UNTIL THIS SEPTEMBER (2022), I had only visited Knole House (near Sevenoaks in Kent) once, and that was in about 1972.
I remember three things about that visit. First, it was a grey, drizzly day. Second, in those far-off days, visitors were taken on a guided tour of the house. Third, was the miserable guide. He was an elderly man who did his best to seem unenthusiastic about Knole House. He took us from room to room, stopping at various exhibits, saying things like:
“This is a Jacobean cupboard. Quite interesting if you like that kind of thing”
“Here is a Queen Anne clock. Quite interesting if you like that kind of thing.”
“This is a carved wooden staircase, if you like that kind of thing.”
He made similar comments, always lacking in enthusiasm, each time he pointed out an exhibit or feature. What with the dull weather and the depressing commentary provided by the guide, I believe that subconsciously I avoided revisiting the place.
It was only recently, when we were on our way to visit some friends who live in Kent, that my wife said that she had never visited Knole, and that we should see the place. I agreed, thinking that it would be a good idea to see Knole again: to give it another chance. We went on a sunny afternoon. We walked at our own pace from room to room in the building that was the country home of an archbishop of Canterbury in the 15th century, and later (for over 400 years) the home of the Sackville family, which still resides there. In each room, there were knowledgeable National Trust volunteers who answered our questions and, unlike the guide I met on my first visit, inspired us with enthusiasm for the fascinating place.
Whereas after my first visit to Knole and the poor impression it made on me, I used to be reluctant to recommend people to visit it, but having seen it again, I would put into my top 10 places to visit in Kent.
I FOUND A SHELF of rather tatty looking second-hand books for sale outside an antique shop in Great Dunmow (Essex). Each was being sold for 50 pence. Among them, I picked up a copy of a slender volume by Christopher Sidgwick with the title “A Fortnight in Yugoslavia”. Having visited the former Yugoslavia numerous times between 1973 and 1990, I was curious to see what was written about it when the guidebook was published in July 1955. This was only about 7 years after the country detached itself from Soviet Russian domination. In relation to this, the author wrote:
“Since the war ended, the Yugoslavs have I think been acting in perfect character. They are not a people … to be impressed by other people’s size. The war brought them victory on the side of Russia … and they set out with immense courage to re-form their way of living on copybook communist lines. But before long, of course, they found that the printed dogma of Marx did not turn out at all as they were led to expect: and instead of cooking the argument, as other communists have frequently done … their honest Yugoslav common sense came conveniently to hand: when Tito, in Moscow, realised that he was now to toe the line as a satellite country, to live in virtual starvation, while the country’s raw materials were sent off to Russia … he said to Stalin: ‘Rubbish! In that case, we might as well still be under the Habsburgs!’”
Under Tito’s leadership, Yugoslavia went its own distinct way. In his text, Sidgwick asked:
“Is the country a dictatorship? In the sense that it is nothing like Hitlerite Germany, nihilist at root, the answer is ‘no’. In the sense that it is a one-party country, with the state controlling the police, the radio, the press, and education, the answer must of course be ‘yes’.”
Further on, he added:
“… it is clear that broader and broader opinion, differing from the party line, is being permitted and even encouraged.”
And this was as early as 1955. By the time I began visiting Yugoslavia, liberal and alternative voices were becoming quite prevalent.
Although Sidgwick did not discourage the individual traveller, he believed that there was much to be said in favour of organised group travel. Visas were then required, and could be obtained for 11 shillings (55 p) at the Yugoslav Consular Department in Kensington (48 Phillimore Gardens). In 1955, £1 sterling would buy you about 840 Yugoslav dinars, and on entering the country, “…any note exceeding 100 dinars in value is liable to be confiscated from you, so don’t buy higher-value notes even at a good rate of exchange: it’s black money.”
Amongst things you were advised to pack in 1955 were: sunglasses; toilet soap (“cost up to 7/6 (37.5p) a tablet”); half a pound of tea; ear-plugs (“invaluable while travelling or while waiting for the dance-band to close down for the night”); pipe tobacco; an inflatable cushion; and a universal bath plug.
