A Crumbling Church

churchexteriorOn the busy main road of Cowick Street in Exeter is St Thomas Parish Church. The original building was consecrated in 1412 on the site of a 13thC chapel, but was largely burnt down during the civil war, it’s tower crashing to the ground, and so a lot of what stands is from the rebuild between then and 1657.

I’m a fan of Churches, because I see them as small, free museums dotted about the country, often with works of art, carved rood screens and stone monuments that you would have to pay to see if they were in a Countryside mansion or gallery.

Churches are also often home to rather more gruesome histories: St Thomas once had the tarred body of a vicar, Robert Welshe, hanging from the tower for 4 years.
He was captured and hanged for treason as he had joined in the failed 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion and also for his part in the execution of a messenger on Exe Island who was travelling to Lord Russel’s King’s Army. His body was left until Mary succeeded her brother Edward VI in 1553, a grisly reminder for any member of the congregation who felt like opposing the crown.

The current Church is also in danger of falling apart, this time because of a leaking roof, crumbling rendering and the nature of the local sandstone used to build it. I didn’t realise any of this before walking in and seeing some boards about the fundraising that was going on, but even before then it was evident that the Church was in dire need of restoration.

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In some places the smell of damp and mildew was so strong I couldn’t stand there for long, such as this corner with a statue of Mary.



Which also had this pile of IMG_0635
‘debris’ underneath.
More fell on me as I
stood taking photos!



There were however still some beautiful aspects, untouched by the decay surrounding them.
This monument was the work of John Bacon, for the vicar’s wife, who was also John’s daughter. The Chancel was remodelled in 1842 to accommodate it.

There was also this fantastic carved chair.
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And a few more unusual features as well…
freaky gargoyle

In between my visit and writing this post the work has started, although fundraising continues.

Hopefully the repairs will mean that the congregation can use the Church safely again soon, and no further damage will be done to the historical interior.


Camping in Cornwall, and Boscastle Food Festival

Something a bit controversial on a blog about living in Devon – I really love Cornwall, have visited for at least 2 weeks of each year for the past 15 years and being in such close proximity was one of things I was most excited about when we decided to move.

If we get up early enough it’s a mere 45-55 minutes to Boscastle from our house to the harbour, about the same distance that we lived from Brighton/Lewes when we were in Sussex and therefore to us not far away at all, as we visited those places quite often.

We’d been to the Boscastle Food, art and Craft Festival a few times before, but we realised if we went this year, we’d have the added bonus of  being able to buy ‘perishable’ food to take home with us, whereas before we’d always been staying in B&Bs, who often aren’t too impressed when you ask to store mince and cheese in their fridge…

So we set off nice and early the day before the festival, having decided to camp at a fantastic little campsite near to our favourite beach – adults only, one pitch ‘deep’ along the long field for privacy and an tent pitchuninterrupted view, and a proper bathroom block all for £10.
Being incredibly lazy, and the weather being really warm for the 2 weeks before, we didn’t bother with the proper tent and just used the pop-up one. It claims to be a 2 person tent but I think perhaps either Pat and I are larger than the average camper or you aren’t supposed to keep anything silly like sleeping bags or pillows in there with you.

After a nice chat with the site owners, who turned out to be from Sussex, we sped off like excited kids to Tregardock beach.

I always have a war with myself about this beach. On the one hand I don’t want anyone to know about it, because I’ve noticed that lately there have been in excess of ten people on the two mile stretch and it’s just too many. On the other hand I love it so much that I can’t help but be enthusiastic and tell people to go there.

It’s a mile walk over a hill called ‘The Mountain’ – although it’s on the way home you have to walk up – with no facilities and a quick incoming tide. They have just installed some fancy new steps, but you still have to earn your treat by choosing one these two sets of ‘steps’ at the bottom. Top tip – use the one on the right as a very uncomfortable slide.


It’s popular with surfers for a reason, you only need to be knee deep in the water to get waves crashing over your head, and a jellyfish to the facejelly wave2


– but it’s beautiful, secluded, great for body-boarding for those of us not cool enough to surf, and occasionally you might find a seal or two wandering about on the sand.
Tregardock is also a great place for mussel picking. High on the rocks they are sand/grit free, and super fresh and tasty.

