The British Postal Service

We should all be used to sending and receiving items ‘by post’ but, as with so many things in this world, there is change and our postal service is no exception. It is known today as Royal Mail Group Ltd and is a British multinational postal service as well as a courier company.

In England, a monarch’s letters to their subjects are known to have been carried by relays of couriers as long ago as the 15th century. The earliest mention of ‘Master of the Posts’ is in the ‘King’s Book of Payments’ where a payment of £100 was authorised for a Master of the Posts in February 1512 and it was then established in 1516 as a government department, so belatedly in 1517 the office of ‘Governor of the King’s Posts’ was officially appointed as the role actually was when King Henry VIII officially established it. Then in 1603 King James VI moved his court to London and upon his accession to the throne of England at the Union of the Crowns, one of his first acts was to establish the royal postal service between London and Edinburgh in an attempt to retain control over the Scottish Privy Council. In 1609 it was decreed that letters could only be carried and delivered by persons authorised by the Master of the Posts. The Royal Mail service was first made available to the public by King Charles I on 31 July 1635, interestingly with postage being paid by the recipient. The monopoly was farmed out to Thomas Witherings, an English merchant and postal administrator who then established the Royal Mail public letter service. He was a politician who sat in the House of Commons in 1640 but for some reason, in the 1640s Parliament removed the monopoly from Witherings. So during the time that England and Wales (later along with Ireland and Scotland) were governed as a republic until the execution of King Charles I, the parliamentary postal service was run by Edmund Prideaux, a prominent parliamentarian and lawyer who rose to be attorney-general at great profit for himself. To keep his monopoly in those troubled times, Prideaux improved efficiency and used both legal impediments and illegal methods. In 1653, Parliament set aside all previous grants for postal services, with contracts then given for the inland and foreign mails to John Manley, which gave him a monopoly on the postal service and was effectively enforced by Protector Oliver Cromwell’s government, but thanks to the improvements necessitated by the war Manley ran a much improved Post Office service. In July 1655, the Post Office was put under the direct government control of John Thurloe, a Secretary of State best known to history as Cromwell’s spymaster general and he became ‘Master of the Posts’. Previous English governments had tried to prevent conspirators communicating with each other, but Thurloe preferred to deliver their post having surreptitiously read it. As the Protectorate claimed to govern all of Great Britain and Ireland under one unified government, on 9 June 1657 the Second Protectorate Parliament (which included Scottish and Irish MPs) passed the ‘Act for Settling the Postage in England, Scotland and Ireland’, which created one monopoly Post Office for the whole territory of the Commonwealth and Thurloe’s spies were therefore able to intercept mail, and he exposed Edward Sexby’s 1657 plot to assassinate Cromwell, capturing would-be assassin Miles Sindercombe and his group. Ironically, Thurloe’s own department was also infiltrated as his secretary Samuel Morland became a Royalist agent and in 1659 alleged that Thurloe, Richard Cromwell and Sir Richard Willis – a Sealed Knot member turned Cromwell agent – were plotting to kill the future King Charles II. About forty years after his death, a false ceiling was found in his rooms at Lincoln’s Inn, the space was full of letters seized during his occupation of the office of Master of the Posts. These letters are now at the Bodleian Library. As a quick aside to this, I have learned that Lincoln’s Inn has quite a history to it and The Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn is one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are ‘Called to the Bar’. The other three are Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Gray’s Inn. Lincoln’s Inn, along with the three other Inns of Court, is recognised as being one of the world’s most prestigious professional bodies of judges and lawyers. Incidentally, the term ‘call to the bar’ has nothing to do with alcohol, it is a legal term in most common law jurisdictions where persons must be qualified to be allowed to argue in court on behalf of another party. The ‘bar’ is used as a collective noun for barristers, but literally referred to the wooden barrier in old courtrooms, which separated the often crowded public area at the rear from the space near the judges reserved for those having business with the court. Barristers would sit or stand immediately behind it, facing the judge, and could use it as a table for their work. In 1657 an Act entitled ‘Postage of England, Scotland and Ireland Settled’ set up a system for the British Isles and enacted the position of Postmaster General. The Act also reasserted the postal monopoly for letter delivery and for post horses. Thurloe retained his position as Master of the Posts until he was accused of treason and arrested in May 1660. At the restoration of the monarchy in that year, all the ordinances and acts passed by parliaments during the Civil War and the Interregnum passed into oblivion, and so the General Letter Office, which would later become the General Post Office (GPO), was officially established by King Charles II. The first Postmaster General was appointed in 1661, and at first a seal was fixed to the mail.

