Five Go off on a Canal Boat (2)

August 31, 2014 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Dick, Eating and Drinking, Travel | 3 Comments
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photo 1Since our canal holiday earlier this year, I’ve been a lot more aware of the canal boats I see everyday. I often cycle along the Regent’s Canal towpath on my way to work, and can also see a little bit of it from my flat (a view that’s slowly being eroded by new buildings). There are a real mix of boats, from floating wrecks to beautifully cared for boats with painted names and extensive miniature-gardens of flowers, vegetables and herbs. You get to know some of them for short (or longer) periods of time, depending on the mooring regulations upon particular stretches of the canal (some moorings are long term; some are for a fortnight only).

After getting back from our Kennet & Avon jaunt, I read Emma Smith’s Maiden’s Trip, a fictionalised version of the writer’s experiences working on a barge during the war, when women were called in to help with the vital work of moving cargoes around the country via its waterways. She vividly describes the hardships – and pleasures – of life on the boats, from bad weather and bed bugs to tinned milk cocoa and kedgeree for tea. The maiden’s trip takes them from Limehouse Basin (15 minutes cycle ride from my flat), where they load up, to Birmingham and Coventry and back. The views from the canal encompass desolate and dirty urban wastelands as well unspoiled glorious countryside. They meet a range of people along the way and find friends and rivals among the barge folk, from those for who it’s just a day job to those whose whole lives are lived on the 3

If anyone has any other recommendations for stories set aboard barges, I’d love to hear them please. I keep thinking that Five Go off on a Canal Boat is a great, unwritten story, which I can vividly imagine elements of, in part drawn from my own trip in April: accidentally hitting another boat (perhaps this is Dick, getting distracted by lunch being prepared below deck), having a nasty encounter with some rude and angry men, suspicions being aroused as lights shine out from the boats at night – perhaps a midnight trip up and down the canal, picking up or dropping off some mysterious cargo… And of course this would all be fueled by plenty of ices and lemonade, boiled eggs for breakfast and burnt sausages for tea. This ice cream barge, currently moored near Victoria Park, would provide the perfect stopping off point for refreshments.


Joanna the Cook’s Ginger Biscuits (1)

July 31, 2013 at 12:50 pm | Posted in Anne, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Joan the Cook, Timmy, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment
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photoYesterday’s reference to Five on Kirrin Island Again gave me the urge to bake a version of Joanna the Cook’s famous ginger biscuits. Joanna knows how to use food to make people happy and cheer them up when they’re sad. When poor George is forced to let her beloved dog Timmy stay on Kirrin Island with Uncle Quentin (he needs a bodyguard to protect him while he conducts top secret scientific experiments), Joanna directs the children towards the biscuit tin. “I made you some of your favourite ginger biscuits this morning”, she tells them, much to Dick’s delight:

‘”I do think good cooks deserve some kind of decoration, just as much as good soldiers, or scientists, or writers. I should give Joanna the O.B.C.B.E”.

“Whatever’s that?” said Julian.

“Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire,” said Dick, grinning.’

As I’m off to visit Anne later (companion on such infamous adventures as Peter’s Tower in 2010 and last summer’s wet and rainy trip to the Blytonian equivalent of Mecca, Corfe Castle) I thought I would make her a batch of ginger biscuits [Anne  – if you’re reading this, surprise!  And I hope you like ginger…].

I won’t post the recipe for these up here as it comes courtesy of Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, Jane Brocket‘s excellent compendium of recipes based on food in children’s books. I’ve made several of JB’s recipes (Battenberg cake, saffron cake, pineapple upside down cake) and I have to say that they are a) delicious and b) have worked every time. Although having said that, mine look a bit pale, cracked and ugly. And they did take a little longer in the oven than JB recommends. But they taste good and that’s the most important thing, right?!

