Tag Archives: Devon

A Mystery Story for Halloween – The Single Footprint

I was rather perplexed by this bizarre mystery that I came across in Malta just recently. Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint. Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper…

Intrigued?

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Lincolnshire to Cornwall, Twelve English Counties

Counties of England

Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren.  In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West.  An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning.

I live in Lincolnshire which is on the north east coast so a journey to Cornwall requires a drive in a diagonal direction right across the country from north-east to south-west.  As I plotted my journey it occurred to me that I was going to pass through twelve (25%) of the forty-eight Counties of England so I thought that I might take you with me.

To be clear here I am talking about the traditional historic counties of England such as Warwickshire and not modern administrative areas such as for example the West Midlands.

01 Lincolnshire

So, the journey begins in Lincolnshire where I have lived for almost twenty years, at first in the South in the farming town of Spalding but now in the North in the fishing town of Grimsby.  It is the second largest County in England and even though my destination was south we began by going north because this is the quickest way out of the County using its only motorway, the M18, to go west towards Yorkshire.

The White Rose County of Yorkshire is the largest in England and for administrative convenience was once divided into Ridings, North, West and East, but no obvious fourth and I wondered why? Well it turns out that there is a simple explanation because the word Riding is derived from a Danish word ‘thridding’, meaning a third. The invading Danes called representatives from each Thridding to a Thing, or Parliament and established the Ridings System.

To this day, Yorkshire consists of three ridings, along with the City of York, and that’s why there is no fourth, or South, Riding (but to confuse matters there is a modern administrative area of South Yorkshire). I once lived for a short time in Yorkshire in the North Yorkshire town of Richmond.

02 Yorkshire

We drove through a part of the West Riding (South Yorkshire) past the town of Doncaster and the steel city of Sheffield and driving south now slipped into Nottinghamshire in the North Midlands and into Robin Hood country. I have never lived in Nottinghamshire but I did work there once between 1987 and 1990 in the town of Arnold.

03 Nottinghamshire

Shortly after that we were in Derbyshire following the route of the Erewash Valley, an area of great mineral wealth, particularly coal, extending from Yorkshire and into Leicestershire.  I lived and worked in Derbyshire for almost fifteen years before moving to Lincolnshire and we passed close to the town of Ilkeston where my family still do.

04 Derbyshire05 Leicestershire

After Derbyshire the M1 motorway took us into Leicestershire, the County of my birth and boasting the finest football team in England and then into Warwickshire, the County where I lived and grew up from 1960 until 1980 in the town of Rugby famous for its public school and for Rugby Football after William Webb Ellis cheated at soccer and picked up the ball and ran with it.

Warwickshire is probably most famous for William Shakespeare and for a short time (just a year in 1986/7) I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon.

06 Warwickshire

We passed through the West Midlands and close to the city of Birmingham and then into the rural county of Worcestershire, briefly into the farming county of Herefordshire and the town of Ross-on-Wye and on into Gloucestershire where we were breaking the journey with a two night stop at my Sister’s home in Lydney in the Forest of Dean because two hundred miles is just about the limit that most people will drive in just one day so a break half way seemed to make good sense.

07 Hereford & Worcester09 Gloucestershire

I will return later to tell you about the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley but for now I will continue my drive through the English Counties but before I can I have to report that we crossed for a short while out of England and into Wales and drove through the County of Monmouthshire before crossing the Bristol Channel and back into England and the County of Somerset

10 Somerset11 Devon

Now we were in the West Country but still with two hundred miles to our final destination.  The west country counties are all quite large so it took a while to pass through Somerset (seventh largest) and then through Devon (fourth largest) before we finally crossed the River Tamar into Cornwall (twelfth largest).  The Tamar almost completely separates Cornwall from the rest of England and is a geographical dividing line that kept Cornwall as somewhere rather remote and mysterious up until relatively recently.

The most westerly point of Cornwall and England is Land’s End but we weren’t going that far and fifty miles of so before the land ran out we drove to our holiday home in the fishing port of Mevagissey.

12 Cornwall

A Mystery Story for Halloween – The Single Footprint

Just over forty-five  years ago when I was about fifteen I bought a fascinating book called ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.

The book was an almanac of random stories with tales of the supernatural, mythical beasts, feats of improbable strength, a glimpse into the future and was divided into chapters such as “Strange customs and superstitions”, “Hoaxes, frauds and forgeries” and “Eccentrics and prophecies.”  There were actual photographs of the Loch Ness Monster, Sri Lankan fire walkers and “O-Kee-Pa, the Torture Test,” where young men of the Mandan tribe of Indians endured a brutal and horrific rite of passage that culminated in chopping off their own little fingers.

