Tall Ships and Tall Tales

Time & Tide, Great Yarmouth, 4-6 September

sea in legend and tradition flyer

Over the weekend I went on a long rideout (500 miles) across England to Great

Yarmouth, to give a talk at the Folklore Society’s annual conference – this year held at the Time and Tide maritime museum – on ‘The Sea in Legend and Tradition’. Having seen the call for papers I decided that a talk on lost islands (connected to my book from Heart of Albion Press) would be apprpriate – I proposed it and was accepted.

I set off Friday after lunch – taking my usual route back to the old town across the Cotswolds. It was dry and I made good time. Had a pitstop at Delapre Abbey about halfway, arriving in Great Yarmouth, the other side of the country, at 8pm.

I dumped my stuff in the B&B and hit the town, following the gaudy neon seafront in search of sustenance. The vegetarian options were limited, to the say the least. Why British seasides have to be so tacky, I don’t know – why can’t they try for a Mediterranean ambience? We may not have the climate, but that doesn’t mean it has to be always so naff. Does the modern holidaymaker actually want deafening amusement arcades, tatty piers, crazy golf, noddy trains, and Z-list cabaret?

I met up with some of the fellow delegates in the Old White Lion, apparently Great Yarmouth’s oldest building and pub – shame one has to run the gauntlet of the dodgy backstreets to find it. It was easy to spot the conference crowd, as one of them was in the middle of a sea ballad. The convenor, Jeremy, identified by his purple balloon, was friendly enough and I got chatting with a chap called Mark, who was there to talk about lighthouses. My greeting to my fellow delegates (‘Ya-haa ship mates!’) failed to elicit a response. The pub’s pooch was  friendlier, a cheeky fellow called Spider, who delighted in jumping up on the seats next to the customers. At least the beer was alright, but I was too tired from my long ride to have more than one.

On the way back to the B&B I made a detour onto the beach and enjoyed the full moon glittering upon the dark sea, gleaming through the mother-of-pearl cloud – a touch of sublime beauty amidst the kitsch seaside ‘attractions’, going some way to redeeming the ‘set-your-teeth-on-edge’ aesthetic of the place.

Wandering those moon-drenched shores, I started to have strange hallucinatory thoughts about werewolf mermaids, so I thought it was time I went to bed…

The next day I arrived at the museum and signed in, getting my badge. There followed a number of papers on diverse subjects: sea beans, oysters, cannibalism (!), selkies, ghosts, shanties & ballads…

My turn came around 3pm – I started by declaring my interest (passion) for islands. I shared an extract of Oisin and Niamh – a classic lost island myth, which I used as a framing narrative in my book. And then I went into the Call, the Crossing, Arrival and Return. It was all over rather quickly (30 mins, including questions). I felt drained, nodding off in the next talk, but seemed to do okay – because I sold 6 books, and at least two said it was down to my style of talk, my approach.

After the day’s proceedings, went to check out the Maritime Festival with my new friend, Mark. There was a couple of impressive tall ships, but the rest was underwhelming – perhaps because it was winding down for the day.

Worn out by the day of talks, I went back to the B&B and crashed out, soothed by Mendhelsson’s Scottish Symphony on the Proms. Went out to eat – reading Austen whilst dining alone in a cheap ‘taverna’ with the most awful table wine. After freshening up made my way back over to the Old White Lion, hoping to bump into some of the conference crowd – but they had all gone off to some restaurant. Quaffing a pint of Spitfire, I headed back to the digs – resigning myself to a rather dismal night in. An excellent Beatles documentary and, appropriately, Pirates of the Caribbean (yo-ho!) offered some mild compensation for the lack of company… but not my most exciting Saturday night!

Next morning awoke early, looking forward to hitting the road. I packed and polished off a large breakfast, before taking the bike down to the seafront, where I sat and enjoyed the view, waiting for things to start. The morning was a ‘light’ one, with a story, a documentary and a talk. Once things had finished, I dropped some books at A Novel Idea and headed west, relieved to be leaving but not altogether dissatisfied with my weekend: the booksales had helped to cover my costs and I was good to see the sea and imbibe the obscure maritime arcana…which whetted my appetite for my imminent pilgrimage to Iona with Anthony later this week.

Stopped off to see my Mum for a cuppa (which also made it worthwhile) before gratefully heading back across the Cotswolds – the landscape getting increasingly beautiful the further west my wheels took me. As always, it was with huge relief I returned to the oasis of Aquae Sulis. It was good to be back in Bath.

into the east - Great Yarmouth beach

into the east - Great Yarmouth beach


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