Candida Lycett Green wrote the ‘Unwrecked England’ column in The Oldie since its launch in 1992. In her column she took the reader on a journey through every county and revealed, often in little-known backwaters, just how wonderful England still is.

She wrote the Nooks and Corners column in Private Eye during the 1970s, covered the World Cup in Mexico for the Evening Standard, was the travel editor of Tatler during the 1980s and was a contributing editor of Vogue.

She wrote for a variety of national newspapers and magazines including The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and Country Life.

 

 

Click here to view an index of all “Unwrecked” posts

 

 


High Herefordshire

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Here is a corner of England which is paradise.  Everything is on the right scale. It is a deep, steep countryside of sheep-grazed tumps and sudden, strangely shaped hills, some wooded, some sparsely scattered with trees and bushes. Between the valleys and vales, small fields are hawthorn-hedged and the birdsong is deafening. There are tall thin houses, beautiful  churches, uneventful chestnut-shaded villages, myriad apple orchards and occasional fields thick with buttercups. The stone varies from village to village, sometimes steel grey, sometimes dark rose, and there are black and white thatched cottages among the stone. >

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Holt, Norfolk

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Norfolk has the least rainfall, the clearest visibility in England and it is not as flat as is usually supposed. There is a small hill climb as you approach Holt from the south under the broad, bright skies. Sheep are scattered across brown fields of roots, gorse, bracken and silver birches edge the black pine forests on Edgefield Heath and amelanchier showering pink blossom floods the gardens on the outskirts of one of England’s friendliest small towns. Holt is satisfactorily compact, the High Street just the right length and the playing fields and handsome brick blocks of Gresham’s School, founded in 1555 by Sir John Gresham, lend a feeling of settled continuity to the place. (WH Auden and Benjamin Britten were among its pupils.) To the north, Holt peters out into breckland stretching on down to the fresh salt marshes of Cley, Blakeney and the sea. >

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Isle of Ely, Cambridgeshire

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If you come by train from Cambridge the strange chessboard of unfamiliar Fens begins at Waterbeach. Beside the tiny halt there is an old orchard with bee hives beneath the apple trees. The line is raised up above its floodable surroundings, waterless now, though Waterbeach was once described as a ‘small fen archipelago’. The village’s most famous son was Charles Spurgeon, who laid the foundation stone for a little brick Baptist chapel. He became one of the most famous preachers in England, drawing enormous crowds and baptizing followers by the dozen in the Cam. A little to the north is a lovely group of buildings comprising Denny Abbey, which is set on what was once a tiny island, in the archipelago. Much of the extensive abbey remains have become part of a farm’s steddings, converted over the centuries since the abbey’s demise. You can see it across the wide North Fen as the train trundles on towards Ely.  >

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Steeple, Dorset

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Steeple is buried in the Purbecks. These sudden and in some place almost sheer chalk hills running back from the sea, rise up in thin spines above remote and beautiful valleys. The ridge from Ballard Point in the east to Lulworth Cove in the west acts as a great dividing wall between the “Isle” of Purbeck itself and the low heathland around Wareham. They are completely different countries.

We climbed up and up from the heath, beside hanging woods, past Creech Grange with its secret lake, (once home to the Bonds who founded Bond Street in the 16th century), and then around a hairpin bend to reach the final height. There on the knife edge of Ridgeway Hill we had our first tremendous view of the sea, shining white, with the humped outline of Portland Bill in the distance. Half hidden farmsteads lay deep below. A lane led down the valley towards the Danger Area near Worbarrow Bay and the ghost village of Tyneham which the army requisitioned in 1943.

steeple_dorsetSafely apart, in the shadow of the gorse blotched hill, Steeple lies sheltered and secret up a dead end road – just an ancient manor house, a tiny handful of houses and the church of St Michael and all Angels on its yew encircled rise.  A field towards Blackmanston farm undulates with the vestiges of earlier dwellings when Steeple was a larger village and the noise of bleeting sheep is everywhere. The road peters out into a farm track beside the church and beyond it a small wood leans away from the sea, sprinkled with scots pines. In this clean sea air, lichens abound and encrust the trees in all the woods around. The church yard wall and gravestones are smothered in them – bright yellow ochre, pale green and white Thousands of primroses spread from either side of the path to the Norman door.

It’s a simple church with a west country wagon roof, good, solid 1920’s wooden candlesticks on the pew ends and a handsome modern altar and bishop’s chairs made by a local woodworker. In the south transept there is wonderful, gaily painted barrel organ, moved here from Tyneham when the army made the latter redundant. It was manufactured by JW Walker in the mid nineteenth century when, with the swelling congregations, organs playing automatic hymn tunes were becoming increasingly popular..  Though today’s congregation may be small, the church is clearly loved. In 1979 the diocese was about to shut it down but locals fought to save it and raised funds with a spectacular firework display over Kimmeridge Bay.

Perhaps St Michael and All Angel is most famous for its connection with the heraldry of the Lawrence family, collateral ancestors of George Washington, who lived at Steeple in the 17th century. Their quarterings, which you can see in the porch, on the ceiling bosses or over the east doorway, are the stars and stripes of the American flag. A past Mayor of Washington presented Steeple with a flag which is hung in the church.

