Thursday, 28 June 2012


Eva Kordova explains why there are no rabbits on Portland Bill
The Bridgwater Czech Slovak Friendship Society was formed in 1991 and in June 1992 the formal twinning with Uherske Hradiste took place. 1992 also saw the foundation of Antonin Machala's 'Altech' company which has been the backbone of our links with UH now for 20 years. However, it was a close run thing that we didn't twin with the South Bohemian town of Ceske Budejovice-home of Budweiser beer  and (slightly) nearer to Prague. On the occasion of the annual visit by Eva Kordova and her 'Buddies' we recall those early days.

Brian Smedley takes up the story . "We started the link with UH basically because that's where Antonin Machala came from and it was Antonin who first invited us to get together. That was Summer 1991. We spent the Autumn founding our 2 friendship  groups -but twinning wasn't neccesarily our aim. We mainly wanted to find ways to bring people together in whatever way possible. So we set up a pen pals network, home hosting, and planned exchange visits. As soon as word of this pioneering work got out other Czech towns started to get in touch with us. One of the first was Ceske Budejovice. The method for the rapid spreading of the good news was Antonin's network of Social Democrat contacts -and one lifelong Czech Labourist was the elderly but spritely Alena Tragrova from Ceske Budejovice who had been imprisomed by Fascists and Communists throughout her long and active life, and who wanted us in her town to help build international links in the immediate years after the collapse of communism"..
Eva trying to spot Chesil Beach...

 " I first visited there on April 17 1992. One idea Alena spoke of was 'twinning'-but by now we'd pretty much agreed to twin with Uherske Hradiste-which happened on June 18th  that year. Undeterred by this Alena then introduced us to her contacts in the town hall - notably the ODS personality Jan Zahradnik who had just started up the first Private school in the town the  Cesko Anglicky Gymnasium (CAG) and who would later go on to become Regional Governor of South Bohemia, and his left hand man (sic) Eva Kordova . In 1993 the CAGGER'S visited Bridgwater and thereafter every year since and Eva and Jan have co-operated with us in projects innumerable in what Eva refers to , cold war style, as 'the conspiracy'."


So this year's conspiracy saw a group of 14 (13 Czechs plus a German ski instructor) join us for a tour of the west country in a circumnavigational mode from Bridgwater (an ideal touring base for such operations by the way).

Arriving as late as Easyjet could possibly manage to Bristol ('Bridgwater International') Airport , their first night was essentially straight to sleep at Cheddar YHA. however, this left them fresh and bright the next day when we took them up the Gorge and then (a long way) on to Oxford. And after that Blenheim Palace. 
The Taylors garden in Lechlade

Eva has a thing about the British aristocracy and so the Churchill ancestral estates are always on her list of places to impress her group with. This time we had an extra treat when, with her own 20th Anniversary in mind, she directed us to Letchlade where we were invited in for afternoon tea and cake with the Rotarians Ian and Jan Taylor-who had been early contacts for their school and who, although in the middle of preparing for a choral evening, nevertheless took time off for us. Jan was a bit of a Royalist, so Eva thought it would be good to get a discussion going. "So Jan, you are a Royalist and you love everything about the Queen. Brian, what must you think when we talk about the 'bloody royal family' all the time?" Explaining tactfully that he didn't actually want to shoot all of them, the tolerant chauffeur extricated the group gently whilst agreeing 'they did a good job concerning tourism..' Just up the road was Burford where the Stalinist Cromwell had crushed the Trotskyist Levellers...but we didn't want to discuss that  lest we be strung up by the bunting.

Of which there was LOTS.

Staying overnight at the Ridgeway hostel the group had a traditional English evening meal. Mexican tortillas, jalapenos and three kinds of chilli. Caramba.


One of the pleasantest drives through David Camerons Oxfordshire constituency takes you along the old Saxon ridgeway where everyone lives in a thatched cottage, village greens and duckponds abound and large shiny vehicles narrowly force you into them. Taking in the White Horse of Uffington and all points west to the stone circles of Avebury you could be mistaken for thinking that all of England is like this. Luckily at Avebury there were blackfaced Morris dancers doing something ridiculously inappropriate but making people think that everyone English probably did this in their spare times. At least it rained.
people who should be shot on sight

Bath is a wonderful place to spend a few hours and Glastonbury a good way to finish up an afternoon in Somerset. So that worked out.


