Thursday, 4 February 2016

West Country Tour … Countisbury and Porlock Hills, Culbone Church … part 17 …



Now we’re off along the coast going north-east from Lynton and Lynmouth towards Minehead … vaguely following the track taken by the men and horses hauling the “Louisa” – the lifeboat that the Lynmouth men in 1899 took over the coombes and declivities to Porlock Weir to rescue shipwrecked sailors – a journey of 13 miles.

Early postcard: Porlock Bay, Countisbury Hill, Tarr Steps in Exmoor and
Culbone Church

To get a feel of their 1899 rescue journey and what was required to widen the track, avoid obstacles … learn about gradients … up the 1 in 4 ½ Countisbury Hill, then hold the lifeboat back from careening down the 1 in 4 Porlock Hill … please read the article.  (Men and horses hanging on for dear life - I reckon that's probably an understatement!).


Devil's Staircase, Powys, Wales


Gradients – these measurements are steep … I remember them from our holidays in the Lake District … this photo here is the Devil’s Staircase, Powys, Wales … which is a 1 in 4 climb or ride.



The A 39 coast road is a delight (except for the traffic) … wonderful scenery with gorgeous views of Exmoor on one side, the coast and sea on the other – when the driver has a chance to look!


Countisbury Hill -
now the South West
Coastal Path
Roads twisting and turning up the ‘reasonable’ Countisbury Hill … across the moorland dotted with heather, gorse, and whortleberry bushes, we go from Devon to Somerset crossing the Doone Valley until the sight of Porlock Hill wakes me bolt upright as we think about ‘tumbling down’ that chasm with its hairpin bends, decision time …




A hairpin decision making bend


… ah ha !!! there’s a scenic route with a toll … we’ll enjoy this detour of 4.2 mile, which was built in the 1840s (before cars) to offer a gentle alternative to the infamously steep Porlock Hill: which we, in the end, never drove!!




Porlock Toll Road

The road was dug out manually to provide work for the local people following the Napoleonic Wars.  This scenic route twists through idyllic woodland with glimpses of Porlock Bay coming into view.




We enjoyed this side road – used by various car and cycling rallies – when it would be closed off to normal traffic … it has a place in the history of motor sport.


Looking south-west to Lynmouth

Sadly we had to keep going … but Porlock is a place I must at some stage get back to visit … and includes Porlock Weir – an idyllic harbour-side village – from where the Lifeboat “Louisa” was eventually launched.





Porlock Weir Harbour
Porlock Bay gives us another example of how our coastline has and has not changed over the millennia … the little fishing harbour played an important part in the sea route to Wales … exchanging timber for coal and limestone … similar to the other tiny inlets along this coast.


The sea level has remained at its present level since the Roman times (2,000 years ago) … it still rising a little, but for 8,000 years after the end of the last Ice Age the melting ice caps caused the Bristol Channel to rise about 40 metres (131 feet). It also has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, which shows itself here at Porlock Weir with a rise of 15 m or 50 feet … second only to the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada.



Porlock Bay

What is now Porlock Beach would have been about five miles inland … Mesolithic peoples (10,000 years ago – as the last glacial period ended) would be living in the area, hunting aurochs, an ancient species of wild cattle, and living off the rich food supplies of the warming glacial marshlands.



A submerged forest can be seen at very low tide … while the coastline includes shingle ridges, salt marshes … in 1052 AD, the Saxon King Harold, landed at Porlock Bay from Ireland, burnt the town … before marching on London.  I have no idea why!


Culbone Church

Mel from A Heron’s View asked if we’d been to Culbone Church, which was on our way from Lynmouth to Porlock … I had to advise that we hadn’t had a chance to see it … but obviously my curiosity needed to be satisfied.





Sorbus Vexans
The Church is only accessible on foot, with the South West Coast Path going nearby and through the hamlet … the woods surrounding the area are home to the Sorbus Vexans (bloody whitebeam) one of the rarest trees in Britain … the Sorbuses include the Whitebeam and Rowan species in the Rosaceae family.



