North Cornwall – Castles & Coves

Last summer we had a family holiday in England and spent some days exploring the beautiful coast of North Cornwall. Here were some of the highlights.

Port Isaac

The beach at the quaint fishing village of Port Isaac. This scene may look familiar to fans of the TV series Doc Martin which was filmed here. Doc's house is the second from the right.
The beach at the quaint fishing village of Port Isaac. This scene may look familiar to fans of the TV series Doc Martin which was filmed here. Doc’s house is the second from the right.
White and grey is the colour code for house in this village.
White and grey is the colour code for houses in this village. They might not appreciate it if you painted your house exterior pink or blue.
Baby seagulls are cute but the grown ones were keen to get some of my delicious crab sandwich, purchased at the harbour front.
This baby seagull was cute but the grown ones were keen to steal some of my delicious crab sandwich, purchased at the harbour front.
A prop from the Doc Martin TV series advertising Large's Restaurant in Port Wenn.
A prop perhaps from the Doc Martin TV series advertising Large’s Restaurant in Port Wenn.


The harbour village of Boscastle is one of the most unspoilt in Cornwall.
The harbour village of Boscastle is one of the most unspoilt in Cornwall.
This ancient building had a narrow escape when Boscastle was struck by a devastating flood in 2004.
This ancient crooked cafe had a narrow escape when Boscastle was struck by a devastating flood in 2004.
This old lady working at the Witchcraft Museum looked friendly but she wouldn't answer our questions.
This old lady working at the Witchcraft Museum looked friendly enough but she didn’t talk much.
Typical Cornwall scene in Boscastle
Typical Cornish scene in Boscastle


Launceston is known as the Gateway to Cornwall and its Norman castle, dating from around 1070, was built to dominate the approach to the town.
Launceston is known as the Gateway to Cornwall and its Norman castle, dating from around 1070, was built to dominate the approach to the town.
View from the top of Launceston Castle.
One of the residents at the Tamar Otter & Wildlife Centre, near Launceston.


The beach at Bude.
The beach at Bude.
A row of hideous beach huts at Bude. For some reason which escapes me, the British are very fond of their beach huts and are willing to pay quite a lot of money for them. The huts seem to be exempt from Britain’s normally strict planning laws, perhaps because they are deemed as temporary structures even though these ones have obviously been around for a long, long time.
Considering that our visit was during summer and the weather was good, the beaches were very empty.
The North Cornish coastline is wild and rugged in places and many secluded coves and beaches are not easily accessible without a boat.

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel Castle was built on a rocky outcrop joined to the mainland by a narrow neck making it easily defendable.
Tintagel Castle was built on a craggy promontory joined to the mainland by a narrow neck making it easily defendable. 
The site has been occupied since Roman times or earlier but is best known for its association with the legendary King Arthur.
The site has been occupied since Roman times or earlier but is best known for its association with the legendary King Arthur.
Centuries of erosion have taken their toll on the castle walls and buildings but there is still a lot to see.
Centuries of erosion have taken their toll on the castle walls and buildings but there is still a lot to see.
The ruins were interesting but the spectacular setting with sheer cliffs, great views and a bracing cool breeze were what we enjoyed the most.
The ruins were interesting but the spectacular setting with sheer cliffs, great views and a bracing cool breeze were what we enjoyed the most.

Crackington Haven

Crackington Haven has a relatively sheltered shingle and sand beach and is popular with surfers.
Crackington Haven has a relatively sheltered shingle and sand beach and is popular with surfers.
The village of Crackington Haven is tiny but has a pub, a tea room and a shop.
The village of Crackington Haven is tiny but has a pub, a tea room and a shop.
One of the best things about Cornwall and Devon is the South West Coast Path (630 miles long) which hugs the coastline at Crackington Haven and provides great views over the bay.
Creativity at Crackington Haven
My daughter practicing her photography and flower arranging skills.


Padstow is a picturesque fishing port turned tourist destination. Despite having over 1500 years of history it is best known as the base for Rick Stein's seafood cooking TV series.
Padstow is a picturesque fishing port turned tourist destination. Despite having over 1500 years of history it is nowadays best known as the base for Rick Stein’s seafood cooking TV series.
As a sign of Padstow’s gentrification, harbour tour operators offer rides in upmarket Riva-like speed boats.
Facing Padstow, on the opposite bank of the River Camel, is a lovely sandy beach at Daymer Bay. The gorgeous scenery of this area, together with the ‘Rick Stein effect’, has pushed up property prices in Padstow so much that only rich out-of-towners can afford to buy (second) homes here.
Cozy Padstow pub.

