This is the first of the Famous Five (Funf Freunde in German) books that takes place away from Kirrin Cottage and the surrounding area. Once again it is holidays (and it is Easter, which sort of throws the books out of order since book two was during the Christmas break, and the third book was during another unnamed break, however, despite my lack of knowledge about 1940s English School terms, it seems as if the five have skipped some holidays to arrive here) and they all get together again to go to Kirrin Cottage to stay with their aunty and uncle. However, we also begin to notice that the children's parents are now becoming more distant and it seems as if Quentin and Fanny are taking the role of parents, since during the school term, the children are off at boarding school.
Anyway, a tree falls onto Kirrin Cottage and the house becomes unliveable, but as it happens, Quentin has been communicating with another scientist at a town called Smuggler's Top and they decide to send the children there for the holidays. Smuggler's Top is an old town built on top of a hill that is surrounded by marshland. It used to be <spoiler>(and still is)</spoiler> a haven for smugglers, as they would use the secret paths meandering through the swamp, and the catacombs under the hill, to bring their illegal imports into England. We are not told what they are smuggling, only that it is happening, and of course the Five, with a couple of new friends, Sooty and his sister Maryanne, decide to get to the bottom of this mystery.
It is funny how it is all down to the children to solve these mysteries since the adults seem to blindly trust all the other adults and automatically distrust the children's overactive imagination. However, this can be a little dangerous as I know that when I was a kid I would have loved to have gone on the adventures that the Five went on, and as I grew up to teenagehood, I would continue to go out on these adventures, though I must admit that it was not to bust bad guys but rather to have some excitement in a rather boring life.
However, the catch is that in real life crooks tend not to be that easy to catch, or that easy to scare. Okay, granted, it is a children's book, and we are not necessarily looking for realism, however we are talking about a world much closer to ours. While Blyton's fairy tales are set mostly in the magical world of Fairyland, the Famous Five, and similar stories, are all set in the real world of merry England, even if the towns that they travel to only exist in Blyton's imagination.
Once again we also have a large house riddled with secret doors and passages, ones that the bad guys know about but the other adults put to the back of their mind. As a kid I would have loved to have lived in a house full of such passages, and I suspect that in England there are a lot of old houses and castles with such passages. Unfortunately, one cannot wonder around Windsor Castle, probably because the Queen lives there, but I would like to know if these castles actually are full of secret passages. The only castle that I went to that you can wonder around was Dover Castle, and granted there were tunnels and passages in this sprawling complex, but not like what one would expect from the Famous Five.
You can walk around most of Dover Castle, and like other English castles, it consists of a tall square inner keep which is surrounded by an old wall. However, due to the castles' strategic location, overlooking the narrowest section of the English Channel, the castle has been added to and improved upon, right up to World War II where it was still being used as a military base. I only wondered around the medieval part of the castle, namely the Keep and some old Napoleonic tunnels, however on the drive up there you do pass the old, underground, World War II hospital and store rooms. Okay, I did not explore the castle too deeply, so I cannot actually say if there were any secret doors there at all. The best way to find them though is to look for abnormally thick walls, or sections of the floor that do not seem to have an entrance. However, finding the entrance can be a real trick in itself.
As for the older houses, I really cannot say. A lot of those houses are privately owned and I doubt the occupants would really appreciate some tourists tramping all over their lovely house looking for secret passages. Further, I suspect you will need to know the area really well to find them,because I suspect that even if there were passages, the exits would either be covered in undergrowth, or caved in. However, as mentioned, I do suspect that there are probably such passages in some of the older houses. In anycase, I did discover a secret hole once, and that was in an elevator at the University of Adelaide. I still do not know what it is used for, but the back of the elevator could be swung open, and down the bottom was a small space that poked out of the back, and it was large enough for a human to crawl into it. However a couple of years after my discovery, the university decided to put a lock on the back wall, so I could no longer open it and marvel at my discovery.