Category Archives: Travel

CROSS PURPOSES

I was walking through Newton Wood on the banks of the River Yealm in Devon, my dog stirring up the scent of wild garlic as he scampered through the undergrowth, when the sound of a large bird breaking cover stopped me in my tracks. A black shadow swooped over the wood’s gnarled Monterey pines, dived low across the water and skirted some expensive looking yachts before disappearing into the trees on the other side of a small creek, offering up a tantalising glimpse of white plumage as it did so. An osprey? I wondered.

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The River Yealm

‘Buzzard,’ said a voice behind me, as if reading my non-ornithological mind.

I turned to see a bearded, grizzled local leaning on a stick, an equally battered-looking collie at his feet.

After a few minutes conversation about local wildlife, I asked him who owned the moorings for the flashy boats anchored in mid-stream. ‘That’d be those bastards at Kitley,’ he said, before ambling off.

I was taken aback. Rarely had I encountered such coarseness in the decade I had been coming to the village of Newton Ferrers on holiday. The Kitley Estate, I knew, was situated upriver on the Yealm, home to a rather grand, if austere, house, mainly used for weddings and conferences, which had been recommended for its cream teas. I determined to investigate what sort of bastards lived there. Which meant nothing more arduous than going for scones and jam.

The waterside village of Newton Ferrers is just about the last hurrah of the South Hams before you come to Plymouth. Popular with the yachting fraternity, it has nevertheless managed to avoid the overcrowded fate of Salcombe to the east. No clothing or gift shops dominate the main street of Newton Ferrers – there’s a Co-op, a butcher, a village-owned post office, a pharmacy and the Dolphin pub. All the essentials, none of the fripperies. It sits on the northern bank of a tidal creek off the Yealm estuary, facing its sibling Noss Mayo, which occupies the (slightly) more shaded side of the valley. The path over to Noss – known as the Voss – may not be one of the village’s most attractive features, but is certainly one of its best assets.

The Voss is a concrete walkway that is only uncovered at low tide, meaning you can cut out the twenty-minute or more walk around the creek via Bridgend and stroll across from the Dolphin to the Swan Inn on the southern side. From there is a second crossing (‘The Noss Voss’) which cuts across to the Ship Inn. All three pubs have outside seating areas where you can watch the tidal rhythm that dominates village life – low tide brings out the shoppers crossing from Noss, the kids for crabbing, walkers heading for National Trust forests to pick up part of the South West Coastal Path and, of course, the pub crawlers who will try and knock off all three inns before the waters claim the walkways once more.

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The Voss

If there is a drawback for the holidaymakers to this bucolic spot, it is probably that there are no sandy beaches on the immediate doorstep, although you could argue this has been something of a saving grace. In fact, for sandhogs (and walkers) a seasonal ferry operates from Newton Ferrers harbour across to Wembury Point and the coastal path which will deliver you to Wembury Bay, where there is a marine life centre, a café and a series of sandy and rocky bays with excellent rock pooling.

But for me the best of the beaches is the brace of privately owned ones at Mothercombe, about four miles from Newton Ferrers, which are only open at weekends and Wednesday in season (parking: £4.50). The part of the beach with facilities (refreshments, toilets) is out-of-bounds for dogs from Easter-October, but I think the second pooch-friendly option on the estuary is the more dramatic of the pair. I still recall the first time I saw it at low tide, the sands marbled by a skein of sun-sparked rivulets and the air freckled with sand thrown up by the hooves of a half-dozen galloping horses.

I subsequently made enquiries about riding on the beach at the stables in Newton Ferrers (newtonferrersequus.com) and was told the outing was reserved for experienced riders, as the horses like to have their head once they realise it’s a day at the beach. My own style of riding being very regal – i.e. comparable to a sack of King Edwards – I have never actually tried the Mothercombe hack. It looks like fun though.

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Newton Ferrers

On my recent trip I discovered that Kitley House (kitleyhousehotel.com) does indeed offer a decent afternoon cream tea that is best taken out on the small terrace, overlooking the water and fields with rabbits, pheasants and geese. Whilst unwisely tackling my second scone, I glanced over the brochure outlining the history of the estate. “The Pollexfens (pronounced Poulston) resided at Kitley until 1710, when Edmund Polloxfen died,” it read. “Anne, the heiress of the estate, married William Bastard of Gerston Manor…”

Well, the estate is still family owned, and so I realised my fellow dog walker and I had been talking at cross purposes when he told me who owned the moorings. The Bastards of Kitley do. With a capital “B”. And very nice they seem, too.

