My story – the one that leads in the general direction of The Place that Time Forgot - probably begins back in 1963, but perhaps a little earlier when I became absorbed in adventure books, stories of lost and buried treasure, and exploring the jungle, and spent more time reading these than on my schoolwork. Thus I was never top of the class except in woodwork; close in math, but not in English, though since I have spent much of my life writing.
In 1963 I left my home on the south coast of England to work in the City of London, aged 18 earning only 7 pounds a week (around $11) of which half went on digs, more on train/tube fares, leaving little more than a pound for food. It was tough.
Though I was working as a management apprentice for Europe's largest timber company and learning the ropes, going from one department to another, and with my second greatest love after adventure – wood – I had the wanderlust. London wasn't the place for me for any length of time.
Thus I saved what I could until I had enough for a boat fare to Canada and a plan to hitch-hike across Canada to the mountains of British Columbia where I would live in the woods and pan for gold to support myself. A dream, perhaps not uncommon in those days, yet today it may appear to be a little absurd and unrealistic.
But I did it. In May 1964 I left Tilbury docks aboard the Greek Line Arcadia for Quebec City together with a companion who had contacted me after a TV appearance on the show Three Go Round with Fred Dinenage. After hitching across Canada I spent six months living wild in the Cariboo Mountains panning for gold. How different from London.
It was at this time, wandering through the mountains that one day I came across the (almost) ghost town of Barkerville. This frontier gold-rush town dating back to the 1850's was in a remarkable state of preservation and had, I found out later, been taken over a few years earlier by the BC government to restore as a Historic Park.
Standing here, at the 'entrance' to the town was St Saviour's Church – a remarkable accomplishment under very difficult conditions by the Reverent Reynard. I mention it here because it was an inspiration to me that someone could do what he did, and part of the detail on Chapel-in-the-Clouds here at The Place that Time Forgot is taken from St Saviour's.
I visited Barkerville many times over the succeeding years and in the late 1980's and early 90's when I was running wilderness adventure tours for young people I made it a stopping place, making camp a few miles to the north where I had originally prospected for gold. Shortly after I bought a 30 acre island in the Fraser River and the confluence of the Bowron River, which flows near Barkerville.
My last time at Barkerville was in November 2003 when I had the whole town to myself – it was cold and drizzling with rain and so no tourists had ventured there. It is the best time to visit and see the town without the hordes of tourists that make it seem more like a Disney creation than a true frontier town.
Earlier I said that my story started around 1963 when I was making preparations to head for Canada which started a whole chain of life-changing events, but in 1958, and the age of 13, I went to see a movie. In those days, going to the 'pictures' was an important event – TV was in its infancy – and for a kid of 13 it was the highlight of the week. At that time, one of the most exciting things for a kid was to go to the 'pictures' – I lived for it. In the next town the film Carve Her Name with Pride was playing. It was 9 pence to get in – a whole week's pocket money. (9 pence in 'old' English money – 4 pence today or about 7 cents US). Without extra for the bus fare I had to cycle, and to get better value for my 9 pence I watched the film twice.
That film, and the renowned poem from it, has reached out over the years and by strange circumstances now has a special place at The Place that Time Forgot. And there is more to it as visitors find out.
After spending much of the year 1964 living in the Cariboo mountains I spent 1965 on Oak Island in Nova Scotia looking for the famous treasure there. That year, three other treasure hunters on the island were gassed to death in a pit on Smith's Cove. I was one of the last people to see them alive before rowing across to nearby Frog Island where I became marooned. Stupidly I had not pulled my boat far enough up the beach and did not see it float away. Fortunately I had a gun with me and was able to attract attention by firing off shots. I still have one claim-to-fame there that cannot be beaten in that I was the first person to land on Oak Island by car – before any causeway was built for motor access. It was, of course, in an amphibious German Amphicar.
After spending the summer on Oak Island and being short of funds I got work on a Norwegian fishing trawler working off the coast of Newfoundland. In November on a wintry day we put into port at St John's, Newfoundland. This helped me do some research into a link between this city (a sea captain) and Cocos Island in Costa Rica – reputed burying site of vast treasures.
At that time and on the other side of the harbour was a large Scottish stern trawler and factory ship – the Fairtry ll. Not having a great deal of success with fishing on the Norwegian ship I decided to approach the captain of the Fairtry to see if I could sign on, and get a free trip back to England in time for Christmas!
