2nd June…more John Guy and others…


The third John Guy book in a short period, My Heart Is My Own, so he must be good. Actually I discovered I had this book in my library unread. Just as enjoyable as his others, equally well-researched, equally easy to read. There was just one section where I felt the going was a little tough and tedious where John made us party to all his detective work on the Casket Letters. Yes he does go back to the original sources unlike so many contemporary historians, but he makes rather a meal of it in this book whilst savaging the lax approach of others. Still, I now know all about Mary Queen of Scots. I have been fascinated ever since an early visit to Lochleven castle, where Mary was imprisoned, and a more recent visit to Fotheringay ruins where of course she was executed, both extremely evocative places.

Unknown-1.jpegA re-read of one of Susan Hill’s detective series, The Pure in Heart, the second Simon Serrailler novel. Now Susan Hill is not quite so hot on procedure as say Peter James ( who spends all his spare time with the police!), however she can tell a good story. And the strength in the Serrailer books is the setting, a cathedral town, the empathy we have with the protagonist who has lots going on in his life revealed in back-plots, and the story itself which races along. I must read more Serrailler, and easy bed-time read…and who wants taxing at bed-time?!

Because I like to have something serious going on at the same Unknown-3.jpegtime as my ‘lighter’ reading, I also picked out Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars from my beautiful, beautiful Folio collection. Whilst the lives of the important Emperors – Caesar himself, Augustus, Nero and so on – are fascinating, not so with the minor characters. It’s a bit of a drag reading about them to be honest. If I were a historian of ancient Rome would I give much credence to what Suetonius tells us? A lot of it does seem gossip of the most credulous kind. Well, here is what the Faculty of History at Cambridge says..”Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars followed an established convention of the short biographical essay, which lent itself to convivial sharing before an audience but could also be used to explore important themes. Suetonius, who lived through a period of stable but despotic imperial rule, wanted to explore the nature of imperial power and how a city with a strong republican tradition had ended up handing absolute power to individuals and dynasties, some of whom abused it flagrantly. His eye for salacious detail has led some to dismiss Suetonius as a sort of Roman gossip-columnist; more recently, however, historians have recognised the value of his work as a reflection of 1st and 2nd century attitudes towards power.” And, there are no good alternative sources for some of the Emperors, so…..It is a valuable chronology, and lets us into the society of the times and what people at the time regarded as important, but it leaves me with the feeling that the Romans weren’t half a gullible lot with their reliance on reading the omens and seeing natural occurrences as arbiter of human fate. Worth reading…especially in the luscious Folio format.

Another wonderful little Folio book, I have just completed is Crusader Castles by T E Lawrence. Little did I expect to be reading an undergraduate History thesis bound up Unknown-4.jpegwith letters to his Mum! It was really quite exceptional. Although it did indeed read like an undergraduate piece of work, nevertheless the work that went into this study was amazing, and from one so young. Basically, Lawrence of Arabia  as we know him, crams what seems like a lifetime of research into disproving what was held ( and still is I think ) to be an accepted piece of historical understanding, that the sophisticated series of castles here and in France which replaced the Norman keeps were adopted from designs brought back from the Crusades. Lawrence shows with much detail that this could not be so and that in fact sophistication and development came from Western architects building on what they already knew. A most impressive shot against the Oxford establishment. All of this came from his extensive cycle rides around his own country and France from when he was just a child interested in History, and then from research trips to Syria and the wider Middle East. These indeed prepared him well for his later more well-known role as the saviour of Arabs and their culture. And no little interest is added by his letters home which not only go into great detail about what he was finding, but also about the vagaries of travelling alone in such country at such a time. What amazing people our ancestors were.