 

  • The Ship Inn (01752-872387/ nossmayo.com) is the best bet in Newton Ferrers/Noss Mayo. Excellent fish and chips, lovely views. Cream teas at Kitley House (01752-881555/ kitleyhousehotel.com) from £7.50.
  • Toad Hall Cottages (01548 202020/toadhallcottages.co.uk) has a selection of self-catering cottages in Newton Ferrers/Noss Mayo, many that welcome dogs and offer short weekend breaks (three nights from around £300) out of high season.
  • Visit South Devon (visitsouthdevon.co.uk) has detailed information on the South Hams, including accommodation and dog-friendly beaches.

Why SPECTRE (and Bond) is at home in Austria

You may have noticed that a new James Bond film has opened. You may also have noticed that part of it was filmed in the Tirol, in Austria, in an Alpine village called Sölden. Of course 007 and snow have a long history, going back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (poor Bond, decent film, great soundtrack), so Spectre is continuing an 007 tradition which goes back to Ian Fleming’s love of the sport.

OHMSS

OHMSS

Fleming skied at a time when it was elitist, glamorous and dangerous. The glamour remains to some degree and as for the danger – you might have more forgiving skis and boots that don’t snap your ankle, but there’s still  whiteouts, avalanches, treacherous driving conditions and rogue cable cars. But that is all grist to the Bond mill – isn’t putting the spy in peril in a spectacular setting the essence of a 007 movie? It certainly is of the globetrotting Spectre.

But there are plenty of countries that have snow, so why did Mendes and crew choose Sölden? Well, the cynics might suggest that it was a village willing to close its main ski slope in peak season in return for the sort of publicity money can’t buy. Or possibly the Spectre scouts thought that the glistening glass cube of its mountain-top Ice-Q restaurant might rival Piz Gloria on the Schilthorn in Switzerland as an iconic Bond location.

The Ice-Q restaurant, Sölden, which isn't a rerstaurant in the movie

The Ice-Q restaurant, Sölden, which isn’t a restaurant in the movie

It is also possible that the scriptwriting team, always in search of a backstory these days, knew that, although Bond was not born or conceived in the Tirol, his DNA is all over it. thanks to his creator.

Ian Fleming was forced to resign from Sandhurst after contracting gonorrhoea from a prostitute and in 1927 he was despatched by his formidable mother to the town of Kitzbühel (having spent some time there the previous year) in the Tirol. He arrived in a place that eschewed stuffy Anglo-Saxon sexual mores. Which, once he had shaken off his initial torpor, suited the testosterone-fuelled Fleming just fine.

Fleming’s mother had sent the 19-year old to be tutored, alongside other English boys, by a very influential pair – the Forbes Dennises. Ernan Forbes Dennis had been the British ‘Passport Control Officer’ in Vienna, which if you speak spy, you will know is code for resident MI6 officer, although he was indeed also a keen educationalist and proponent of the theories of Adler. His wife Phyllis was a successful author who encouraged the young Fleming to write. Together they represented two cornerstones of Ian’s future life – espionage and writing.

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     In the thirties he would also meet the splendidly named Conrad O’Brien-ffrench in the Tirol. He was an adventurer, explorer, an excellent skier and.. a spy. He worked for the Z Organisation, a kind of shadow MI6 that was sympathetic to Churchill’s insistence that Hitler wanted war. He set up a network of agents across Austria and Southern Germany. Ian and his older brother Peter (at that point a very successful author) often bumped into O’Brien-ffrench, as the man’s cover was that of a travel agent looking to open up the region to British tourism. When war broke out O’Brien-ffrench escaped from the Nazis by hiking over the Alps into Switzerland. Some claim he was later very influential in securing Fleming a post in Naval Intelligence during WW2.

Oetztal Alps credit Tirol Werbung.Aichner Bernhard

Fleming had learned to ski in the Tirol (and even today there is a downhill event in Kitzbühl named after him), although he always said it was a toss up between summer and winter as his favourite time – he loved the skiing but also appreciated that the girls weren’t so bundled up in their thick clothes in the warmer months.

