Hardy’s Boscastle

“I found her out there
On a slope few see,
That falls westwardly
To the salt-edged air,
Where the ocean breaks
On the purple strand,
And the hurricane shakes
The solid land.”

Looking at those mesmerising opal-sapphire hued waters, just like the view that glistened in the midday sun below me, Thomas Hardy would have contemplated upon his chance meeting with the love of his life in the village of Boscastle. Dramatic environs such as these must surely serve as an elixir to seal in young love.

Hardy, if you are not acquainted with the man, wrote Tess of the D’urbervilles and challenged the traditional notions of morality in Victorian England. I have always wondered about it: How is it that Hardy could empathise so with his heroine? Here was a writer, far ahead of the times that he was a product of. I can almost hear Hardy echo Butch Cassidy: ‘Boy I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.’

But the post is neither on Hardy (really, you might say with some disbelief, given that the woman has waxed upon his love for two paragraphs and shall devote another to it), the strain of realism that pervades his writing, nor is it about Tess. It is to take you into the quaint fishing village of Boscastle where Hardy arrived as a young architect in 1870 to work on the restoration of the church of St. Juliot. His prize in the North Cornish village would have been to chance upon a pair of blue eyes (you know who that novel was inspired by) and a swathe of blonde hair that would have his heart for a long time even after the owner of those attributes, Emma Gifford, had died and he had married a second time. Hardy’s heart is buried with Gifford in her grave in a churchyard in Dorset, although his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.

When he arrived in Boscastle, he would have come upon the three pubs in the village, a lime kiln and the stonewashed cottages which are said to have been built from stones culled from the ruins of the Botreaux Castle (the village derives its name from the castle).

A lane past Cobweb Inn winds up the village. Now names in the English countryside are literal. You know when you come upon a Two Turn Lane what lies ahead, so when you come upon a name like Cobweb Inn, you can safely expect cobwebs hanging from the eaves and ceilings. Or so you could till the early ’90s when some namby pamby Health and Safety inspectors decided that thick, matted cobwebs hanging to keep flies away from kegs of wine and spirits was not hygienic. They were questioning decades of cobweb-wisdom of men who had run the pub as a wine cellar and flour store dating back to the 1700s.

The passing years have meant that we, as modern-day travellers, got the extras without the cobwebs such as clutches of charming boutiques, a National Trust tearoom and a museum on witchcraft at the entrance of which is the grave of a ‘witch’ called Joan Wytte. That poor 18th century woman’s skeleton had hung for years at the museum till they decided it was not quite okay. The river gushes alongside and if you follow its path up the cliffs above the harbour, you can go on long walks (as we did and it turned out to be so long that our legs would not stop trembling, but more about the trembling later in the next post).

After the quintessential tea & cake stop at the pretty tea room, once you are up on the cliffs, you can spot the Elizabethan harbour, a powerful reminder of times when privateers, wreckers and smugglers carried on thriving business with alacrity. Then you can sit on the cliffs and cast your mind back in time, that is all. Bung in a gale, a stormy sky and turbulent waters lashing against the cliffs. Maybe even imagine the Devil’s Bellows at half tide spouting out water below from the small hole at the bottom of the cliffs, and yes, you will be in another time and age with the necessary ingredient that is at the essence of every wild imagination, the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.

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Behind Adi is the lime kiln, the third stone structure from the right with the hint of an arched opening. The white cottage next door is the National Trust Tea Room. The kiln points to Boscastle’s quarrying past. 
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Temptation awaits the unwary inside the National Trust tea room

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Luna and Remus. Psst: Potter fans. Transfiguration happened. We got two giant Leonbergers playing in the waters with their mutt mate. However they were kind and they allowed two strange muggles to shower them with the customary cuddles and coos.
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Bridge in Boscastle
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The harbour put in place by the English sailor and explorer, Sir Richard Grenville, in the late 1500s. A popular hangout for smugglers and wreckers.
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Penally Point, below which is a blowhole that spouts up water in a gush and with a boom (the Devil’s Bellows) during low tide.
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That spot of white sticking out above the cliffs is Willa Lookout coastwatch
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Looking back at the cliffs of Boscastle from Forrabury Common

