Black bellied white sheep

Violet Pinwill (1874-1957) was one of those Victorian women who didn’t subscribe to the theory that women should leave everything to men, stay at home and have babies. In fact, she became an expert wood carver, didn’t marry and, as far as anyone knows, didn’t have sex, let alone any children.

Violet’s mother made sure her five daughters learned a skill. She believed an education would give her daughters the best advantage. This is something the Bennett girls could possibly have benefited from.

Anyway, Mrs Pinwill elected to have her girls learn to carve wood. The Pinwill girls became expert and much sought after carvers. Their work can be seen in churches all over Devon. You can read all about them here. Violet’s work can be seen in the church of St Petroc in Lydford. She carved this rood screen.

She has extant works in over 300 churches throughout Devon and Cornwall. This piece, though, is in the village of Lydford where we spent most of today. Well, the bit after we finally roused ourselves from our flowery bed and headed out of the house.

Lydford is a four minute drive from the cottage. We missed the car park and ended up taking twice as long and parking at the Lydford Gorge National Trust car park. Given our first requirement was coffee and cake, the fact that the tea room at Lydford Gorge was open and serving, was ideal.

We sat outside on the grass, in the sun – yes, it was sunny all day today – and thoroughly enjoyed our repast. While we were fine sitting on the grass, we were more or less forced to because all the tables and chairs were taken by able-bodied visitors who were preparing to take the long, circuitous, super scary, narrow path around the gorge.

The woman at the entrance put us off the two hour trek by telling us it was one way because the path was too narrow for people to pass and how they had had to get the rescue helicopter out last week to rescue someone who had fallen off it. She told us about the Whitelady Waterfall path which sounded far nicer.

Actually, as we sat on the grass having coffee, I said to Mirinda how sad I’d become. Once I would have jumped at the narrow path option, seeing it as a challenge in need of a conqueror. Kind of like the way I’d have to climb a church tower just because it had a staircase. These days, my lack of balance means I have to have at least a two metre wide path in order to feel safe.

How sad I’ve become.

So, having supped, we headed back to Max and drove on a further four minutes and parked at the beginning of the sedate trail to the falls.

The going down was indeed, pretty sedate. Particularly because we took the old Great Western Railway bed down to the bird hide rather than the much steeper track. We came up via the steep track. Fortunately some kind National Trust person had installed a generous amount of benches along the way.

The Whitelady Waterfall, at the bottom, is so named because it is believed a spirit of the waterfall can be seen dressed in white and hovering above the water. It is claimed that if you fell into the water and started drowning, and saw the Whitelady, she would save you.

I’m not sure it would be that easy to drown in the water that collects at the bottom of the 28 metre waterfall as it’s not really very deep. However, I think I might have seen the Not Quite Whitelady there today.

The waterfall is the result of the rivers Lyd and Burn vying for supremacy way back in the mists of time. Lyd won, carving out the gorge that we see today. Poor old Burn was left high and not so dry, the water left to fall down and meet the Lyd at the bottom.

We weren’t alone at the falls. Heaps of people joined us at the bottom, a lot of them with dogs. Dogs are very welcome on the path and in the water at the bottom. It’s all very happy.

Not so happy was the man who picked up his dog’s poo from the path and, using a plastic bag, dropped it onto the side of the path. Given he’d used the plastic bag, I don’t know why he couldn’t have just tied it off and dumped it in the proper bin. He kept the plastic bag so, perhaps it’s still in his pocket. We will never know.

Having managed to drag ourselves back up to Max, we headed off to the Castle Inn in Lydford for a much needed drink.

The pub is a delight. The tables outside meander around the garden, giving plenty of opportunity for relaxing and cooling beneath umbrellas and trees. The beer was very good – an IPA from Bath brewery – and the rosemary almonds, an unexpected taste sensation.

Lydford has been around for a long time. It was a Saxon settlement, built primarily to protect Wessex from the marauding Danes. That was back during Alfred’s reign (871-901) and there’s evidence there was something there before that. Speaking of marauding Danes, there’s a rune stone just beyond the church walls. The red paint has faded but the runes can almost be made out on the triangular stone.

