Tags: Billycock Caves, Cheddar Caves, Five Go to Billycock Hill, Five Go to Demon's Rocks, Five Run Away Together, Jeremiah Boogle, John Mullan, Kirrin Island, Top Tens, Wreckers' Caves
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.
‘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.
Tags: Five Go to Demon's Rocks, Five on a Hike Together, Joel Segal Books, Landmark Trust, Lympstone, Peters Tower, Route 2, Topsham
‘”What I’m looking forward to is our first night there,” said George. “All alone, high up in that old light-house. Nothing but the wind and waves all around! Snuggling down in our rugs, and waking up to hear the wind and waves again.”‘ (Five Go to Demon’s Rocks)
On my weekend trip to Peters Tower I mostly channeled Demon’s Rocks (life in a lighthouse), with a hint of Five on a Hike Together (an autumn excursion). It was dark and rainy by the time I arrived in Lympstone after a 3 and a half hour train journey from London. I had a simple supper (by FF standards) of cheese and biscuits and then wrapped myself up in one of the tower’s regulation rugs to reacquaint myself with its small but perfectly formed library.
The Landmark Trust provides a thoughtful selection of books, many with local(ish) interest. Titles like Devon Shipwrecks and A Book About Smuggling in the West Country sit alongside novels (some Hardy, Austen, Sterne and Fowles) and modern cookery books.
The next day dawned bright and fine. Peters Tower is a clock tower and chimes the hour between 7 in the morning and 11 at night. As the bedroom is immediately under the bell I woke up at 7. You never know what view will be waiting when you look out of the window. The Exe estuary is extremely tidal so sometimes the water comes right up to the tower and sometimes there is nothing but a long stretch of mud between each shore. On Saturday morning there was water.
A few miles up the estuary from Lympstone is the small town of Topsham. I took the train but had cyclist envy. National Cycle Route 2 runs alongside the coast here (it is planned to eventually traverse the south coast all the way from St Austell to Dover) and Topsham is the home of the Route 2 Cafe and Cycle Hire. It’s nice inside and they have their own Route 2 cups. I had a fruit scone and a pot of tea which was fine – but not a patch on the scones served just around the coast at the Cosy Teapot in Budleigh Salterton.
There are other nice things in Topsham too – the views, an array of good pubs, a good deli/butchers, a cheese shop, and the excellent Joel Segal Books. The shop is spread over three floors of an 17th century building and its contents range across most subjects. The books are arranged in aesthetically pleasing ways, often organised by publisher/edition. I liked the current (and slightly 70s feeling) autumn-inspired window display.
There were more autumn colours and leaves when I went for a walk along the cycle path on Sunday. This bit of Route 2 (between Lympstone and Exton) could seem a bit sanitised but cycling in London on a daily basis makes me think that a little bit of boardwalk riding away from terrifying taxis and white vans is actually ok.
The storm on the final night was quite appropriate, as per the climax of Five Go to Demon’s Rocks:
‘”Are you quite sure that the light-house [tower] can’t be blown down?” said Anne, in a small voice.
“Dear Anne, use your common sense,” said Julian [unbelievably smugly]. “Would it have stood for all these years if it hadn’t been strong enough to stand against storms far worse than this?” […]
There was an extra big gale of wind that buffeted the light-house, and made Timmy stand up and growl. Rain pattered against the window, sounding as if someone was throwing pebbles…’
The next morning (my final morning) I went out to look at the tower from the small jetty that sticks out into the estuary. The flood gate next to the tower had been closed, the dustbins blown over, and the water seemed higher, and murkier, than usual.
And then it was back to school. Well, work…
Tags: Five Go to Demon's Rocks
“An adventure is always exciting [said Anne]- but I’ve really had enough at the moment! This was such a bad weather one!”
Anne’s words at the end of Five Go to Demon’s Rocks sum up the last afternoon of mine and Dick’s 2010 cycling holiday. Waterproofs only stay waterproof for so long and it rained constantly from Witney to Oxford, steadily getting heavier and heavier through the afternoon and into the evening. This is the second August break that has been beset by bad weather (the Five are usually lucky – bar the occasional storm for dramatic impact, it’s their Easter breaks a la Demon’s Rocks that are the bad weather adventures). Next year, we resolve to plan our cycling for June or July…