 Goodbye Cornwall – See You Next Time

Contemplating at Widemouth Bay.
Contemplating at Widemouth Bay.

Scottish Independence- Keep Calm and Stay United

While back in UK recently I was struck by how calmly the English public are reacting to Scotland’s forthcoming referendum on independence, now only weeks away.

The UK is facing the biggest threat to its existence since Adolf Hitler and yet the British Government is just sitting back and letting events take their course. What would Winston Churchill have done in these circumstances one wonders? Arrested Alex Salmond and his SNP cronies and put them on trial for treason perhaps? If David Cameron’s cabinet even fleetingly considered this drastic option they would have wisely concluded that nothing is more likely to get the Scots’ backs up than a perceived attack by the English. So the Scots are getting their bothersome referendum without excessive interference from Whitehall.

Does it matter that much even if the result is a Yes vote for independence? After all Scotland is not going anywhere – it’ll still be there, stuck on the end of England. We’d be like a divorced couple sharing this semi-detached island. The Scots would be staring over the fence at England (and Wales) wondering jealously how they can afford all those shiny new cars on the drive while the English would envy the Scots for their spacious garden with the loch water-features.

English Whisky CompanyIf the Scots do vote for independence, expect a backlash from the English. Why would the English continue to drink ‘foreign’ Scotch whisky for example when there are perfectly good English whisky manufacturers. As for shortbread biscuits, England will opt for south-of-the-border alternatives or make do with digestives. Apart from whisky and biscuits, there are few other exports from Scotland that English consumers are interested in.

And with all the controversy about EU migrants taking jobs from locals, how will the English feel about Scots coming over and taking all those plum City of London jobs, once Scotland is a foreign country? It will all be very interesting to see what happens.

download (3)

But the annoying thing about this referendum is that even if the result is a resounding ‘No’, the issue will not go away for ever and Salmond and Co. will likely push for repeat votes every so often until they get their way. It would probably be best for everybody if, after the referendum (assuming the outcome is ‘No’), Salmond were to be quietly picked up and exiled to New Caledonia in the Pacific. Perhaps he’ll have more luck in leading that nation to independence (from France).

Northampton – Historic Sites


I was back in England last month, to be with my parents as they celebrated their 65th Wedding Anniversary.

A 65th (Sapphire) Anniversary is quite a rare achievement – only 1% of couples stay married and alive that long – and Mum and Dad received a card from the Queen to mark the occasion (the Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their own 65th a couple of years ago).

Congratulations to my parents and we look forward to their 70th anniversary.

We were staying near the ancient town of Northampton, centrally located in the heart of England.

The town is best known for its shoe industry. In the 1830’s around a third of the male population were engaged in shoe making (hence the nickname of the town’s football team, Cobblers). That industry is virtually all gone now – one or two up-market brands survive such as Church’s, but the old factories are nearly all demolished or converted into flats or offices.

The town has successfully reinvented itself as a services and distribution hub and the southern half of the county currently enjoys the second lowest unemployment rate in Britain.

The town of Northampton is not especially renowned for its historic sites (thought the county of Northamptonshire has many) but a few gems exist and are worth a visit.

St Peter's Church, Northampton

St. Peter’s Church

St. Peter’s is reckoned to be the finest Norman church in the county and erected around 1170 by Simon de St.Liz (Senlis), first Norman Earl of Northampton, on the site of an earlier Saxon church. The fine two-tone banded stonework on the exterior and on the interior arches is a particular feature and reminiscent of Moorish architecture (perhaps an early Crusader brought back the idea from the Middle East). The church marks the location of the original Saxon settlement of Hamtun from which the town developed.

Anglo Saxon Grave Slab, St Peter's Church, Northampton

Displayed inside the church is this fine Anglo-Saxon grave slab, which was possibly the tomb lid of St. Ragener, a soldier who died in 870 fighting the pagan Vikings, for which he was awarded sainthood. Yes, Northampton even has its own saint! The slab depicts the face of the Green Man entwined in foliage and various animals and birds.

When this grave was discovered beneath the floor of the old Saxon church it was said to have helped a crippled woman to walk and performed other miracles. Impressed by this, King Edward the Confessor had a gold and jewel encrusted shrine erected here for the Saint. Sadly no trace of the precious shrine remains.