The Domesday Book (1086 AD) has records of the hamlet of Culbone, while the Culbone Stone points to an earlier significance from medieval times … possibly as far back as the Saxon period …


Culbone Stone with its incised cross:
 made from Hangman Sandstones
 - see my part 12

… though the Stone itself may have been moved from a nearby Bronze Age (2,500 BC – 700 BC) site known as the Culbone Stone Row … where 21 other stones stand …


… indicating an earlier connection long before Christianity reached these shores, Culbone was a centre for pagan worship … a community of monks was established in the fifth century …





Oak woodland in Exmoor
The church is tiny but still operates today – it seats about 30 people.  Walkers can easily get to the church, but drivers must park nearby and walk through the fairy tale tunnels of woodland – oak, walnut, whitebeam and rowan … with the sunlight dappling through, the sea glinting in the distance …



Samuel Taylor Coleridge



… evoking Coleridge’s Kubla Khan – written in the area – where he was rudely interrupted by a “Person from Porlock” … perhaps his doctor with more opium … who knows … so the poem remained unfinished … and the tale one of fiction …




Red Deer on Porlock Hill


… but the stunning landscape of Exmoor exudes literary talent … artists, poets, authors … while they all expounded the virtues of this amazing coastline spreading their legacy far and wide … bringing us back to that moorland of Romance, Myth, Murder and fairy tales.




Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday, 31 January 2016

West Country Tour … a Rising Sun lunch and characteristics of a 14th C Inn … part 16 …



Before we left Lynmouth … we stopped for lunch at the Rising Sun – a 14th C thatched smugglers inn overlooking the harbour and bay – lots of history here too.

Rising Sun pub sign


There’s oak panelling, crooked ceilings, thick beach-stone walls and creaking uneven floorboards … roaring fires, a healthily stocked bar, fireplaces warming weary bones or drying damp bodies … a typical ancient pub … that has changed very little in 700 years.







The actual Rising Sun Pub and Hotel

History rings out at us too – displays, old signs, authors’ time spent here, old tars’ stories … chapters of Lorna Doone being written here … Shelley honeymooned here – his cottage now forming part of the hotel.





From the Rising Sun site - a view up the rivers' valley
of the two Lyn rivers


Crooked staircases, narrow passageways, sloping floors and low beams are still here – but modern facilities have been introduced …






The Board says it all:
West Country fish delivered daily



… utterly delicious food gives the Inn that extra luxurious touch to an ancient fishing and mining area … locally landed lobsters, Exmoor game and fresh fish … quality feasting with a European twist bringing it all up to date.








Jenny's Devon BLue

Jenny and I had West Country Plates … Jenny had the Devon Blue with roasted tomato chutney, pickled onions, poached fig and homemade bread … 




My Chicken Liver Parfait


... I had the Chicken Liver Parfait with homemade chutney, cornichons, mixed salad and warm toast.





The lifeboat "Louisa" and details
of the two models from the framed data -
which I note in the post itself.
The Lynton and Lynmouth Lifeboat – an exact replica, scale 1:18, of the lifeboat, "Louisa", I mentioned in my previous post – which was the lifeboat involved in the epic overland journey to Porlock Weir to rescue 18 men, in January 1899.



The "Louisa" was specially built in 1887, at a cost of £298 and 14 shillings.  It had all the modern technology available at the time and was the latest type of self-righting lifeboat.




Details at right as per story in the frame.



The 17th Century Statenjacht - this is also an exact replica, scale 1:30, of the 17th century Dutch Statenjacht “Mary”.






The Dutch admiralty purchased a “jacht” (meaning swift craft or hunter) and presented it to Charles II on his re-accession to the English throne in 1660.  We changed the name to ‘yacht’ but it is said that Charles II originated the sport of yachting with this particular boat.


I don't have the details re this and it might have been
a 'Barquentine' ... the island depicted on the right is
labelled 'New Britain' and is part of Papua New Guinea



More history here to explore at another time … and perhaps one day to spend a couple of nights here … just enjoying the ambience and relishing being in a tiny harbour village with a connecting funicular to its town above.



