Through the South Hams again…this time to the Opera…Saturday 24th February


Having decided to make a day out of our visit to yet another live opera screening at the Vue in Torquay, we wended through the South Hams again making in the first instance for what was Keith Floyd‘s old pub the Maltster’s Arms in the small riverside hamlet of Tuckenhay (click through…very interesting history) where we thought we would lunch. The pub and the setting were terrific, loads of interesting rooms some with Floyd memorabilia, but the stairs from the car park to the main pub rooms passed the kitchen’s pass which we both noted was really messy and didn’t augur well for standards, so having had a quick drink off we went to the next village along the river towards Dartmouth – Dittisham where we knew from consulting the Good Pub Guide that there were two likely pubs. The views on the way there reminded us why we always liked this part of the country (why did we ever leave?!), and the village itself is delightful – steep lanes leading down to the river and the waterside pub The Ferryboat Inn or FBI as it likes to be known.






A good choice…here is the view from the pub’s window….


and the cheerful interior, all a pub should be….


It is very small and crowded when we arrived but the service was excellent and we managed to sit at a table reserved for just over an hour later. Just in time to enjoy a pint and fish and chips. The pub has its own jetty from which a ferries operate both to Agatha Christie’s house on the opposite bank and to Dartmouth…if there’s a nicer river trip I don’t know it. The river is extremely wide here as you can see.




We then decided to have a look at Brixham which we didn’t know too well. great location with a working fishing fleet but all a bit tatty including the replica Golden Hind..


yet another British town, of which there are so many which, with a bit of money spent on them (well quite a lot of money) could be really really nice…. we decided we much preferred Dartmouth.


Having spent a lot of time in traffic jams in Torquay and Paignton looking for a garage which dispensed lpg we arrived at the Vue rather frazzled. However La Boheme was magnificent. Terrific music but Puccini could have done with a better story and librettist in both our opinions….a Gilbert to his Sullivan. Opera plots really are very silly.


The main role of Mimi was played by Sonya Yoncheva whom we had recently seen as Tosca. All the singers were top-notch. Worth missing the England rugby international for!



A new favourite…Salcombe in Devon


Make everything a memorable experience…well, we had a bedhead to collect at Ivybridge, so after doing that we thought we would explore the South Hams nearby. We ended up in Salcombe and here was our first view over the water having parked our car on the steep hill down into town. A beautiful beach at East Portlemouth which is right opposite Salcombe on the Kingsbridge estuary. And this was one of a whole series of top-class beaches strung all along the estuary. We know these are reachable by a frequent ferry, almost a taxi service, from Salcombe as we had taken the ferry and a picnic over to the other side when the children were young. The effect was almost of travelling across to an island. It was the red-hot summer of 1976. A truly memorable day that was.

As we walked down into town down the longest and steepest steps we have ever encountered, the views of the estuary opened up and were magnificent.





And town was lovely – absolutely crammed with independent shops just as we both like to see. So we had a little wander around those, saw one or two good pubs, and an interesting notice for my collection..


and then a coffee with a view..


We couldn’t in any way contemplate going up all the steps back to the car, so we guessed our way up various roads admiring the houses on the way..


and more views…



Just to cap things off we drove to one of Salcombe’s own beaches. The tide was coming in, it was getting colder and we needed to be on our way.


A great place on a cold winter’s day. It’s kind of a slightly more upmarket Dartmouth if you can have such a thing, as Dartmouth is spectacular itself. But in Summer I know all the wealthy RaaRaa Londoners will fill it with their braying tones. Ah well.

On the way back home we passed a lovely gateway to seemingly nowhere…presumably an estate rear entrance at one time now a very posh way into a field!!