Plaque marking the former site of the General Letter Office in London.

Between 1719 and 1763, a postmaster at Bath signed a series of contracts with the post office to develop and expand Britain’s postal network. He organised Royal Mail coaches which were similar to ordinary family coaches, but with Post Office livery. The first one ran in 1784, operating between Bristol and London. Delivery staff received uniforms for the first time in 1793, and the Post Office Investigation Branch was established. The first mail train ran in 1830 on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway then the Post Office’s money order system was introduced in 1838.

Post Office Regulations Handbill, giving details of the Uniform Penny Post.

In December 1839, the first substantial reform started when postage rates were revised. Rowland Hill, an English teacher, inventor and social reformer, became disillusioned with the postal service and wrote a paper proposing reforms that resulted in an approach that would go on to change not only the Royal Mail, but also be copied by postal services around world. His proposal was refused at the first attempt, but he overcame the political obstacles, and was appointed to implement and develop his ideas. He realised that many small purchases would fund the organisation and implemented this by changing it from a receiver-pays to a sender-pays system. This was used as the model for other postal services around the world, but has also spilled over to the modern-day crowd-funding approach. It meant that greater changes took place when the Uniform Penny Post was introduced on 10 January 1840, whereby a single rate for delivery anywhere in Great Britain and Ireland was pre-paid by the sender. A few months later, to certify that postage had been paid on a letter, the sender could affix the first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, which was available for use from 6 May that same year. Other innovations were the introduction of pre-paid postal stationery, letter sheets and envelopes. As Britain was the first country to issue prepaid postage stamps, British stamps are the only stamps that do not bear the name of the country of issue on them. By the late 19th century, there were between six and twelve mail deliveries per day in London, permitting correspondents to exchange multiple letters within a single day. The first test of the London Pneumatic Despatch Company was made in 1863, sending mail by underground rail between postal depots. The Post Office began its telegraph service in 1870.

An ornate Pillar Box dating from the reign of Queen Victoria.

The first Post Office pillar box was erected back in 1852 in Jersey, they were then introduced into mainland Britain the following year. British pillar boxes traditionally carry the Latin initials of the reigning monarch at the time of their installation, for example: ‘VR for Victoria Regina or ‘GR’ for Georgius Rex. Such branding is not used in Scotland, due to a dispute over the current monarch’s title, because some Scottish nationalists argue that Queen Elizabeth II should have simply been Queen Elizabeth, as there had been no previous Queen Elizabeth of Scotland or of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Elizabeth I was only Queen of the pre-1707 Kingdom of England. The dispute involved vandalism and attacks on pillar and post boxes introduced in Scotland which displayed EIIR. To avoid the issue, pillar boxes in Scotland are therefore either marked ‘Post Office’ or use the Scots Crown. A national telephone service was opened by the Post Office in 1912 and in 1919, the first international airmail service was developed by Royal Engineers (Postal Section) and the Royal Air Force. The London Post Office Railway was opened in 1927 and in 1941 an ‘airgraph’ service was introduced between UK and Egypt. Over the next four years this service was extended to Canada, East Africa, Burma, India, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon and Italy. Then under the Post Office Act 1969, the General Post Office was changed from a government department to a statutory corporation, known simply as the Post Office. The office of Postmaster General was abolished and replaced with the positions of chairman and chief executive in the new company. A two-class postal system was introduced in 1968, using first-class and second-class services. The Post Office also opened the National Giro Bank that same year. Postcodes were extended across Great Britain and Northern Ireland between 1959 and 1974. Royal Mail established Romec (Royal Mail Engineering & Construction) in 1989 to deliver facilities maintenance services to its business. British Telecom was separated from the Post Office in 1980 and emerged as an independent business in 1981. Girobank was sold to the Alliance & Leicester in 1990, and Royal Mail Parcels was rebranded as Parcelforce. The remaining business continued under public ownership, as privatisation of this was deemed to be too unpopular. However, in the 1990s, the then President of the Board of Trade began investigating a possible sale, and eventually a Green Paper on Postal Reform was published in May 1994, outlining various options for privatisation. The ideas, however, proved controversial, and were dropped from the 1994 Queen’s Speech after a number of Conservative MPs warned that they would not vote for the legislation.

