The month started cold and windy when Ella, accompanied by four of her university friends, came over to see us for a few days. The weather impeded them by unleashing four straight days of alternating drizzle, hail and pounding rain, so the girls were unable to lounge around a sun-kissed pool, but they did manage some outings, and on the last day I took them all to visit the Chateau Haut-Koenigsburg, the 12th century castle on a high ledge of the Vosges overlooking the Alsace Plain. We went there via the colourful St Louis market and returned via Colmar in a very satisfying day of culture alsacienne.
And so to Loughborough, driving there from Leymen in order to attend Ella’s graduation and then to tour south west England. The day before the graduation Alli, Gwen and I had lunch with Ella and Sam to celebrate his 21st birthday, then we had dinner with Ella at a popular Italian restaurant in nearby Quorn. The graduation took place in a huge campus building, part aircraft hangar, part gymnasium. Ella looked comfortable and elegant in her academic gown, and Alli and I were very proud of her as she came back down beaming from the platform with her degree certificate. The next day I spent cycling around Loughborough, after hiring a bike from a local bike shop. It was, like the previous day, very hot, and I traced a rather eccentric course to the east of the town. I also went cycling the following morning in the relentless rain, just before we (Ella, Sam, Alli, Gwen and I) all went down to London for the Ella’s 21st birthday celebration weekend and booked in at the Riverbank Park Plaza, on the edge of the Thames and with a good view of the Palace of Westminster. Our good friends Adam, Angela, and Eleanor came to have dinner with us in a restaurant in Chinatown in the evening. The following day was Ella’s birthday, and we took a boat trip on the Thames to Greenwich and back, and once Jessie had joined us from Brighton, walked to Soho for High Tea at the tea-room above the Coach and Horses in Greek Street. In the evening, we had dinner in Mayfair after deciding not to carry on queueing at the Hard Rock Café, which I thought was looking old-fashioned and tired ….or maybe that was me. The next day we said goodbye to Sam who was going home to Malaga, then had a brilliant lunch in Battersea with our good friend Debbie, and Jessie took Ella to Let it be, a Beatles show in the West End. The next day was something of a breathing space: I wandered nostalgically around Brighton’s North Laine in the evening while Jessie was measured for a bridesmaid’s dress for her friend’s wedding the following month.
We started our touring holiday in Bristol by enjoying the long anticipated concert of theJayhawks, and then spent a day in Cheddar Gorge, the UK’s rather poor answer to the Grand Canyon, with our complete family on board. We started with a bus ride up the Gorge, then visited the caves. I went on the cliff walk after Jessie, Ella, and I had climbed Jacob’s Ladder and seen the Somerset levels from the Tower at the cliff top. Ella left us to join Sam in Malaga from Bristol Airport later that evening before we drove to Wells, found our B&B for the night, then walked into the centre of England’s smallest city for an excellent dinner near the Cathedral. In the morning, after visiting the Cathedral, we drove on to Glastonbury. The town attracts holidaymakers, mystics, rustics, seers, travellers and hippies to commune with several sites of historic and religious significance, including what is half-claimed to be King Arthur’s burial site. And not just his burial site, but that of several other notables as well, including the Saints Patrick and Dunstan, Edmund Ironside, Joseph of Arimathea, and his material legacy the Holy Chalice (or Grail); as well as countless D-list abbots, prelates and priests. We walked around the ruins of the Abbey then up the Tor, from where there was an excellent view of Wearyall Hill (where a weary Joseph of Arimathea is said to have put down his stick in order to sleep after a particularly long walk from the coast, only to see a rare biannual Middle Eastern thorn tree growing in its place the following morning.
We drove on to mid-Devon to see our friends Adrian and Angela, smallholders living in an area described to us as the Bermuda Triangle of Devon. As we finally turned off the marked roads, it felt as if we had passed into a different and wilder kind of countryside in which the fields rose to meet us and the hedges formed arches, narrow passageways and tunnels, while wavy single tracks clotted and spotted with horse dung and cattle crossings led us erratically to our destination. It all recalled G. K. Chesterton’s vivid description in his Song of Temperance Reform:
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire…”
We found Buckland Filleigh, itself a name rich in noblesse oblige, droits de seigneur and general squirearchy, without too much difficulty, thanks to computer-assisted Google geo-positioning drones. Our friends Adrian and Angela have in just nine months already laid the basis for a successful and sustainable lifestyle. Their garden, already blooming with flowers waiting to be cut, may become their livelihood, and the next morning I helped with the selection of flowers to exhibit at the local flower show in which they were very successful. The next day we drove to the profoundly hidden house of Andrew and his wife Shelby in the even profounder locality of Berrio Bridge in Cornwall. Andrew and Shelby live in the kind of house that can sometimes appear in feverish dreams after the ingestion of barely legal substances, following ten waking minutes’ reading of Alice in Wonderland. A small brook runs through a garden of summer floral profusion, an enchanted circle and an elven bridge, carefully terraced levels of flowers and ferns that draw the eye from an immaculate lawn, graced by a spray of white doves and a couple of tame marmalade cats.