That evening we had some traditional entertainment. From Poland. the talented accordionist and singer Darianna turned up with her band Megarat (a bloke called Jack who did most of the singing due to Darianna's ashthma attacks) and a rainy clammy night outside turned into a welcoming Monsoon style cabaret session where Czechs and other users of the Street youth Hostel relaxed, joined in, or in Evas case, fell asleep.
Darianna and MegaJack

Sunday saw a visit to Wells, where the Vicars close cat welcomed them, or possibly  cursed them to eternity, who can tell. Then a drive down to the Cerne Abbas giant. That's a chalk drawing of a man with a big cock. 


A couple of other Dorset towns played host for the afternoon - Sherborne, public schools, a monks open air washing room and an abbey then onto Dorchester-Thomas Hardy's Casterbridge and where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were sentenced . The day ended up at Lulworth cove - another unfeasibly thatched village- but an ideal place to watch England go out of the Euros on penalties to the outstandingly better Italy. Extra hilarity was provided by the driver smashing his head on a radiator whilst trying to emulate Wayne Rooney's failed overhead kick.
The vicars close cat causes great excitement as an ear twitches

The Jurassic coast drive is also one of the countries most spectacular. From Lulworth, through Weymouth and along Chesil Beach, up the heights past Abborsbury and along to Lyme Regis.  A final stop at Sidmouth and then a 2 hour drive directly north and following the river Exe till we reached Minehead YHA, where we had a delightful spagetti bolognese....maintaining the Cuisine Inglesi theme.


The next day was a treat for all. Thick fog-broken only by downpours of rain along the Atlantic Highway- and a manic drive through Exmoor country lanes to Barnstaple and then to Tintagel.

A break in the clouds at Plymouth meant a few hours of glorious sunshine before Eva pointed us in the direction of Dartmoor...and even thicker fog.  Hardly seeing 2 sheep and a pony in front of us we made it across the wasteland. Although actually Tavistock isn't that bad really....and finally as moorland became sheerdropland the sun again decided to come out.
Dartmoor (or less)

So we did actually manage to get back to Bridgwater for the evening where a meal of traditional English Turkish meze was laid on at the Green Olive restaurant  on west quay. 

Finally the group had a day trip to Bristol before heading home.

20 years of links with Ceske Budejovice and still going strong.

Thursday, 21 June 2012


Scotland's a lovely country. But mainly when it isn't raining. As an intrepid group of Moravians from the Uherske Hradiste region found out when they  boarded our minibus at a sunny Stansted Airport last week for the long trek Northwards which seemed to have grey clouds attached to it like barrage of party balloons from which there was no escape.

But that's Britain...more often than not...and they weren't going to let it ruin their holiday....and in response the sun eventually did come out anyway.

great place

Well, it's a long way from Stansted to Scotland, but a drive up the Great North Road allowed us to have an overnight stop at the ancient capital of North Britain (thats York). Always a great place to spend some time with it's intact medeaval walls, Viking aspects, Roman cellars and a bloody big Minster. Plus the cheapest diesel enroute at £1.31...
a rainy York Minster

But we didn't stay there long and struck out towards the North East, passing by Newcastle and across the rolling hills of Northumbria past Otterburn camp and up into the Cheviots where the Scottish border (and most subsequent tourist attractions) greeted us with a piper in a kilt and a suitcase full of his CD's. Although for much of the day he seemed to be sitting in his car waiting for enough border crossing tourists to turn up to make it worthwhile getting his knees out and making a parping noise.

lovely car park

Dropping down into lowland Scotland task one was avoiding the bloody Olympic torch which seemed to be passing near almost every village on our route. So we stopped in Jedburgh for a bit. Now that's quite a nice place. Lovely car park with a view of the riverside abbey there and a sign saying 'free wifi' i got a coffee in the cafe only to be told 'noo, the wifi's just in the car park.' So there's a tip. 
whisky frenzy............

