Today, by the way, I’m off on a little adventure that I’ll be telling you about next week!
When I awoke this morning and looked out at Totnes Castle from my kitchen window it seemed to me that this might not be the best day for my planned trip to Moretonhampstead, on Dartmoor. I usually try to avoid the Moor when it’s shrouded in mist, as it is all too easy to get lost up there.
But maybe the mist was just a local one because it lifted quite quickly from the Castle and soon I could see distant Dartmoor calling me with absolute clarity.
Before heading there, though, I was invited to a friend’s for coffee. Margaret is quite a new friend and I hadn’t been to her house before. I was especially interested to go there because before moving to Totnes I was sent particulars of a similar house near hers and loved the look of it. But, after asking the estate agent whether it was within walking distance of the town and learning that the walk would involve ‘dicing with death’ on a busy road with no pavement, I decided against going for a viewing.
Margaret gave me the warmest of welcomes and from her sun-dappled back garden we had a wonderful view across to the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and the South Devon Steam Railway Station – as well as to the velvety green hills towards Sharpham (where they make a great wine!) I loved her home, but don’t regret my decision to live where I have a variety of walks right on my doorstep.
Then it was off to pretty Moretonhampstead – an ancient market town, dating back more than 1000 years to Saxon times, on the north eastern edge of the Dartmoor National Park – to help a different friend celebrate her birthday with lunch in the flower-decked Union Inn. Mine isn’t a bad life, is it?
P.S. Moreton (as the locals call it) is more or less exactly at the centre of Devon, making it an ideal location from which to visit the south and north coasts. Most of the National Park’s well-known beauty spots (including Castle Drago) are nearby and no part of Dartmoor is more than an hour’s drive from the town.
This morning, passing the station as I set off on my river walk, I met a young couple who’d just arrived by train. It’s funny, isn’t it, how one thing can lead to another? They asked me if I could direct them to the Rowing Club and after I’d done so, the girl said that she was due to swim to Dittisham around 11.30 in the Dart 10K.
Finding this intriguing I made my way down to Steamer Quay shortly before 11.00 and watched in awe as swimmers galore began entering the river to swim ten kilometres from Totnes to Dittisham. Some just wore swimsuits but most of them were (wisely, in my view!) wearing wetsuits as they set off in batches, starting with the slowest and ending with the ‘elite squad’.
I gathered that they were each paying in the region of £80 for the ‘privilege’ of taking part – and many were also being sponsored to raise money for their chosen charities. Bless them all for their enthusiasm and stamina! I’d say I’d have liked to be in the cold water with them – but if I said that I’d be lying! Besides which, I think that swimming ten kilometres would probably kill me. My sister once swam the English Channel. I watched her set off and was there to greet her return. But I whiled away the interim in far more pleasurable pursuits than swimming. (No, I’m not saying what those were!)
This afternoon at five o’clock I went with a friend to see Keira Knightley and Jude Law in ANNA KARENINA at the Barn Cinema, Dartington. The Barn is just to the left of the archway in this picture: a lovely venue for film going. However, we weren’t too impressed with this one. It caused us both to wonder whether Keira can actually act!
Over the years Castle Drogo had somehow called to me so I don’t know why it took me until today to go there finally.
Rising darkly near Drewsteignton, on Dartmoor, it was the last castle built in England and might well be the last private home here to have been built entirely of granite. For me, as I approached its entrance with a friend, it felt slightly reminiscent of a forbidding prison. That isn’t meant to detract from its impressiveness, though …
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens it stands in an awesome position looking across the Drogo Teign Valley. Julius Drewe, who commissioned Lutyens, had founded the Home & Colonial Stores and was sufficiently wealthy to realize his dream of creating a magnificent ancestral home.
He managed to bring exquisite Venetian chandeliers back from his honeymoon and was very keen on having the latest gadgets installed. These included ‘candles’ on his grand dining table that were lit by electric wiring concealed within an under blanket beneath the white linen tablecloth. When he pressed a secret button, he impressed his guests with words to the effect of “Let there be light” – and suddenly there was light!
Castle Drogo certainly didn’t disappoint – but ever since its completion in the 1920s it has suffered massive structural problems that have now resulted in serious leaks and water penetration throughout. It seems that after his son, Adrian, died during the Great War Julius rather lost heart in his building project and ignored advice from Lutyens to take certain precautions during construction.
This has now become a big headache for the National Trust, which must install a new roof system – involving the removal and ultimate return of 2355 granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes! 900 windows also need refurbishing with over 13,000 panes of glass – plus over 60,000 metres of pointing need to be replaced.
All in all, I’m glad to live in a normal sized house with normal sized repair bills!
A rat infestation in Totnes? How can that be happening? I’m glad to say that the rats are a human variety, dressed appropriately to mingle with drivers using the town as a rat run. Here’s a picture of one that I just managed to grab (the photo, not the rat!) as she cycled up the High Street hill. I wish you could see the full extent of her face-paint.
So why are we being infested? We’re having a car-free day in the hope of persuading motorists that perhaps they shouldn’t be driving up our beautiful High Street. Will it have the desired effect? Who can tell? But at 11.30 am the poet and humourist Matt Harvey will be cutting a ribbon to declare the road shut to all traffic other than emergency vehicles and bicycles.
Until Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France I’d never taken much interest in cycling or cyclists, but now I can almost get excited about this sport! So had I not been in Shropshire last weekend the chances are I would have been on Dartmoor or on the Slapton Line (two views of which can be seen in these pictures) as the competitors in the Tour Of Britain passed by.
How thrilling that Jonathan Tiernan-Locke from Devon (who succumbed at the age of 20 to the Epstein-Barr virus, yet at 27 has overcome his illness to become a rising star in the cycling world) cycled to victory on Sunday!
Speaking of stars, I learned today that counting those in the galaxy at the rate of one per second would take no less than 3,000 years!!! Do you find that fact as mind-boggling as I find it? On the basis that (in more ways than one) I simply haven’t the time, I’ve decided not to embark on this project.
After my morning gym-session today I met up with a friend in the walled garden of a great Totnes coffee shop to enjoy, along with our Lattes, some lovely autumnal sunshine.
Although several miles from the coast we were soon joined at the next table by this seagull, who certainly seemed to think he had been invited. Acting, in fact, as if he owned the place he strutted arrogantly about with a decidedly aggressive glint in his eye. We were just relieved to see him taking note of the No Smoking sign, as a seagull with a cigarette in his beak might have been a slightly unnerving sight!
Much later, my work for the day done, I went for a walk across Blackpool Sands and wondered for the umpteenth time why it has the name it has. As you can see from this close-up I took of the beach, the ‘sand’ is not actually sand! But isn’t it attractive – and aren’t the varieties of little pebbles absolutely infinite?