And so here we are - the conclusion of a most epic road trip. I know you've been waiting on tenterhooks to hear about what happened when we reached our ultimate destination at long last - Barometer World in North Devon. I had been wanting to go for so long and finally the day of our visit had arrived! We had driven all around the British Isles to get to this point. We'd walked in Roman footsteps at Hadrian's Wall (sort of). We'd found the Loch Ness Monster (again, sort of). We'd promenaded along an old Edwardian seafront in the Lake District and discovered Dylan Thomas in Wales. We felt as if we had uncovered so much of what Britain has to offer but now it was time to do THE quintessential British thing and spend the day talking about the weather. Or at least - ways of predicting and measuring the weather. With an expert! This was so exciting! I cannot tell you anything about the journey from Wales to Devon. It was lost in an anticipatory blur.
The sunshine followed us to the south west of England. Indeed there had not been a day on this trip where we had encountered bad weather (except for the rainy drive through Scotland I suppose). This was very Un-British indeed! I imagined that all the barometers at Barometer World would be set to 'fair' and we would have nothing to talk about (it is much more exciting to roll one's eyes and say 'honestly, what about this weather then? Typical!' than to say 'oh haven't we been lucky this week!' because we are pessimists at heart). Then I remembered that I had e-mailed the owner of Barometer World saying essentially 'please let us in to see your exhibition, we are such big barometer fans!' and began to panic. Would he be expecting some level of knowledge on my part? I didn't know anything about Barometers! Except that there had been one in my Grandmother's hallway and I was fascinated by how it knew what the day ahead was going to be like. In fact, having worked as a Paramedic for several years and having ventured into many many hallways in the course of my work, I can confirm that the Barometer appears to be a feature of all that are owned by persons over a certain age. I think this is charming, and something that should be retained for future generations. Except they probably won't be - now being steadily replaced with those canvasses you can buy in Wilko that say 'live love laugh!' all over them, or something similarly impersonal and vague.
If I am waffling, it is because I have no idea how to do justice to what happened next. There's no point in building up any suspense at all, I may as well go ahead and let you all know right now that Barometer World was one of the best places I have ever been. There is just nothing like it, anywhere else that I have seen.
First of all, it is not open to the public. Why have an exhibition that is not open to the public, you say. I think it's a marvellous thing to be in a position where you can build up such a collection of the thing that you love, and information about said thing through the ages, and then open precisely as much or little as you want to. Barometer world is also a workshop, and so actually, it does not HAVE to be open to the public. Philip, the owner, was very kind to respond to my e-mail and let us in. Thanks to my increasingly frantic messages over the past few weeks ('Hello!!!! Please can we come and see your barometers?' 'HI THERE! I realise it's only been 2 hours since my last message but I really really really hope you'll let us come to visit you!' 'PLEASE LET US IN OR YOU'LL BE CRUSHING MY DREAMS' and so forth) he was expecting us at precisely 2pm, and at precisely 1.43 we rolled into the car park, me having an epileptic fit brought on by too much high excitement in the passenger seat.
Barometer World is located in a fairly nondescript cream coloured one storey building in LITERALLY the middle of nowhere, not too far from Dartmoor. There is a barometer shaped signpost hanging out front, and this is how you know you have arrived and will soon be surrounded by weather related JOY.
Trivia: Michael Fish attended the opening of the Barometer World exhibition in 1995. Now we were going to follow in his footsteps.
Philip let us in and said something to the effect of 'oh yes, you're the Barometer fans from London'. I replied with my pre-rehearsed line about not being an expert but wanting to learn as much as I could. Then began babbling, because I just COULD NOT keep the excitement (and common sense) in any longer. 'I have a barometer at home, well, it's not mine, it's my landlords but it hangs in my hallway and I think it's broken, it only points to rain...well, it's in French so really it only points to "pluie"...'
Philip fixed me with the sort of disapproving stare that made me believe I was about to be thrown straight back out again and not allowed anywhere near his barometers. 'That's not very much use, is it?' he muttered, then handed us some leaflets, charged us an incredibly small fee (it was something like £4) and pointed us in the direction of the museum rooms, with the Quite Important Tip that barometers in fact do not measure weather, they measure atmospheric pressure, and that without having taken a previous reading from your trusty barometer, you won't know what's actually going on and therefore it is useless. I already knew this from reading about Barometer World in the book Bollocks to Alton Towers, which is a book full of odd British places to visit that my friend had got me for Christmas. This was how I had come to know about this amazing place originally, and I am happy to report that it is the only museum for Barometers in the world. At least, as far as the first 3 pages of a 'barometer museum' Google search are concerned. The book also seems to think that it's the only one, reporting that there was a barometer museum in Holland, but it has now gone. We were now standing in a completely unique place (probably).
