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Frank's travels around Britain 2008.

Wiltshire area.

 

This time I returned to the lodge at the Leigh Delamere service station as it is ideally centred near Chippenham, for the whole of the West Country.

I thought my luck had changed as I travelled down in pouring rain & the weather forecast that night, was a "serious weather" warning! It wasn't wrong. I got the feeling of going rusty instead of tanning.

Desperate to find somewhere to get some photos in constant drizzling rain, Stourhead Gardens had been recommended for its stunning lake, even in bad weather it looked good! A huge crowd of Germans weren't put off by a little English rain, they were very friendly & obviously enjoying themselves. Apparently a miniature replica of Stourhead House featured as Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward's residence in the Thunderbirds television series but I don't think it ever rained liked this, not on the TV series.

That night, as I dried out, the weather forecast said it would continue to be grim except towards the west & the south. I needed no more excuses - I set off, through the rain, heading towards that lovely small fishing village in Devon, Beer. It never disappoints. Although they seem to staff the beach with Captain Birdseye look-alikes who are straight out of central casting and the fishing boats are just a bit too colourful & clean, the whole place is lovely. Maybe it was early in the season & they were just spruced up ready for the summer. A real family safe and pretty village with no attractions for the "lager louts" & "chavs".

The history of Beer is full of nothing happening except on a small personal level. In the 17th century, three-quarters of the population of Beer died in the bubonic plague. As there was insufficient space in the chapel graveyard, those killed by the plague were buried in a field at Holyhead. The thing I found quaint was that to neighbouring villages, residents of Beer, may sometimes be referred to as "Spaniards". Tradition has it that a Spanish vessel was wrecked off the shore and that the crew settled in Beer which was thinly populated owing to the plague. Whether the crew was from a ship of the Spanish Armada or a merchant ship which was wrecked in Beer Cove towards the end of the 17th century, is unclear. Beer seems famous for nothing except being Beer, which is no bad thing!

Saved & blessed with good weather, cursed by high fuel prices, I decided that Shaftesbury was going onto the agenda. I thought that the famous advert for Hovis bread, made in 1973, was filmed in Clovelly, famed for its steep street. But no, I was wrong. It was shot on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. Looking at the advertisement again, you can see all the Gold Hill needed was a golden brown tint & a brave lad on a bike!

Unlike Beer, the town is famous in history. Going back to 880 with Alfred the Great & his daughter Ethelgiva. They started the wealthiest Benedictine nunnery in England. Famous for it's religious relics & a centre of a pilgrimage, it was where King Canute died. Things went to pot when Henry the eighth decided to ban Holy Relics & we were to become a Protestant country.

Its other claim to fame, in a more modern sense, was for being the birthplace of the unforgettable, Robert Newton the film actor. He must have been solely responsible for all the pirate voices saying "Aaargh, matey! Them that dies will be the lucky ones!" as he stole the centre ground in Walt Disney's "Treasure Island" in 1950. I quote from his notes in IMDB; "Excessive drinking damaged him and a highly erratic film career was the result. He often found himself unemployable due to his unreliability. He died at age 50 of alcohol-related causes although the official report was a heart attack. Often credited with originating the style of speech generally equated with pirates. After his spectacular turn as Long John Silver in the Disney version of Treasure Island (1950), actors playing pirates in film, radio, television, and theatre, all tended to use (and still use) the same pseudo-Cornish accent Newton came up with." In 1943 he was outstanding in "This Happy Breed" & was one of the all time great villains as Bill Sykes in the 1948 version of "Oliver Twist".

At the top of Gold Hill is a small museum. It only cost 2, two floors of articles that illustrate the history of this lovely town plus a very nice, small garden. On the day I went, it was enhanced by a charming gentleman who will give you a very pleasant & informative talk about the town's history. It's not often I can recommend a good deal in "Rip Off Britain" but this nice guy called Ken, rounded off a lovely visit & is obviously delighted to welcome you. Highly recommended.

To see the magnificent views from the top of the town, just follow the signs to the Abbey. There is a magnificent broad walk & seating area with views to die for. Shaftesbury will reward any visitor. It is perfect for tourists but not over commercialised.


Links for information on this page:

Stourhead

The Beer village website.

That famous Hovis advertisement.

Shaftesbury

Gold Hill Museum

Robert Newton