Friday, 30 August 2013


This has been – and continues to be – one of the busiest weeks in our part of South Devon: the height of the summer plus school holidays plus the Royal Regatta at Dartmouth. These combine to make travel a bit of a nightmare: lots of traffic with few available places to park. It can be even worse in the lanes.

Not their fault, of course, but the visitors so often have little experience of driving in our country lanes which are often barely wider than a car – as you can see.

Then when you meet someone coming in the other direction there is a problem. One or other has to reverse into an area which is just wide enough for you to pass each other unless – and it happens quite often – there is such a place between you. Generally this will be a slight widening of the road giving just enough space to pass. The key is in those words “just enough”. Those of us who have driven here most of our lives are quite happy to stop only half an inch from a stone wall leaving a space to our right which is perhaps three inches wider than the incoming car. Likewise, if we are driving that oncoming car, we are more than happy with that. We pull in our wing mirrors and off we go. Those not used to the lanes are less content. Some pass by slowly and carefully but others just freeze and look helpless.
It's not just other vehicles: livestock seem to think they own the place.
They are probably right.
It is grossly unfair but then we say things like, “Come on for heaven’s sake. You could drive a bus through there!” in exasperated terms. This driver could not drive his or her car through there – let alone a bus. BUT if, like me, you rarely drive in large towns or cities, where the speed of the traffic switching from lane to lane with breath-taking confidence induces a sense of absolute terror, it behoves you to treat these drivers with courtesy: in their own comfort zones they are as confident and happy as are we in ours. Just as we fall to pieces when outside ours, so do they.

Thus, cursing under our breaths, we reverse as far as it takes to find a wider passing place, perhaps a gateway into a field or a road junction. We shall probably do this with complete insouciance never looking over our shoulders but with eyes flicking between our wing mirrors with the odd glance at the interior mirror. We are not showing off: reversing for long distances while turning your head round is somewhere between uncomfortable and downright painful so we soon learn to do it on mirrors alone.
They may be narrow but there are some lane verges that are delightful.
They are at their best in spring but still god here, three weeks ago.
However, we are probably breaking the law. The law does not encourage people to drive backwards down the roads and covers this with a simple regulation known as clause 203 of Law CUR reg 106: “You MUST NOT reverse your vehicle further than necessary.”

Putting aside the fancy name (I’m not quite sure what “Law CUR reg 106” means but it does sound like something rather distasteful) it poses a question. The capital letters are enshrined in that law, by the way, and they are sometimes printed in BOLD. The problem is contained in the word “necessary”.

If there really is enough space but one driver has insufficient confidence to drive through it, does that make it “necessary” in the eyes of the law for the other driver to reverse one inch let alone (as sometimes happens) a few hundred yards? Most of us don’t give this a thought, we do what we deem to be “necessary” and most of us do it cheerfully and then wave happily at the other driver as he or she passes by. Come to think of it, that driver is probably an accessory to this crime.

There are times – are there not? – when the law is an ass.

Still, come the end of next week after the schools start their autumn terms we shall all be back to normal. We shall still meet others in the lanes but when two “locals” meet they somehow size up the situation and quickly come to what feels like a mutual decision as to the best way to solve the impasse. Anyway, if you are not that happy in these narrow lanes there is no need to use them: they rarely lead anywhere that isn’t served by quite decent roads.

Last evening, Marcia and I went for a walk beside the River Avon at Shipley. 

We were lucky to see the dipper - a long was away as usual but always a delight.

It was Marcia who spotted this lichen draped over a thorn bush.
No question but that autumn is nearly on us when the rowan berries appear.
Chadwick aficionados will remember that it was here that Miles suffered a stroke so perhaps I should add that there was no such disaster yesterday.

Meet Filo.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Dartington Hall

Yesterday we popped over to Dartington Hall to have coffee with a couple of friends in the Round House. In the old days we would have gone to the White Hart but now Dartington Hall hosts more – and more popular – events they have had to increase their catering capacity. It is sad to see the White Hart so changed but the new Round House is delightful.
The Gate House. The Roundhouse (see picture below) is to the left.

