Author Sam Llewellyn
PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:31 20 February 2013
Author, journalist, environmentalist, historian and Visit Herefordshire Ambassador Sam Llewellyn has called the county his home for he past 25 years
Author, journalist, environmentalist, historian and Visit Herefordshire Ambassador Sam Llewellyn has called the county his home for the past 25 years and he likes it just the way it is. But, he tells Rachel Crow, more could be done to attract others to its unspoilt charms.
Sam Llewellyn is known, among other things, as a writer of sea thrillers, it is the inland county of Herefordshire that he chose to move to more than 20 years ago with his Canadian wife, childrens author Karen Wallace, and their two sons. An unusual choice, it would appear, for one who admits the sea is one of his ruling passions in life. All becomes clear however, when he describes his adopted home county as Englands wildest and most beautiful in a Britain that resembles a car park surrounded by cooling towers and criss-crossed with power lines. Small, grim and semi-industrial.
There are certainly no cooling towers or power lines surrounding his timber-framed medieval farmhouse in Kington. A self-proclaimed crap builder who likes building things, Sam has contributed his own renovations to the house he says has had bits built
on it every 90 years since the Norman Conquest.
When you look back at the places hes called home over the past 63 years, beautiful, spacious and evocative landscapes are a regular feature. Born on his ancestral island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, with its exotic Abbey Gardens, Sam subsequently lived by the coast of Norfolk, out on a rock beside Canadas freshwater Lake Huron, and in a haunted castle in the estuary of Irelands Blackwater river. So, a horrifically ancient 14th century home set amid expansive gardens in Herefordshire was in keeping despite the lack of a watery neighbour.
The Marches is the bit of England that most closely resembles Ireland, both in its landscape and in the attitude to life of its inhabitants, I think, he says as he recalls the familys move back to England. It was, then at least, a remote enough place for everyone to be tremendously polite, be interested in what you were up to and a place you could go and live in without any preconceptions or of other people having preconceptions about you. I liked the fact you couldnt commute, so people who were here knew a lot about the place and had a great link with the land.
Its from their Kington base that he and Karen create their world of stories, their offices occupying opposite ends of a converted cowshed sitting across from the house. Formerly an editor of non-fiction at Pan Books and one of the founding editors of Picador, Sam
began writing in the late 1970s an has published a book almost every
Telling stories is one of the greatest things that you can do in life; humans are animals that tell stories, he enthuses.
He is a keen sailor a shed by the house is filled with his boats in various states of repair. His personal adventures at sea include hunting pirates in the Philippines and being fired at by machine guns while aboard a steel freighter passing through the constellations of squid boats on the Pacific Ocean. He also finds inspiration for his thrillers close to home. I use quite a lot of Herefordshire farmers as villains, he says.
Six years ago, Sam ventured into the world of childrens books. This was partly as a counterblast to Peter Pan, which Ive always hated because it is twee and sickening and sums up everything so glutinously saccharine in the English nature, Sam announces with relish, but also because he was tiring of sticking a harpoon through somebody, so thought to hell with it, Ill write something damn silly. The result included the popular Little Darlings series, a film adaptation of which is in the offing.
Just as he and Karen have found the county an ideal spot to live and work, Sam believes there are many more who would move to Herefordshire, given the right incentive. Having taken on the role of a Visit Herefordshire Ambassador, he admits more can be done to promote the county. I can see a future for it as a place where people running knowledge-based, low impact enterprises can come and bring up their families. If you want to do organics, for instance, its practically the centre of organics already. But as far as I know Herefordshire makes no attempt to attract these businesses, such as by offering reduced businesses rates for the first five years of operation.
As a committed environmentalist, he would also welcome the countys decision-makers incorporating progressive, eco-focussed measures within their planning. Thats definitely a way for the future, he observes, pointing to neighbouring South Shropshires Ludlow Biodigester, which one of his sons co-runs, the first plant of its kind in the UK to process source-separated municipal kitchen waste into biogas and a biofertiliser.
They could also investigate alternatives to car park transport around Hereford, rather than simply increasing car-parking or building a bypass. I greatly resent attempts to spoil Hereford and turn it into yet another suburb of nowhere.
Ultimately, Sam hopes that Herefordshire, while moving forwards, holds on to its identity. When I go out and about I meet people who live here and work here, so there is this brilliant sense of continuity. People get on with their lives pretty much the same way I imagine they always have. Its real and relationships are real.
My Herefordshire Life
My favourite spot in the county is up on Hergest Ridge, which the border of Herefordshire and Wales almost runs down the middle of. You can count 17 counties from the top if you count the old Welsh counties, which I do and its lark central up there. I do go up there, weather permitting, about three or four times a week with a tape recorder and look at Herefordshire, all green and lovely, and have deep thoughts. The other thing that is really charming is canoeing down the River Wye.
My favourite pub for food is The Stagg Inn at Titley, which has a Michelin star. They are incredibly nice people who run it. Its not poncey, its a proper pub. I also like the New Inn at Pembridge.
I like the towns and villages because they are all completely different; Kington has been about the same size for 300 years and Hay-on-Wye is completely barking mad, born out of pure and simple eccentricity. The idea of filling up a whole town with books means you have to be a special kind of person. I know its only half Herefordian, but I think it is a brilliantly Herefordian thing. People have been there for ages doing their own thing and sometimes it is so amazing it goes national and international.
As a Herefordshire Ambassador, there is no one great single attraction I would want everyone to go to, but the main thing is to spread tourists out over the whole county so that the whole county benefits and the tourists will experience Herefordshire as a nice and quiet, genuine place. Herefordshire is a big place and there are lots of interesting nooks and crannies in it. Trails are a good thing. Beer trails are brilliant, and The Wye Valley Brewery won the Best Drinks Producer 2010 in the BBC Food and Farming Awards; church or castle crawls work well, and walks. I have written a lot about walking in Herefordshire in The Times and I think that is a splendid thing and does a huge amount of good. Kington benefits hugely from walkers.
To find out about titles written by Sam Llewellyn visit www.samllewellyn.com
For details of his new magazine, The Marine Quarterly, see www.marinequarterly.com