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Wandering among Victorian “Butter-Fat” houses and kinetic sculpture races

It was one of those biting cold days, with a chilly wind coming off the Pacific Ocean, when it feels more like New York in winter than spring in California! On the bright side it was not raining, but it was threatening to do so.

Our destination for day was the village of Ferndale, known for its well-preserved Victorian buildings, which are also known as “Butterfat Palaces”, due to their construction during the 1880’s when considerable wealth was generated in the dairy industry. Ferndale is a popular film location and is featured in movies like “The Majestic” with Jim Carrey, “Outbreak” starring Dustin Hoffman and “Salem’s Lot” starring David Soul and James Mason.

After parking up we took a gentle stroll down the high street to look at some of the buildings with their ornate ginger-breading. Some of the buildings are overly decorated resulting in an unintended gaudiness.

As you might expect Ferndale is on the tourist trail so many of the shops are targeted at the unsuspecting visitors. This lack of authenticity creates an air of Disneyland  not small town America. We did find a small café, and after the mornings exertion we felt we had earned the right to strong coffee and some delicious blackberry pie.

Of course we were not here just to eat and drink, so we found our way into several of the arts and craft stores on the main street. Attached to one of these stores was a museum which is dedicated to the Kinetic Grand Championship. The kinetic sculpture race is a contest of human-powered amphibious all-terrain works of art. It is also called the “Triathlon of the Art World” because art and engineering are combined with physical endurance during a three day cross country race that includes sand, mud, pavement, a bay crossing, a river crossing and major hills. Ferndale is the endpoint of the annual Kinetic sculpture race as well as being the town where the first race began when Hobart Brown was challenged to race his odd-looking five-wheeled bike down Main Street on Mother’s Day, 1969 by local sculptor Jack Mays.

Just a short drive from Fernadale across the Eel River is the small town of Loleta, a quaint dairy farming community, where there is a cheese factory and store. I never knowingly passes a cheese shop, especially when I know there are samples on offer. When we got there they were making cheddar cheese in the factory – which you could watch from the comfort of the shop through a large glass window. The factory makes premium and organic cheeses, with varieties of flavored Cheddar and Jack cheeses; including Jalapeno Cheddar, Garlic Jalapeno Jack, Havarti with herbs and Hickory Smoked Jack, to name just a few. We,of course, had to try all the different varieties on offer; and of course ate too much. Naturally we didn’t want to be too cheeky so we did buy some cheese before we left.

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