2010 Annual Gathering - Suffolk Coast9th-11th April 2010
About 75 members made the journey to England's most easterly town for our Annual Gathering at The Hotel Victoria, Lowestoft. It was way back in 1997 that the Society held one of its first gatherings at nearby Southwold and happily, the general consensus was that this repeat visit was long overdue.
Everything came together. The weather was perfect, the Suffolk coast at daffodil time was looking its best, our spacious function suite was superbly appointed, and the lucky ones amongst us enjoyed rooms with a sea view. All this together with good service and an interesting and varied programme, combined to provide what many felt was one of our best gatherings ever.
On Friday afternoon we met up outside The Jolly Sailor pub at Orford, a.k.a. The Harbour Lights in Sea Witch Comes Home for a walk led by Patrick Tubby to see many of the locations featured in the book. This included Orford Castle and a short talk on its history by John Pentney.
Friday evenings are one of the best times at all our gatherings: an informal get-together of old friends and some first-timers too, who meet up to collect their welcome packs and chat over a glass or two, or perhaps browse around the book fair and other merchandise on display, before settling down to enjoy a buffet supper. Two themed presentations afterwards, Saville's Anglia and Essex Girl's Surprise, completed the evening and what for many had been a very full day.
Punctually at 0915 on Saturday, our coaches arrived for a tour to Blythburgh, Walberswick and Southwold, arranged by Ray Ham-Longman. One highlight was Blythburgh church. After a fascinating talk on its history by a local man, we were invited to climb the very high tower. Not all accepted and small wonder, as it involved long ladders without guard rails. But the breathtaking view over Tinkers' Marshes to the sea was worth it and made it easy to visualize what the area must have looked like during the floods of 1953.
After our specially-booked al-fresco lunch at The Bell Inn in Walberswick, we had the option of crossing the Blyth by ferry and walking back to Southwold or returning there by coach. Three hours of free time to explore this charming town followed and for most, it included a pilgrimage to the end of the pier to admire the Society's plaque recording Saville's writing of Sea Witch Comes Home.
As always, the annual Gala Dinner, or fabulous feast as it is sometimes called, followed on Saturday evening, when our after-dinner speaker was Alex Saville. Her theme was 'Marrying the Son' and she gave us a rare and privileged glimpse of her life with our late President and her memories of his father, whose life and work is our raison d'etre. Ten-year-old Victoria Hall presented a floral bouquet to her afterwards as a 'thank you' from the Society. The evening ended with the results of the Short Story Competition and presentations to two of the prize winners, together with the release for sale of the 2009 Short Story Booklet.
At the AGM on Sunday morning, members voted for Rye as the venue for our 2011 Gathering and also recommended that Shropshire and Yorkshire should be considered for 2012 and 2013 respectively. After coffee and biscuits it was then time for the saddest part of all our gatherings - saying goodbye until we meet again.
Patrick Tubby at Orford Castle
Plaque on Southwold Pier
Jan and Joyce on Walberswick Ferry
Dartmoor Weekend4th-6th June 2010
The Society last visited Dartmoor during the 2005 Gathering at Exeter over five years ago, so for many it was a long overdue return to a popular location. But we were also delighted to welcome some attending their first Society event, including Peter and Marja van Zoonen from Holland and Nicola Ridge from Plymouth. Over 30 members met up on Friday evening at the Plume of Feathers in Princetown. We found that this venue was also the headquarters for a much larger group attending the 12th Annual Dartmoor Discovery weekend, which was the cover name for some really serious walkers who were embarking upon a 32 mile Ultra Marathon the following day.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and cars started to arrive at the pub car park shortly after 9.30 am where some quick logistic arrangements were made. Our walk, led by Clive Gee, was to be from Dousland to Princetown along the track bed of the former railway line from Yelverton, re-tracing the journey taken by Dan Sturt in Saucers over the Moor. Thus we would end up with cars at both ends of the route, so part of Clive's superb organization throughout, was to ensure that the Dousland drivers could get back there afterwards.
The walk itself was fascinating. First, we passed the site of Burrator and Sheepstor Halt with Burrator reservoir below. Then on across the Yelverton to Princetown road to remote Ingra Tor Halt, once famous as the only location on the British railway system to display an official notice warning passengers to beware of snakes! Next, Swell Tor where some spare parts for London bridge can still be found in the old quarry; they were cut and dressed but never shipped. A long curve around King Tor brought us to the site of a platform bearing the same name. This was the last intermediate stopping place on the line and its principal claim to fame is that stone for Nelson's Column, extracted from the nearby Foggintor quarry was shipped from here. And so on to Princetown where, at nearly 1400 feet above sea level, the station was the highest point on the former Great Western Railway system.
After well-earned refreshment, we drove from Princetown to Hexworthy passing the front gate of Prince Hall (a.k.a. King's Holt) en route. Our evening get-together was at The Forest Inn where many of the group were staying. This was Saville's inspiration for The White Lion, but although we were not its only customers that evening, there was no sign of an unprepossessing little fisherman in a round tweed hat!
Sunday was more cloudy as we met up at the Two Bridges car park for a shorter out-and-back walk to Wistman's Wood. Once again, we could admire Saville's sense of place from his description of it in Where's my Girl:
'The stunted oaks were not only growing out of the clitter of loose rocks but their branches sprawled out across the boulders, and rocks and trees alike were covered with a thick grey moss.'