Edinburgh is well worth a night out. So we didn't do that. We had a quick late afternoon visit and then pressed on to Stirling. Which is a miniature version but with 2 famous battlefields to view from it;s splendid hilltop castle (that's Stirling Bridge 1297 and Bannockburn 1314) ( 2.Nil to the Scots...). And Stirling's a good place to start your journey into the Highlands from.

North of Stirling we passed by Perth and stopped at Pitlochry-gateway to the Highlands- where they have a fish ladder and  a distillery. Blair Atholl. Bells basically. So the Czechs opted to have a break from the drizzle and go for a whisky tour...much of which turned out to be outdoor...never mind.

on the positive side

On the positive side, our next stop was the battlefield of Culloden-where the conditions were just right to recreate the mood of that miserable day in April 1746 when Bonnie Prince Charlie left the Highlanders to their fate and Jacobite hopes thereafter resided in the gin bars of Paris and Rome.
things are looking up

Things brightened up on reaching Inverness when former Czech Society Chairperson Marilyn Wallace-who has now become Scottish, turned up and cooked a meal for everybody using solely Scottish ingredients - much of which seemed to be oats,cream and some haggis, raspberries, salmon , a few more oats, and a whisky sauce. In cream. This was what they needed!! And even better, Marilyn knew a pub where a ceilidh was going on...well, they say a ceilidh..they basically meant a rock band with a piper on an Inverness friday night...but the Czechs loved it and danced their legs off. Meanwhile in the pub next door England were beating Sweden 3.2 but you'd have thought they were playing Scotland given the raucous cheers everytime the Swedes scored...


Loch Ness is a big lake with a monster in it. Which is lucky as all the shops nearby are full of toy monsters!! We didn't see it mind, although there's no guarantee it wasn't hiding on one of the shelves waiting for the right moment to bite someone's face off.
no shortage of monsters....

So we took the 'road to the isles'....thats where you turn off from Loch Monster and follow the only road to Skye. Which leads you right to the Eilean Doonan castle situated on a spectacular sea loch and then over the humpbacked Skye bridge to Skye. The actual 'sky' remained a drizzly grey .


In search of even worse weather the group decided to climb Ben Nevis. Which they did. Right on top was snow. So that was cold. However, they all made it and even came back down again.

As we headed to Glencoe the bloody sun came bloody out!! Which actually meant the next few days were the Czechs took full advantage of the weatherly upturn and went on numerous walks around the Glen, across Rannoch Moor, into the forests of the Bridge of Orchy and around Loch Lomond.

Highland wanderings

The next day was sunny too...what better time to go shopping in Glasgow....I parked the bus in the Gorbals hoping to be murdered, but no such luck. 

Down to the borders again we had a sunny break at Gretna Green. No one would marry me..although there was a very friendly look from a 'heeland coo' -which i resisted.

wheelclamped in Haworth

And then it was back to England-so I thought i'd take them to Yorkshire. God's own chosen county....or so I thought until I reached the Bronte town of Haworth..little did I know that the local wheelclamper was the worlds biggest bastard and had appeared on numerous TV shows to prove it. £90 to have a wheel clamp removed is a serious deterent to ever wanting to visit the town again - and even though every shopkeeper there will tell you how unpleasant the clamper is.."He once booked Betty Boothroyd tha knows!" , "There were a 1940s vintage car rally here and he booked 80 of 'em", "It's a racket tha knows". So if anyone reading this learns anything it's not actually 'don't go to Haworth' it's -if you do DON'T park in the convenient top of the hill Changegate' private car park where you're very very likely to get ripped off by a smug git, it's park in the free car park at the bottom of the hill or in the 2 hour on road spaces. And if you don't believe me check out the Haworth Wheel Clamper sites on the web.


Rant too....the Czechs final night was spent in the beautiful Derbyshire dales..where England beat Ukraine and qualified for the next round of Euro 2012 and seem to be heading for that dream final next thursday against the mighty Czech Republic themselves.....


