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Every year, during the summer my two daughters and grandson rent a cottage or house at a seaside resort. For the past few years I’ve joined them by taking my caravan and staying on a site nearby. This year they decided on Dawlish in south Devon, a resort where in 1979, we towed our caravan and stayed at the Ladys Mile Site. I didn’t want to stay on a commercial site, so I opted for a Caravan Club CL. By the end of April we had everything booked and were looking forward to going.
The CL I’d chosen was 50 Cofton Hill at Starcross; a CL on a sloping field situated on high ground with a superb view across the Exe estuary and owned by Pauline and husband. The final ¾ of a mile approach road is very narrow, twisting and steep in places. Although the site can be approached from either direction, only one road is advised for caravans
The pitches are arranged across the field so everyone has an unobstructed view.
Because of the slope, four inch blocks are useful to put under each front steady. All the pitches are supplied with electricity from one bollard but the owner has thoughtfully provided some extension cables for the vans furthest away from the supply. The water tap is positioned in a glade at the rear of the site – as is the chemical disposal point – simply a plastic dustbin sunk into the earth and covered by a dustbin lid weighted down with a brick. Not an ideal arrangement. Just over a mile from the site there’s a new Sainsbury supermarket with filling station.
Most of my caravanning journeys begin with a drive on the M25 and to avoid the worst congestion, I was ready to leave by 7am. Within 10 miles I’d reached the motorway and was heading round to the M3. For several months now a fourteen mile section of roadworks has been in place on the M3 with a 50mph restriction, but being early on a Sunday morning traffic was free-flowing. It was only three weeks earlier that I’d followed this same route when I towed down to Somerset, so I didn’t want to take a break at Stonehenge again. Instead I stopped at Solstice Services, just a few miles before Stonehenge. On the service area are all the usual fast food outlets together with a Coop supermarket with filling station and around ten long parking bays. There are toilets in the far corner of the store. Once on the road again heading to the west, the dual carriageway soon ends and a single carriageway begins, going over the downs with Stonehenge on the right. As it was just after 9am traffic was fairly light and moving, but later in the day it usually becomes a nightmare of almost stationary traffic. The A303 continues for another 70 miles, often as a single carriageway with a few sections of dual carriageway all the way to it’s junction with the A30 at Honiton. Because of the light traffic, I reached the site just before lunchtime. After setting up on the pitch, I unloaded my bike and set off down the hill to explore the surrounding area.
Not much was changed in the 37 years since I was last here. Dawlish Warren still has its huge parks of rented mobile homes but the shanty beach shops near to the beach have been replaced with shops of a more permanent appearance, but still selling the same beach wares.
The main railway line linking Exeter with Plymouth runs along the coast and is reputed to be one of the most scenic routes in the Country. The track from Exeter was started in 1844 with Brunel appointed as chief engineer. An “atmospheric system” was installed which at first worked successfully but soon led to insurmountable problems. The idea was quickly abandoned and normal rolling stock was used.
The line follows closely along the bank of the River Exe until it reaches the sea at Dawlish Warren, where it turns sharply to run between the excavated cliffs and the sea. It was along this section where in February 2014 storms destroyed a large section of sea wall, washing away the rail bed and leaving 100 yards of track suspended in mid-air. A massive rebuilding programme took two months of round-the-clock working to complete.
Daughters and Grandson were not due to arrive till mid-afternoon on Monday so I spent the morning renewing my acquaintance with Dawlish town. Parking is nigh on impossible so I found a spot outside the town and cycled in. Dawlish is divided by a river which flows through the town and is known as Dawlish Water, The lower end has been nicely landscaped with parkland on one bank and small waterfalls spaced along the river.
The town is noted for its black swans which were originally brought from Australia. At night coloured lighting reflects beautifully in the water. Later in the day I received a text message saying the family had arrived so in the evening we met up and went out for dinner where we made our plans for the following day.
We decided to drive the 35 miles to Buckfast Abbey. The original abbey was founded shortly following the Norman Conquest by monks who lived according to the Rules of St. Benedict. For over four hundred years the community flourished and became extremely wealthy but in 1539 the Abbot, Prior and other senior monks signed the deed of surrender, thus handing the monastery to the King. In return, the Abbot was given an annual pension of £120 per year – about £75000 in today’s money (according to the RPI). His ‘staff’ received lesser amounts. The rank and file of monks were just turned out with nothing, to manage as best they could. Like all the other 850 monastic buildings, Buckfast was stripped of its wealth, the buildings demolished and the materials sold for other building work. The lands were granted to a Devon nobleman who also happened to be Chamberlain of the Household to Cardinal Wolsey.