13th May 2017…..Secret gardens in Fowey


Today was the last day of Fowey literary festival (nothing too exciting to entice us), and there was a secret garden trail as part of the festival. What could be nicer than looking at other people’s gardens? On hitting town we made for the festival office to pick up a trail map. This, with the bookshop (Waterstones, why not the local Indie?), was located in the Royal Fowey Yacht Club. Never having been there before, we were delighted to discover you could have a drink and sit on the terrace, which we duly did.


Suitably refreshed, we set out and visited roughly eight of the dozen or so private gardens that were open. The pics show that a large part of their attraction was the views of Fowey and its estuary which opened them out to a larger canvas…




We also discovered the public ‘grammar school’ gardens which we had noted before but never entered..they were a true delight…we had an enjoyable 10 minutes just sitting there and admiring them.



Garden visiting can be quite tiring however (!), and we made at last for the haven of the Yacht Club Terrace where we had lunch…quite a privilege to sit there on a hot day we thought. Whilst having lunch we were treated to a series of yacht races. It seemed to me that chaos reigned, but we discovered that that was just the warming-up. When the races actually got under way F. was at an advantage as she could tune in to the club member who was sitting behind her and explaining the finer points to a visiting Australian couple. Quite exciting really!








9th May 2017…..The Scillies at last


Never having been to the Scillies before (and having wanted to for many years) we took advantage today of the bargain £25 return fare for locals in the quiet time of March/April/May, from Isles of Scilly Travel. It meant an early start with a one and a half hour drive and finding parking before check-in by 8.45am, but no problem (we don’t often have to get up early). Our journey was somewhat spoilt by the realisation that we didn’t have our documentation with us to prove we were local. However dire thoughts of paying full-fare were soon allayed by the kind receptionist who believed us (for one reason or another)!

The fact that it was a grey day did not worry us a bit as the day was forecast as ‘changeable’ with some sunny spells, and the ship, the Scillonian III, was all that could be expected…we were soon ensconced in comfortable seats with our newspaper and a coffee and pastry from one of the two restaurant/cafes…


and it was very interesting to see the whole of St. Mount’s Bay, and then the coastline all the way to Land’s End and Bishop’s Rock lighthouse. We caught a glimpse of Mousehole and Porthcurno beach and the Minack theatre, and I was fascinated to see the sheer cliffs for long stretches. My daughter and I had walked from Land’s End to Minack a few years ago and were not at all aware of the miles of precipitous cliffs whose top we were merrily traversing.

The trip across was two hours and forty-five minutes, but for the last hour or so we could see the Scillies coming up. To me an amazing sight, lots and lots of islands seemingly just dropped into the wide, wide ocean. And the closer we got the more we could make out long beaches of white sand, and signs of communities (small though they are).




and, as promised, on cue as it were, the weather changed and became quite pleasant.


Pulling into the harbour at Hugh Town, the capital of St Mary’s,  there was a flurry of activity, motor boats, yachts, ferries criss-crossing – everyone bound for somewhere. We had read and been told that the capital of the Scillies was akin to a large village on the mainland, but it seemed quite sizeable to us, and so it proved. It really was quite lovely with several beaches, a good range of shops, hotels, B+Bs, art galleries, and friendly natives.



Due to previous research, we were making for Juliet’s Garden on a hill above the town promising views of all the islands, and good food. It was a pretty and rewarding half-hour walk to get there, what with the white beaches and plentiful flowers…..and glimpses back towards the harbour and our ship, still unloading the containers of supplies of all kinds on which all the islands depend.





and one unexpected sight was an expensive yacht stranded on the rocks…..

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Juliet’s was great. As soon as we sat down outside the waitress was there with a menu and chat. The food was tasty and reasonable. The views terrific.




As we had another couple of hours after lunch we climbed the hill, all the time accompanied by lots of planes holding a handful of passengers landing and taking off,  and dropped down to the outskirts of Old Town where there was yet another simply beautiful beach….


