VILLAGERS have been left "shocked and saddened" after vandals set alight a scarecrow which was a centrepiece of Tour De France celebrations.

Kettlewell residents are preparing for the start of the village's Scarecrow Festival, but were surprised on Tuesday morning to find the just embers where the scarecrow, which had been specially dressed in yellow cycling clothes for the Tour, had been.

The bike on which it sat had also been badly burned in the blaze.

The scarecrow was made for last year's festival, and was going to remain in place as one of the roughly 150 scarecrows in the village this year.

Jennie Howarth, one of the founders of the festival in 1994, said: "It's hard to imagine anything more senseless. Presumably someone must have driven in to the village just to set it alight. It was made of polystyrene and raffia so must have burned very fiercely but no one saw until this morning. It's very dispiriting, but I suppose it's lucky the flames did not spread."

Mrs Howarth added that her grandson Matthew had helped to prepare the scarecrow for the arrival of the Tour and had been thrilled to see it still in place when he arrived on a visit.

"Matthew was upset to think someone had done this. It's a shame, but everyone in the village loves the festival and we are going to enjoy this year's as much as we always do."

The 20th festival starts on Saturday and runs until August 17. It features the Scarecrow Trail around the village, with prizes for children and adults each day, as well as home baking in the village hall.

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