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November 18, 2017

Quirky Travel Review: Slow Travel – North Devon and Exmoor guide book

Porlock sign Exmoor

“Our Slow guides to British regions are the foremost of their kind, opening up Britain’s special places in a way that no other guides do. Discover the spots that aren’t normally publicised, meet the locals, find out where the best food can be enjoyed indulge in a little cultural foraging and discover the Britain you never knew existed with our expert local authors.”

This introduces the Slow Travel series of excellent guide books published by Bradt Guides. I am a huge fan of the the Slow Movement, the ideals of which are  incorporated into Quirky Travel.  On a weekend of stargazing and sightseeing in Exmoor last winter, Ian Mabbutt, owner of West Withy Farm, gave me a copy of  Slow Travel: North Devon and Exmoor by Hilary Bradt. What a delight this book is.

Slow Travel North Devon and Exmoor - Bradt guide bookIt’s divided into easily accessible sections covering the Cornish border, seaside coast of North Devon and Exmoor, Lundy Island, Barnstaple and inland, Exmoor National Park, Minehead, Dunster and eastern fringes of Exmoor. There’s plenty with lots of useful information, with the emphasis on encouraging us to slow down, take in the sights, sounds and inspiration that this area encourages, whilst getting around with the environment and local inhabitants playing a key part.

I’ve stayed on the north Devon coast many times at a friend’s chalet overlooking Woolacombe Bay. We based ourselves there to explore the various beaches, villages, tourist attractions and gentle countryside around.  Woolacombe has had a revival recently, having gone from top seaside resort in the mid 20th century, to fuddy-duddysville towards the end, and now quite a ‘cool’ surfing centre.

Woolacombe Beach Devon

I was pleased to see that the book focused on the wonderful bays and beaches nearby, rather than very crowded Woolacombe. Tiny Grunta next to Morte Bay gets a mention, as does little Lee You could spend hours here investigating the pools, collecting pink quartz or walking up the fuchsia-lined footpath to the village and its delightful pub, the Grampus Inn.” 

In the chapter on Lundy Island, off the north Devon coast, I learnt that Lunde øy is Norse for Puffin Island and that it was well known to Scandinavian pirates. Hilary Bradt’s obviously a keen ornithologist and she writes eloquently about the bustling bird life on the island, including the puffins, gulls, razorbills and guillemots, fulmars and Manx shearwaters. It’s also the only place in the UK where you can find all five species of shallow cup coral. I didn’t know there was one species of cup coral; now I want to go to Lundy just to see all five …

The_Jetty Lundy Island North Devon

Lundy Island – image Michael Maggs

I love the insets sharing quirky tales, little known facts and folk tales, often written by local residents or from Hilary’s vast store of Devonian knowledge.  The book is a joy to read from start to finish – whether you are travelling in mind, spirit or body.  “This region has so much to offer the Slow Traveller; cliff paths for walking, sea for rolling breakers for surfing and sandy beaches for lounging, hidden coves, and wonderful Exmoor with its heathery hills and deep valleys, combes, where rivers tumble over mossy stones on their way to the Bristol Channel.”

Exmoor ponies overlooking Bristol Channel

Exmoor ponies overlooking Bristol Channel

You can get your copy of Slow Travel: North Devon and Exmoor here

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Quirky Travel Review Slow Travel Devon and Exmoor

July 13, 2016

‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ Life’s adventure with Dr Seuss

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

The opening words of ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’, a delightful little book by Dr Seuss, are positive and life-affirming. They also epitomize the philosophy of many of us who choose to set off to Great Places as often as we possibly can. These places may be real; a holiday on a sun-kissed island like Menorca, a trek through the Australian Bush, a train journey through the Swiss Alps, a boat trip to watch bears in Canada or a meander beside an English lake. But they could equally be places we go metaphorically. The word ‘journey’ is hugely overused these days, but life really is a journey, with all the attendant ups and downs that any literal journey brings …

‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ is advice to a young boy who leaves home to explore the world. He’s told that he’s in charge of his own life and can make his own decisions on what direction to his journey will take.

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own.  And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.

The book, written as a poem, takes the lad through highs and lows, assuring him that, ‘You’ll be on your way up, You’ll be seeing great sights, You’ll join the high fliers who soar to the heights.’  But then there are the lows and attendant problems.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

We’re all familiar with the ‘Waiting Place’ where people are just,

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting …

Escaping from this dreary place, the boy is told he’ll escape to find the, bright places where Boom Bands are playing’ and he’ll ride high. And so he will go on, becoming successful and seeming to have everything in life until one day, whether he likes it or not, ‘Alone will be something you’ll be quite a lot.’ It’s very unusual for a children’s book, for that is what ‘Oh, the places you’ll go’ was written as, to address loneliness. Yet that is something most of us will experience at some time in our lives, and some people are lonely a lot of the time.

