Category Archives: Age of Innocence

Cornwall, Padstow, Tintagel and Boscastle

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It really doesn’t pay to go back and look again at the things that once delighted you, because it’s unlikely they will delight you now.” – Bill Bryson,

Sally and the grandchildren were returning home today, a day earlier than Kim and I so with a two hundred mile journey to consider we decided to make some visits to places along the first part of their route.

We started with Padstow, a popular fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall.  We could have chosen any one of a number of similar villages but we chose Padstow because we wanted fish and chips from Rick Stein’s chippy.

Rick Stein is a famous English celebrity chef who lives in Padstow and specialises in fish dishes.  He has been so successful that he now owns several restaurants and food shops in the town and the locals now refer to the place as Padstein.

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As we got close it became obvious that a lot of other people wanted Rick Stein’s fish and chips today because on a gloriously sunny day the car parks were full and the charming little harbour was overrun with tourists and day-trippers.

The queue at the fish and chip shop close to the harbour was too long and too slow for my impatient grandchildren so went elsewhere and bought them from an alternative restaurant and I am certain that they tasted just as good.

We spent a couple of hours in Padstow around the boats and the seaside shops and looked across the Camel Estuary to the up-market seaside village of Rock where I holidayed with my parents around about 1965.

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After Padstow  I was keen to visit Tintagel because I had happy memories of it from 1965.  Tintagel Castle is associated with the stories of brave King Arthur, mysterious Merlin, The bold Knights of the Round Table and beautiful Queen Guinevere and this was when I still believed the stories of the Arthurian legend.

Although it is almost certain that King Arthur (if indeed there ever was a King Arthur) never stepped foot at all in Tintagel or its castle (mostly on account of the fact that it wasn’t built until several years after his possible existence) the village and English Heritage (who own the castle) have made a very good job of convincing everyone that he did and have successfully turned it into one of the most visited places in England.

This is a picture of my grandparents visiting the castle in 1960…

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… in 1960 they always seemed old to me but they were only in their mid-50s and now that I am sixty-five I see them in a different way.

I can’t be sure why I remembered Tintagel as somewhere interesting and worth a return because it turned out to be spectacularly unmemorable. We parked the car in the visitor centre which without explanation was closed and walked towards the castle along a long linear street lined with shops and cafés which all had a predictable Arthurian theme and held no interest for us.

After a steep descent to the coast we came upon the castle which was also closed whilst a new footbridge is being constructed across from the mainland to the rocky promontory that is the castle.  I say castle but all there is to justify this description are a few scrappy bits of ruined walls and not much else so I wasn’t too upset that it was closed and at least we saved on the admission fee.

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Tintagel goes onto my list of disappointing places alongside Jamaica Inn.  I had no plans to visit Jamaica Inn today because even as a ten year old I can remember being greatly underwhelmed by the visit there over fifty years ago.

So we went to Boscastle where I remembered the Witches Museum which also turned out to be a place that I didn’t really need to go back to.  I offered my grandchildren money not to go in but they insisted and their assessment was one of disappointment and regret that they hadn’t taken the cash offer.  Boscastle has more charm than Tintagel I have to confess but after a walk alongside the long sinuous harbour and a visit to the National Trust shop there isn’t really a great deal more to see.

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But the real purpose of our visit was to complete the week with a Cornish cream tea so we identified a suitable place where the grandchildren could terrorise the staff and spoil the afternoon for any other visitors and sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a plate of homemade scones, some plain, some with currants and remembered that in Cornwall it is jam first and cream on top unlike in Devon where they reverse the procedure.

After tea we said goodbye to Sally and the children, they headed east towards the Midlands and we returned to Mevagissy and the cottage which now seemed curiously deserted and quiet.  I always get an empty feeling when the children go home.

The following day we enjoyed a long walk along the coastal path in the unexpected sunshine and a week that began requiring raincoats, scarves and gloves ended in shirt-sleeves, shorts and sun-cream.  What a genuinely fascinating and eclectic place England is with its interesting diverse weather conditions that always manage to delight and surprise.

The next day we vacated the lovely Tranquility Cottage and made the long drive home to the East Coast.

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Cornwall, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

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“Heligan is a modern miracle, once the estate of the Tremayne family, it was definitively scuppered – like so much else – by the First World War. It lost the great bulk of its staff and its thousand acres or more lapsed into almost complete decay.”  – John Fowles

After a couple of days we had exhausted all of the obvious local National Trust options that were close by and with no real appetite to tackle the dreadful A30 again we decided to stay local even though this involved putting hands in pockets and paying an entrance fee.  We chose the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ which cost £55 for a family ticket.