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Back in Hugh Town, we walked westwards to investigate the four star  Star Castle Hotel which was right inside the famous fortificationsimages-1.jpeg…the castle dates to Elizabethan times and was built by Francis Godolphin, who leased the islands from Queen Elizabeth I in 1571. The castle was constructed shortly after the Spanish Armada as a lookout post to protect south-west England. Built in the shape of an eight-pointed star, it has lots of nooks and images.jpegcrannies, some of which we explored (and very interesting too), deep ramparts, and is surrounded by a dry moat…..a wonderful place to stay if one can afford it, the views immense, the location unsurpassed.


So, all in all, a very memorable day. We can’t wait to  return, and would love to stay, and to visit St Martin’s which is small (2 miles long, 120 population) and with the whitest of the white beaches.

8th May 2017….Trelissick


A trip to Halfords in St Austell was made an excuse for driving a bit further and visiting Trelissick which we had been to only once before in the 70’s (so quite a long time ago..). Then the house was still a private home and there was only limited access to the gardens. What a change we found. The house , now opened on the ground floor by NT, was very interesting indeed, and the very imaginative date trail (for children?) showed off some wonderful locally made artefacts.

The Historic England entry gives a valuable overview, as always, of both house and gardens. Our visit started with lunch outside (a brilliant warm day), a look round the large Gallery (full of paintings and ceramics by Cornwall artists), and then a full circuit of the grounds. One of the guides inside the house had told us that the higher-ups in NT regarded Trelissick as possibly having the best views of any of their houses..who couldn’t agree?


The gardens were really magnificent, unusual plants, vistas all round, lots of colour, and we shall certainly return, as it was one of our best NT experiences.




As we were so near we decided to take the King Harry ferry across the Fal (quite expensive, and not saving us so much as we run on lpg)…the bench statue of someone waiting for the ferry was a nice touch…


and we then had the great pleasure of calling in for a pint at the idyllic Roseland Inn, complete with vintage Bentley at the gateway….all in all well worth a trip to Halfords!


7th May 2017. A Daughter’s Love…..

a-daughters-love-uk-pb-small.jpgThis was the book very kindly given to me by my daughter on the occasion of her wedding. She had ascertained that I liked John Guy, the author of a previous gift by her, and this was left wrapped at my place on the top table. Lovely, and touching (as she is)! The other book I had read was John’s biography of Elizabeth I which was absolutely terrific, amazingly well-researched by a historian who knows his stuff, but written with the style of a great novelist. The same exactly can be said for this dual biography of Thomas More and his daughter Margaret. I hadn’t wanted to start it – as my attitude to More was that whilst no doubt a brilliant mind he was, unlike say Erasmus, totally committed to the burning of heretics believing they deserved what they got. Not a very Humanist post-of-view. However, once I had started on the book I could not put it down. John Guy’s research was so deep and so widespread and all-encompassing, that we felt we were right in the heart of things and intimate with the Mores’ innermost thoughts. No-one before has really picked up on the relationship between father and favourite daughter, but what a relationship it was. From the very first pages when we walked with Margaret to London Bridge for her to recover and cherish her father’s skull from its public spike, to the last chapter or two when we learned in detail of Margaret’s trips to the Tower to be with him, and pray with him – the only one of his extended family to continue visiting him in his gaol at the Tower, the story is splendidly told. Two people of the utmost principle, who would not give an inch as far as their faith was concerned. Now at last we see the real More family, all flawed, but symptomatic of their dangerous times. What a pity I have no more John Guy to read, for the time being…..

3rd May 2017. Walk to Black Rock cafe….


I’ve written about the Black Rock cafe before….. today as we had either an hour or two hours before the bus back in Looe, we decided to use the two hours to walk across to Millendreath. It’s about 40 minutes each way, leaving half an hour for a cup of coffee, so just right. We got lovely views of Looe on the way and once again we didn’t tire of imagining what it would be like to own one of the many expensive houses on the route….