Yet another cycle trip

June 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking | 1 Comment
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Hallo everyone! (‘hallo’ being much more Blytonian than ‘hello’) I’ve been on yet another cycle trip, although sadly my bicycle is currently sitting upside down in my flat suffering from a buckled wheel. This year Dick and I got back in the saddle and did a circular route out from Oxford. We stayed in a mildly surreal but beautiful [and cheap] resort-type hotel (for business types during the week, and families and couples who want to spa during the weekend) and managed to get in some quality hills and birthday cake along the way. Here are some snaps from my album:



My beautiful bicycle, glinting in the sunshine on the canal path between Oxford and Blenheim









I like the strips of green, white and yellow in the fields along this stretch of the cycle route, also in between Oxford and Blenheim (although we were about to hit the horrid bit of the track that runs alongside a busy main road).







A nice hot bath was just what was needed after a long and dusty day on the road.









On the way back we stopped at the smashing Rectory Farm. They have a cafe, a shop and you can pick your own strawberries and asparagus too!









…they also have bunting…










…and good lunch offerings including this salad of local broad beans and asparagus with a pullet’s egg on top (plus a much needed mug of tea).








And lastly, even Timmy wouldn’t have felt left out – homemade dog treats!

Taking the Biscuit

June 7, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Posted in Dick, Eating and Drinking, Fun and Games, Joan the Cook | Leave a comment

A pause in my cycling tales to alert all London-based readers to the fact that this weekend sees the exciting prospect of a three-day British Biscuit Festival. Yes! A biscuit festival! What could be better?

Get yourself down to the Brunswick Centre near Russell Square to participate in a Tea and Biscuit Social, a Build-a-Biscuit workshop, a Tea Dance and much more. But of course no biscuit festival is truly complete without the presence of Joan the Cook, whose ginger biscuits inspired Dick to award her with the OBCBE (Order of the Best Cooks of the British Empire) in Five on Kirrin Island Again.

More details on the festival here.

A Famous Five Christmas 2011

December 1, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Anne, Aunt Fanny, Dick, George, Julian, Uncle Quentin | 1 Comment

Well, it’s now December so it’s time for the annual suggestions of presents for the Kirrin clan or for similar-minded folk.

For Anne: 60s animal stamps from retro stationer Present and Correct or (for a time of less austerity) an adorable bunny tuck box to take back to Gaylands school.

For Julian: Also from Present and Correct, these stylish and useful map crayons for Julian who loves to boast about his excellent map reading skills and well-developed bump of locality. Or from Temple of Commerce, a corrective grammar sticker pack so he can put the grammatical world to rights.

For Aunt Fanny: a beautiful bedspread from vintage retailer Horrockses. These are based on original 40s and 50s patterns. I like this one which is called ‘Betty’.

For George: A dog lamp that will recall the hi-jinx of Five on a Secret Trail. Note that Pedlars actullay describe it as a ‘collar of shame’. So perhaps this is actually quite an insensitive present (and again not an austerity gift)…

For Timmy: Well, I confess I’m struggling a bit here. In previous years I’ve suggested a studded collar and a fake bunny for him to chase and there’s only so much variety you can introduce into doggy gifts. Perhaps George could get him this bone shaped biscuit cutter so that Joan the Cook could make some of her legendary biscuits just for him?

For Dick: Gourmand and gourmet Dick might like to enjoy his ice cream out of one of these gold ice cream bowls, also from Pedlars.

For Uncle Quentin: The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing should keep Uncle Quentin quiet and out of the way on Christmas Day. Although I’ve blatantly taken this image from Amazon, I of course suggest that all bookish presents are purchased from your nearest non-chain book shop. I’ve already been to the wondrous Broadway Bookshop for some of my gifts…

For more suggestions, see ‘Christmas Gifts for the Kirrins‘ and ‘Christmas with the Famous Five: Gifts

Tinker, Tailor…

September 11, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Posted in Dick, Julian, Uncle Quentin | Leave a comment
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“That’s a thing I don’t understand [said Julian] – to be a traitor to one’s own country. It leaves a nasty taste in the mouth to think of it. Come on – let’s have a think about dinner, Anne. What are we going to have?” – Five Have a Wonderful Time

Spies are very much in vogue at the moment. I’m eagerly anticipating the new film adaptation of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and have just finished a weekend viewing marathon of the original 1979 television series with the great Alec Guinness as George Smiley, who’s brought out of retirement to track down a mole who has penetrated the highest levels of ‘the Circus’, the British Secret Intelligence Service. The plot of the recent BBC series, The Hour, also hinged on the unmasking of Soviet agents working within the Secret Service and (heaven forbid!) the British Broadcasting Corporation, so there is definitely something in the air.

