The Coming Coronation: Part One

On May 6th, 2023, Charles III will be crowned King of Great Britain. To mark the coming event, I’m posting some extracts from an unusual book, passages which go deep into the symbolism of the event, and its ancient origins.

This is the first of the two posts whose main content is taken from Wielding Power by Charles Tetworth. Today’s post introduces the book and its author, and takes us through the tradition of monarchy and the coronation as far as the regalia used and costume donned. The second post, to be published in two weeks’ time, will then describe the rituals of anointing and crowning which fully establish the reign – in this case – of King Charles III.

A note on the text: I have cut out a short section from the chapter, and added comments of my own, but not altered any of the original text. The book itself, subtitled ‘The Essence of Ritual Practice’ can still be purchased, for example via Amazon.

A note on the content: I am assuming that the coming ceremony will be conducted in the way described here, but it’s possible that certain changes to procedure will be implemented. Please take the details here as guidelines to the ritual rather than necessarily exact in every detail.

Wielding Power was written by a late friend of mine, and published under a pseudonym. ‘Charles Tetworth’ was an expert in matters of ritual, and for many years was a mentor and a source of knowledge to me. The book itself focuses primarily on an individual approach to ritual, in a magical sense, and then in the last chapter opens out to explore the meaning of our state rituals. Perhaps one of the book’s main achievements is to show that there is really no division between the practice of ritual in a so-called esoteric context and in those embodying the history and aspirations of our nation. Charles Tetworth shows us how the ‘spirit of the nation’ dwells in the ancient customs of the land. In the case of the coronation, these rituals are based on common law and the people’s choice of a monarch.

The book was published in 2002, well before the death of Queen Elizabeth II. So it’s one of those delightful cosmic jokes that the author’s choice of ‘Charles’ as part of his pseudonym is also that of the King who will be crowned sovereign in 2023. At the time, twenty years ago, no future coronation was in sight. There were also uneasy rumbles about succession, and Mr Tetworth himself thought privately – as he told me himself – that Prince Charles would never come to the throne.

King Charles III and Camilla the future Queen

The publication of the book is a story in itself, and one in which I was involved. The text was first drafted back in the late 1980s. At that time, I was Commissioning Editor for a series of books called ‘The Compass of Mind’, to be published by Batsford as explorations of mind/body/spirit themes. Once the project was agreed, I set about finding suitable authors and topics. Out of this first batch of commissions, we gained ‘Dream-work’ by Lyn Webster-Wilde, ‘Astrology’ by Eve Jackson, ‘Genesis or Nemesis’ by Rev. Martin Palmer, and ‘Meditation’ by Lucy Oliver, ‘Divination‘, which I wrote, plus the first version of my book ‘The Circle of Nine’, about feminine archetypes. After these were launched, we then commissioned a book on ‘Performance’ by early music director Anthony Rooley, ‘Mind, Brain and Human Potential’ by psychologist Brian (Les) Lancaster, plus titles on the inner symbolism of music and – here it comes! – on the underlying meaning of ritual.

However, when the text on ritual came through, it was unacceptable for the series. Although the author was a well-established authority in the history of esoteric movements, in this case he unexpectedly veered away from the agreed synopsis to advocate his own specific religious beliefs. There was now a gap in the publishing schedule, which was well advanced – what should we do? And so I asked ‘Charles Tetworth’ if he could do an emergency job for us, writing a new text in time for the publication schedule. He agreed, and stayed up most nights that summer, scribbling a new version for us, based on his own deep insights after some forty years of esoteric study and practice. We were back on course.

But then disaster struck – Batsford, a long-established publisher, suddenly went out of business in its set-up of the time, taking our list with it. It was one of my worst jobs ever, telling the authors that their commissioned works could no longer be published, even if they had finished their manuscripts. I’m happy to say though that ‘Performance’ and ‘Mind, Brain and Human Potential’ subsequently found other publishers; the rest were simply cast adrift.

Below: some of the books which did make it into print from the ‘Compass of Mind’ series

Tetworth was sanguine and took it in his stride. We assumed that this was the end of the title – it was not an easy one to place with another publisher. However, some ten or fifteen years later, through another contact, he received an offer from Lindisfarne Books in the USA. ‘Another bite of the cherry,’ as Mr Tetworth put it cheerfully. Adapting and editing followed, and in 2002 it was finally published. Another close acquaintance, the well-known Kabbalist Warren Kenton aka Z’ev Ben Shimon Halevi, wrote a foreword:
‘…This work is full of riches clearly drawn from long and intimate experience with and practice of the subject.’

I was asked for a quote for the back cover, and wrote:
‘Tetworth is one of the few practitioners who have gone behind the scenes to ask what ritual is all about. He reveals the mystery of ritual, and proves it to be something basic to human society, a means by which we preserve mystery and promote magical interaction.’

Now, with permission of his family, as Mr Tetworth is no longer alive, and with assistance from his private editor, (a personal contact, rather than the in-house editor), I feel it’s an appropriate time to post the last chapter of his book, which is on the British Coronation. In order to keep it more accessible, especially since I’ve included some asides, I’m splitting my post into two; the second part will follow in two weeks.

Please note: All the details of the coronation, its customs and trappings, are accurate as far as I know, and many can be checked via the excellent Royal Trust Collection website. However, I can take no responsibility for any errors that may occur in the original text.


From ‘Wielding Power’, by Charles Tetworth

Britain has a history of not having been invaded for a thousand years. So it has had the chance to grow in an organic fashion. Even the Normans in the eleventh century really only took over the upper echelons of society; the lower strata remained comparatively untouched. The Normans soon learnt that the force of custom and tradition and regard for common law was so strong that if they contravened it, they would have no one left to rule over. One could say that Britain gained the upper hand and conquered the conquerors. Even the Romans seem to have been content to control only central matters of government rather than interfering at every level. Common law was recognised by nearly everyone and there were still large tracts of common land. According to the Domesday Book, Britain at this time was mainly wooded and it was very easy for the disaffected to disappear into the forests. This is the origin of the Robin Hood stories.

Such common law could not exist except by general agreement. Mechanisms existed already for dealing with problems, so Britain never went the way of France, with its monarchic despotism based on immutable law and the mystique of the Holy Blood. Since the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms came to power in about 850 AD, methods had been evolved for handing over the authority to someone acceptable by most of the ruled. Rulership was originally elective, or at least required the acceptance of the tribal leaders; there was less chance, therefore, of familial dynasties becoming entrenched. Kingship was established as the most practical form of rulership and became accepted in common law by the compliance of the populace. Even the Norman William the Conqueror had some claim to the crown (though he was a bit impatient to wear it), and in due course he was anointed and crowned King of England.

At that time there was cooperation between Church and state. The Church had the authority to anoint the king since that was a religious matter, and this anointing is still seen as the central act of coronation. Pagan customs were also assimilated into the process of the coronation, and some of the mystique monarchy still possesses is based on ancient rituals that lie too far back in British history to be traceable.

Coronation means “crowning”. To be crowned is one thing; to be accepted by the people is something else again. So one of the most important aspects of the coronation ritual is the procession through the crowds of ordinary people by the monarch both before and after the ceremony. The procession before the coronation is to confirm that the right person is being crowned. In fact, this was crucial in days when the king was elected and succession was not by right of primogeniture. The election ceremony (a formal acclamation or election by the bishops and nobles) usually took place the day before the actual coronation in Westminster Hall. The monarch would then process from there to Westminster Abbey for the rites. This held real meaning: it was the opportunity for the people to discover who had been chosen and to approve the choice. The new heir is formally acclaimed immediately on the death of the king or queen at St James’ Palace. The coronation ritual itself starts with the formal recognition of the new monarch. But the procession is still the means whereby the people offer their implicit recognition. The procession after the crowning is for the people to see for themselves that the right person has been duly appointed.

The monarch exercises power and authority in both the spiritual and temporal realms. If the people have given their consent to the new monarch before the ceremony, and within the ceremony their worldly and spiritual leaders have also given their consent and have handed over the symbols of authority to the new monarch, then they know who their ruler is and they tacitly accept his or her authority. In earlier times, the anointing of the monarch meant that the person of the monarch had been transformed into something sacred. Perhaps this belief had sprung up from an earlier past when the king was looked upon as magician, priest and god. In Christian times the act of king-making was a sacramental rite and it is interesting to note that it has to this day never been fundamentally altered. Whatever the fashionable climate may be, it is still a fact that England is a Christian state with a religious foundation and the ruler has to be inaugurated with Christian rites.

State ritual is the framework within which power is exercised. From the ritual of the dissolution of parliament to the election of a new government, from the state opening of parliament to the Lord Mayor’s Show, from budget day to the prime minister’s question time in the House of Commons, all is governed by ritual. The ritual of the Coronation is worth studying in some detail as it embodies many of the formal and informal relationships that have evolved among the peoples of Britain….

The Coronation of Charles’s mother, Queen Elizabeth II, in 1953
Toy coronation coach – very popular, in various versions, in the 1950s! I wonder what happened to mine? And also what souvenirs will be produced on the occasion of King Charles’s coronation.


The coronation robes are worn only on this occasion in the lifetime of a monarch. Both the robes and the regalia reflect the spiritual and temporal authority and power that the monarch is vested with. The robes that represent spiritual authority are very similar to a bishop’s garments, which suggests that their origin lies in the time when anointing was believed to confer priestly status on the monarch.

The Colobium Sindonis is a long white sleeveless linen robe (rather like the alb worn by a bishop when he is celebrating Mass); it is open at the side, edged all round with lace, and gathered in at the waist by a linen girdle. The Dalmatic is made of cloth-of-gold lined with rose-coloured silk; it has short wide sleeves and is decorated with palm leaves, pink roses, green shamrocks and purple thistles. The Stole is again made of cloth- of-gold lined with rose-coloured silk. At either end of its five-foot length is the red cross of St George on a silver background. In the Church it is worn as an emblem of authority and bishops wear it round the neck hanging down in front, uncrossed, whereas priests wear it crossed while celebrating Mass. At the coronation it is worn over the Dalmatic. The Pall or Imperial Mantle, made of cloth-of-gold (with rose-coloured silk lining), is worked in a pattern of silver coronets, fleur- de-lys, green leaves, shamrocks, purple thistles and silver eagles. It is very similar to a bishop’s cope except that it is not rounded at the bottom but has four corners to represent the four corners of empire. It is the final robe to be placed on the newly consecrated monarch.

