Monday, 24 October 2016

Not a proper holiday?

I'm now at Pandy Caravan Club Site, which is just off the A465 between Abergavenny and Hereford. I arrived today after a longish journey of some 200 miles, and rain was falling as I turned up. It's still raining. And it's definitely on the cool side.

But none of this matters. I'm snug and warm and comfortable, and I've had exactly the kind of evening meal I'd enjoy at home. It was fish tonight - simple peasant fare - a succulent fillet of haddock, with small flavoursome Charlotte potatoes and tender asparagus. And then a nice cup of tea. Later on, if I don't pick up a book (I've brought the three I acquired at the Appledore Book Festival) I'll listen to something on Radio 4, just as would do at home; or, if I can get decent digital radio reception here (which I probably won't) LBC or Classic FM. Again, just as I might do at home. Most people on neighbouring pitches will be watching TV, but I'm so very picky about what I like to view, and I watch so very little, that it just isn't worth bringing a TV on any of my caravan holidays. In any case, I couldn't give it my undivided attention. TV and photo-editing don't mix. Whereas radio and photo-editing very easily do.

Now that the blinds have been pulled down, and the curtains have been drawn, the softly-lit interior of the caravan looks like it always does at night. As it would wherever in the country I might be. That's one of the things I really appreciate about having a caravan. You can completely shut out the world and the weather, and enjoy being in a capsule where all is serene and reassuringly familiar. Just like it would be at home.

There are so many things that are exactly the same. My routines? Totally unchanged, except that in the caravan I wash up after the evening meal, and not first thing next morning. My food? Just the same. What I wear? Just the same. The equipment I use? Brought with me from home. There are really no compromises, apart from what the caravan's small amount of space imposes: so although everything has its proper and accustomed place, and is mostly stored neatly away, some of it can't be and remains in sight; and so the interior of the caravan looks cluttered in a way that I would never tolerate at home.

The only things that are truly different are (a) the scenery outside, and (b) the people I will encounter during my daytime wanderings. For me, caravanning is, in practice, taking a bit of my Sussex home with me all around the country - a small, two-room box-on-wheels that constantly suggests the place I've left behind.

I've clearly organised things so that the caravan is, in a very real sense, my home from home. I fully realise that it satisfies a pressing psychological need. I don't want a strange and unfamilar place to stay. I want my home. And if deprived of all the comforting and reassuring things I can take in the caravan, I do get wobbly. This argues that when I eventually have to give up caravanning, and resort to hotels, I won't be happy - because it will be impossible to bring along enough personal stuff. And travelling even more lightly to a fly-to destination might be entirely out of the question. I indulge my need to feel 'at home' by loading the caravan up with lots of things I could never put in a suitcase. And of course I insist on holidaying only by caravan.

Is holidaying on this basis really 'going on holiday' at all? I can almost hear some people shouting 'No!'. With my kind of holiday, you don't 'get away from it all' - you take it all with you. There is no sleeping rough, no missed meals, no risk, no deprivation, no adventure, no being out of touch with friends left behind. Some people, perhaps an awful lot of people, would prefer a proper break from their ordinary lives. It wouldn't work for me.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Blood-spattered signposts, and transportation for life

Not far from West Chelborough and Evershot is one of Dorset's small number (only three?) of red-painted signposts, all known as 'Red Posts'. Although not in the most modern style, they are all at any rate twentieth-century, because they have the Ordnance Survey grid reference on them - in this case (ST) 553040. But of course they replace a series of older posts.

Why are they red? Well, legend hath it that in days of yore these were the spots where a gibbet stood, and where local miscreants, condemned for stealing the odd turnip or worse, would, after rough handling, be hung in chains or an iron cage until released from their sufferings by death. Any relative or friend who brought them food or drink at night ran the dire risk of arrest and quite possibly joining them. Naturally blood from the condemned person's wounds (man- or bird-inflicted) would trickle down and stain the gibbet red, and in later times, when local hangings went out of fashion, the signpost inherited this ruddy tradition. So men say.