Regarding food in Yugoslavia, Sidgwick mentioned that pancakes were good, and:
“… they have no disgusting dishes – frog, snails, and so on – and local national dishes are always worth trying. Ražniči is veal on toothpicks. Ćevapčići is meat and little mince rissoles. Djuvec is a Serbian edition of Irish stew, highly seasoned with paprikas.”
Well, I have eaten frog in Yugoslavia and I had friends who harvested snails for gastronomic reasons. Sidgwick added:
“Meal-service is almost always slow by our standards, largely, I think because Yugoslavs themselves are in the habit of taking their time over food, enjoying it as a social occasion. In busy restaurants it is unwise to expect to get through dinner in less than ninety minutes.”
I have always eaten well in Yugoslavia, and with my many Yugoslav friends every meal was a joyous social occasion.
The guidebook dedicates most of its travel advice to Croatia and the Dalmatian coast (pages 32 to 51). The rest of the country was described between pages 51 and 62. In the short section on Serbia (pages 58 to 60), Sidgwick wrote:
“To describe Serbia in a page or two is like describing London on a cigarette card: insulting to the inhabitants”
He did it to keep the book short, and I suspect, because in the 1950s few British travellers to Yugoslavia ventured much further inland than the coastal regions.
Who was Christopher Sidgwick? He lived from 1915 until 1978. He wrote several guidebooks to places such as Germany and Greece. His “German Journey” was published in 1936 and his guide to Greece in 1974. “German Journey” was one of several books written by British writers who visited Nazi Germany to find out about Hitler’s regime and the effect it was having on the country. Unlike others, who judged the country mainly by what had been shown them in Berlin and reported favourably on the regime, Sidgwick wanted to avoid “… ‘thinking that what is seen in the capital […] is representative of that country’” (quoted from “Britain and the Weimar Republic” by Colin Storer). This is probably why he reported on a visit to Dachau’s concentration camp before WW2.
Sidgwick also wrote “Manhunt in Dalmatia”, published in 1959. Amongst his many other books, he wrote “Whirlpools on the Danube”, which was published by in 1937. This was reviewed in the journal of the Royal Institute of International Affairs by no less a historian than Carlile Aylmer Macartney (1895-1978), a specialist in the history and politics of Central Europe. I guess from this that Sidgwick must have been a significant traveller and observer in his time.
Finally, although I paid only 50 pence (in Great Dunmow) for this book about a country that exists no longer, its cheapest price on bookfinder.com is 20 times as much. My own recollections of the country and its people are published in my book “Scrabble with Slivovitz”, which is available from lulu.com, bookdepository.com, and Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scrabble-Slivovitz-Once-upon-Yugoslavia/dp/1291457593).
BEFORE THE YEAR 1800, the West End was truly the western end of London. West of Mayfair and Marylebone, there was countryside: woods, fields, private parks, farms, stately homes, villages, and highwaymen. After the beginning of the 19th century, the countryside began to disappear as villages grew and coalesced and the city of London expanded relentlessly westward. What had been rural Middlesex gradually became the west London we know today. My new book, illustrated with photographs and maps, explores the past, present, and future of many places, which became absorbed into what is now west London: that is London west of Park Lane and the section of Edgware Road south of Kilburn. Some of the places described will be familiar to many people (e.g., Paddington, Kensington, Fulham, and Chelsea). Other locations will be less known by most people (e.g., Acton, Walham Green, Crane Park, Harmondsworth, and Hayes). Many people have seen the places included in my book when they have looked out of the windows of aircraft descending towards the runways at Heathrow, and many of them will have passed some of these places as they travel from Heathrow to their homes or hotels. My book invites people to begin exploring west London – a part of the metropolis less often on tourists’ itineraries than other areas. “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” is aimed at both the keen walker (or cyclist) and the armchair traveller.
Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London is available as a paperback from Amazon here:
MANY YEARS AGO, a now deceased Greek friend, ‘S’, related the following story.
S was born in a small port in the Peloponnese long before WW2. It was a place that tourists disembarked from their boats to visit the Ancient Greek archaeological site of Olympia. S left school at an early age (by the age of about 12 to earn money by working on the docks of the small town. When cruise ships called in at the port, he offered services as a tourist guide to earn a few extra Drachmas.