The Imperial Robe of royal purple is worn after the coronation for the procession out of the Abbey; it is made of purple velvet, lined and edged with miniver and ermine tails; it is hooded and has a long gold embroidered train. The Crimson Robe of State is worn in the procession to the Abbey before the coronation. It is made of crimson velvet embellished with gold lace; it is lined and edged with miniver and has a long train. It is also the robe worn for state openings of Parliament. The Cap of Maintenance (see below for an example) is worn by a male sovereign on his progress to the Abbey, while it is carried before a queen regnant. It is made of crimson velvet lined and edged with miniver. This or another “cap of maintenance” is carried before a monarch by a peer on a short baton at the opening of Parliament.

The Cap of Maintenance for Queen Elizabeth II

Some notes from Cherry

Regalia – macro and microcosm

In the City of Exeter there is also carefully preserved royal regalia. I knew nothing about this until I undertook to train as a Red Coat Guide, and we were given in-depth information about this, plus a chance to be close up and personal with the items themselves. In 1497, King Henry VII came to Exeter to thank the citizens for fighting off an attack by Perkin Warbeck, a pretender to the throne. Exeter has mostly been very loyal to the crown, as its motto of ‘Semper Fidelis’ meaning ‘Always Faithful’ – possibly granted by Queen Elizabeth I – implies. It wavered towards the Parliamentarians in the Civil War but after the Restoration sent a fulsome apology to the Crown in the form of a giant and elaborate salt cellar: The Exeter Salt.

The Exeter Salt, a kind of apology to King Charles II for turning against his father. A very elaborate addition to the dinner table!

Anyway, King Henry thought well enough of Exeter to bestow his battle sword on the city. This is kept proudly in the Exeter Guildhall treasury, and brought out on parade for special occasions. Henry also gave the city his Cap of Maintenance, which likewise resides in the Guildhall or is carried on a cushion in procession. The Cap has had to be replaced after hundreds of years; the Sword is intact, but needs a new sheath every now and then. Both denote recognition of the city’s loyalty to the British monarchy.

The silver maces carried by the Mace Sergeants of Exeter – an ancient office dating back to medieval times – represent the authority of the Mayor and the Monarch. One of these maces must be placed on the bench for a Council Meeting to proceed in the Guildhall. This leads neatly back to the subject of the coming Coronation, since the Proclamation of Charles as King was read out in front of the Cathedral, with the Regalia and Mace Sergeants in attendance. In the photo below, you can see one of the Mace Sergeants, who are in black hats trimmed with green, holding his mace up, while to his right the furthest Mace Sergeant holds the battle sword of Henry VII upright. To his right, the Lady Mayor makes the Proclamation itself.

Now we return to the section from Wielding Power about Royal Regalia:

So much for the robes. The royal regalia consist of those emblems with which the sovereign is actually invested at the coronation. The ring is a sapphire and ruby cross of St George set in fine gold; this signifies the wedding of the monarch with the people and that the monarch is the “Defender of Christ’s Religion”. The Armills are two bracelets representing sincerity and wisdom; each is made of solid gold and together they symbolise the bonds that unite the monarch with the people. The Golden Spurs (also known as St George’s Spurs) are of solid gold with gold-embroidered crimson velvet straps. They represent knighthood and chivalry and in medieval times the bestowal of spurs formed an essential part of the making of a knight. The Jewelled Sword of State is the most magnificent of the swords carried at the coronation; both hilt and scabbard are elaborately decorated with gold tracing and precious stones.

Below: The Armills and the Golden Spurs

St Edward’s Crown, made of solid gold and set with precious stones, is worn only once in the lifetime of a monarch. It has four fleur-de-lys and four crosses around the rim; arches link the four crosses and there is an orb and a cross at the point of intersection. St Edward’s Staff is made of gold but has a steel tip; it is four feet, seven and a half inches long. It is carried before the monarch in the procession to the Abbey to guide his or her steps. The Royal Sceptre with Cross is the ultimate symbol of kingly authority. It is made of gold and has mounted beneath the cross the largest portion of the Cullinan diamond, weighing five hundred carats. The Sceptre or Rod with Dove is also made of gold but is surmounted by a gold and white enamel dove signifying the Holy Spirit. It is delivered as the rod of equity and mercy.

Below: St Edward’s Crown and the Royal Sceptre

The next two symbols – the Orb with Cross and the Second Crown – are highly significant, although strictly speaking they are not part of the actual regalia for the ritual of king-making. The Orb with Cross is a golden ball surmounted by a heavily jewelled metal band from which springs a jewelled arch with a cross at the apex. It became part of the coronation rite comparatively late. It is presented before the delivery of the Royal Sceptres and again for the procession out of the Abbey. The Second Crown was always worn by the monarchs on important occasions and is today worn at the state opening of Parliament. This crown, also called the Imperial State Crown, was made for Queen Victoria’s coronation and, set with many historic gems, is more splendidly jewelled than St Edward’s Crown.

The nobles and officers of the Church also have their own sets of regalia for a coronation. The symbols of coronation associated with the sacramental aspect of the rite are handled by the clergy alone. These include the special chalice and paten without which no Eucharist can be celebrated. Two of the most historically interesting items of the regalia are the Ampulla and the Anointing Spoon, which are thought to be the actual vessels used in medieval coronations. The Ampulla is a hollow vessel of solid gold in the form of an eagle; it holds six ounces of oil which is poured through the beak. The Spoon is of silver gilt and is probably older than the Ampulla. It is used by the archbishop to convey the sacred oil to the various parts of the monarch’s body.

There are four swords which are carried by the nobles and form part of their regalia. The largest of these is the two-handled Sword of State (picture below). It represents the power of the state itself and today is the only one of the four seen outside a coronation, since it is carried before the monarch at the state opening of Parliament. There are two Swords of Justice, one representing spiritual power and the other temporal justice. The fourth sword is called the Curtana because it has a blunted end: it is a symbol of mercy.

To be concluded: see The Coming Coronation part 2 (currently scheduled for release on Feb 26 2023)

Further Resources

The Royal Collection Trust

Sword of State and Cap of Maintenance

Travellers along the Silk Road

Taking a ride with the Kirghiz nomads near lake Issyk Kul- my journey along the Silk Road, in 1996


Two nights ago, I woke from a dream in which yaks, laden with rolled up hand-woven rugs, were toiling their way up a mountain pass. They were travelling from west to east, traversing the mountainous area of Central Asia where today’s maps show the meeting points of Kirghistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and China. I was watching this scene, but inside it too. It was dark and cold, but from this snapshot of dream life, I can still in my imagination smell the animals, hear their heavy breath, touch the rougher backing of the carpets. Was this a flashback to the days of the Silk Road? Carpets from the Middle East were certainly traded eastwards, and I know that the yaks are the beasts for the job in the high mountainous regions of Central Asia. I have travelled in the area in modern times, and seen them there.

The black dots are indeed yaks, seen foraging for food in the high mountain passes of Western China on my Silk Road journey in 1996

I had already written the draft of this post, and perhaps something was stirring in my consciousness in preparation for finding the images to accompany it, and polishing and revising as best I can. Nevertheless, the resonance of the image and the strong sensory awareness is unusual for me, in the dream state. But, as a wise friend once told me, sometimes it’s best not to analyse a dream too closely. Leave it open to interpretation, and the life of it continues; pin it down too closely, and it becomes two-dimensional. So I’ll leave it like this, as an opening into the lost world of the Silk Road.

Khiva – a former restored Silk Road city, in present day Uzbekistan

The Trade Routes

For nearly two thousand years, merchants travelled along the Silk Road routes which ran from China in the East to destinations such as Constantinople and Venice in the West. In my previous Silk Road post I wrote about the bazaars which sprang up around these trade routes; today’s post is about the actual journeying.

The Silk Road was a cultural melting pot. From the early centuries AD up to the 15th century, when better trade routes by sea were established, the Silk Road was the main communications and trade link between East and West. The influence of these traders was therefore enormous, since they carried not only goods with them, but also their stories and culture, which they passed on to those they met on the way. Even forms of art and religion – Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and certain forms of Christianity – flowed in their tracks, spreading from one country to the next.

‘Apsaras’ – winged deities, often angelic musicians, and more or less unique to a Silk Road version of Buddhism (from the Mogao caves)

The merchants’ best-known cargo was of course silk, but many other goods were traded between East and West, including wool, carpets and amber from the West, and mirrors, gunpowder, porcelain, rhubarb (yes!) and paper from the East. Merchants travelled in various groups and guises. Some trudged along as humble foot pedlars, whereas at the other extreme, huge caravan trains of camels, up to one thousand in number, and stretched for miles across the horizon. The camel was well equipped of course for desert terrain, but for cold mountain passes and high terrain, other beasts of burden were better, and these included donkeys, horses and yaks.

‘The Ship of the Desert’ – the camel was ideal for long, hot journeys on desert terrain. Below are camels (Bactrian two-humped variety) of yesteryear and today.

However, the idea that these intrepid merchants took the whole trip from China to Constantinople is something of a myth. During most periods, it was rare for one trader or traveller to travel the whole of the Silk Road. Bandits, border skirmishes and rapacious customs officers made it difficult to keep going all the way, so merchandise was often transferred from one group of traders to another en route. It has been said that only under the reign of Genghis Khan in the early 13th century over the Mongol Empire, the largest empire in history, was it possible to do so. The irony was that only a tyrant could ensure that no one dared step out of line! At other times, though, locals could succeed in journeying where foreigners couldn’t. Goods would be switched from one carrier to another, and were often traded through different hands too, before they reached their destination. Many middlemen make for steep prices, so this is one reason why the final selling price of the goods at their destination was often hugely above their original cost.

