Just Back From…. South Devon

I booked a week away in south Devon in December when it was cold and dark and I needed something to look forward to in the spring months. We have always taken a spring break since we got together and as a teacher the Easter holidays were the first chance to get away. Even after leaving teaching the habit has stuck with us. In recent years we would return to the West Country and carry out research into where we would like to live. Now of course we have moved down to Cornwall so we can enjoy spring here without going very far.

Dartmouth

One of my projects is to visit every county in England (and possibly Wales and Scotland), preferably to stay a few days, but at least to have driven through other than on a motorway. So for these ‘at home’ breaks (I refuse to use the word staycation), I look for somewhere where I haven’t been.

South Devon is only a couple of hours drive from us and a region I haven’t been to since I was 12 years old and on holiday in Buckfastleigh with my parents and dog. It was the year when we were supposed to be having a week in Devon and a week in London, but the car broke down shortly after Exeter and we found ourselves spending extra time in Devon. I do remember an amazing farmhouse breakfast where we stayed overnight and also stopping off at Stonehenge and running around the stones (you could do that in those days), but I recall absolutely nothing about London! My mother had a friend living in Orpington, then in the Kent countryside, now just another part of the Greater London sprawl.

Anyway, I digress. I booked a week in a National Trust cottage on the estate of Coleton Fishacre on one side of the Dart river. I thought it would make a nice base until I realised that to get anywhere you have to deal with the conurbation of the English Riviera towns of Torbay. Or pay the extortionate sum of £9.50 or £8.50 (depending on which ferry you take), to cross the river over to Dartmouth. But it turned out OK. The cottage was well-equipped even if a little chilly in the kitchen, and the garden to which it was attached (albeit down a fairly steep driveway) was gorgeous, as too the 1930s Art Deco period house.

It also turned out to be the early Spring Bank holiday, a fact that had escaped me, which meant that certain nearby towns like Brixham and Totnes had roads closed over the weekend for the spring celebrations. We saw a lot of pirates roaming the streets in Brixham!

Torbay

We didn’t make it to all the places I had in mind, but we did get to a few and the Devon countryside is a delight with all those rolling hills and red soil, though perhaps not such a delight to walk up.

Looking North-west from Berry Reserve to Exmouth and Lyme Regis (right)

Staying close by on the first day, we walked down to the Daymark, a 25 metre high navigational aid built in 1864 that can be seen from miles around. We were going to continue to Froward Point, where the Brownstone Battery, a coastal defence during WWII was built. There are a number of buildings in the site and anyone interested in military history would enjoy this. We on the other hand realised that the steeply sloping track down to the point would make coming back difficult and walking along the coastal path on the edge of the cliffs, is not an option, so reluctantly we turned back.

The Daymark

The view across Start Bay was amazing. We could see Blackpool Sands and Slapton Sands in the distance and the Start Point lighthouse.

Close by was another National Trust property, the former holiday home of Agatha Christie so we popped over there that afternoon to have a walk through the extensive woodland gardens and a nosy around the house. There are several ways to approach the property – by steam train and ferry, but if you want to use your car you must book a space first.

Greenway

Berry Head Nature Reserve north of Brixham is another location of a former gun battery used during WWII and also the site of a Napoleonic Fort built to defend Torbay from the French, and was once an iron age fort. There are still some ruins and ramparts at the north and south fort and the Napoleonic Fort Guardhouse 1802, a Grade 2 listed building, is now a lovely visitor centre and cafe. We had a lovely walk around the nature reserve and then attempted to visit Brixham, but found it impossible to park there so decided to nip over to Dartmouth instead where we had a great (but not cheap) fish and chip dinner at Rockfish with a view over the river to Kingswear.

Berry Head Reserve

Talking of Kingswear, we fell lucky on our first evening as we drove into the town hoping to find somewhere to eat and passed a tiny cafe which does steak and mussels on a Wednesday evening. Taking a chance we went in and ordered the steak. It took a while to arrive (it is run by one woman), but was absolutely delicious and two steaks with all the trimmings plus a bottle of not too bad red wine came to less than £40.  You get the best photos of Dartmouth from Kingswear and vice versa. And I hadn’t realised just how remote and how small Dartmouth actually is.

Pretty Kingswear

Another trip took us to Buckfast Abbey and the Dartington Hall gardens. The only expense was £1 to park at Dartington Hall, and then £10 for excellent coffees and cakes as we sheltered from the rain after visiting the gardens.

Buckfast Abbey

Our final day took us across the Dart and along the coast south towards Bigbury Bay in South Hams. We stopped off at Slapton Sands¹, a two-mile shingle beach that separates the sea from the freshwater nature reserve of Slapton Ley on Start Bay. This bay in the English Channel lies between the River Dart’s estuary and Start Point.  And from here you could see the Daymark over on the far headland. Continuing slowly through several small and winding villages and the town of Kingsbridge, we eventually arrived at South Milton sands only to find the beach cafe had already closed for the day!