Then, after a change of government in 1997, the Labour government decided to keep the Post Office state-owned, but with more commercial freedom and this led to the Postal Services Act 2000. The company was then renamed Consignia Plc in 2001 and the new name was intended to show that the company did more than deliver mail, however the change was very unpopular with both the general public and employees. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) boycotted the name, and the following year it was announced that the company would be renamed Royal Mail Group plc. In 1999, Royal Mail launched a short-lived e-commerce venture, ViaCode Limited, aimed at providing encrypted online communications services but it failed to make a profit and closed in 2002. As part of the 2000 Act, the government had set up a postal regulator, the Postal Services Commission, known as Postcomm, which offered licences to private companies to deliver mail. In 2001 Postwatch was created for consumers to express any concerns they may have with the postal service in Britain. In 2004 the second daily delivery was scrapped in an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency, meaning a later, single delivery would be made. That same year, the travelling post office mail trains were also axed. Then in 2005, Royal Mail signed a contract with GB Railfreight to operate an overnight rail service between London and Scotland which carried bulk mail but without any on-train sorting and this was later followed by a London-Newcastle service.

Mount Pleasant Postal Sorting Office, London.

On 1 January 2006, the Royal Mail lost its 350-year monopoly, and the British postal market became fully open to competition. Competitors were allowed to collect and sort mail, and pass it to Royal Mail for delivery, a service known as ‘downstream access’. Royal Mail introduced Pricing in Proportion for first and second class inland mail, whereby prices are affected by the size as well as weight of items. It also introduced an online postage service, allowing customers to pay for postage online. In 2007, the Royal Mail Group plc became Royal Mail Group Ltd, in a slight change of legal status. Royal Mail ended Sunday collections from pillar boxes that year. On 1 October 2008, Postwatch was merged into the new consumer watchdog Consumer Focus. Also in 2008, due to a continuing fall in mail volumes, the government commissioned an independent review of the postal services sector by the former deputy chairman of Ofcom. The recommendations in the review led to the Business Secretary to seek to part-privatise the company by selling a minority stake to a commercial partner. However, despite legislation for the sale passing the House of Lords, it was abandoned in the House of Commons after strong opposition from backbench Labour MPs. The government later cited the difficult economic conditions for the reason behind the retreat. On 6 December 2010, a number of paid-for services including Admail, post office boxes and private post boxes were removed from the Inland Letter Post Scheme (ILPS) and became available under contract. Several free services, including petitions to parliament and the sovereign, and ‘poste restante’, were removed from the scheme. Following the 2010 general election, the new Business Secretary in the coalition government asked for an expansion on a previous report to account for EU Directive which called for the postal sector to be fully open to competition by 31 December 2012. Based on this review update, the government passed the Postal Services Act 2011 which allowed for up to 90% of Royal Mail to be privatised, with at least 10% of shares to be held by Royal Mail employees. As part of the 2011 Act, Postcomm was merged into the communications regulator Ofcom on 1 October 2011, with Ofcom introducing a new simplified set of regulations for postal services on 27 March 2012. On 31 March 2012, the Government took over the historic assets and liabilities of the Royal Mail pension scheme, relieving Royal Mail of its huge pensions deficit. On 1 April 2012, Post Office Ltd became independent of Royal Mail Group, and was reorganised to become a subsidiary of Royal Mail Holdings, with a separate management and board of directors and a ten-year inter-business agreement was signed between the two companies to allow Post Offices to continue issuing stamps and handling letters and parcels for Royal Mail. The Act also contained the option for Post Office Ltd to become a mutual organisation in the future. In July 2013 it was announced that Royal Mail was to be floated on the London Stock Exchange and that postal staff would be entitled to free shares. On 12 September 2013, a six-week plan for the sale of at least half of the business was released to the public, though the Communication Workers Union (CWU), representing over 100,000 Royal Mail employees, said that 96% of Royal Mail staff opposed the sell-off. A postal staff ballot in relation to a nationwide strike action was expected to take place in late September 2013. Applications for members of the public to buy shares opened on 27 September 2013, ahead of the company’s listing on the London Stock Exchange on 15 October 2013. The government was expected to retain between a 37.8% and 49.9% holding in the company. A report on 10 October 2013 revealed that around 700,000 applications for shares had been received by HM Government, more than seven times the amount that were available to the public. At the time of the report, Royal Mail staff continued to ballot regarding potential strike action. The initial public offering (IPO) price was set at 330p, and conditional trading in shares began on 11 October 2013, ahead of the full listing on 15 October 2013. Following the IPO, 52.2% of Royal Mail had been sold to investors, with 10% given to employees for free. Due to the high demand for shares, an additional 7.8% was sold via an over-allotment arrangement on 8 November 2013. This left the government with a 30% stake in Royal Mail and £1.98bn raised from the sale of shares. The CWU confirmed on 13 October 2013 that strike action would occur in response to the privatisation of Royal Mail but this was called off whilst negotiations took place and on 6 February 2014 the CWU confirmed that Royal Mail staff had voted to accept the settlement. Share prices rose by 38% on the first day of conditional trading, leading to accusations that the company had been undervalued. Six months later, the market price was 58% more than the sale price, and peaked as high as 87%. The Business Secretary defended the low sale price that was finalised, saying that the threat of strike action around the time of the sale meant it was a fair price in the circumstances following questioning from the House of Commons Business Committee in late April 2014. On 4 June 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that the government would sell its remaining 30% stake. A 15% stake was subsequently sold to investors on 11 June 2015, raising £750m, with a further 1% passed to the company’s employees. The government completed the disposal of its shareholding on 12 October 2015, when a 13% stake was sold for £591m and another 1% was given to employees. In total the government raised £3.3bn from the full privatisation of Royal Mail. During its Annual General Meeting in 2022, the company announced that the holding company responsible for both Royal Mail and GLS would change its name to International Distribution Services. It was also suggested that the board of directors might look to separate GLS in order to distance the profitable company from Royal Mail, as they are currently in negotiations with the CWU over both pay and future changes to ways of working. It seems that some things never change, or perhaps some things always will. Either way, it is a good bit different to when it first started!

This week…
Some folk just like to be awkward and seem to enjoy an argument. They may even try to be what they think is ‘clever’, so if someone says to them “May I ask you a question?”, they reply “You just did!”. Therefore I always start such conversations with the statement “I have a question for you”.

