Annual Gathering - Rye1st-3rd April 2011
About ninety people attended the Society's Annual Gathering at Rye, the first to beld held in this popular East Sussex town since 2003. Fortunately it was blessed by good weather throughout, much better than that experienced by many on their last visit for Bonfire Weekend in November 2009.
For some, the event started a little unusually on Friday lunchtime when we gathered at Rye station (a romantic meeting place for Jon and Penny) and caught a train for Hastings. There after meeting up with others, we were given a fascinating tour planned by local member Janice Brown, whose husband Stephen was our guide. He showed us Saville's birthplace, much of the old town and locations at White Rock that featured in The Gay Dolphin Adventure.
As always we re-assembled at about 6 pm on Friday evening for a reception in the Benson Suite of Rye's wonderfully atmospheric George Hotel. Refreshments flowed; books and merchandise were on sale and attendees, many of whom only meet up once a year caught up on each other's news. On a warm evening, a few were able to enjoy their pre-prandial drinks whilst people-watching on the balcony overlooking High Street. Then after our buffet supper in the ballroom, former Chairman Richard Griffiths gave a first showing of his new multimedia presentation entitled 'Penny's Dream'.
A very full programme on Saturday began with another first for the Society, when a double deck bus arrived punctually for our trip across Romney Marsh to Hythe. Patrick Tubby provided the running commentary, one place he pointed out being Old Romney Church where in The Elusive Grasshopper the bogus bird watcher hid contraband. From Hythe our specially chartered train on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch narrow-gauge railway took us to Dungeness for a light lunch. In the short time available for a look around, some got no farther that admiring the Society plaque on a seat at the station but others, more adventurous, claimed to have found the site of the ruined school.
Then it was back to Rye for an optional afternoon programme: either seeing the town model with its audio-visual presentation before a leisurely themed walk around the town, or a more energetic walk to Camber Castle that had been opened specially for us. The knowledgeable guide explained how, in 1945, some of the Lone Piners were able to spy on the twins baiting the Ballinger from high up inside the castle walls.
In the evening, we once again assembled in the Benson Suite for the Society's Annual Dinner. This was followed by the Peewit Awards, essentially certificates for long-serving members that were presented by a former Chairman, Bernard Meade. Then came the main entertainment of the evening, when the Society Players presented their version of The Gay Dolphin Adventure adapted by Jenny Aitken from the BBC original. Jenny however, was unaware that the programme would be gate-crashed by Peter and Penny!
At the AGM on Sunday morning, members chose to visit Shropshire for our Annual Gathering in 2012 and the North of England in 2013. Finally, we were able to enjoy an extra afternoon in Winchelsea where, again, special arrangements had been made for us to visit some of its early medieval cellars.
Two Fair Plaits Weekend3rd-5th June 2011
'Fascinatingly different' and 'A Wapping weekend' were just two of the compliments heard as 'good byes' were said on Sunday afternoon at the end of our Two Fair Plaits weekend in London. Thirty six members had signed up, but an advance guard of just twelve met up on Friday evening in the bar of Camden's Holiday Inn. This proved to be an ideal venue - a quiet comfortable retreat, yet only a short walk from the noise and bustle of the High Street. Although many places tend to be lively on Friday nights, Camden might well claim to be the liveliest of all. The party goers were, to put it tactfully, 'refreshingly uninhibited' but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and we were able to find our meeting point for the following day.
Punctually at 9 am on Saturday the complete party met up at Camden Lock and boarded our converted narrow-boat, Water Ouzel. Our very knowledgeable guide introduced himself and gave us some preliminary information to start what became a fascinating running commentary throughout. The water level at Limehouse Basin was 86 feet below our present level and we would be negotiating 12 locks to reach it, in addition to passing through the 960-yard Islington tunnel. During the trip we were told of days when coal was the principal fuel that sustained London's commercial development and transport from the hub of a railway goods yard was all horse-drawn. Another memorable sight pointed out was the former Gainsborough film studios building. Intermixed with all this were some 21st century developments, including a new over bridge carrying the Channel Tunnel railway line from St Pancras.
At our destination, there was much interest in an interpretive display board showing Limehouse Basin as it was in the late 1920s. It was probably little changed when Two Fair Plaits was written, but the scene today is very different. Pleasure craft have replaced working boats, the Canary Wharf complex dominates the skyline and bright red Docklands Light Railway trains glide past in the nearer background. Almost the only point of reference with yesteryear is the tower of St Anne's Church which featured in the story. Unusually, it flies the Royal Navy's white ensign from its tower; this is because it was once a navigational marker for shipping.