Early Chinese figures of pedlars travelling on foot along the Silk Road (British Museum)

The journeys were long and arduous. The terrain was difficult, often treacherous, involving high mountain passes, deserts, and severe climates. It was a miracle, really, that a porcelain dish from China could end up in Italy or France. Trading itself was a kind of art form, with the need for go-betweens, specialist trasnporters, and accountability to the initial seller and ultimate buyer. Certain groups of people were known for their skills, and excelled as Silk Road traders, in particular the long-vanished Sogdians of Sogdiana in Central Asia. And they were keen to pass it down the family; their boys were often sent out on the Silk Road from the age of five, and grew into lads who were trading on their own account by the age of twelve.

This caravanserai, known as Akseray and on the road between Aksaray and Konya in Turkey, is the largest in the country. Built in 1229, it is more like a mosque or temple than a lodging.

Along the way, merchants stayed in lodgings known as caravanserais. These traditionally consisted of a central courtyard, with water for the animals, and store rooms around the sides on the ground floor. Lodging rooms were on the upper floor. The sturdy entrance doors were firmly locked at night so that the merchants, their goods and beasts, could rest safely. Some of these old caravanserais can still be found in Central Asian countries such as Turkey and Syria. They range from smaller, humbler versions to ones which are the size of cathedrals and almost as grand! At the very best caravanserais, there were proper beds, hot and cold water, and even their own shops and banking facilities. Merchants preferred their caravanserais to be outside the city walls, so that they could arrive and leave easily – the authorities preferred them in the town centre for the opposite reason, so that they could collect taxes due from the caravans before they had a chance to leave early next morning!

Further exotic goods could have been picked up en route, and perhaps traded within the caravanserais themselves, such as this rich gold embroidery, a speciality in what is now Uzbekistan

Many stories must have been swapped in the caravanserais, and both folk tales and religious ideas are known to have been ‘traded’ along the Silk Road. As I mentioned in the previous post, if two merchants came from opposite ends of the Silk Road, they could get by in conversation as long as they could each speak a Turkic language. These Turkic languages, spoken over a range of countries, are just about similar enough for people to understand each other.

Other facilities along the way included ‘service stations’ where locals made a living from catering to travellers’ needs. Merchants carrying costly porcelain knew that they could get any breakages mended in Tashkent, the specialist centre for china repairs, and thus arrive with their goods at least seemingly intact. The trade routes themselves stretched from Xian in eastern China to Byzantium (Constantinople), branching off into practically every country in the Middle East. There were also Silk Road routes into India and Russia: some archaeologists even suggest that Britain was the furthest terminus in the West, as Chinese silk has been found in the grave of an Iron Age king.

Ceramics in Tashkent Museum, of the kind which would have been traded and mended in the city en route
A Chinese pilgrim, travelling to India for further enlightenment

Reasons for travel were not always related to trade. There were many pilgrims and missionaries on these routes, especially between Buddhist countries, and in particular between India and China. Chinese Buddhist monks were anxious to re-connect with the source of their religion, which was in India where the Buddha had lived. They hoped too that they might discover ancient manuscripts which would expand their knowledge. Buddhism itself crept westwards along the Silk Road too, while Christianity crept eastwards, and sometimes the two overlapped. The Chinese Goddess Kuan Yin, (see my earlier post), is sometimes found in a form resembling a Christian Madonna and child. And the Gandharan Art form (3rd-5th century AD) is a fusion of Buddhist and Greek styles, specialising in exquisite heads with elaborate hair styles.

A Ghandaran head, in a fusion of Greek and oriental styles (British Museum)

Navigating safely through mountainous terrain and deserts was the job of the caravan masters. In centuries past, they sometimes trained at maritime navigation schools in India, which helped them to find their way by the stars. For that reason, caravans often travelled at night , especially in the desert Another trick they employed in the near-featureless desert, perhaps where the leader was not so expert, was to push a stick into the ground indicating their direction of travel, before they all settled down to sleep. That way, there was no confusion about the way they should go, the following day!

The deity of the Pole Star, a guide for travellers

Transport could be by camels, yaks, horses or donkeys, depending on the terrain. Camels were especially good in the desert, where they could travel 30 – 40 miles a day, and their inner eyelids protected them against sand storms. They would, however, need to drink every 25 miles or so, and sometimes special camel watering holes were created.

The image below shows a construction known as a ‘rabat’ where the dome keeps the water below cool; the camels walk down a sloping path to reach it.

In the deserts, it was essential for the travellers to know where water could be found to slake their own thirst. Mirages of water, described as ‘glitter sand’ or ‘dry water’ could deceive the inexperienced. And not all water was drinkable. Travelling in a caravan across the Gobi Desert in the early 20th century, a Christian missionary wrote, ‘The sparkle of the limpid spring is irresistible but when I ran towards it…[the caravan leader] cautioned me: “Drink as little of that water as you can.”…I cared for none of his warnings…I would enjoy it to the full. I soon learnt that…the more I took of this water, the more parched I became. It was brackish…leaving thirst for ever unquenched.’  For this reason, the lore of the desert gave springs descriptive names so that their usefulness or otherwise would be recognised: One Cup Spring, Bitter Well Halt, and Mud Pit Hollow for instance. Sucking a pebble was a desperate remedy for the thirsty traveller! But, if you were lucky, you could arrive at Inexhaustible Spring Halt: ‘When the wayfarer tastes this sweet draught he will drink until all the pain of his parched throat and cracked lips is softened and fades away.’ (all quotes from (The Gobi Desert – Cable, Mildred & French, Francesca, 1942)

A more fearsome deity – the Sand God who could blow up a sandstorm instantly (Illustration by Nilesh Mistry for Stories from the Silk Road, Cherry Gilchrist)

Another hazard was the risk of encountering the demons of the desert. Wandering lights, disembodied voices, howls of demons…Traveller Marco Polo wrote about these in the 13th century, warning that those who stray from the caravan will hear their names called and be led off track, or perhaps hear armies or caravans marching close by: ‘Marvellous indeed and almost passing belief are the stories related of these spirits of the desert, which are said at times to fill the air with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, and also of drums and the clash of arms.’

This image from Mogao shows a lady traveller under the protection of the Bhodisattva (a ‘Buddha-to-be’) as she sets out on her perilous journey across the Gobi desert. She probably commissioned this painting to be made as an offering to the deities

Sound can certainly play strange tricks in the desert, and was terrifying, even fatal, to get lost in it. At the Buddhist cave temples of Dunhuang (now in Western China) on the edge of the Gobi Desert, it was commonplace for travellers to make offerings before they set off . To try and ensure their safety, those of wealthy means might also donate money for more religious paintings and statues to be created in this extraordinary series of caves, also known as the Mogao Caves. I have to add that though that when I was in Dunhuang, where my travel group stayed for three days, we weren’t able to enter the caves at all because it was raining…in August…in the desert… Today these caves are a museum under Unesco protection, so naturally their preservation comes first. And humidity was an issue for the art work, so we had to amuse ourselves at the site’s museum, with camel-riding on the dunes, and on Day Three (in desperation!) visiting a Japanese film set of a village created in Genghis Khan style. We never did see the Mogao Caves, but let’s just say that I learnt something about the noble path of detachment in Buddhism, rising above disappointment when one’s desires are not satisfied.

A protective emblem, found in a nomad’s yurt; this triangular form relates to the ancient Mother Goddess and is widely found in different variations across Central Asia and into the Far East

Not all hardships faced by travellers were related to the desert. The high mountains en route, such as the Pamirs or Tien Shan (‘Heavenly Mountains’) could bring on altitude sickness, and there could also be snow and frozen passes to negotiate. So every area needed guides with local expertise, and it’s not surprising that very few people travelled from end to end of the Silk Route, even when political conditions didn’t impede them along the way. The Chinese were actually fearful of leaving China, which they regarded as the entirety of the civilised world, and believed everything beyond its boundaries to be a barbarian wilderness. Those exiting China through the Great Gate of Jiaguan, known as the Gate of Sighs, would toss a handful of pebbles at the fortress wall to know their fortune. ‘If the stone rebounds he will come back safe and sound, but if not…’ said a local, leaving ‘the doom unuttered’. (Cable & French)

The romance of the Silk Road still grips us even today, and perhaps we long for those days of epic journeys, when unknown marvels might appear before our eyes. The boundary between myth and reality was thin; the Chinese longed, for instance, for the wondrous horses they’d seen in Central Asia, a far cry from the stubby little ponies they themselves had at the time. They endowed these horses in their imagination with magical qualities, believing that they sweated blood, were born out of the water, and that some had wings and could fly like dragons. Emperor Wu c 101BC even wrote a hymn to them:
The Heavenly Horses are coming
They issued from the waters of a pool…
They can transform themselves like spirits…
Jupiter is their Dragon.
Should they choose to soar aloft,
Who could keep pace with them…
They will draw me up and carry me…
I shall reach the Gates of Heaven
I shall see the Palace of God.

The magical ‘heavenly horse’, as dreamed of by the Chinese

I was lucky to make my two longer trips along the Silk Road when it was still possible, in the 1990s. It would not be possible to make them today, as a foreign traveller. And I am glad that I saw Damascus, a queenly city of the Silk Road, before it was blighted by war. But the Silk Road has evern been in a state of change and unpredictability, and perhaps this enhances its magic. My journeys in Silk Road countries, and along some of its ancient roads are among the most vivid travel experiences I’ve ever had.

A note on the photographs: all contemporary images were taken on my Silk Road travels and are copyright Cherry Gilchrist. Images from the British Museum were supplied under licence.

See also:

Suzani from the Silk Road
The Bazaars of the Silk Road

Exeter Dreaming

Bygone views in the city: this one is already lost to us – the historic Royal Clarence Hotel burnt down in 2016, taking nearly 250 years of history with it. I took my tripod up for a night shot in December 2015, little thinking that it would be my final chance to capture this view.

Exeter dreams of its past, through paintings and photos which capture the romance of years gone by. I love to look at old photographs of the city, but even more I love gazing at the old postcards with softly coloured paintings, bought and were sent in their thousands during the early days of tourism. In the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century, before colour photography became the norm, artists of calibre were commissioned to paint scenes of Exeter’s historic streets, buildings, parks and waterways. I’ve collected a few of these, and share some of the city’s ‘dreamtime’ with you here.

Over the past autumn and winter, I trained as a city guide for Exeter, and tramping the streets with my fellow trainees, learning about their history, and reciting their stories, it’s as if we were walking the ‘songlines’ of the city. I feel that it’s akin to the way that Australian Aborigines walk their ancestral paths across the terrain, in order to recall and enact the old myths of creation, and the history of their people; this is known as ‘the dreamtime’.

