We were teenagers the first time we visited Woodleigh Replicas. The last time, we had a preteen. The past 30 years have not been as kind to Woodleigh as they have been to us.
In 1989, Melani and I travelled by train, bus and ferry to Prince Edward Island, where we loaded our bicycles with panniers and ourselves with backpacks and headed up-island toward Green Gables. We had a map that Melani’s mother had ordered from CAA and a softcover guidebook with attractions circled and starred.
I had read every word Lucy Maud Montgomery ever put to paper and I was vibrating with excitement just to be on her island, while Melani had a more medieval fascination, with castles and fairies and what have you. Our interests intersected at Shakespeare, and Woodleigh promised us some of that and so we were off.
Set on 30 acres of rich soil — “You can throw a rock on P.E.I. and it’ll grow,” a local told us — near Long River, the replicas at Woodleigh were created by a father and son team. In the 1940s, the Johnstones used mortared stone, granite and concrete to re-create world landmarks. It was ready to open to the public in 1957, though they continued to build well into the 1970s.
Some of the buildings were large enough to get inside — there were crown jewels at the Tower of London and souvenirs in Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Others were small enough you had to kneel to peer inside. I hadn’t known who Anne Hathaway was till I came across her miniature cottage there, and Shakespeare’s words on a little sign next to it: “Listen to mine Anne Hathaway! / She hath a way to sing so clear.”
We last visited Woodleigh — named for the Johnstones’ ancestral home in Annandale — when Trevor was nearly 12. We posed him in the Tower’s dungeon and in the pillory. We walked the labyrinth with him and applauded when he reached the metal sign that said, “I found the centre.”
The park closed two years later.
You can still see the outline of the labyrinth on Google satellite. But to find the cottage and the cathedral, the Tower and William Penn’s manor, one has to drive a little off the rusty Island road and maybe have a quiet word with the landowner who purchased four of the remaining Woodleigh buildings.
The water wheel is at the entrance to his home, looking worse for the wear, and his property is guarded by yellowed lions. He’s kind about letting people from away take a few pictures, but points to the realtor’s “No Trespassing” signs that would warn us away from the larger buildings.
And so we walked carefully past York Minster Castle to the wishing well and Olde Curiosity Shop, sidestepped the fallen pillory, then slipped through the rutted stone entrance to Dunvegan Castle.
We were quiet, and careful, and just a little wistful.