We used to go there quite often before we moved to the other side of Dartmoor but this is the first time since we came back. Marcia has been to the Cider Press – a shopping complex and restaurant run by the Dartington Hall Trust – a few times to meet up with friends but not to up to the hall itself.
The entrance to the Great Hall (this and the next picture taken by B Rochard)
These names should be familiar to you. Caroline and Prue used to pop over from The Keep and it was in the White Hart that Jolyon confronted his mother in The Prodigal Wife.
You can stay in the rooms overlooking the courtyard.
The original hall was built at the tail end of the 14th century by John Holland, Earl of Huntingdon and Duke of Exeter. He was half brother to Richard II who was deposed by Henry Bolingbroke – Henry IV – and tried to lead a rebellion to reinstate Richard. This rebellion failed and John Holland was executed and his lands, including Dartington, became the property of the crown. Sir Arthur Champernowne, Queen Elizabeth’s Vice-Admiral of the West, acquired the Hall in 1559 and the family lived there for the next three hundred and sixty six years.
When the weather is nice there is no better place for lunch than under the canopies outside The White Hart 
When Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought the estate in 1925 the hall and most of the other buildings were derelict. They met when Leonard was studying agriculture in the USA at the Cornell University where he was elected to be President of Cornell’s Cosmopolitan Club (for foreigners). Finding that the club was burdened by huge debts he embarked on some money-raising activities which brought him into contact with Dorothy Whitney from Washington DC.

The Elmhirsts wanted Dartington to become a centre where the arts could flourish and that, together with some additional aims, remains true under the ownership and management of the Dartington Hall Trust. Click here for their web site.

The Ways With Words festival is held here (Marcia has spoken at that festival a few times) and it is probable that the artistic influence of Dartington helps to ensure that Totnes remains to this day to be the most inclusive town I have ever known – you meet all sorts here and all are welcome.

On the way home we took to the lanes although we used proper roads going over to ensure we didn’t get lost which could have made us late. It may sound strange that we can get lost here but this area is criss-crossed by a multitude of lanes all of which look much alike. When we lived in Avonwick we used to buy runner beans grown in four huge greenhouses on a market garden somewhere in that part. Now, over a decade later, we have been unable to find it. Even if the market garden has closed down, I am reasonably certain I would recognise the big bungalow built near the entrance.

So I make no apologies for getting lost although, as you well know, we are never really lost. How can we be when we are to the south of the A38, north of the sea and somewhere between Exeter and Plymouth. Not lost – just a bit wumbled which inevitably reminds me of Roly the unwumbler in Echoes of the Dance.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Are we sinking?

Last week our son popped down to see us for a couple of days which was, as always, a great delight. However . . .

Most parents would agree that there are certain episodes when their young are young (if you see what I mean) that are best forgotten. Charles decided over lunch to reminisce about one such occasion.

We had bought a launch – an open boat with a covered foredeck (useful for stowing shopping and so on), a short mast (generally useless but fun for hanging flags from), a folding canvas canopy rigged abaft the mast under which two people could shelter from the elements and a rather good Mercury outboard that enabled us to go both forwards and backwards (or ahead and astern if you prefer). The boat was on the shore beside the River Yealm at Noss Mayo. Our ketch was in the Kingsbridge estuary. The obvious thing to do was to ask the previous owner to put her afloat, cadge a lift down to Noss Mayo and bring her back by sea. This was known as “Plan A”. There was no “Plan B”.

The whole journey would have been in the order of twenty miles which at our cruising speed of about four knots would take about five hours. We had all the important things with us: provisions and the means to make coffee; ample fuel for the outboard; sunglasses (it was high summer) and spare sweaters in case it turned chilly.

