Up at 6 and set off for a morning ramble along the river – Mirinda remained in bed, fast asleep. The morning was stunning, birds raucous. I headed out along the waters edge for Horsebridge, a very heavy dew wetting my boots and giving the countryside a fresh crispness. The ‘track’ beside the river resembles a driveway and, I think, it is, sort of, the access for at least one farm. It is also used to access fishing spots, marked on various trees and with large concrete bollards in the river itself. Some of these bollards have planks joining them up, allowing access to the centre of the river. All a bit odd but, hey, I’m no fisherman!
I stopped at a bench – incongruously sitting by the bank – and breathed in the picturesque tranquillity. No signs of man, just cows and birds. My plan had been to follow the river edge all the way to the bridge but I came across a rather big sign which indicated I should actually forgo my plan and follow, instead, a track up to Lamerhooe Cross. It’s a shame as this is a track called the ‘Duke’s Drive’ but which is now only travelled by farmers, fisherfolk and livestock. Anyway, who am I to argue with a PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO PUBLIC ACCESS sign? I headed up the track which gradually became a single lane road, climbing steadily up to the crossroad.
On my map there is marked a Motte and Baily just off to the side and I spotted what appeared to be it from above a hedge. Another Private Property sign and no gate kept me from actually going and having a proper look.
Reaching the crossroad I turned left, heading for the town of Horsebridge. Now, I would have thought it was so called because many moons ago people would take their horses to market (or race meetings) across a bridge but no, it is not. The bridge, which was built in 1437 and is still going strong, and the town are named after Horsa, the Saxon who fought the Celts on Hingston Down. It was the Battle of Hingston Down which saw the end of Cornwall’s independence back in 838AD so I assume the bridge was named from the Devon side! It was built by French Benedictine Monks.
Apart from the bridge there is not a lot in Horsebridge. A few houses and a pub which, though appearing quite unremarkable, was visited by King Charles I and has a seal ‘leaded into a granite step’ purported to have been given by the King – I didn’t see it as the pub was far from open when I walked by. Still, it is named the Royal Inn and was originally a nunnery.
I kept walking, taking the public footpath which joins two arms of the Lamerhooe Cross, which quickly became a glorious green lane. Very dark and ancient, and also very steep! Walking these old lanes always conjures up images of the centuries of farmers and livestock, soldiers and peasants, travellers and walkers, rambling along beside me. Almost makes you shiver let alone moan about the crowds. The lane is edged with steep banks which are split regularly by large gates which afford fantastic views across the Tamar to the farmland and quarries beyond.
The path crossed a large open field then into (or, rather, alongside) Scrubtor Plantation. It was here I hit my highest point – a massive 127ft! This was from 19ft at the lowest. Naturally I stopped and celebrated with a mouthful of tepid Lucazade Sport. I then followed the new diverted path alongside the road at Lane End Cross and was greeted rather solidly by two friendly but loud labradors who were, thankfully, firmly on the other side of the fence. It was then a very long, steep, climb back down, over precarious stiles, following a stream with no name. My map notes a lot of springs in the hills around this area and these feed into streams which eventually feed the Tamar.
Along the footpath, just before the turnoff to Coombe, I almost tripped over a very dead, very bloated sheep. It blocked the path, it’s stomach having been feasted on. Given the legends of wild cats living on Dartmoor I cautiously peered about then rapidly walked around the body and away as fast as I could without sounding like another live sheep.
The path ends on a driveway to a farm, crossing a small field via a stile and it was here I made friends with a speckled pony who, I think, was under the misapprehension that I possessed something edible for him. He must be related to a mountain goat as the field is very steep and it appears to be his home. A very surefooted pony.
From the driveway it was just an easy walk back up to the cottage. I was back by 9 (about 6 or 7 miles, I guess). Mirinda still asleep, the sun very hot.
We eventually left the cottage at about 11:30, our first stop, Tavistock. The first records regarding the town date from around 800AD, stating that a Saxon settlement “Tavy-Stoc” (which means stockaded settlement by the Tavy) was erected to the north east of the present town. Today’s Tavistock has developed around the Benedictine Abbey founded in the 10th century. It was large enough to house 1,000 men. In 997 Vikings sailed up the Tavy and razed the abbey to the ground. Unperturbed, Abbot Lyfing (died 1027) had it rebuilt and it acquired even greater prosperity than before. This sounds like an insurance scam to me!
In 1539, with Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, it’s lands and revenues were granted to a John Russell, whose descendants became the Dukes of Bedford (see? That name again!). Little remains of the abbey now – there’s a big chunk of it sticking out of the ground by the Church of St Eustachius – but in its heyday it was the hub of the community and was sorely missed by many when it was sacked.
Another bit of the abbey still standing is Betsy Grimbal’s Tower, so named because a jealous monk (or soldier) murdered a woman called Betsy Grimbal there…or so they say! Surely that was The Name of the Rose.
In another odd Normandy link, Dwight D Eisnehower and Field Marshall Mongomery held important meetings in Tavistock, prior to the D-Day landings.
But Tavistock still flourished without the abbey. It’s close proximity to the tin mines made it the perfect site for being a ‘stannery town’. To these towns came the blocks of tin to be weighed, have a small corner chiselled off by the assay master and be stamped with the royal arms. Until this was completed, the tin could not be sold. This bought a lot of trade to the town and so it grew.
We visited the Pannier Market, so called because farmers would bring their produce to market in panniers either side of their horses. A market was originally granted to the town in 1105 by Henry I. There’s not a lot of produce there – at least not on a Tuesday – just 2nd hand goods, leatherware and antiques. We strolled through then made an abortive stop at the pensioner’s café. We eventually found the Best Pasty Shop in Devon – 14 varieties, all delicious – for a latte.
