Tom Jones, Sophia Western, and a dog called Cromwell: time-travelling in Upton.

Two weeks ago, when the hot weather was just getting established here in the south-west, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill, in Upton-upon-Severn.  That’s only a little way over the county-border, but somehow we generally pass-through, rather than visit.

It’s a two street town.  A woman in a hurry could walk along both and be out on the other side in about five minutes, but I drifted, peering through windows in a dream of book-titles, turning over pages.

As well as charity stores there were plenty of other shops. I could have bought a horse-drawn funeral or a Chinese massage; pots of herbs, a bicycle, a flower arrangement, a fishing rod, an ice-cream or kitted out a kitchen.

I drifted along the narrow pavement. There was just room for two people to pass, and the town was busy with cars and lorries going west.  Squinting into the sun I saw that I’d reached the church spire.  Beyond it were the trees and fields of the flood-plain.  I swopped to the shops on the other side of the road.

Half an hour later I was back at my starting point, facing The White Lion Hotel. Maybe I was two-hundred and seventy-two years (plus a few months) too late to bump into Tom Jones, Sophia Western and Benjamin Partridge, but I thought I ought, really should, go for a cooling beverage in ‘that Inn which in their eyes presented the fairest appearance in the street’.

the white lion upton 2From the outside, it looked pretty much like an illustration I remembered seeing.  ‘Yes,’ the receptionist confirmed, ‘this is the Tom Jones Hotel.’ Then she flitted through a door to become the barmaid.  Was I expecting to step back through time?  That would be ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

After I’d settled in the lounge a man came in.  ‘Beer, please, Anna,’ he said.  ‘  You’re looking a bit harassed, what’s up?’

‘We’re out of laminating pockets,’ she said, ‘and I need to finish these menus.  You don’t have any at your place, do you?’

IMG_20180621_153326He hadn’t.  As poor Anna began phoning round, I sat back, looking through my new books.  Portraits of Tom, Sophia, Henry Fielding and Prince Rupert looked down on me.  I wondered what they would have made of the leather arm chairs and wall-to-wall carpet.  There were plenty of doors for a confusion of entrances and exits, but I couldn’t imagine any of my hoped-for companions using them.

CromwellBack in the street I spotted ‘Cromwell’ and couldn’t resist a closer look.  The six-foot high grass-dog was sitting at the base of ‘The Pepperpot’ – an ancient tower that houses the tourist centre.  I kid you not, and to prove I was not hallucinating, here’s a photo.

I think he might be a labradoodle, in need of grooming.   I patted his rough hide, and felt recompensed for the absences of Henry and his cast of characters.  Funny how I never find what I’m looking for on a second-hand book hunt, but always find something worth thinking about.



Travel log: scenes and stories

Usually, taking holidays in September we strike lucky with the weather.  This year however, we arrived at Gower in a gale.  The blast coming in off the sea buffeted our stone cottage fiercely.  Upstairs, as I drifted into sleep, I felt as if I was on the top of a bunk-bed with a restless sleeper below.

It was cosy though.  The under-floor heating was generated by a ground-source-heat-pump, so I felt a little virtuous about the luxurious warmth.

wind on rhossiliLike all the best storms, it had pretty much blown out by morning.  Though as Ray, Rusty and I made our way down the cliff path the sky was still overcast, and there was a gusty wind.  It was cool enough that when we reached the sand I didn’t consider taking my wellies off.

shipwreck 7I suspect we did the thing that everyone arriving on Rhossili beach for the first time does, when we headed for the main shipwreck. Yes, I did say shipwreck, and no, not recent.  The Helvetia grounded in November 1887, and is now a partial skeleton deeply embedded in the sand.

No diving necessary to look at this wreck, no pieces of eight either: the vessel’s cargo was timber.  There’s treasure here though.  It’s in the worn oak posts, and the large twisted iron nails and bolts that are slowly being eaten by the weather, the sand and the sea.  shipwreck closeup

The Helvetia was lucky: other ships lost lives as well as cargo, on the long shallow beach or against the rocks below Worms Head.  Don’t be misled by the earthy nature of that ‘worm’, this name derives from Wurm, the Viking word for Dragon.

It makes sense as a visual descriptive, and as a warning.  Imagine the stories to go with that naming.  It’s figurative language. It’s the imagination examining, explaining and dramatizing.  Even when the sun came out I could see how it had earned such a name.


rhossili beach.and the worm 2. jpg




The value of the diarist-travel-writer.

ruth-annies-safari-2My friends Ruth and Annie went on a trip-of-a-lifetime this summer, an African safari.  Lucky them.  Now though, lucky me too, because for the past month, I’ve been vicariously sharing their experiences via Ruth’s blog, silver anniversary safari.

This is definitely my preferred way to travel: no injections, waiting around in airport lounges or hours of sitting in a metal box being hurtled across the sky.   I jump straight into the heart of another culture when I open the latest instalment.

I’ll make a sweeping assertion that conveying the excitement and wonder of a place is the general aim for any travel-writer.  The key to this particular travel-log is the narrative voice: the choice of language, and stand-point.

Now let’s just take the last thing first, and clarify what I mean by ‘stand-point’.  I’m not talking about Ruth’s proximity to the animals, although at times, that was breathtakingly close. What I mean, and I’m sure you understood this, but I’d like to be precise, is how her thinking led her to interpret what she experienced.

What comes through strongly in these pieces is personality: there is humour, as well as wonder and fascination.  The way Ruth describes the people she meets, the incidental events she chooses and the things she sees, show us our narrator as well as providing a brief insight into the culture she is experiencing.

Perhaps it’s because I’m mid-way through tutoring my Writing Family History course, that I’m also thinking about the value of Ruth’s piece of writing for the future.  It is not just entertaining, it is a record of interactions with specific environments at this point in time.  Imagine, in the future, someone tracing their family tree and discovering not just the photographs of this trip, but alongside them, the story that sets them in context.


*Photos taken from Ruth Boardman Anniversary Safari.