Limehouse station was the starting point for Sunday's docklands walk along the north bank of the Thames to Wapping, led by Ray and Claire Longman. This was where much of the Two Fair Plaits adventure was set, but due to Second World War bombing, subsequent redevelopment, and the containerisation of ship's cargos, little now remains. We did see Crane Steps that Ray believed to be the most likely inspiration for the steps described in the book, and everyone descended them to the foreshore. Unfortunately, we never met an attractive girl with black bobbed hair, a bright red beret - and a badly cut foot!
We did finish the weekend in fine style though. In Come to London, Saville himself wrote: 'Now we are in dockland ... see if you can spot the famous pub called The Prospect of Whitby ... Parts of this inn are over 600 years old, and ... I went there some years ago and used it as a scene in one of my adventure stories'. Needless to say, the adventure story was Two Fair Plaits and we went there too!
Boarding Water Ouzel at Sturts Lock
On board Water Ouzel.
Limehouse Basin and Canary Wharf
St Annes Church Limehouse
Victoria at Crane Steps
The Prospect of Whitby from the Thames foreshore
Jurassic Coast Weekend29th-31th July 2011
The Jurassic Coast Weekend was a great success, in part due to the extremely good weather, but largely due to the brilliant organisation by John and Jo Pentney.
Details of the visit to the Swannery at Abbotsbury are not available (I missed that bit), but it sounds to have been very enjoyable.
In the evening we met up at the Pilot Boat Inn in Lyme for a meal and lots of catching up.
Saturday morning dawned fair, and saw the party meeting up at Colyton, a pretty little village over the border in Devon. There we boarded a tram for the journey down to Seaton. I think everyone sat on the open upper deck of the tram (see the photo) which took about 20 minutes to take us to the terminus at Seaton. From there we walked up a very steep hill to the Axe Cliff Golf Club where we had a lunch of sandwiches, chips and tea (or other stronger drinks).
After lunch we set off along the cliff top towards Lyme, and soon entered the Landslip area. This is even more like a jungle than described in the book: The Secret of the Hidden Pool. After lots of ups and downs, we finally called it far enough and returned by the same route, apart from one intrepid member who decided to go the whole hog and walked all the way to Lyme.
A further tram ride back to Colyton completed the daytime proceedings, and we all rushed off to change for the evening meal. This was at the Harbour Inn in Axmouth. Yet again, the Society manages to maintain its reputation for Fabulous Feasts.
Just to ound off the day, some of us got back to Lyme just in time to watch a firework display organised by the RNLI as part of Lifeboat Week.
Sunday continued the good weather and we set out from the car park in Lyme to visit places of literary merit, albeit not Saville ones. No visit to Lyme is complete without a visit to the Cobb, and sure enough we had to re-enact an excerpt from a Jane Austen book: Pursuasion where Sue Graham played the part of Louisa Musgrove who leapt from the Cobb hoping to be caught by Captain Wentworth (played by Phil Bannister). In the book she ended up unconscious, but thankfully, this bit was not re-enacted.
At lunch-time several members said farewell, while the remainder found lunch in various places, and some managed to meet up yet again in the Museum.
Anyone staying over until Monday had the opportunity to watch a procession of illuminated boats, the culmination of Lifeboat Week.
In all, the weekend was deemed to be a great success!
One of our members, Alan Bowman, has made a video featuring the Swannery and the Trams and placed it on his website: http://gallery.me.com/amabowman
Tram at Colyton
Jungle conditions in the Landslip
Saturday Meal at the Harbour Inn
Louisa Musgrove Leaping
The Surprising Amsterdam Weekend30th September-3rd October 2011
Friday 30th September was a long day. It started at home when my 6.30 am taxi didn't show up. It ended after my first trip through the Channel Tunnel on Eurostar, when I slunk into O'Reilly's Irish pub on Amsterdam's Paleisstraat (the last to arrive just as the rest of the party were finishing their meal).
The morning sunlight no longer shines down through smoke and steam to light up gorgeous redheads as it did for Penny at Charing Cross way back in 1946. 21st century St Pancras has developed 'people processing' into an art form. Whisked through a succession of bar code readers, x-ray machines and optical scanners, the hapless passenger is cocooned below stairs until train time in a so called departure lounge. 21st century refreshment is available, but only from a facility proudly displaying the information 'Barrista made coffee'. This turned out to be not an out-of-work legal functionary, but an attendant whose extravagent job description was only matched by the extravagent price charged for her wares.
Friday's grumpiness was forgotten the following morning when we met up again in bright sunshine. The party split up into three groups. Two elected for a cycle tour accompanied by a guide; the third chose a visit to the Diamant Museum. Cycling in Amsterdam is an education, particularly for those of us who had not been on a bike for many years.Fortunately our guide, who spoke excellent English and had a good sense of humour, was also very adept as a mother hen keeping her brood together.