Or rather what a local gentleman (who seemed like a man who knew his facts) said to me down at nearby Benville Bridge. I'll have to rewind the tape a bit. A couple of hours earlier, on my way to Evershot and The Acorn Inn (to cancel my Christmas booking, but staying for lunch), I drove across Benville Bridge and noticed a plaque set in the brickwork. Coming back that way, I made a point of stopping close to the bridge and having a better look, armed with my camera. This was the plaque:

Really? Transportation for life - presumably to Australia - just for doing something to this bridge? Gosh, times were hard in the eighteenth century! And doing what? Painting seditious slogans on it? ('King George is a very bad man and much too Hanoverian') Sticking scandalous leaflets to it? ('Squire Benville is a seducer, cheats at cards, and must not be elected') Or chipping away at the brickwork? (In hard times the poor burned bricks, if they couldn't get coal)

And this wasn't an important bridge. It was on a country road. A road that might have been the best in the local area, but not a major through route. The bridge itself was a modest affair, spanning a little stream, and the stream was merely a parish boundary. Here it is:

In the last picture, you can see where I parked Fiona. A man in a newish BMW had come along while I was photographing the bridge, and had stopped next to my car. You can see him getting out. He was an older man, rather smartly dressed, well-spoken. He even wore a cravat. I smelled money and education. His manner was kind. He asked me whether I was lost. (People often ask me that. I wonder why. Perhaps I look vague and scatter-brained, the sort who would wander aimlessly down country lanes and take an extreme, childlike interest in whatever they chanced to see - like a little girl might)

No, I said. I told him about spotting the plaque earlier and wanting a closer look. 'Ah,' he said, 'That's a proper plaque, but not the original, which is now in a museum. It's a replica. There were attempts to steal the original plaque, so they made a copy and put it away safely. In fact two copies have so far been hacked out and spirited away.' Well, if you could do it, it would make a fabulous souvenir of rural Dorset - although obviously you'd be risking transportation for life. To Australia.

'I've just seen one of those red posts, up the hill,' I said to him, changing the subject. 'Ah,' he said, and he explained to me why it was painted red. He now saw me as a keen student of Dorset history, and was taking me very seriously. So I have every reason to accept what he told me. I casually mentioned that I'd been lunching at The Acorn Inn. 'Ah,' he said, clearly approving. I could almost hear him thinking 'My goodness, a charming lady who is a keen student of curiosities, a discerning food lover, and a Volvo driver to boot!' However, such people are commonly met with on country lanes in Dorset. I was but one of a large, seething crowd of dilettante bon viveurs. We gave each other cordial farewells.

So there you are. It really pays to follow-up any unusual thing you might see.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Topless beach babes in a remote Dorset church

I like historical places, and one of my personal axioms is that in any locality the parish church will be the most ancient and history-laden building, and therefore worth a look. You sometimes find surprising things. And this was so in a particularly hard-to-reach Dorset church in the hamlet of West Chelborough. Here's a location map:

As you can see, West Chelborough lies at the end of a narrow minor road west of Evershot (where The Acorn Inn is). The whole area is north-west of Dorchester, in the deep countryside west of the A37.

Did I say 'narrow minor road'? I had to retract Fiona's door-mirrors to avoid clonking them on side-hedges as I drove along. Incidentally, I've found that it's best to attack dubious roads and tracks in a large, powerful car. The bulk of the car - and Fiona is no midget, believe me - may fill the entire width of the road, but this oddly helps to bestow a sensation of invincibility, that come what may the car is big enough to get through. A powerful engine (and permanent four-wheel drive) ensure this anyway. Really there is very little that Fiona can't tackle. She is, after all, built for winter conditions on the gravel roads of north Sweden. I do quite often encounter cars and tractors coming the other way, but I can be cool and unflappable in Fiona. Her reversing camera and parking sensors obvously assist.

But I didn't actually meet another vehicle. And (to my mild surprise) I even found a place to park Fiona at the far end of the road, near the church I'd come to look at.

It was small, with a squat tower. Absolutely nobody was about. I went in.

Despite its very out-of-the-way position, the interior was well-kept and attractive. The church was dedicated to St Andrew, one of the fishermen that Jesus encountered, who became an original disciple. So the church ornaments and fabrics had a fishy theme:

A nice bit of embroidery there.

There was a twelfth-century font curiously carved:

Also a couple of early eighteenth-century wall plaques:

S   G
Look here, my friends behold and see
This house of clay in which I be
Pray do you not lament for me
But scan your own Mortality
For I am here in earth comfind
To leave my little ones behind
As now I be you surely must,
Be here with me and lodge in dust


Presumably she would have died in childbirth. Death from one cause or another was so common. I have to say that the exhortation to contemplate one's own mortality struck me as very gloomy! Didn't she hope for a happy resurrection?

Near this place lieth the body of Mary the 
Daughter of Thomas & Bridget Wellman, who died
October the 2nd 1722 in the 12th year of her Age.

Like as a bud nip't off the Tree So death hath parted you & me
Therefore my friends I you beseech: Be sattisfid for i am Rich.
Grieve not dear Friends for that my days with you have been few:
Where I am gon there is more joyes than i could have with you.


