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.
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. Continue reading Just Back From…. South Devon
Whilst in Essex and with time to spare between checking out of one place and checking in to another, we decided to visit the quintessential English Dedham Valley on the borders of Essex and Suffolk where Constable drew inspiration for some of his paintings, notably “The Hay Wain“.
“The sound of water escaping from Mill dams …, willows, old rotten banks, slimy posts and brickwork. I love such things … as long as I do paint I shall never cease to paint such places.”
~ John Constable
The scene is rural England at its most romantic and although the spot which inspired him has altered slightly you can find the easily recognisable view at Flatford. The area is charming; narrow lanes lead to hamlets and meadows and there are plenty of riverside walks along the River Stour which meanders through this enchanting valley. Dedham, East Bergholt and Flatford is affectionatley known as ‘Constable Country’ and you can see examples of his work and information about the man at the National Trust exhibition centre located at Flatford.
Our first stop on the recent trip up the east coast of Britain was in a little place called Mistley which is situated on the River Stour in Essex. You may have heard of Manningtree which is a little further up the river as it is the smallest town in England. Mistley’s use as a port can be traced back to the Roman occupation with archaeological evidence indicating that a Roman road connected its riverside to the important garrison town of Colchester (Camulodunum).
Both Manningtree and Mistley are attractive towns with Georgian and Victorian architecture. Manningtree was a centre for cloth in Tudor times with barges transporting it to London and it is believed that the reference to Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry IV as “that roasted Manningtree Ox” relates to the practice of roasting a whole ox at the town’s medieval annual fair.
Mistley is also the village where Matthew Hopkins lived – the notorious Witch Finder General, who struck terror into the local community during the 17th Century. Continue reading The Witch Finder General and Malthouses