Spies, stolen secrets, kidnappings and defections abound in Blyton’s books. The Famous Five personally take on quite a few of these cases, although their methods are a little different to George Smiley’s. And while betrayal and corruption leave their mark on the characters in le Carré’s novels, the Five are able to quickly deal and move on – often with the aid of a good meal, as Julian’s above comment suggests. Apparently there’s nothing like tinned peaches and home-made custard to get rid of the nasty taste left in the mouth by the deception, violence, and moral ambiguity of spying.

The Famous Five books are (as we know) very much of their time. After the disappearance of two of the ‘Cambridge’ spies, KGB double agents Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean in 1951, there was extreme paranoia about Soviet penetration of the British Secret Service. Blyton’s treatment of spies and traitors offers a narrative of reassurance. The upright and oh-so-British Famous Five are always clear where their loyalties lie and everything always comes right in the end.

In Five Go to Billycock Hill (1957) the children are distraught about the disappearance of their friend Toby’s airman cousin, Jeff. He appears to have gone AWOL with a top RAF aeroplane, prompting Dick to make the rather extreme comment: “If he flew away in that plane, he was a traitor to his country. And traitors deserve to die” ( this has been cut from recent, updated, versions of the book). Happily, Jeff’s innocence is proved with the help of the Five and Toby’s little brother and his pet ‘pigling’.

Likewise, Terry-Kane, a scientist chum of Uncle Quentin’s, suspected of making off with some state scientific secrets, is exonerated in Five Have a Wonderful Time. Characters that the Five or their friends and families like are therefore proved to be OK – an escapist antidote to the disbelief that surrounded the notion that Cambridge educated men like Burgess, Maclean, and later Harold Philby, Anthony Blunt and (possibly) John Cairncross [the Infamous Five!], could be agents of a foreign power. Clearly spies and subterfuge are recurring elements of many of Blyton’s books but Five Have a Wonderful Time was published in 1952, the year after the Burgess and Maclean scandal, and Billycock Hill in 1957, the year after they resurfaced in Moscow. It’s therefore highly likely that these incidents were in Blyton’s mind when she was planning and writing these particular books – and promoting a very different set of ideological and moral values to those of Burgess, Blunt et al.

Kentish Cycle Tour

August 29, 2011 at 11:26 am | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Eating and Drinking, Timmy, Travel | Leave a comment
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This year’s Kentish cycle tour took us through a wealth of different terrain (we were east of the Medway so I think I should actually say that it was a cycle tour of Kent rather than a Kentish cycle tour). We enjoyed coastal paths, flat marshland, woods, hills, wheatfields, hop fields and plenty of orchards – and the vast majority of our riding was on designated cycle routes as Kent is very well-served in this respect.

Dick and I took the high speed train from Stratford to Broadstairs. Traveling from east London should have been convenient but it was actually a bit of a faff given that the station is situated in the middle of a building site at the moment. Bikes need to be taken on a very circuitous route to get onto the platform and then on a shuttle bus to the station itself. Once in Broadstairs we found our way to our seaside hotel and then set off to explore the town. Dickens connections here are strong – he lived and worked in Bleak House, which is perched above the town, and the Dickens House Museum, on Victoria Parade, was once the home of Mary Peason Strong – the original of David Copperfield‘s Betsy Trotwood. The museum showcases all sorts of Victoriana, as well as letters written by Dickens from or about Broadstairs.

In the evening we treated ourselves to ice creams from the legendary Morelli’s. Opened in 1932, Morelli’s was refitted in the 1950s and the Broadstairs branch retains much of the charm of this period – pink leatherette seating, a soda fountain, jukebox and a truly bizarre ceiling feature. The ice cream is excellent and I think Julian et al would approve – there are many flavours to choose from as well as a host of weird and wonderful sundaes (the Brazil comes with a miniature palm tree stuck on top).