All Alone from Oh the places you'll go by Dr Seuss

However, in the realistic but upbeat tone of the book, Dr Seuss says he will overcome the things that scare him right out of his pants, in spite of getting mixed up with ‘strange birds’ and the ‘frightening creek’. Through it all he’s counselled to, ‘Step with great care and great tact’, and to remember that ‘Life’s a Great Balancing Act’. The story ends with these positive words,


be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So … get on your way!

Dr Seuss Oh the places you'll go - book

So, what are you waiting for? Today is YOUR day, your mountain is waiting … now get on your way 🙂

May 19, 2012

The Rough Guide to The Titanic

The Rough Guide to The Titanic

The Rough Guide to The Titanic by Greg Ward

THE TITANIC: The Legend – The Controversies – The Awful Truth … this is the jacket blurb on the cover of Greg Ward’s excellent Rough Guide to the The Titanic – what really happened on the Titanic, before, during and after the tragedy that struck a hundred years ago.  It’s impossible to avoid the name of that ship at the moment; it’s more potent news than any footballer’s infidelity or X-Factor judge’s faux pas.  Having watched with increasing confusion and disappointment, Julian Fellowes’  TV series, heard passengers’ letters and stories out on the radio, read reams of copy in the daily and Sunday newspapers, seen endless tweets and FB mentions, NOT booked my ticket for the 3D remake of the Cameron film and managed to avoid the macabre Titanic parties being held around the country … you might have thought that reading a book about the disaster would be the last thing I’d choose to do.

But actually, it’s possibly the very best way to get to grips with the enormity of what happened in the tragedy that cost the lives of 1,514 people and has affected so many more in the ensuing years.  Although this book comes under the Rough Guide imprint, it actually reads more like a historical documentary. Questions answered include:

  • Why was she built in the first place?
  • What were the warning signs before she had left harbour?
  • Did the band really play on as the ship was sinking?
  • Who fired the gunshots as the lifeboats were loading?
  • Were third class passengers locked below decks, unable to escape?
  • Was it really Women & Children first?
  • What happened during the rescue attempts?
  • If the Titanic was ‘unsinkable’ why did she never complete her maiden voyage?
  • What was revealed during the trial and subsequent investigation?

The Titanic

By following the chronological events we gradually get more involved with this story that demonstrates human fallibility and the lessons that were ignored.  Very near the start of the tale we learn of a number of errors that happened before the Titanic set sail to American – had they been addressed earlier would the ship have still sunk?

One of the elements of the book that really adds to our understanding of the life and times of the early 20th century are the information boxes, contemporary adverts, diagrams, statistics and fascinating facts scattered generously throughout the book.  The ‘Miracle of ‘Wireless’ explains how Marconi’s invention helped catch Dr Crippen, the infamous murderer, and played a key role in the drama – not always in the most positive way.  In  ‘A Floating Menagerie’ we learn that there were between twelve and fourteen dogs on board, three of which are believed to have been saved and discover the truth about the ‘pet pig’.

Survivors on the Carpathia

Survivors on the Carpathia c/o Greg Ward

Mini-biographies of key players, victims and survivors in the disaster bring a poignant realism; chief designer Thomas Andrews, millionaire John Jacob Astor IV, the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’, the mythic Stoker and even a ‘real-life Jack and Rose. Captain Smith’s conduct before, during and after the sinking, is dissected in anatomical detail.   The question of to what extent he should bear or share responsibility is possibly one of the best analysis there is on this controversial subject.  Step by step the reader gets taken through the awful events of the iceberg collision, the realisation of imminent death, the scramble for life and the eventual rescue of the lucky 710 survivors by the Carpathia and other ships.

Bringing the story up to date, Greg Ward looks at the more recent discovery of the wreck and expeditions to explore the remains and attempts to safeguard the site.  The book explores and answers many of the ‘Questions, Controversies and Conspiracies’ and the role the Media has played, not only in reporting the accident but in creating the mythical story that The Titanic has become.

The Rough Guide to The Titanic

If you’d like to find out more, visit Greg Ward’s Blogtanic and visit Titanic Belfast, where the ship is brought to life in a new interactive exhibition arena at the Harland & Wolff shipyard, birthplace of RMS Titanic.

