Hans and Catherine Fiers and their family visited the UK for the first time in July 2016. They kept a diary in the Harebell visitor’s book – this is their diary and photographs.
We crossed the Channel today. First time in England. When we made a stop along the M25 a gentleman starts talking to me. Where am I from ? Belgium I say, Flanders, where the poppies grow. He was born in Cologne , he says, but raised in England. After the second world war I enquire. No after the first one he says. How old are you sir, if I may ask ? Ninety one, he says. I was in the second world war myself, shooting at my uncles, who were German! I try to comfort him: That’s what war does to us, making brothers shoot at brothers. We parted, shaking hands and wishing each other good luck. I return to the car thinking how close history can come sometimes.
I went to Chittlehampton this afternoon. To make pictures of the church and cemetery. For someone like me living in Flanders, it is strange to see tombstones of people who passed away in the 19th century. In Belgium the graves are cleared every so many years. I read their names out loud wondering when was the last time anyone pronounced it.
A lady greeted me while I was sitting on a bench opposite the church. ‘It’s calm out here isn’t it ?’ I explained to her the thing with the graves in Belgium. Her husband was standing next to her looking out over the graveyard. ‘That’s odd’ he said, ‘we only remove the stones, when the families died out and nobody comes anymore.’ I had to concentrate to understand him. Devoners speech I learned later. ‘I Know’ the gentleman continued, ‘because I know most of the people over here and over there. He made a wide gesture to the left. ‘I used to work here’. They live at the coast now but come out here every once in a while. Inspect new graves ? See new arrivals? And to drink a beer at The Bell, where a pint is tapped for him without him having to order it.
I thought they were called swallows in English, because the word resembles our Flemish name for them, but Nigel said in England they are called house martins if I remember correctly. They remind me of my grandfather’s farm, where they nested in the warm cow stables. He pointed at them high in the sky, where they showed off their amazing flying abilities. ‘When they fly high, weather will be beautiful tomorrow’.
I remember him well, my father’s father. Thin like a stick, yet strong like a horse. He had two of those big grey Brabant horses with backs large as sofas. He must have been one of the last farmers with horse and wagon. He passed away a long time ago. 1976 or so. After him, one by one, the farmers disappeared. And with them, the farms that were not continued by the sons. And with the farms also the house martins, which, after returning from Africa didn’t know where to nest anymore.
I was moved when I saw them here, they still thrive. They still show off their acrobatics, and dive in the pond for a fast drink. And they’ve been flying high in the sky theses last days.
Saunton Sands is a dog friendly beach. It is human friendly as well. We arrived there, when the high tide was making its return. Frodo had the time of his life. First time at a shore. He didn’t know where to look first. He is very sensitive to anything that approaches ‘his’ face. But here, there was no border to defend. No leash. Only dogs running around freely. And some humans too, but they were of no interest at all. By 2pm it got really hot. I sympathised with fuzzy Frodo, because I am not the type that likes to be grilled. So, I rented one of those small tents that you can put up with a single move and that is open on one side. Frodo immediately understood and dropped himself inside. I covered the tent with my beach towel to shield it off from the heat. I petted Frodo on the head and felt the difference in temperature in the tent compared to being exposed to the sun. I asked him to move over. He moved to one side of the tent. He really is a good friend. It was warm in there but bearable. He watched all the four-leggers walking by. I observed anything on two legs walking past our front row position. We shared a bottle of water. We had a good time, Frodo and I.
Nigel was right. There isn’t even room for a second road in Clovelly. The only way to enter is on foot. The main road, it feels more like a mountain path than a road, leads you from the entrance at the top of the cliff straight down to the harbour. The tiny harbour. It is protected from the Atlantic by a big impressive storm wall. It makes you think about how it must have been.
Being a fisherman at Clovelly a century ago. Or being a fisherman’s wife at Clovelly. I passed some of the local women, making their way back home through Clovelly’s single road. I think, even today, life isn’t easy on the cliff.
Exeter is nice. It offers everything one needs: food, shopping and culture. In other words: we needed to split up. You see: the culture crew and the shopping squad hardly fit in the same locations. After some sniffing at old stores, I ended up in Waterstones, the bookshop. I found a long longed for book there by Stephen King ‘On writing’, half autobiography, half on writing. I am so glad I had the patience to not just order it from Amazon, but bought it from an actual English bookstore, with an English literature literate lady behind the counter, along with genuine writing advice from her author friends for free. When my story gets published, I’ll bring her a copy. For free, just like her advice. Nigel and Suzanne will also get one. In exchange for the key I lost at a parking along the coast. Now anyone who reads this, please touch some wood, that it may get published.
Yesterday evening we agreed to stay at home, as it’s our last day. This morning at 9 o’clock we confirmed the agreement. At 11.30 we were in the car driving toward South Molton. The old covered cattle market is so cosy and the little town so….. well, cosy also.
We have returned in the meantime. I wouldn’t be sitting otherwise at the terrace table, writing this and looking out over the pond, the meadow, the two trees and the hills in the distance. This morning when we were walking the dog, Catherine said ‘If paradise looks like this, I’ll be happy to go.’ These last 7 days I have been searching my brain for a proper description, but Catherine says it all. Now you who are reading this, can I ask you once again to touch wood and say: ‘No need to hurry!’ please.
Thank you Nigel and Suzanne for the care you give your property. And for your kindness and your patience with Frodo, who thinks the garden is his.