After an al-fresco lunch (and you are spoilt for choice in Amsterdam) we embarked upon another tour, this time on foot. The Dutch pride themselves upon the free-and-easy regime of their principal city, so this naturally included 'many other places of entertainment' as Saville rather coyly put it in Diamonds in the Sky. Speaking through Carla, he added 'not all of them are very nice or respectable'. As Amsterdam is so free-and-easy though I found myself wondering, disgracefully, if the operatives actually made as much money as their Barrista sisters do at St Pancras!
In the evening the complete party met up at Oriental City, a Chinese/Indonesian restaurant whose speciality is the famous Indonesian rijsttafel or rice table. A memorable evening, but many of the party found that 27 dishes were just too many to choose from.
Sunday started with a tram ride to the Concertgebouw, where we first enjoyed a fascinating tour behind the scenes, before taking our seats for a well-attended morning concert. Works by Schubert and Brahms, superbly played by the Radio Kamer Filharmonie though, didn't completely eliminate occasional thoughts as to which seat behind the orchestra Juliet might have sat in as she watched Charles' father conducting.
After another sidwalk-lunch and a little free time, we met up again for our canal cruise, which provided great opportunities for admiring Amsterdam's architecture without the ever present risk of being mown down by cyclists.
Although most gathered at O'Reilly's in the evening once again, we decided to dine independently and acting on the good advice of an earlier helpful tour guide, moved westwards from Dam Square to an area near the Westerkirk where the locals prefer to eat. One group chose Spanish hospitality, we chose Italian.
Monday required an early meet-up at Amsterdam Central Station for a lengthy train journey to Giethoorn, sometimes called the Venice of the north. After three days of noise, traffic and crowds, the immediate impact of the village was one of tranquility. Silence was even maintained on our boat trip, as the environmentally-friendly craft was electrically powered. Geithoorn could be described as up-market second home territory. The Saville connection is that two baddies in Diamonds in the Sky lived there and I found myself wondering (not for the first time) how some of Saville's villans could afford such apparent luxury.
Our last evening was spent in a cafe on Rembrandt Square, almost opposite The Crown Hotel that also featured in the book as the place where Charles and his dad stayed. Then, after a last tram ride back to our own hotel, it was an early start for England and home the following day.
No words can adequately express the appreciation due to Mike McGarry and our Dutch members Peter and Marja van Zoonen. They took on the task of master-minding this major event (the Society's first overseas venture) they saw it through to its successful conclusion, and everyone had a great time. Thank you Marja and Peter, thank you Mike.
Shropshire - A November Walk and Railway Weekend11th-13th November 2011
This weekend was planned to suit both keen walkers and others who just like meeting up to enjoy a social occasion. The first rendezvous for 17 of us was the welcoming Castle Hotel at Bishops Castle on Friday evening. As is usual on a Friday we all arrived at different times, but the dining room had been reserved for our exclusive use and we spent a long enjoyable evening lingering over our meals and catching up on each other's news.
Saturday's walk fulfilled a promise made in Shropshire last year, when the Sunday walk was rained off. This had naturally caused disappointment at the time and it was agreed that it would be repeated at a later date. It was, and was led by local member Christina van Duivenbode who originally planned it. On a fine dry day with some sunshine this time, 26 of us set off through country that featured in The Secret of Grey Walls. The first leg along the highest part of Offa's Dyke at Llanfair Hill ended at Garbett Hall. Located as it is almost directly on the dyke, makes it a possible contender for Grey Walls. We returned via Little Selly and took the lane back to the crossroads, where the Lone Piners met up after their night-time search for sheep thieves. From there, our final leg followed the track via Burghfield Farm (the likely inspiration for Bury Fields) back to the starting point. After returning to Clun, some, including two new members attending their first event, made the pilgrimage to HQ3 before continuing to Bishops Castle for rest and recuperation. In the evening we all met up at The three Tuns for drinks and a meal. Again, the arrangements and the food were good.
Sunday was more leisurely and also an experiment. From time to time we hear comments that gruelling walks are fine for some, but that less-able members would enjoy something different, so this was a response. We drove to Bridgnorth and met up at the Severn Valley Railway Station. It was Remembrance Sunday and among the many Acts of Remembrance that took place nationwide, one conducted on the station platform was attended by many of our group.
Then the friendly welcoming guard of the train conducted us to our reserved seats and even arranged for some to climb excitedly onto the footplate of the steam engine, where many a photograph was taken, before we set off. The journey alongside the river Severn to Highley was a delight, with bright sunshine lighting up the yellows and golds of autumn. The guard had evidently been well-briefed. We not only learned that our coach built by The Great Western Railway was over 70 years old, but also that the Mortons might well have travelled in an identical coach after they changed trains at Shrewsbury in 1943. After a carvery lunch at The Ship Inn, we visited The Engine House, home of the Severn Valley's reserve locomotive fleet and the Royal Saloon that was actually used by the late King George VI at the time Saville's early Lone Pine books were written.