After an early morning dip in the sea (bracing and a bit sea-weedy) we set off on the first proper day of cycling: Broadstairs to Canterbury. We took the Viking trail along the coast to Ramsgate and then on to Sandwich. The first section boasts gorgeous views of the sea and coastline and although the final stretch is largely alongside a busy road it’s nicer to be on a separate path than borne down upon by impatient and speeding traffic. After a stop in Sandwich to get some provisions we set off on National Cycle Route 1, a truly beautiful ride through luscious orchards and (later on) cool, dark woods. We picked up some apples for sale by the side of the road and had to eat two right away – they were warm from the sun and wonderfully juicy. I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of home-made damson jam  – probably foolish given I would have to carry it around for another 70 miles.

We stopped to picnic in an orchard and after a post-prandial snooze (we did drink some cider with our bread, cheese and apples) and some hills, we arrived in Canterbury in the late afternoon. We stayed with my lovely friend Emma whose nearest FF character would probably be a cross between the sweet Jennifer Mary Armstrong (Five Run Away Together) and one of the excellent FF hostesses like Mrs Thomas of Billycock Farm.

The next morning we made for Whitstable via the Crab and Winkle Way. Canterbury is nestled in a hollow so we had a steep climb out of the city and round the university before joining (parts of) the disused railway line that used to run from coast to cathedral city. Sections of the route are quite undulating – a fact which proved the downfall of the line as Stephenson’s poor Invicta engine couldn’t quite handle the gradient. When we arrived in Whitstable the sun was out. So, even though we were laden with cycle panniers (including that heavy jar of damson jam – argh!) we had a paddle before some oysters (for Dick) and brown shrimps (for me) before pressing on to Saturday night’s destination, the amazing Linen Shed in Boughton-Under-Blean. After long flat stretches around Seasalter we began a series of climbs up to Boughton. Happily we were rewarded with stunning views back across the countryside to the sea, then our first hop field and then, upon arrival at the Linen Shed, a refreshing shower followed by tea and home-made granola flapjacks, and later on, wine, on the verandah.

Vickie is, in short, an incredible hostess and has created a beautiful place to stay. This feature in the Wealden Times gives a flavour of this wonderful weather-boarded buiding which stated life as an army drill hut before having stints as the village hall and even as a cinema. Breakfast the following morning was certainly on a par with the best Blytonian feasts: grilled vine tomatoes and Serrano ham (me), a full cooked breakfast with rosti and creamed mushrooms (Dick), fresh breads with raspberry and lavender jam, ripe peaches and raspberries, passion fruit and Greek yoghurt. This set us up well for our longest day of cycling so far – approximately 40 miles down through Kent, via Ashford to Rye in East Sussex.

Things started well. I got us a tiny bit lost (I am always convinced that the map, rather than me, is wrong) but it was nothing major and we soon found National Cycle Route 18. I was so thankful that I left the Dutch Bobbin at home this year and actually had a bike with a range of gears. We climbed hill after hill – made that much harder by the luggage we were carrying (including, yes, that pesky jar of damson jam). We finally got to the highest point of the climb, a few miles from the village of Wye, and stopped to admire the view. Here is plastic Timmy enjoying the scenery.

We started the descent, picking up speed as we whizzed down an actually quite steep hill. And then… disaster struck! Something suddenly went THUNK and my back wheel seized up. I managed to avoid an approaching tractor before stopping and dismounting to assess the damage – weirdly wedged breaks and a severely buckled wheel. I cannot repeat what I said at this point. After assorted cursing we disengaged my breaks and limped/wobbled the next few miles to Wye where we made straight for the pub for a lime and soda before bike and I took a taxi to to Halfords in Ashford leaving Dick to have a solo adventure and navigate his way into town by bike.

Spending a sunny Sunday afternoon on an industrial estate is possibly one of the most depressing things ever but happily the charming young gentlemen of Halford’s Bike Hut were able to replace some missing spokes and got me back on the road reasonbly sharpish. After a few false turns en route, Dick turned up and we decided to press on to Rye. It became a bit of a gritted teeth job, especially on the final stretch from Appledore into Rye. This was several miles of uneventful road going against the wind and wasn’t terribly fun at the end of a long day. Thankfully we’d been able to have a quick restorative cup of tea and a scone at Miss Mollett’s delectable tea room in Appledore. Although there was too much pretty vintage crockery for Dick, and too many wasps for both of us, they do serve an excellent cream tea which I would highly recommend. We finally arrived in Rye in the early evening. We felt tired and windswept but also proud that we had overcome adversity and had traversed many miles to get there.

