It was the perfect  time  for my elderly Aunt Leah to visit England, as  my partner Rob and I were  based in London  It was Leah’s first trip, and we were  happy to take her on a tour of the country.

Heading south,  we spent our first night  in the seaside town of Lyme Regis,  home of Leah’s  Larcombe ancestors. I had booked us into  a B&B  that  I knew she would enjoy. Leah  loves dogs, and the proprietors owned a dear old Spaniel called Samuel Johnson. The dog wasn’t around when we arrived, but he appeared next morning in the breakfast room.  As Aunty Leah  swapped pet care advice with our hostess,  poor  Samuel suffered a massive fit and died  before our eyes between the main course and the  toast.  Not a wonderful start, but we pulled ourselves together and  continued westward.

Near Truro in Cornwall  we were due to stay overnight in  an up-market, 17th century farmhouse.  I should have realized the ‘for sale’ sign on the garden wall spelled trouble. Sure enough, my knock on the  door was  met by a distressed young man who blurted; ‘Oh no! I hoped you wouldn’t come.  Would you call yourselves flexible people? ‘ Dear God, I thought, he’s put us in the hay loft.  I started to explain about Aunty Leah’s  hip replacement but he interrupted; ‘My wife’s left me  so I’ve booked you into a place up the road. Is that OK?’  Well, what could we say?

There was a neglected air about our alternative quarters and even Aunty paled at the sight of  a large Alsatian stretched out  on her bed.  When Rob  commented on the absence of  loo paper our hostess smiled brightly and said;  ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pop out and buy some. Er…..could you pay me  now?’   Oh my hat!

We wandered on to  Daphne du Maurier country, driving across Bodmin Moor in torrential rain. Fortunately Leah was reading my copy of Jamaica Inn at the time, so she thought the weather was appropriately atmospheric… even when we skidded off the road.

It had cleared up by the time we reached the next stop on her ‘bucket list;  harbourside  Clovelly, in North Devon. Sadly,  there  were no donkeys to carry us up  the hill (as I had promised),  but she loved it nevertheless.

Myself and Leah, about to ring up and ask where the famous Clovelly donkeys were!
Myself and Leah, about to ring up and ask where the famous Clovelly donkeys were!


I had decided to take pot luck with accommodation for the rest of the trip, and one night  in Lancashire we left our search too late.  We  ended up in a tiny  terrace house with grubby curtains and suspect sheets.   Aunty Leah’s   bed was wedged into a  cupboard behind the wall mirror in our room.

After the dying dog and the deserting  wife we  were  beginning to feel like harbingers of doom and were  not at all surprised when the local cotton mill  burned down overnight.

We watch to an amazing sight...the cotton mill alight!
We woke to an amazing sight…the cotton mill alight!

Mind you, ten fire engines had failed to rouse us. Rob  and I slept like the dead, exhausted with worry over  Aunty Leah.   Poor Leah was sleepless due to the worry of going to the loo via  our room,  but deaf to everything  behind her mirror.

Our  final  week was spent  back  in London, where we caught the  train to the city each day. One evening we were returning home when half a dozen young Irishmen  piled into  our carriage. They were very  good humoured, although every second word began with F.  I was mortified on Aunty’s behalf. However,  as she said when we got off;   ” You know Paulie, that word doesn’t sound nearly as bad with an an Irish accent does it?’  And  I had to agree…. it fooking well doesn’t!

Victoria Station always reminds me of the Oscar Wilde character whose parents left him at the cloakroom in a handbag.  Aunty Leah left a handbag at Victoria too, though not intentionally.  And while there may not have been a baby in her bag  it contained almost everything she owned – including her passport and her plane ticket home. Arranging replacements took so long that  we had to skip the Tower of London  and Westminster Abbey but she said  not to worry,  she had seen them on  TV.