The war put paid to Fleming’s sojourns to the Tirol. He would return to Kitzbühel when he was 50, with wife and son in tow, to try and recapture something of his youth, but according to his biographer Andrew Lycett the trip was something of a failure, even though the writer professed to have enjoyed himself. He was no longer an athletic young man who could have his pick of the locals, but an aging dyspeptic author in a failing marriage, with his bored wife and tragic son Caspar (who later committed suicide) in tow.

But Kitzbühel was never far from his thoughts and what he called his ‘golden years’ there made many appearances in his fiction. He decided that, as he had, James Bond would learn to ski in Austria. In Octopussy, the story of the Nazi gold and the mountain refuge was surely based on the wooden huts you can see dotting the Alpine meadows of the Tirol. And when James Bond marries Tracy in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, they are on their way to an idyllic honeymoon in Kitzbühel when she is murdered. He also left £500 each to three people in the town in his will when he died in 1964, exhorting them to “do something exciting” with it. Among them was Lisl Jodl, one of his many Bond-like romantic entanglements from the ’20s and ’30s.

So perhaps it was just serendipity and/or finance that brought the makers of Spectre to choose the Austrian Tirol  for the snow scenes (spoiler: Bond does not actually ski in this one), but conscious or not, they chose well.

CATSKILL COOL

I have just returned from a week touring the Hudson Valley and the Catskills in upstate New York. Most of it was for a piece for The Times and it was a very successful trip – good food, dramatic modern art, fantastic scenery, Robber Baron’s grand historic homes, and some possibly too close encounters with local wildlife. But one standout was the hotel we stayed in on the last night, mainly because it was so unexpected (it was the result of a tip-off from a native New Yorker who said: ‘Don’t ask questions, just book in’).

If you read a lot of the US travel press you might think that the recent renaissance of the Catskills – which is a few hours’ drive from Manhattan, up I-87 or 90 – means it’s a Williamsburg with trees and mountains, with a farm-to-fork restaurant at every junction, an antique Americana collection on every porch, a cool bar beside every creek. This isn’t true, there is a lot of driving around (by our standards at least) to sample the best of, say, Delaware County.

The town of Andes in The Catskills is good for Americana

The town of Andes in The Catskills is good for Americana

After a slightly disappointing first turn through district, the highlights being Andes (quaint, good vintage clothes, antiques, coffee and cookies) and Delhi (bookstores, covered bridges, more antiques) but not fly-blown Bloomville (Table on Ten restauarant and not much else), I thought maybe The Roxbury might not live up to its billing. However, there is often something about the typography and colour scheme of a place’s signboard that tells you that you are in safe hands. “Contemporary Catskill Lodgings” this one teased in limegreen and black and it delivered.

The Roxbury and backdrop

The Roxbury and backdrop

The Roxbury is a themed hotel, in that each of the 28 units is decorated to a particular brief, in this case a TV show or movie. Now, I’m not always a fan of themed rooms. Sometimes hoteliers think that all it takes is a hideous shagpile carpet, a lava lamp and a couple of DVDs and bam! The Austin Powers Suite. Or a bit of gold MDF and organza and you have the Arabian Nights room. That isn’t the case at The Roxbury Motel.

The owners, Greg Henderson and Joseph Massa both have theatrical backgrounds and it shows (Greg does concepts, Joseph is the craftsman) in the outlandish concoctions. What makes The Roxbury different is the attention to details – every room is done with passion and panache. Most are based on the sixties TV shows that were on constant re-run when the owners were growing up. So there is a Star Trek room, where the ceiling becomes the galaxy of dopplered stars as seen in warp drive, created by a massive coil of fibre optic lights in the roof space, and where the bathroom tiles glow to recreate the holodeck. For I Dream of Jeannie, the pair used an ancient Roman technique to create a perfect spherical space to represent the genie’s bottle. Gilligan’s Island is basically a huge inverted coconut cream pie as baked by Ginger and Mary Ann.

The understated Amadeus-themed room

The understated Amadeus-themed room

Best of all, though, is a three-bedroom stand-alone single-story house called The Digs. It was inspired by the purchase at auction of artifacts that were previously owned by a man who claimed to have worked for the Board of Education. Greg and Joseph discovered that they were from places such as Persia/Iran, the Far East and various destinations not open to the usual US tourist in the 50s and 60s. They decided the vendor had been a spy-cum-archeologist and so created a huge backstory which means The Digs is filled with the sort of items that might be boxed up at the end of Indiana Jones – and indeed there is a room with a ceiling full of bullwhips, snake wallpaper, a Mayan temple hiding a pull-down bed and a giant boulder above the lobby in homage to Indy. There’s also a fish tank so special it has featured on Animal Planet.