This post has gone on far too long so I won’t say much about our stay Rye. It is, as is well know in the world of Blytonia, the original of Smuggler’s Top. It was also the home of Henry James, E. F. Benson and John Ryan (of Captain Pugwash fame) as well as once being a veritable hive of smuggling. I plan to return in a more suitably atmospheric season (mist and fog are probably necessary to experience it as the Five did), and not on bike next time. Having said that, I will certainly be going back to explore more of Kent on two wheels. It was particularly lovely riding through the orchards, especially as it was harvest time (there’s a bumper crop this year!) but I imagine a springtime trip, when the blossom is out would be quite magical too.

Cycling Hol 2011

August 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Posted in Cycle Rides, Cycling, Dick, Timmy, Travel | 3 Comments
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It’s that time of year again. James, no, sorry, I mean Dick and I will shortly be setting off on this year’s cycling odyssey. This time we’re leaving the Cotswolds behind and will be heading south to explore the garden of England, aka the fine county of Kent.

Our plan, in short, is this: Broadstairs – Canterbury – Faversham (via Whitstable) – Rye (so a little bit of Sussex too in fact) with the final day’s destination to be decided (somewhere where we can catch a train back to London Bridge rather than Victoria). We’re not covering a lot of distance as we’re hoping to enjoy the seaside too, but we’ll almost certainly take some more meandering routes between each place. I have a handy guide to Kentish cycle routes and it looks like there will be a wealth of national and regional cycle routes to follow along the way (click on the map above left to be taken to Kent County Council’s very useful cycling pages).

While in Margate the other week I also picked up an old Penguin Guide to Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Purportedly for travellers ‘of all sorts’ you get the impression its author ( S. E. Winbolt) liked a good fast run down from the capital to ‘one of the great playgrounds of London’ in a Bentley or some other powerful car. The book dates from 1939 so it’s quite poignant to think about how everything was soon to change. The leisurely motoring holiday would become a thing of the past  – all that petrol guzzling – and Kent and Sussex quickly became the part of the country most vulnerable to invasion, a fear reinforced by the sound of bombs and gunfire drifting across the channel.

Mr Winbolt is quite keen on churches, geology and topography (he was an archaeologist) so, the odd Baedeker raid notwithstanding, quite a bit of the book’s contents should still be relevant. It also has some charming touring maps of the three counties although I suspect we’ll be using my OS, and Dick’s iphone, slightly more frequently.

We’re off on Thursday. B&Bs have been booked and the silver ‘lady bike’ is prepped and ready (it’s significantly lighter than the Bobbin – with lots more gears – and it has larger wheels than the Brompton so is better for touring). Timmy is also raring to go. Luckily the fact he’s small and plastic means I don’t have to lug around a smelly bone for him, unlike the devoted George who is frequently weighed down with the butcher’s finest by-products.

The Famous Five in Love

February 13, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Posted in Anne, Dick | 8 Comments
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“For this was on Seynt Volantynys day
Whan every foul comyth there to chese his make”

[“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”]

– Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parliament of Fowls, c. 1382

Valentine’s Day traditionally marks the time of year when birds begin to look for mates for the spring. With love (or at least lots of kitsch hearts and puppies) in the air and in the shops, it is perhaps time to muse on the Famous Five in love.

I’ve previously noted Wilfred’s liking for Anne in Five Have a Mystery to Solve. The obnoxious animal-lover teases the youngest Kirrin mercilessly with spiders and other creepy crawlies until poor Anne finally has enough and tips a bucket of cold water over his head (this scene is beautifully realised in the 1964 Children’s Film Foundation adaptation). Far from making Wilfred angry, the drenching actually ignites some rather soppy feelings on his part. “You’re nice” he says – “and your nose is like that baby rabbit’s – it’s – it’s a bit woffly!”

