I first started to write a diary in 1953, when I was ten years old, but I lost it. The first diary to survive opens on 25th December, 1954, with a list of my Christmas presents, followed by the announcement that my father had decided not to buy the lovely six-bedroomed house at Chingford that we had been to see. It looked straight across the golf course to Epping Forest, and if we had bought it I would have had my own office, as I had at Whistlefield.

Instead we moved to a brand-new house at 61 Chigwell Park Drive, Chigwell, which was part of a housing estate built by a firm of builders run by my uncle Arthur. My father also bought the adjoining land that would have been number 63, so that we had a large garden adjoining the countryside. The house was situated right on the edge of London: we could walk across the fields to the River Roding and follow the river upstream to the open country without passing through a built-up area; or we could go up the hill to Chigwell station, turn right to Ilford and turn right again to central London without passing through any countryside. When the boundaries of Greater London were fixed in 1965 they included the whole of the Metropolitan Police district except for Chigwell, because it was thought that the people of Chigwell would rather be in Essex.

The position of the house was on the left bank of Chigwell Brook where it was joined by a smaller stream, which meant that there were streams running along two sides of our garden. A few days before we moved in a friend of my sister told us that the smaller stream was called the Chig, but I have never found it referred to as such in the literature. Once I saw a woodlouse that appeared to have fallen into the stream and become squashed, but it was moving around quite happily. Then I saw another one exactly the same and realised that they must belong to a different species. In fact they were freshwater shrimps. The most interesting creatures I found in the stream were entirely covered in tiny stones. I later learned that these were caddis fly larvae.

When we moved in there were fences between the garden and the streams, but my father had them removed. Alongside the fence separating our garden from the one next door we planted tiny oak and beech trees in the hope that they would become a hedge. The beeches were a success, but the oaks were not. The lawn at the side of the house was used for playing tennis. Most people would say that you need at least two people to play tennis, but we had a chalk line on the garage wall marking the top of the net, and this made it possible for one person to play.

There was an artificial pond in the garden into which we introduced goldfish, but frogs and newts found their own way there. Once I saw a spider in the garden with an egg sack that was beginning to hatch, and a lot of tiny white spiders crawled out. I later learned that this was a wolf spider.

Close to the confluence the Chig passed through a narrow gap between a tree and the abutments of a bridge, and here I built a dam, using the half-bricks that were abundant in the area, and clay, which was exposed in the banks of the stream. It seemed to take an enormous amount of time, but I could tell from the progress I was making that if I kept going long enough it would be finished; and so it was, and a small pond was created on the upstream side of the dam.

I also tried to build a tree house with the help of Tim Chowns. We had some luck at the beginning, when an old door floated down the stream. The door, which was going to be the floor of the house, was reached by means of a rope ladder. We found it very difficult to find a find a level place in the tree, and it was even more difficult to get the door up there, but eventually we succeeded. That, however, was as far as the enterprise went: the impact that we made on the countryside was infinitesimal.

In the summer, when it wasn’t muddy, I would sometimes walk to school across the fields using a tunnel under the railway that is no longer there. Once I found a grass snake and took it to school with me. Everyone was very interested.

We had two siamese cats who had their own trap door so that they could go in and out of the house and explore the neighbouring fields, but if ever we tapped the walking stick to tell them that we were going for a walk they would come running from wherever they were to join us. This shows that animals don’t only associate themselves with people because we provide them with food and shelter: they also do it for the company.

I used to enjoy drawing maps that showed rivers and streams, but nothing else. If the valley of a river continued beyond the source I would show this on the map. The most remarkable example I found was the River Colne in Hertfordshire. On the Ordnance Survey one-inch map the blue line ends between Hatfield and St Albans, but the valley continues for a further fourteen miles through Sandridge, Nomansland Common and Harpenden to Zouches Farm near Dunstable.

Among the tunes I learned to play on the piano were ‘Singing the Blues’, ‘Happy Days and Lonely Nights’, ‘There is a Tavern in the Town’, the ‘Bluebell Polka’ and ‘Que Sera Sera’.



My brother’s friend Trevor was the Assistant Scoutmaster of a local Scout troop, and in October, 1956 he invited me to join. My first camp was near Oxshott in Surrey in June, 1957. Studying the Ordnance Survey map of the area I discovered that the camp site was within walking distance of Chessington Zoo, and I organised an expedition there.

In April 1958 I accompanied Ken Baker on his first class hike from Tunbridge Wells to Withyham, where we set up camp. The following day we joined other members of the troop at Broadstone Warren. The campsite consisted of about a square mile of forest, and was by far the best site I have seen. Our route took us through Ashdown Forest, and I remember thinking how closely it resembled the forest of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories, but it wasn’t until 1965 that I discovered that they were the same place.

The badge that most appealed to me was one for which I would have to travel to an area of mountains and write about them. I studied the maps and found that the nearest suitable area was the Black Mountains on the border of England and Wales. I was told that I couldn’t do that badge, but that I could do the Master Cook badge, which didn’t appeal to me at all, but as I wanted to get as many badges as I could I went on the Master Cook badge course weekend at Little Heath on 17th–18th May, 1958. Of all the camping sites I have used this was the least interesting, consisting merely of a rectangle of grass in the outer London suburbs. I didn’t do any cooking because the other scouts did it all, but I still got the badge.