Hazelrigg House

Hazelrigg House, Northampton

This well preserved example of Elizabethan architecture is located close to St. Peter’s on Marefair. The building is thought to date from around 1570, with later additions. It is one of the few houses to have survived the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675. Folklore has it that Oliver Cromwell stayed here on the eve of the Battle of Naseby in June 1645. The town was known to have sympathies with the Parliamentarian side in the English Civil War and provided several thousand pairs of boots to Oliver Cromwell’s roundhead army, for which the makers never received payment. After restoration of the monarchy King Charles II punished the town by pulling down its castle and walls.


Northampton Guildhall

A much newer landmark is the Guildhall built in 1864 in imposing Victorian Gothic architectural style. They were holding a vintage fair during our visit so we were able to get a peek inside. The main hall is decorated with stain glass windows and portraits of British Kings and Queens (and that man Cromwell again!).

Church of All Saints

All Saints Church, Northampton

In the centre of town is All Saints which was built in 1680 following the Great Fire. Charles II supplied the timber and stone for its construction (perhaps feeling guilty about demolishing the castle?). In gratitude the townsfolk erected a statue of the king above the portico from where he has a good view of McDonalds but, as a snub, he is depicted wearing a Roman skirt tunic, which, together with his long hair, makes him look rather effeminate. Obviously the locals were still smarting over supporting the losing side in the Civil War.

Market Square

Market Square, Northampton

Talking of Romans, it was they who are said to have laid out the town’s market square and used it a marshalling point for distributing supplies to their forces around the region. Even those days the town’s strategic location was recognised as a logistics hub.

Today the Market Square is reputed to be the largest fully enclosed market square in England and many of its surrounding buildings have retained their historic old world charm. There are said to be secret tunnels running underneath the square.

78 Derngate, Northampton


78 Derngate is the name, and address, of an interesting little museum in Northampton showcasing the work of two famous men, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Wenman Joseph Bassett-Lowke.


Bassett-Lowke (1877-1953) owned and lived in 78 Derngate which is an elegant Georgian townhouse built in 1820 and now a grade II listed building.


He was a Northampton man who founded the firm Bassett-Lowke which, from around 1900 to 1965, was probably the most famous model making brand in the world, specialising in model railways, waterline ship models and model engineering equipment of outstanding quality.


Bassett-Lowke Ltd was the brand but manufacturing was contracted out to firms like Twining Models and Winteringham’s, both Northampton manufacturers now sadly no more.

Bassett-Lowke models were always highly priced and out of reach of the average kid who would be more familiar with makes like Hornby. The firm went bust in 1965 but the brand name was later revived and is now owned by Corgi, who sell their high end model trains under that name at prices like £619 for a single locomotive model.

Of course the original old models are very valuable and highly sought after by collectors. Even Bassett-Lowke’s old mail order catalogues such as those below can sell for upwards of £300, which is more evidence for why you should never throw anything away!


Besides running his model business, Bassett-Lowke was very interested in design and in 1916 he commissioned the famous architect, artist and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) to completely refashion his Derngate house. The results of this dramatic remodelling can now be seen by the public at 78 Derngate. The charitable trust behind the museum spent around £1.4million on faithfully restoring the property to how it must have looked when Mackintosh completed his work.


One of the more striking rooms, though not really my cup of tea, is the bedroom with its striped wall and ceiling.  Apparently George Bernard Shaw, who was a friend of Bassett-Lowke and shared his Fabian socialist politics, stayed in this room. When asked whether the decor would affect his sleep he replied no because he slept with his eyes closed. Incidentally, Bassett-Lowke produced a Bernard Shaw figurine as an ‘O’ scale model railway platform accessory.


Charles Rennie Mackintosh

78 Derngate was Mackintosh’s last major commission and the only house he designed in England though of course many more examples of his work and career can be found in his home town of Glasgow.

Mackintosh must have been a brave man to walk around Glasgow with a tie like that! Perhaps his dress sense was a factor in his decision in later life to move to Port Vendres in southern France, close to the border with Spain. Here he was able to devote more time to his other talents as an artist.

La Rue de Soleil, Port Vendres 1926

More information on 78 Derngate can be obtained from the museum’s website.