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North Devon

There is so much to see and write about in the United Kingdom! So I will now mention a bit more about North Devon, where some of our family, comprising parents, an elder brother and I had what I would call our first real holiday together. Dad had been involved with the scouts for many years, so the plan was to have a camping holiday. Dad found that there was a campsite at Steart Farm in North Devon, so in our 1937 Ford Eight we drove down there. I was probably about six years old. It took many hours to get from Peterborough to Steart Farm and on our first visit we found that you turned off the main A39 road and went down a fairly steep hill to the farmhouse and yard. Parts of the yard were a bit muddy in places but we saw it was quite easy to get through and up the other side to the where the caravans and tents were. The site consisted of two large fields, an upper and a lower, with all of the camping in the lower field and the caravans in the upper one. Except there had been heavy rain for a few days prior to our visit and the lower field was flooded, so camping was impossible. But the farmer had a few caravans in the upper field for folk to use and previous visitors had given up and gone home, so we used a caravan! We went back there a few times for holidays, including the time I happened to catch mumps and had to be kept isolated, much like the recent Covid-19. Then we found a place called Westward Ho! in our journeys round the area and saw a holiday camp with both caravans as well as small chalets with corrugated iron roofs that meant you could hear the birds walking across them in the early hours of the morning. During my recent research for this blog I came across the South West Coast Path Association and have included some information of a national trail walk which begins and ends at Steart Farm, near Bucks Mills and is around 3.9 miles (6.2 km) in length. It features woodland paths, wildflower meadows and glimpses of stunning sea views through a screen of ancient hanging oaks. The route visits the thatched thirteenth-century Hoops Inn, but you can take the short-cut to the Coast Path for a quicker stroll. To get to the start, buses do run regularly if required between Barnstaple and Kilkhampton, passing Steart Farm.

Steart Farm Walk.