We then went to Port Isaac for some local Ale and one too many rums in the Golden Liondrinkswhere we met a talkative American couple and a very hungry dog, doglickdogbegeyeand then on to The Slipway for dinner – the less said about that the better, I think they must have been between chefs.

We then visited my favourite Museum for a special candlelit nighttime opening, I can’t think of a better museum to visit at quarter to midnight.
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Then it was back to camp, where we froze our noses off during the first night in 3 weeks where the temperature had dipped below 5 celcius.

However we were woken by this beautiful sunrise, an improbable shade of yellow, the sun appearing in the juncture of Brown Willy and Rough Tor on the horizon.


Somewhat more bleary eyed than we’d planned to be, we packed up and
drove to Boscastle nice and early, got a parking space right by the Food Festival tent and had a proper English Breakfast at the Spinning Wheel cafe, out in the sunshine.

We then did our first round of the Food Festival tents  to scope out all available stalls, so I don’t spend all my money too soon and miss out. As there are a lot of fantastic local craft and artist’s stalls as well as delicious food this is easily done!

After some arty purchases we got two portions of Goat curry, with a Hog Roast bap ‘for the road’ for Pat, and took our lunch up to Penally point.


The sun came out and we watched a Seal catching fish in the mouth of the harbour for a while, before walking back up the river to Minster Church, a grade one listed building set in a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with resident Greater Horseshoe Bats.


The grave of Joan Wytte – the ‘Fighting faerie woman’ who died in Bodmin gaol in 1813 and whose skeleton was once on display in the Museum of Witchcraft, also sits just outside the consecrated ground.

We stopped for a quick chocolate brownie on a bench by the river, then picked up our fresh local meat, charcuterie and cheese purchases from the food tent and it was time to go back home, exhausted and stuffed, and already looking forward to next year.

Killerton revisited

On my next visit to Exeter the weather was beautiful, it was the first week of September and this is one of my favourite times of year for going outside nice and early, the air is usually crisp and the temperatures are a bit more bearable (I don’t do well in humid heat).

I decided to stroll around the wider grounds first, and headed over to the pond, where I found these lovely views

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and some wasps digging this massive hole!


As far as I know, this isn’t a common sight, so despite that upon seeing a singular wasp, I will do a little wavy-dance with a magazine and shoo it towards the nearest window whilst sporadically ducking, I was so entranced that I stuck my face right in the hole, protected only by my camera. They were all very busy and so left me alone, I would love to have seen what the inside looked like, though. I managed to take some videos:

It was quite fascinating watching them work away, scraping off lumps of the thick red soil and dumping it anywhere from 2 – 20 feet away in the long grass.
This one had bitten off more than he could, er, carry, and had to abort mission temporarily…

I went inside the house this time as well, and although Killerton was originally built as a temporary building, it’s one of the first NT properties I’ve ever walked into and thought; “I could move in tomorrow!”.

From the airy and spacious living rooms (although I think my favourite was actually a hallway), to the lovely library, elegant drawing room and pretty views from the upstairs bedrooms,the whole house had a lovely feel to it.

library hall

I then spent some time in the garden, where a lovely cat who I later found out is named Santana came to have a snooze on my lap, and pose handsomely for the camera

cat selfiekillerton kitty

I also explored the Deer park, which had a huge fallen tree with a bough that looked like a weedy sea dragontreeseahorse1

And some rather attractive mushroomsfungis

Sadly once again it was time to leave, although the same evening we also had our first trip to Exeter Quay.

Do let me know if you’ve ever seen any wasps, or indeed any other insects, animals, birds or fish behaving strangely..!

Killerton House and gardens

I’ve just realised that my posts are getting quite National Trust orientated, but this is because I have a volunteer card to use, time to kill and not much money – so I spent a lot of time, during the period when Pat had started his Phd things but we were still living in Sussex, in National Trust places and buildings.

I’ve visited Killerton on a few occasions, partly due to it’s proximity to the road to Sandy Park, and partly because the weather was lovely and Killerton has some beautiful walks and gardens.