Love-hate relationships such as this abound for our juvenile protagonists. A slightly darker manifestation of the pigtail-pulling variety of courtship occurs between Dick and Ragamuffin Jo in Five Fall Into Adventure. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a series in which one of the main characters is a girl who wants to be a boy, a healthy dose of gender confusion also plays a part in this fledgling romance. Dick and Jo’s first meeting takes place on the beach when a scruffy looking urchin ‘steals’ George’s hole in the sand while the Kirrins are taking a swim. Fiery George prepares to fight the dirty-looking boy but Dick manfully steps in (as you can from the illustration to the right, he has the physique to back up his tough words):

‘“Now George, if there’s any fighting to be done, I’ll do it,” he said. He turned to the scowling boy. “Clear off! We don’t want you here!”

The boy hit out with his right fist and caught Dick unexpectedly on the jawbone. Dick looked astounded. He hit out, too, and sent the tousle-headed boy flying.’

Unfortunately it turns out that the ‘boy’ is actually a girl. The Kirrin moral code is strongly against hitting girls and Dick feels bad for what he’s done. At the same time he’s quite impressed by Jo’s spirit and pluck. “That ragamuffin girl gave me a good bang,” he said, half-admiringly, “Little demon, isn’t she! A bit of a live wire!”

Jo appears on the beach again the next day, and the courtship ritual takes an unusual turn – a damson stone spitting competition. Jo wins easily, managing to spit her stones at least three feet further than Dick. This arouses his admiration – clearly food is not the only way to Dick’s heart. Jo becomes devoted to Dick although their relationship is heavily predicated on physical violence. The following chapters feature much spitting, scratching, kicking and wriggling before Jo is finally tamed (‘Jo looked at him as a slave might look at a king’). It’s quite messed up really. Having said that, Dick never means to hurt her and it’s his kindness, rather than his violence, that she responds to. Jo is involved in a plot to kidnap George but switches sides, not because she feels any sympathy for George but because she likes Dick. “He was nice to me, so I wanted to be nice back”, she tells the children. She eventually plays a key part in George’s rescue and becomes one of the few recurring secondary child characters in the series. She and Dick maintain their special relationship throughout. In Five Have Plenty of Fun we are told that Dick ‘really loved the little gypsy girl’ and even when she steals his bicycle this serves only to increase his affection for her.

It must be love.

Top Tens… and Top Threes: Caves

January 28, 2011 at 12:03 am | Posted in Anne, Dick, George, Julian, Timmy, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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John Mullan’s excellent and entertaining Guardian series picks out various literary ‘Ten of the Best’ categories  – villains, moustaches, fake deaths, towers, instances of invisibility etc. (Freud would probably find the selection of ‘best ofs’  I’ve highlighted here revealing but we’ll skip over that). Professor Mullan gets a big thumbs up for his learned, wide-ranging and completely unsnobbish selections. So alongside Homer, Shakespeare, the Brontes, Dostoyevsky, Melville, Proust and modern authors such as Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Philip Roth, we also find children’s writers such as C S Lewis, Alan Garner and (hurrah!) Enid Blyton. The latter makes it into the categories of ‘Ten of the Best Swimming Scenes’ (Five Get Into Trouble), ‘Examples of Rowing’ (Five on a Treasure Island) and ‘Secret Societies’ (the Secret Seven). It’s rather jolly to see the ‘wild swimming’ antics of the Five positioned between Byron’s ‘Written after Swimming from Sestos to Abydos’ and The Swimmer by John Cheever, or the rowing from Five on a Treasure Island sitting alongside the rather darker example from The Talented Mr Ripley.

With some of these categories in mind, I am going to begin an occasional series of ‘Best ofs’ drawn from the Famous Five – by contributing a Blytonian example to categories where she doesn’t feature, or by drawing up a top three or five for categories in which there are numerous FF contenders (caves, breakfasts, beaches, horrid children). Sometimes I’ll just offer up my pick of other features of her books (animal characters, secret passages, farmers’ wives, hoards of treasure etc.). Is this extremely nerdy? Should I find a better use of my time? Probably. But please humour me and do feel free to nominate your own.