Most of the tourists swallowed the tales that S told them as they wandered around Olympia. However, one day he met his match. An English gentleman accepted his offer to act as his guide. Soon after they reached the site and S had begun giving his customer his ‘spiel’, the Englishman stopped him, saying
“Listen, young man. It is clear that you know nothing about this site and its history. Let me tell you the correct story.”
S listened to his well-informed customer with interest and amazement. It turned out that the knowledgeable gentleman was no other than the future Prime Minister of the UK, Winston Churchill.
Many years later during one of my several visits to Olympia, I was standing in the lobby of a hotel near the site on a warm afternoon. The place was filled with members of an American tourist group. One lady asked her friend if she was going to take a tour around the famous site. The friend replied:
“Aw, no. It’s too damned hot to see more of those old rocks.”
FUNCHAL IN MADEIRA is a place well suited for unhurried exploration. At first, I was worried that 11 days might be too long for a stay here, but this is not the case: it is far too short. There is plenty to see and do without queuing for the famous cable car or for the toboggan ride down a steep road. There are interesting museums to see, but a great deal of pleasure can be derived from wandering leisurely around the older parts of the place.
One area, which despite being rather ‘touristy’, is the Zona
Velha. East of the old patrician areas around
the cathedral and the university, the Zona Velha used to be the poorer part of
the city, where fishermen and their families lived in rather narrow crowded
streets near the seashore and the venerable Forte São Tiago. This fortress was one of a chain of four or
five forts that used to protect Funchal from seaborne attackers.
The streets of the Zona Velha have become trendy and there has
been a conscious attempt to make the area bohemian. Many of the doors have been
painted with often entertaining designs and pictures. There are plenty of small
bars and restaurants, but we were
advised by some ladies who work in a museum that these tend to be of poor
quality and are best avoided.
High above the Zona there is a terrace overlooking a sea
bathing area. Near this, there is an old church, the Igreja de Santiago Menor,
which was closed when we visited the district. The café next to the terrace
provided excellent coffee at a surprisingly reasonable price given the
wonderful sea view from its tables: we paid 3 Euros for two coffees and a
As touristic areas go, the Zona Velha is certainly worth strolling
through. It is probably best to go there earlier in the day before the roads
are filled with tables and chairs next
to the eateries.
LONG, LONG AGO, the land where Torquay now stands was below the Equator in the southern hemisphere. Shifting of tectonic plates over the millennia has moved it to where it is now. Along with this migration, a series of caves has also reached this location but far beneath the town, about 1 mile northeast of the Torquay Harbour seafront. The cave network known collectively as Kents Cavern has been open to the public since 1952. What makes it fascinating is that archaeologists have found, amongst other things, the earliest known human remains in Britain. Three types of hominid have made, use of these caves: Homo heidelbergensis (thrived roughly 750,000 to 200,000 years ago), Homo neanderthalensis (thrived from 400.000 to 40,000 years ago), and Homo sapiens (that is us today: we have been around since about 300,000 years ago). The two earlier forms of hominid lived or sheltered in the caves. Now, we, the current edition of this type of primate, merely explore the caves as archaeologists, and visit them as tourists.
The earliest evidence of recent exploration of the caves is some inscriptions found within them. William Pete scratched his name on a stalagmite in 1571 and Robert Hedges did the same in 1688. Scientific exploration of the caves began in the early 19th century. In 1824, the geologist Thomas Northmore (1766-1851) made the first recorded excavation in 1824. Since then, others have made systematic archaeological excavations and discovered the remains of our early ancestors, their tools, and the remains of animals that sheltered in the caves. Two notable explorers of these underground passages and caverns are The Reverend John MacEnery (1796-1841) and William Pengelly (1812-1893). The latter established his reputation as an archaeologist by his discovery of the hominid remains in Kents Cavern. In addition, his discoveries helped in to prove that the biblical chronology of the earth was incorrect.
In 1903, the caves were acquired by a carpenter, Francis Powe, who used them as a workshop for constructing beach huts for the seafront in Torquay. His son, Leslie, converted them into a tourist attraction by installing electric lighting and laying down concrete paths. The caves are now run by a member of the family, Nick Powe.