The first time I visited Killerton I spent a full hour taking photos of the flowers, butterflies and bees in their garden (and probably looking quite strange)…

2beesbutterfly and bee small copper3bumble close

I then went for a stroll around the rest of the grounds, encountering some wicker-deer sculptures

wicker deer
..’Ladycott’ – a summerhouse that has been home – at different times – to a Bear cub and 3 teachers looking for peace and quiet away from school children evacuated to the main house.


An Ice House ‘hidden’ in a rockery


And a family Chapel, with a lovely art installation of poppies by a local school to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the First World war


I also took a detour to the shop and found that Killerton had it’s own honey – after seeing the lovely flowers the bees had access to I decided to buy some and wasn’t disappointed – yum!

By then it was time to meet Pat and go back to Sussex, but I decided I must go back the next week when we were back.

Sticklepath and Finch Foundry

I first decided to visit Sticklepath after seeing it on a map – not only did it sound like a village from a Fairytale, I saw it had a museum and the added bonus of only being a few minutes from the A30, which would maximise the chances of me not getting lost.

When I arrived and parked up, I realised the museum was a National trust place, and as I had my volunteer card decided I of course had to go in.

Finch Foundry is perhaps not somewhere I would have chosen to go out of my way for, as I generally don’t think of myself as interested in the industrial side of history. However it was genuinely one of the most interesting museums I’ve been to, and I took Pat back there the next day!

Finch Foundry is the last working water-powered forge in England, and was one of the South West’s most successful edge tool factories which, at its peak, produced around 400 edge tools a day. It’s downfall was basically down to the lack of proximity to the railway network.

Looking at some of the old tools was fascinating, as was hearing about the sheer level of physical effort that went into a lot of the work. finch carving 3wood tool

After a talk by a very knowledgeable and interesting member of staff, I wandered out into the gardens, purchased a tuna sandwich (that was actually mostly mayonnaise, bleurgh) and went out to the footpath that forms part of the Two Museums Walk . I didn’t have the time or the inclination to do the whole walk – especially as it’d be 10 miles there and back to my car! – but it took me roughly 3 minutes of walking to find a gorgeous spot on the bank of the river Taw (although I had to paddle a bit to get to it).

river taw

It was sat on this bank that I got really excited about living in Exeter for the first time. This spot would be 20 minutes from my house, I love rivers and wooded valleys, and if there’s one thing Devon does spectacularly (aside from moorland and lovely coastal areas) it’s wooded valleys and rivers.

The next day, after listening to the talk again and playing with the children’s exhibits…

Pat in Finch FoundryeepIMG_9185so immature

I actually did this route with Pat, although not using this guide so didn’t have any of the interesting snippets of information, we’d just found a short circular route on the biggest OS map in the world.
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We also didn’t realise we were on part of the Tarka Trail – the route taken by Tarka the Otter in the book of the same name, which although a classic has completely passed me by – it’s on my ‘to read’ list!


I did however find an old glass water bottle top possibly from a picnic someone had in the exact same spot  100+ years agobottletop

and watched the local wildlife for a bit (eek!)
spidersolitary wasp

It was a lovely relaxing day, beautiful scenery, local history and an enjoyable walk. There was a nice looking pub and a cafe in the village too – we didn’t get to try these but will definitely go back in the future – and I will of course update when we do!

Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral wins the award for the first Tourist Attraction I visited in Exeter, as well as the award for only Cathedral I have visited more than 5 times – including Chichester, where I spent 26 years of my life!

We did the roof tour which was great, although hopefully there won’t be a dead Dove that got stuck in the roof after a wedding if you decide to go, which resulted in 2-3 minutes of the people on the tour looking suspiciously at each other wondering what the smell was before the tour guide noticed it. Aside from that, and the added history, just the view was beautiful and worth the tour – you can just see Exmouth and the sea behind us in the second photo.

exeter outtoexmouth

Inside is what I like to call “The Owl Room” (St Saviour’s’s Chapel) –  which is literally chock-full of Owls, carved, embroidered (I like the particularly surprised one) and painted.


There is also the beautiful ceiling in what I think is St George’s Chapel, which I want to recreate in my bedroom one day!