Cornwall in February


Sometimes at the beginning of the year down here in the West Country you get the feeling that this must be one of the wettest places in the world. It makes you wonder how we can ever have droughts….surely by now a strategic network of linked water holding sites could have been produced, storing strategic water supplies in the wet areas like Scotland and the West Country? Anyhow it’s not all doom and gloom….when there is a break in the weather we can do our regular round walk down to St Keyne’s Well. And from the beginning of January we see stirrings of Spring…here and there primroses,

20180212_133046.jpgsnowdrops and daffodils which, depending on the site, can be in full bloom. All very cheering. When there is a complete break in the weather we venture a bit further taking the bus to Looe very often and walking along the sea defences at Hannafore or the opposite way towards Seaton, and in a sheltered spot you really can sit in the sunshine (a terrific privilege at this time of year).20180209_120223.jpg


Having been to the cinema in Plymouth to see Tosca streamed from the Met in New York a short while ago, we now returned to see the Royal Opera House version. Chalk and cheese. Those who know me will predict that I will say that the British version (as seen


here) was much better, but we both thought it really was. How much nicer to have a theatre with Edwardian glamour and glitz rather than a concrete edifice. The staging was different, more atmospheric, and the singing was sensational as was, to be fair, the Met’s. How do these singers do it? They really are magnificent. There are three main protagonists in the opera. The leading role -Tosca – was played unconventionally as a youngish person in the Met’s performance, more traditional at the Royal Opera, both good. The artist who meets a tragic end just shaded it for the ROH, and actually we thought the evil character Scarpia, who has a massive role, was better in the Met performance although all the social media would have you believe otherwise. That just goes to show that at the end of the day it can be a matter of opinion. We are so glad we have at last discovered live opera performances from the greats at affordable prices (free sometimes with our Times+ membership!). A bit late in life but so what….I hope we go to many more and that, before I finally pack my bags, I will be able to see live opera in the Verona amphitheatre….my lifetimes ambition.

When for once guaranteed a nice day we decided to explore the beaches of the North coast. We have been before, but I had an itching to rank them and to note down their car parking charges for future reference….sad I know, but the sort of thing retired people do. I also wanted to see Bedruthan Steps for the first time. Diverting a bit westwards to pick up lpg for the car (as our regular source was out of supply) we made for the outskirts of Newquay so that we could wend our way North to Padstow via some famous beaches. Starting at Porth we decided not to call as it  seemed a bit too urban, right on the outskirts of Newquay, perhaps a mistake as I see afterwards that it looks rather nice and there is a great walk across a narrow footbridge to Porth Island. Another time. Our first glimpse of Watergate Bay was all we could have expected, and we decided to pull into a farm gateway on the hill above the beach for our picnic…home-made quiche and hot chocolate – with a view. Lovely.



Moving down to the beach we parked in one of the two large car parks (free between 1st November and 31st March), and had an exhilarating walk on the sands which were very busy indeed with dog walkers and families (last day of half term). The setting and the clean beach and the rolling surf made it a five star beach for us. Parking charges quite high (but only £1 after 4pm so………). Good-looking hotel, and Jamies’s Fifteen somewhere nearby (we will visit some day….looks great).

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We already knew Mawgan Porth beach quite well, and if you pop into the pub as we did last time with Katherine and Aiisha you can park for free there. It has an excellent reputation (eg in The Times’ Top Ten Beaches), and quite unusually a river running through the middle…our rating 3 or 4 stars.


Our next stepping off point was the famous Bedruthan Steps which intrigued me as I knew access to the beach was difficult – down 120 steep steps built into the cliff side, and I was wondering whether it was something I might not manage due to my acrophobia. The parking here is free for NT members and we just managed to squeeze in by the cafe. Quite a bit of wildlife on this coast as the NT board indicated…well, an amazing variety actually….


We set off from the cafe at Carnewas Cliffs with spectacular views almost straight away…


and we stopped on numerous occasions for photos and just to take in the breathtaking scenery…get anywhere near the cliff edges and you are really exposed…a good gust of wind and  that would be it!




and I wouldn’t like to walk to the end of this particular fence…



Anyway, the further we followed the path the more spectacular the views….


and of course the weather helped…blue skies, blue seas, wonderful beaches, virtually pristine, and magnificent cliffs…



and when we eventually got to the steps themselves (pedestrian steps not the Steps of the title, which are the huge rocks seemingly thrown across the sands by giants), I went down part of the way (leaving F. safely ensconced on top), and discovered that they were probably ‘do-able’ for me…



mainly because of the two handrails!