Heligan, it turns out is one of the most interesting estates in all of England. Lost to the brambles of time since the outbreak of WW1, this Sleeping Beauty was re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project. Even without Alan Titchmarsh!

The name says it all I suppose. These gardens on the south coast of Cornwall near Mevagissey had once been a thriving country estate, but went into decline after the First World War and lost to the sands and weeds of time.

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The story of the lost gardens of Heligan is now the stuff of legend. When the ecologist Tim Smit and local builder John Nelson entered the estate sometime in 1990 they made a pivotal discovery – the magnificently named Thunderbox Room, which had been the gardener’s lavatory.

The pair found signatures scribbled on the flaking plaster along with the date August 1914, as they prepared to leave and go to war.  These were the men who had looked after the gardens and the pair resolved to rediscover them.  Twelve left, only three returned and the nine lost their lives on the battlefields of France.

After the war the owner John ‘Jack’ Tremayne declared that ‘he couldn’t live with the ghosts of the place’ and left Heligan for Italy. No Tremayne has lived there since.  With a desperate shortage of labour in the post-war years the gardens were abandoned and left to return to nature.

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In 1990, work began on what is Europe’s largest garden restoration project and now it is possible to get an idea of what a Victorian estate may have looked like.

And what a splendid job they have made of the ambitious restoration and we discovered a lot to see and do in the gardens and surrounding woodland. The northern gardens around the house consist of a productive vegetable and fruit area and some pleasure grounds, which include various aristocratic distractions such as an enclosed Italianate garden and the pineapple pit where the fruit is grown under glass in rotting manure. From the formal gardens the estate slopes south towards Mevagissey and the highlight is the ten acre jungle garden because the combination of a south-facing valley and mild Cornish climate makes this perfect for exotics.

I always worry about taking children to see gardens for fear that they might be bored but there was no chance of that at Heligan.  We walked for almost five miles along the paths, running, skipping, jumping, climbing (the children of course, not me) and after our picnic on the lawn and as we left we declared the day to be a resounding success with no complaints from us about the entrance fee which we all agreed was very good value for money.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, The Wye Valley

River Wye

When I was a young boy we used to go quite regularly to Cornwall on family holidays. I last visited Cornwall for a holiday (I have been there since for work) in 1975 when I stayed in a bed and breakfast at Crantock village near to Fistral Beach at Newquay.  On that occasion to get there I drove a route through the Wye Valley, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this time I was keen to replicate the journey.

We were staying with Lindsay (my sister) and Mick in Lydney in the Forest of Dean so this made the quest quite easy to achieve.

I especially wanted to visit two places on the route, Symonds Yat in England and Tintern Abbey in Wales.

We started at Symonds Yat and drove to the visitor centre at Symonds Yat Rock which is a high vantage point with wonderful panoramic views of the River Wye.  The river is the fifth longest in the United Kingdom after the Severn, Thames, Trent and Great Ouse and for part of its course provides the natural border between England and Wales.

Two pictures at Symonds Yat Rock, forty-five years apart…

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That black shirt was always one of my favourites but it wouldn’t fit me now that’s for sure!

Symonds Yat Rock and View

From the visitor centre we followed a footpath through the forest and down to the fast flowing river and then took a gentle walk along the English west bank and back to the car park to the car that we had left there earlier.

From there we drove along the side of the river, along the route of ancient Offa’s Dyke, eventually crossing over the river and moving into Wales.

Some things in life stick in the memory like velcro and for me one of these was my first ever visit to Tintern Abbey.  As the road follows a sinuous course from the north it enters the attractive stone built village and after negotiating several turns quite unexpectedly the Abbey comes into view and rises majestically at the side of the river.  I remember it as a wonderfully powerful WOW moment.  This can never be repeated of course and I was ready for it this time but I still found it to be a special moment.

Now, I might be mistaken but I seem to recall that in 1975 you simply parked the car by the side of the road and just walked into the grounds of the ruined Abbey which was in the middle of an empty farmer’s field but you cannot do that anymore.  The Abbey is managed by the Welsh Government, welcomes seventy-thousand visitors a year and has all of the trappings that can be expected at a tourist attraction; a pay and display car park, souvenir shops, a café selling cream teas and a massive pub and restaurant and a forest of invasive signs.

