Written by: Simona Bali
People are strange creatures. They are more like cats – they get attached to places rather than people. I’m not much different with some places. I just fall head over heels in love the minute I set foot in a new place.
It happened so with Barnstaple, which is absolutely irrational considering that only a couple of days ago I couldn’t even remember its name. And it is surely not because of Butcher’s Row, built in 1855 with its tiny retro butcher, baker and greengrocer shops. Neither is it for the Pannier Market dating back to the same year. Hosting under its vaulted roof a different market each day, trying to seduce you to the paraphernalia of all kinds. And the Clock Tower erected in 1862 in loving memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, can’t possibly be a reason for me to be lured to the charms of that town.
Maybe John Gay who once lived here a long time ago, could be the reason for the sudden spell of affection, him being a man of letters like myself. Perhaps it was Sir Francis Chichester, a sailor and aviator and a worthy man or Phil Vickery – the famous rugby player or even Giles Chichester, the European politician.
Did the inhabitants of Beardestaple, as the town used to be called when the Saxons settled here, know that their town would survive for so many years and become a dear place for locals and foreigners alike? Did the locals working here in the Middle Ages and exporting wool, ever consider what the place would look like centuries later? They would certainly have felt proud to know their town would win the Britain in Bloom flower competition several years in a row and that every autumn in September there would be a remarkable event taking place called the Barnstaple Fair.
I can keep adding to the long list of facts I now know about Barnstaple. Take for example the Tarka Trail, once built as a railway line and now turned into a path for walkers and cyclists, or Barnstaple Railway being built in 1854 or the Millennium Mosaic depicting with its tiles, the history of the town. On the other hand there are the two State Secondary Schools and the Barnstaple Rugby Football Club founded in 1877.
Such facts, no matter how important they may be for historians or quiz makers, can’t make someone fall in love with a town. They may only make them respect it. Falling in love takes a sweet moment to remember, like eating a fairing, that funny ginger-snap biscuit. Something that would tease your senses in a pleasantly intruding manner, yet leaving you totally aghast at the simplicity of the whole experience. But isn’t that what we are all looking for – something plain yet spicy to make us feel the taste of unconditional love? And can this love be a love for a town, or a place, or a rock, or a stone, or a sea shell or a grain of sand?
If you still can’t find the answer then take a ferry, a boat or a helicopter and go to Lundy Island. Stand on top of it, open your arms wide, feel the breeze in your hair, listen to the roar of the breaking waves and just stop thinking … The answer will come, like a soft drizzle, gently but incessantly wetting your brain with the insight of perfection …