Clutter Books and Clobber

I acquired that pile of goodness last weekend at a lovely town called Sedburgh which lies within the scenic lushness of Yorkshire Dales National Park. Winding cobbled streets lead you past stalls selling beautiful sheepskin rugs, vicarage lanes and cottages with twee names. Then you trundle down the lane further past book shops called Sleepy Elephant, spectacularly green cricket grounds and shop facades that seem to be peeling away at leisure, till you arrive at the point of why Sedburgh declares itself the book town of the Blighty.

You may ask the question of the cheerful lady at the till of a charity shop and she would smile (because she must have answered this one a few times) and say: “Every cafe, shop and store in this town is stocked with books, and if you go up the street, you will see Westwood Books. It is worth taking a look into because it came from the Welsh town, Hay-on-Wye. They have done a fair bit in promoting Sedburgh as a town of books.”

Now my dear readers, you must have heard of the Hay Festival which for bibliophiles is supposed to induce a Christmas-in-the-mind-at-any-time-of-the-year feeling. It is takes place in the book town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales which boasts of a dozen bookstores. My husband should thank his lucky stars I have not set foot inside that market town yet. But the point of this is that Westwood Books is indeed a jewel of sorts. I entered it, I read inside it (a Gertrude Stein book which was thoroughly mind numbing because boy that woman knew how to pile on the negatives in one sentence – forget double negatives), then I did not know how to leave it behind.

Even Adi, who is not a reader, bought a book and browsed inside the store. Usually he takes a quick look and then hangs around my neck with the look of a bored child who demands to be entertained.That is what a book store worth its salt should be able to do – convert a non-reader/browser into one. Don’t you think?

Sedburgh and Hay-on-Wye are not unique really with their book town status, keeping in mind the fact that there are 40-odd book towns spread out across the world, but here’s how a book town can charm you.

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Clutter Books & Clobber charity shop
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Past the gorgeous tulips you enter the shop that will cast a spell
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Collectors’ editions
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Quirky personalities
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The Punch Library, ladies and gentlemen. 
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That spot of red is Adi browsing books. A rare sight it was.

Finally I leave you with the words of a writer, Eric Robson, who makes me nod vigorously (here you have the Indian head nod), as he says this: “First, a confession: I spend far too much on books. Which is why this idea of creating a Book Town in Sedbergh is a thoroughly bad idea. Until now my nearest Book Towns were Hay‑on‑Wye and Wigtown, which meant my obsessions were held in check by sheer distance. Now it’s going to be far too easy. I can already hear my bank manager turning in his vault. I won’t be able to resist. And there are thousands of other bibliophiles holding their heads in their hands as we speak. ‘Not Sedbergh!’ I hear them cry just before they get into their car and are drawn slowly but surely towards the Howgills.”

 

Ed Has a Little Bottle-Fed Lamb

If you have been dreaming of Bruges, a guest post by a fellow blogger, dream on, and then may I bring you back to the Cornish climes? This post is about Meg, a border collie, her master Ed, a farmer, and new-born lambs.

Now The Byre is an atmospheric barn conversion in Lostwithiel, Cornwall (you can book it through Cornish Cottage Holidays). We had a fantastic bargain. For 8 nights we paid up £385 and Ed threw in a free night. Now no one in all our years of renting cottages in the countryside has been ever so kind as Ed. A free night! Egad. We had one more day of exploring the countryside in Cornwall which we cannot resist even if it means that we have to return home to Northampton bleary-eyed, post a long day of walks, and then 5-odd hours of driving.

Ed lives with his vet wife Nicki in Lostwithiel in a rambling farmhouse. They have a menagerie of sorts. A tabby cat who likes to lie flat on their guest bed and luxuriate in the fact that Ed’s son and girlfriend has just vacated its quarters, and then there are the two dogs, Meg and Gizzie. Meg is a border collie who does a fair bit of work in rounding up the sheep. Gizzie is a Jack Russell Terrier who was rescued by Ed and Nicki because he had too many brothers too deal with in his previous home and had therefore started to exhibit signs of aggression. You would not suspect his troubled past from his mien now. He is just a typical Jack Russell, as curious and friendly as they come. You have met both Meg and Gizzie, in a face off, in my previous post.