Receiving my blazer (actually a borrowed, oversized one while waiting for the bespoke number!) from the Lady Mayor of Exeter in April 2022, at the Red Coat Guides award ceremony

Although much of Exeter has been redeveloped, following the devastating bombing raids of World War Two, there’s still a great deal of its history to be seen. And as well as seeing what’s evident now, I also came, eventually, to experience the city as multi-layered. The city’s past is there, and what is not visible to the naked eye starts to become alivee and vivid to the mind’s eye. Below my feet lies the remains of the Roman bathhouse…here is where Perkin Warbeck besieged the city…and this is the place where lived Gytha, mother of King Harold.

Here are the first four postcards of my collection, three of them with named artists.

Exeter from the Canal

Henry B. Wimbush evokes for us here a stately panorama of the city, with the Cathedral as a luminous landmark on the hill at the horizon. But although everything looks serene, the canal itself has a most contentious history. In 1913, when the postcard was sent, time was fast running out for its use as a shipping canal.

It was first proposed around 1280, when Isabella de Fortibus, Countess of Devon, blocked off most of the river Exe downstream, in order to bring more waterpower to her paper mill. (The area is known today as ‘Countess Wear’.) She left only about nine metres clear, which made it hard for large ships to pass through, and thus caused much complaining in Exeter itself. The city was dependent on its port, for the export trade of its woollen cloth, which is what made the city wealthy and famous from medieval times until the 18th century.

But matters were about to get worse. Around 1330, her descendant and kinsman, Hugh de Courtenay had a falling-out with the mayor over whether he or the bishop was entitled to the last pot of fish in the market! Courtenay swore he would get his own back on Exeter, and completely blocked the river. He set up Topsham, a few miles downriver, as the port where ships would now dock and he could collect the revenues, since he owned the quay there. This lined his coffers nicely. Eventually, in the 1500s, Exeter was granted the rights to remove the weir, but as the river was largely silted up, there was no choice but to dig a canal instead, to bring goods to be landed in the city itself. However, it took until the 1830 to complete the project in its entirety, and although Exeter partly got its port landings back, goods had to be transferred to small lighters (boats) and pulled upriver by horses. The canal now ran to what is known as Turf Locks, just past Topsham on the opposite bank. But it was too late to be of great use. Seagoing ships had become too large to pass up it, trains were shortly to take away much of the trade, and Exeter was no longer a chief centre of wool production.

Exeter quayside as it is today, redeveloped for leisure and outdoor sports

The postcard of 1913 shows one larger ship berthed at the quayside (on the very left), but already the serenity of the scene indicates that its days of glory were in the past. And the little lockkeeper’s cottage on the right would later be demolished – by mistake, as it happens!

The artist was Henry Bowser Wimbush (1858-1943), who was known for postcards and book illustrations, as well as for paintings, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy. He roamed both in Britain and abroad to create his art, but settled in nearby Taunton later in life. (see also The-Postcard-Depot)

The postcard was sent to one Miss Connor in Acton, and the message simply reads: ‘We shall arrive at Padd[ington] at 8.30 tomorrow so expect us home soon after 9.’ In those days, you could confidently send a postcard to announce your imminent arrival!

‘Old House, King Street’

Exeter lost around two thirds of its old buildings in the Blitz of World War Two. Of those that remained, many were demolished later when the Council went on a re-development spree. Some that could have been restored were removed in the name of ‘progress’. (An anonymous website Demolition Exeter sets out to explore this outrage ) Buildings around King St, named in the postcard, and Preston St in the ‘West Quarter’ of the city took direct hits, and are nearly all rebuilt today. At first I thought this was just a charming scene of old houses, in a bygone street where the women are perhaps carrying bales of cloth – the staple of the wool trade. There is what seems to be a pedlar with his basket on the right, a workman with a wheelbarrow, and a family grouped in the distance. The artist Sidney Endacott is well-known for painting scenes on Exeter postcards: his views are both delightful and collectable. (More about Sidney and Worth, the postcard publisher, below.)

But there is more to this ‘old house’ than meets the eye. It was in fact known locally as ‘The Norman House’ and was probably one of the very oldest in the city. The Normans arrived here in 1068 under the banner of William the Conqueror himself, who chased the mother of the defeated King Harold out of the city, seized her lands, and set up a castle for his own soldiers at Rougemont, near the East Gate. Remains from Norman times are rare, though, in domestic buildings. As Exeter Memories put it:
On the corner of Preston and King Street was what appeared to be just another slum property, with a few ancient features. In 1914, the City Council purchased the building with a view to clearing the area. In 1915, they sent a photographer to record the building–the photographs revealed a building far more interesting, than originally thought. It had many Norman mouldings, one over the door, and stone decorative strips at the base of the interior walls. The house had many 16th-Century features, including Tudor plaster work ceilings and a collar-braced roof. It was for the Norman features it became known as the Norman House.
Alas, although it was taken care of for a while, it was eventually allowed to become derelict, and was then finished off by the bombs of 1942.

Here is another image to dream over, therefore.

Mary Mol Wildy and her famous Coffee House

This gorgeous building was built as Exeter’s first Customs House in 1596. Later, in the 1720s, it became Mol’s Coffee House, a place for gentlemen to gather with their business chums and read the latest newspapers from London. It ran for over 100 years – presumably presided over by subsequent hosts to Mol! – but is still known by her name today. In the first part of the 20th century though it became Worth’s Art Gallery, which in the years after it finished business as a more general art gallery, has best known for the series of postcards it produced and printed. This is where the postcard of King St was published, and the man who painted it was Worth’s best-known artist: Sidney Endacott (1873-1913).

Sidney was a local lad, born in Ashburton, and a pupil at Blundells School, Tiverton. He was capable and talented, but unfortunately suffered from a permanent bone infection (osteomyelitis), which cut short his life. However, he still managed to join his brother in America for a while, where he created wood carvings for a grand mansion in Kansas. After his return to Devon, he taught art but then hit a winning streak by painting postcards for Worth’s. These became very popular, catering for the growing number of tourists in the city. It’s thought that he probably created around 500 designs overall, delightful paintings which create a romantic atmosphere around the city sights.

A postcard from 1933, sent by a college student to his father, with an excellent close-up of how Worth’s gallery used to look

This corner of the Cathedral Close where Mol hangs out still looks much as it did in these postcards – one of which is a painting by A. R. Quinton, and the other a photograph. The Saxon church of St Martin of Tours still sits next to Mol’s and two of the medieval houses on the left in Quinton’s painting, built originally for priests in the 1300s, also survive as Loake’s high quality shoe shop. (They are also famous for having garderobes, which can be described as luxury medieval toilets with ‘a long drop’.)

As for Alfred Robert Quinton (1853-1934), his landscapes and cityscapes were drawn from his annual tours by bicycle around the British Isles. His work routine would be to travel around England and Wales for three months of the year, mostly during the summer months and often by bicycle, during which he would draw sketches and take photographs of locations which he would then work up into paintings in his studio during the winter months. Many of his artworks were also published as postcards by Raphael Tuck and J Salmon Ltd and remain popular with today’s collectors.

Quinton on his sketching tours, equipment strapped to his bicycle

The painting of Mol’s, aka Worth’s Gallery, in Quinton’s postcard is more matter-of-fact than that the other two in this blog post, but enjoyable for its detail, including the little figure poring over Worth’s art prints, and a woman and child about to enter the gallery. The card was posted in 1933, so I suspect the wagon was a bit of an anachronism, although the painting could have been made some years earlier. The message on it, sent to Jersey, begins, ‘Dear Alice – Tell mother that I am anxiously waiting for a letter I sincerely hope that …alright’ and then descends into a scrawl.

The photographic postcard was sent by a young man studying at St Luke’s religious educational college, writing home to his father. By contrast to the other one, it’s a model of neatness. ‘The weather today is summery, with hot sun and no clouds… The church on the left is the oldest in the city about 1050’. (Good try, but not quite! Being more precise, it’s from 1065 but still qualifies as Anglo-Saxon, preceding the Norman Conquest by three years!)

That’s the end of today’s dreams of Exeter! I hope to be sharing some more with you later, when I’ve acquired more old postcards to share with you.

Students in the gardens of Colleton Crescent, dreaming away the afternoon above the river

You may also be interested in:

Posts on nearby Topsham, my home town:

The Tidal Town of Topsham

Hidden Topsham (1)

Hidden Topsham (2)

Hidden Topsham (3)

Hidden Topsham (4)

Topsham at Halloween

Lockdown Topsham

Topsham celebrates

Springtime Stories

It’s springtime! And my blog posts will be likewise springing up again on May 1st, after a three month break. They will then continue as before, at two-weekly intervals.
So, what to expect? The first post will be on Bazaars of the Silk Road, and then there will be stories with my usual eclectic mix of mystery and history, memoir and art.

If you’d like to subscribe, you’ll receive notification each time a new post is published. There’s a link to click on the right hand side of the Home Page, under ‘Subscribe’. It’s all data protected and your info won’t be used in any other way. At present there are about 320 subscribers – thankyou, everyone, for your support!

In the meantime, I wish you all a joyful Easter.

And while you’re waiting, you might enjoy some of my earlier posts:

Summer is a Comin’ in Today! May Day in Padstow

Dartmoor Ponies

Enoch & Eli: The Heroes of Black Country Wit

The Ancestors of Easter Island

Musicians at Padstow May Day

Halliwell’s Bluff – A Game for Christmas and beyond

Here’s a game for the festive season, using some weird and wonderful words sourced from Halliwell’s Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words. The aim is to guess the correct definition of each word, from the three versions given. You can try it on your own, or play it with others in a format similar to the panel game ‘Call My Bluff’. (see below for instructions)

I rustled up this game a few years ago, dipping into my two-volume Halliwell with delight to find tempting words. We then played it at our Exeter Writers Christmas Party, with much mirth. I’ve added a few more words for this version, and may come up with a Part Two in due course, such is the delight of dipping into Halliwell!

Answers are at the end.