Tintern Abbey

The Abbey cost £8 to go inside which seemed rather expensive so we didn’t bother, we saw what we could from the outside and then went to the pub for lunch instead.

There was more experience that I was hoping for before we left the Forest of Dean and that was to see a wild boar.  These days there are wild boar in several places in England but the Forest of Dean is the easiest and best place to spot them.  They had been extinct in England for four hundred years or so but sometime in the 1990s someone released the boar into the forest and they have flourished in conditions that suit them perfectly (rich, deciduous woodland, agricultural land nearby and the occasional household rubbish bin to raid) and it is estimated that there may now well be almost two-thousand roaming the forest in various sounders, the term for a herd of wild swine.

There is evidence of them everywhere in the forest.  Every few yards, the earth has been gouged up and pushed aside, the undergrowth freshly disturbed. At the base of the beech trees are long, raking scratches where the pigs has ripped over the topsoil, looking for something beneath. Bluebell roots lay limp against the earth where they’ve been pulled up and cut through, and around the base of the larger trees are deep, pale craters, as if the forest had recently been hit by a massive hail storm.

Lindsay is always telling stories of encounters with the animals and we had seen plenty of evidence that they were nearby and all around but so far we had not seen one but then in the evening driving to a pub in a nearby village we spotted a sow with some youngsters quite close to the road and I was happy about that.

And, the following morning as we left the forest on the first leg of our journey to Cornwall we glimpsed sight of a magnificent male beast foraging close to the road.  A lot of people in the forest consider them to be a pest but to be honest we considered ourselves to be very lucky to see them.

Wild Boar Forest of Dean

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, Pub Philosophy

Somewhere along the way I spotted this sign which I thought was rather witty…

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Good, but not as funny as this one that I spotted a couple of years ago in Westport in Southern Ireland…

Double Espresso and a kitten

Early Days, 1957 Part Three – The BBC Spaghetti Tree Hoax

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By 1957 most people were beginning to get television sets in the home and on 1st April the BBC broadcast one of its most famous ever programmes; a spoof documentary about spaghetti crops in Switzerland.

The Panorama programme, narrated by the normally deadly serious journalist Richard Dimbleby, featured a family from Ticino in Switzerland carrying out their annual spaghetti harvest.

Read the Full Story…

Early Days, 1957 Part Two – Baby Boomers

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For the time being I am coming to the end of my Early Years posts  so please excuse me for a moment for being smug.

In 1957 Harold MacMillan became the new Prime Minister of Britain when Anthony Eden resigned over the Suez crisis debacle and this ushered in the baby boomer years of the late 50’s and 60’s when quality of life it seemed was generally improving for everyone.

MacMillan led the Conservatives to victory in the 1959 general election using the campaign slogan “Life’s Better Under the Conservatives” and he is remembered for his famous personal assessment of these years when he said,“indeed let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good.”  He earned himself the nickname ‘Super Mac’ as opposed to the McDonald’s ‘Big Mac’.

So was he right?  In an honest personal assessment I have to say yes he was.

I was born in 1954  in the years of post war reconstruction and investment and at a time when there was genuine optimism about the future.  For me and my contemporaries there was no World War to live through, a free National Health Service, the eradication of disease, an education system that led to guaranteed employment and an expectation of a long and rewarding life.

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My childhood was comfortable if not extravagant, dad had a career in Local Government and mum stayed at home and kept house.  There were annual holidays to the seaside, a sack full of presents at Christmas  and long glorious summers without a care in the World.

I liked to go to school, even though I wasn’t terribly successful but eventually I was able to progress to University  which in 1972 was an achievement rather than an expectation.

After three years of state funded education (no student loans in 1972) I started work immediately and followed my dad into a local government career with a guaranteed ‘gold plated’ (according to the anti public sector press these days) index linked pension.

Keith, Brian, me and Maureen in the office in 1976…

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I bought my first car soon after starting work and a first house soon after that, getting loans and mortgages was easy and I soon started to climb the property ladder.

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I had my first continental holiday in 1976 and having got a taste for travel have been doing as much as possible ever since and have been lucky to fly several times a year to Europe and beyond.

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I have two children and three grandchildren with another one on the way. I have never been unemployed, sick or poor and now I am retired from work at sixty-five years old have a blog with almost 5,000 followers and hope to look forward to a long and happy life.

