June 16, 2016
Today was a travel day to Exeter—finally we weren’t moping around London any more! After breakfast we headed over to Paddington via the Tube. Our train didn’t leave until 11:06 am, so we didn’t have to rush. Once our train had a platform number assigned we got on, found seats, and settled in for the two-hour journey to Exeter. We had packed a lunch, so we ate it during the journey.
When we arrived at Exeter St. Davids station we walked the 20 minutes to Chris and Ruth’s house. Rosemary’s knee was very sore, what with sitting for two hours on the train, so we rested for a while and had some tea.
Later in the afternoon we went out for a walk around the campus of Exeter University, which is located just up the hill from their house. We walked on a circular route which took us about an hour, but since Rosemary didn’t wear her knee brace, the walk was a bit painful for her. Once back we had some more tea, then sat and chatted for a while.
June 17, 2016
Today we looked for some activity which wouldn’t require much walking. And besides, the weather forecast was a bit dubious. So after breakfast we all headed out in the car for the day. We took a short diversion past Hay Tor in Dartmoor, where the clouds were down over the tops and so there was no point in stopping, and then carried on to Buckfast Abbey.
This Benedictine monastery was built in 1907; there had been a monastery here a thousand years ago, but it was closed down by Henry VIII. The new abbey was built by only six monks, with only Brother Peter having any masonry experience. It took them only about 30 years to build it, which is quite respectable. It’s mostly a traditional-looking abbey, but at the east end there is a more modern chapel. The location is very lovely, with rolling green lawns and mature trees.
Then we carried on a short distance, to Dartington Hall. The property dates back to the 9th century, and the current estate was built in the 14th century. It was purchased in 1925 and fixed up, as it had been neglected for quite a long time. Today it is used as a conference centre and for creative activities. The gardens were very nice and we walked around them, following the route past the statuary. There was a sculpture by Henry Moore; it was a reclining woman and not one of his rounded abstract forms so it must have been done early in his career.
We had lunch in the small café at the centre, both of us having spinach soup, after which we headed on to Totnes, the next stop on our outing. Ruth had grown up in the area so she told us a bit about the local history. From the car park by the River Dart we crossed the bridge to head up the High Street, which is a one-way street only wide enough for one vehicle, stopping at the market to buy some carrots. We also looked at the used books there but in the end we didn’t buy any.
At the top of the hill we found our way to Totnes Castle. The climb up to the castle was a bit steep but Rosemary was wearing a knee brace so it didn’t bother her knee too much. It wasn’t much of a castle, rather a tall rampart on top of the hill. From the ramparts there is a view over Totnes and the surrounding area, but there isn’t much to see inside them.
We had been lucky with the weather until now. The rain started but luckily didn’t last too long. We stopped in a small café for tea and cake before returning to the car and heading back to Exeter.
June 18, 2016
We didn’t get up very early this morning; Rosemary’s knee is fine when she lies down but it’s not so good when she stands or sits. But the knee brace seems to help. Today we were on our own, so after breakfast we walked through the university and down to Exeter town centre with Chris, who was going to do some shopping. By the time we were there it was after 11 am.
Underneath Exeter there are tunnels which were built in the 15th century as part of a water supply project, and you can go on a tour of those tunnels which still exist. Unlike the tunnels in Edinburgh, these tunnels were narrow and quite low in some places. The first pipes were made of lead, and any leaks were fixed by melting lead and dripping it on the small hole. This was then wrapped with a cloth soaked in tallow or rancid animal fat. Because the tunnels were much bigger than the pipes, rats ran freely through them in those days.
We signed up for the next tour, which turned out to be at noon. We had enough time to look around the museum before heading into a room to see a video about the tunnels. Our guide Hamish told us the history of the tunnels and what it was like to work in them. Sometimes the lead pipes leaked and had to be repaired, but the other hazard across all of the centuries was metal theft, as it still is today. We put on our orange hard hats and started down a tunnel. Most of the way it was high enough that we could stand up, although there were a few spots where we had to duck. The man in front of us was a bit taller than us and he kept whacking his hard hat on bits of the roof.
On the way out we had the option of crawling through a lower tunnel, so we did. Probably that was more like the reality for the medieval water maintenance crews. Fortunately there were moist towels available for us to wipe our hands on!
After the tour we headed down to the Quay to find a place for lunch. We ended up at the Riverside Café, where groups of people were paddling dragon boats for charity. Rosemary had a jacket potato, but it turned out that was the last one in the kitchen, so Paul had a Ploughman’s platter instead.