Well, as usual, things didn't work out as I had planned and after getting a job and leaving port I was advised that we were going back out to sea off the Grand Banks until the holds were filled – perhaps the skipper was a little less than honest! As it happened there were constant engine breakdowns when we drifted waiting for parts, and we limped back to England on only one engine at snail speed. My short trip back to England lasted for 101 days at sea and we arrived back around mid February 1966 shortly after my twenty first birthday which was spent at sea being tossed about in a wintry gale.
I spent much time on returning researching the Cocos Island treasure – much harder in those days with no Internet or anything like it – and later that year I was able to make it to Costa Rica and Cocos Island, but only for a brief time. Subsequently I produced one of my earliest publications – The Lost Treasure of Cocos Island.
In 1967 I was living near Manchester running a coffee bar with a friend and renting out (small time) pin-tables and one-arm bandits. I was quite excited then (as any young person would be) in that the News of The World was going to run a double page feature on my Cocos Island treasure hunting adventures. Unfortunately on the Thursday before the Sunday it was scheduled to appear the Manchester Evening News pipped them to the post and the News of The World didn't want to play second fiddle and cancelled the feature – despite the one in the Manchester Evening News being smaller. I was naive enough to give the story to two papers simultaneously but it did lead, however, to a few television appearances.
Running a coffee bar in the 60's was a great experience and that was the time I was introduced to Land Rovers, buying a secondhand one – four year's old. But, the wanderlust got to me again and in May 1968 I bought a new long wheelbase Land Rover – fully equipped it – and shipped it to Montreal, Canada, spending that year again in British Columbia before driving down to British Honduras (now Belize). I am recalling this here because the year before I started creating The Place that Time Forgot I bought a restored classic 1970 Land Rover which brought many memories. Also, to bring visitors here we use classic Land Rovers.
Later that year I flew to British Guiana (now Guyana) and had my first taste of jungle life prospecting for diamonds and gold in the Mazaruni River. I had previously read the book by Peter Fleming of his exploits on the Mazaruni and wished to experience the same. It was tough getting back there and I remember hanging on the tailgate, literally, of a truck for eight hours along an appalling 'road' to get back to an access point for the river, and one time falling out of the boat into the river with immediate thoughts of the pirana! At this time I also made a brief intrusion near into Brazil by dugout canoe across the Orinduik River.
The following year was a complete change of pace when I became interested in crossbow design and opened up a small one-man factory to produce hand made crossbows and a 'cross-pistol' I had designed (the first ever I believe). This continued reasonably successfully (I made a living anyway) until I decided to go back to Canada in early 1971. I had enough money to buy a motorcycle in Quebec and enough for fuel, but not much else, nevertheless I decided to make the trip across Canada back to British Columbia even though it was winter. To some it may seem a foolhardy trip – I slept out in the open at night and had no gloves so wore two pairs of socks on my hands. I warmed up from time to time in restaurants with a 10 cent cup of coffee and hamburger (I no longer eat any meat) but was often so cold with numb fingers that I could not unfasten my helmet so had to ask the waitresses to do it.
I lived off and on in British Columbia for the next few years where I started writing books. It was a time when people seemed to thirst for knowledge which then, could only be obtained by research in libraries. I did well, publishing everything from A Beginner's Guide to Gold Panning to How to Build a Log Cabin, and series for people who wanted to find a new life ... How to Emigrate to Canada ... How to Emigrate to the USA ... How to Emigrate to Australia ...etc. Most were smallish concise and factual publication of around 100 pages, some were larger like A Complete Guide to Purchasing & Leasing Canadian Crown Lands – the 'Bible' and Live & Work in the USA.
By writing I was able to enjoy my love of the frontier lifestyle and work my own hours. In 1975 I bought a remote lake in Nova Scotia, in 1978-9 I lived, and wrote, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, and in 1982-3 I owned a remote old mine and a mile of glorious lakeshore in Northern Ontario only accessible by a long boat ride.
Something happened then that changed my life. While I won't dwell on it here I will give a few details as some of the Lessons from Chapel-in-the-Clouds provide information that every person should know, and from my own experiences. In 1983 I was fit and in my late 30's. But, within a week I was reduced to the state of being in a wheelchair with almost no use of my legs. I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis whereby my spinal cord had been damaged by a virus. I was told to face the prospect that I would probably never walk again – indeed, I had a visitor at the hospital who told me all was not lost as they could provide me with a car that could be driven by hands alone! This is not something I could face – some people can, but not me. I would either get back the use of my legs, or end it.
I bought a cottage in the Highlands of Scotland with no near neighbours, no electricity, no telephone, no heating save by open fire. It was tough at first but gradually I got back the use of my legs – getting stronger over the next three years that I spent there. I have still not recovered completely with discomfort most of the time – but I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones, and I could still go on to create The Place that Time Forgot.