I learned that people sometimes spontaneously combust, and that an Italian monk named Padre Pio suffered Christ like wounds in his hands called stigmata that never healed.  There were weird facts such as pigs being flogged in medieval France for breaking the law, and that the entire crew of the Mary Celeste disappeared one day, leaving the ship to float empty around the Atlantic. I became acquainted with Anastasia, the supposed Romanov survivor; and Spring-Heeled Jack, a demon who leapt about London in the nineteenth century, spitting blue flames in the faces of young women.

Ouija Board

I acquired this book during my Ouija board occult dabbling days and the chapter on the supernatural I read over and over again. I was interested in the paranormal and here now was a book bearing evidence that ghosts were real and to prove it there were photographs of writings they’d scrawled on walls.  You can’t dispute evidence like that.  There was an article on the most haunted house in England and in another a photograph even showed how some ghosts could actually present their reflection on tiled kitchen floors.

One night together with some friends we held a séance and got to speak to the spirit of Donald Campbell!

I used to love this book, much to the despair of my dad who considered it to be a collection of useless false drivel that was distracting me from studying for my ‘o’ levels and he was right of course because I should have been concentrating on Shakespeare and Chaucer but for some reason Henry V and the Canterbury Tales were just not as interesting as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’!

I mention all of this because just last week I was on the island of Malta and came across a mystery of my own which would be worthy of inclusion in the ‘The Reader’s Digest Book of Strange Stories and Amazing Facts’.

Have you ever noticed that wherever there is freshly laid concrete someone manages to walk in it?  I have always considered that to be rather stupid, dogs do it but they are extremely stupid of course, in fact the combined brain cells of all the dogs in the World would still not equal that of the dumbest cat,  but  returning to the wet concrete, I have always wondered why people do it?

Anyway, I was rather perplexed by this bizarre example that I came across in Malta just recently.  Here is a slab of concrete measuring roughly six foot by three and right in the middle of it is a single footprint.  Nothing before and nothing after and nothing to either side and almost impossible to leap into the middle and back out again without losing balance unless you are a World Champion Hopper, surely a curious mystery equally as mystifying as ‘The night the Devil walked through Devon’! 

Is this perhaps the mystery of the Night the Devil walked in Malta but only managed one single footprint?  Who or what I wonder passed this way?

IMG_8768

The Annual Family Holiday

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.

In the 1950s about twenty-five million people went on holiday in England every year as life started to return to normal after the war.  Most people went by train but we were lucky because granddad had a car, an Austin 10 four-door saloon, shiny black with bug eye lights, a heavy starting handle, pop out orange indicators and an interior that had the delicious smell of worn out leather upholstery and this meant that we could travel in comfort and style.

Although there were not nearly so many cars on the road in the 1950s this didn’t mean that getting to the seaside was any easier.  There were no motorways or bypasses and a journey from Leicester to the north Norfolk coast involved driving through every town and bottleneck on the way which meant sitting around in traffic jams for hours and worrying about the engine overheating or the clutch burning out.

1960-traffic-jam

Just getting to the coast could take the whole day and usually involved stopping off along the route at some point for a rest and a picnic.  Granddad would find a quiet road to turn off into and then when there was a convenient grass verge or farm gate he would pull up and the adults would spread a blanket on the ground and we would all sit down and eat sandwiches and battenburg cake and they would drink stewed tea from a thermos flask and I would have a bottle of orange juice.

One of the favourite places to go on holiday at that time was Mundesley which is about ten miles south of Cromer where there were good sandy beaches and lots of caravans.  I last stayed in a caravan in about 1970 and I have vowed never ever to do it again.  I just do not understand caravanning at all or why people subject themselves to the misery of a holiday in a tin box with no running water, chemical toilets and fold away beds, there was no fun in it whatsoever.

In 2000 the National Statistics Office estimated that British families took 4,240,000 towed caravan holidays a year year; how sad is that?  To be fair I suppose it was good fun when I was a five-year-old child but I certainly wouldn’t choose to do it now when I am ten times older.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which I seem to remember was most of the time.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach however and even if it was blowing a howling gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.  As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is even considered too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

After the paddle in the sea we would cover ourselves up in a towel and making sure we didn’t reveal our private parts struggled to remove the sopping wet bathing costume and get back to our more sensible woolly jumpers.  Then we would have a picnic consisting of cheese and sand sandwiches and more stewed tea from a thermos flask.