20 years ago, on June 18th 1992, Bridgwater became the first UK town to twin with a Czechoslovakian  town after the Velvet Revolution. 

On June 18th 2012 , secretary and founder Cllr Brian Smedley, made a special visit to the Spean Bridge Commando monument in the foothills of Ben Nevis with a group of Czechs to remember why 

"In 1938 Bridgwater was in the history books following a famous by-election victory by Independent Progressive Vernon Bartlett in the town which sent a message of hope to the Czechs and Slovaks of  those prewar years that not everyone in Britain agreed with the Munich Treaty which had let them down so badly in the face of Hitler's Nazi expansionism. Bridgwater people can be rightly proud of that moment.  The full story can be found at our website "

"a place in history"

"In 1992 Bridgwater signed a formal twinning agreement with the town of Uherske Hradiste  carving another place in history as the first British - Czech twinning after the Velvet Revolution which had seen the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia."
Jan Kubis & Josef Gabcik d.18.6.1942 fighting Fascism

"When we set up that twinning the date we chose for the signing was crucial. June 18th , 50 years beforehand, was the date of the battle in the Crypt of the Cyril & Methodius church in Prague when Czech and Slovak Paratroopers, trained in Scotland and dropped behind enemy lines, fought to the death in a pitched battle against overwhelming Nazi SS forces. The dead resistance fighters included Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik who had taken part in the assassination of Nazi leader Heydrich who had been the designer in chief of the 'Final Solution'."

"an example across the world"

"On 18th June 1942 Europe was under total Nazi occupation and no-one could be sure that Fascism would be overthrown and that democracy  would survive. The decision taken by those brave Czechs and Slovaks in those circumstances to continue to resist was an example across the World and remains as such today. 

"inspiring resistance to Fascism"
The Crypt on Resslova street in Prague today

"This is the reason why on June 18th 2012 as we remember the 20 years of our Bridgwater-Czech Slovak link that we also remember the struggles and sacrifices of 70 years ago. This is why it's important that we remember that in the place where the British , Czech and Slovak special forces trained together with the purpose of inspiring resistance across Europe and uniting to fight Fascism wherever it raises it's head."

June 1942 also saw the Massacre at Lidice, where an entire Czech village was destroyed by the Nazis, the men shot, the women taken to concentration camps and suitable children 'Aryanised'. A recent Czech film 'Lidice' has brought the subject matter to the big screen. In the 1970's a British made film about the Heydrich assasination 'Operation Daybreak' was filmed on location in Prague.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012


Somewhere off the West coast of Ireland
Sometimes we don't need to fill a minibus full of  budget travellers and  drive, guide and cater for them on a shoestring. Sometimes we can just take a couple of people in the back of  a car and chauffeur them around the exotic highways and byways of the British isles , with accommodation to suit and at the same time show them some places that they wouldn't normally find on a package tour.

On this occaision our guests were 2 Americans from the New England state of Connecticut and the glamorous destination was Ireland in June.

Which meant it mainly rained......

But not always. And in fact on some of the days it was quite sunny.

Referendum fever

Scene of the 1916 Rising,Dublin
Arriving at Dublin airport and spending a couple of nights in the capital it became apparent that we'd picked the week of the Irish Constitutional referendum. From every lampost and hoarding posters screamed at us saying 'Vote NO to Austerity' or 'Vote YES for Stability'..Sinn Fein Says NO, Labour says YES Fine Gael and Fianna Fail say YES and a various assortments of left parties also said the end a midly interested Irish population voted YES...but with barely over 50% of the vote.

So Dublin was a a vibrant stopover with plenty of action and a ska festival to boot. 'A very clean place' said Colleen. 'Hic' said Don as we visited the Guinness Storehouse where they must have got lost still not emerging 3 hours later....

We took in all the sites-O Connel street and the Post Office-scene of the 1916 Easter Rising, Dublin Castle, the Temple Bar and the rest.