The bar at the Rising Sun


I think this will have whetted your appetite to see the hills that that lifeboat was hauled and pushed up … and to join Jenny and I as we really do now move on to Minehead in Somerset – our last formal stop.  Not quite the end … a few more posts to go …



Shelley's History:  This is an interesting read with some pictures … reference is made to the Shelley’s life, George Ley is mentioned: the Pack O’ Cards pub owner … Mary Godwin – Shelley’s second wife.  Also the history of the area over the 100 years and reminds us of Shelley’s seditious paper “Declaration of Rights” – which was written here.   See my previous Combe Martin post ... 


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

West Country Tour … Lynton and Lynmouth, as too Exmoor … part 15 …



Lynton was the original ‘town’ on the steep hillsides of the Lyn valleys – the two rivers that cascaded down the gorge meeting at Lynmouth … we too made the dramatic descent.

Lyn River

A lot of stories emanate from these villages or the hinterland of the North Devon coast … where Exmoor finally reaches the sea.  We had a quick wander around … and certainly it is a place I’d love to return to, to see and learn some more.

Lovely twisty narrow Devon lane




As with Hartland Quay, Clovelly, Ilfracombe and now Lynmouth, Porlock and Watchet … those tiny harbours were no match for the storm winds … but lifeboat men will not give up …





Representation of boat being hauled
up the hill(s) 
… the heroic rescue of “the Louisa” in January 1899 … the lifeboat men hauled the Lynmouth lifeboat up and over the hills – and they are mean hills (even today!) … extraordinary effort to save 18 men … “The Strange and Heroic Journey of the Louisa” can be read here: well worth a read.





The caption states the photo was taken from the
Rising Sun and shows a Wolsey car stuck in the flood
... the visitor had come from Manchester (1952)



The Lynmouth flood of 1952 changed the village for ever … Exmoor was waterlogged … letting loose a wall of water and debris into the culverted river as it exited to the sea.  Disaster struck …







Showing where the two rivers met in 1952;
they now meet higher up the valley beyond the bridge;
the rivers are 3 times wider than they used to be.
… over 100 buildings were destroyed or damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges, and 38 cars were washed out to sea.  34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless.  Similar events had been recorded at Lynmouth in 1607 and 1796.  But after this disaster in 1952, the village was rebuilt including diverting the river around the village.



There is a small museum dedicated to the disaster, as too a memorial garden at the place where a few houses were destroyed, but never rebuilt.


Showing the funicular
A cable-connected car, using a counterbalance system, on gravity, using water tanks … connects the two villages eliminating the walk up hill, or down steep hillsides.  The funicular opened in 1890, is 862 feet (263 m) long, operating on a 1 in 1.75 gradient track.




Lynmouth was described by Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788) - artist, who honeymooned here with his bride, Margaret, as “the most delightful place for a landscape painter this country can boast”.


Looking back towards Lynton and Lynmouth

Apparently another honeymooner here in 1812 was the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley with his 16 year old bride, Harriet - his first wife.


The South West Coast Path and Tarka Trail pass through, while three other trails start or terminate at Lynmouth:  Two Moors Way, the Samaritans Way South West, and the Coleridge Way.



Valley of the Rocks
In late 1797, Coleridge and Wordsworth visited the Valley of the Rocks – a dry valley running parallel to the coast – which is just to the west of Lynton.  R D Blackmore set part of Lorna Doone, first published in 1869, in the valley … some of the chapters being written in the Rising Sun – which we visit next time.



Castle Rock  - as seen by Southey


Robert Southey was a visitor in 1799 … describing the landscape as “covered with huge stones ... the very bones and skeletons of the earth; rock reeling upon rock, stone piled upon stone, a huge terrific mass”.






Eros Rock in the Lynton formation
with feral goat grazing



It is noted for its feral goats and for its geology (the Lynton Beds) … periglacial features are found here reflecting the limit of glaciation during the last ice age.


There’s a delightful Lynmouth/Exmoor National Park Centre open to events, talks for the community and visitors to explore and celebrate the fascinating heritage in the area.




Exmoor logo - they have endangered
Red Deer on the Moor


While we are here Exmoor deserves a mention … as our journey skirted round the Moor … but there are brilliant walks (on the moor and coastline), magnificent scenery, interesting geology, ancient woodland, heath and blanket mire (bog) … all of which provide different habitats for a variety of and some scarce flora and fauna.