At first sight, the visitor complex with its shop and café seems unexceptional and rather too ‘touristy’ for my liking. Visitors are escorted within the caves in groups led by a guide. The tourist facilities give little or no clue as to the wonders that await visitors after they step into the parts of the cave system that are on display. We were guided by a knowledgeable man, who was able to make geology and archaeology both palatable and extremely comprehensible to us. Even if you had had no interest in these subjects prior to going on the tour, he was able to sow seeds of interest in these subjects during the tour. Not only did he relate the facts clearly, but he was able to recreate in our minds the nature of life in the caves as it was when our ancestors illuminated them with lamps consisting of fat impregnated moss or other vegetable matter in scallop shells, and when enormous wild bears and other creatures hibernated or roamed about in these dark spaces. In addition, he pointed out interesting features of the geology of the caves including, stalagmites and stalactites in various stages of their continuing formation. Throughout the tour, our guide explained the difficulties that early explorers of the cave encountered.
To conclude, a visit to Kents Cavern is both visually spectacular and of great interest. Having seen the place, I would say that a visit to Devon must include a wander through these caves.
ON THE DAY BEFORE the second English ‘lockdown’ commenced in early November (2020), we drove to Abingdon Piggott to enjoy one more excellent luncheon at the Pig and Abbott pub. On this, our fourth visit in the same number of months, I enjoyed one of the best fish pies I have ever tasted. On our way to lunch and to satisfy our love of sightseeing, we visited Buntingford, a small town in the east of Hertfordshire.
As the ‘ford’ part of the town’s name suggests, Buntingford is on a river, the River Rib, which is a tributary of the River Lea. Also, the town lies on the course of the Roman road known as Ermine Street, which linked London with Lincoln. For many centuries, Buntingford, which is located just west of the Greenwich (or Prime) Meridian, was a staging post on the main road from London to Cambridge, the current A10. The town contains many buildings that were once coaching inns. Of these, only one or two still operate as pubs. Since this main road was diverted around Buntingford via a bypass constructed in the mid-1980s, the town, filled with historic buildings, has become a pleasant backwater.
The town’s name is most likely derived from ‘Bunta’, which was the name of an Anglo-Saxon tribe or its chieftain. A local historian, one Frank Bunting, writes (www.hertsmemories.org.uk/content/herts-history/towns-and-villages/buntingford/origin_of_buntingford_name) that there was once a village called ‘Bunting’, which was a few miles north of the present Buntingford. It is, he claims, marked on a map drawn in 1732 by Herman Moll (c1674-1732), which does not mark Buntingford, which was probably then too small to add to the map. Now, according to the historian, Bunting has disappeared and Buntingford is a town of some size. I have looked at an on-line copy of Moll’s map of Hertfordshire (https://www.archiuk.com/cgi-bin/slideshow_loop.pl?gallery_subject=herman_moll&filename2show=hertfordshire-old-map-1724-herman-moll.jpg&launchpage=old-map-index-page) and found that it marks ‘Bunting’ close alongside ‘ford’, the two words being separated by Moll’s simple plan of the town. It appears that Buntingford was significant enough to appear on Moll’s map and that the place called ‘Bunting’ probably never existed in this area. A document prepared by or for the Knights Templars in 1185 mentions the town as ‘Buntas Ford’.
Most of the older part of Buntingford lies alongside the long straight road, the former Ermine Street. It is here that you can see the former coaching inns, each with an archway leading to the courtyards behind them. There are also several other picturesque edifices dating back to the 18th century and earlier. At the south end of the High Street, there is a Church of England church, St Peters, which looks Victorian, but it was originally constructed in about 1615. It has undergone so much modification that its early origin is difficult to discern. Just north of this is the Manor House, a fine 18th century building, which now houses the offices of the Town Council. Next to this on the side of the road there is a wooden enclosure containing a hand operated water pump encased in timber. This was erected to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1897. The Black Bull pub opposite the Town Council is one of the few former coaching inns still serving as a hostelry.