By now Rosemary’s knee was getting a bit sore, so we decided to head up to the cathedral before going back to Chris and Ruth’s. It was a beautiful cathedral, perhaps one of England’s great cathedrals. As we wandered around we could hear music—tonight was a concert at the cathedral, so we were lucky enough to be able to listen to a short practice by the choir, soloists, and small orchestra. It was lovely hearing the choir performing the Mozart Requiem, even if we only heard portions of it.
It didn’t take us very long to walk back to Chris and Ruth’s place, and Rosemary’s knee seems to be getting a little bit better. The knee brace seems to help.
June 19, 2016
The weather today was cloudier than previous days but no rain was falling, so after breakfast we all headed out in the south coast of Devon. After about an hour we bumped down a one-lane road to our first stop, the small village of Branscombe. We parked in the car park behind the village hall, where there was a sign suggesting a donation of £200 for short-term parking. (We didn’t leave a donation.)
We looked in the Manor Mill and forge, which is owned by the National Trust. These days, blacksmiths don’t make horseshoes and cooking pots, they mostly make decorative items. The smith here had a long list of awards but his decorative items were quite pricey. So we headed off along a trail to the shingle beach. The Southwest Coastal Path goes through here, so perhaps when we do this section in the future we’ll be on familiar territory.
Not much was happening at the beach, and the rain was coming down a little heavier, so we headed back to the car. Next stop was the Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. This large farm was set up by Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen in 1969; as a small child she had fallen in love with donkeys, so after a successful business career she turned her attention to founding a place to help abused, abandoned, and neglected donkeys. Today her charity has expanded worldwide and protects a few thousand donkeys. Some of the Sidmouth donkeys were standing in the rain looking gloomy, like Eeyore, and others were busily cropping the grass at the edge of the field. The donkeys are well cared for, with full-time vets on staff.
The place was undergoing an expansion project so we followed the path through the construction to another barn full of donkeys. Each donkey has a collar on, with its name and age and so on. There were more fields with donkeys but we skipped them and went for hot chocolate in the restaurant.
Next we headed down to Sidmouth for lunch, at the Clock Tower café. The last time we visited Chris and Ruth we had tea here, so it was very fitting to each lunch here now. Despite low clouds on the headlands the view was not bad. Lunch was very good and filling; Paul had a salmon and asparagus fish cake and the others had soup.
After lunch we climbed down the wooden stairs to the beach and walked into the village. Luckily the rain had stopped, so it was a pleasant walk to the end of the shingle beach and then back through the streets to the car. Our route back to Exeter was through narrow hedgerow-lined roads via Topham, and back at their house we had tea and cookies.
June 20, 2016
Today was already booked for us—we were going on an outing with Chris and Ruth’s church group to the National Trust property of Lanhydrock, near Bodmin in Cornwall. After breakfast we walked down the hill to the bus stop where the coach would pick us up on its way to St. Leonard’s, where most of the group were waiting. There were about thirty of us in total, all of a similar age. We stopped part way for a coffee break and arrived at the site just before noon.
Lanhydrock is a big house with gardens around it in the middle of a large forested area, large enough that it took us ten minutes or so to walk from the car park to the house. It was the family home of Thomas, 2nd Lord Robartes, and his wife Mary and their ten children. In 1881 the house suffered a major fire, so Thomas had it rebuilt, and with the rebuilding it acquired some modern conveniences such as central heating and indoor plumbing.
Even though it was a Monday it was quite busy, and there was a crowd going through the tour of the house. In one way it was a typical Victorian house as seen in Downton Abbey, but it was furnished as it would have been before World War I. The kitchen had several sections for dairy, bread making, pastry, and meat storage in addition to a large room where full-sized animals could be roasted on a spit. As you’d expect, the bedrooms of the lord and lady were large, but the servants’ rooms were well-lit and not especially small. According to the records the servants were treated very well, with education and medical needs taken care of.
After we finished the tour we had lunch with Chris and Ruth in the small café there. All of us had the steak Cornish pasty, which was very tasty. Before heading back to the coach we did a quick tour of the gardens around the house. The church there is still in use, it’s the Church of St. Hydroc, which explains the Celtic-sounding name of the property (“Llan Hydroc”). The coach left at 3 pm—we felt a little bit rushed—and arrived back in Exeter at 4:30 pm with no coffee stop.
Back at Chris and Ruth’s we had tea and cookies, then fish and chips for dinner at 7 pm. Tomorrow we would be heading back to London.