Then there are the couple’s flock of Shropshire sheep which seem to tick off on all counts attributed to the 1929 heritage description of the Shropshire sheep: “Alert, attractive, indicating breeding and quality, with stylish carriage and a symmetrical form, showing the true characteristics of the Shropshire.” I do not know about quality but they certainly possessed style *I hear your sniggers

In the lead photo, you see Ed feeding the lamb. That is not because he is trying to domesticate him. In reality, the little one’s mother had refused him milk so Ed has become his de facto mum and dad. When we left, Ed was trying to get him to join the flock who have 9 acres of land for their grazing and pooping pleasure.

Ed’s father owned a huge farm where he kept a herd of 200 cattle but dairy farming became a part of his history to be talked about because of the change in times, inflation and the fact that his son and daughter were carving out their own niche in life.

“Plus all my conversation was going to be centred around cows, you know,” said Ed.

The son is a communications press officer with a cricket board and the daughter is a psychologist. By and by, Ed sold off his farms and bought the farmhouse with Nicki where they lead a quiet life with their menagerie. They even keep bee colonies, where on a cold grey and windy day amidst a patch of berries, rhubarb and leeks, we heard about the intelligence of bees, how they can figure out ways of stinging you, apart from gazing at an ewe who had just given birth to twins. She was busy licking them clean even as red trails of placenta hung down her behind. You see, the placenta is not snipped off as in humans because they have their own ways of dealing with. They often eat it up if they are wary of predators around their babies. Nature surely equips her creatures.

But beware of Meg’s charms. She is no less of a Madonna. Everyday before leaving the cottage and after our return, we used to have a session of squealing and whining and crooning. There were long conversations between Adi, Meg and I. She had a fairly unladylike comportment, I have to admit, and about which I did berate her but to no avail. Having identified Adi as the Belly Rub Guy, every time she spotted him, she would start crooning, raise her hind leg, and in a brief second or two, lie upside down for her quota of rubs. If you do meet her, carry a big batch of belly rubs for her, will you?

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Meg the Madonna
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Who wants to be a lady?
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Some stylish Shropshires 
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Ewe are looking at an ewe so please do not go ewe once you spot what we’ve been talking about
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Bottle-fed boy. He had a soft and springy feel to him.
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Ed’s bee colonies 
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‘Did you say, you cannot see us seeing you? Take your rude self off our pasture.’

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Saskia’s Adventures in Beautiful Bruges

If you can imagine a fairy tale town from one of the fairy tale books of your childhood, it would be Bruges. A medieval town in the Flemish region of Belgium, it is easy to get to from the UK, for a long weekend. We went in July, the weather was glorious and the beer cold.

Pic 1 the hotel.JPGWhere to stay

Our two-night stay for the weekend was at The Hotel Dukes Palace, a palace from the 15th century which was absolutely perfect. It is right in the centre but has secure parking in the underground car park, and as we drove, this was essential. This is a luxury hotel, so it’s a real treat, and it is comfortable and central, which is what we wanted. There are many hotels to choose from and, as we always book at the very last minute, we can safely say that this works for us. This way, you can get some great bargains too.

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What to do

Whenever we go anywhere, we wander around, because we feel that it is the best way to get to know a place. Bruges is a great place to do this as it is easy to walk around. The streets are cobbled, so comfortable footwear is essential. It was warm in July but it does get very cold in winter and you will definitely need to wrap up accordingly.

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The city is surrounded by canals and many of the streets are pedestrianised so it is safe and very clean. We headed for the historic centre called Burg Square which is very easy to find. The buildings that line the square are ridiculously pretty with tall, coloured walls and stepped roofs. There are lots of welcoming places to eat or sit and grab a ice cold Belgian beer. We decided to take an open-top bus as the teens don’t really enjoy sightseeing. This way we could still see some of the points of interest without dragging them around museums or churches!