To be sexually aroused
To feel restless and perplexed
A term for seasickness, used by seasoned sailors to scorn those with no sea legs


A compulsory tea-break halt for train drivers in the early days of Saturday rail excursions

A kind of door-wedge, used in back-to-back houses, to prevent drunken neighbours bursting in after a Saturday night in the pub (Birmingham)

A time unlawful to catch salmon, from evensong on Saturday until sunrise on Monday, in the northern parts of the British Isles

Well, what do you think? Train excursion, life in the back-to-backs, or time to put down the fishing rod?

An owl catcher, who sold live owls for mousing, or to bring good luck to the home.
An ignorant person, who peers like an owl and screeches like a gull. (Kent)
To pry about, be stealthy, and thievish – (Suffolk)

To feel uncertain, especially in Lincolnshire
A dunce or very forgetful person
A pleasing fancy, whim or trifle

A silly, effeminate fellow – a term of insult often combined as ‘a meacock and a milksop’
A term for the finest barnyard cockerel, judged by his plumage
A type of spigot used to stop up a barrel, sometimes used as an obscene euphemism

A vain fellow, like a proud cockerel?

To nag, whinge and whine in Norfolk
A hearty slab of bread and cheese in Dorset
To be wrong, just plain wrong, in Lancashire

To snap or crack (Somerset)
Dregs of beer
Money (North)

Three thrum
A weaving pattern, involving a particular rhythm of the loom
The song of a female cat as she purrs (Lincolnshire)
A kind of musing phrase, like ‘ho hum’, said when hesitant

Marks left on the face by vigorous kissing
Where two loaves have joined together in the oven
A ridge of icy snow, which girls would try to kiss and melt to improve their luck in love

A giddy, romping girl (West Country) May imply wantonness
A small kind of pony trap, popular on the Welsh borders
A shaped cutlet, made out of odds and ends of meat, beans etc

Naughty! (apparently she is holding something rather risque)

A delicate snare, to catch stoats and weasels
A cold in the head (Suffolk)
A tangle of sheep’s wool, such as found on thorn bushes (Devon)

Part of a type of church bell
A hiding place in a clapper bridge to leave messages, goods etc. (Devon)
To beat, abuse and fight seriously

Does this clapper bridge on Dartmoor conceal a useful hiding place? Painting by Robert Lee-Wade RUA

To rush or fall headlong (Bedfordshire)
A small puppy, often the runt of the litter
To holler loudly and in a crazy manner

An insult, meaning a small and worthless person
To go nunting is to collect acorns for pigs
To make an effort (North)

A small muff used by ladies in cold weather
An affectionate term for the youngest child of the family (Yorkshire)
A kind of toadstool, once added to snuff to make up weight cheaply

The tail fin of a fish (Somerset)
An indecisive person, who thinks all the time about whether (‘wudder’) to do something
To make a sullen roar

Halliwell’s Answers

The words listed in bold are the correct definitions

Tossicated – To be sexually aroused

Saturday-stop – A time unlawful to catch salmon, from evensong on Saturday until sunrise on Monday, in the northern parts of the British Isles

Owlguller– To pry about, be stealthy, and thievish – (Suffolk)

Ninny-nonny -To feel uncertain, especially in Lincolnshire

Meacock – A silly, effeminate fellow – a term of insult often combined as ‘a meacock and a milksop’

Kipe -To be wrong, just plain wrong, in Lancashire

Crap – All definitions are correct! – To snap or crack (Somerset), Dregs of beer, Money (North)

Three thrum – The song of a female cat as she purrs (Lincolnshire)

Kissing-crust – Where two loaves have joined together in the oven

Giglet – A giddy, romping girl (West) May imply wantonness

Snurle – A cold in the head (Suffolk)

Clapperclaw – To beat, abuse and fight seriously

Bittiwelp – To rush or fall headlong (Bedfordshire)

Nunt – To make an effort (North)

Snuffkin – A small muff used by ladies in cold weather

Wudder – To make a sullen roar

How to play with others

You need three people on the panel, and others to guess the answers. Each person on the panel has a list of the words, with only the definition that they will give. They don’t know if theirs is right or wrong when they plead their cause. Each panellist has the job of convincing the others that their answer is the right one, by giving the definition and explaining a bit more about it. At the end, the master or mistress of ceremonies reads out the correct answers and all the players tot up the number of guesses they’ve got right.

I’ve created play sheets which you can access below as a PDF – one for each panellist, with their list of definitions, and a comprehensive one with the right answers in bold, for the quiz master.

I do hope you enjoy it, and if you have any quarrel with the answers, don’t take it up with me – address them to James Orchard Halliwell; (21 June 1820 – 3 January 1889) – an English Shakespearean scholar, antiquarian, and a collector of English nursery rhymes and fairy tales. Interestingly for me, too, he also edited the Private Diary of Dr. John Dee, magician and astrologer, and the man who helped Queen Elizabeth I to choose an auspicious date for her coronation.

Finding Halliwell

If you fancy consulting Halliwell yourself, you can buy copies second hand, or there are sites where you can find the text online, eg at Open Library. My own two volumes arrived in an interesting fashion. When I was keenly into my folk singing period as a teenager, I took part in the ongoing folk workshop run by radio producer Charles Parker. (You can read more about him and the influence of his Radio Ballads at my post Singing at the Holy Ground.) Charles always ended up with more books than he could ever hope to read – he once said that he would like to be incapacitated for a few months so that he could catch up with all the books waiting for him! Anyway, he had a spare volume of Halliwell K-Z, and gave it to me. It was a kind of talisman and I perused it frequently. But it was only with the advent of online book buying that I suddenly realised I could acquire Vol A-K quite easily! So now my set is complete; even if the glue is giving way and the cover cracking it somehow adds to the charm.

James Orchard Halliwell, antiquarian and lover of curiosities

Happy Christmas to all my readers!

Wishing you and yours a safe and enjoyable celebration. I conclude with a Victorian card from my collection of historic Christmas cards.

To Brixham for a Sailor’s Cap

Brixham, south Devon, our destination with its popular Pirate Ship attraction

I think we’ve just had our summer holiday this year – a day on the sea, sailing with Stuartline Cruises from Exmouth to Brixham. Like most other people, we’re not expecting to travel far afield this summer. But what could be better, on a warm sunny day, than to set sail along the beautiful Devon coast? We saw rocks and coves, beaches and waterfalls that we would never have known were there. We already knew many of the seaside towns individually, but had no idea how the coastline joins them together.

Stuartline is a delightful family firm that takes passengers up and down the River Exe, and along the Jurassic Coast all the way to Sidmouth in one direction, and the ‘English Riviera’ at Torbay in the other. In winter, there are highly-recommended birdwatching trips (booked out months in advance!) with a knowledgeable expert pointing out the extraordinary bird life that we have in the Exe Estuary, of migrants and waders, including the famous flocks of avocets.

Despite being veterans of these and other short cruises, this was the first time we’d been on a full day excursion. So I’ll be delighted to relive this journey, and to share both some snippets of history and some personal memories of this striking landscape too. Would you like to join us?

Our starting point, at Exmouth

We cast off from the little dock at Exmouth, and soon gain a panoramic view of the seafront. The elegant 18th and 19th century terraces show how it once aspired to be a fashionable bathing station for the monied classes. Like several of the other Devon coastal resorts, its very early days were spent in a humbler manner though: ‘Prior to the 1700’s Exmouth was a small fishing town, with a small harbour, from which Sir Walter Raleigh, born just a few miles away in East Budleigh in 1544, sailed on many of his voyages.’ (Visit Exmouth) In earlier centuries, it also acted as the point of entry into the River Exe, from whence trading ships sailed up to the bustling port of Topsham, (our current home), servicing the wool trade and other enterprises.

Exmouth’s new Marina, a highly sought-after spot to live. One of the other StuartLine boats is berthed just at the corner

Now it’s both a popular family holiday resort and a lively town, with a new Marina built in a handsome Norwegian style, to the lamentations of those who loved the ramshackle sheds and cabins that previously existed in the area at the start of the ‘back beach’ stretching up the mouth of the river.

Just across the water is the sand spit of Dawlish Warren nature reserve – oddly enough with a golf course in its midst. This fragile ecosystem is being preserved as best it can with groynes and techniques to bolster up the sandy banks, but it’s a tough fight against tides and storms.
Nearly high tide – we need the extra water level to sail over this way from Exmouth. The skipper says that there is only a metre of sea below the hull of the ship!
A puzzling warning sign, regarding the ongoing attempts to prevent sand erosion from the Warren

Dawlish Warren is a weird juxtaposition. If you come here by road or train you’ll start by passing under the railway bridge and stroll (or hasten) through a panoply of fairground rides, candy floss stalls, gaudy souvenirs and hot dog stalls. But once through this area, fringed with brightly painted beach huts, you’re in a wonderful, windswept area of nature which stretches for over a mile to the end of the spit. It has a bird hide at the far end, and it was here, about 30 years ago, that I saw my first ever white egret in the UK. The beach which borders it is also wonderful, and if you don’t mind hopping through the groynes you can enjoy a long walk on an unspoilt and usually uncrowded stretch of sand.

The ‘fun’ end of Dawlish Warren

After the Warren comes the town of Dawlish itself, with its famous stretch of railway line running along the edge of the sea. Famous because a) it’s officially listed as one of the great railway trips of the world – and at times the trains keep running while spray from the waves breaks over the carriages! But also b) because every now and then a bit of the track falls into the sea. See the tale of recent disaster and recovery here.

Caught on camera from our boat! The train running past the more modern seafront flats at Dawlish – it will then go right in front of the original terraces seen below.

Dawlish is also famous for its black swans, Australian natives which grace the brook that flows through the town centre. Sadly, their numbers have been decimated by bird flu in the last year or so, but not before two escapees found their way up the River Exe to Topsham. Here they are feted and fed by admiring townsfolk and tourists; these birds know a good thing when they see it.

The Topsham Two – a flyaway pair from Dawlish?

When I was at primary school, we were asked to paint a picture of our summer holidays, and I was very puzzled when one of my classmates painted a seaside with red cliffs. Surely that couldn’t be right? I had spent my early years near the white cliffs of Dover. But I had to adjust my expectations when we moved down to East Devon and the Jurassic coast. I still find them a touch unnatural, but they are certainly dramatic. The rock stacks rise up out of the water in gnarled, looming shapes, like giant heads. But they are also shape-shifters, as sandstone erodes over time.