Munster Mash

Leaving Dublin we headed south to Waterford where a small 6 car ferry was the only access to the island based Castle hotel, where the Vikings had first landed before deciding to found the actual city itself.
Fat man on the rocks

From Waterford we could head out on day trips. One day we went to the famous Rock of Cashel and another to a Lithium Mine. Not even the Irish knew they had lithium-but Don did as he had some investments there. And apart from the Lithium County Carlow is a pleasant place for a couple hours break, noticeably the small river crossing of Leighlinbridge with it's ancient stone bridge, collapsing castle and riverside walks.

Along the south coast via Dunvegan we had a lunch break at the Ballymaloe cookery school - very famous and then accidentally happened upon the small lifeboat station of Ballycotton (older readers will remember he had a bandshow back in the 60s) where we met the publican Gerry who dispelled the Americans views that Dublin was a quiet little backwater when he described it as something equivalent to Sodom and Gommorrah. Then a fisherman friend came in and they played dancing lobsters on the bar while conversing unintelligibly about mackerel.

Heading West

Gap of Dunloe in County Kerry
The city of Cork was a massive traffic jam. Just as well we were missing it out and heading for the more sedate Kinsale- site of the 1601 battle when the Irish crucially failed to kick out the English despite help from the Spanish due to their lack of stirrups. Thats a fact. The Ulster Earls had force marched down there across the whole country only to mess up at the last minute. And I write this mid way through the Euro 2012 football finals....

A day trip around county Cork took us to Clonakilty, home town of Michael Collins-rebel leader cum free state leader and hammer of the rebels. Assassinated in a valley not far away at the peak of his career during the Irish civil war. By now the rain had set in a bit..but luckily Don and Colleens main interest was meeting the local characters in the local shortage there then.....

Macroom at the top
From Cork through Macroom , with it's castle on the town square, they reached county Kerry and spent a couple of nights on the Dingle peninsula . On the down side this area of major ancient stone forts and cricles does tend to be spoilt by a little man in a pay booth sat at the bottom of his field selling people entrance to a rain sodden hillside to see his particular pile of stones- but on the positive side, when the breaks in the rain do occur there's some spectacular cliffscapes and islands to have a look at. And of course you;re in the heart of the Gaeltacht where the Irish language is spoken by a large number of the residents.

Over on Tralee Bay the visitors chose to stay at Ballyseede castle- a lovely spot-despite being right next to the 1923 Ballyseedy massacre monument when 8 IRA men were tied to a landmine by Free State soldiers and executed. Unluckily for the perpetrators one man escaped as he was blown into the nearby ditch and was able to get away and tell the tale. Well, it's the case that there's no shortage of massacres,battles and gory incidents all around Ireland interspersed with the charming touristy stuff so you're never far away from either!

The only way to travel!

'How ya doing!'
So we decided to visit Killarney. A tourists picture book introduction to the iconic Ireland of  loveliness. And on such a day the sun decided to come back out. So Don and Colleen took a pony and trap through the Gap of Dunloe and up towards McGillicuddies Reeks (a range of hills within the famous Ring of Kerry) starting and finishing at Kate Kearney's cottage and then off around the Ring to Muckross House-where Queen Victoria had dropped in for a visit in 1861 and near where her ladies in waiting had observed the 'finest view in all her kingdom' known as 'ladies view' (and just around the corner from Leprechauns with added Wifi...).

Heading on across the dolphin infested mouth of the Shannon River into County Clare the rain came down again....bringing to mind numerous episodes of Father Ted (which was filmed here). The cliffs of Moher couldn't even be seen, never mind accessed, so we went to the musical village of Lisdoonvarna (for reference google the Christy Moore song) instead.
Off the Doolin shore

Ridiculously sunny

The next day was a ridiculously sunny day - confusing everyone. So off they went out to sea on a little boat trip not only taking in spectacular views of the cliffs of Moher from the sea but also including a brief jaunt around the nearby Arran islands (see opening shots of Father Ted).

The small village of Doolin is a must for visitors to Clare with some excelent coastal scenery, all the boat trips you'll need and some great bars and music outlets.

The final day saw a visit to Galway -just across the Connaught border-but sadly in the rain. And by now the rain was quite intense and causing some just about time to go....and leaving from Shannon airport would you guess-the sun came out....