When I went to Ivinghoe Beacon in 1953 my mother did all the planning, but by 1956 I was planning bus journeys myself. I wrote to the London Transport Executive public relations officer for ten North London bus timetables and planned a journey to Whipsnade using two five-shilling and two half-crown Country Bus Rover Tickets. We left Chigwell at 9.28 a.m. on 1st September, 1956 and arrived at Whipsnade at 3.43 p.m., changing at Abridge, Epping, Hertford, Letchworth, Hitchin, Luton and Markyate.

The first time I stayed at a youth hostel was on 3rd–5th September, 1956, when I went with my brother to Patcham Place near Brighton and walked along the ridge of the South Downs to Steyning.

From 31st December, 1956 until 6th January, 1957 I travelled round Surrey and Sussex with Trevor and four other scouts, staying at the youth hostels of Holmbury St Mary, Blackboys and Patcham Place (again). The hostel I liked best was Blackboys, which was situated in a wood by a farm. While we were there we split up into three groups to produce maps of neighbouring villages. We returned to London in the luxury of the Brighton Belle.

When we were in Brighton I came upon a most extraordinary building that I later learned was the Brighton Pavilion. I had a similar experience later on when I was passing through the town of Fontainebleau near Paris and came upon the imposing entrance to a stately home. I later learned that the Palace of Fontainbleau was perhaps the most famous palace in France apart from Versailles.

It was in 1956 that I discovered hitch-hiking, which enabled me to travel to places that I couldn’t possibly reach in any other way. The first time I did this on my own was on 20th January, 1957, when I went from Chigwell to Finchingfield and back, passing through the Rodings, Great Dunmow and Great Bardfield. I chose Finchingfield because I had never been there before and because it is reputed to be the most beautiful village in Essex. I look on this as one of the landmarks in my life, like my walk to Bush End in 1949 and my journey to Greece in 1963. In a way my journey to Morocco in 1995 was also a landmark because it was the first time I left Europe, but I actually got no further than I did in 1963.

When I was hitch-hiking I met some remarkable people. The most famous was Sir Vivian Fuchs, the Director of the British Antarctic Survey. He was driving an E-type Jaguar from London to Cambridge, and we did 134 m.p.h., which was legal at the time. Other people I met in this way included Bertrand Russell’s secretary (who features prominently in Russell’s autobiography), the Managing Director of McAlpines (who was driving a Jaguar XJ12) and Tony Hiller the songwriter. I also met the only person in the country who makes nets for catching rabbits, a professional balloonist (one of only four in the country), the author of a book about caving, the author of a book about fish, someone who had written a television programme about Offa’s Dyke Path, someone who had written about the Snowdon panorama in a local newspaper and the parents of someone who had stayed in my cottage.

On 22nd to 24th March, 1957 I went on a school field weekend in the hills around Dorking. The tune that I always associate with this weekend is Lullaby of Birdland. I later went to the Yorkshire and Derbyshire Dales and to Snowdonia with the school.

On 21st April, 1958 I went on a school visit to Cadbury’s factory in Birmingham. When we got to Warwick the coach stopped and we walked round the town. One of our boys (whose name I shan’t mention) removed the cap from the head of one of the local boys. Then I climbed up some scaffolding and placed the cap over the end of a pole that was jutting out. I don’t know whether the boy ever got his cap back. We left Warwick without knowing that it contained a very large and famous castle. It is understandable that none of the boys had heard of it, but it is surprising that the teachers didn’t mention it, just as it is surprising that my parents never mentioned Henry Moore when I went to Much Hadham. On the way home we sang a song that began ‘Sweet violets, sweeter than the roses …’ The song was very short, but I think of this as one of my happiest memories. I never heard the song again until it was played on the radio fifty years later.



On 9th August, 1957 we set off in my father’s Wolseley for Trevean Farm in West Cornwall. On the farm there were horses, cows, pigs, turkeys, ducks, chickens, bantams, dogs, cats, mice and eighteen people. By the time I left I had learned that the dogs were called Mick, Floss, Tyrant and Boko, the cats Punch, Judy and Fluff, and the kittens Tabby, Twinkle, Thunderbolt and Sooty. I helped out on the farm by feeding the chickens and milking the cows, which I found very difficult. I noted that stacks are made up of mows, which are made up of shocks, which are made up of sheafs. We explored the whole area around Land’s End and the Lizard peninsula. The places I liked best were the Logan Rock, Porthcurno Bay and St Ives. One evening we went to see ‘Twelfth Night’ at the open air theatre. Other family holidays included Snowdonia (1955), Yugoslavia (1960), Ullapool (1962) Sark (1963) and Ireland (1965).

In 1957 I acquired an atlas of Great Britain at the scale of 3 miles to an inch, and I learned the whereabouts of most of the towns. I decided that the place where I would most like to live was the hamlet of Row in the remotest part of the Lake District. Since then I have never seen the hamlet referred to as anything but Wasdale Head. In 1974 I came to live within two miles of it.

Robert Robinson, the Chairman of Brain of Britain once said that he had never heard people using rhyming slang, but I have. At Buckhurst Hill County High School I heard people using the expressions ‘use your loaf’ meaning ‘use your head’ and ‘let’s have a butchers’ meaning ‘let’s have a look’. It was only later that I learned that ‘loaf’ is derived from ‘loaf of bread’, which rhymes with ‘head’, and that ‘butchers’ is derived from ‘butcher’s hook’, which rhymes with ‘look’.

The prospect of leaving school and starting a new life was like travelling along a long tunnel with a light at the end of it: the light got closer very slowly and I felt as though I was never going to reach it, but eventually I did. I had a similar experience when I was approaching the time that I would leave Minicabs and buy my rally car, and again during the days before my arrival at the Snowdon Summit Hotel.

Next Chapter>>