Over the next 45 minutes we learned as much as we could about barometers and the people who invented and developed them. Barometer World, as well as being full of traditional barometers, also has an impressive array of alternative means of predicting the weather, including pine cones, leeches, frogs and the rather strange 'Weather Glass' which is essentially a test tube with liquid in it that becomes different textures according to what's going on outside - or more to the point, what may be about to be going on. Pioneered during the Victorian Era, notably by Admiral Fitzroy who sailed with Charles Darwin and founded the Met Office in 1854, the liquid in the glass goes foggy if it is going to be cloudy, and stays clear if it is going to be...well, you get the idea. If small stars appear in it, thunderstorms are expected. I found the Weather Glass to be enchanting in it's simplicity, and I was pleased to discover there were some for sale in the shop for £50. Philip explained that of all the instruments for sale, this was the only one for which he could provide no guarantee whatsoever, as the science behind it was questionable at best. I thought this was the most excellent thing I had ever heard, and bought one immediately. I now own an unreliable contraption of Victorian origin ( I suspect this one was made significantly more recently) and I couldn't be happier. I have hung it in the hallway in place of the broken barometer and so far it has proved to do nothing except become full of ice crystals when the hallway gets cold. I couldn't love it more.
I had wanted to buy a beautiful new barometer, perhaps one by Negretti and Zambria, but until I win the Lotto, I can only dream of owning such an instrument. Having said that, there would be nowhere to put it - and I'm not taking my wonderfully useless weather glass down. No, I'll have to wait until I live in a mansion with more than one hallway. We soaked up all that we could, and when we were done, we thanked Philip for letting us come in and look around. I asked to take a photo of him and he looked suspicious. 'It's not for publication, is it?' he asked gruffly, and I, being too chicken to tell him that I write a really informative and terribly successful travel blog, shook my head and said 'no, it's just for posterity, I promise'. So I can't show you what he looks like. I can however, bring you an exclusive look at the toilet roll holder in the visitors bathroom, which I found really incredibly charming and wish to replicate at home.
And so we left. And that was that. I was in awe of what we had just done. I had also learned from Philip before we left, that Admiral Fitzroy of Met Office and predicting-storms-while-at-sea fame is buried in a churchyard in Upper Norwood, and is therefore residing almost literally around the corner from me. I resolve to pay him a visit one of these days. I must let him know I am using one of his weather glasses.
Our trip wasn't quite over - we had one more night of our trip left to enjoy and so me made our way to Okehampton where we discovered with some happiness that we were staying in a Wetherspoons hotel. I didn't know such things existed! We both had pleasing visions of spending the evening becoming quite, quite drunk on really cheap alcohol before stumbling upstairs and passing out. After all, it was Friday. In the event though, we decided we were pretty tired - because driving nearly 2000 miles around the entire country will take it out of you. We were in bed by 9.15. I regret nothing.
The next day we realised we weren't quite ready to hang up our 'going to offbeat places' hats and so made a small detour to House of Marbles, where I, having spent the morning having a panic attack to the tune of 'I have to go home now and I don't want to', decided to, well, Find Mine. It was quite an extraordinary place, full of intricately made marble runs, including one that is quite possibly the biggest in the world. There was an exhibition on the history of marbles and an enormous gift shop. Really, it was a whole day out. We contended ourselves with watching the marble runs for half an hour or so, then I chose 27 beautiful marbles to buy and take home and hang by my bed, just in case I should need them. I think that, being an anxious depressive, it's probably quite likely.
Then, dear reader, we went home.
I think that life will quite possible never be the same again now. I've seen too much, I know too much. Was that really a leaf, for example, or WAS it the Loch Ness Monster? What of that murder grave in the middle of Wales? And come ON - I know at least 15% more about weather than I did previously! How do I go back to normal life and carry on as I did before? I think that there is a high chance I might become like Steve, the man we met on the shores of Loch Ness, and any day now I will up sticks and move to a caravan on the shore of some distant body of water, or even travel around the UK telling people how lucky they are to be having such nice weather. There's a whole world out there, right on our doorstep. We should explore it! On the other hand, I might go to Spain to sit on a sun lounger. Because it was a LOT of driving and I'm pretty tired.
All photographs Copyright Christina Owen 2016
Click on the links throughout the post to actually learn things about barometers and history and other things besides. You are unlikely to learn anything from reading this post alone, although if you do you win some sort of prize (probably a barometer that doesn't work and always points to 'rain').
Welcome to the 5th part of our unexpectedly long road trip to find Barometers in Devon, via just about everywhere else in the UK. Read parts 1 to 4 here, here, here and here.