I never did this walk, but as a child I would regularly walk (with my parents of course!) along the main road from the farm to Bucks Cross and the shop, which also had a post office and a telephone box. As you can see from the map, it seems interesting as to begin with, you walk down through the campsite to pick up the signed footpath, going down the steps into the lower terrace of the Middle Burrows camping field. In the woods you then turn left at the waymarker, bearing right shortly afterwards when another path joins from the left. You follow the red waymarkers above the stream, to come out in Bucks Mills Woodland car park. Steart, Walland and Loggins Woods were purchased by the Woodland Trust in 1996, with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The woods are mostly broadleaved trees, including oak and beech, with some conifers which were planted more recently, mainly larch and sitka spruce. Over time the Trust aims to reduce the number of conifers and return the woodland to broadleaved species, both naturally and through a programme of planting. There are a number of tracks and paths through the woods, created to carry out forestry operations and the public are welcome to walk along them. Most of the houses in Bucks Mills were built at the beginning of the nineteenth century to accommodate workers on the Walland Cary estate, the manor to the west side of the village. The stream carries on down through the village and once powered the corn mill which gave the village its name. Going out onto the road you turn right, crossing the footbridge, to pick up the narrow footpath to the left of the house ahead. Behind the house the path turns to the right, climbing steadily through the wood and emerging in a meadow. You then follow the right-hand hedge and cross the stile at the far end, beside the barn, carrying on between the buildings at Lower Worthygate Farm to the farm drive. An area of woodland to the left of the path was given over to the Bodgers and Badgers woodland project in October 2000. The project is funded by the National Lottery through its Millennium Commission and the objective is to manage the woodland in line with the conservation strategies used in the neighbouring areas. Traditional skills and techniques are employed, such as coppicing, charcoal-burning and hurdle-making. Volunteers help restore neglected areas through tasks like cutting back hazel stools and erecting deer fencing. The aim is to develop the area as a woodland amenity as well as to encourage wildlife. Guided walks are provided, also flora and fauna surveys are carried out. It was first documented in 1600 that the area was wooded and since that time its oak trees have been used for producing tannin from the bark, charcoal for smelting and making gunpowder, timber for pit-props and shipbuilding (which is done at nearby Appledore) and more recently, for building and firewood. The practice of coppicing – cutting back new growth for commercial use while leaving the main stem to continue growing – means that a tree may live for several centuries. Some of the wildflowers here are only seen in ancient woodland, so look out for the delicate white flowers of wood sorrel, and the clusters of dainty yellow-green leaves of the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage. Watch out, too, for shy roe deer between the trees. For the short route, you turn left up the drive, turning left on the road beyond to join the main route at the footpath at 6 on the above map. To visit the Hoops Inn, on the longer route turn right on the drive to pick up the waymarked footpath leading from the bottom corner of the farm’s garden. The path follows the left-hand boundary of two fields to the road beyond. Turn right and drop down to the main road, turning left here to walk with care along the main road to the Hoops Inn. The A39 along the North Devon coast to Cornwall was named the Atlantic Highway in the 1990s as the name reflects the coastline’s strong ties with the Southern Railway’s ‘Atlantic Coast Express’, which ran daily from London Waterloo between 1926 and 1964. The road itself, travelling between Bideford and Bude, was built long before the