Sunday, 23 May 2010


We’re currently speeding south on the A1, travelling through an evening sunlight which is almost as intense as the smell of manure blended with dust and oil seed rape! It’s been another stunning day and we took the opportunity to get out of London and visit Lisa and Mark in Spaldwick; a very pleasant village in Cambridgeshire. We sat in a garden, ate way too much barbecue food and then stood in a paddling pool that an assortment of children had filled with soil, rose petals, Pringles and something which smelt suspiciously sweet. Having seen one of them weeing into a sprinkler, I’m not sure I particularly want to know what else had gone in there...

En route to their house we visited the Royston cave. It’s something I’ve wanted to do ever since doing research for A1: The Road Musical alerted me to its existence. It’s a very magical place, situated at a spot where two ley lines apparently cross one another. No one is really sure what it is, or how old it is. It seems to be some kind of bell-shaped, underground chamber, which is covered from top to bottom in medieval carvings. It’s lit rather gloomily and a hotchpotch of eerie images stares down from the walls. Crude and violent carvings of St Peter, St Laurence, St Christopher, St Catherine and Jesus on the cross rub shoulders with pagan iconography and strange numerological codes. The theory is that the cave was once used by the Knight’s Templar, which, together with the ley-line thing, gives the whole place a sort of mystical twist. I was slightly disappointed, therefore, to find myself sharing the experience with a load of fat, be-hatted tourists from Essex, and Japan’s answer to David Bailey. I probably could have done without our tour guide as well, who was somewhat surly, slightly under-informed and gave everyone the impression that she didn’t want to be there. The overall experience, however, was thrilling and I vowed to write a piece of music which could be performed down there.

St Catherine and her wheel at the cave

We went to Spaldwick via Huntingdon and used the opportunity to take a mini-detour through the village of Brampton, which is of course where Montagu had his country estate, and Pepys’ father owned a house. Both properties still exist, but there was not enough time to get out and visit them, or wonder around the village, much as the water meadows in Godmanchester looked an absolute picture in the green summer light. I will return, however, when I have more time to enjoy the experience.

Place name of the day has to go to the Bedfordshire hamlet of Shingay-cum-Wendy, which is almost worth visiting if not just to stand and be photographed by its sign.

350 years today was the day that Charles II boarded the Nazeby to start his journey back to England. Montagu collected him from the shore and the King was said to “kiss him affectionately upon his first meeting.” Other members of the royal family came on board to wish the King a safe journey. At one stage, the two dukes (James and Henry), the Queen of Bohemia, the Princess Royal and the Prince of Orange were all present, which meant Pepys, who could never have known it at the time, was in the company of three future Kings of England. Predictably, much hand-kissing and gun-firing took place and everyone seemed to be in a state of profound excitement. After dinner, the King and Duke of York altered the names of most of the ships in the fleet. The Nazeby, predictably, was the first to be renamed and became The Charles. Many of the boats were named after members of the royal family; Mary, Henry, James, Henrietta, whilst others were given more optimistic names like Happy Return, Success and The Speedwell.

Later in the day, the Queen, Princess Royal and the Prince of Orange headed back to shore whilst the two Dukes disappeared to other ships in the fleet, namely The Swiftsure and The London. And now Pepys should take over, because he says it better than I ever will...

“We weighed anchor, and with a fresh gale and most happy weather we set sail for England. All the afternoon the King walked here and there, up and down (quite contrary to what I thought him to have been), very active and stirring.

Upon the quarterdeck he fell into discourse of his escape from Worcester where it made me ready to weep to hear the stories that he told of his difficulties that he had passed through, as his travelling four days and three nights on foot, every step up to his knees in dirt, with nothing but a green coat and a pair of country breeches on, and a pair of country shoes that made him so sore all over his feet, that he could scarce stir. Yet he was forced to run away from a miller and other company, that took them for rogues...

In another place at his inn, the master of the house, as the King was standing with his hands upon the back of a chair by the fire-side, kneeled down and kissed his hand, privately, saying, that he would not ask him who he was, but bid God bless him whither he was going. Then the difficulty of getting a boat to get into France...

At Rouen he looked so poorly, that the people went into the rooms before he went away to see whether he had not stole something or other..."

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