This Cathedral has some fantastic monumental effigies, some are a little mysterious in that no one is 100% sure who they are, due to having no inscription, and the shields which were once painted with their Coat of Arms now being smooth and plain. One is almost certainly a member of the Ralegh family, probably Sir Henry Ralegh who died in 1301. There was some disagreement between the Cathedral and the friary on where he should be buried, which meant his body was left out in the street for ‘some time’. In 1306 permission was given to his widow and friends to move his body if they wanted, but no documents exist to say whether they acted on this or not.

One of my favourites however is Sir Robert Stapleton, who died in 1320. He’s one of my favourites because of  the smooth darkened stone where everyone has reached out to place their hand on his over the last 700 years.


Another favourite is the 16th C cadaver effigy (one of two in the Cathedral, and considered very well preserved) in the North Choir Aisle. There is some debate as to whether it is Canon William Parkhouse d.1540 or Anthony Harvey, d.1564.
There is a great one of these in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel Castle, however Exeter’s does not have a robed figure above, remaining a stark, solitary reminder that, in the end, this is where we’re all headed…


Just in case the message wasn’t obvious enough apparently at one point in time there was an inscription behind him which read:

“From this cold corpse be instructed, and from complacency waken you; You will by death be abducted when he approaches, to take you”


Although the other cadaver effigy in Exeter reads “I am what you will be, and I was what you are” which is perhaps even more blunt.

Last but not least in my ‘Top Three Exeter Cathedral Effigies’ list is this fantastic depiction of Lady Dorothy Dodderidge, who died on 1st March 1614, during James I’s reign.

dodderidge    Dodderidge

Not only is she wonderfully stiff in all her finery but someone has made a concerted effort with the graffiti on the skull, which brings me on to the other thing I love about Exeter Cathedral – the fine quality and age of it’s numerous graffiti vandalisms.

I find you can tell how old graffiti is based on it’s quality, ie. the neater the writing and the deeper the cut of the engraving the older it is, like the ‘JMS’ in the photo below right. This is not always the case, but I’m guessing people had more time in the past to really make a good job of it, even engraving in a pretty chain pattern like in the photo on the left. Exeter Cathedral also has a famous 1638 ‘tag’ – that of 17th Century composer Matthew Locke, who was a chorister here before going on to write music for the king.




A few other things to spot if you visit are: The amazing 15th C Astronomical clock, and cat hole in the door below it (In the 14th and 15th Centuries the cat here was paid a regular salary of around one penny a week!), the Boss depicting a Mummy pig and her Piglets, the fantastic modern Bronze sculptures in the Chapter House, and the 14thC tomb of the Earl and Countess of Devon, with it’s carved Swans and Lion.

If you love history, architecture or just generally have a taste for the slightly morbid, go visit!


N.B. Nicholas Orme has compiled a great book called ‘The Cathedral’s Cat’ which is full of interesting facts and stories from the Cathedral’s past, including the stories behind a few of the tombs mentioned above, and more detail on Bishop Hugh Oldham, or ‘Owldom’ of the St Saviour’s Chapel fame, who had a servant hold clocks from chiming for meal times until he was hungry, and once had to visit a woman for treatment of an illness whom he’d previously tried for witchcraft!

First Forays and Explorations in Devon

My initial exploring around Exeter and surrounding Devon, was actually  done in the two or three days here and there Pat and I visited in August and September before moving, and largely I was alone. This by itself was rather novel for me, I’d often gone on holiday by myself when I was 18-20 (which other people never ceased to find disturbing, I remember being asked in a restaurant if I was sure I “only want a table for one” – I replied “Unless you’re going to join me, yes, it’s JUST ME”) however since then Pat and I had gone everywhere together, so I found myself turning to point out interesting things to thin air, or on a couple of embarrassing occasions random members of the public.

To remedy this I ended up taking many, many photos to show Pat what I had seen. I should point out I take many photos whether he’s there or not, on a day out it’s not unusual for me to take 500+ if there’s a lot going on, but I started to take basically poor quality photos of odd things, like these two, an old fire extinguisher and a shiny penny in some mud….

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Most of the places I went back to with Pat the next day or later on in the year, and he had to endure having all these things pointed out to him again, but he loves it really.. probably.

It’s occurred to me I’ve now rambled on for too long to make this a post about a particular place, so I’ll wrap this up and move on to a new one.

I’d love to know if anyone else has experienced any ‘interesting’ reactions whilst travelling alone? Do let me know. 🙂