If the sun did ever come out we used to get really badly burnt because when I was a boy sunscreen was for softies and we would regularly compete to see how much damage we could do to our bodies by turning them a vivid scarlet and then waiting for the moment that we would start to shed the damaged skin off.  After a day or two completely unprotected on the beach it was a challenge to see just how big a patch of barbequed epidermis could be removed from the shoulders in one piece and the competition between us children was to remove a complete layer of skin in one massive peel, a bit like stripping wallpaper, which would leave you looking like the victim of a nuclear accident.

Family Holiday

We didn’t always go to Norfolk and we didn’t always stay in caravans.  If we went on holiday with mum’s parents who lived in London we would get a train to Herne Bay or Margate in north Kent and stay at a holiday camp in a chalet which was just about one step up from a caravan.

Beach holidays in the fifties and sixties were gloriously simple.  The whole family would spend hours playing beach cricket on the hard sand, investigating rock pools and collecting crabs and small fish in little nets and keeping them for the day in little gaily coloured metal buckets before returning them to the sea at the end of the day.

There were proper metal spades as well with wooden handles that were much better for digging holes and making sand castles than the plastic substitutes that replaced them a few years later.  Inflatable beach balls and rubber rings, plastic windmills on sticks and kites that were no more than a piece of cloth (later plastic), two sticks and a length of string that took abnormal amounts of patience to get into the air and then the aeronautical skills of the Wright brothers to keep them up there for any decent length of time.

I remember beach shops before they were replaced by amusement arcades with loads of cheap junk and beach games, cricket sets, lilos, buckets and spades, rubber balls and saucy seaside postcards.  I can remember dad and his friend Stan looking through them and laughing and as I got older and more aware trying to appear disinterested but sneaking a look for myself when I thought no one was watching.  I knew they were rude but I didn’t really know why.

For a treat there was fish and chips a couple of nights a week but this was in the days before McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken so most of the catering and the eating was done in the caravan or the chalet or if we were really unlucky in the dining room of the holiday camp.

Later, after dad learned to drive, we used to go to Cornwall and Devon and North Wales, to the Nalgo holiday camp at Croyde Bay and the Hoseasons holiday village at Borth, near Aberystwyth.  The last time I went on the family holiday like that was in 1971 to Llandudno and by my own confession I was a complete pain in the arse to everybody and I don’t remember being invited ever again.

In 1975 I went to Sorrento in Italy with dad for my first overseas holiday and nothing has ever persuaded me to go back to British holidays in preference to travelling in Europe.  Since then I have spent my summer holidays on Mediterranean beaches where the sun is guaranteed and the beer, rather than the weather is always cold.

Travelling – Holiday Camps

On April 11th 1936 Billy Butlin opened his first Holiday Camp at Skegness in Lincolnshire and although I worked there one summer season in 1973 I have never stayed at Butlins as a holiday maker I have, on family holidays, stayed several times at the NALGO Holiday Camp at Croyde Bay in Devon.

NALGO stood for National Association of Local Government Officers, a white-collar Trade Union that along with Cayton Bay in Scarborough owned and operated Croyde Bay Holiday Camp for its members.  Dad was branch secretary of the Rugby Rural District Branch so I suppose it was inevitable that we would holiday there and we went for the first time after he had learned to drive and had his first car in 1964.

It was a long drive from Rugby to Devon and without motorways this meant an early start.  Dad didn’t like stopping much once he had got going but I am fairly certain at some point he would have been required to pull up by the side of the road so that we could have the obligatory picnic.  Mum had prepared the spam sandwiches the night before and we were going to eat them whether anyone wanted them or not!

The old Austin couldn’t go very fast and this combined with dad’s steady driving meant a journey that today would take no more than three hours would take five or six squashed in the back seat with my brother and sister and grandparents, because they generally came along on family holidays as well.  Naturally therefore we were all thoroughly relieved when shortly after passing through Barnstable we could see the signs for Croyde Bay and we were really glad when we pulled into the camp off Croyde Road and dad went to the office to register our arrival and be allocated our holiday chalets, which would be home for the next week.

The cost of a chalet for a week in the late 1960s was about £14 which was not an inconsiderable sum and probably just about a week’s wages for my dad.