We had a nice chat with the cafe owner, and he told us that they would be closed for a few days soon to revamp the kitchen. He showed us the various menus which looked terrific and good value…they specialise in fish, so we will go for a meal soon. The new bar which overlooks the beach was also an enticement. It really is a nice spot and right on the beach.


2nd May 2017. Visit to Pencarrow House….


Using our HHA membership today we visited Pencarrow House which is just North of Bodmin, and about 40 minutes away. On the way I realised I had forgotten my mobile/camera and F. found that hers was out of charge. So no pics. In a way that was great, it was freeing. It meant we could walk about without worrying which pictures to take. Might do it more often!

On turning into the mile-long drive up to the house, we were amazed by the view….a long, long avenue with rhodedenrons (700 varieties in the grounds apparently) and camellias  on both sides in flower, quite magnificent. Pity about the camera! The house was guided tour only which I like, so as we had a bit of time we had a cup of tea and half

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a homemade cake each sitting outside the Peacock cafe. The cafe is aptly named as we were watched the whole time by a family of peacocks perched on a balustrade. The chickens and cockerel running about and sitting under our table were rare breeds (rare to me anyhow, I haven’t been able to identify them), with feathered legs, and they seemed to move with a clockwork gait…quite amusing.


The tour was taken by Sue F. who was an absolute mine of information. The house largely Georgian is still lived in and owned by  descendants of the family who settled there in the 1500s, the Molesworth-St Aubyn….the same family who own St Michael’s Mount, and a splendid holiday house we see regularly at Hannafore. It was explained to us that the house lay empty for 30 years and was taken on in the 1970s by Lieutenant Colonel Sir Arscott and Lady Molesworth-St Aubyn. They spent decades re-claiming the gardens from an overgrown state and shaping the house to open to the public in its current form. Today, the family inhabits one small wing of the house, the accommodation that used to be the servants’ (typical of many private houses that the owners end up in the servants’ quarters!). Basically the ground and first floor have been made habitable, and have been refurbished with all the collections which had been stored in the attics. The upper floor remains derelict.

‘Pencarrow boasts a fine collection of paintings, most notably an important series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, and two riverscape views of London by Samuel Scott. A favourite family work is a tableaux of the Four Misses St Aubyn in front of St Michael’s Mount, a delight of drapery by Sir Arthur Devis. Other artists include Richard Wilson, Henry Raeburn, and Charles Brooking.

China and porcelain in the house include Meissen figurines, Chamberlayne’s Worcester dinner service, Sèvres plates and candelabra, and famille verte plates of the K’ang Hsi period (1622-1722). Equally enjoyable is an eclectic collection of glass pens made for the Great Exhibition in the Crystal Palace in 1851.

The jewel in the crown is the large Ch’ien Lung famille rose bowl known as the Pencarrow Bowl, which was specially made by Chinese artisans based on drawings. The outside of the bowl shows farming scenes demonstrating the estate’s connection to agriculture; on the inside is a colourful artist’s impression of Pencarrow and a foxhunt, complete with horses and riders, a pack of hounds and their rather otter-like quarry.

Furniture of note include a giltwood Adam suite, side-tables carved in the style of William Kent, Louis XVI settee and chairs, and a George IV four-poster bed.

Family artefacts greatly enhance the visitor experience at Pencarrow. Among those on display are the family’s children’s toys, drawings and collections; an 1840 portable shower; clothing and costumes. A row of marble busts in the inner hall sports a variety of hats, from bowlers and top hats to a fez. This, according to the lady of the house, both livens them up and keeps them from catching a cold.’ There are many touches like that throughout the house both quirky and poignant.

Pencarrow-0043-s.jpgI was particularly fascinated by the piano a Collard and Collard grand piano used by Sir Arthur Sullivan in composing Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe in 1882 which stands in the Music Room, and some of the original G+S costumes are randomly scattered in various rooms. I was also glad to see one of the four known portraits of Charles I at his trial. At an hour I suppose the tour was just about right but I could have gone on for far longer.