Royal Forests across England 1327 - 1336


The National Park, so designated in 1954, is primarily an upland area with a dispersed population living mainly in small villages and hamlets.


Exmoor was a Royal Forest and hunting ground covering 18,810 acres (7,610 hectares) which was sold off in 1818 – more details can be found in Wiki.






Late October 2015 - rambling roses still
in flower and happily growing - shows us how
lucky we were with the weather.


Exmoor has evidence of human occupation from the Mesolithic era – about 8,000 years ago; there are over 800 miles of local paths; 267 square miles of wild landscape; and more than 5,000 species supported by the diverse range of habitat.


We needed more time to look a little closer, for the area boasts an impressive history that is not only diverse, but is surprising, fascinating and most of all - notable.


Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Sunday, 24 January 2016

West Country Tour … Combe Martin and its silver mines … part 14 …



We drove through the village – it is about 4 miles from Ilfracombe, and is where Damien Hirst, the creator of “Verity” lives …


Silver groats and half groats from the exhibition
- they were used to pay the army in France
at Agincourt


... but ties in with an earlier post I wrote just before Christmas … on Henry V’s stunningly beautiful Crystal Sceptre and associated exhibition items … some of which were silver groats – which, I had noted, came from Combe Martin … this was 1415 (Agincourt) time!





So I knew I had to write about Combe Martin mines and their importance to England for over 1,000 years, but probably back to Roman times … there is no apparent evidence of this ... but the Romans did not miss an opportunity … if there was a mine around: silver and lead in this instance – they’d have had the ancient Celts digging!  Extraction of silver from lead ore was widespread in Roman Britain.


Galena (lead ore) bound with
baryte and pyrite


There is evidence of Iron Age occupation (about 3,000 years ago) … and we know Neolithic man was around from the Standing Stones prevalent across Britain.





This tiny village, which holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s longest street party – it does have a long street ... but is not the longest, that is in Stewkley, Buckinghamshire … has some hidden secrets. 

St Peter ad Vinca ("St Peter in Chains")
 - the local church, built into
the steep narrow wooded valley


“Combe” is derived from Old English cumb meaning “wooded valley”, while Martin is the suffix of the FitzMartin family … feudal barons from Barnstaple ... giving the village its name.




Liberation of St Peter (from his chains) by
Bartolome Estaben Murillo (1667)


There are items in the Crown Jewels from this silver (a collection of more than 100 historic ceremonial objects), and a large part of the war expenses (Conquest of Wales 1277 – 1283) of Edward I (1239 – 1307) and, as I mentioned, Henry V (1387 – 1422) were paid for by the sale of silver mined here.





In 1300 Edward I enacted a statute requiring that all silver articles must meet the sterling silver standard of 92.5% pure silver, then marked with a leopard’s head.  In 1327 Edward III granted a charter to the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths to assay all silver and gold mined in England.


The Society’s (see below) timeline points out that Henry VIII appointed a German mining engineer to work at the mines here and around Devon – he had a thousand men at his command.


My iphone photo of the Crystal Sceptre -
see the hollowed core

While “The sight of CombeMartin silver gladdened the eye of Good Queen Bess”  … this the ‘she’ who had slate delivered from Delabole, north Cornwall across her realm and over the waters to Brittany and the Netherlands, as I mentioned in my Cornish A-Z last year.



Combe Martin about 1800
In 2001 the Combe Martin Silver Mines and Research and Preservation Society was set up to preserve and research the mines around the village.   Their site shows us some of the work they’ve been doing … and refers back to Edward I and to Henry V in an article about the mines dated 1835 …



… the phrase that caught my eye was “From the promiscuous specimens of Ore landed from these mines …” – wonderful use of the word promiscuous …



Prospectus title for Offering of Shares in 1835 -
see Combe Martin Silver Mines and Research
and Preservation Society site

… but I note that the origin of the word is from early 17th C Latin: ‘indiscriminate’ … its early sense was ‘consisting of elements mixed together’ giving rise to ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘undiscriminating’, when the notion of ‘casual’ came into use.  So ‘promiscuous’ appears to be grammatically correct for the 1800s …



… and back to modern days … at one time the village had nine pubs!  They have a wheelbarrow race through the village, each competitor stopping for a pint at each pub … now it is an alcohol free race – times change.