This is beginning to become a habit. Oh, well, we didn’t really need a Devonshire Tea, although a strong coffee would have been nice after driving along those hair-raising narrow lanes with very few passing places to reach the beach. And why is it that other drivers always seem to expect me to reverse? Especially the ones in the monster BMWs or Range Rovers.

We had an early dinner booked back near Blackpool Sands at the Laughing Monk in Strete so after a stroll along the beach we retraced our drive stopping in Torcross to take a closer look at a Sherman tank and memorial.

Slapton Ley Nature Reserve

We had a delicious fishy meal at the Laughing Monk and then returned to Dartmouth to wait for the lower ferry to take us back across the Dart and to our home for the final night. Next time I must visit Dartmoor which loomed in the background for much of our time down in Devon. And I also think I am beginning to prefer staying in a town or village so we can walk to a pub or restaurant for dinner. 

¹Slapton Sands has a very moving story attached to it. In 1943, the beach was taken over by the allied forces to use as a rehearsal area for the D-Day Landings. Unfortunately, a combination of live ammunition and poor visibility resulted in the deaths of 749 American servicemen. You can visit a stone monument which was set in place on Slapton Sands to commemorate the ill-fated ‘Operation Tiger’, along with a Sherman Tank at nearby Torcross.

Sherman Tank

WPC: Reflecting

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all…

~ Joni Mitchell

The Pin Mill, Lily Pond Approach at Bodnant Gardens, Conwy

Before being re-erected at Bodnant in the 1930’s, the building was originally put together in 1730 as a picnic house or shooting lodge, or it is thought it may have been used as a garden house. Later, the building was used as a factory for making dressmaking pins with two furnaces for that purpose inside the building.

WPC: Reflecting

Black and White Sunday: Imperfect

An imperfect photo? Surely not o_O However the subject of this image was seriously flawed.

Thursday September 15th 2016: We deliberately meandered along the foggy shores of the Firth of Forth on our way to Edinburgh with the purpose of stopping in North Berwick and having seafood chowder or lobster bisque for lunch from the well-known Lobster Shack.

Mouths watering in anticipation we made our damp way to the harbour and then saw that the shutters were down. Gutted! Closed except for weekends.

Please visit Paula to see other representations of this week’s challenge.

…will your grass be green, your sky be blue?

Leaving Durham behind, we continued northwards to Alnwick in Northumberland where we would spend our last couple of night in England before heading over the border for 10 days. We stayed in a welcoming B&B on the outskirts of the town and within easy walking distance of the gardens that were our main reason for stopping here.

I have desired to go
where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

After all the beautiful sunny warm, even hot, days of September thus far (with the exception of Norwich) the weather finally turned. We woke to thick fog and rain. With only one full day here we had no choice but to make the best of it and set off to visit the famous Alnwick Water Gardens. On the way, and in a bid to get out of the wet for a while, we popped into Barter Books, originally a Victorian railway station on the North Eastern line and now a second-hand bookshop. And far more…


…an enchanting place filled with poetry lines linking the bookshelves above your head, 40 foot murals and a model train-set in the air; a station café, free wifi, comfortable armchairs and plenty of seating.

O western wind, when wilt thou blow
That the small rain down can rain?
Christ if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again.
~ Anon (early 16th century)

The books are almost the last thing you look at.

There were, naturally, several books in this second-hand bookshop in Alnwick Northumberland that I could have walked out with, but the thoughts of having to carry them around with me for the next couple of weeks turned me off the idea.

The thought of living in this pretty little town however…

‘He breathed in air/He breathed out light/ Charlie Parker was my delight.’ ~ Adrian Mitchell

It’s quirky, it’s rambling and it’s the most eclectic place to browse in. Set up by Mary Manley in 1991 it is a second-hand bookshop based on the swap system and called Barter Books and home of the original reproduction ‘Keep Calm and Carry On‘ second world war poster.

And it was very tempting to abandon the garden visit and settle in for the entire day here!

This is Peter Dodd’s ‘Famous Writers’ Mural. In brief, this is a huge (38′ x 16′) mural comprising almost forty life-size characters – specifically, famous writers in the English language from 1800 onward.

They reminded me very much of the Murals in Coit Tower San Francisco.

Finally I will leave you with this poem written by Louis MacNeice an Irish poet who was part of the generation of the Auden Group, also sometimes known as the “Thirties poets”. I find it quite poignant.

“To Posterity”

When books have all seized up like the books in graveyards
And reading and even speaking have been replaced
By other, less difficult, media, we wonder if you
Will find in flowers and fruit the same colour and taste
They held for us for whom they were framed in words,
And will your grass be green, your sky blue,
Or will your birds be always wingless birds?