We then did a circuit of the grounds, taking in the Italian garden, the rockery (the first in Victorian times), and a wonderful stream-side garden called Mole’s Garden, the memorial garden to the late Lt Col Sir Arscott Molesworth-St Aubyn Bart, with beautiful views down the valley towards the House. It incorporates pools within the dammed stream, a bridge to the far bank and imaginative planting of grasses and shrubs…lovely. We then went past the lake and climbed to the prehistoric iron-age fort which to me was quite spectacular. It seemed to have three concentric defences and outriders too. Peering through the shrubs and trees which now adorn it the views of the surrounding countryside are quite magnificent.

All in all a superlative house and gardens….we must come back.


1st May…more books

Unknown.jpegAre there any books called ‘The South’? Well even if there were, they wouldn’t be much cop, and I’m sure Paul Morley wouldn’t think so either. ‘The North’ is an amorphous concept in many ways, but people who live there definitely know they are Northerners and on the whole are proud of it. Paul Morley writes from the point of view of being an adopted and somehow self-selecting Northerner, and this does give him a rather idiosyncratic view. I must say that this was one of those rare books which I put on one side from time to time, not because I didn’t want to read it but because I did. I wanted to extend the reading period. Having now read a few reviews of the book, I’m absolutely amazed that a lot of them don’t ‘get it’. Yes sometimes the stream of consciousness stuff can be annoying, and it is rather weird to keep showing the history backwards, but for someone like me the book really is a mine of pleasure. Descriptions of The North, history, sharp commentary, and much else besides are mixed with personal reminiscence of being brought up in The North, and you do feel you are getting to know Paul Morley quite intimately whether you want to or not. I do. What he writes resonates. As well as the sheer lyricism and pleasure, I learned an awful lot about a North I thought I knew very well. A lot of the stuff he admits he drags up from the Internet, verbatim I should think, and I’m sure in places no rigorous research has taken place. Does that concern me? In a History book, of course. In a book about what The North is, and is like, No. More than 500 pages which I shall read again. If you’re from The North…highly recommended. If, as I suspect many of the reviewers, from ‘The South’, perhaps give it a miss.

Unknown-1.jpegMagisterial, a triumph, a great achievement, chilling epic-size history…just some of the terms used by respected reviewers. From my point of view the best bit about this book was the fact that Ian Kershaw reviewed the drafts with a friend in a pub I used to use in Didsbury Manchester. Frankly I was rather disappointed. Yes it is deeply researched, yes Ian Kershaw has examined much archive material which has never been used before, yes it is a respectable History of Europe between 1914 ad 1949. But because of its scope, because of Ian’s depth of knowledge, it constantly takes the form of…..this was the situation in the UK, this in France, this in Bulgaria, this in Yugoslavia….you lose the over-arching critique in the detail. And it isn’t a good read. I did study History, still do, but I like an author to immerse me in the times, to make me want to find out more. Sorry, not for me. But the Royal Oak is a good pub.

Unknown-2.jpegParis 1585. The Tudor period we all love, but location for this book elsewhere, and therefore fresh as daisies. That’s what I wanted from this novel, an adventure giving me a different take on something all too familiar, and so well done in countless histories and novels ( I do like Wolf Hall…). But although the period is evoked (as it should be by someone who studied it for research purposes), the ‘adventure’ is dry as dust, not at all engrossing, and I felt most unusually that although I got half-way through I could read it no longer. I have therefore abandoned it. There is nothing wrong with ‘light’ history (one of my customers was one of the leading Tudor Historians, and he liked nothing better than a good novel set in Tudor times…), but it has to be good.

images.jpegSecret Beaches South West…’explore the secluded shores of Southwest England’ Well, we are doing and I will report back. This book, and more like it, are designed to make our task easier, but in the meantime a joy to have and to dip into, and yes to imagine that the sun will shine tomorrow and we will take a picnic to that beach.