Suitably refreshed we then explored the town, stopping first at the massive St Eustachius. This saint was a successful 2nd century Roman general called Placidus who became a Christian when he had a chat to a stag during a hunt. The deer was carrying a crucifix and claimed to be Jesus. He was disgraced and exiled because of his faith and finally martyred with his family for refusing to take part in sacrifices to the Roman gods. He is a patron saint to hunters. Anyone unfamiliar with his name, should not be concerned, there are only 3 churches in England dedicated to him.
The church is very impressive with a Burne-Jones stained glass window which was coloured by William Morris. There’s also an interesting memorial to John Glanvill erected in 1615. He was a local who became an advocate and eventually the first advocate to be made a judge. His wife is also included in the memorial as are his headless, kneeling children. John looks a lot like Falstaff sans the beard.
It’s a lovely church, and well used; as we had to make way for a funeral at 2. We then strolled the streets looking for a shirt for me – we have found a Michelan star chef in a restaurant not far from the cottage but I brought only t-shirts with me!! It was a hard task but I finally managed to buy 2 shirts (they were 2 for £25 so how could I buy just 1?) and we then returned to the pasty shop to buy lunch.
Sitting by the river we feasted on steak & stilton, chicken balti, pork & apple and cauliflower cheese pasties – that’s 4 pasties not one with lots of stuff in it! Where we sat is called The Meadows and is a section of parkland set beside the Tavy, where families come to play and oldies eat their pasties when on holidays. The path from the town to The Meadows is called the Abbey Walk as it runs along, what was, one of the outer walls of the abbey.
Sufficiently stuffed, we hopped back into Sidney and took off for Buckland Abbey – the home of Sir Francis Drake.
Set in a beautiful location, close to the River Tavy, the abbey was originally established in 1278 by Amica de Redvors, the countess of Devon, in memory of her son who was poisoned. After the Dissolution, Sir Richard Grenville bought the abbey and began converting it into a ‘comfortable house’. Sir Richard’s son, Roger, was drowned when the Mary Rose sank in 1545. His other son, another Richard but unknighted, sold the abbey to Sir Francis drake. Drake only lived at Buckland Abbey for 15 years but his descendants were there for the next 370! Since 1951 the National Trust has opened Buckland to visitors.
Instead of rooms being furnished in a particular style, Buckland is laid out rather differently. First of all you sit in a little theatrette (yes, a little, little theatre) and watch a short video about the great Englishman, Sir Francis Drake. For a pirate and profiteer, he did rather well but I’d love to hear the Spanish version of his history – they called him El Draco or the Dragon. There’s a wonderful statue in the theatrette of Queen Elizabeth I playing chess against King Phillip II of Spain. The game never actually happened, it’s an allegory of the English dispelling the Spanish Armada. It was created by Sir William Reynolds-Stephens and a second is in the Tate, London. He painted the famous Pre-Raphaelite picture, The Interlude.
We next climbed the stairs to the ‘Treasure Room’. In glass cases around this room are lots of Drake memorabilia, including the drum which, it is said, sounds a few beats in times of national importance. One of the National Trust women said if the drum sounded she’d be the first out the door. There is also an old book telling of Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe, printed in the late 1500s.
The next room is the ‘Drake Chamber’, a large oak-lined room with an amazing plaster ceiling designed in the Devon tradition by Jane Schofield and hand modelled in 1998 by Kervaic Associates using lime plaster. It is quite extraordinary – large 3 dimensional plaster insects seem to be resting on the whiteness.
The second floor has been set up with displays, showing how life would have been aboard the ships, during Tudor times and in the original monastery. I think a lot of it is aimed at kids but still quite fascinating. I tried to measure the altitude of a star by using an old wooden naval instrument but merely got lost.
An interesting fact I discovered is that the Benedictine monks would employ local people to work the fields (they were called lay brothers, a term I’d heard but never bothered to investigate) thereby helping the local community. When Henry dissolved the monasteries, he would have shoved all these happily employed peasants back below the poverty line, creating a larger poor class than before. Mind you, he didn’t have to worry about social welfare payments so it was win/win for him, really.
Then, for a complete change of scene, we descended the magnificent 18th century staircase and visit the Georgian end of the house. A fantastic kitchen, complete with child rotisserie and fabulous wooden table about the size of our bedroom, a lovely dining room and, finally, the great hall.
The hall is built on top of the graves of 200 monks – the foundation of the early church, perhaps. Around the room is a series of oak panels with an amazing array of carved figures; all different, some animal, some human, some a combination. In a huge frieze along one wall is a skull in a tree which, apparently, has a spy hole. The black holes for its eyes look a bit eerie I have to say! The floor was a lovely mix of pink and white triangular tiles. This room was created, from the original church, by Grenville. The chapel is opposite and a good 18 inches lower (a bit on the big side, those monks…).
We then had a lovely stroll around the grounds, stopping to admire the wonderful herb garden by the massive Great Barn. There are 40 different herbs behind a cute little box hedge – I tried working out what they all were but stopped long before getting to all 40!
We bought a raffle ticket for something to do with the National Trust, which is more than can be said for the cheap couple behind us who said “We bought one yesterday at Cotehele.” It was only £1!!! I sometimes wonder how the National Trust keeps going if these people are an example of the generosity of its visitors.
After the usual visit to the shop it was time to drive back to the cottage and sit beneath the apple tree, enjoying the view and disrupting a long line of ants. I cooked the last of the lamb chops then we watched Charlie’s Angels, Full Throttle which is SO a total cack!
Bed about 11, awash with history.