Forty-year old blog

No not really – I know blogs have only been around since 1999.

Maggie and I spent our honeymoon, 40 years ago, in a special location – Doyden Castle. Sometimes called a folly, this miniature castle was built in the 1830s as a drinking and gambling den for Samuel Symons of Wadebridge. It nestles on the cliffs above Port Quin in Cornwall and is a National Trust cottage that is rented to visitors. It used to sleep three but now is designed to sleep just two.

Doyden Castle, Port Quin, Cornwall

In 1970 we enjoyed two weeks in this isolated spot; this time we just spent a week. As soon as we had arrived on our second visit, this July, we realised that the visitor’s books from 1968 were still kept in the property. Originally there was an official National Trust visitor’s book in the property. This had the usual information – date, name and address, a small section for comments. This in itself is an interesting document covering a period from 1968 to date. Our 1970 entry was there, near the beginning of the book with our address in Loughborough.

The Visitors Book, Doyden Castle

However, the really fascinating part was not the visitor’s book proper but the accompanying documents. In 1970 an earlier visitor had started a journal for the cottage in an exercise book. It gave useful details of where to buy vegetables, where to get milk, how to get post and importantly where to dine out and what beaches to visit. By the time of our 1970 entry it had moved on slightly from purely factual information to recording what visitors had done and some opinions on some local facilities. But by 2010 the one small exercise book had become ten books of a continuous log that covered everything that a modern blog does.

First of Ten Volumes, Doyden Castle Journal

The journals were stuffed with full factual information, some of which related the price of goods 40 years ago (pre-decimalisation) but they also contained opinions on everything from the government of the time, the weather, the wildlife spotted to, of course, the castle ghost – the ‘grey man’. Some visitors were enthused enough by the castle and its superb location to write poetry (of mixed quality). Some visitors came regularly from the USA and one family from London came every year for over 25 years.

Doyden Castle from Port Quin Harbour

There were some amusing entries about the behaviour of wildlife. The two woodlice that lived in the castle were called Wilfred and Wilhemina and the name stuck. There is a very amusing tale in the journals of how Wilhemina was rescued from drowning in the washing up bowl; how did they tell the sex of a woodlouse? There are also interesting entries related to the 1975 BBC TV series Poldark which featured the castle; it was Dr Dwight Enys' house in Series 1. Some entries described the filming of the series around Port Quin. One entry included a description of how the entry of a boat into Port Quin was simulated by moving a painted glass image of a boat in front of the camera whilst filming the harbour. No wonder a more modern entry described Poldark as having shaky camera work, shaky acting and even shakier scripts – obviously not a fan. The castle was also a location the 1989 treasure hunt style series – Interceptor which stared Sean O’Kane and Annabel Croft.

Evening View from Doyden Castle

One of the ten volumes even record tragedy. In June 1995 a resident in the castle noted a tall ship making its way along the coast towards The Rumps; a rocky outcrop near Pentire Point and close to the entrance to the Camel estuary and Padstow harbour. He wondered why it was running so close to the shore. The ship was the 137-year-old barque Maria Assumpta, then the oldest square-rigger afloat. She continued on a steady course across Lundy Bay and ran onto the rocks and was destroyed. Three people died and the Captain was jailed for 18 months for manslaughter. It appeared that she had just been refitted at Gloucester and he had been told not to hug the coast, and that the fuel for the auxiliary engines was contaminated. When they got into difficulties and tried vainly to use the engines they failed. Entries in the journals following the disaster recorded the search for bodies using helicopters and wreckage being washed ashore for weeks.

The Maria Asumpta

Doyden Castle with The Rumps across the bay

Maggie & I brought books to read on our holiday but we didn’t touch them – the visitor books were just too fascinating. Long may they survive and flourish. Maybe one day they will feature as an historic item in some local Cornish National Trust property, or just maybe they will be scanned and be placed on the web?

Another Blog Milestone

Today we reached 25,000 hits since I loaded the site meter counter in November 2006. Not a huge number but it is good to know that there are people out there reading your output. Thanks!

