of a geography teaching pack has spelt misery for the residents of a sleepy Surrey hamlet. Nicolas Barnard reports

SPRING is here. The birds are singing. The blossom is out. The coaches are arriving...

The pretty Surrey village of Godstone is bracing itself for the return of the coachloads that now descend on its green, full of children with clipboards seeking the landmarks and features they've been learning about in class.

Godstone is into the third year of this invasion, prompted by Wildgoose's award-winning Discover Godstone geography teaching pack. After lessons spent looking at photos, studying maps and comparing the village with their own communities, many pupils from across the South-east are given a summer treat with a trip to see the real thing.

But the parish is groaning under the strain of its unsolicited popularity, with visiting pupil numbers sometimes running into the hundreds. "We thought the numbers would fall following the relaxation of the national curriculum," says parish clerk Pat Rodgers. "But there are as many as ever."

Most have poured out of inner London or the Medway towns, but last year two coaches travelled from Devon for the day.

Elderly residents stay indoors - those in the almshouses that feature on the Godstone trail have endured youngsters peering through their windows. The graveyard - where children irreverently play hopscotch - is regularly checked to see the visitors haven't loosened any gravestones.

Worse, vandalism has forced villagers to lock the charming 19th-century chapel, except for services.

Thanks to publicity in The TES and a leaflet now included sheepishly by the publisher, most parties at least call in advance. The message from the parish council is that children are welcome, but please ring first.

And forget June. It's booked.

"The scout huts are already taken for most days, and if they're booked there's nowhere to go if it rains," says Mrs Rodgers. "We can't stop people coming, but we're just saying you won't have a very good day with so many children in the village.

"Everybody wants to come at the end of June and the start of July. We really can't spread 250 children around. I have to think of the residents who live here seven days a week."

Godstone Parish Council can be contacted on 01883 743182

* Godstone is not the only victim of the geography primary curriculum. But at least it really exists - unlike the isle of Struay.

The Scottish Tourist Board fielded floods of enquiries after the fictional home of children's character Katie Morag was named in a scheme of work by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

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