arrival of motor vehicles and was the main coaching route into Cornwall from North Devon. The Hoops Inn was one of three coaching inns en route where horses were changed, the other two being the West Country Inn on Bursdon Moor, near Hartland, and in Kilkhampton. It would take all day to travel from Bideford into Bude, and the horses would be returned to the inns on the journey back. The Hoops Inn is a Grade II listed building for its many seventeenth century features, but the original building dates back to the thirteenth century. In Tudor times it was a popular meeting place for seafarers such as Sir Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville. It was also known as a notorious smugglers’ haunt. Incidentally, a short distance further on from Hoops Inn is Horns Cross, with a small public house called the Coach and Horses, along with just a few houses. Opposite the pub is what used to be a garage but which is now just a repair centre for certain types of vehicle. In my young days it was a proper garage and petrol station and my dad had his car urgently repaired there, we also became friends with the owners of the place. But back to Hoops Inn. You can head through the archway to the car park, continue straight ahead uphill to go through the gateway at the top into the small field beyond. Then bear left in the field to cross the stile in the far left-hand corner, turning left on the footpath beyond to follow the left-hand hedge of the big field uphill to the road. Turning left on the road, walk past a little place called Sloo and then down to the sharp left-hand bend about half a mile beyond. You take the footpath on the outside of the bend and follow the green lane towards the coast, where it meets the South West Coast Path. Turn left and follow the Coast Path down into Bucks Mills village, coming out on the road a little way up from the beach. The oak woods along this part of the Coast Path are also very old. The remoteness of the location and the steep hillsides mean that they have survived the extensive felling which destroyed the greater part of the ancient forests that once covered the whole of Britain and like the rest of the area’s woodland, it supports a wide diversity of species with a large range of habitats being provided by the scrub, grassland and marsh elsewhere in the valley. As a result, the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is particularly known for its rare lichens. The abundance of wildflowers, such as early purple orchid and marsh orchid, in turn attract butterflies. Here you can look out for the speckled orange-brown, pearl-bordered fritillary, and the well-camouflaged brown dingy skipper. Then turn left on the road and walk back to the woodland car park. Going into the car park, you can take the footpath in the far left-hand corner ahead of you, and follow it back up through the woods to Steart Farm. In my young days I never walked this path, but we often visited nearby Clovelly in order to get there one could either use the ‘main’ road or travel along, as I managed to persuade Dad to do once, the ‘Hobby Drive’. This was built between 1811 and 1829 by Sir James Hamlyn Williams, providing employment for Clovelly men after the Napoleonic wars. It was part of the Romantic movement, which celebrated the beauty of the natural world in response to the increasing emphasis placed on science and logic following the Industrial Revolution. In 1901 Frederick and Christine Hamlyn extended the drive by a further half a mile, making a three-mile carriage drive with breathtaking vistas high above the Atlantic. Over the years the estate has planted new trees in several areas along the drive as part of its woodland management plan, which aims to replace native deciduous trees as they die off, and in the last ten years some 2,500 saplings have been planted each year. In summer pheasant chicks are much in evidence on the lower slopes of the woodland, and pheasant shoots take place between November and January. Nearing the end of the drive you can either turn right to visit Clovelly village, or continue ahead to go straight to the visitor centre, where there is a cafe and a souvenir shop.