Well, this young lady certainly anticipated a better life in heaven. Odd that the parents called the next daughter to come along Mary like the first. And so tragic that she too died. Surely they didn't name their third daughter, if there was one, Mary as well? Perhaps they did. You know, third time lucky.

Thus far, a fairly ordinary set of country church memorials. But then this.

Something out of the ordinary here! 

A young woman sleeping on a fat pillow, under a warm duvet that also enveloped a baby child all wrapped up against any possible chills. No inscription. Not even a hint of religiosity about it. Strange! The framed notice near the door said:

The 17th Century Monument in the north wall bears the Kymer arms and commemorates a Lady Kymer who died in childbirth. The Kymers were lords of the manor from the 14th to the 17th Century.

There you are. Feudalism survived here until the 1600s! Who was this particular Lady Kymer? I searched the Internet afterwards. She is likely to have been Joan Kymer. See: 


And, on the reason why this memorial features a 'sleeping' woman with an infant in swaddling clothes: 

So the monument was carved in the new fashion of the early 1600s, which reflected a changed view of women. It was being recognised that a pregnant woman faced dire risks that should not be taken for granted. 

And yet, as it was the early 1600s, Puritanism would be on the rise. And with it, a censure against immorality and indecency, and anything lewd and unspiritual. So, glancing upwards, I was highly surprised to see, at each end of the top edge of the monument, a topless lady in a classic beach pose!

No getting away from it. These are nude, sexy women (the towels around their tummies don't conceal anything) with proud, provocative breasts and a 'come-and-get-it-boys' look on their faces. The left-hand lady especially. In fact, am I imagining it, or do her breasts have a much-touched look to them? As if - in times gone by - the male youth of West Chelborough had to clamber up there and 'pay their respects', as a coming-of-age ritual? Who knows what local lads used to get up to in rural Dorset. Maybe they still do. 

Both ladies are anyway thoroughly pagan and sensual, not at all in the modest, prudish Christian tradition. Originally they'd both have had one knee bent (long since knocked off) - possibly exposing their naughty bits, if the mason had given them any (which he might well have done). 

Well! This is a monument erected in the 1610s, not the swinging permissive 1960s or later. I'm thinking that the travelling masons who were commissioned to carve these things had a singular love of the naked female form, both carved and the kind they'd find upstairs in taverns. Maybe the lord of the manor shared that appreciation. In fact, as he was paying, he'd have to. As regards negative comments from god-fearing parishioners with strict views, it's possible that Lord Kymer's authority was absolute, and that pursed-lipped Puritans were banned from the church and not permitted to come near and criticise. 

But it's hard to believe that in later years, during the Civil War say, these ladies weren't noticed by stern and godly men of the Puritan persuasion, who couldn't abide shameless beach babes. How did they survive? Perhaps the locals covered them up, and kept their fingers crossed that The Girls escaped attention. As they clearly did. Apart from those missing legs, raised in invitation. Perhaps The Girls were uncovered in glee when the Commonwealth fell, and the Monarchy was restored, only to incur the wrath of an up-tight Victorian incumbent two centuries later.  

It was only a whim that brought me here. Just shows what hidden-away gems can be found if you look around!

Garden sorted - for now

The skip I hired has gone. It went three days ago. By then it was well-filled. All the minor shrubbery and undergrowth in my back garden has been cut away - on both sides - leaving just a few big items (well trimmed or lopped). Some stumps remain to to be winched out, and all the bare ground will need to be rotavated in order to loosen a lot of roots, then raked until clear and well-broken-down. Then I will seed the earth and extend my lawn to the fence on the left (south) side, and probably lawn the right (north) side too, even though it's just a strip. The rockery and the rear hedge both need a trim. The chalet (which is useful) needs repainting. The greenhouse (which I don't use) will be taken down and its base used for something else. The patio close to the house, and the hard pathways, all need blasting with high-pressure water.

My back garden now looks like this (and Andrew my mower man gave the grass a cut only yesterday, its final cut of the year, so it's now short and striped as well):

Not long ago, before the work Kevin and myself put in, it looked something like this (actually an April shot), only a little more dense after a summer's unchecked growth:

Here are some more shots to show what has been achieved in a few days of hard slog:

So. It's all neat now. But plenty left to do in the way of de-rooting the bare ground and turning over the soil. I've got a week in South Wales coming up, and then I will make it my daily habit to do an hour's work most days. Until the hard frosts come, anyway. Having done this much, it would be a shame to let it all unravel.

The skip was genuinely full:

I hire a green bin that the Council empty for me every fortnight throughout the year. That will be enough for everyday maintenance from now on, although that mass of roots, a lot of it ivy, that still has to come out - and those stumps - will surely need to go in the back of Fiona and be taken to the tip, as a special trip. Once I'm home again, I must get straight on with ground rotavation and clearance.