Below: some of the dramatic sandstone rocks near Teignmouth, and a local fisherman hauling in a lobster pot nearby

Now we’re arriving at Teignmouth – one of our favourite seaside towns. It has plenty of character, a place of different faces. The seafront terraces, as in Exmouth, speak of past grandeur. The pier, the cafes, the play park are from a different narrative, of jolly seaside family holidays. Once when we turned up in the town they were filming ‘The Mercy’, the story of the disastrous sailing challenge taken on by Donald Crowhurst, and the company had reconstructed a perfect 1950s holiday setting along the front, which gave an entertaining sense of time-slip.

A photo that I took in Teignmouth during the filming of ‘The Mercy’, a 1950s true-life tale of one man’s madness in an attempt to pretend he was winning the Golden Globe sailing challenge.

Behind the sea front, there’s a newly-labelled ‘artists’ quarter’ with quirky shops and a little theatre. And also just around the corner is the ‘back beach’, where the river Teign flows into the sea. It’s flanked by fishermen’s shacks, boats pulled up onto the sand, and the ferry which takes you over the water to the very cute village of Shaldon. In Victorian times, Teignmouth was eagerly sought after as a painter’s resort since the sunshine comes from two directions, off both beaches of sea and river, and bathes the town in glorious light. Oh, and by the way, it’s the River ‘Teen’ which flows through ‘Tinmouth’. (But if you’re on Dartmoor, then ‘Drewstaynton’ for Drewsteignton.) Got that?

We sail around the corner of the cliff, where just beyond is the hidden beach of The Ness. This is reached, surprisingly, by a foot tunnel on the Shaldon side. (Shaldon itself also has the surprise of a little zoo with a fine population of meerkats and lemurs, a conservation centre for endangered species. ) Descending the steep, dank set of stairs in near-darkness, you begin to hear the waves pounding below. Suddenly, you emerge into daylight and there is the little beach spread out before you. (Not possible, I warn you, at high tide.)

Ness Beach – only reached by a steep climb up the hill and down through a tunnel

The cliffs ascend steeply here; I know this from experience, as we once walked up the coast path from Shaldon and nearly collapsed before we finally got to the top. It felt as if crampons and a rope might have been sensible equipment to take. Perched a little way further along the clifftop is a modern white house, said to be the plaything of a Russian oligarch.

And now it’s a changing scene – we are in Agatha Christie country! The hills are rounder and more wooded. There are hidden coves, rocks to swim towards, steep tree-filled valleys to clamber up, and every now and then, a splendid house fit for a murder mystery.

Houses fit for an old-fashioned murder story perch proudly on the wooded hilltops

Agatha grew up in the area, and returned in later life to live at Greenway House, set high above the Dart River. You can discover her favourite haunts here and visit Greenway House (now National Trust). Strange to think that when I came to the area in my teens, my friends pointed out the house to me, and told me that Agatha was still in residence. Could I have tried to meet her? I’ll never know. She died in 1976.

The charm of Maidencombe Beach, with its very own waterfall

We pass the beach below Maidencombe. Robert and I have been to this quaint village once, in the autumn months, which is a snatch of old Devon (especially out of season), but didn’t follow the signed walking route to the beach, out of sight below. Now, from the boat, we can see what a charming spot it is, with its very own waterfall. Did Agatha come here too? I expect so.

The skipper points out a pile of debris on the cliff top nearby, and tells us the story of the woman who bought a house up there, sight unseen, for a bargain sum of £154,000. However, it wasn’t long before the house started toppling down the cliff. I looked up the story, and the argey-bargey she had with the auctioneers. Read it here. Buyer beware!

The house that fell down the hill

Then we sail under the cliffs below Babbacombe village, an outlier of Torquay now. I have been here several times, to visit the extraordinary, Stone-Age inhabited Kent’s Cavern (see my earlier post, Following the Female Line). Walk through a wooden door in a modern visitor’s centre, and you plunge into another era, of ancient man, and cave-dwelling bears as well. Taking my granddaughters round here was a delight.

At Hope Nose, the geology switches abruptly from sandstone to much older limestone, which is some 350 million years old.

And look, do I spy the Famous Five and Timmy having a naughty camp-out where they shouldn’t? We are in story book country, after all.

As for stories, the cruise ships moored around Torbay and Teignmouth have provided us with a ghostly presence during the pandemic. Sometimes they look like spectres from a haunted tale, half lost in the mist. Our skipper tells us how they seek out sheltered bays and drop anchor there, leaving a skeleton (ha!) crew on board, so as to avoid paying berthing charges. We’ve had various royally-named ships within these waters in the last year and a half, from the Queen Mary to the Queen Victoria who is currently here.

When we pass one later, crew members wave to us in excitement – or is it despair? At Christmas, the inhabitants of Teignmouth knitted gifts and sent out seasonal food parcel to the seamen who had to spend the holidays on board.

And it’s time for Torquay. Pine trees herald our arrival, a symbol of its title as ‘Queen of the English Riviera’. When I first came to Torquay in the 1960s, the promenade was dominated by palm trees, and I always thought of these as the iconic image of the town. But apparently these were decimated by a severe frost, and have never been replaced. Hmm – on searching for more about their demise, I discovered that Torquay is home to a number of dreadful environmental errors.

But I am fond of this town, remembering how I worked here in the Grand Hotel for a summer after leaving school. It was primarily for friends and folk clubs that I came down here from Birmingham – there have always been close links between Brum and Devon. (see my blog ‘Singing at the Holy Ground’ ) I was hired as a ‘still room’ maid, toiling under the supervision of Hungarian John, a kindly, middle-aged man, who fought our cause fiercely when we were bullied by arrogant chefs. I think I was paid around £8 a week, and my job was primarily to make toast using an eyebrow-singeing machine, make up sandwiches, and prepare trays of tea and coffee. Oh, and put cakes on plates. (John didn’t mind if we helped ourselves to a few.) It was a hazardous workplace, apart from the singed eyebrows. Italian waiters tried to grope us girls in the service lifts, and the manager swept down in a temper, saying that we had to pour any undrunk coffee out of the pots back into the coffee machine, stewed or not. I got my revenge by making up his afternoon tea tray with sandwiches composed of other people’s chicken leftovers.

The Grand Hotel, Torquay, framed up through our boat’s window. In my earlier times there, it was painted a drab gunmetal grey.

And the room I was given had been inhabited by an alcoholic woman, who had left piles of empty booze and meths bottles in every corner and cupboard. I was young and inexperienced, and I felt that because they had done me a favour by offering me a room, I shouldn’t complain, but simply grit my teeth and clear it out. I can still remember the stink, and sense of horror on confronting it. Having said that, it was nevertheless quite a happy time! I met up with my mates, sang in the folk clubs and learnt the joys of crab sandwiches.

Indeed, I retain a fondness for Torquay, and would like to get to know it better again.

Below: Modern Torquay contrasting with the 18th century, elegant Hesketh Crescent, now a hotel and apartments

Here we let the Torquay trippers off the boat to enjoy their three hours ashore. The rest of us travel on to the fishing ‘village’ of Brixham about eight miles further along the coast, past Paignton en route.

First, though, we pass a real storybook house, set in at least two acres of beautifully mown and diamond-patterned lawns. Oh, I wish that this were mine! I learnt later, through the ‘Devon Where Am I?’ Facebook group that it’s called Thatcher House. It’s the epitome of what we might think of as a 1930s English Riviera house, with unbroken views to the cliff tops and sea, all ready for a sunset gin and tonic on the terrace.

Paignton passes by without much comment – I worked here, too, as a chambermaid in a stuffy boarding house frequented by elderly spinsters, whose chamber pots I had to empty. That era has gone, and so has my interest in the town. Perhaps I am failing to see its charms.

Thatcher House – perhaps my dream home on the English Riviera?

And then it’s round into Brixham harbour. It’s a lovely entrance to the fishing port, with colourful houses stacked up in handfuls on the steep hillsides which surround it. The fishing fleet and industry here is apparently the third largest in the UK, and we often buy delicious fresh fish landed at Brixham. (You can read about the story of one Brixham trawler, now aground in Topsham, at Hidden Topsham Part One.) ) I used to come here too on my days off from being a still room or chamber maid. But there are two other Brixham associations for me.

Brixham Harbour, little changed in general appearance from when my great grandfather worked here in 1873

First of all, it’s where my great grandfather, David Owen arrived in 1873 at the age of 30 to be the town’s Baptist Minister. He’d come from the hills of mid-Wales, first to a post in Hemyock, Devon, where he met his future wife Mary Masey Walker, and then to try a pastorate in Brixham. After only six months, though, he upped sticks hastily for reasons unknown, (not thought to be scandalous!), married his sweetheart, and set sail for America. Here he joined his brother John in Ohio, and spent 15 years as a minister before he and Mary returned, settling in Northamptonshire, where their brood increased to twelve children. How I’d like to know more about his Brixham story! Family folklore says that he found the Devon mindset too constrained – which might sound strange for one who came from mid-Wales, but he’d had an astonishingly good education at the Baptist College in Haverfordwest, specialising in Hebrew and Ancient Greek. Or maybe it was the lure of the open seas? His grandfather had also left the Radnorshire hills, to set sail from Plymouth and subsequently fight at the Battle of Corunna in Wellington’s army.

Brixton has a sizeable fishing fleet, and all over our Devon area you can buy delicious fresh fish landed here.

The second reason for coming to Brixham is that it’s where I bought Robert his favourite seaman’s cap seven years ago, and which he has been welded to ever since. Time has taken its toll on the cap though, and now’s the chance to try and buy him a new one.

First, though, it’s the moment to find a crab sandwich – our favourite seafront fare. We serendipitously find a spare waterfront table in a delightful shady café, to do just that.