When we kissed her goodbye at Heathrow  she assured us she’d  had a wonderful time,  but I’d noticed  a strange look in her eyes as she laboured over her travel diary each evening.

travel diary

NOTE – This article was originally published in The Australian newspaper.  My dear Aunty Leah has since died. My sister  Robbie found the travel diary among her possessions  and posted it  to me.  I certainly  squirmed a bit  when I read it, although  none of the trouble was my fault!

All the incidents  in this article are true, except the final one…Leah  actually lost her documents before she left Australia. I  ‘borrowed’  this  anecdote  from my sister, who sorted the situation out in the nick of time .  Robbie  then  took time off work to  escort  our nervous   Aunt from Tasmania  to the airport in Melbourne. No giggling at my outlandish specs in the photo below please.

Robbie, Yours truly and our beloved Aunty Leah.
Robbie, yours truly and our beloved Aunty Leah.

If you have experienced similar travel ‘difficulties’, please share them below …It might make me  feel a bit   better! Don’t forget to complete the anti-spam sum though!


  1. Oh dear! I’ve probably got more anecdotes about things visitors have done to holiday accommodation than things visitors have found – broken glass in the bed, mashed potato massaged into the rugs, gardens that have been driven over. Perhaps that’s why that chap’s wife left him…

    • Pauline

      Yes Diane, I’m sure it’s far better to be a guest than an owner!! I’d leave Rob quick smart if he opened a B&B!
      And I try to forget a little incident with chocolate many years ago at a B&B in Marlow. I still avert my eyes in shame whenever we drive past the house.

  2. I’ve always believed you’ll enjoy traveling more if you’re flexible and open to new experiences, but your story goes beyond anything I’ve experienced! However, looking on the bright side, whenever the subject of B&Bs comes up in conversation, you definitely have an anecdote to contribute.
    Love this post!

    • Pauline

      Yes, that’s true Sandra. I’ve been dining out on this for quite a few years already! Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. My aunt and I had a good laugh afterwards too, even though some of the events were rather tragic!!

  3. Hello There,

    Just thought I’d share a quick story about some of my more harrowing traveling experiences. When I was a teenager, my family went to New Mexico. It was a beautiful trip and we enjoyed much of our stay, but one night while the kids were swimming in the swimming pool, an arsonist started a fire in the hotel parking garage! By the time the fire alarm went off, the fire had spread very quickly and during our run for the exit, we were met with a wall of flame that consumed the entire hallway in front of us! Not only wasn’t this a one time occurrence, but the next two hotels we stayed at that year on our vacations (or “holidays” as you Brits and Aussies so charmingly call them

    • Pauline

      Oh my word Dominique! That’s far worse than our ‘events’. I wonder why your comment was cut off in it’s prime? I hope you weren’t going to say that the next two hotels burned down!!

  4. Gosh, it looks like my comment was cut off. Here’s the rest. (or “holidays” as you Brits and Aussies so charmingly call them

  5. (or “holidays” as you Brits and Aussies so charmingly call them) both had rather serious fires happen while we were there as well. Thankfully the second two hotels we visited on or trip around Illinois and our trip to Florida that same year didn’t burn completely down like the one in New Mexico did, but the experience was no less harrowing. We began thinking that we were harbingers of doom as well (especially me, as I personally encountered each of the fires myself). I believe it was that same year on our trip to Florida that hundreds of “Men of War” came in to feed while I was out in the Gulf of Mexico and if it hadn’t been for a kindly stranger who shouted calm instructions and encouragement from on shore, I might not be here to write this comment. What happened to the concept of a vacation being relaxing, eh? Lovely story by the way, although I’m sure the experience was less so. You are quite a talented writer.

    • Pauline

      Oh, so pleased the rest of the story came through. I don’t think vacations are ever really relaxing are they? All those struggles with language and finding one’s way etc! It’s a wonder my partner and I are still together….have had such fraught times all over the world! Yes, including the U.S.A

  6. I enjoyed reading the events that took place on holiday with poor Aunty Leah. Unfortunately, life seems to challenge us to the limit at times. Loved all the photos too.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.