After driving from London to Scotland via Northumberland, we had come to south Wales via The Lake District and now we were going to visit Dylan Thomas. Way back when we had first decided to go to Barometer World, we had wondered if we could squeeze in some other offbeat destinations as well, and Erica came up with Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas once kept a home. I didn't ask questions. After all, she had accepted without question my burning desire to visit a whole exhibition of air pressure measuring devices. And as someone with an English Literature A Level and degree in Drama and Theatre Studies, of course I knew all about Dylan Thomas.
Well never mind, because Erica knew.
'I don't know anything about him' Erica said in offhand tones, on our first morning in Wales. 'I just know his house is there. I think I went on holiday there when I was young'.
A phone call to her Dad revealed that this may not have actually been the case.
We shrugged and decided to go anyway. After all, we had travelled all the way here and were staying in a B&B only about 13 miles away. The day dawned bright and sunny (it was not raining. I repeat: IT WAS NOT RAINING IN WALES) and after several choruses of 'haven't we been lucky with the weather?' like true Brits, we set off to learn about the poet and playwright who kept a home in a small town on the south coast of Wales - and wrote plays in an old boathouse on a hill (YOU SEE, I HAVE LEARNED ALL ABOUT HIM NOW).
We arrived in Paradise, or so it seemed. The sun was beaming down on us as if it wasn't a day in late September on the British Isles, and a thousand sparkles bounced off the still waters in front of us. We parked in a car park that I was later told became submerged under water at high tide. We arrived in Laugharne early, before the bus loads of pensioners descended. We were greeted with a castle, a statue of Dylan Thomas and a row of quaint looking pubs and corner shops, some of which sold gifts, and which I could hear calling out to me ('Christina! You need to buy seven tea towels and a book of Welsh recipes!')
By the calm, marshy water was an information board with a poem on it. It turns out that one October day in 1944, Thomas went on a walk up a hill in Laugharne (it was his 30th birthday) and looked out over the calm of the sea and the land and wrote Poem in October about getting older. It is now very famous. I had never heard of it. I can also now exclusively bring you the news that it's a lot of waffle. So maybe read something else instead, like Heat Magazine. Anyway, you can retrace his steps by going on the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk which is a 2km walk all around Laugharne. If it is actually your birthday when you do it, and you can prove it, then you get some sort of prize (probably the chance to write a better poem). It was neither of our birthdays so we contented ourselves with walking up a hill to the boat house where he did his writing and looking out over the water. It was a peaceful experiences and we felt, once again, very lucky to be here, viewing this part of the landscape of the island we live on for the first time.
Just down the hill from the boat house was the actual house, and peering over the railings, we could see it was full of people spilling out of the front door or artfully reading poetry on the balcony while wearing berets (yes really). We wondered if we should go in, but a sign post telling us the cost made up our mind for us. We wandered back into town and went to the pub instead, where we toasted our new favourite drunken literary figure with gin, and had lunch. Then we retired next door to the gift shop where true to form, I spent next month's rent money on souvenirs. Among these was a book of the Great Works of Dylan Thomas. I can safely assure you that 2 months later, I am yet to open it. Although I am sure it is very very good.
Then Erica went to guard the car from the incoming tide while I trekked up a hill for about a mile and a half to the edge of town to find the man himself. Because, fan of his work or not, if he was buried here then I was not going to leave without seeing his grave.
I found him on the side of a valley, decked out in heather and standing out from the crowd by sporting a bright white cross bearing his name and the name of his wife. Up here, as down by the water, all was calm, and I thought as I often do when visiting a grave that is pleasantly situated - 'what a lovely place to spend all eternity'. I stayed on the hill for a bit, refusing to apologise to Dylan for not liking his work, then some other people came trekking up the road towards him and I left them to it.
When I got back to the car, I discovered that Erica was also pretty unmoved by poetry about herons and winged trees, but was enjoying the town very much. We were glad to have seen it. The Stagbeetle had by this time been joined in the car park by approximately seven coaches, and the waterfront was teeming with retired people eating sandwiches. We decided it was time to go.
One more night in Wales and then we would be off to Barometer World! There had been some question over whether it would be open for our visit, but I had received an e-mail during the early part of our trip stating that they would certainly permit us to go in and look round. I could hardly wait. Now an expert on Hadrian's Wall, The Loch Ness Monster and Welsh writers of the 1940's, I was looking forward to becoming an expert in weather too.
Stay tuned for the final part of our magnificent UK road trip adventure!
All photographs Copyright Christina Owen 2016.
Click the links throughout the post if you would actually like to learn something proper about Dylan Thomas or Laugharne.