For four hundred years, from the fourteenth century to the eighteenth, the village of Clovelly belonged to the Carey family. Then in 1738 it was sold to Zachary Hamlyn, whose descendants have managed it ever since. Built into a cleft in a 400-foot cliff, the whitewashed cottages line a cobbled street which plunges straight down the hillside to the ancient working port below. Using traditional materials and craftsmanship, the family keeps the village in the style of the mid-nineteenth century, and donkeys are used to carry goods uphill, whilst sledges bring things down. From Elizabethan times Clovelly’s main livelihood was from fishing, mostly mackerel and herring, and this provided a prosperous living until the 1840s, when the shoals began to move away. Clovelly herrings were famous throughout the land and donkeys brought the catch uphill to be taken by train to London and the Home Counties. A good day’s catch sometimes amounted to as many as 9,000 herrings, and on one particularly good day 400 donkey-loads were brought in! Even now, fishing is still part of village life, and it is celebrated every autumn in the Herring Festival. The quay was first built in the thirteenth century and extended in Tudor times, then in 1826 the quay was lengthened. The four cannon barrels in use today as bollards are said to have come from the Spanish Armada. Clovelly is the only safe harbour between Appledore and Boscastle, and ships will sometimes wait in Clovelly Roads for storms to pass. Also, because of the number of ships that have been wrecked here, this part of the coast is known as the Iron Coast. This is as a result of the westerly winds rolling in over 3,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean, and the deadly fingers of rock lurking beneath the waves. As a result, Clovelly has had its own lifeboat since 1870. Beyond the lifeboat station is a coastal waterfall, one of several along this coastline. Unable to erode the hard rock over which they pass, the rivers here meet the sea high above the shore in ‘hanging valleys’, and the water tumbles over the cliffs to the beach below, so after heavy rainfall the torrent is quite dramatic. According to legend, the cave behind the waterfall was the birthplace of King Arthur’s magician, Merlin. One of the cottages on the street between ‘Upalong’ and ‘Downalong’ belonged to ‘Crazy Kate’ Lyall, who watched helplessly from her window as her fisherman husband drowned in the bay. It is said that, overwhelmed by her grief, one day in 1736 she put on her wedding dress and walked out into the sea to join him in his watery grave. Nearby is Kingsley Cottage and writer Charles Kingsley spent much time in Clovelly, his father having been rector here. Kingsley wrote his novel ‘Westward Ho!’ in the village, it was also his inspiration for the book ‘The Water Babies’.

Hartland Point lighthouse during a storm.

Because of its rugged coastline, a short distance along from Clovelly is Hartland. There you will find a small village, also a quay and as you might expect, on the edge of the headland is Hartland Point, with its lighthouse. Many years ago I was on holiday with my parents and an older brother who happened to be driving us all back from a day out in Bude to where we were staying, when we saw what might be a lovely sunset. We drove to Hartland quay and sure enough, the sun was setting beautifully. I got my camera and began adjusting the settings, my brother began doing the same and dear dad simply took his camera out of its case, pointed it and took a photo. My brother and I were still fiddling with settings, focussing, whilst dad just looked at us. Can you guess who got the best photograph? You’re right, it was dad. Back then we were still using film, not the modern cameras of today so it wasn’t until after we returned home and the films were developed that we found out. We all had a laugh at the memory of that evening and the holidays we had. On one occasion we went to an air show at RAF Chivenor, an airbase near Barnstaple and I got the great opportunity for a flight in a helicopter there. I think it was a good excuse to keep me occupied as I had to queue for an hour or so just for a three-minute flight, whilst parents went off for a cuppa tea in a refreshment tent. Except my flight lasted a few minutes longer because the Red Arrows were doing part of their display, so I got to see more than I expected! RAF Chivenor was where some of the air-sea rescue helicopters flew from and I would often see them flying around and along the coast. But what really was entertaining was some years later when I moved to a house in Peterborough and was chatting to a new neighbour who I soon learned was in the Royal Air Force. It turned out that one of his good friends knew RAF Chivenor well and had worked on maintaining helicopters, though not at the time I visited. But it is surprising how people and events all link up over time. I have many good memories of Devon and Cornwall, it will always be a special area in this world for me.

This week…
“Family isn’t always blood, it’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are, the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what.”
~ Maya Angelou.

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