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The bus leaves the square every 15 minutes, costs around 15 Euros per person and takes about 45 minutes. The commentary was easy to follow and, as a history nerd, I liked all the historical details that were provided. It’s good to learn something about the places that you visit. Bruges is known as the Venice of the North as it is surrounded by canals and has more than 80 bridges. Once it was one of the wealthiest places in Europe due to these waterways enabling trade.

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After the bus tour we wandered around the shops which were all enjoyable. There are about 50 chocolate shops in Bruges where the chocolates they display are like works of art. Many shops sell beautiful lace too.

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Now for the best part….the beer. Try the Dubbel Blonde which was definitely my favourite. Proost everyone!

*Did you enjoy it? This is a guest post from a fellow blogger, Sophie (Saskia is her daughter). Do head over to Sophie’s and experience with her a life in the shires, where the lovely lady lives in an old house with a wonderful family, two cats and her dog Dottie (we clearly have something in common).

 

Catalogue for the Dandy Traveller

First of all, a big cheery hello to you all. I have missed you so. This being such an addiction and all that thrown into the miss-you mixture.

It was bank holiday and our itchy feet took us north into Yorkshire, into heart of the green dales which you have been introduced to in my posts Up and Down the Yorkshire Dales and Crackpot Hall on the Dales. Three days of walking did wonders for our souls. There’s nothing like a spot of walking, meeting strangers, exchanging random notes – often about furry mates because the Englishman and his dog shall not be parted – then sitting in a pub with a pint and a hefty plate of roast meat or pie with a fire crackling  in the backdrop.

Now when Adi sits down with a plate of lamb leg and Yorkshire pud in front of him, I make him squirm. ‘Imagine the lamb you have been cooing to. You petted his tiny woolly head at Ed’s (the farmer we stayed with in Cornwall) and he looked at you with those trusting pretty eyes. And then bam, here you are, sinking your teeth into him.’

Adi has decided to give up lamb. That is, he told me, after he finished his plate of lamb. Wily creature.

I shall do a post about it all later because there were hair-raising climbs thrown in too into this holiday. I survived them and sit here clacking away on Bertie (my Macbook) and sometimes thunk heavens for normalcy.

But I thought I should share this wonderful little vintage Victorian catalogue from 1905 that appeared in our box from T.M. Lewin since my husband is a dedicated customer of the British gentleman’s dress shirt retailer. Just like he got it today, in 1905 the retailer sent its catalogues to customers all over the world.

Now cast your imagination back to a time, ladies and gentlemen, when men wore three-piece lounge suits, collars starched and in place, ties knotted perfectly and jackets narrow with small, high lapels. A bowler cap, and sometimes, a flat cap completed the picture. Young men had short hair and trimmed moustaches. Beards were not so popular with the young as is the trend with the natty young men of today. They were the realm of the older men to keep and preserve, thank you.

Do you know of the Regency dandy Beau Brummell? He used to be a fixture in my Georgette Heyer reads during the teenage years, so I was introduced to him quite young. I will not pontificate about him. The link between T.M. Lewin and Beau Brummell is that they both stand on Jermyn Street in London, home to resident shirtmakers of the likes of T.M. Lewin, Turnbull & Asser, Hawes & Curtis, Charles Tyrwhitt and a few traditional shoe- and boot-makers too. Apart from these ‘propah’ shops where you get everything a gentleman might want, from hats, shoes, shaving brushes and braces to collar stiffeners, stands dandy Beau in brass looking down his fine aquiline nose upon you. If you are not dressed well enough for him, he shall hang you by your breeches.

No breeches? Beau is gobsmacked.

Also there are a few pages from the catalogue with notes for the traveller of those days. 

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Beau Brummell, the arbiter of fashion in times gone by
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The details of how you fixed your business deals with the shirtmaker
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Matters of conversion; taking stock of the wardrobe
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The Rules to getting your shirt right
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Notes for the traveller
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Spun silk, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing less shall do.