The Digs' ceiling lamps - from Cairo.

The Digs’ ceiling lamps – from Cairo.

But here’s the thing: despite all the frivolity, the hotel work – the products are excellent, there are bathtubs as opposed to mere showers, the fabrics, tiles, lamps, ceiling fixtures are sourced from the best suppliers in the world, there’s a two-part spa (hot tub and sauna in one wing, steam and treatments in another) and the sheets are as good as those in the Four Seasons.

As if this wasn’t enough, the pair have also bought a slightly sagging antebellum mansion down the road (see https://vimeo.com/105388223), which sits right next to a dramatic gorge and waterfall and they plan to do much the same with it (albeit more in keeping with the estate’s history than, say, The Jetsons room). Having toured the site, their plans are either insanely ambitious or just… No, I suspect The Roxbury at Stratton Falls will be ready within the two to three years they have allowed themselves. And I’ll be back.

The Digs living room

The Digs living room

See http://www.theroxburymotel.com for rates. I flew with Virgin Atlantic (http://www.virgin-atlantic.com) and hired a car through Alamo. The ins and outs of a Hudson Valley fly-drive will be dealt with  in The Times Travel piece.

MY WEEKEND WITH WATSON…

.. and with Sherlock, of course. The Times recently ran a piece of mine on Sherlock’s London. In fact, I wrote two versions of the story, the published piece and a second more prescriptive one on how to plan a weekend around the splendid Sherlock Holmes Exhibition at the Museum of London at the Barbican (www.museumoflondon.org.uk). Given the global popularity of the series, a significant percentage of visitors are expected to come from outside London – so the idea was to help those not familiar with the city find other Sherlock sites. It does have some different recommendations from The Times piece, so I thought I’d reproduce it here.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: “You have been in Afghanistan, I perceive.” (A Study in Scarlet)

With the game afoot, your first port of call on arriving in London is to proceed at once to the Henry VIII Gate of St Bartholomew’s Hospital at Smithfields and its small museum (bartshealth.nhs.uk), which closes at 4pm. As well as a history of the hospital – where Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD) spent some time – the museum contains a plaque commemorating the first meeting of Holmes and Watson in the building, donated in 1953 by the Baker St Irregulars, a venerable conglomerate of Holmes aficionados.

The original Reichenbach fall

The original Reichenbach fall

But, of course, this was also the location for Sherlock’s dramatic fall from the roof in the BBC’s Reichenbach Fall episode, which led to the red phone box near the gate being plastered in “Believe in Sherlock” post-it notes. Also check the website of the spectacular glass-roofed triple-tiered Pathology Museum (http://www.qmul.ac.uk/bartspathology/) in the same complex, a gruesome yet fascinating insight into medicine in ACD’s day – he is rumoured to have penned some of his stories in the curator’s office. Sadly, it is only open to the public for special evening events and some afternoons but the website makes clear the Sherlock connection.
From St Bart’s it’s but a short stroll to The Museum of London (150 London Wall, London EC2Y 5HN) for “The Man Who Never lived And Will Never Die” (£12/£10) exhibition, which runs until April 2015.

Checking the famous Cumberbatch Belstaff, which is on display at the Museum of London

Checking the famous Cumberbatch Belstaff, which is on display at the Museum of London

FRIDAY EVENING: “I think that something nutritious at Simpson’s would not be out of place.” (The Dying Detective)

Where to eat like Sherlock? Try Simpson’s-In-The Strand (100 Strand, 7836 9112, 020 7836 9112, simpsonsinthestrand.co.uk) one of London’s most traditional and sumptuous dining rooms, pretty much unchanged since ACD’s time, when it was mention in the Dying Detective and The Illustrious Client. Famed for its carved roasts, the closest thing approaching a bargain here is the Fixed Price menu, served early evening until 7pm (not Saturdays or Sundays), £25.75 plus service. Ask for a window seat to emulate Watson ‘looking down at the rushing stream of life in the Strand’ and wear your best bib and tucker.