The skip shot shows that I temporarily parked my caravan on my front lawn. It's made me think it would be a good idea to extend the tarmacked area so that this would become its regular position while I'm at home. I'd then have all the original driveway back, and plenty of space not only for Fiona but another car too - a visitor's say. It's a longer-term thought to keep in mind.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

On the Rocks

After my walk around Treyarnon Bay, I got into Fiona and headed south-east across central Cornwall. It was mid-afternoon but still quite bright and sunny. I had two destinations in mind, both to do with rocks of one kind or another.

The first wasn't far away, up on St Breock Downs, a spot I hadn't visited since my honeymoon in February 1983. I remember going there with W---, and being a little disappointed at what we found. In fact the chief excitement we had was trailing a naughty sheep who had somehow escaped from her field and was wandering the narrow lanes. Anyway, there was a large standing stone which looked like this:

I remember that the day was raw and icy, and we had driven along difficult, slippery lanes to see this. Well, we came, we saw, we shivered. I snatched a picture, and we headed off without further ado to some warm and welcoming hostelry, or at least whatever could be found in Cornwall in the winter of 1983. (The honeymoon was a series of cold days and bleak destinations, punctuated with welcome meal breaks) I promised myself a return visit sometime, in more clement conditions. It took thirty-three years!

This time, in September 2016, I saw this. It was warm enough to shoot the stone from various angles. It really was a distinctive lump of rock, clearly selected for its quartz banding:

The plaque in the ground had gone however. The Ordnance Survey map called it The Longstone, but there was nothing around to confirm this, nor to explain how long ago it was set up, and what kind of rocks it was composed of. But those points are answered in Wikipedia - see

It was nice enough as remote standing stones go, but I thought it would look better shot in black and white, and combined with the nearby wind turbines - thus encompassing five thousand years of human development in the one picture.

This done, it was time to see Roche Rock, which is on the south side of the little town of Roche, north-west of St Austell. The Rock is not well signposted, nor easily visible from the road, but I eventually found it. There was a board explaining it to visitors:

There are in fact several rocks, all in a cluster, but the main tourist draw is one rock in particular - by far the biggest - on which a medieval chapel had been built. 

These rocks stood tall up above the general landscape, and clearly did so because they were very hard and resistant to erosion. But they were not made of granite. The board said they were a mixture of quartz and tourmaline. The rocks had an unusual fluted appearance, which I suppose was on account of the tourmaline. I walked closer to them.

How on earth had they built the chapel? There must have once been an easy way up, a stone staircase, but it had vanished. Getting even closer, I saw there was a modern iron ladder. It had a kink in it - it started normally, then flattened a bit halfway up.

I don't like ladders at any time, and I don't like any sort of height. The flats I was wearing had thin soles, rather unsuitable for a ladder. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go. I wanted to see the chapel. And the view would be good. 

Well, the ladder was firm, but the drop on my right side got ever worse as I ascended. I felt determined not to be beaten, and got as far as the spot where the ladder kinked. But then I wimped out. 

Well, what would you have done? I was afraid of making it to the top but being unable to climb down again, or of my feet slipping through the rungs, or of getting cramp in my feet. Secretly relieved to give up and back off, but a bit ashamed for being such a wimp, I slowly and carefully retreated rung by rung until I was at the base of the Rock again. 

Oh dear. I've chickened out of climbing ladders before. Clearly a career in the SAS is forever beyond my capabilities. They climb and abseil all day long, without a tea break. Not for me. 

But the day's pleasures were not yet over. I had an evening meal to look forward to. I'd decided to call in at the St Tudy Inn, the place where I had my 60th birthday meal four years ago, in the company of Angie and S---. This was me then:

How I enjoyed that occasion! I'd followed my step-daughter and her husband down to Cornwall on the off-chance of seeing her and having a one-to-one chat, but the meetup hadn't happened and I was feeling let down and disappointed. But Angie and S--- soon cheered me up. It was good to recall that day. This time I went into the restaurant part of the Inn, which had had a makeover, creating a high-class candlelit look:

I was almost the first one there, but it soon filled up. Eating out is very, very popular in the West Country, and there are now (in some parts anyway) plenty of well-off residents (a lot of them retired incomers from the Home Counties) to provide business for pubs and inns that are aiming high. The staff were attentive and fun, and I had a good meal - a fish starter, and more fish to follow. Posh fish and chips if you like.

I ate almost all of it. I was really hungry after my long day. Then I hit the road. It was dark by the time I got back to Great Torrington.