Nessie sighted on a Czech breakfast table


Recent editions of this programme have been rather full of doom and gloom, as we have approached the Second World War in our archives. So this week we look at something a bit more cheerful. Here is a Scottish visitor to Prague in 1938. After singing the praises of Czechoslovakia, he suddenly changes tone – making a rather curious observation.

“I confess I’ve been a little disappointed to find that many of you still regard the Loch Ness Monster with some doubt and suspicion. Well, I can’t say that I have seen it myself, but I have read so many reports by people who have seen it that I quite believe it exists. So much so, that I have given a new name to the nine-inch undulating roll, which I find on your tables at breakfast by calling it the Loch Ness Monster roll. If you put two of these, end to end, you get a very good outline of the drawings of the monster, which our papers have published. But better still: won’t you come over to Scotland soon, and see the monster in real life, lashing its tail?

“A last word… I would emphasize the most friendly relations, which have always existed between Britain and Czechoslovakia. Since this new state was established in 1918, between the respective governments and peoples there are close ties of mutual respect and good will, and these, I believe, will endure.”

J. Scott, a visitor to Prague in the summer of 1938. Another visitor in August of that same year was a certain Mr Lightfoot, also from Britain, who came with a group of hill walkers to explore the stunningly beautiful mountains of Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. This was the easternmost part of Czechoslovakia, and today forms part of Ukraine. He describes a lost world.

“Our plan of attack was to go as far east as possible, to the Romanian frontier, hire two horses and their drivers to carry baggage, and walk along the Romanian, Polish and Czechoslovakian frontiers. This, we understood, would cover the cream of the scenery of this area. Rachov, our point of embarkation, provided us not only with horses and food for the next week, but our first glimpse into the conditions of this area. Wide-eyed, we stared at a constantly changing crowd of orthodox Jews, peasants in costume, bands of Gypsies, woodmen with their axes, and plunged our way to what was for us an unusual flock of children, wishing to take us to their superior lodgings. Immediately, we felt we were in a new world altogether; pioneers for us in a true sense.

“Packing of horses with rucksacks by men in embroidered shirts and sheepskin jackets at six o’clock in the morning ought to be sufficient to fill anyone with a sense of adventure, and this enthusiasm grew, as from to day to day we walked in the most magnificent mountain scenery of this district. […]

“Here then, is a holiday for many tastes, and I hope this district will open up more and more to English visitors.”

The very opposite was to be the case. Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia was soon to be swept up in the tide of history. Within a few months it had been annexed by Hungary, and in the Second World War most of its Jewish and Romany inhabitants perished in the Holocaust. In 1945 Ruthenia was absorbed into the Soviet Union, and only since the fall of communism have visitors from the west once again been discovering its amazing scenery.

The episode featured today was first broadcast on February 21, 2008.

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