There were approximately one hundred and fifty semi-detached chalets, all pebble-dashed and painted green and white, each having its own tidy front garden full of rose bushes and standing in neat regimented rows around the various open green spaces.  Inside they were sparsely furnished with none of the facilities that today would be regarded as basic essentials. A lingering smell of tobacco smoke of course because this was in the days before smoking was frowned upon.

Floral curtains at the windows and two single beds, a wardrobe and a bedside table was just about it but they did have a separate bathroom with a gas hot water geyser system so at least it was a notch up from caravanning with communal wash rooms and toilets.

Croyde Bay Bedroom

The camp was nicely laid out with a big central green area where all the events were carried out – sports day, Miss Croyde Bay competition (my sister won the competition in 1972), knobbly knees and so on.  The prizes weren’t very thrilling – vouchers that had to be spent in the camp shop.

Later on they built an outdoor swimming poll in one corner but it wasn’t there the first time that we stayed.  In other parts of the grounds there were grass tennis courts (later converted to clay), mini clock golf and a bowling green exclusively for adults.

The main communal areas were basically a series of wooden huts and here was  the dining room and the concert hall where there was a full programme of events, a couple of dances, a camp concert and a cinema evening.  There was no bar (until 1971) so if adults wanted a drink they had to walk to the village which is where my granddad disappeared to most days.

The Camp of course had its own Ted Bovis (Hi-de-Hi) who had the nickname‘Sporty’ and his job was to provide all of the non stop entertainment for the week.  This must have been a tedious ‘groundhog day’ sort of job going through the same routine week after week after week.  Actually everyone was obliged to have a camp nickname which had to be written on a cardboard badge and pinned on our shirts and blouses.

CroCroyde Village Devon Postcard

All of the guests were allocated duties to help the camp run smoothly and every day began at some ungodly hour when someone with the ‘wakey wakey bell’ walked along the rows of chalets with an early morning alarm call.  By the end of the week this was the most popular man in the camp!

Breakfast and evening meal was served in the dining room where everyone sat in rows at wooden tables with plastic table cloths and selected from the menu (take it or leave it) and I don’t remember it being a fine dining experience!

You didn’t want to be  late for dinner either because whenever anyone entered the dining room late everyone shouted “BOX” at them as a reminder of the late fine and they had to put some change in the box that hung on the door.  Dinner was a secular arrangement without grace but I  remember everyone singing out loud the song “always eat when you are hungry” every meal time.   Not sure who started it off each day!

croyde-bay-dining-room

The events started soon after parents had put the children to bed and this was a bizarre thing that I couldn’t imagine happening now but people volunteered to do baby listening patrols and parents were entirely comfortable with this arrangement.  I mean these people hadn’t had CRB checks or anything to confirm their suitability for such responsibility.  They would walk around the camp with a wooden baton as a symbol of their responsibility and if they heard a baby cry or came across a distressed child they would run back to the concert hall and chalk a message on a blackboard to alert the party going parents who may or may not have rushed back to sort the problem.

  

The best thing about Croyde Bay was the location squeezed in between a pretty Devonshire village and a magnificent crescent-shaped sandy beach.  In the village there were quaint houses and cream tea shops and on the beach the sea rolled in and crashed onto the sand in big Atlantic breakers.  A path from the camp led down past the tennis courts and through sand dunes, across permanently soft dry sand above the high tide line and then an endless stretch of hard wet sand that was just perfect for beach cricket and football, flying kites and making sand castles.

There wasn’t really any need to leave the camp so the car stayed locked up resting in the car park while we spent sunny days on the beach or wet ones being entertained in the concert hall.  Most people joined in on sports day and there was a prize giving night sometime towards the end of the  week.  I liked going to Croyde Bay Holiday Camp and it was a good job I did because we returned several times over the next few years in 1967, 1972 when I met and fell in love with a girl from Edinburgh, Jackie Grieg, and finally in 1974 when I was really too old to be hanging about with my parents on a holiday camp vacation.  In between we went to Cayton Bay in 1970 but I didn’t like it there quite so much.

Croyde Bay Holiday Camp is still there but it has been reinvented as Croyde Bay Holiday Village, my Mum went there a couple of years ago and she said that it hadn’t changed very much at all.  I thanked her for the tip-off and went immediately to the Ryanair site to look for a cheap air flight to somewhere exciting in Europe.

Postcard at the top of the post courtesy of –

http://postcardnostalgia.co.uk/west_country/croyde_bay/nalgo_holiday_camp.htm