Alan Payne - Kingswear
Who are you? Alan Payne, founder of fencing club the Kingswear Swords.
How long have you lived here? I’ve lived in Kingswear since 2002. I was born and brought up in Leicestershire and when I left college I worked for the family engineering firm. We sort of came here by accident. The company was struggling so we wound up the business at the end of the last century and I decided to have this century off! I was sitting at home in Leicestershire when my wife, Lucy, said: “Why don’t we pack up and go sailing?” I thought about it for a nano-second and said yes.
We lived on a boat on the Dart for 14 months. Lucy is a teacher and got a job in Torbay. Now we have our house in Kingswear, overlooking the creek.
Why fencing? I first took up fencing when I was 15 and at college. I thought I was signing up for trampolining. When I turned up for the session I thought I may as well have a go at the fencing (there was no sign of a trampoline). By the end of the session I was hooked. I never did do trampolining.
Fencing is exciting – it’s killing people with swords! All the moves are real, and although we wear masks, the swords have tips and we have protective clothing, nothing is faked, it’s full on. We fight and every fight is a competition. If you get hit it is your own fault.
There are three types of sword – foil, epee and sabre. At Kingswear we use the epee. This is a real weapon, whereas the others are training weapons.
As soon as man started to stick flint in bits of wood and poke them at each other, that was the start of fencing. It is such a natural, inbuilt sport and a way to sort out disputes, and it has been around forever.
It’s easy to imagine men duelling on the banks of the Dart at dawn in times gone by – much better when duelling was done with swords. The fight ended at first blood, so you could win by nicking your opponent’s cheek or arm. Once people started duelling with pistols it became a lot more dangerous.
Would Kingswear Swords welcome beginners? There are no beginners in fencing – only fencers without experience. It is a natural sport that anyone can do, and as coaches we are not teaching people what to do, but what not to do. Women tend to be neater fighters, men come out with big bold sweeps, swinging the sword around, the sort of thing that looks great on films or the stage. You’re looking to take that down to small, deft moves – smaller is quicker and more efficient.
But yes we always welcome new members. I don’t just coach in Kingswear, I’ve worked with students at Paignton and the Dartmouth Academy, I teach fencing at Torquay Boys Grammar School, and best of all on the quarterdeck at Britannia Royal Naval College. To fight there, surrounded by all that history and architecture, with the swords crashing and the acoustics, watched by top brass dripping with ‘scrambled egg’ – that is really something.
Can you tell us about your family? I live with my wife Lucy, and we have two grown up children. Libby is a solicitor and works in London. She is a keen fencer and competes internationally, all over the world. Simon is a computer expert and is based in Cheltenham. He’s a keen sailor and races RS500s on a lake near Oxford. He sails bigger boats too and always comes for Regatta.
What is your favourite walk? I’m a keen mushroom chaser and there are lots to be found in the woods on the other side of the creek, around Little Dartmouth and in Sandquay woods. It is a fascinating hobby but you must know what you are doing because it can obviously be extremely risky. I also love fishing and sailing – but that doesn’t count as walking…
What is your favourite view? I’m a volunteer for the Harbour Authority and on a Friday night I patrol the river and check the navigation lights. As I turn my boat out at the castle and head back up the river, the view is breathtaking. It’s beautiful in the day but at night when the lights are sparkling it is as magical as any sight you could see – and if you have the moon behind you…well then it is truly amazing.
If you sail in from the sea, especially at night, the coast is black, you wouldn’t know there was anything here. And then you come around the first bend and the whole river opens out with the towns on either side and there is no another place on Earth to touch it. Every twist of the river is lovely – I think the Dart is the prettiest most wonderful river I have ever sailed in, better than any in France, better than the Helford.
What is your favourite café? I prefer to drink strong coffee at home, especially now I’ve finished the decking which looks out over the creek to Dartmouth beyond. We’ve also extended the house with an extra room that looks that way, so we can enjoy the view on cold days too.
Do you have a favourite shop? Kingswear Village Stores.
What is your favourite pub? Kingswear Swords theory sessions are held in The Ship in Kingswear after every meeting. These are very important sessions and help us to consolidate what we have learned (!) The beer is very good too! We meet every Thursday from 7pm-9pm, and I’m happy to run a one-hour session from 6pm if there is sufficient demand. I also play pool in the Steam Packet once a week, which is also very pleasant.
Why is Dartmouth special to you? It is the prettiest most perfect harbour in the world.
First Published March 2011 By The Dart
To find out more about Kingswear Swords call Alan on 07971 887 874 or email