A salutary poster on our way back to the cafe showed how right it is for all of us to give up all plastic whenever possible…a tragic story of what we are doing to our wildlife…poor albatross.20180216_134639.jpg

Our rating of Bedruthan Steps (out of 5 stars)…….6 stars without a doubt.

Next stop Porthcothan where again we squeezed into the last parking spot…there were only a couple of dozen, but in season I believe the adjoining field is opened up. The cafe (closed) looked really nice. Access over the pleasant sand dunes. The  beach opens out at low tide to connect up with small coves to the north and south. At high tide, Porthcothan Beach shrinks dramatically but also turns into a very sheltered beach due to the dunes and cliffs. 1st November to 14th March no charge. Four stars.



On to Treyarnon Bay. Parking charges all year round unusually, but cheaper than elsewhere £4 all day. Lots of activity in the car park as we arrived surfers changing before or after their exertions.  Lovely beach if a little narrow, protected again by its dunes and cliffs. Three or four stars……


Last but one stop today and one of the best, Harlyn Bay. Parking very reasonable. ‘Considered one of the best family beaches in Cornwall’….can’t argue with that. Backed by  beautiful dunes, it is wide and long and not only has great sand but superb rock pools too. And good surf.







The very last stop….Trevone Bay.


One of those Cornish beaches that are deeper than they are wide, but pleasant enough. I must admit I like huge sweeps of sand around a long bay.


Well, an interesting day out for us as well as hugely enjoyable. We also noted that there are some beaches we can get to on the bus. Take the 11 to Padstow and then the Atlantic Coaster A5 towards Newquay. We must try.







More reading…

9781509816316need you dead_12_jpg_780_1200Not all of Peter James’ detective novels featuring DS Roy Grace and set in Brighton are as good as this….one of the very best. I think it is because of the hundreds of hours of research that Peter does with the police that he writes so well and so convincingly. He is a great story-teller and stylish writer too. We were lucky enough to have him a couple of times as one of our speakers at Warwick Books and his presentations were superb. If you get the chance to hear him please do so. A murder this time seems to be fairly straightforward, but lots of scenarios soon present themselves and we are soon racking our brains along with Grace. Riveting.

A Christmas present to myself, I really enjoyed finding out a lot more about the Ancient 91FUELHu7rL.jpgGreeks than I knew already (I did study Ancient Greek at school, fortunately). I was astounded by the up-to-date scholarship and by the sheer number of sources/resources now available to scholars, a real eye-opener. The only negative thing I have to say is that Edith Hall goes about her task in a very complicated way. She posits that most ancient Greeks shared ten particular qualities. She further says that their history over 2000 years can be broken down into ten periods. She then relates one quality to one period. Very novel. But I’m not quite sure it works and she does make heavy weather of her structure on occasions. However she does thank goodness avoid the politically charged approach that the Greeks more or less just absorbed science, culture etc from other mainly Middle-Eastern nations around them. This of course is absolute nonsense. If you can stay the course of the structure, this is a hugely enlightening and entertaining book. I just wish the maps were a little better…

81bPzMIcskL.jpgAnother Christmas present, and another good buy. I find Donna Leon’s plots vary tremendously…plausible, implausible, but what I always enjoy very much is the characterisation and humanity of her protagonists. It suits me down to the ground that Commissario Brunetti loves to go home to a ‘proper’ lunch with wine and has a couple of glasses of prosecco before his beautifully described dinner. After all he deserves them! We’ve always cooked fresh food, often had three courses, and enjoy wine with our meals. What’s life for? Anyway ‘Earthly Remains’ is not the usual dead body leading to contorted quests for perpetrators. It is quite different. For a start Brunetti is on well-deserved leave, a leave he is (much to his own surprise) starting to enjoy…that is until the caretaker of his villa whom he has befriended, goes missing. What follows is not only a hunt for his friend, but an eye-opening dig into the disgraceful way in which the lagoons of his sacred Venice have been treated as a dumping ground for all kinds of things, many very noxious. A really interesting take on how the modern world is destroying itself. A relaxed pace suits the subject entirely. A really enjoyable read that is at the same time politically enlightening. For how many detective novels can you say that?!somebody-at-the-door-2.jpg

