We cruised west along the glorious cliffed coast of north Devon on the Waverley paddle steamer, pictured on the front cover of this issue of hidden europe. A town crier, dressed in the style of a Georgian-period naval officer, told anecdotes about the Ilfracombe of yesteryear. Whether they were true or not, we do not know. What mattered was that they shaped the Ilfracombe ‘brand’ — they helped cement an image of Ilfracombe as a place where one would be foolish not to linger.
So we lingered. Just as George Eliot did when she first arrived in Ilfracombe in 1856. Her partner, the naturalist George Henry Lewes, industriously collected seashells, while Eliot — no less industriously, we’re sure — gathered material for her novels. Little fragments of Ilfracombe characters are reincarnated in Middlemarch, Adam Bede and The Mill on the Floss. Yet there are fewer explicit Devon flavours in Eliot’s novels than you’ll find in this issue of hidden europe.
We kick off with eight pages on the English county that Napoleon Bonaparte inadvertently promoted as a tourist destination by waging war across the continent and so confining the English to an island prison. Devon done and dusted, we move on via Slovenia and Russia to Armenia and France. This year has seen the centenary of several important polar expeditions. We look closely at two ill-fated Russian ventures to the Arctic that both started in 1912.
Journeys of the imagination feature aplenty in this issue of hidden europe. That’s the success of the Waverley. It is after all no more than a boat. And one boat is much like another. But to cruise the Devon coast on an antique paddle steamer appeals, just like the town crier, to the imagination. So in the pages that follow we invite you to join us on an imaginary overnight journey through the German Democratic Republic and challenge you to catch the feral beauty that is hidden just a few metres beneath the pounding roar of one of Europe’s busiest motorways.
We welcome three guest contributors to this issue. It is the second time that Patricia Stoughton has woven a tale about France for us. But Jonathan Knott and Jamie Maddison are first timers with hidden europe. To all three, our sincere thanks for writing for us.
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Teplice, Czech Republic