78 Derngate, Northampton

Camden Lock to Little Venice Walk

Towpath of Regent's Canal

While visiting UK last month, I spent a pleasant half-day exploring Camden Lock Market followed by a walk along the towpath of the Regent’s Canal as far as Little Venice and back again (about 4 miles in total).

Camden Lock Market

Camden Lock Market is a bustling collection of shops and stalls spread over an area of converted warehouses, cobbled yards, stables and newer buildings. It is open seven days a week and has become a popular destination for Londoners and tourists to shop for antiques, arty stuff, clothing, accessories and handicraft items from all over the world.

Camden or Calcutta?

Camden Market is also a good place for food with inexpensive stalls selling dishes from Ethiopia, Peru, Argentina, Nepal, Japan and Holland to name a few. In fact the only food you can’t seem to buy in this East End market is jellied eels and fish and chips.

Some of the food stalls at Camden Lock Market.

After stuffing myself with potato curry, a refreshing walk was needed. 

Regent's Canal

We walked along the old towpath which runs alongside the Regent’s Canal (towpaths were originally used by horses to tow barges). There were a few cyclists, joggers and walkers about but it was far from busy.

Regent’s Canal was opened in 1820 to link the River Thames at Limehouse to the Grand Union Canal junction at Paddington.

One of Grissell's bridges

The path passes underneath a number of bridges. This one bears the name Henry Grissell. This man was proprietor of Regents Canal Ironworks and his company built bridges over the River Nile, the iron works at Covent Garden Opera House and the railings outside Buckingham Palace among other works. Apparently he was buried at West Norwood Cemetery in a galvanised cast iron tomb. A true Iron Man!

Cow on BalconyFeng Shang Chinese Restaurant

The route passes London Zoo where you might catch sight of some hyenas in enclosures near the canal. There are plenty of other sights to see along the way including a life-sized plastic cow on somebody’s balcony and a Chinese floating restaurant.

Regents Canal, London

The canal runs along the northern edge of Regent’s Park where a handful of beautiful grand houses, in the style of famed architect John Nash, are located. These super luxury homes look old but seemingly were only built in the 1980s and 1990s.

Nash, who played a large part in the planning of this corner of London, originally intended Regents Canal to run through the centre of the park but he was persuaded that the uncouth language of the canal navvies would offend the refined residents of the area! 

There is no such problem these days as the narrow boat residents at Little Venice are a more genteel class of people, living Bohemian lifestyles with pot plants displayed alongside their permanently moored eco-barges.

Bohemian lifestyle at Little Venice

I saw an advert for a narrow boat and mooring at Little Venice on sale for £75,000. Mooring fees are £4,000 per year.  Compared to other properties in this part of London it might seem quite a bargain but it is a depreciating asset.

Narrow Boat Tours

There are regular narrow boat tours between Camden Lock Market and Little Venice if you don’t fancy too much walking.

Fawsley Church, Northamptonshire, England

I have been neglecting my blogging lately due an extended visit to England and a side trip to Turkey (even full time travellers need a holiday now and again!).

Now back home in Malaysia, I’ll post a few blogs relating to my trip.


Just a few miles from my parents’ place in Northamptonshire is a delightful church in the tiny parish of Fawsley.

Fawsley Church

The present building dates from 1209 and, although it has been partially restored and embellished over the centuries, it still has an ancient feel to it.

Alabaster tomb of Sir Richard Knightley and his wife Jane Skenard. Organ built in 1839.

The church’s magnificent wooden ceiling was built in the 15th century. It had to be faithfully restored during the 1960’s due to death watch beetle infestation.

Interior of Fawsley Church

Fawsley has some superb medieval stained glass windows,the oldest of which date from the 13th century. American visitors to the church might be interested to see a glass window depicting the coat of arms of the Washington family which includes a stars and stripes motif and no doubt influenced the design of the US flag.

Some of Fawsley Hall's exquisite stained glass

Most of the monuments, memorials and inscriptions in the church relate to members of the powerful Knightley family who acquired the Fawsley estate in 1316 and it remained in family hands until 1932.  Sir Edmund Knightley commissioned the construction of the nearby Fawsley Hall in the 1530’s. It has been expanded over the past 150 years and is now a luxury hotel and spa and a popular venue for weddings, conferences and other posh events.

