LYNTON, England -- Here on the coast of the Bristol Channel the shoreline is dotted with villages that tumble down to shingled beaches. The cliffs soar above, and hills rise like the round humps of giant camels, clothed in yellow gorse and purple flowering heather, then collapse into the sea.
Lynton sits above Lynmouth, and the two places are joined by a steep, twisty road. The two villages are also joined by a near vertical cable railway, a unique railway that operates with the power of water: When the car below, in Lynmouth, wants to ascend it evacuates its tanks and the weight of the water in the tanks of the car above brings it down and the other up. Once recharged above, the whole procedure is repeated.
Lynton and Lynmouth are famous for two things: It was home to R.D. Blackmore, who wrote the romance "Lorna Doone," and a great flood hit the place 20 years ago in August, sweeping many houses away, along with their occupants. The people of Lynton and Lynmouth cultivate and embellish the memory of their particular flood calamity.
There is another village nearby, reached through the narrowest of roads that races along the edges of the cliffs and through a ferny damp forest. This town is called Clovelly, and of all the villages of north Devon it is probably the most picturesque. So steep are its cobbled streets that for years donkeys were used to carry goods and people up and down.
The chimney of each house stands nearly at the level of the
first-floor window of the one behind it. It all cascades down to a diminutive beach of round gray stones sheltered behind a stone sea wall.
There is a pub by the wall, a snug place where fishermen and members of the life-boat rescue teams still gather. And many, many grockles.
Grockles are the reason Clovelly lives, and possibly Lynton as well as Porlock, Dunster, Minehead and all these other tiny places that resemble, with their thatched and ceramic roofs and the moon-white faces of their houses, that mythic Scottish town that emerges from the highland mist for one day every century. Charming they all are. But Brigadoon, being a myth, doesn't need the grockles. Neither did Clovelly for most of its long history. It had the fish of the channel to sell, and the farming in that part of Devon.
Then recession hit the West Country and people started to leave the villages. Languishing away they eventually began to exploit their own man-created beauty. They invited their countrymen to visit. They turned to tourism. Clovelly, in particular, did it with a vengeance. It built a visitors' center above the village. There they sell everything from Clovelly T-shirts to coasters with pictures of the Clovelly donkeys. The donkeys have it made these days: They are led around town by young girls to add to the atmosphere.
It costs $3 just to enter Clovelly, the only access being through the visitors' center. People come by the tens of thousands, the grockles: "The families with 2.5 children, one of them always screaming; people dressed in shell suits [brightly colored nylon work-out suits], carrying the inevitable video recorder, feeding the kids ice cream, candy, lunching on fish and chips."
These words were meant to be unkind. They were uttered by a man staying at a cozy hotel in Lynton. He had a strong distaste for grockles. "I'm in shoes," he said, and then went on to revile the grockles for being everywhere.
Grockles is a West Country word that means tourist, particularly a tourist who travels by bus (a grockle can), has a preference for fast food such as McDonald's hamburgers or fish and chips (grockle fodder) and regards cheap arcades full of electronic games (grockle bait) as a high form of recreation.
"Grockles?" said a visitor to Devon, reacting to the strange word. "It sounds like grackles [starlings]."
"They are the same," replied the man "in shoes," happy with the comparison. "They both swarm and eat up all the junk."
Though they may have saved Clovelly, reinvigorated to some extent the economies of Devon and Cornwall, the grockles are despised as vulgar. They are the perfect product of hoi polloi resorts like Blackpool and Brighton.
The English are extremely sensitive to vulgarity; they are capable of finding it where other nationalities often overlook it or are too insensitive to perceive it -- such as in ordinary people.