The launch (it never did have a proper name) had been ashore and being a clinker built wooden boat needed a bit of time to “take up”. These boats keep the water out because the overlapping boards are held together with copper rivets (or “clenches” as they used to be called and from which the name derives). Riveted together when the wood is dry. Only when the timbers become wet (or “take up” moisture) and swell does a clinker built boat become watertight. Really the launch should have been in the water for a couple of days more before we set out but . . .

The crew: two landlubbers and (right) an old sea dog - Boy.
We were about half-way. The sun continued to shine, the sea was almost flat and there was virtually no wind. The coast of south Devon was slipping past looking, at that distance, utterly beautiful. Then one of my two landlubbers noticed that water had begun to seep over the bottom boards (the flat bits of wood inside the hull on which you stand). Panic. Needless and totally unnecessary panic. Where was the pump? We haven’t got one. Where was the baler  An inspection in the stern locker soon answered that: we haven’t got one.
Not quite the right part of the coast but this is much the same
and the shore is about as far away as it was that day.
I pointed out the facts. The boat was gradually taking up and the rate at which she was leaking was slowing down: during the first half of the journey we had taken in less that three inches of water: we wouldn’t sink unless we took in another twelve at least: there was nothing to worry about.

The crew continued to worry – quite a lot. Needless to say we made it, safe and sound.

But Charles has never forgotten. We were talking about the joys of boating when he decided to revisit that trip. There was nothing worth saying so I didn’t say anything.

‘Good heavens!’ said Marcia. ‘That’s the first time I’ve seen you lost for words.’ She was right, I was.

Claire Rudkins – she blogs at “Less is More (I hope!)” sent me a photograph of a moth the other day. It landed on her window in Exeter and, as you can see, we are looking at the underside of the wee beastie. Claire wondered if I could identify it. Basically I have failed. Someone has told Claire that it is a Vapourer Moth. I think not. This moth (Orgyia antiqua to give it its proper name) is odd in that the female is flightless and the male has very distinctive feather-like antennae whilst the moth in the picture has long, slender and unfeathered antennae. So, what is it? I won’t bore you with my investigation save to say that there are only 2 out of the 2,700+ moth species in the UK that strike me as possibles. Both present problems. One has never been seen in the south west and the other shouldn’t be around at this time of the year. Hmmm. Any ideas, anyone?

Our blog dog this week spends much of his time on an old Humber Barge in the River Dart. Hardly surprising, therefore, that he is called Storm. I should add that be came from Animals in Distress of Ipplepen (not far away) who rescued him after a very traumatic start to life. Now, after four years of patient and loving care, he is a happy and very friendly person.

Friday, 9 August 2013

The 100th Friday blog!

There are all sorts of reasons for working. Two old saws come to mind: keeping the wolf from the door and keeping a roof over one’s head. Some authors write commercial output – which they may well call “wolf scarers” – while also writing what they really want to write even though it does not earn that much.

