Fragile Heritage of Beautiful Britain | Terry Waite

Old Cowgarth
Old Cowgarth or gate at Hexham

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On his travels

One of the delightful things about living in the British Isles is that one is constantly making new discoveries of places that have a unique charm of their own.

As I write I am currently undertaking a book tour that is taking me virtually to every part of the British Isles. At the moment I am in Cornwall and last night spoke at the Fowey Book Festival. This was my first visit to this lovely fishing village and will not be my last.

Long term residents must enjoy extremely good cardiac health as you can’t walk a hundred yards without encountering an incline. In searching for the hotel where a reception was to be held, we had to travel along roads about as wide as the vehicle we were travelling in. How my driver managed to do a three point turn to get to the hotel continues to amaze me.

A few days earlier we had been in Hexham right at the other end of the country in Northumberland. What a lovely town this. I had no idea what to expect as, like Fowey, this was my first visit.

The old town is dominated by the abbey where there has been a church on the site for over thirteen hundred years.

As I was speaking on a Monday, we arrived on Sunday afternoon and decided to attend sung evensong. If you are travelling through the British Isles this summer why not make a point of calling in at one of the many cathedrals or abbey churches on a Sunday afternoon and staying for the evening service?

It is to the credit of the Anglican Church that services continue to be sung up and down the country and very well sung at that. Hexham Abbey, although not a cathedral, has a very good choir and a welcoming atmosphere. Although I know how expensive it is to maintain these ancient structures, I still find it hard to accept that people should be charged for entry into a place of worship.

Hexham does not charge but visitors can and do make a donation. Cathedrals don’t charge to attend a service.

On Monday morning we took a walk around the old town and what it really pleasing is that in the main it is given over to local businesses. The multiples are not in the central market area and so it has been able to retain its lovely characteristics.

How often do you find a shop devoted to selling good writing implements? Here in Hexham is one such place selling nearly every type of fountain pen imaginable. We went in just to have a look around and although we had no intention of buying anything my companion departed with a new fountain pen which I have borrowed to use at book signings!

Andy Graham, the owner, set up in the business over a year ago and is making a go of it.

In a part of the world where unemployment is still fairly high, it is encouraging to see this sort of thing. A visitor could easily spend the best part of a day in the old town of Hexham. Well done to the authorities and others responsible for not ruining one of our ancient heritages.

I’ve gone on at length about this as so many of our lovely old towns, which are such an attraction to visitors, have been vandalised by those who ought to know better.

I have a home near Bury St Edmunds where, at the time of the reformation, the inhabitants set a poor example by completely demolishing the abbey, once the premier shrine of England.

Many of the houses in Bury are built of stone pinched from the destroyed building. Alas, the burghers of the town have shown no understanding of how to build new structures for, a few years ago, they gave permission for one of the most hideous shopping constructions to be erected at the top end of the town.

To give an analogy, it’s as though you see an elegantly dressed individual wearing a tweed suit and nicely polished brown shoes walking around with a Christmas Tree on his head! Totally ridiculous.

It would have been so much better for all concerned if local businesses could have been given encouragement to prosper, rather than give way to multiples who flourish in the hinterland of the city.

Oxford was another place on our round Britain book tour and we stayed at the elegant Randolph Hotel conveniently situated in the centre of town.

I have an affection for the city as I lived there for a while when on a visiting fellowship to Magdalen College.

If you have not visited Oxford let me give you a tip; plan your visit. There is so much to see that you can easily become bewildered and give up. Decide what you want to see by consulting a good guide book in advance and thus prepare yourself.

Alas, we did not bring good fortune to the poor old Randolph for a few days after we left, the building was badly damaged by fire. Vainly I wonder if they managed to save the photographic hall of fame where my picture was due to be hung!

I love the British Isles, the old towns, the countryside, our ancient buildings (and some of the new ones) but let me make a plea: Please stand up for the preservation of the green belt. Please raise your voice when the Philistines plan to build regardless of local opinion. Our heritage is priceless and should not be sold for a mess of pottage, or its twentieth century equivalent.

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