SATURDAY MORNING: ”It is a hobby of mine to have an exact knowledge of London” (The Red-Headed League)

An early start at Speedy’s Sandwich Bar and Café (187 N Gower St, 020 7383 3485, speedyscafe.co.uk) near Euston, a humble caff that has, thanks to its new incarnation as 221b Baker Street’s neighbour in the Cumberbatch/Freeman series, become an unlikely tourist attraction. Here you can dine on a Sherlock (chicken and cheese) or a Watson (veggie, both £4.10) wrap or just fill up on a traditional breakfast (it opens 6.30am weekdays, 7.30am Saturdays). From there, travel to Piccadilly and the Criterion Restaurant, where Watson first heard from Stamford the name of the man who would change his world forever. This is the meeting point for Britmovie’s “In the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes” walking tour (11am, britmovietours.com, £12). It concentrates mostly on the BBC series and recent Guy Ritchie movies, although it does include the site of the Strand magazine, as well as the memorabilia-packed Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Avenue (sherlockholmespub.com), with its Hound of the Baskervilles association and recreation of the sitting room of 221b Baker St upstairs. It’s a good spot for a pint of Watson’s Wallop or Sherlock Holmes Ale after the tour ends at Somerset House (a Robert Downey Jr. location). London Walks (walks.com) also offers a two-hour Sherlock tour on Friday afternoons at 2pm (£9), which concentrates a little more on the ‘canon’ of ACD stories and finishes up at the same pub.

"It is a curious thing," remarked Holmes, "that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man's handwriting.."

“It is a curious thing,” remarked Holmes, “that a typewriter has really quite as much individuality as a man’s handwriting..”

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: “The name’s Sherlock Holmes and the address is 221b Baker Street.” (Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC’s Sherlock)
One of the most famous addresses in the world has had a complex history – suffice it to say there was no 221 when ACD wrote his stories. Most people know that the subsequently designated 221 was once the Abbey National HQ, but no longer. The Sherlock Holmes Museum (020 7224 3688, sherlock-holmes.co.uk, £10/£8) bills itself as at 221b, although it is actually at 239, but the townhouse is very similar to the one described in the stories. Some visitors find the museum’s exhibits to be authentically and atmospherically Victorian and Holmesian, others think shabby and careworn nearer the mark, but it certainly has a well-stocked gift shop. Be warned, there can be long queues – you might want to save it for early Sunday (9.30am opening). There is also a ‘talking’ statue of Holmes (see talkingstatues.co.uk) outside Baker St Station, with a script by Anthony Horowitz (House of Silk, Moriarty) and voiced by Ed Stoppard – you’ll need a smartphone to activate the call from Sherlock.

SATURDAY EVENING: “You don’t know Sherlock Holmes yet – perhaps you would not care for him as a constant companion.” (A Study in Scarlet)
Back to the lavishly ceilinged Criterion on Piccadilly Circus for an early evening drink – the bar is a better bet than the dining room – and its plaque commemorating Watson first being told of Holmes and his eccentricities.

Ernest Dudley Heath, Piccadilly Circus at Night, 1893

The Long Bar stills serves a couple of cocktail recipes created here by barman Leo Engel in the late 19th century. Try a Reviver – American whiskey, angostura bitters, lemon juice, soda (£8). Then take a leaf from Benedict Cumberbatch’s book and choose one of his Soho faves – Viet (34 Greek St, 020 7494 9888) for a steaming bowl of pho, Yalla Yalla (1 Green’s Court, 020 7287 7663, yall-yalla.co.uk) for Lebanese or Tapas Brindisa (46 Broadwick St, 020 7534 1690, brindisa.com), which featured in the first Sherlock episode A Study in Pink.

SUNDAY: “I have a box for ‘Les Huguenots.’ Have you heard the De Reszkes?” (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

The Covent Garden area features in several Holmes stories – the Christmas goose at the heart of the Blue Carbuncle is bought in the market and Holmes solves the mystery of The Man With The Twisted Lip at Bow Street Magistrates. Holmes and Watson attend a performance of Wagner in The Red Circle at The Royal Opera House (020-7304 4000, roh.org.uk), where he would also have seen the Polish tenor Jean de Reske mentioned above. On selected Sunday morning, the House offers tours at 10.30am (75 mins, £12) of the beautiful auditorium and its backstage areas.

A Violin made by Duke of London, era-appropriate for Sherlock, but not the Strad he picked up for a song along Tottenham Court Road.