But much my favourite local inhabitant was Samuel Bold a brave, radical rector who came to the Parish in 1682 having been been ejected from St Michael’s Chester and then from Shapwick in Dorset. A celebrated controversialist he believed dissenters’ voices should be heard,preached a sermon against persecution on his arrival and caused an outcry. He then published Plea for Moderation towards Dissenters, was cited before the Bishop of Bristol’s court of having, “ writ and preached scandalous libel”, and forced to recant. Meanwhile he was accused in the civil courts of befriending a dissenting apocathery from Blandford for which he was fined and jailed for seven weeks.  Bold was rector here for 56 years and continued to write tracts and cause controversy until his death in 1737. Steeple then returned to being the quiet back water it is today.

 

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High Force, County Durham

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High Force could be in South America. Even from afar the muffled thunder of it is awe inspiring and as you get nearer on the sinuous path  past moss-covered crags to which  stalwart beech trees cling  by octopus-like roots, past ash saplings sticking to vertical cliffs above the great River Tees, the sound becomes a terrifying roar. Standing below the foaming white water mass which falls from a 70ft high sill into the deep dark pool of burnt umber coloured river, you expect an Amazonian tribesman to appear from behind a rock at any minute. >

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Leighton Hall, Lancashire

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Not far from Carnforth Station, where Brief Encounter was filmed, the road up Peter Hill from Yealand Conyers winds between outcrops of silvery stone. It climbs almost vertically until, at the very top, a modest lodge and gateposts herald the first glorious view of Leighton Hall. The house lies halfway down a great wide sweep of Utopian Park, laid out in 1763. The whole scene is like a painting in some fantastic and imaginary landscape. Over to the west, a mile or two away across wooded hills, the sea sparkles in Morecambe Bay. Behind the house, the mountainous lakeland hills and rocky cliffs rise in a distant and majestic backdrop, while down at the bottom of the valley lies Leighton Moss, a huge marshy mere, the home of a quarter of Britain’s bittern population. It is the largest remaining reedbed in north-west England and is also the haunt of a host of bearded tits and marsh harriers.  >

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Fairfield, Romney Marsh

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Romney Marsh is another country altogether. Mysterious, windblown and eerie it noses out into the channel in low lying watery flatness. Closely bound by the sea of which it was once part its southern boundary leads along Camber and Broomhill Sands, through to  great stretches of  shifting shingle around  Dungeness and then, with breakwater after breakwater jutting out into the waves, sweeps up past St Mary’s to Hythe.  Because the Marsh was considered to be dangerously near France and eminently vulnerable to invasion from Napoleon’s army the government of the time set about strengthening its lines of defence. First came the navy, second the string of 74 Martello towers they built along the coast and third, the ambitious Royal Military Canal. It was begun in 1804, and cut along the bottom of the old cliff line for twenty three miles from Seabrook to Winchelse a, effectively rendering the marsh an island. Gun emplacements were placed at frequent and strategic points along the canal.  Napoleon never arrived.   Today swans and pleasure boats glide past patches of yellow water lilies and the myriad ruined defences which were used in the end to police smugglers who abounded in the marsh. >

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Exton, Rutland

Exton: St Peter and St Paul - monument to Robert Kelwey, d. 1580

Rutland is the smallest county in England: fifteen miles by fifteen. Over the decades, various government bureaucrats have tried to wipe it and its history off the face of the map by merging it with one of its larger neighbours, but  Rutlanders have always fought hard to keep their independence. They are rightly proud of their county, the star of the Midlands. Its villages and towns are built in varying shades of golden marlstone or  sheep-grey limestone and its undulating farmland is criss-crossed with ash tree sprinkled quickset hedges and stone walls. Some lie drowned, together with the village of Nether Hambleton beneath the gigantic sheet of Rutland Water, created in the 1960’s as a reservoir.

Exton is a beautiful place. If you approach it from Empingham along wide verged lanes, the signs of generations of well heeled landowners begin along the dead straight Barnsfield Avenue. Thick plantings of beech, birch, chestnut and sycamore line the way and later spill over the seemingly  endless  wall of honey coloured stone which encompasses Exton Park. >

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Crewe, Cheshire

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Oh Mr. Porter what shall I do? I wanted to go to Birmingham But they sent me on to Crewe. Despite the jokes about delays at Crewe, despite working out anagrams of Crewe Station and coming up with ‘Wait (no secret)’ or ‘Train woes, etc.’, for me it is still a thrilling station to visit. It is a trainspotter’s paradise, it is what Dungeness is to twitchers.

Set amidst lush Cheshire dairy country, Crewe remains the most romantic and practical railway town in the world. Look at it on a map and you will see the railway lines striking across Middle England towards it from six different directions. It looks like the middle of a snowflake under a magnifying glass.

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St Germans, Cornwall

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Once over the shimmering Tamar on Brunel’s steel spanned bridge at Plymouth the train cuts through  small hills and valleys  high above Cornish fields.  Past   Trematon Castle, stronghold of the Foot family, past Trehan and Trevoliard the line crosses the great tidal  River of St Germans, high in the sky and over the  most elegantly arched viaduct in the country. St Germans Quay below is spread with small fishing boats stranded on the low tide mud and the village clusters up the hill to the south: a kingdom of its own on a peninsula. Along the northern bank the luxuriant  pleasure gardens of Port Eliot slope down towards the rivers edge and undulate away into far away woods. >

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