Britain is full of follies; curious, bizarre and often outrageous structures built by people with money and a passion, just because they could.

The fact that this country boasts so many of these useless creations is evidence of the inherently eccentric British disposition, which is only encouraged by wealth and age.

Bekonscot Model Village in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, is a perfect example of such a folly. In 1928, Roland Callingham, a London accountant, decided to build the largest outdoor model railway in England in his garden.

To complement the railway, Roland and his head gardener, Tom Berry, built some model houses and decorated the garden swimming pool with islands and a pier. Encouraged by friends and house staff, Roland continued to plan a rural landscape surrounding the pool and Bekonscot model village started to take shape.

The name Bekonscot' derives from Beaconsfield and Ascot. Roland's money ensured that every fantasy about his little utopian world could be turned into reality.

Before long, Bekonscot was better equipped than most fully-sized villages, boasting a cinema, two railway stations, a fire station, four pubs, two market squares and a bustling harbour.

Wandering round Bekonscot today, it is impossible not to admire Roland's child-like spirit. After all, what could be further removed from the solemn and dispassionate world of accountancy than the creation of an expensive construction of no possible use?

Following suggestions from friends and family, Roland opened Bekonscot to the public in 1929. The village was seen in newspapers, newsreels and magazines across the world, and thousands flocked to see the real-life Lilliput'.

With Bekonscot's growing popularity, the public opening hours were extended from occasional days to weekend openings. As visitor numbers increased, paths were widened and more buildings were added, including the impressive Epwood Castle.

The first royal visit was on April 20, 1934, the eve of Princess Elizabeth's eighth birthday. She returned several times in later years with Princess Margaret, Queen Mary and the King.

A series of personal letters and the royal household indicate that Bekonscot was always a favourite destination with the royal children.

The Second World War left Bekonscot, like the outside world, in a bad way. Maintenance had all but stopped, materials were hard to acquire and most staff were away fighting.

In 1948, an ambitious rebuilding programme rejuvenated many of the derelict buildings, maintaining the rural atmosphere. During the 1950s the village and its tiny population grew, as did its popularity and charity fundraising, under the auspices of Roland and his team, most of which now worked full-time at Bekonscot.

Roland Callingham died in 1961. For another 15 years, Tom Berry and his staff kept Roland's dream alive, but rather than standing still, time moved on at Bekonscot. More modern buildings, cars and trains appeared, reflecting the contemporary world outside. By 1966, concrete structures and diesel trains had taken over.

In 1992, riding on a wave of regained popularity and heritage, the decision was taken to return Bekonscot to its former glory: the heydays of the 1930s. Deteriorating models were rebuilt or replaced sympathetically, while others were backdated to their original 1930s styling. Where ugly concrete buildings had stood, quintessential English scenes of 1930s reappeared. The Bekonscot we see today captures in perfect miniature form the nave charm of a world now lost. It is the oldest surviving model village in the world and its popularity led to the construction of many similar villages across Europe. Roland would be very proud of his folly.

Highlights of Bekonscot The Model Railway - The UK's finest public outdoor Gauge 1' (45mm gauge, 1:32 scale) model railway has weaved it way around the Bekonscot landscape for more than 75 years. There are almost 10 scale miles (400 real metres) of fully-signalled main line and branch line serving seven stations. There are normally between seven and ten trains running at any one time. Interestingly, the scale for the people and the houses is 1:12 while the trains are just 1:32. Few people seem to notice that the trains are less than half the correct size for their surroundings!

The Gardens - There are now well over 3,000 shrubs and trees in scale with the models, many of these appear t be bonsai-style. They are however, not strictly bonsai', but trimmed and re-shaped standard garden plants. Some of the most-used varieties include Japanese maples, Japanese elms, miniature willows, cypress, ficus and lilacs. The ponds and waterways are stocked with dozens of koi carp, which look like monstrous whales compared to the tiny model boats!

The Shops - If you're a fan of puns, be sure take a walk down the High Street where you find Chris P. Lettis the greengrocer, Sam & Ella the butchers and Dan D. Lyon the florist!

Bekonscot Model Village, Warwick Road, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, HP9 2PL (junction 2 off the M40). Telephone 01494 672919.

Open 10am to 5pm everyday until 29 October, 2006. Admission: adults £5.90, children £3.80.