A Violin made by Duke of London, era-appropriate for Sherlock, but not the Strad he picked up for a song along Tottenham Court Road.

Alternatively, see a live performance of the German music Holmes loved. Sadly, St James Hall on Regent St, Sherlock’s other favourite music venue, no longer exists, but he (and ACD) would have been to the Renaissance-styled Bechstein Hall on Wigmore St, which was a showcase for the piano company, but during WW1 was renamed as the less Germanic Wigmore Hall. It puts on Sunday Morning recitals of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven etc for £12.50, including coffee or sherry. You can stroll afterwards to Upper Wimpole St where, at No2, a plaque indicates the ophthalmic practice that ACD set up in 1891, the year the first six Strand Holmes stories were published, and afterwards visit Marylebone Farmer’s Market (lfm.org.uk/markets/marylebone/) – another Cumberbatch favourite.

WHERE TO STAY: The Park Plaza chain, which includes the Sherlock Holmes Hotel at 108 Baker St – which is not, despite the name, especially themed – has a London Museum Sherlock Exhibition Package at all its properties in the capital. It costs from £188 per room per night, including B&B, two exhibition tickets with exclusive fast track anytime entry, a souvenir book and 10% discount on purchases in the Museum’s gift shop. Details: 0800-169 6128, parkplaza.com.

The Sign of Four , Australian Film Poster 1923

The Langham, opposite the BBC on Portland Place, is an important hotel in Holmes lore (it was where ACD was commissioned to write The Sign of Four, Sherlock’s second adventure, when he dined with Oscar Wilde in 1889) and features in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and The Sign of Four. It also has a package with two tickets, from £329 B&B per night (020 636 1000, london.langhamhotels.co.uk).

* Robert Ryan is the author of the novel The Dead Can Wait, which features Dr. Watson (Simon & Schuster, £7.99). Thanks to The Museum of London for the images.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AT THE MUSEUM OF LONDON

By early morning four-wheeler to the Museum of London, for the media preview of Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die, the museum’s major exhibition of all things Sherlockian with opens tomorrow (17th). You might think, given the continuing appetite for Holmes, this would be a shoo-in as a blockbuster event. But, as lead curator Alex Werner has said: ‘We found ourselves having to think hard about how you create an exhibition about a fictional character.’
That sentiment alone will raise some hackles. Werner does not subscribe to playing ‘The Great Game’, popular with many Sherlock Holmes societies around the world, in which all pretend that Watson, not Conan Doyle, wrote the stories and that Holmes was flesh and blood (albeit capable of Whovian-like regeneration). So you won’t find a reproduction of the sitting room at 212b Baker St, like the one at the Northumberland Arms near Charing Cross, complete with Persian slipper, violin and a copy of Bradshaw, claiming this was where Holmes tackled his three-pipe problems. Instead, the curators have assembled cabinets of the sort of artefacts Holmes might have come into contact with, without claiming the great man actually handled them (and so you will find an 18th century violin, a selection of service revolvers of the sort Watson and Holmes might have carried, and a case of drug paraphernalia of the correct period).

 

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Then there is question of which Holmes do you concentrate on when creating a show about the world’s only Consulting Detective? There will be some visitors who will be disappointed to find this is not a Cumberfest, although he does appear on screens and his Belstaff ‘Milford’ coat and his dressing gown (originally used by Conan Doyle to suggest Holmes’ “bohemian” qualities) are on display. But it is not a celebration of the BBC version of the Great Detective. In fact, nearly all the Holmes are represented, from the well-known (Brett, Cumberbatch, Rathbone) to the half-remembered (Ian Richardson, Christopher Plummer, Richard Roxburgh), the point being to demonstrate that no matter how many times he is re-imagined, re-located and re-booted, the immutable essence of Holmes lies within Conan Doyle’s 56 short stories and four novels (rare examples of which are on display under glass). And, of course, it lies with the city where Holmes lived and so often worked.Unknown

This being the Museum of London it should come as no surprise that a large part of the show concentrates on the city that fed both Holmes and Conan Doyle, and it is very effective at conjuring up the gaslit, fog-bound streets that the author wrote about. Maps show Holmes and Watson’s movements about the city in several of the tales, and contemporary paintings of a hansom cab stand, the Strand, Piccadilly and “The Bayswater Omnibus” – shown above, as mentioned in The Adventure of the Missing Three Quarter – give visual life to the architectural and cultural backdrop to many of the stories.
So Werner and his team have done an exemplary job of touching all the Holmes bases while maintaining a focus on the city that helped gave life to this remarkably resilient creation. Criticisms? Yes. Not enough Watson. But I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Dead can Wait PBB front cover

* Sherlock: The Man Who Never Lived And Will Never Die” costs £12/£10 concessions (020 7001 9844, museumoflondon.org.uk/sherlock).