At the turn of the last century the site was purchased by a group of French Benedictine monks, who re-founded the present monastery.
Work on the new abbey church, which was constructed mostly on the footprint of the former abbey, started in 1907. The church was consecrated in 1932 but not completed until 1938. Visitors are welcome to visit the Abbey Church and walk in the gardens but the monks’ quarters are private.
After a picnic lunch in the gardens, the girls and Sam set out on a circular walk to nearby Buckfastleigh village whilst I got out my bike and went by road. The train station at Buckfastleigh is the start of the revived steam train line which runs along the Dart Valley to Totnes.
Over dinner that evening we planned our itinerary for the next day. By the time I set off back to my van it was already dark so I stopped in Dawlish, parked alongside the river and got out to photograph the lights. I was surprised to say the least. It was 9.30 and there was hardly a soul about. Where was every body? I took my pictures and went on my way.
Having experienced a stop-go drive in heavy traffic along the Teign River road yesterday, we chose a slightly longer, but quicker route out to the Devon Expressway. We were heading up on to Dartmoor, making our first stop at Buckland in the Moor, a chocolate-box village of thatched roofs.
We parked and headed for the church. It was built in the 12th Century although alterations were carried out 200 years later. The rood screen dates from the 14th C and although some restoration work has been done on the wood work, the paintings in the lower panels are original.
The church has a barrel roof with some of the bosses still with their original medieval paint.
We moved on to Widecombe in the Moor. Whereas at Buckland, we were more or less the only visitors, Widecombe was crowded. Uncle Tom Cobley and All! Having looked around some Craft Centres and Art Galleries we moved on to Postbridge.
By the 13th Century sheep farming was getting established throughout the Country and wool, the biggest export at the time had to be transported by pack horse from the moors down to the ports. Consequently with rivers to be crossed Clapper Bridges were built in several spots to enable the crossings to be made.
The four slabs at Postbridge altogether cover a width of nearly 13 metres and engineers have estimated that the two outer slabs weigh between 6.5 and 8 tons each. No mean feat to transport them from their ‘home’ which is thought to be two miles away. The setting by the river was so lovely that we decided to have our picnic lunch there.
Later with Tomtom coordinates programmed we drove to the car park below Hound Tor. I told the girls and Sam to go ahead on their own leaving me to make the climb at my own pace.
Long before I was even half way up the steep slope I could see Sam waving from high up in the rocks.
After many stops for rests I finally reached the top – but not up onto the highest rocks.
There was a splendid view from the high point, and down below me on the rear facing slope, I could see the remains of the deserted Medieval Village.
I would love to have gone down to explore the site but the thought of the return climb put all ideas of that from my mind. The homes which once made up the village were built in the 13th Century but maybe because of a deteriorating climate, were later abandoned. A recent analysis of broken pottery suggests that the village was deserted by early in the 15th Century. Back down in the car park we enjoyed a welcome cup of tea and because of the lateness in the day, abandoned the rest of our itinerary. We returned to our respective ‘homes’ having made plans to meet later and go out for dinner. On the way back Sam made a table booking for the http://mountpleasantdawlish.blogspot.co.uk/ in Dawlish Warren. It turned out to have an excellent menu with some lovely views from the dining rooms out across the Bay.
On Friday the superb weather looked set to continue. Even at 6.30am the sun was up and the rabbits were scampering about the site.
I collected the family at 10.15 and set out on the drive to Totnes. We parked at the end of Steamer Quay and saw the Caravan Club site where we first stayed in 1982. The family set off on foot to explore the town whilst I got out my bike and headed for the Castle. I was welcomed by the Curator and her pet baby seagull which she was nursing back to health.
From the attention it was receiving I wondered if it will ever bother to fly away.
The first castle to be built on the highest point above the town was erected by one of William the Conqueror’s knights.
For the first castle a huge mound of earth was raised up with a wooden stockade and tower. Later a more permanent stone keep with outer fortifications was built. Now all that remains is the outer walls with its walk way at battlement height.
Later we met up at Steamer Quay where we found a convenient bench alongside the river to have a picnic lunch.