Church Street that leads east from the Ermine Street winds downhill to the River Rib. It passes an attractive gothic revival cottage called ‘Fancy Hall’ (built 1825) and then a quaint old pub, the Fox and Duck (first licensed in 1711), which does not look like it was formerly a coaching inn. The River Rib flows just below the pub and can be crossed either by a bridge or a ford, which looks recently constructed. The ford after which the town got its name was where the Rib crossed Ermine Street.
Next, Church Road continues uphill on the other side of the river but with the name, The Causeway. It winds steeply uphill first passing a long brick wall, the boundary of a private property called Little Court, which I was unable to enter. This building was constructed in the early 19th century with bricks from an earlier building on the site that was built in 1598 and demolished in 1819 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1174663). The road continued seemingly endlessly up hill and into the countryside before ending at the isolated, flint walled Layston Church. This is St Bartholomew whose construction began in the 13th century if not before. The roof of its nave is of very recent construction (21st century) with a row of skylights below the roof tiles. The church is now used as a private dwelling. Known in the Domesday Book as ‘Ichetone’, the parish of Layston contained the town of Buntingford. Therefore, the now deconsecrated church of St Bartholomew used to be Buntingford’s parish church, a role now assumed by St Peter in the town.
In common with Washington DC, Buntingford has its own White House. Built in the 18th century, this is not the home of presidents, but probably served as a private residence. Opposite it, and high above the pavement and above a passageway leading to a car park, there is a small, picturesque clock with its own gabled roof. It is an example of a single-handed turret clock. It was already in existence in 1618, when local citizens paid for various alterations and repairs. The clock, which might have been first placed there in 1558, has undergone numerous modifications and improvements over the centuries but what we see does not look remarkably different to how it was originally. It contained a bell that was replaced in 1742 by the present one, which is sounded on auspicious and sad occasions including on the day of the funeral of Wellington in 1852.
I hope that I have written enough to persuade you to spend an hour or two in Buntingford, a town that is often bypassed at speed by motorists on the A10. Once again, we have found much of interest in a place in England that hardly gets a mention in guidebooks yet is full of beautiful historical sights. By the way, if you are in need of a coffee whilst in Buntingford, you would do well to visit The Buntingford Coffee Shop, which is almost beneath the ancient Town Clock.
ENTIRELY JUSTIFIABLE FURORE over recent unlawful police killings of Afro-American citizens in the USA has heightened awareness of the history of unjust treatment of ‘people of colour’ under colonialism and slavery during years long passed. It was only after enjoying an afternoon in the lovely gardens of Anglesey Abbey near the city of Cambridge that I learned that this delightful place was once owned by someone whose fortune was at least partially derived from exploitation of India and elsewhere by the East India Company. But first some history of the house, whose gardens we enjoyed despite the rain and gloomy grey late October skies.
Between 1536 and 1541, King Henry VIII disbanded the monasteries, abbeys, and other religious institutions in England. One of these was an Augustinian priory established near Cambridge by Richard de Clare in 1212. This was originally founded as the Hospital of St Mary during the reign of Henry I (that is between 1100 and 1135). The site of this religious establishment became the property of John Hynde, an important judge, who died in 1550. The religious buildings having been largely demolished, the next owner of the place, the Fowkes family who acquired it in 1595, built a Jacobean style house where the priory used to stand. The house incorporated some of the remains of the disbanded priory and abbey.
Later, the house became the property of Thomas Hobson (1544-1631), a Cambridge carrier from whose name the expression ‘Hobson’s choice’ is derived. Hobson maintained a profitable livery stable in Cambridge as well as arranging the carriage of mail between London and Cambridge. ‘Hobson’s choice’, a name derived after Hobson’s death is essentially the choice between ‘take it (i.e. the one thing on offer) or leave it’. Hobson’s son-in-law Thomas Parker and some of his descendants owned Anglesey Abbey (as the property became known). Later, the Member of Parliament for Malmesbury and then Cambridge, Samuel Shepheard (1677-1748), became owner from 1739. We will return to him later.