MY LUNCH WITH SHERLOCK

There are many sites of pilgrimage for Sherlock fans in London (The Criterion, St Bart’s, Baker St), but one that is often overlooked is The Langham Hotel, which sits in splendid grandeur opposite the BBC in Portland Place. A regular haunt of Arthur Conan Doyle, not only does it feature in A Scandal in Bohemia, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and The Sign of Four, it was also the venue for a memorable dinner which, arguably, ensured Sherlock became the iconic character he is today.

9. The Sign of Four

       It was on 30th August, 1889, that Conan Doyle accepted an invitation to dine with Joseph Marshall Stoddart, Managing Editor of Lippincott’s Magazine, who was in town looking for UK writers for the US publication, and Oscar Wilde. It was, Conan Doyle, later said, ‘a magical evening’, and from it came The Sign of Four, Holmes’s second outing, and, from Wilde, the not inconsiderable The Picture of Dorian Gray. (There are those who claim the playfulness in some of the Holmes stories was a direct result of Conan Doyle meeting the legendarily witty Wilde.)

7. The Sign of Four

       As Nicholas Utechin, historian for the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, points out, at this juncture Holmes was a moribund character. He had appeared in A Study in Scarlet in Beeton’s Christmas Annual of 1887, but it garnered scant attention, and it was by no means certain he would appear again. ‘The Langham dinner revived a career that was all but comatose,’ says Utechin.

       Last Monday, the 29th of September, Chris King, Head Chef of Roux at the Landau restaurant in The Langham recreated (or rather re-booted) the type of menu the men would have enjoyed at dinner, using a Victorian menu from the archives as a template. I was fortunate enough to be invited. The lunch included a beautifully intense consommé with shaved turnips and seared foie gras; dover sole in vermouth, tarragon and shimeji (mushrooms possibly not on the original list); rib of beef from the trolley and cheese with straw, praline and dandelion (see below).

IMG_1689

Original Victorian Langham menu... with ads...

Original Victorian Langham menu… with ads…

Between the beef and the cheese was a surprise course – a chance to view the original first page of the manuscript of what was then called The Sign of The Four (the second definite article being dropped later). It, famously, opens with a description of Holmes and his notorious seven per cent solution:

The first manuscript page of ‘The Sign of Four’ by Arthur Co

       This precious relic has been loaned by the University of California Audrey Geisel University Library at the University of California in San Diego. Sadly, the rest of the m/s is in the hands of a private collector, but that one page of meticulous, very lightly corrected handwriting will be on display in the Museum of London’s “Sherlock: The Man Who Never lived And Will Never Die” (£12/£10) exhibition. This installation covers all aspects of Sherlock’s career, from the writings to Gillette on stage, silent films, right up to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Belstaff coat, and runs from October 17-until April 2015. See museumoflondon.org.uk. 

 10. The Sign of Four

 

 

 

 

 

FIRE IN THE SKY

In San Sebastian, you know things are about to kick off when Jesus goes out. I am just back from the firework contest there, which involves manufacturers from several countries (this year, Spain, Italy and Austria) setting off thousands of pounds’ worth of explosives every night at 22.45, an event signalled by the illuminated on the ‘Sacred Heart’ statue of Jesus that overlooks the town being switched off. I’ll write about it further nearer the time next year, no doubt, but it is spectacular and, although busy, a great time to be in one of the best seaside cities in Europe.

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We stayed on the Gros side of town, near the Zurriola surf beach, which has a great selection of pintxos bars (Hidalgo 56, Bodega Donostiarra, Senra) and good value restaurants (especially along Calle Zabaleta) that don’t suffer from the scrum afflicting the Old Town. You can see the fireworks from the beach here, too. You also get very generous G&Ts hereabouts (these below at the Ondarra Bar almost opposite the Kursaal conference/arts centre), which help the evening go with a different kind of bang.

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