The magic of Malory Towers

Four days into the Cornish adventure and everything is beginning to smell a bit damp. So far I have been to Bude, Boscastle, Tintagel, Port Isaac and Polzeath and at each location the rain is slightly heavier than it was before. When I go in the sea, it rains so much that there’s no point getting out of the sea. When I do get out of the sea, the towel waiting to dry me is far wetter than I am, despite being placed in a supposedly waterproof rucksack. Every time I visit a town or attraction, I spend the first half an hour in the car park, willing the rain to stop, the next half hour exploring my new location in the rain, and the final half hour back in the car, wriggling out of wet clothes and into dry clothes whilst trying not to flash the steady stream of walkers passing by.

Consequently, the long-suffering Renault Clio has turned into a portable drying rack. Clothes and towels are carefully laid out in every available space so that they dry in the sun. Except there is no sun. So everything stays damp and the Renault Clio is beginning to smell worse than a 12 bed dorm in a youth hostel.

We’re currently having some time apart, the Renault Clio and I, because everything I need for the next three days is in walking distance. The Renault Clio is sulking in a car park and I am living in what feels very much like the set up for a really good episode of Midsomer Murder. It’s a village pub which has been owned by the same family for 42 years. Three generations live here, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, grandparents, and if this was Midsomer you know that everyone would be locked in a bitter feud because the daughter-in-law wanted to change the menu, and by the first set of adverts she would have been found floating in a giant vat of tomato soup.

However it was a different television show that brought me here… Malory Towers! If you were brought up by my Mum, then Enid Blyton was as big a part of your childhood as learning to do a cartwheel, and I was at least 30 by the time I realised not everybody’s Mum had championed pointed toes and the Magic Faraway Tree quite as much as mine did.
During the first lockdown in spring 2020, Mum phoned and asked if I was going to be watching the new remake of Malory Towers that afternoon.

“No,” I said. Why would I? I was 39 not 9. But she sounded so excited about it that I decided to give it a go. And I loved it. The writers and producers have done a magical job of keeping the charm of Malory Towers whilst making it seem relevant to today’s world. There have been three series so far and I have been enchanted by them all.

Do you want to know a secret? The real reason I came to Cornwall? Yes, I did want to see all the beaches but that wasn’t the main reason. The real reason was this:

I wanted to swim in the Malory Towers swimming pool.

I first read about it when I was still at primary school, this idyllic turquoise sea pool cut into the rocks where all the girls frolicked and swam and had midnight feasts. I wasn’t sure that such a place could really exist, but then the BBC found it and brought it to my TV screen and instead of thinking “wouldn’t it be nice to go there one day?” I decided I actually would. According to Google, the Malory Towers swimming pool was less than a ten minute walk from the Midsomer pub.

Not that anybody was very forthcoming in how to actually get there. The Midsomer pub family smiled and said how lovely it was, but couldn’t provide any specific directions, the lady in the farm shop simply beamed at the apparent loveliness of the sea pool and said “you can’t miss it”. Turns out you can if the tide is in because the sea covers it up completely. With no humans able to give me proper directions, Google Maps was my best bet.

It had poured with rain throughout the night and the beach path was full of muddy brown puddles. I edged round them all and was then met with more than ten metres of squelchy thick mud, currently being negotiated by two jolly looking pensioners with walking poles. I waited for them to work their way through the mud before tackling it myself.

“Ah,” said the lady, looking me up and down as if I had been presented to her as some sort of puzzle that needed to be solved. “Now let’s see.” She shook her head. “No. I don’t think you’ll be able to do it. Not in those shoes.”

What was she talking about? These were what I call my adventure shoes. They had seen me round the roughest terrains of Australia and New Zealand, and more recently they had kept me safe on the slippery rocks of Tintagel. Surely they weren’t going to fail me on a muddy beach foot path?

“Now we’ve had to come out, because we’re on our way to get some milk,” she said, making me marvel at just how rural a place this was if pensioners had to navigate squelchy mud with walking poles whenever they needed a pint of milk. “But if I were you I’d go straight back home again.”

When I explained that I’d come a long way especially to swim in the Malory Towers swimming pool she instantly brightened. “Oh it’s lovely,” she beamed, just like everyone else I had mentioned it to.

“Is it that way?” I asked, gesturing beyond the mud, because there was no point squelching through it if I wasn’t even in the right place.

“Oh yes,” she said. “We’ve just seen it. But I don’t know if you should go in. I don’t want you to end up on SOS Rescue. Not when you’ve got such lovely hair. I’d hate to think of the men having to pull you out of the water by your lovely hair.”

Really? I’d never seen SOS Rescue. Is that what happened? People got dragged out of the water by their hair? Surely there were better more sophisticated ways of rescuing people from the water?

“I don’t think you can get to the pool from the top,” said the husband. “I think most people go over the rocks. Your best bet is to come with us and then go down to the beach and over the rocks.”