Knightley family memorial

As for the village which the church was built to serve, it has more or less disappeared without trace. The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded 17 families working the land and by 1377 there were 90 men over the age of 14 engaged in arable farming in the community. By 1524 however there were only 7 people listed. Perhaps the Knightley family found that keeping sheep was more profitable and less troublesome than collecting rent from impoverished peasants. The land was enclosed for sheep farming and the farm labourers presumably drifted away.  The village was depopulated and its remains disappeared, possibly under the ornamental lakes which were designed by Capability Brown to enhance the beauty of the estate.

Ghostly apparitions at Dower House.

Among the oak trees of Fawsley Park lie the ruins of a Tudor stately home called Dower House, reputed to be the oldest brick building in Northamptonshire. Tourists looking for a creepy experience should venture there at midnight on Christmas Eve when the ghost of a headless horseman is said to emerge from its walls!

More details on Fawsley Church can be found in A Brief History of Fawsley Church and Park by Ron Wilson and published by Wild Boar Books. A pamphlet can be obtained inside the church.


Where in Asia do you suppose this photo was taken?


It’s a trick question. This is the gateway to the Chinatown district in Manchester, England. It is not a particularly big district, comprising a few streets lined with Chinese restaurants, oriental supermarkets and other Far Eastern owned businesses. I felt that the area was not quite as bustling and energetic as similar districts in other cities. Perhaps the inhabitants have lived in England too long and some of their natural dynamism has worn off. Or maybe it was just too cold that day.

Talking of energy,  a few minutes walk away from Chinatown is the magnificent Manchester Town Hall in Albert Square.

Manchester Town Hall, Albert Square

This grand Victorian building was completed in 1887 and is partially open to the public. Statues of former captains of industry and other local dignitaries, largely forgotten, line the ornate entrance hall. Off the foyer, is the Sculpture Hall Tea Room, an elegant cafe where customers can admire the sumptuous surroundings while seated in deep leather armchairs.

One of the statues was of James Prescott Joule, the Salford-born scientist who devised the unit of energy which bears his name, the joule. Slumped in his chair and pondering a mechanical instrument, he appears half-asleep. For a man who devoted his life to energy, he looks remarkably lacking in it!

James Prescott Joule

Sulgrave Manor – Northamptonshire, England

On my recent trip to UK I visited historic Sulgrave Manor, located in scenic Northamptonshire countryside in the heart of rural England.

Sulgrave Manor, Northamptonshire

You might wonder what this has to do with the theme of my blog, “Strolls around Asia”, and the answer is not much. This relatively modest manor house was the home of Lawrence Washington, great-great-great-great-great grandfather of George Washington, who purchased the estate from Henry VIII in 1539.  If Lawrence’s descendants had found the place more to their liking they might never have migrated to America and who knows if the world might have turned out differently.

The Great Hall has been restored and furnished much as it might have looked in the Tudor era. The flagged stone floor must have been quite cold in winter. Our guide explained that instead of carpets they would have covered the floor with thresh (straw). The doors to the Great Hall  have raised sills in order to prevent the thresh from escaping, hence the term threshold.

Still on an etymological bent, the same room also contains a beautifully carved and inlaid piece of Elizabethan furniture known as the dole cupboard. This cabinet was used to store left-over food and ale to be doled out to the poor who would knock on the side entrance to the Great Hall. According to the guide, this is where we get the term on the dole.

Talking of ale, the manor house had its own brew house. In those days clean drinking water was hard to come by and most people would apparently drink beer instead. Even children would have supped weak ale for breakfast, unlike the youth of today who prefer fruit flavoured vodka .

The fascinating kitchen is filled with the implements and artefacts of the period. The bread oven was a rustic affair where a lump of dough was placed on the floor of the oven resulting in a hard blackened base to the loaf while the upper part was cooked just right. The bottom of the loaf would have been eaten by the servants whereas the upper crust was reserved for the master of the house. Hence the term upper crust when referring to the wealthy. Today of course we know the hard bit at the bottom as a pizza!

The bedchamber in Sulgrave Manor is also decorated in Tudor style. It has a very grand bed but no sign of an en-suite bathroom. Indeed the whole house was without a bathroom because (according to the guide) the Tudors rarely washed, apart from splashing their faces from time to time. Some say this is a myth but, if true, people must have had less sensitive olfactory systems those days to stand the stench. It was about this period that Europeans were starting to explore other parts of the world including the tropical shores of Asia. Given their poor hygiene habits it is hardly surprising that they easily succumbed to exotic diseases.