Category Archives: Travel

A bridge over troubled motors

The M4 is a constant looming presence on the Cotswold Way.   Walking from the north, you start off 80 miles or so away from it, but you always know that it’s there in-between you and Bath.  At some point it has to be crossed.

The M4 heading west near Tormarton  © Copyright Dr Duncan Pepper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

The M4 heading west near Tormarton
© Copyright Dr Duncan Pepper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Alice’s blisters have (just about) healed enough for her to start again on her Cotswold Way Challenge (for which you can still sponsor her at JustGiving) and I joined her again this week for another section, as she approached the motorway. You first hear it as you reach the churchyard at Old Sodbury. It’s still three or four miles away, but the elevated position of the church, which gives it a great view, seems to help the sound to travel there. After that you’re into more of a dip as you cross Dodington Park and the sound fades away, but not for long.

The trail crosses the A46 and heads east to Tormarton to avoid the motorway junction and find a quieter bridge over the M4.   There’s still an uncomfortable section walking along quite a busy road that has no pavement either side, before the path turns and heads back west.  For almost two miles you’re walking roughly parallel to the motorway and only a short distance away from it, with the constant roar of traffic from both the M4 and the A46.   It must be about the least attractive bit of the Cotswold Way (although the dreadful fly-tipping mess of the old quarries above Cheltenham probably pips it).

So I hereby launch the campaign for a new pedestrian footbridge over the M4.  I’d suggest a position just west of the A46, roughly by Springs Farm, where the motorway is still in a cutting, before falling away down what remains of the Cotswold escarpment at this point.   It could be a very striking position for a bridge, and brings to mind the elegant pedestrian bridge that carries the Pennine Way over the M62.   I hear that a new garden footbridge is planned for the Thames in London that is likely to cost 170 million pounds.    A bridge over the M4 for the Cotswold Way might not be as high profile as that, but it could surely be built from the small change left over.

The M62 Pennine Way footbridge  © Copyright George Tod and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The M62 Pennine Way footbridge
© Copyright George Tod and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Meanwhile Alice keeps heading on southwards.  Almost Bath time.

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Up and down the Cotswold Way

The Cotswold Way is my local path, or at least my local long-distance footpath. I’ve walked some bits of it many times and many bits of it some times. But I’ve never walked the whole length of it – just over 100 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south. That’s the challenge my daughter has taken on, to raise money for Raleigh International. It’s not too late to sponsor her at Just Giving.

Broadway Tower (photo by Newton2)

Broadway Tower (photo by Newton2)

So this week I set off to walk the first stretch with her. From Chipping Campden the path rises up to Dover Hill and along the Cotswold escarpment to Broadway Tower, before descending into Broadway. 5 miles down, and so far so good – a quick stop in one of Broadway’s many tea rooms and off back up the hill. A short walk along the top and again it’s not long before we’re back down in the valley at Stanton, described in two different guide books as being the ‘quintessential’ Cotswold village – a word that seems to have been invented just for Stanton. Across some distinctive ‘Ridge and Furrow’ fields to Stanway and Wood Stanway, and then we’re climbing again, steeply up the escarpment as it starts to rain, gently at first, and then more persistently. This is the low point of the day’s walk – legs are starting to tire, as the rain gets heavier and heavier, and we still have a lot of miles to go.

Stanton - the "quintessential" Cotswold village.  Photo by Philip Halling.

Stanton – the “quintessential” Cotswold village. Photo by Philip Halling.

From the top of the hill at Stumps Cross, the path runs along past quarries before starting to descend again towards Hailes Abbey. The rain has eased off, but by now this pattern of continual climbing up the escarpment, then descending back down into the valley is starting to lose its interest – couldn’t they just design a path that follows the top of the escarpment? I suppose people from further away appreciate a route that takes in many of the towns and villages along the way, but as someone relatively familiar with the local area, it’s the bracing walks along the tops of hills, and the views that come with them, that are the attraction of the Cotswold Way.

The Cotswold Way above Hailes.  Photo by Philip Halling

The Cotswold Way above Hailes. Photo by Philip Halling

From Hailes the route cuts across fields to Winchcombe, before we start to climb again up to Belas Knap. That’s four times climbing up to the Cotswold escarpment in a single day, and by now we’ve done nearly 20 miles of almost continual up and down. It’s a long time since I’ve walked anything like as far as that in a single day, and I can certainly feel it in my legs. Alice is maybe not as exhausted as I am, but her feet are far worse, badly blistered and painful with every step.

I’m just doing the one day, but her plan was to keep going for several days. She hobbles on for most of the next morning, but the blisters win and she has to take a temporary break. She’ll be back to do the rest of it, by which time I may have recovered enough to walk another stretch too.

Hit or myth: the inspiration for Penguin Books

Every successful and long-lasting venture needs a creation myth. In the case of Penguin Books, the story goes that Allen Lane was on his way home from visiting Agatha Christie in Devon and browsed the station bookstall on the platform of Exeter Station. He was struck by the absence of any serious contemporary fiction at reasonable prices, and came up with the idea that led shortly after to the launch of Penguins.