October 26, 2011

Mythically magical Corfu – a miscellany …

My Family and Other AnimalsOnce upon a time a quirky young woman took her second trip abroad to a far off island full of myths, literary links, bosky olive groves and men called Spiro.  She’d first read about this island in a funny book called ‘My Family and Other Animals’  by Gerald Durrell, a famous animal conservationist who’d had a VERY unusual upbringing on this isle, with his brother Larry and others.  Our quirky traveller then read as much as she could about Corfu, falling in love with its charms long before she was able to see it for real.

“A Greekish isle and the most pleasant place that ever our eyes beheld – this island would be the place where we would wish to end our lives.” His Persian Adventure Anthony Sherley  1601

According to Greek mythology, “Poseidon fell in love with the beautiful nymph Korkyra and abducted her (those Greek gods did a lot of abducting…) and brought her to an unnamed island.  In marital bliss he offered her name to the place: Korkyra, which gradually evolved to Kerkyra and in English Corfu.  The island was ruled by the Venetians for many years; Italianate architecture can be seen in many of the buildings and there’s a definite air about the place that is not totally Greek.”


Another, not less speculative, line of mad reasoning has suggested that Corfu is the site which (perhaps by mad hearsay) Shakespeare chose for his last play The Tempest.  One of the magical things about The Tempest is the way the atmosphere of the island is experienced and conveyed by shipwrecked souls when they come ashore. You will realise that this is exactly what happened to the conquerors when they landed here – they fell asleep.

The Greek Islands Lawrence Durrell 1978

The Greek Islands

“Before us lay the island, the mountains as though sleeping beneath a crumpled blanket of brown, the folds stained with the green of olive groves.  Along the shore curved beaches as white as tusks among the tottering cities of brilliant gold, red and white rocks.”

My Family & Other Animals Gerald Durrell 1956

“In 1864 the British ceded the island to the newly born Greek kingdom.  As for what they left behind, the cricket comes upon one as rather a shock – the noble sweep of the main Esplanade with its tall calm trees, suddenly transformed into an English cricket field, though the pitch is one of coconut matting.  Under the charmed and astonished eye of the visitor a marquee is run up and two teams dressed in white take possession of the ground.  It is highly professional and would do justice to Lord’s.”

The Greek Islands Lawrence Durrell 1978    

“The architecture of the town is Venetian; the houses above the old port are built up elegantly in slim tiers with narrow alleys and colonnades running up between them; red, yellow, pink, umber – a jumble of pastel shades which the moonlight transforms to a dazzling white city built for a wedding cake.”

Prospero’s Cell Lawrence Durrell 1945  

“Above me, leaking from the heart of the cliff, runs sweet water, down a shallow lip of maidenhair into a sand-bowl; further to the left a mysterious spring rises in the very sand itself with regular gushes, as if from some severed artery in the earth. Clear and cold, the water plays with the regularity of a clock.  It is the sweetest of island waters, because it tastes of nothing but warm afternoons, the breath of cicadas, the idle winds crisping as little corners of the inert sea, which stretches away towards Africa, death-blue and timeless …”

Prospero’s Cell Lawrence Durrell 1945

When our quirky traveller finally made it to magical Corfu, the island was lovelier than she had ever imagined …  the sea seamlessly slipping from turquoise to lime green to deep blue, silky soft sand, the smell of scrubby crushed thyme,  the deafening silver green heat of midday in an ancient olive grove, bouzouki music and crashing plates in a simple tavern, barbequed lamb and rosemary on a spit, the phut phutting of a rickety scooter,  olive-oily luke warm moussaka that somehow tasted of Greece. One day she wandered through overgrown vineyards, scrambled down a steep and pitted rock face and eventually found the secret little beach with its delicate waterfall that Lawrence Durrell had told her of all those years ago when she was a dreaming child.

Joanna Lumley, in her ITV series Greek Odyssey certainly seemed charmed & astonished watching a cricket match, not only at the size of the ground but also that every Greek player seemed to be named after St Spiridion, Corfu’s patron saint.  She also discovered another legacy of the British – the brass bands which march through the city at the drop of a tambourine …

(2 years later that young quirky traveller packed her bags and moved to Greece where she spent four VERY happy years …)

Today  you can still find a little piece of magic away from the madding crowds if you look carefully.  (The secret little beach now has a road down to it so you may have to share that ‘sweet water’ with just a few others now!)

 The secret beach