Pseudo-Prof Gaz deciphers the stone

It reads: ‘The stone was raised when the men of the North came again, this time in peace. Erik the Red carved the runes.’ It commemorates a battle which took place between Vikings and Saxons in 997. I haven’t found out who won. The stone was carved in 1997 for the 1,000 year anniversary of the battle, which explains the coming in peace inscription.

The village itself boasts both Saxon and Norman remains. There’s the town wall which the Saxons originally built and the earthworks of the later Norman castle. Also, conveniently right next to the pub, is a Saxon prison. It is looked after by English Heritage and has always been a prison.

At one time someone decided it would be an excellent idea to build up the ground around the ground floor and in so doing, create an underground dungeon. This became a very effective prison for the MP, Richard Strode who, in 1510 was sentenced to three weeks in the pit.

It would be fair to say he didn’t like his brief stay. His description is written on the information board outside the prison. He is claimed to have said that it was ‘one of the most annoious, contagious and detestable places wythin this realme‘.

Following his release, he, almost immediately, put forward a bill in parliament calling for the protection of MPs from this sort of thing. It was passed into law and is what we now call Parliamentary Privilege. And now, you can’t call a Prime Minister a liar. How far democracy has come.

To complete the Lydford Three, a visit to the church of St Petroc is mandatory. It even welcomes dogs. At least we saw two visitors bring their dogs in while looking around.

As well as the beautiful rood screen by Violet, there’s also some beautiful carved pew ends, each depicting ‘prophets, martyrs and church dignitaries’. Most of them were carved by Herbert Read of Exeter between 1923 and 1926.

Above is a carving of Alexander MacKay (1849-1889) an engineer who became known as The Hero of Uganda. He built roads and bridges throughout Uganda, making the country accessible. He was also a Scottish missionary who preached the word of God to the poor, unsuspecting natives.

He was a dab hand at many things but, what stands out most in my mind, was his printing presses. He built one when he was but a lad, impressing everyone far and wide. This knowledge he took with him to Uganda, and he ended up forging one in order to bring the word of god to the ‘heathen’ natives. Setting aside the obvious brainwashing nonsense, his printing press was instrumental in bringing reading to Uganda.

I found a biography of Alexander here. If you ignore the colonial and god stuff, it paints a portrait of a rather brave, inventive and determined chap. Though he didn’t have anything to do with Lydford.

Having visited everything in Lydford we headed for a short scary drive along sunken lanes, wandering through our part of the Dartmoor National Park. We hoped to glimpse some of the moor but the banks either side of the lanes meant we mostly saw the rough mown ends of branches as Max scraped his way by. We were glad Emma wasn’t with us with her head stuck out the window.

It was a fortunate thing that we didn’t meet up with any tractors or cars as we navigated our way along the lanes.

While we didn’t see a lot of the moor, we did see lots of cattle and some rather odd sheep. Wandering around between two cattle grids, a herd of what could only be described as black bellied white sheep, chewed and munched their way around us at one point. I tried for a photo. This was the best I could get.

I haven’t been able to find out anything conclusive about them, but they could be a breed called the Barbados Black Belly Sheep. Whatever they are, they looked quite surreal and far more interesting than the plain white variety one usually sees.

Having survived our trip through the sunken lanes, we parked up outside the Dartmoor Inn for what can only be described as an exquisite dinner.

Mirinda had read about the Dartmoor Inn and claimed the food was very good. She wasn’t wrong except, maybe she downplayed it a bit.

Having been greeted with great enthusiasm by the female staff, we were shown to table five and indulged ourselves in a few culinary masterpieces.

Like my scallop, chorizo and radish starter…

…to possibly the best venison I’ve ever tasted.

I finished with an affogato. An excellent end to an exceptional meal.

We eventually made it back to the cottage where we collapsed in front of the TV for a bit before returning to bed.

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