And then, can we find the right shop? Or another one selling the same merchandise? The chances look slim; many shops have changed hands since we were here last. I walk straight past a small shop front crowded with sea shells and souvenirs. But Robert looks more closely and spots one of these caps, lying dusty and folded flat at the bottom of a display basket. He tries it on. Alas, it’s too big. The stooped elderly man behind the counter tells us that he has been running this business for 60 years, and he’s sold Breton sailor’s caps (ah, so this is what they are!) for all this time. But now he can’t get hold of any more. ‘So this is the last one?,’ we ask. ‘I might just have another one,’ he says. And he does, and it’s the right size. Mission accomplished.

‘Twas a good day out on the English Riviera! Whether you come by train, as this poster suggests, or as we did, by boat.

What’s Coming Up

I usually leave the next blog post as a surprise – a nice one, I hope! But I think it’s worthwhile giving a heads up as to what’s on the menu for the next month, given that summer is a scattered kind of time, when we often ditch our usual routines and reading habits.

We’ll be staying in the South West, next time. On August 22nd, I’ll be inviting you to climb on Old Uncle Tom Cobleigh’s horse, and take a ride to Widecombe Fair. The Fair is a great joy, and one of Dartmoor’s finest traditions, but alas has been cancelled for this year. So I thought we could enjoy it virtually.

Then on September 5th, we move just a little over the border into Cornwall, to meet the Pixie of Bude – no, not a post about fairies, but about Pamela Colman Smith, nicknamed Pixie. Pamela is the artist who painted the world’s most famous Tarot pack, usually known as the Rider-Waite pack. And yet her own life and art is little known. She spent the final part of her life in Bude, where at last the Museum has recognised her work. It was a little info board in the museum which sparked my interest to look into her further – those of you who are regular readers will know that the Tarot is one of my themes.

I could tell you what will happen after that – but plans may change, so I’ll keep it under wraps for the time being!

You may also be interested in:

Seduction, Sin and Sidmouth: An Ancestor’s Scandal

Summer is a’Coming Today! May Day in Padstow

Refugee Ancestors: A Huguenot Family in Devon

Golden oldies and classic posts

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I’m on a two-weekly schedule at the moment, for new posts. However, now and then I may slip something in on intervening weeks as I’m doing today. And this particular post may tempt you in to read a story or two which you haven’t come across before!

My author’s website at hosted my original blog, which ran from 2012 to 2020. I rounded it off and archived it when I started Cherry’s Cache. However, I’ve now combed through all the eight years of posts and have re-published some of my blog ‘classics’. I invite you to travel along the Silk Road, meet the lunatic cast of Marat Sade in 1968, or ride the white horses to the sea…

You can click on each title below to go straight to the blog you’re looking for, or visit the website blog page

Images from the Silk Road – Rainbow Silk

Choosing Your Ancestors

Isle of Wight Festival 1969

Cambridge goes mad for Marat Sade

Marat Sade Revisited, with a Touch of Downton Abbey

The Serendipities of Family History

Riding the White Horses of the Camargue

Haiku for the White Horses

When is a Short Story like a Russian Box?

Everyone has a Laurie Lee Story

New Poem for a New Day

The Waistcoat from Waziristan

Struan – Sublime Harvest Bread

Cherry’s Cache – A Guide to the First Year

After this post, I will be having a break from Cherry’s Cache for a few weeks. I expect to resume in early May, and will post here when there’s an exact date fixed. If you are subscribed to the email notifications you’ll automatically be alerted when a new post goes up. And in the meantime, you can continue to access all the posts already on the site. To find topics of interest, use the search button, browse the archives, or – better still! – use the guide posted below.

New season under way!

I’m now uploading new posts for the second year run of Cherry’s Cache – among other things, there will be Tales of Tigerlily, the vintage clothes shop that I ran in Cambridge. The first of these is scheduled for Sunday May 2nd and I expect to be posting every two weeks in the coming season.

The Journey

I began writing Cherry’s Cache a year ago, and launched the first three posts in April 2020. I’ve now uploaded fifty-four posts, including this one. These come to over 115,000 words collectively, which is about half as long again as most of the books that I write! (Any offers to publish a Cherry’s Cache book??) Anyroad up, as we would say in Brum, it’s time for a round-up of what’s now stored in the Cache, which you’ll find below.

It’s been an incredible, if sometimes exhausting, journey preparing all these posts, and I’ve been heartened by reader feedback. Thank you! t’s been a wonderful experience to research and write weekly, especially during the difficult days of lockdown.

If you’d like to get in touch in the meantime, there’s a Contact Form on this site, or at, and you’re still welcome to add comments to the posts. (Allow a day or two for a comment to be ‘approved’, if you’re not already on the contributor list.)

Just before I get onto today’s theme, I have an update on Cosmo the Topsham Cat of Character. (You’ll find his story at the end of the post this link leads to.) Cosmo has no fixed abode, but likes to enter homes as he pleases and receive food graciously from chosen hosts. He is our very own ‘Six Dinner Sid’, as per the well-known children’s story.

Recently, I noticed that two people had posted separately on the Topsham Facebook page, asking if anyone could identify a stray black cat who had begged his way into their homes, in a confident and friendly manner. I supplied a photo of Cosmo: ‘Yes, that’s him!’ they each replied. I advised them to feed him if they wished, then invite him to step out again, to continue on his rambles; no need to worry about Cosmo! He has been carving out a living in the town for years. And anyone who tries to adopt him permanently will be sadly disappointed.

Here’s my latest encounter with Cosmo, as I came down Monmouth Street on a walk around the town. Typically, he is sitting on the doorstep of a pleasing-looking house, where the owner might be prevailed upon to give him a snack.

A Year of Cherry’s Cache: my guide to the posts

So here’s a thumbnail guide to each post, in the order they were published, except for the different series, which are grouped together. You can use the link given to take you straight to the individual posts. I apologise for any vagaries of formatting pictures and text alongside each other, which at times defeated me here!

Seduction, Sin and Sidmouth – An Ancestor’s Scandal

My wicked great uncle from Hemyock in the Blackdown Hills, who seduced a young lady from the village, and disowned her as he climbed higher in the world.

Suzani from the Silk Road

Beautiful embroidered hangings from Central Asia, with a history stretching back to pre-historic times. You’ll see suzani motifs decorating some of the pages on Cherry’s Cache too.

The Tidal Town of Topsham

The first of my posts about the town of Topsham where I live, on the River Exe. Follow the circuit of an early morning walk, and also discover the historic houses, the town ferry and a path known as the Goat Walk.

Alchemy and Cooking

This post combines two of my interests – alchemy, and food! In my view, cooking is alchemy and I’ve added a recipe for Bara Brith to the description of historical alchemy.

Summer is a-Coming Today! – May Day in Padstow

The glorious festival of the ‘Old ‘Oss and welcoming in May Day in Padstow, Cornwall. The streets are alive with music, rhythm, dance, flowers, gallivanting…We took part a few years ago, and long to go again

Anna Zinkeisen and the Zodiac Calendar

The story of a little-known but highly-accomplished artist called Anna Zinkeisen, who worked as a war artist, portrait painter, and creator of the Whitbread Zodiac Calendar, a treasure which I have in my possession.

‘Just Ordinary Girls’ – Noel Leadbeater and the Secret Army

Noel Leadbeater was the mother of a close friend of mine at school, and she never told us what she did in the war until the ban on secrecy was lifted. She worked as a morse code operator, supplying vital information to the Enigma Code Breakers, and her story is put together here for the first time.

The Unusual Exhibition

How my husband, artist Robert Lee-Wade, put on an exhibition in some stables in the south of France, with the assistance of two fine Shakesperian actors and a few horses.

The Moon Meditation of Kuan Yin

An exploration of a little-known, but highly effective meditation allied to the Chinese ‘lady of compassion’, Kuan Yin

Mick Jagger and the Cigarette Butt

I was certainly a fan and follower of the Rolling Stones in my early teenage years. But did I really hoard the cigarette butt that Mick Jagger threw away? Of course not! Or maybe….

Meeting Walter Lassally – Cinematographer and Kabbalist

I was privileged to meet Walter Lassally, famous for his work on the film ‘Zorba the Greek’, who was a true seeker all his life. Much is known about his professional achievements, but far less about his interest in the I-Ching, astrology and Kabbala. This account opens up that significant side of his life.

Hidden Topsham – a series

Following on from my first Topsham post, ‘The Tidal Town of Topsham’, I decided to write a series about the hidden nooks and crannies of the town, and elements of its forgotten history, both disreputable and glorious. You can find them here:

Hidden Topsham Part One

Hidden Topsham Part Two

Hidden Topsham Part Three

Hidden Topsham Part Four

Enoch and Eli: The Heroes of Black Country Wit

Wry, sardonic, and very funny – the dry humour of Enoch and Eli and the Black Country is something I had a great time investigating! All based on the original story of two dogs locked in a room, which I recalled from my Brummie years. What happened? Find out here….

The Cosmic Zero – Getting something from Nothing

This is – unfortunately! – the true story of how my car was wrecked by a nasty neighbour who never owned up. But justice caught up with him in the end, thanks to the power of the Cosmic Zero. I also take an excursion to look at the history of this strange non-number.

A Tale of Two Samplers

This is a tale about two old needlework samplers that I have on the wall at home. I decided to try and find out the identity of the two little girls who stitched them nearly 200 years ago. To my sorrow, one child had died young, but to my joy, I was able to trace the story of Amey Ross, and her life in Lincolnshire as a miller’s wife.

Strange Signs – a Miscellany from around the World

Writing this was a personal treat, as I’ve been collecting crazy signs for years now. ‘Seat for Bored Husbands’, ‘Enjoy Christmas at the Airport’, ‘No Scratching’, advertisements for ‘Wife Cake’ and Thai massage to relieve ‘Wata in Scrotum’, they are all there for you to enjoy.

Finding Brummagem

A journey through present-day Birmingham mixes with memories of the ‘Brum’ I knew in my schooldays, in the 1960s. Will I ever sort them out in my mind? Current Brummagem is shining with fabulous new buildings, but glimpses of the old corners of the city and its canals are still there to be found.

Glimpses of the Tarot – A series exploring the 22 cards of the traditional Tarot pack

For seven of these posts, I took trios of cards, drawn at random, and reflected upon both their individual meaning and the significance they have as a triad, rather like ‘three guests at a dinner party’. And for one post I took the single card of the unnumbered Fool, and his position in our own calendar customs.

