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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.

The church is dedicated to St. Beuno and for 5p you can buy a pamphlet which indicates the main points of interest - Saxon windows, 18th century slate-covered deal spire, 13th century porch and so on. Domesday Book and the Guinness Book of Records make mention of this quaint building. Many of the tombstones in the churchyard bear the surname 'Red', a variation of Ridd of 'Lorna Doone' fame.

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.

We went to a rickety table and bench much frequented by the sparrows and Lizzie brought cushions and a tin of biscuits which we didn't open. Then out came the visitors' book. It contained hundreds of signatures with remarks like 'Lizzie makes a good cup 'o'; 'Thank you'; 'Back after 31 years'; 'Magic!!'.
A couple from -Wrington in May 1975 - had remarked 'Yes please'.

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.

Afterwards we went into the cottage to pay. "Two shillings", said Lizzie. The cosy living room had bacon hooks in the low ceiling, The walls carried many old photographs which Lizzie described to us. The fire in the range roared up the chimney and numerous kettles of water simmered on top. The open oven door revealed plates of cake. Lizzie was obviously 'prepared'.

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?

"I've been here since 1913", she said, "and was married in Culbone church". She left us in no doubt that nowadays too much of the world is too much with us for comfort. As a visitor had written in the church visitors' book, it is worth the effort to get to Culbone. It is a quaint fragment of a bygone age; a quiet haven from the deluge of time.