I enjoy this series of British Library Crime Classics re-publications with their nostalgic atmosphere and descriptive backgrounds. This particular novel I found a little more difficult. It tended to ramble, and become a bit too convoluted for my liking, and I found the plot unsatisfactory. However the setting – wartime, the blackout, steam train journeys – was highly enjoyable. So mixed results as far as I was concerned, and the setting should not outweigh the plot after all said and done.

9781848879584.jpgI came across ‘Victoria, A Life’ when I was actually looking for a good book on Prince Albert. With such good reviews I had to buy it. I must say it has proved one of my better purchases. putting a whole different slant on the Victoria we think we know. Not only does A N Wilson approach the history from behind excellent original research, but he is a master craftsman, putting together a life story which I couldn’t put down. The Victoria he describes is immensely human, and at the same time has an unconscionable influence on the politics of her day – and not only on a dynastic and background level. She really got down and dirty with all the political questions that interested her, and she had influence beyond her strictly constitutional position. It was fascinating to see her being transformed into a figurehead for the Tory party, run of course by her very intimate favourite Disraeli. It was fascinating too to see how much she was influenced by favourites throughout her reign from Albert himself to John Brown. What I thought was tittle tattle proved to have a lot more foundation than I thought. I agree with one or two reviewers – that occasionally it was easy to lose track of who was who (not surprising with such an extended family). But the mark of a good historian is to deliver something you want to read based on impeccable research, and this is done in spades. Lots to interest and amaze you. I for one hadn’t’ realised quite how Germanic Victoria herself was. And I was continually astounded by her interference in high politics.  A wonderful book.

9780008121747.jpg.pngLuckily for me I managed to get from my local bookshop the lovely  The Bookshop Liskeard the two latest in the County Tales by Ian Sanson. They really are an enormous treat. The background is that the highly eccentric ‘People’s Professor’ Swanton Morley is continuing to write a history and introduction to the counties of England, aided by his incredibly glamorous daughter Miriam and his assistant Sefton. I think these are three and four in the series. The point is that the plots always revolve around a crime which has been committed at the same time as their visits, and Swanton can’t help but get 51KEuOpbTPL.jpginvolved. Often you just have one character who is always the chief protagonist, and other parts are fairly minor. But Ian Sansom really provides a treat when we get to know Swanton, Miriam and Sefton equally in themselves and in reaction with each other. The atmosphere of 1930’s England is really well created, and the approach I find incredibly humorous. Swanton who reckons to know everything about everything, and only sometimes does, reminds me of a very good friend of mine, but of course he shall remain nameless. But in any case we get to really love him despite his weaknesses and drawbacks…. a true delight, can’t wait for more…

51kwsk2JYHL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgAnd now for a book I truly didn’t like and couldn’t stomach – ‘Inglorious Empire’ by Shashi Tharoor. Somebody who purports to write history really should not put forward a  polemic pure and simple pretending to be well-researched history. This book seems to get good reviews from the politically correct liberal metropolitan elite, but my god they haven’t a clue. After reading a small part where views were put forward as facts when in fact they were wrong, I put it to one side. I should really like to tear it to shreds…maybe that would help!



A Day Without Electricity…Mon 5th Feb.


A good excuse for getting out after a lot of rain, we were to have no electricity at home today. Off we went on the 10.40 am bus from Liskeard to Padstow. We arrived at lunch time so went straight to Rick Stein’s Fish ‘N Chips.  Brilliant as usual, two haddock and chips for us – crispy batter, lovely fresh fish, chips done in beef dripping, two coffees, all set.Falmouth-1-1024x683.jpg

We sat in the window…to avoid the door draughts..and for the view… prosecco this time, just tap water with lemon.