As caves have already been mentioned, I will start here. Mullan’s examples are all excellent, ranging from the cave of Mammon in Spenser’s The Faerie Queen to the Marabar Caves from E M Forster’s A Passage to India (read Mullan’s full selection here). As I do not have the whole history of world literature to draw upon I will not aim for ten and instead propose a modest three. So my offerings are:

The Kirrin Island Cave, Five Run Away Together

When the Five slope off to Kirrin Island to get away from the nasty Stick family they plan to sleep in Kirrin Castle. Unfortunately the roof has fallen in since the previous summer and they need to find an alternative place to stay. While scoping out the old wreck (too smelly, wood too rotten) Dick spots what looks like a cave in the cliffs. “There aren’t any caves on Kirrin,” asserts George, before the children make their way over the rocks to investigate further…

‘”It is a cave!” said Dick, in delight, stepping into it. “And my, what a fine one”.

It really was a beauty. Its floor was spread with fine white sand, as soft as powder and perfectly dry, for the cave was clearly higher than the tide reached, except possibly in a bad winter storm. Round one side of it ran a stone ledge.

“Exactly like a shelf made for us!” cried Anne in joy. “We can put all our things here. How lovely! Let’s come and live here and sleep here. And look Julian – we’ve even got a skylight in the roof!”‘

The skylight comes in handy as a quick exit onto the clifftop (Julian rigs up a rope) and it even helps them take a hostage in the form of the Sticks’ nasty son, Edgar, who takes an unfortunate tumble through the hole. The children make beds of heather and there is a very nice scene where they make a little fire to watch as they fall asleep. Once the children retrieve various household possessions from Kirrin Cottage, stolen by the Sticks and brought to the island (the Sticks are of course involved in Something Fishy), the cave becomes even more cosy. It’s so cosy in fact, that Jenny Armstrong, the little girl the children rescue from the Sticks’ clutches, isn’t that fussed about being returned to her parents and would rather stay on Kirrin Island with the Five.

The Billycock Caves, Five Go to Billycock Hill

‘Warning’, reads the sign at the entrance to Billycock Caves. ‘Keep only to the roped ways. Beware of losing your way in the unroped tunnels’. The caves constitute a veritable Labyrinth, and provide the perfect place for some bad men to hide kidnapped airmen Jeff and Ray. They are also cold, magnificent, and awe-inspiring. The children go exploring one rainy day, carefully staying to the roped ways. They soon come to a cave ‘full of what looked like gleaming icicles. Some hung down from the roof, others rose up from ground. In some places the one below had reached to the one hanging down, so that they had joined, making it look as if the cave was held up by great shining pillars.

“Oh!” said Anne, catching her breath. “What a wonderful sight! How they gleam and shine!”‘

The next cave they go through is smaller but full of rainbow-coloured ‘icicles’; the one after is ‘of a dazzling white, wall, roof, floor and pillars. So many stalactites and stalagmites had joined that they almost formed a snow-white screen through which the children peered’.

The children are chased out by eerie whistling sounds but luckily, Curly the Pigling is not deterred and his wanderings lead to the rescue of the two airmen. Phew. The Billycock Caves are probably based on Cheddar Caves in Somerset.

The Wreckers’ Caves, Five Go to Demon’s Rocks

Baddies Jacob and Ebeneezer supplement their dishonest earnings by showing trippers around the dark and smelly Wreckers’ Caves near the village of Demon’s Rocks. Luckily the Five, plus Tinker and his pet monkey, Mischief, have a better guide in the form of old Jeremiah Boogle, a salty seadog who spends his days sitting on the quayside smoking his pipe and telling tales of One-Ear Bill, an olden time wrecker. Curiously, the caves don’t lead back into the cliffs but instead descend steeply and wend their way under the sea (much like the undersea passage that leads from Kirrin Farm to Kirrin Island – it must be a feature of the coast in this part of the country). This makes the Wreckers’ Caves very unnerving as the sound of the sea ‘mumbling and grumbling’ overhead can be clearly heard. While many people, and not least Jacob and Ebby, have attempted to find One-Ear Bill’s hidden treasure it takes the Five, plus monkey, to finally track down the stolen hoard of gold coins.

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