Destiny decreed that Nick would write about the history of the countryside and intriguing houses. He was born at Home Farm Cottage in the grounds of Elstree boys school at Woolhampton, Berkshire, where his father was a teacher and his mother the assistant matron.
The school, an old Georgian manor house surrounded by parkland, almost certainly kindled Nick’s love of walking and the countryside; it belonged to a former age and, surely, was the inspiration for his life’s work. Beautiful countryside and intriguing waterways lay beyond the school gates, as well as places like Mapledurham, featured in Nick’s book Writers’ Houses.
Nick was an only child, and as a youngster he spent hours at an old typewriter, creating his own stories from the programme synopses in Radio Times. Visits to his cousins in Wolverhampton gave him the opportunity to tour Pebble Mill studios, leading to a lifetime fascination with the place.
The family moved to Thatcham, near Newbury, when Nick started at secondary school. Then, after leaving school, he had a couple of office jobs before finding work with an estate agent and writing in his spare time. Later, inspired by Sunday walks with his old school friend Ian Knapp, Nick began writing local walking guides for Countryside Books in Newbury.
Nick steadily broadened his repertoire, and retraced fictional journeys such as Richard Hannay’s possible route across Scotland in The Thirty-Nine Steps. He branched out on several overseas forays, covering topics as varied as the D-Day landings and Sherlock Holmes’ fateful trip to Switzerland. He wrote regularly for the AA Pub Guide and the Reading Chronicle, and contributed to broadcasts on national and local radio.
Besides writing over 50 books, Nick wrote extensively for newspapers and magazines including The Daily Telegraph, Country Walking and Country Life. Meanwhile,The Guardian featured extracts from his magnum opus Writers’ Houses, with its foreword by Julian Fellowes. He travelled widely, talking about his books to clubs and societies like the WI.
Yet Nick rarely talked about himself, and remained to the end a very private man. But, says OWPG’s vice-president Roly Smith, “Nick was a loyal member of the Guild committee for many years, and also acted as the Guild’s archivist. He was a gentle, quiet and very kind man, who was always good company on our many excursions together. Well read, he was an accomplished writer and meticulous in his research.”
True to his character, Nick coped with terminal illness by not talking about it. Eventually, in May, he had confided in his cousin Anne that he was being treated for cancer, but his death in July came as a massive shock to us all.
Nick will be greatly missed by all who knew him, but his legacy lives on in his writing.
Based on an original tribute by Anne Hastings