Steps to Devon

I’ve just come back from a little trip away with my boys. I decided some time ago that as soon as restrictions were lifted on guest houses opening, I would head up to the Yorkshire Dales to stay in my friends’ bed and breakfast, which they had purchased not long before lockdown, and had barely opened before they had to shut again.

Thankfully, they were able to open properly as of 4th July, and have been almost fully booked ever since with people determined to get away within our own shores, rather than take the risk of travelling abroad. It was a wonderful few days with fine weather, and an absolute treat to go walking in the glorious landscape around Grassington and Nidderdale. With my friends’ help, we found some routes that were slightly off the beaten track, so had no worries about overcrowding that we have seen in other popular destinations.

As I have mentioned before, when we were growing up, my dad preferred to spend his time off work exploring all that this country had to offer, rather than going abroad. In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the times he did go further afield (although that might also have had something to do with raising a family of four children on a meagre policeman’s salary!).

We usually went to the Lake District for one week in August for our annual family jollies, however I have discovered from Dad’s archives that in July 1978, he and my mum took a trip to Devon. This came as news to me, as they had very few holidays without us, and I can’t remember this trip at all. As I would have been 11, it’s not something I thought I would have forgotten, so I phoned my mum to ask her all about it.

As it turns out, it adds another piece to the jigsaw of my dad’s life that I am discovering since he died, things that I didn’t know before, or of which I only had a patchy knowledge. When this happens, it makes you wonder why you didn’t ask about these things before. But then again, you always think you have plenty of time to ask your parents questions until, suddenly, it’s too late.

The beginning of this tale actually started when Dad was still alive. He once told me the story of when he was press officer for North Yorkshire Police, and he’d been doing the job for a few years. He was thoroughly enjoying the role when a new chief constable was appointed.

The new chief called my dad into his office an announced in words to this affect: “I’m going to employ a civilian to become our press officer, Walker. In the police, we’re not trained for that sort of thing, we don’t have the skills. You need a professional who knows what he’s doing when it comes to dealing with the media and writing press releases and all that. It’s not that you’re not doing a good job, Walker, but my last press officer was a proper writer. He’d had nine crime novels published, you know.”

“Oh really?” replied my dad, “I’ve had 29 published.”

He let him keep his job.

So going back to the phone call with my mum, I found out that this trip was a result of that initial conversation with his chief constable, who still sent my dad down to Devon to meet this press officer because he thought he could teach my dad a thing or two. As was quite common in those days, my mum was allowed to go with him, but once they arrived, the press officer, upon speaking with my dad, came to the conclusion that there really was nothing he could teach him. He suggested that my parents not waste the trip, but instead turn it into a holiday, which they duly did!

And so, as was often the case with my dad, the trip provided plenty of material for subsequent books and columns, and there were many places in Devon, which really impressed him, including Dartmoor, Princetown, Plymouth and Buckfastleigh – although, from what I have read, what impressed him most were the Devon cream teas!

I wonder what he would have thought of the idea of me taking over his columns? I guess I should have asked him. 

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaug

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 14th August and the Gazette & Herald on 12th August 2020

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