What caused my illness? At the time the doctors really had no idea, but now I have traced it to a polio vaccine I had when I was a baby.
Moving on, in 1987 I bought a remote log cabin in British Columbia and then, as it was good exercise for my legs, started running my 2000 Miles of (Wilderness)Adventure trips.These were not your typical trips and always off-the-beaten-track using backroads, living in the forest.
I ran these until 1991. Missing the Highlands of Scotland I bought a small 700-acre estate with a beautiful loch within its boundaries and long frontage on another lock. No neighbours for miles in any direction. I built a small forestry cabin (bothy) here and while not living there all the time did spend a significant amount of time walking the hills, enjoying the wonderful scenery, and planting trees.
I also bought another delightful 200-acre property near Inverness where I was going to build a castle. I went as far as getting (difficult) planning consent and having all the plans drawn up and permits in place ready to start construction. But then I got cold feet thinking that no matter how hard I tried to make it look like a 'real' castle, it would always be a fake, and thus sold part of it to the son of Lord Lovat who led the Lovat Rangers on to the shores of France on D-Day – portrayed in the film The Longest Day.
In 1993 I bought 600-acres of maple, oak, birch, forest with two mountain 'peaks' in the Adirondack Park of upstate New York. I have always loved the fall colour so felt that it would be nice to have a special place where I could immerse myself in them. I built a cabin here and enjoyed this place like no other until 1998. Then, I had another sadness.I was not on the property at the time but in Bolton, England, in the house of my son and his mother – a wonderful historic 400-year old 'hall' steeped in history – when I received a phone call from my nearest neighbour who said that a terrible ice storm had descended and was destroying all the forest around.
The spectacle that greeted my arrival was one worse than anyone could ever have imagined, even when being told what had happened. On the whole property there was hardly a tree standing. Oak trees a foot in diameter had been snapped as though they were a matchstick. Others that had not snapped under the weight of the accumulated ice on the limb and branches were bent to the ground in a tangle that can only only be described as spaghetti. The only thing that had miraculously survived was the cabin which had not taken a direct hit. I spent the next two summer seasons with a chain saw trying to clear the old trails of the impossible tangle – a dangerous task as many limbs were under pressure and tension and it was not always possible to tell which ones to cut first. Twice I got it badly wrong and was lifted off the ground and thrown by the springing limb with chainsaw running.
Having bought the property to enjoy the fall colour and beauty of the woods it was all destroyed. What I had was no more. There was no alternative but to sell the property and hope that I could find a buyer. I eventually did – someone who I believe needed a tax loss. In a way, this may have been a blessing in disguise because when I bought the land back in 1992 the property taxes were just over $3,000 a year. I'm told that today the taxes on the land and the simple cabin with no road access, no electricity, no services, is approaching $15,000! For little or nothing other than to feed a corrupt government.
In the meantime I had bought an old gold and silver mine in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia – which I still have at the time of writing this. This is at 6,500 feet altitude with almost impossible access and the nearest neighbour (house) about 40 miles (60 kilometres). Today, the only real access is by horse on a 10-mile (15 kilometre) steep trail from a railway siding. It's a dangerous place to live alone with no communications. I built a cabin there – and was on top of the mountain on 9/11 - but have not been back since 2003 when I found the cabin vandalised – a common occurrence these days.
In 2001 I also bought a mile or so of beach frontage on the East Coast of Scotland north of Inverness with two old fish factories on the beach. I spent some time converting one of them but, while the closeness of the buildings to the beach is what originally attracted me there, over time I started to become ever more apprehensive. One day when everything was 'right' – the moon and tide – huge waves came right over and through the building I was working on. I then decided not to spend more money on something that would eventually be washed away. My time at sea with a spell in the Canadian Coastguard had taught me a great respect of the sea.
This leads us to Costa Rica. Whiling away a little time on the computer I came across a property for sale in Costa Rica with huge waterfalls and extensive virgin forest in the mountains – as wild as it is possible to be. Simply put, it took my fancy and I bought it. Whether or not it is one of the best things I did, or the worst, I do not know at the time of writing this. The jury is still out, and from the things that have happened here over the five years I have spent transforming the original overgrown farmstead and protecting the property, perhaps you can best judge from afar.
On the website you will see how the original overgrown old farmstead was turned into the Place that Time Forgot, dominated by Chapel-in-the-Clouds, and all the 'treasures' in the surrounding mountains and high jungle.
But my work here is now finished and the property will be maintained by the Trust which will permit limited access to visitors. I will be at The Next Place!