In the afternoon the girls and Sam set out to do the walk from Totnes to Dartington Hall. Meanwhile I drove to Dartington then unloaded my bike and took a pleasant ride along the river side path.
Today we were going to see Exeter. As I said earlier, the train ride from Dawlish to Exeter runs through some beautiful scenery and the girls had expressed a wish to do the train journey. I wanted to drive so that I could carry my bike, so I set out at 9am and drove into the City where I found a car park close to the Quay. I unloaded my bike and – disaster –- I’d left the battery in the caravan being charged. But nothing could be done. I’d have to use the bike without power. Not impossible – but it takes more effort than a normal bike. I cycled down to the Quay then along the river side path for some distance before returning and meeting up with the family. What would we do without mobile phones.
Exeter has had a quay since Roman times but by the 13th Century the town had become an important centre for the export of wool. Because rival merchants built weirs across the lower stretches of the river, in 1566 the Exeter canal was built which allowed trading vessels to collect and deliver cargo close to the City. . The increase in trade led to the construction of the Custom House which has now become a visitors centre
Inside original features have been preserved so leading to the upper floor there is a broad staircase. Original and intricate plaster mouldings on the ceilings are also preserved
Along the quay, the original warehouses have been turned into craft workshops and galleries. Being Saturday it was crowded with visitors and a local band, http://www.exeter-railway-band.co.uk/ put on an a very impressive performance of brass band playing
We found an empty riverside bench close by so were able to have our picnic lunch to their accompaniment.
Before we left the Quay we decided to go for a river cruise along the Canal. Then it was up into town where we found much of the City Centre was very modern. Early in the war the City became a target for Hitler’s bombing. Apparently he gave instructions that the Baedeker Guide to Great Britain should be used to select targets from our most famous cities and so a programme of air raids began, with Exeter being at the top of the list. Consequently many of the medieval properties were destroyed with the Cathedral taking at least one HE bomb. Fortunately most of the ancient stained glass had already been removed for safe-keeping.
Following the Norman Conquest, a nephew of William was appointed Bishop and a Cathedral was built in the Norman Style, but in the 13th Century much of the building was rebuilt in the Gothic Style. A Chapter House and Cloisters were added but these were lost during the Dissolution.
My picture of the Rood Screen is reflected in the polished lid of a grand piano which had just been used to accompany a local choir’s performance.
Today was our last day and also my eldest daughter’s birthday. It was her choice of where to go and………….. It was to be Torquay and a coastal cliff walk to Babbacombe. We arrived mid-morning to a very busy town with not a parking space to be found anywhere – but after a while we found a multi-story carpark, very close to the beach so we headed up to the ninth floor which was on the roof. Having parked we were soon down at street level and heading for the http://www.englishrivierawheel.co.uk/
This we had heard was similar to the one on the London South Bank. And so it was, except that each cabin seated six, where as the London version held a dozen or so standing – so similar, but on a smaller scale. However we found only a short queue for tickets and we were quickly on board. Gradually we made our way to the top of the wheel with some superb views over the marina and bay.
Slowly we began to descend – but then we stopped. After a while we saw the four attendants were pushing the wheel around by hand then allowing passengers to leave their gondola. Eventually our turn came so we had to get off feeling somewhat disgruntled that we’d only had one revolution, however smiles were quickly restored when we were handed back our £22.
Over lunch we discussed the afternoon’s programme. The girls and Sam wanted to do the Coastal walk to Babbacombe but heavy-duty walking is not for me, so I drove instead to nearby Cockington, another chocolate-box, thatched-cottage village.
After parking, I unloaded the bike – this time with battery, and set off through the Country Park. In the centre of the park is a 17th Century manor house with its stables and out buildings converted into craft workshops. I was particularly taken with the blacksmiths shop and the glass blowers workshop.
After a pleasant sit in the shade of an old oak tree, I set off to see some of the village cottages.
Mobile phones enabled us to meet up on Babbacombe Beach when after a while we climbed to street level on the Cliff Railway.
We rounded off the day at a local Indian Restaurant.
Monday……..By 10.30 all was packed, hitched on and ready to face the short but
perilous drive down to the main road. But no drama – and within thirty minutes I was approaching Exeter ready to do a few hundred yards on the M5, before exiting to the A30 and later the A303. After 100 miles I stopped for a lunch break at Solstice Services and eventually reached home at 3.30.