20/1/91 DARTMOOR

After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and left Plymouth. We drove up onto Dartmoor and as we got higher a dense fog closed in around us. Nothing could be seen of the surrounding land but the ethereal shapes of sheep and a few strange-looking Dartmoor ponies were visible in the damp gloom.

All morning we drove around the moors and once the fog lifted the true and dissolute beauty of the land was revealed. Bleak scrubby hills were cut by steep rocky streams and everywhere were bogs and hollows. The colours were muted and cold: browns, greys and greens beneath the leaden sky.

Eventually we ended up at the village of Chagford where Linda had stayed with Helen and Brian [Linda’s parents who’d visited Britain in 1990] during the summer. We took the road beyond the village which led up to a small lake. We left the car and went for a walk savouring the fresh cold air full of the smell of leaves, earth and water.

Back at Chagford we had lunch in a pub then followed a maze of narrow sunken roads down to Exeter. We filled in the afternoon at the movies seeing the ridiculous horror film Arachnophobia then set off home.

18/1/91

I knocked off at 3 pm and went home to get ready to head off down to Plymouth for the weekend. We got on the road at 4:15 and drove over the hill to the A303.

It took us just over three hours to drive down to Plymouth and on arrival we picked out a B&B called the Caledonia Guest House and booked in. Once we had taken our gear inside and settled in we went down to the centre of town and found the picture theatre. We saw Mel Gibson in the disappointing movie Air America. After the movie we found a pub and had a couple of quiet drinks then went back to the hotel.

The Caledonia Guest House is still there today. These quaint Georgian houses were the sort of places that age-of-sail naval officers would stay in when they were ashore during the Napoleonic Wars.

15/1/91

After five months of political manoeuvring, veiled threats, and military muscle-flexing, the combined Allied armies massed in Saudi Arabia attacked Iraq: the first move in the dislodgement of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.¹

¹The First Gulf War was fought between August 1990 and February 1991. This phase of the operation was called Operation Desert Storm.

Footnote: It is one of the great incongruities of travel (and, indeed, life itself) that major world events, when seen from the distance of the future, simply become history. During our travels we witnessed first-hand the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan AM aircraft, the Hillsborough stadium disaster, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the fall of Margaret Thatcher, the release of Nelson Mandela and the Rwanda massacres. All of these were major news events at the time; now they are simply events from history.

Saturday 12/1/91-Sunday 13/1/91

I spent both days up at Tucks Farm¹ building a new lambing enclosure. I picked up £70 for my trouble including petrol costs. As I travelled up and down on both days I listened to Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s² brilliant album called Third World Child.

¹Tucks Farm, at Calne, near Swindon, was where I was to work as a lambing shepherd later in the year. The farm owners had employed me to build a sheep yard for use during the lambing.

²Having travelled in Africa, and intending to return later in 1991, we loved music about that continent. Johnny Clegg and Savuka were a Belgium-based band from South Africa whose songs were redolent of life in Africa. This is Scatterlings of Africa from the album Third World Child.

5/1/91

I went into Warminster and bought some bits and pieces for the car including an oil filter oil and a new thermostat. I went round to the Witts farm to borrow a strap wrench and Richard Witt ended up changing the oil and filter for me. Back at the Manor I pulled the old thermostat out and put in the new one then as it was a nasty stormy day I parked up in front of the TV.

2/1/90

I had to work in the morning but only the shoulder boners were in and we finished at 10 o’clock. I set off to walk home but only got down to the main road when Tina came along and gave me a lift out to Sutton Veny. I carried on walking down through to the main road and then Linda came along and picked me up. We got along to the bottom of the tree-lined lane when the car just stopped! We left it parked beside the road and got a lift with Tina down to the Manor. After lunch I got a ride into Warminster with Diana [our landlady] and Roxy [her granddaughter] and drew some money out then went back out and Diana towed me up to the garage at Sutton Veny. It turned out to be only a burnt out condenser and they fixed it straight away.

20/7/90

It was a brilliantly fine day and we left Linton and drove along the narrow winding roads leading south along the incredibly rugged coast. We had lunch on a promontory overlooking the hazy blue sea then turned inland and headed for Exeter. When we got there we spent a couple of hours looking around and Linda got her hair cut.  Helen and Brian had got themselves into a hotel so Linda and I drove out to the Youth Hostel and checked in there.

Dartmoor.

 In the evening, Brian shouted us tea at a place called Mad Megs weather meals were huge!

18/7/90

Linda and I were up early and cooked a small meal of toast and boiled eggs for breakfast then checked out of the hostel and walked down to the village. It was a beautiful morning, cool and fine, and the haze amongst the hills gave promise a hot day to come.

Our first stop after meeting Helen and Brian was the local slate mining museum. We spent about an hour there looking at the fascinating exhibits of the equipment and techniques used in slate mining, along with the methods and equipment needed to keep the mine going. Along with the working demonstration of slate dressing there was a huge smithy, a foundry, a mould-making factory and a huge water wheel, 50 ft 5 inches in diameter and capable of delivering a massive 80 horsepower when it was operating. Along with the Imperial War Museum in London it was the best museum I’ve seen in England so far.

When we left the village, we drove up to the top of the llanberis Pass where hordes of dickheads were sitting out on the epic climb of the towering 3,240 foot giant Snowdonia. We had a cup of tea halfway down the other side of the pass with a thick haze spoiling the otherwise spectacular views of Snowdon and the surrounding mountains.

A while later we stopped for lunch on a small back road and at about 12:45 we arrived in Blaenau Ffestiniog, a slate-mining town. All around us, the hills had been torn apart by the quest for slate and there were huge piles of waste rock shimmering in the hot afternoon sun.

Me in the slate mine.

Linda, Bryan and I descended 400 ft underground for a tour of the huge cabins left by the slate miners last century. It was deathly cold and damp in the labyrinth of passages and caverns but they were a truly amazing sight: a monument which will stand forever to the tenacity of the humans who toiled their lives away in the cold darkness. When we left Blaenau Ffestiniog we drove and drove and drove, making it as far as Abergavenny by 8 PM. We all stayed in a B&B for the night.