Saturday, May 24, 2008

Location, location

Funny thing, the British summer. Comes in a flash--sometimes of lightning. Disappears some time around May, often not to resurface until September. Can burn or freeze. Nowhere is it more hilarious than on a beach, where you can observe the quintessential British summer pastime of wearing socks with sandals (well, sandals on their own would make your feet cold. And no, proper shoes aren't an option. It's summer), huddling behind a windbreak, under a parasol that's often keeping out drizzle rather than sun. We eat ice creams even when it's freezing. We splash barefoot in a sea that could keep beer cold. Hell, we surf in such a sea.

The funniest thing about the British summer is that the pictures below were meant to be demonstrating locations I used in Still Waters, which is set in December. But I took them in June. Can you tell?

The beach café at Watergate Bay. When I first started going here as a little girl, Watergate Bay was pretty much a car park, a couple of run-down hotels, a beach café and a beach. A really big beach. With really big waves. Around the headland is Newquay, known as the UK's surf capital (possibly rather optimistically). But unless you like streets full of traffic and puking teenagers, it's more pleasant to go to Watergate Bay. It's come up a bit recently--the café is now run by the Xtreme Academy, who offer tuition and hire for all kinds of mad watersports, most of which I don't even understand the names of. Oh, and behind the café is Fifteen Cornwall, Jamie Oliver's place.

The café is a setting in Still Waters, for a reasonably important scene between Sophie and Luke. At the beginning of the book, they're not really talking, having gone through a pretty harsh break-up. But Sophie has something important to tell Luke, and it's here she plucks up the courage.

The view of the beach from the café. The sea's a lot further away than it looks--see that tiny blob on the shoreline, on the right of the picture? I think that's the coastguard's 4x4.

Middle Street, Port Isaac, the real-life version of Port Trevan where the first part of Still Waters takes place. One of few relatively flat streets in a village where, as John Betjeman put it, most of the streets are 'almost perpendicular'. They're also very narrow--Middle Street is wide enough to accommodate a car, at least until it tails off into a passageway wide enough for one person, provided they haven't eaten too much ice cream.

Trebarwith Strand. This place really is just a beach and and ice cream shop. Oh, and the requisite few mad surfers. See the sea there? Go past that rock, keep swimming, and you'll eventually hit America.

This tiny church is St Endoc, up the coast from Rock, one of the most expensive places in the country in which to buy property. Wills and Harry holiday there. The chapel was for hundreds of years completely forgotten, buried completely under drifts of sand from the nearby dunes. When the steeple became exposed in the nineteenth century, it was excavated and renovated. John Betjeman, the war poet, is buried in its grounds.

This has bugger all to do with anything, except that the letters on the top of the postbox are VR. In England, postboxes belong to the Royal Mail, and are therefore marked with the insignia of the ruling monarch. Most of them now say EIIR (Elizabeth II Regina). A few are still marked GVIR for her father. This one? Was marked in the reign of Victoria, who died in 1901.

(Incidentally, the reason there are no numbers is because Victoria was the first monarch with that name {and contemporaries wouldn't have needed to distinguish her from any previous Queen Victorias--they still don't}. For the same reason, modern postboxes in Scotland are marked ER, no numbers, because Elizabeth I was never queen of Scotland; therefore, the present monarch is the first Queen Elizabeth in that country).

This street in Port Isaac is officially called Temple Bar, but it's known more often as Squeeze-ee-belly Alley. You can see where the street appears to end with a building facing it; in actual fact, the street runs under said building in a gap about the width of my shoulders, and opens onto another street about six feet wide and lined with cottages. It's reputed to be the narrowest street in Britain, but I'm pretty sure there are about half a dozen with the same claim.

Squeeze-ee-belly Alley is the location of the cottage where Sophie, Luke and Maria stay in Still Waters. Maria's aunt's cottage is the first one on the right ( try taking a picture of a building when you can't get more than six feet away from it!).

This also has nothing to do with anything. I just find it funny.

The stream that runs alongside part of Middle Street and eventually emerges on the beach, emptying into the sea, also runs under the window of the cottage I stayed in.

The harbour, Port Isaac. The crease in the rocks (in about the middle of the picture) is actually the cave where the corpse whose murder Sophie and Luke investigate, is found. Unfortunately, on that particular day (the only one, as I recall, where it wasn't tipping down with rain), the tide was in too far to walk out and take a better picture. I shall, however, endeavour to find another picture (because I've been visiting Port Isaac for about five or six years, and must have got one somewhere, in a shoebox, going mouldy).

The Golden Lion, standing in for the Blue Dolphin, high above the harbour. You can walk down a narrow alley (which I seem to recall being referred to as Bloody Bones Alley, after some incident I've mercifully forgotten but wish I'd heard about back when I wrote Still Waters) to the Platt, the all-purpose concrete platform (just) above the reach of the waves.

Standing on the Platt, looking down at the harbour beach. Since the tide washes it completely twice a day, dogs are allowed on the beach every day of the year. Pepper, the Demon Puppy, had the time of her life chasing tennis balls, rocks, seagulls, other dogs, waves and her own tail, for hours in the low surf. Honey, my old dog on whom Sophie's Norma Jean is based, was much more fastidious and didn't like getting saltwater in her pretty blonde fur.

Oh, and the red truck on the right is a cousin of Sophie's much-loved Ted. This is a the pick-up model, whereas Ted is the station wagon version, with a passenger cabin rather than a flat-bed. And he's dull khaki, not red--but he's still been designed in the same way, by someone who was only allowed a ruler and set-square.

Hope you liked these snapshots of scenes from Sophie's fourth adventure. If you want to see what Port Trevan, aka Port Isaac, really looks like, try and catch an episode of the ITV series Doc Martin, which is filmed there (Port Isaac this time doubling for the fictitious Portwenn). a couple of years ago, we arrived in Port Isaac in June, and found the place crawling with cameramen and girls with clipboards (why are there always so many of them?), some of whom we ended up on first-name terms with.

Now I'm off to find a picture I know I took of that damn cave...

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