Glimpses of the Tarot 1 Glimpses of the Tarot 2Glimpses of the Tarot 3

Glimpses of the Tarot 4Glimpses of the Tarot 5Glimpses of the Tarot 6

Glimpses of the Tarot 7The Fool and his Feast

Russian Month – August 2020

‘The Russian Diaries’ describes how I bought a traditional Russian wooden house in the village of Kholui, in the 1990s. This was in pursuit of my interest in lacquer miniature boxes, and the old way of life of the Russian countryside. Encounters both heart-warming and hilarious followed.

Baba Yaga – the story of the infamous Russian witch, who lives in a house which stands on hens’ feet, who flies through the air in a mortar with pestle, who challenges young men to grow up and ‘do something’! What are her hidden attributes and origins?

The Legendary Art of the Russian Lacquer Miniature – I studied and bought these little marvels of miniature painting directly from artists and workshops over a 12 year period, and they became one of my specialist subjects as a lecturer. This is a concise introduction to how they’re made, and the stories they tell.

The Red Corner and the Symbolism of the Russian Home – From the mischievous house spirit, the ‘domavoi’ to the sacred Red Corner for the family icon, the Russian Home is a place where myth and family life mix in what is almost a sacred space.

The Perils of Publishing – What happens when an author’s attic gets clogged up with unsold books? Well, a trip to the local waste depot is more of a challenge than you might imagine. This was the first of my series ‘A Writer’s Life’.

Writing for Jackie Magazine – While still at school, three of us plotted to get published in Jackie, the ultimate in teenage trend. We pooled our memories for this blog. I’m proud to say that my co-conspirators went on to become acclaimed script-writers for the Archers! The second in ‘A Writer’s Life’ series.

Golden Quinces – A fruit loved in ancient times, and almost neglected in our current era. However, this ‘apple of love’ can be transformed into delicacies which will delight you, as I reveal with our supply of garden quinces.

Venetia, the Woman who Named Pluto – I met Venetia Phair, nee Burney, to ask her about how she came to name a newly-discovered planet. This is her story, of how she came to suggest the name Pluto one morning over breakfast, as a bright 11-year-old schoolgirl back in 1930. It was a race against time, to beat the other candidates…

Meeting the Shaman in Siberia – A memorable encounter with Herel, a traditional Siberian shaman from Tuva. I sat through a private session with him in his ‘clinic’, and later he and his wife came to bless our camp with a ceremony of fire, drums, chanting and – possibly! – eagles.

The Soho Coffee Bars – Why was there a sudden blossoming of the coffee bar scene in Soho in the 1950s? And what actually went on there? Historical research plus memoirs from those who there tell the story of juke boxes and espresso on the streets of London.

Keeping it Simple with Princess Diana – A Writer’s Life 3 – It fell to my lot to write books in simplified English, for students of the language. I never expected to write the biography of Princess Diana this way, though!

Following the Female Line – the significance of investigating the mother’s line of ancestors, and the stories they can connect us to. Plus a visit to a Stone Age cavern, to discover what life was like in the really early days!

The Abduction of Mary Max – How my 4 x great grandmother was abducted at the age of 13, by her cousin Samuel Phillps, mainly for the sake of acquiring this very nice house in County Tipperary. The runaway couple were pursued by the law from Ireland to France, and the racy story was reported by practically every newspaper in Britain.

Topsham Celebrates! – Our local town knows how to dress itself up for all the special occasions it hosts in ‘normal’ times, from the historic Charter Day to Secret Gardens, Wassailing and beautifully-decorated windows.

The Twelve Days of Christmas – Why they are so special both in the astronomical calendar and in or lives. ‘Time out’ for games and feasting, with a quick trip to Russia for their celebrations, and a wonderful Twelfth Night Cake – or possibly Bread – for which I provide the recipe.

Pangur Ban and the Old Irish Cats – An Irish monk sat up late at night, writing in his cell, in the far off days of the 9th century. Instead of continuing with his philosophical discourse, he wrote a timeless and touching ode to his cat, Pangur Ban. In fact, cats were highly valued in old Ireland, and protected by special laws. This post has been by far the most popular on Cherry’s Cache over the year, attracting around 2,000 views.

Checking in for the New Year – The tale of how I came to be writing this blog, after a memorable weekend in Spitalfields. Plus updates on posts, with further news on the Cosmo, the Topsham rascal cat, and a report on my Twelfth Night cake.

The Company of Nine – This is an investigation into the symbol of ‘Nine Ladies’ as represented in myth, landscape features such as the stone circle pictured here, and in real-life ‘companies’ of nine priestesses or seeresses.

Singing at the Holy Ground – My teenage years were full of passion for folk music, once I’d given up on Mick Jagger. Our then home city of Birmingham witnessed a great expansion of folk clubs in the 1960s, especially of Irish-led sessions. My path then led me to study with BBC producer Charles Parker, of the Radio Ballads.

The Ancestors of Easter Island describes how we found our way to a stone circle at the heart of Easter Island, traditionally used to make contact with female ancestors. Along with the cult of the Moai, the famous ‘stone heads’, this remote island is a place to understand ancestry and the importance it has in our lives. A visit to Bali also showed us a wonderful ceremony to bring the departed relatives back into the family home.

A Poem in the Albert Hall – Where does it lead when you start writing poetry? Most of the time, nowhere! But I’ve had a few surprises along the way, including, improbably, a famous singer reciting one of my poems in the Royal Albert Hall. And tracing another one in Australia, many years later.

A Coventry Quest – On the trail of a 3 x great grandfather, I tracked down his old haunts in Spon Street, Coventry, where he worked as a watchmaker. It was a day of discovering Coventry too, with its history, both rich and tragic, of ribbon weavers and clock makers, war-time bombs and scattered ancient buildings. I ended with a race against time to find my grandfather’s grave before darkness closed in.

Topsham Lockdown – a time for early morning walks, and discovering how nature took over from human noise and traffic. As well as snapping some stunning views, I also observed moments like the first day the barber’s shop re-opened their doors!

The Dartmoor Ponies – images of these beautiful, half-wild ponies, which I’ve taken over time on my visits to Dartmoor, along with some notes on the breed and the life they live on the moor.

Refugees Ancestors – a Huguenot family in Devon How my Huguenot ancestors fled from France and found a new home in Devon. After a perilous sea crossing, they were taken in by the inhabitants of Barnstaple.

Thank you for scrolling through this! I’m amazed to see how much I did manage to write and upload during the last twelve months. I’m grateful to readers, whether it’s a quick drop-in to read a single post, or regular subscribers who’ve started their Sunday mornings with Cherry’s Cache. For years, I’ve written books on commission for publishers, mostly on subjects close to my heart. But Cherry’s Cache gives me the chance to explore themes which wouldn’t form a book, or don’t necessarily have a place in commercial publishing. I’ve enjoyed it thus far, and I hope you have too!

Early plum blossom in our garden in Devon

The Unusual Exhibition

‘Vines and olives groves, Fressac’ – All paintings on this page are by Robert Lee-Wade, RUA

Robert is sweeping out the dust and straw from the long, covered alley where the horses come to be groomed and fed. Bill, the chief horseman around here, removes the last saddles and bridles from their pegs, while the dogs sniff around eagerly, aware that something unusual is happening. It’s the day of the art exhibition. My husband, Robert Lee-Wade, is a painter in the impressionist style, a member of the Royal Ulster Academy and widely exhibited in various countries abroad. But never before in a stable block in the South of France.

Robert cleaning the alleyway ready for the exhibition.

Robert and I have been at Mas la Chevalerie for several weeks now. We’re staying in a gite on a ranch owned by retired actors Bill Homewood and Estelle Kohler on an extended stay to paint (Robert), write (Cherry) and enjoy the landscape of the Languedoc and the Camargue. It’s September in the South of France, and the grape harvest is coming along, in this idyllic spot. And so is Robert’s art – Bill has helped him to set up a makeshift studio in his capacious office, where he (Bill) also records audio books for Naxos.

Estelle, I should say, was my heroine when I was sixteen and she was a very young actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford. At that time, newly arrived from South Africa, she was playing Ophelia to David Warner’s Hamlet. The innovative production by Peter Hall captured my teenage imagination, and with friends from school in Birmingham, we saw the play several times, usually on cheap stand-by tickets. I never imagined that I might become friends with Estelle so many years later.

Robert Lee-Wade, Estelle Kohler and Bill Homewood
Bill organising the logistics. Camargue pony arrived for schooling. Interested bystanders.

‘Let’s have an exhibition!’ said Bill, after Robert had been painting for several weeks. He and Estelle have been here for decades, and know practically everyone in the Fressac area. They count up who they might invite – the mayor (of course), the baker, the restaurant owner, the dressage specialist, the Danish sculptor, the ex-rock drummer and a whole long list of others. We are to provide the refreshments; being France this must be wine, and being near the Camargue, this must include brandade, a paste made of salted cod. And definitely some baguettes. So be it.

The alleyway is nearly clear now, except that another friend of Bill’s has chosen to bring his exquisite white Camargue stallion for some extra training in Bill’s manège. We’ve had our own exciting encounter with Camargue horses on this trip, taking a three day break down in the marshes to ‘ride the white horses to the sea’.

‘The White Horses of the Carmargue’

The pictures are up, the guests arrive. ‘Everyone will come,’ we’re told. ‘They love a chance to socialise and have an apéro.’ They do, and they mingle, looking carefully at the paintings first– some sales are made – and then it’s time to get down to the serious business of eating and drinking. The party grows merry – why not let the horses join in the fun?

The horses on the lawn, in art and real life

Several hours later, it’s quiet again. Bill and Estelle choose a painting as a gift for their help – it’s ‘Where the Nightingales Sing’, which captures the essence of this magical place. We have also seen golden orioles here, and once, a bee-eater in technicolour glory.

We’ll soon be packing our hatchback car and making the long drive back to the UK. We all talk of doing the same thing another year, but although Robert and I will come back for shorter visits, this exhibition is one of those delightful comings-together that can only happen once. And it’s probably all the more memorable for that reason.

The castle from the horse manege at Mas La Chevalerie

Paintings from the Camargue, by Robert Lee-Wade RUA

You can see more of Robert’s artwork here