And so the three of us went back in the direction I had come, back through the muddy brown puddles, looking down at the beach the whole time, at the gigantic stretch of rocks which did not look like they would ever be much fun to climb over, but especially not when they were slippery from last night’s rain which was threatening to come back at any moment.

“Ah,” said the lady. “No. I don’t think you’ll do it. I think your best bet is to go back along the path, through all that mud and see if you can get down from the cliff top.”

Were these people employed to walk along the beach path accosting tourists and taking them off in the wrong direction?

No! It turned out that these people were tourists themselves and the fact that they had no clue about the local area was not going to stop them meddling in the plans of other tourists.

I bid them farewell, set off back through the muddy puddles for the third time, squelched through the slippery mud and eventually came to the pool. Which looked neither turquoise nor idyllic with the drizzle beating down. Nor did it look very accessible. There must be a way though. If the BBC could get a whole camera crew down there, if scaredy cat Mary-Lou and drama queen Gwendoline Mary Lacey could get down there, if the entire first form could get down there in the dark with all the essentials needed for a splendid midnight feast, then surely I could get down there in the drizzly daylight.

A large group of people were sitting on benches eating sandwiches. I addressed them all and asked if they knew how to get down to the sea pool.

What was I thinking? Had I not learnt my lesson from the Jolly Pensioners? No local is going to be sitting on a coastal path bench eating a sandwich in the drizzling rain. These people were tourists. They probably knew even less about the pool than I did.

“You gotta ask the guy in the green jacket,” said an American accent, and even though several of the group were wearing green jackets, I found the correct green jacket and asked him how to get to the pool.

He showed me a little opening in the cliff beyond which were lots of rocks that you were supposed to climb down to get to the pool.

The drizzle had turned into a more forceful sort of rain, and I wasn’t ever so thrilled with the idea of descending down slippery rocks even with my adventure shoes, but I was even less thrilled with the thought of coming all this way just to say that I hadn’t swum in the pool, and so down I went. Tentatively and slowly. I put my bag in the place where it was least likely to get blown away in the wind, got dressed and cautiously got into the water.

Giant waves were crashing over the far edge of the pool and I was scared that if I attempted to swim even half a length, a wave would crash over me and take me out to sea.

And so less than 10 seconds after getting into the pool, I got out again, got dressed and made my way slowly back up the rocks, through the squelchy mud and the brown puddles, thinking that coming to Cornwall to swim in the Malory Towers Swimming Pool should be put in the same category as meeting your favourite celebrities – disappointing and not recommended.

Suddenly a lady with two long pigtails trotted up to me, looking every inch the Malory Towers Sports Captain despite being at least 65. “Did you enjoy that?” she asked in her Jolly Hockey Sticks accent.

No, I absolutely did not, I wanted to reply, but before I could think of something more diplomatic to say, she jumped in. “You were awfully brave chancing it in such challenging conditions. Why don’t you come back again tomorrow before the tide comes in?”

Because tomorrow’s weather forecast looks even worse than today’s, is what I wanted to reply but this lady was the sort of person who asked you questions and then carried on talking without giving you a chance to reply. Five minutes later, she trotted off, satisfied that our conversation had come to a close despite the fact she hadn’t given me a chance to answer any of the many questions she fired at me.

The next day I woke up with a new determination. I hadn’t come all this way for the sake of 10 seconds. I put on my wetsuit and my adventure shoes and headed off to the pool smiling a cheerful good morning at all the walkers in their waterproofs and pensioners buying milk. I splashed through the puddles, squelched through the mud and reached the top of the cliff where two ladies were wearing crocs and Dry Robes and clinging to the rocks at the top of the cliff in terror, just like I had done less than 24 hours earlier.

“Have you done this before?” they asked me.

“Only once,” I said.

They breathed huge sighs of relief. “Amazing. We’re going to follow you.”

Goodness knows what the Jolly Pensioner would have said if she’d seen these two ladies negotiating the slippery rocks in their crocs, but down we went, slowly and tentatively, except I found that now that I’d already done it once before and was with other people who mistakenly believed I was an expert at visiting the pool, I wasn’t quite as slow or as tentative as I had been the day before.

The Croc Ladies followed me as I waded into the water and we glided happily up and down the pool, and when they got out and made their way tentatively and cautiously back up the rocks, I carried on swimming and floating and daydreaming in the water for at least another hour, although time does seem to work differently when you are in an Enid Blyton novel.

And then for the briefest of moments the rain stopped, the sun came out, the water went turquoise, and for that tiny sliver of time it really was the idyllic, turquoise paradise that my nine year old self had dreamed of.

My adventure shoes braving the mud

11 thoughts on “The magic of Malory Towers

  1. Your stories are always interesting. I love reading about your adventures but the weather seems very offputting. Let’s hope you see the sun soon.

  2. An excellent adventure and a worthy quest! I read all the books as a kid, several times, might give the TV series a try sometime on your recommendation 🙂

  3. Malory Towers!!! The best! I’m glad you didn’t let the weather beat you … And who doesn’t love an ‘adventure’ shoe?!

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