In 1848, the Reverend John Hailstone (1759-1847), an important geologist, a member of the Linnean Society as well as the Royal Society, bought Anglesey Abbey. He carried out many restorations and planted many trees in the Abbey’s extensive gardens, which we can enjoy today. Jumping ahead, in 1926, two brothers, Urban Huttleston Broughton (later ‘1st Baron Fairhaven’) and Henry Rogers Broughton, bought the property. They made improvements to the house, enhanced their collections of artworks, and developed the gardens. Henry moved out in 1932, leaving Anglesey Abbey to his older brother Urban, then Lord Fairhaven. Urban built a library to store his ever-growing collections of art works and books and restored the working Lode Mill on his property. When Lord Fairhaven died in 1966, the property was bequeathed to the National Trust. Sadly, because of the current covid19 crisis, we were not allowed to enter the lovely house to view his collection.
Between 1717 and 1720, Samuel Shepheard, an early owner of Anglesey Abbey, was involved with the East India Company (founded 1600 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I). He was elected a director in 1718. His father, Samuel Shepheard (c1648-1719), was one of the so-called ‘interlopers’ who used political connections set up The New East India Company in 1691. So, not much has changed in connection with the overlap of political influence and commercial interests since then! The ‘New’ company thrived alongside the older one for a few years before the two companies merged (https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w21536/w21536.pdf). Samuel’s father tried to involve his son in the promotion of the New East India Company and is alleged to have been involved in irregularities connected with his son’s political advancement (www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1690-1715/member/shepheard-samuel-ii-1677-1748). The on-line History of Parliament website includes the following about Samuel (junior):
“Concern for trade, and in particular his father’s commercial interests, suggest that he, rather than James Sheppard, twice acted as teller in that session: in favour of engrossing a bill to open up commerce with Africa; and in support of the second reading of a clause for a bill to encourage the tobacco trade.”
As for the former owner of Anglesey Abbey’s connection with India:
“Although serving as a director of the East India Company under George I, he did not seek advancement in the City, preferring the lifestyle of the country gentleman. The establishment of a residence at Exning probably reflected his association with the Cotton family, who were lords of the manor there.”
He became extremely wealthy:
“Dying ‘vastly rich’, he left the bulk of his estate to his natural daughter, who was celebrated as ‘the greatest fortune in England’, and subsequently married Charles Ingram, the future 9th Viscount Irvine.”
Exning is about six and a half miles north-east of Anglesey Abbey. Although Shepheard owned the Abbey, it is unlikely that he resided there as much as in Exning.
Samuel Shepheard was, as already mentioned, a director of the East India Company between 1718 (possibly 1717) and 1720. During that time, the company appears to have been, if not actually involved in, certainly interested in transporting slaves from Madagascar to North America in 1720 (“The William and Mary Quarterly”, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 548-577). To what extent Samuel Shepheard and his father were involved in the slave trade remains unclear. The National Trust are also somewhat opaque on this subject as their report (https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/documents/colionialism-and-historic-slavery-report.pdf) reveals:
“Shepheard was a wealthy merchant and Cambridgeshire Member of Parliament (MP) who served as director of the new East India Company and headed the South Sea Company. His father, Samuel Shepheard senior (c.1648–1719), was also an MP and merchant, building the family fortune on overseas trade. He was a founder member of the new East India Company and the South Sea Company, where he held the office of deputy-governor from 1713.”
Should we let our enjoyment of Anglesey Abbey be disturbed by the knowledge that for a brief period of its existence it was owned by someone, who was involved in a company that ‘plundered’ India and was involved in the slave trade? By stating that Shepheard “… built the family fortune on overseas trade” to quote the National Trust in its report, which was triggered by the recent formation of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, we can get no closer to ascertaining whether we should have a bad conscience about visiting the lovely gardens of Anglesey Abbey or should simply enjoy the experience without being concerned with an ill-defined unsavoury part of its history. After all, as far as we know, neither of the Shepheards, father and son, can yet be tarred with the same brush as, for example, the disgraced Bristol slave-trader Edward Colston (1636-1721), whose lifespan overlapped those of the two Samuel Shepheards. And, furthermore, unlike some other stately homes whose fame is largely due to fortunes made by persons involved in slavery, Anglesey Abbey is not one of them. If anything, the glory and splendour of this house and gardens in Cambridgeshire is due mainly to the efforts of men who owned it many, many years after Samuel Shepheard Junior died.
