Trevor Wedlake's Writings
Tea out of time at Culbone
First published in the Village Journal February, 1978
|Once upon a long time ago a middle-aged spinster fancied me. From far-away places like Penzance and Truro which she visited in her Austin 7, she would send me postcards to keep in touch. One which I still remember came from Culbone near Porlock, a brown photograph of the parish church, the smallest in England. Only recently I paid it my first visit.
To get to it you leave your car at Porlock Weir and complete the journey of two miles on foot. It is not a walk just for the young but for any whose legs and lungs will take him the 4-mile round trip up the stony path from sea-level to 400 feet and back. My wife and I set off with the sea sighing against the shingle accompanying the melancholy adagio of a curlew.
The tiny church (seating about 30) is set in a small clearing. A little stream runs by chattering, delirious down to the sea. Hills, hundreds of feet high, intimately surround the place -ideally isolated for the lepers who inhabited Culbone in centuries past.
At the back of the church is a little cottage and a home-made notice on the gate said 'Teas'. The two mile climb and the smoked ham lunch made tea an attractive proposition. We went up the path past the wood-shed to the front door and out came Lizzie. Lizzie is an old lady with a crooked leg.
She wore small steel-rimmed spectacles and an apron which was not whiter than white. I changed my mind about tea but my wife asked Lizzie for tea for two. "Inside or outside?" asked Lizzie. "Outside", I said.
Our thirst returned. The tea came and my wife poured. Well, whether it was the Exmoor water or the brown earthen-ware pot I don't know, but it was the best tea I have ever tasted - strong, fully flavoured, perfect. In my mind's ear as I sipped I heard again the tongues jangling down the bazaars of old Assam.
As she chattered on I wondered how long it would be before someone came along and 'improved' the cottage - raised the ceilings, enlarged the windows; and was Lizzie herself aware of modern problems like soccer violence, or of the latest hi-jacking being endured at Mogadishu?