Station Bookstall at Horsted Keynes

Station Bookstall at Horsted Keynes

How much the story represents the real genesis of Penguin Books, and how much is a myth created later, we can never really know. It has an attractive plausibility. Se non è vero è ben trovato. It would gain considerably in credibility though if we knew that Lane had visited other station platforms in continental Europe in the preceding months. There he would have found a very different position, and the contrast could have been quite striking. Paperback copies of the English-language Tauchnitz Editions had been sold in station bookstalls on the continent for almost a hundred years before Lane’s trip to Devon, and had more recently been joined by the brightly coloured Albatross Books.

Certainly as a publisher Lane would have been familiar with both Tauchnitz and Albatross, and it seems clear that the Albatross Books provided much of the subsequent inspiration for Penguin Books. Similarities between the two series include, amongst other things:

• The use of a seabird as name and logo
• Brightly coloured covers, with different colours to indicate genre of book
• The size of the books (broadly 181 x 112 cm, corresponding to the ‘golden ratio’)
• The use of dustwrappers in basically the same design as the cover underneath
• Return postcards slipped into the books inviting readers to join a mailing list / suggest titles

Albatross-7-web Penguin-002-web

Some of these things may seem like coincidental similarities, shared by many other series, but they were all essentially new practices introduced by Albatross (in 1932/33), then taken up by Penguin (in 1935), and only subsequently spreading to other series. By the start of the Second World War in 1939 the ornithological theme had spread to Jackdaw Books, Toucan Books and Wren Books, as well as Penguin and Pelican, and the book format introduced by Albatross had been widely copied in the UK market. Albatross itself did not long survive the end of the war, so it was Penguin which became identified in the public mind with good contemporary fiction in brightly coloured paperbacks. But when the story is told of how Penguin Books was born, it should be remembered that an Albatross was there at the birth.

Finding your Barings

Lambay Island off the Irish coast is barely 15 miles from the centre of Dublin as the seagull flies, but it could be in another world. It’s home to tens of thousands of seabirds, a large number of seals, herds of deer and cattle, and most extraordinary of all, around 100 wallabies. Human beings though are mostly conspicuous by their absence, and the island is a wonderful haven for wildlife.

Lambay-Island Lambay-Island-4

Despite this, the grandeur of the natural environment is almost matched by the grandeur of the built environment, with the main buildings having been designed by Edwin Lutyens, and the gardens by Gertrude Jekyll. Even relatively humble farm buildings show the evidence of Lutyens’ characteristic style and the overall effect of the design is little short of magnificent.

Lambay-Island-2 Lambay-Island-3

Lutyens’ involvement was commissioned by Cecil and Maude Baring, of the Barings banking family, who bought the island in 1904. It is still owned by a family trust set up by the Baring family. I had a rare opportunity to visit Lambay just before Easter, and it was quite an experience. Nothing quite prepares you for tramping across wild moorland and suddenly disturbing a wallaby, which springs out of the undergrowth and bounds away. Compared to that surprise, an unexpected connection to a largely forgotten author may seem trivial, but it was still another small delight of the visit.

Maurice Baring was in his day a popular and prolific author, writing around 50 books including poetry, novels, letters, short stories and non-fiction of various types. He was a friend of both G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, and the three of them were often associated as Catholic writers, although he is nowadays less remembered than either of the other two. His privileged upbringing as part of the Baring family is reflected in his work and may even be part of the reason it has fallen out of fashion.

Maurice Baring (1874 - 1945)

Maurice Baring (1874 – 1945)

Several of his novels and short stories were published in continental editions by Tauchnitz, starting in 1925 with ‘Half a minute’s silence’. His eighth Tauchnitz Edition – ‘Friday’s business’ – was published in 1933, but early in 1934 he seems, like many other authors (including Belloc), to have defected to Albatross. They published an earlier novel ‘C’ that Tauchnitz had apparently overlooked, and followed it up later in the year by publishing Baring’s biography of Sarah Bernhardt, who had been a personal friend.

Tauchnitz volume 4851 first printing October 1928

Tauchnitz volume 4851 first printing October 1928

By then the effective takeover of Tauchnitz by Albatross was near, with the two series being run in parallel under joint editorial control from around 1935 onwards. There was to be one final publication by Baring – the novel ‘Darby and Joan’, and it appeared in the Tauchnitz series in 1936. The basis for deciding which novels / authors appeared under which imprint has been much discussed, and it’s unclear why Baring may have been categorised as a Tauchnitz author rather than an Albatross one, but it may simply have been the comparison of eight previous works in Tauchnitz against two in Albatross.

Maurice Baring books

Maurice Baring was the younger brother of Cecil Baring of Lambay Island. I assume he must have visited the island, possibly many times – maybe he even disturbed a few wallabies.