So, was Harold MacMillan right in his assessment of life for the Baby Boomers?  In my case I have to say a categorical yes!

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Unfortunately, I have still got the stumpy legs!

Early Days, 1957 Part One – Sister, Scouting, Soccer and Space

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In 1957 there was big news on the home front when my sister Lindsay was born and I got a new hand knitted cardigan.

Here we are sixty years later, still smiling…

Andrew and Lindsay

But around the world following the excitement of wars and revolutions in 1956 this particular year seems to have been less frenetic.

The Treaty of Rome established the Common Market, which was a deeply significant event that has shaped the recent history of modern Europe.  This has become the European Union and has undergone a number of expansions that has taken it from six member states in 1957 to twenty-seven today, a majority of states in Europe.  Britain joined in 1973 after a long period of being denied membership by France and in particular the deeply ungrateful and shameless Anglophobe President de Gaulle.

Forty-five years later a majority in UK wish that de Gaulle had got his own way.

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1957 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Boy Scouts which began in 1907 when Robert Baden-Powell, a Lieutenant General in the British Army, who had served in  India and Africa in the 1880s and 1890s held the first Scout camp at Brownsea Island in Dorset.

I joined the Wolf Cubs when I was seven years old and after I had passed all the tests and received my Leaping Wolf Certificate moved up to the Scouts when I was eleven.  At first I was in the Paddox Troop but later transferred to the Hillmorton, which was good for me because dad was the Scoutmaster, which gave me a bit of an advantage when it came to passing tests and getting badges.

This is me in 1965 wearing my version of the Aussie Baggy Green Cap.

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I liked the Scouts and the quasi-military organisation that came with it with the uniforms and the kit inspections, the law book and solemn promise and the fact that I could legitimately carry a hunting knife on my belt without being challenged.  Boys stayed in the Scouts until they were sixteen but I never saw it through to the end; Dad fell out with the Group Scout Master, Harry Newman in 1969, walked out and never waggled his woggle again and that November I discovered girls and that hanky-panky was much more fun than gin-gan-gooly and that was goodbye to the Scouts, which was a shame because I was only a couple of tests away from my First Class Scouts badge at the time.

You can read more about the Boy Scouts in these two posts…

Age of innocence – Boy Scouts

Robert Baden Powell and Scouting

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On a serious note there was a major train crash disaster in 1957 when two trains collided in thick fog which killed ninety-two people and injured another one hundred and seventy-three.  I mention this because the accident was in Lewisham in south-east London and only a couple of miles or so from the town of Catford where my grandparents lived and who we used to visit regularly.

In sport Stanley Matthews played his last game for England at the almost unbelievable age of forty-four.  He has the record for the longest serving England career at twenty-three years and remains the oldest man to ever play for England.  Let’s face it; it is completely unlikely that this record will ever be beaten.  He didn’t retire from football altogether at this time though and he continued playing at the very highest level in the English First Division with Stoke City until he was fifty years old when he finally retired in 1964.

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I can actually remember seeing Stanley Matthews myself because from about seven years old dad started to take me to Filbert Street to watch Leicester City.

Football grounds were totally different to the all seater stadiums that we are used to now and were predominantly standing affairs.  I was only a little lad so it was important to go early to get a good spot on the wall just behind the goal.  This required an early arrival and although matches didn’t start until three o’clock dad used to get us there for the opening of the gates at about one.

This must have required great patience on his part because two hours is a long time to wait for a football match to start standing on cold concrete terracing and I really didn’t appreciate at the time that all of this was done just for me.  In the 1960s of course it was common to have pre-match entertainment when local marching bands would give a thirty minute medley of tunes up until kick off time so at least there was something to watch.

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Footballers like Matthews were completely different from the prima donnas of the modern game; they got stuck in and played like men with a big heavy leather football, shirts that became waterlogged and uncomfortable in the rain and the mud and boots that would have been more appropriate for wearing down a coal mine.  What’s more it wasn’t unusual to watch the same eleven men play week after week because they just shrugged off the knocks that put modern players out for weeks.  An injury had to be almost life threatening to stop somebody playing in those days.

Off the ground there were two important airborne events in 1957 that were important for the future.  There was the first flight of the Boeing 707 which was to become important in increasing travel opportunities and in the USSR the sputnik programme began with the launch of Sputnik1, which was an event that triggered the space race between the two world superpowers the US and the USSR both bursting with testosterone and competing with each other to rule the modern world.

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