The following day we were off early to the Eden Project, a massive, almost grandiose and visionary educational and environmental initiative financed by the proceeds of rock and roll, which has captivated the UK public continuously since it opened over fourteen years ago. We spent all day there, walking around the two large domed triple “pods” which reproduce two different global climates, and after Gwen’s dream-ride on the zip-wire, we drove in high spirits via a quick stop to inspect the Hurlers, three unique stone circles on Bodmin Moor as well as the nearby Doniert’s Stone, to Polperro, a south Cornish fishing village pierced by the shrieks of seagulls and infused with the sand-and-seaweed smell of fish newly caught. We went late to eat magnificently at a small restaurant near the harbour, and asked if the large scallops and crab were local. Michelle, the owner and chef, told us that her husband had caught them that very morning.
From Polperro, after an early morning cliff walk shortened by rain, we drove to Tavistock to see my second cousins Peter and Anne. Shortly after our arrival, we were all striding out back through the front door onto Whitchurch Moor, on the western edge of Dartmoor, to work up an appetite before dinner. The walk featured a visit from inquisitive Dartmoor ponies and an inspection of a stone wayside cross on the path towards Princetown. Anne is my second cousin, since we share great-grandparents through my mother’s side. Anne had prepared a file of precious mementoes, documents and photos of our antecedents which substantially clarified the family tree on my mother’s side. We talked together about the past family we have in common after an excellent dinner that she had cooked for us. While we were there, I received a message from Clifton, another second cousin from the original Crispin family. We arranged to meet the next morning at his house up the hill from Exeter station and visited him after dropping Jessie early in the morning at Exeter St Davids as she had to get back to Brighton. It was great to see Clifton and his wife Marjorie again. While we talked, he mentioned that he had been born and raised in Chingford, where, as I recalled, Laurie, my father-in-law, had also been born and raised. I wondered if they had met by some coincidence, and it transpired that indeed they had been at the same primary school together, remembered each other, and that each was aiming to attend the 70th anniversary reunion of the long defunct school later this year.
We drove back to the centre of Exeter, and while Alli and Gwen again went shopping (what on earth did they miss buying last time?) I visited the Cathedral, a spiritual place illustrated with terrifying bloodthirsty stone reliefs of beheadings, torture, flayings, hangings, drawings and quarterings in amongst the headstones, walls, alcoves and paving stones. Scaffolding was going up around the choir stalls, adding an appropriate soundtrack of drills, hammers and clanking bars. Outside the cathedral, a dozen owls scowled at us with open scorn, a silent but colourful 1950s ice cream van was doing a roaring trade, and people were wandering around quietly as if on mute, as people always seem to be when in a cathedral close. We were due to meet Richard, an actor friend of mine from Henley some 35 years ago. Physically, he had hardly changed at all over that time, whereas I, despite a recent modest weight loss, had ballooned.
We drove on to Abbotsbury, where we stayed two nights as guests of Alli’s cousins, the Snapes. Abbotsbury is an enchanting and genuinely mystical place whose undisputed claim is that it is the final resting place of the West Saxon Kings and has been the home since the 11th century of the stunning Swannery, comprising around 600 mute swans owned by the Strangway family. More than this, Abbotsbury has its own 12th century landmark atop a numinous tor, with St Catherine’s Chapel surveying the seven hills as well as the sea coast, also aligned with other local places of mystery and hidden knowledge in the immediate area. One evening we went out with Sue and Adam to a nearby beach and had an open air meal of fresh shellfish, then walked alongside the millions-of-years-old cliffs of the Chesil Bank along the Hive Beach. The next morning, after a short drive along the coast, we stopped briefly at the Hardy Monument (as ugly as the view from it is beautiful), then ate lunch in a very upmarket pub/hotel in Corfe Castle next to the Castle ruins, and I had a quick dip in the sea at Studland Beach. We were headed for Poole, via a traffic jam and the Studland ferry, to stay with Alli’s cousin Debbie and her daughter Hannah. Our last holiday tour activity the next day was to stop in the New Forest for a walk and a quick inspection of the Rufus Stone before going back to Burgess Hill. As a first year’s holiday away from our normal summer venue, it will take some beating for its variety of history, culture, food, entertainment, shopping (of course), and the happy renewal of family relationships. Exercise was not high on the list although I did manage some cycling, hiking, swimming and walking and of course we are all dedicated to renewing our diets once back in Leymen.
The first week of August saw us meet with our friends Nigel, Andrea and Julia and their children for a barbecue evening and an overnight stay in Tunbridge Wells. Their children had grown in such a way that with each I was sorely tempted to exclaim “My word, haven’t you grown?” but I managed to suppress it. I also went to London on a long hot day to see my brother Clive and his wife Julia, and spent some time with them and with my niece Sophie. This was followed by the passionate wedding of Jessie’s best friend Jenny, in the remarkable Broyle Place in Ringmer, in which Jessie was one of five bridesmaids in red dresses surrounding a beautiful bride and a proud groom.
Nick, Oliver, Susanne, Sophia, Laurie, Eve, Lionel
Helen, Jessie, Alli, Zoe, Joe, Kay, George, Ella, Gwen
Burgess Hill, July 2014
The month’s many activities gave me pause for reflection at the urgently hurtling passage of time. This is our last day in England at the house of my ever complaisant parents-in-law after a tumultuous few weeks, which also included an unscripted and brief moment in the company of Alli’s brothers and their ever-growing families. This provided a rare opportunity for a complete family photo of the Burgess Hill Miles family and all partners and progeny therefrom. After all, these family trees, boughs, bark, branches, twigs and leaves, so important for future generations of family historians, should always be recorded faithfully and carefully in the media of the moment.
Yours in the bosom,