Saying 'goodbye' is always the saddest part of any walking weekend, so as the sun was shining by this time and Dartmoor was looking its best, some of us prolonged the inevitable by meeting up at the remote Warren House Inn for lunchtime refreshment. Then, many faced a long drive home - and the prospect of an early start for work the following morning.
Some of the party on the old railway line.
Swell Tor Quarry
Peter and Marja van Zoonen at Wistmans Wood
Ian Aitken and George Elliott cross the West Dart River
Below Beardown Tor, a sudden mist descends on the part walking beside Devonport Leat.
Shap Walking Weekend30th July-2nd August 2010
Those members that attended the weekend at Shap enjoyed a truly splendid time! Three days walking in beautiful countryside. The weather turned out to be kind; not too hot and not too wet. We welcomed a visitor from Australia - Wendy Blencowe - who took the prize for the furthest distance travelled.
On Saturday we followed a similar route to that taken on a previous visit, visiting the Shap Wells Hotel, which some believe to be the model for Callows, the house where Dr Thornton was held captive. We also saw the railway embankment where the train had come to rest, and then followed the cutting which had been blocked by the snow. To cap it all we even saw a steam train, possibly the Duchess of Sutherland, passing over Shap Summit during the morning.
Sunday was less Savillian, in that we visited Keld Chapel, walked up over the concrete road built by the water company, had lunch by the river Lowther, then walked on to Rossgill and finally to Shap Abbey, where we found a farewell message left by Wendy who had to leave us earlier in the day.
For those who didn't have to rush home, the weekend was stretched to include Monday. For this we drove to Ullswater and took the steamer across the lake and walked back along the opposite shore. The walk was a little more strenuous than advertised, but everyone agreed that it was most enjoyable.
In conclusion, the weekend was deemed to be a great success and thanks must go to the organisers of the weekend, Phil and June.
Coronation Scot ascending Shap Fell
Start at Wetsleddale
Duchess crossing Shap Summit
Could this be Callows
Glassy water on Ullswater
Group with Mackie
Stiperstones Weekend1st-3rd October 2010
The Society last visited Shropshire over two years ago for their Annual Gathering at Church Stretton, so not unexpectedly a good turnout of 55 members, including a healthy sprinkling of first-time attendees, gathered at Bishops Castle for this weekend. In many ways Bishops Castle is an old-world town of character and it is also a friendly place where many of its community smile and say hello to strangers. It is lively too particularly on a Friday evening. Judging from the crowd, The Three Tuns with its adjacent brewery seems to be the main social centre, but fortunately there was room for many of us too thanks to a prudent booking made some time beforehand, and we enjoyed a very good evening meal.
Saturday was a near-perfect day for walking and we made an early start for the Bog Visitor Centre. The volunteers there made us welcome (and have posted our group photograph on their website). Among the fascinating intrepretive displays, the Centre's Saville Corner is certainly worth a look at.
Here the party split into two. The longer walk group were to attempt over 9 miles and the shorter walking group about half that distance. The first part of the long walk was fairly flat and easy-going. Much of it was through a former mining area and one of the principal buildings that remain, the Tankerville Engine House, was on our route. Then after a short rest at Stiperstones (where we were convinced that the shop next door to the pub was the model for 'General HARMAN Stores' in Seven White Gates) the serious climb of the day began. This was up Perkins Beach (a.k.a. Black Dingle) where we met many of the short walk party coming down. At the top, we stopped for a picnic lunch on a saddle between Perkins Beach and Mytton Dingle (a.k.a. Greystone Dingle) with good views down both. Then came a long trek along the spine of the Stiperstones ridge over quite a difficult stony track, with some of the most adventurous pausing to climb the Devil's Chair en-route. The full length was to Nipstone Rock, but at the road, some turned sharply right back to the car park thereby shortening the walk.
All, including guests, met up again at The Three Tuns, for an evening hog roast prepared by an outside caterer and served in a private room. As at Shap, attendees enjoyed this exclusive venue so hopefully, the arrangement may be repeated at future events. It was but one example of the superb organization throughout and later in the evening, Christina van Duivenbode was warmly applauded for planning and running it.
Even the best planners can't control the weather though, as we found on Sunday morning when a hardy group huddled under a small shelter at Clun in pouring rain. Reluctantly but sensibly, we decided to abandon the planned walk whereupon Christina kindly offered us coffee at her house. The coffee break developed into a very enjoyable social occasion that included a first reading of Jenny Aitken's adaptation of The Gay Dolphin Adventure radio play, scheduled for presentation at the Rye Gathering next year. Then Christina amazingly provided us with a 'cold collation' (how did she plan it all?) before we left for the special Saville event at Church Stretton.
Most started the long drive home afterwards, but not all and luckily Monday was a rare and perfect Autumn day of bright sunshine. Feeling only a little guilty at the thought of those at work, I drove south again through Clun and on to the 'green triangle' before completing the planned Sunday walk over The Secret of Grey Walls country. The route included Llanfair Hill (the highest point of Offa's Dyke) and passed Garbett Hall (the possible inspiration for Grey Walls) and Burfield Farm (upon which Bury Fields was definitely modelled). Then I set off home too.
Thank you again Christina, for a really superb weekend!
The Long Walk group at The Bog centre
Climbing Perkins Beach above Stiperstones village
Sitting on The Devils Chair
Sunday at Clun. Rain stopped play