WHEN YOU LEAVE THE A38 road near Buckfastleigh and head southwards, you enter the Devonshire district of South Hams. This picturesque part of southwest England contains three towns that attract many visitors: Dartmouth, Kingsbridge, and Salcombe. Each is located on hilly terrain and has its own distinctive charms. All of them have steep streets that lead to places with great views.
Dartmouth, the home of an important large naval college, occupies a position on the estuary of the River Dart. Although it attracts many holidaymakers, it has the feel of a working town. The river is filled with boats, some used by pleasure seekers, and others (including ferry boats and fishing vessels) are working craft.
Salcombe, like Dartmouth, perches on the slopes of the shore of an inlet of the sea. Of the three places mentioned in this essay, it has to win first prize for its setting and attractiveness. I have visited Salcombe both in August (high season) and in May (before the season began). During the high season, the small town is flooded with holidaymakers, day-trippers and those staying in the place (including many owners of second homes). The streets are almost clogged with people. In contrast, when we visited it in May, the tiny town was delightful and relaxing.
We have just returned from staying in Kingsbridge, which is a few miles up the same inlet as Salcombe. This is, at first sight, the least obviously alluring of the three towns. Hence, it attracts fewer visitors than Dartmouth and Salcombe. However, as you wander around the small streets in the historic centre of the town, its charms reveal themselves to the viewer. The town is rich in buildings from the 18th and early 19th centuries. The Quay, where the tidal inlet meets the town is beautifully landscaped. Visitors tend to congregate here to enjoy paddle-boarding, boating (when the tide is high enough), crab fishing, eating ice cream,and just passing the time of day. Also, the town has several excellent restaurants. Of these, I would single out: The Old Bakery (for well-prepared Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern style food), the Dodbrook Arms (with first-class cod and chips as well as other perfectly prepared dishes), and Woodys, which serves very good locally reared beef. Like Dartmouth, but unlike Salcombe, Kingsbridge gives the feeling of being more than a holiday destination; it is a real working town.
In between the three towns, there are many villages and beaches worthy of exploration. Of the three places, Kingsbridge has become my favourite and we hope to return to it soon to use it as a base to get to better acquainted with South Hams.
In 1994, my wife, who was pregnant, and I decided to spend a relaxing week in Wales. We filled the boot (luggage compartment) of our car with more than enough books for a week’s leisurely reading.
We drove to Bala in north Wales. We had booked a room at what seemed like a lovely guest house in a converted mill. On arrival, we were given a comfortable, well-furnished room and then enjoyed a meal prepared by the establishment.
Next morning, we entered the dining room to discover a breakfast buffet with a wide selection of food items. We chose a table, were greeted by the owner of the place, and then moved towards the buffet.
As I began emptying some cereal into a bowl, the owner, much taller than me, stood close behind me, and said in a minatory voice:
“Go easy on that. It’s very expensive, you know.”
I placed my bowl of ‘costly’ cornflakes on the table, and then headed off towards a tempting glass jug filled with orange juice. As I began pouring it, the owner appeared again, saying:
“That should be enough. Do you know the cost of orange juice?”
Just before we finished breakfast, the owner addressed us and the only other couple of guests staying in his acommodation:
“You’ll all be in for dinner this evening?”
We confirmed that we would be.
“Pork chops for dinner? Alright?”
It sounded good to us and the other couple.
We spent the day exploring the surroundings of Bala rather than embarking on the reading material we had brought from London. When we returned, we entered the dining room for dinner and found that two more guests had arrived during the day. There were six of us to be fed.
The pork chops were served. However, the pieces of meat on the plates were strange shapes. We soon realised what the mean landlord had done. He had assumed that there would only be four of us for dinner, and bought only four pork chops. With the arrival of two more guests, instead of purchasing two more chops, he had divided the four so that they could be served to six people. Such meanness and penny-pinching annoyed us so much that we told the owner that we had to leave urgently the next morning. By saving on not buying two cheap pork chops, he managed to lose the income he would have gained had we stayed the full week as we originally intended.