By: Louis MacNeice (1957)

An amble around Durham’s cathedral

After two lovely sunny days in Lincoln we were ready to carry on northwards. Instead of heading for the A1 immediately we decided to drive through the Lincolnshire countryside via Gainsborough and Bawtry and get onto the A1 near Doncaster. A lot of this region is familiar to me as I grew up in Retford (Notts), Scunthorpe (Lincs) and then moved to Doncaster (S. Yorks) on my return from South Africa. I still managed to get confused on the outskirts of Doncaster though as many of the road routes have altered since I was last there. And then we hit an accident on the A1 and were at a standstill for about an hour!

Eventually though we were about to hit Durham, another city that although I have passed by many times I have never actually visited. My intention was to find the park ‘n ride and bus into the city, but obviously my directional awareness was totally absent on this day as I couldn’t find the site and finished up almost in the city centre where more roadworks were taking place. Heading back out of the city we eventually found the right road (it is next to the A1 but not very well signed) and caught a bus back into the city. It was a very hot day and by the time we had walked up to the castle and cathedral area we were feeling very warm!

Cathedral view from the river
Cathedral view from the river

First stop was to get some lunch and relax! We saw a nice looking café on the Palace Green and found a table outside. After 10 minutes we moved inside to get out of the heat. Now bear in mind this was mid-September in the north-east of the country!

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You are not charged to enter the cathedral, though a donation is suggested, and you are not allowed to take photographs inside either, which was rather disappointing. I did see a few people surreptitiously taking a few shots with their phones and a couple who had cameras were approached, rather more gently than my Lincoln experience.

I did make a few notes and sketches though:
Prior Castell’s clock – a highly decorative wooden clock; the shrine of St Cuthbert; huge pillars carved in a diamond or chevron pattern in the nave; coloured marble floors and a lectern stand with pink and green marble pillars and heraldic lions at the base. Inserts of patterned marble and bands adorn the upper columns. Shrines with traces of the medieval paint in red and blue… Lindisfarne Gospels

Cloisters - the windows would once have contained clear and stained glass
Cloisters – the windows would once have contained clear and stained glass

On entering the cloisters, where the monks would have once passed daily on their way to the Chapter House, the Monk’s Dormitory, Scriptorium, Refectory and Great Kitchen, I decided the photography rules no longer applied. The shadows on the stone slabs were far too tempting and how could I resist the flat wooden ceiling with shields at the intersections of each cross beam and the golden angels near the Chapter House.

More notes: Arched shadows form on the wide stone floor as the hot sun beams down on the cloisters. Wooden pews line the walls and marks in the stonework indicate that possibly a recess has been blocked up. Maybe where the monks stored their books? A pipistrelle bat flies down the passageways and surprises me – I have never seen one at this time of day before. Maybe the darkness in here confuses it into thinking it is dusk. Dust motes float in the air and I can almost imagine the slapping of the sandals of the monks from distant times in the all-pervading silence.

shadows

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We exited the cloisters into a Memorial Garden which stands on the site of the Monastic buildings. A young lad sat peacefully on the bench studying his text book in the sunshine whilst we soaked in the colour and the beauty of the roses still flowering in September.

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The Ypres Rose
The Ypres Rose

Brought back from Ypres in 1917 by Lieutenant H J W Scott 5th BN:DLI. Since then it has travelled with the Scott family from Essex to Surrey and to Cornwall. Presented to this garden of remembrance by his son Mr O T Scott. Planted on Remembrance Sunday 1978.

College Green is a quiet area on the south side of the cathedral, it has a very beautiful secluded village like quality to it, with the houses being the home to members of Durham’s Dean and Chapter. Many of the buildings surrounding the Green originated in the Middle Ages.

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An arched gateway on the east side known historically as the Abbey Gates also called Prior Castell’s Gatehouse of 1495-1519 leads into the street called the Bailey. The gate is still locked each night. It has some delightful carvings on the ceiling.

The south western corner of the College is the home to the Durham Chorister School. This was originally established as a song school around 1390. Former pupils of this school have included the former Prime Minister Tony Blair and the actor, Rowan Atkinson most noted for his role in the BBC comedy Blackadder and as the comedy character Mr Bean.

As usual, colourful doors and interesting windows caught my eye as we made our way back to the Palace Green where we could catch the cathedral bus back to the Park ‘n Ride stop.

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For some inexplicable reason I failed to get a shot of the full west face of the cathedral (I have a vague recollection that there was scaffolding around some of it). To see some images of the cathedral then please visit this site.

These memorial crosses near the cathedral did manage to catch my eye. I was particularly drawn to the rather arts and crafts style of carving on the larger cross.

IF YOU ENJOY A WALK, LONG OR SHORT, THEN HAVE A LOOK AT JO’S SITE WHERE YOU ARE WELCOME TO JOIN IN WITH HER MONDAY WALKS.