I seem to remember that this was true of Bruno Trevanionn. We meet him in The Golden Cup. His, uncommercial, passion was to write about the work of Joseph Bazalgette (a relation) who was responsible, as Chief Engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, for an incredible networks of drains and sewers under London – much still in use today. He did much else besides, embanking much of the River Thames and building a number of bridges.
The famous Butterwalk in Dartmouth
I have a fellow feeling with Bruno on this subject. My grandfather moved from Kent to take the post of Engineer and Health Inspector for the then Royal Borough of Dartmouth and it was he who completed the embankment of the River Dart which resulted in the draining of a creek known as Coombe Mud and the creation of a new public space now called Coronation Park. Prior to this there was a row of cottages, Coombe Terrace, at the head of the creek and these remain today. If you drive down into Dartmouth by the new main road you will find them on your left as you skirt round Coronation Park.
Fairfax Place and, below, detail of the panels seen above the red car.
None of this has much to do with Marcia’s writing although she is fairly confident that the next novel to be tackled will be set in Dartmouth and the town is much in my mind at the moment. It has changed dramatically over the years. Indeed, it has changed dramatically during my lifetime. Much of the industry that kept the place alive has gone to be replaced by tourism. There is an industrial estate nearby but little is now made in the town itself. Gone are the boatyards, the pottery (Dartmouth Pottery is still made but not in Dartmouth), the blacksmith, the gas works and the generating house which supplied the town with electricity – 400 volts DC was produced which was, literally, lethal. All of these places are tangled up with my family history and so I can well understand why Bruno was fascinated by that of his.
The Cherub now a pub but once a merchant's house
One of the reasons that Dartmouth is so popular with the visitors is that it retains many of the medieval buildings for which it is rightly famous. We forget that they stand simply because the place was too poor to replace them until the wheel of fortune turned and we came to realise that these beautiful old treasures needed to be preserved.
As always, it is the river that is at the heart of Dartmouth
Marcia’s characters will probably be living in something rather more modern and definitely more convenient. Throughout history Dartmouth has swung between riches and poverty many times. Generally speaking it has been the sea that has brought the riches – as in 1592 when the famous Madre de Deus, a Portuguese treasure ship which had been captured was brought into the harbour. Much of her cargo “disappeared” before the arrival of Sir Walter Raleigh to take possession in the name of Queen Elizabeth.
The Britannia Royal Naval College as it is today
I have mentioned the Embankment: much of the earlier work that was carried out to embank the river and reclaim the muddy shores was done by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and it was shortly after that war that the decision was taken to create an academy for training officers for the Royal Navy at Dartmouth. Initially this was housed in an old wooden warship, HMS Britannia which is why the present establishment is known as Britannia Royal Naval College – and I am sure you will all remember the part that that establishment played in Those Who Serve and, later, in the Chadwick Trilogy.
I have to confess that I cannot find the name of this handsome fellow.

Friday, 2 August 2013


For the last two years or so, the weather has been . . . unusual. There seems to be a lot more energy in the systems that drive weather and I am sure this is not just here in the UK but pretty much world wide. Everything seems magnified. There are periods of drought followed by torrential downpours and flooding. In winter the temperatures drop to record lows and in summers they soar to record highs. How much of this is natural and how much is caused by what we all do, I really don’t know. What I do know is that the weather forecasters seem to be finding it harder than ever to offer accurate predictions despite having far better information these days.

It is this that caused all the problems on Wednesday. We had been expecting a nice sunny day after some pretty miserable conditions that followed the super-hot June and into July. So we made plans. Plans that were all based on the sun shining. Plans that included visiting parts of the coast and taking some good photographs and video of people enjoying themselves on the beaches, cavorting merrily in places such as Dartmouth and generally having a happy holiday.

The sun obviously had not been listening to the South West of England’s weather forecast. It spent the entire day sulking behind a pall of low cloud from which drifted down a gentle drizzle which soaked everything and everybody.

Still, the British are a stoical lot and they were determined to make the best of things: some even seemed to enjoying, cavorting and happily holidaying. I must mention one group, two chaps with their wives. Suddenly (and luckily just as we were pulling to a halt) the windscreen wiper in front of me flicked into the air and landed on the bonnet. Hastily switching off the wipers – and the engine – I hopped out to take a look. Everything seemed to be there: the wiper itself and a little gadget with which it is attached to the wiper arm. The only problem was I had no idea how these things fitted together and that is where this cheerful quartet came in.
Taken on a better day: the boatfloat and, below, Foss Street.
I asked the nearest chap whether he had any ideas. No, he said, but my chum does. He called the other chap over and he had a look. Obviously he knew what he was doing and he had a go but it was his wife who, I think she was losing patience, took the situation in hand and soon all was right as rain. We saw them again later in the morning – now in Dartmouth – and all waved cheerfully as they passed.

Still, the week wasn’t a complete washout. Marcia is pretty sure that Dartmouth will feature in the next book so I took a few photos so that she could remember what it was like in the damp and gloom. This was, of course, completely unnecessary as we lived there many years ago and know it in all its moods. Even so, I have printed some off in a montage so that they can join the others she has at hand when she is actually writing.

Staring into the middle distance in the hope of something good arriving is Mitzie.