Stratford Upon Avon

Maggie and I have a close connection to Stratford from the time before we were married - when we were courting to use an old fashioned phrase.

When we both lived in Solihull in the late 1960s and I rowed at Stratford upon Avon Boat Club and Maggie spent many hours following me to Midlands regattas and beyond. I even rowed in a four in the Boston Marathon. She didn't follow me when we entered a joint Worcester/Stratford crew in the Dublin Metropolitan Regatta - but that's another story.

We had a great day visiting Stratford on our 40th anniversary (the actual day - not when we had our celebration with family and friends). We hired a rowing boat and just had to pause outside the boat club.

Outside Stratford Boat Club

Maggie as cox

We eventually went upstream above the Clopton Bridge and out into the country. The traffic, bustle and throngs are more intense in Stratford than 40 odd years ago but it's very different upstream - so much quieter. NB Lengthsman, who moor near Fradley, overtook us on their way to investigate the limit of navigation.

The new developments at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre we found interesting. The new building is certainly a mixture of styles.

Chain ferry near the Dirty Duck Inn

We haven't visited Bancroft Basin since its alterations and the new bridge. Next time we visit by boat it should(?) be easier to moor up in the basin.

Bancroft Lock and new bridge

Mooring opposite the Parish Church Stratford - got to have one narrowboat in a post.

Bude Canal

You don't often connect Cornwall with canals.

Maggie & I recently celebrated our Ruby (40th) wedding anniversary by going to Cornwall and staying in the same National Trust cottage we stayed in 40 years ago this July - more of that later. With that and a family & friends party at home we haven't had much boat(ing) related activity recently.

However (there always should be a however), we did manage to visit the Bude Canal on our way down west. I had read recently The Bude Canal by Helen Harris & Monica Ellis which is part of the David & Charles series. It was published in 1972 so there is little of the recent renovations in the book.

The Bude Canal has a thriving restoration group the Bude Canal and Harbour Society that has an excellent exhibition at the visitors centre close to the sea lock at Bude. The canal was built between 1819 and 1825 mostly for the transportation of sand from Summerleaze Beach into the interior of Devon and Cornwall. The sand was used to fertilise the acid soil. It was a combination of barge canal near the coast and tub-boat canal elsewhere with a plethora of inclined planes powered by water - waterwheel and also "bucket in a well".

In the limited time available,we were just passing through, we only had time to explore the area around the sea lock. Having said that it is an impressive structure that has to stand up to the rigours of some fierce westerly storms. It has been seriously damaged a few times, the most recently in 2008.

Sea-lock, Bude Canal

Looking out to see from the lock, Bude

Sea-lock from the canal

Lock gates, Bude Sea Lock

Maggie couldn't resist try to move the lock beams (they are bolted shut!)

From the Bude tourist information and visitors centre (which is very good and has a sectiuon dealing with the canal) I purchased a book that brings up to date the Helen Harris book. It is Bude Canal - Past & Present by Bill Young and Bryan Dudley Stamp. Published by the local council (Bude-Stratton Town Council) in 1998, and revised in 2009, it is an excellent read and well illustrated. I certainly got more from this book than the much longer but more erudite Helen Harris book; maybe it's the heavy use of illustrations that modern books have. I certainly did not fully understand the mechanisms used to power the inclined planes until I read the newer book. It could be a great resource if you plan to walk along the course of the canal or investigate the sites of the inclined planes.

Falcon Hotel and restored canal basin

Detail of display showing one type of mechanism used to power the inclined planes - "bucket & well"

I also bought a small pamphlet published by the BCHS - The Bude Canal some interesting facts. Designed for the casual visitor, it certainly helps flesh out some of the detail about the canal that actually isn't in other books. It costs about £2.00. There is a great drawing of the tub-boats (complete with wheels for negotiating the inclined planes) and some brilliant pictures showing how sand was transported by a narrow gauge horse drawn railway from the beach to the basin just above the sea lock where it was emptied into either sea going vessels for export or tub boats for farms inland.

Railway used to transport sand from the beach to the canal basin

The BCHS also do guided walks along the route of the canal during the summer.