We felt warmed up on a bitterly cold day and ready for our walk. First of all through town where the harbour as seen above had little activity (unlike most of the year), and then on to the war memorial overlooking the estuary. The views were sweeping as the tide was on its way out…and it was very interesting to see the ferry which normally lands us in Rock looking for suitable sites to disgorge much further along the beach towards Polzeath.



The path soon gave us brilliant views of Doom Bar


and we soon found a route down to the sands (the first couple of turns involve a bit of scrambling over rocks which F. didn’t fancy).


All lovely and deserted…


And, as promised, the sun deigned to appear which puts an entirely different complexion on things..


Plenty of little coves amongst the rocks and caves (grand for smuggling) with stony seats for us to rest and have our hot chocolate (an experiment, tea and coffee taste awful in a flask, but the chocolate was lovely).


On the way back we noted the dredging going on (a continual task to keep access free down the estuary)…


and we noted there were more than enough benches provided for weary travellers!


All in all a very enjoyable way to spend a day out of the house…wrap up well and you’re fine!


Churchill – A Travesty of a Portrayal, Film Stars in Liverpool, Art at Buckfast Abbey…1st February


More cinema….this time ‘Darkest Hour’ starring Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill. British production company owned by a big American company, and therefore subject to as much American gloss as any films originating there. I had a bad feeling about this before we went (despite all the glowing reviews, of which there have been many). Rubbish collectors dressed as rubbish collectors with scrupulously clean clothes and bins, obviously just costumes. A Churchill who was portrayed as a drunk scarcely able to do any work or string words together, working with a single secretary. Come off it!! Churchill had strings of secretaries who could scarcely keep with his vast daily output. He was totally on top of his task which demanded superhuman effort, and he took a detailed interest in every aspect of the War as evidenced for instance in his “Action This Day’ memos. And to think that he looked up at the Commons Gallery for reassurance from his – one- secretary, what a travesty. The whole film was a lie and I don’t know how the critics get away with it. They know absolutely nothing. I came away very angry.


That was on the Super Monday at Vue. Glad we only paid £3.99 for the tickets. However we decided on Thursday to go to the Seniors showing which was ‘Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool’ a film we both wanted to see. So, after queuing for and getting our free cup of tea and biscuits, we entered the screening and immediately brought the average age of the audience down a little! The film was great, based on a real life story of the famous but ageing Hollywood actress Gloria Graham who by chance hits it off with a very young Liverpudlian. The thing they have most in common is a lust for experiencing things. At its heart though the film is a tragedy as Gloria, although only half of her believes it, is dying of cancer and she wants to be in the bosom of her young friend’s family in Liverpool to die. This has consequences for everyone, but everyone is delightfully and powerfully portrayed including the mother (Julie Walters). Set in sixties Liverpool the background is highly nostalgic and wonderfully shown – in a true realistic way. Everything you would expect from a great English film. How superior this and native Italian and French offerings in particular to anything Hollywood gives out!


The same evening we went to the Devon Rural Archive which is located in the very remote seeming grounds of Shilstone House. It is a fantastic facility with a superb library for instance , and a major ongoing project to do a detailed survey of every manor house and farmhouse, and their outbuildings, (roughly 1000 sites) on the 1765 map of Devon by Benjamin Donn. Brilliant. Every county should be doing this. Their work of which I read some whilst there is incredible, and carried out by qualified historic architects. Anyhow, we were there for an evening talk on the history, art and architecture of Buckfast Abbey. Peter Beacham was the speaker and very good he was too with excellent credentials but a very light touch (which is necessary for these sorts of occasions). We learned a lot and in particular we will view the interior decorations and art with new eyes. Peter reckons the altar, the stations of the cross, the huge golden chandelier, the glasswork is all of the very highest quality….indeed as good as it gets in the twentieth century, a lot of it emanating from one workshop in Germany. After the talk we came upon by chance the Rose and Crown at Yealmpton where we adjourned for a quick pint. A terrific discovery, good ale, real fires, a really good-sounding menu with very reasonable prices, and all in a historic building with lovely gardens. We shall return.