The Pack O' Cards as it now is ...
... photo c/o The Guardian and Alamy
One inn now a Bed and Breakfast is called ‘Pack o’ Cards’ … named because George Ley, a teacher and “overseer to the poor”, had a big win at a card game in 1690, celebrated by building a house symbolising the features of a pack of cards – the shape of the house even looked like it had been built of cards.  More detail here at their website.


Where valley meets cove -
Combe Martin

Next we will move on up the coast towards Somerset … but Combe Martin provided us with some interesting links, and thoughts about silver mining in the years gone by.




Further posts of interest can be found here:

For an associated post on Tin Mining, and the Stannaries – thevery early assay offices in Cornwall and Devon – please see my Cornish post here.

Crystal Sceptre – you can see its hollowed stem – it is only 600 years old?!  Even though I used my iphone … the photos of the jewels in the exhibition show up really well – and Irecommend a ‘look-see’ of my post

The Combe Martin Preservation Society have documented a time line for the mines … which makes interesting reading: their site with photos etc is here.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Thursday, 21 January 2016

West Country Tour … Ilfracombe: Verity, The Starter Bar … part 13 …



The “girls of Ilfracombe” come next in my West Country tour commentary … I've put in more photos of The Starter Bar, than I have of Verity ... she will command your attention - that is sufficient ... and I can share food photos!

Taken, not by me, when it was sunny!




It’s not quite what you’d expect at the end of a Georgian/Victorian fishing harbour pier … a sixty-six feet + high stainless steel and bronze statue: certainly I had no idea of its attendance in Ilfracombe!







Verity taken in the rain and dark - sorry!




We were bemused … I suspect Jenny was horrified, but she held her thoughts well … we wandered quickly round and returned to face the harbour and town.  I went back the next morning, still in the rain to take a photo or two …





From my iphone across the harbour -
she stands tall



The creator of Verity – you will almost certainly know well, or of: Damien Hirst – the formaldehyde, diamond skull creative artist.  I leave it at that … more can be found.





The law books Verity stands on


The town accepted the loan of the statue, for 20 years, with restrictive rights – no close up photos for marketing purposes etc … Verity is pregnant, she holds a sword aloft, carries behind her back the scales of justice and stands on a pile of law books. 





Plinth attached to the pier


Hirst describes the piece as a “modern allegory of truth and justice” and in his youth was inspired by Edgar Degas’ “Little Dancer of Fourteen Years” and it is thought he may have used this painting in the creation of Verity.






Prawn and Apple soup - it did look good



He has given an art block to his children’s school in Combe Martin … it is state of the art – silly phrase!  There are art galleries in the town … and he has bought a few of the houses on the harbour frontage … created a restaurant-bar for the in-crowd … and a private place where he can entertain his celebrity friends.






The Starter Bar's fun clock ...



I gather the statue attracts tourists to the town … awesome or an eyesore … your mind will tell you … Verity was tested in a wind-tunnel … so looks set to be around for the next 17 ½  years of her contract and will continue look out across the Bristol Channel to Wales.







Charlotte and Alex


The other girls are more down to earth … spotted a niche market, dared to dream about entrepreneurship, loved to cook … and opened “The Starter Bar” …






… this was where we went for supper, rather than our ‘old salt’s tavern’ that probably wasn’t serving dinner at all … it was different and was interesting – we both found dishes we liked the sound of … and with a glass of vino or two – quietly tucked in …





The young sisters, Charlotte and Alex, share a passion for cooking and foods … they offer dishes they themselves love to eat … so good for them in determining that age is no object to giving it a go … it was popular even on a Monday.



Jenny finishing off with another sundae -
which she loved!




They say that their family, and the local community have been really encouraging, helping out, or give advice where they can – it looks like they’ll be doing well, and certainly we wish them success.








Cocktail anyone - to take away the shock of 'Verity'?



So … those are the three up-front 21st century women of Ilfracombe – they are away from 1980s Madonna’s bra-theatre side of the town, but tucked in very sensibly just back from the lifeboat-station and harbour.



Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories