Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Three Hares Pilgrimage Part I

Though I've done it already - visited all the Three Hares churches in Devon, that is.  Plus the stained glass in the Castle Inn, Lydford and the roof bosses in the chapel of Cotehele, over the border in Cornwall, and in Selby Abbey, Yorkshire.  Yup - been there, done that, written the poem.  



However, now that Dru Marland has relocated onto NB Eve, space is at a premium and she decided that some of her work must tie up its goods in a red and white spotted handkerchief and go out into the world to earn its keep.  So I offered to drop some of her beautiful Three Hares postcards into each host church in and around Dartmoor, as a free-gift-cum-advertsing-campaign rolled into one - or card-bombing, if you prefer.  



 There are 17 churches with mediaeval carved roof bosses depicting three hares running in a circle, each sharing a single ear with their neighbour so that it looks as if they have two apiece, and they are fairly widespread, from Ashreigney in the north to Paignton in the south and from Kelly in the west to Broadclyst in the east.   So visiting all of them does constitute a pilgrimage, and allowing for pub time, the most you can really expect to do in a day is half a dozen.  

Conversely, you can stop off at any you might happen to pass, and this is what I did at St Michael's, Ilsington, a minor diversion en route for the bluebells of Holwell Lawn.  

Ilsington is a lovely village on the edge of Dartmoor, but turning its gaze towards the smaller and less celebrated Haldon Moor.  It has a decent pub and the church, with its dark and mysterious interior and weathered churchyard, is typical of the area.   



Having found a suitable spot in which to deposit Dru's cards, I set about locating the three hares roof boss, remembering belatedly that the last time I'd undertaken this mission, I was younger and sharper-eyed and had four positively eagle-eyed offspring with me.  Alack, now I was reduced to squinting and craning and trying to recall whether this was one of the churches with the boss in the centre aisle or to the north or south? In the nave or the chancel?  Painted (and easy to spot) or merely carved?  


Ah, there they are!


Two days later I had the chance to cross several churches off my list in one go.  First, Widecombe's St Pancras, which must have one of the best churchyards in the country (though I suspect that the me in the parallel universe where I am living on Dartmoor and enjoying wild literary success will be mouldering with all those Harveys in Manaton).  




The Widecombe hares are amongst my favourites also, partly because I love their naturalistic colouring and the red and green background ... 


... but also because it's next to one of three amazing Green Men.    Look at him!  He's just scored a penalty against Germany!


And in the porch, a couple of swallow nests.  


On to Tavistock, graced by the River Tavy in unwontedly sober mode.


The Church of St Eustachius - they made him up! -  with its hugger-mugger graves ... 


... and the last remaining arch of the Abbey cloister in its grounds.





More baby bunnies than hares here, I think ... 


... but a fantastic monument to Judge John Glanville, who fell from his horse and broke his neck in 1600, and his wife, Alice.  


Next, St Andrew's in South Tawton, with its lovely Church House, and just opposite the Seven Stars pub too.  



More swallows in the porch and Dru's cards looking very much at home ... 


... presided over by possibly the best carved of all the hares, with their lovely fluted ears.  


Finally to Chagford, where - unexpectedly - the day took a nosedive, the Church of St Michael the Archangel having been improved mightily since I last ventured inside in - ooh - probably 2005, because England were playing Australia in the Ashes in one of those nail-biting games that went right to the wire and I went in to escape the tension in the car park, where many people were listening to car radios and pacing up and down. 


It is now a palace of glass and curved terracotta walls and yes, I know that a Church has to serve the needs of its community and be useful as well as beautiful, but somehow the decision-makers have managed to strip away all of its darksome mystery.  

Plus, I don't need tasteful lighting to tell me that the font is worth looking at.  


Plus, with the doors of the screen chained shut, I had to perform gymnastics to catch a glimpse of the hares.  

But there you go - win some, lose some - and with five down and a dozen to go, I'm going to enjoy the rest of my mission. 





Friday, 30 May 2014

Getting A Cobb On (Or Going For A Burton Bradstock)


And so to Lyme Regis, so that my companion could stand on the Cobb and pretend to be the John Fowles' French Lieutenant's Woman - even on a bank holiday Monday in May and without a hooded black cloak or a storm to go with it.  

I love the Cobb, the first mention of which is in a document dated 1328 (although it has been reconstructed many times since). What a feat of engineering, though.  




The literary character I was keenest not to emulate, whilst balancing on its slanty walkway with an always excitable Ted, was Louisa Musgrove in Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' who famously falls from it (or at least from its steps) and sustains a serious concussion. 


But look, here's a lovely view over to the distinctive outline of Golden Cap ... 

... and here's some boats on Monmouth Beach upon which the Duke of Monmouth landed at the start of the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion ... 

... and here's the Cobb and harbour seen from the Jane Austen Gardens on the John Fowles Walk. (I sense a bit of a theme developing here.)

But it's a bit too crowded down on the front, so let us away to Burton Bradstock instead ... 

... where the crows are disreputable ...



... there are fossils for the picking up ... 











 ... and  rather more room for a dog to frolic.  










Thursday, 29 May 2014

Blue Remembered Bells ... and Tradewinds at Scorriton

The reason I love Dartmoor's bluebells is that oceans of them grow out in the open, before the bracken starts its invasion, and they are a sight to see.  I don't always manage to time my visits properly, however.  For a start, you can never be sure quite when these great tides are going to appear.  In early May 2007, I remember wading through them with two of my children in the Beckabrook valley, yet in 2010 it was June when I saw them rolling in waves down the strip lynchets at Challacombe.  And since then, with the exception of the bluebell woods around the edges of the moor, I've missed them altogether. 

So it was with heart in mouth last Sunday that I looked towards Grea and Hound Tors from the Bovey Tracey to Widecombe Road, for if you are going to see them anywhere, it's there.   And yes, there was the first glimpse, a faint blue haze at Emsworthy.



Not that all patches of blueishness were flowers ... 




... but most of them were and they were stunning. 

Haytor Rocks

Rippon Tor, far left 
Looking back over Holwell Lawns
  

Witches' Butter on dead gorse


Looking over to Hayne Down


Grea Tor


Haytor Rocks and Holwell Tor















There were other beautiful sights on our walk like the crows flying to and from the noisiest nest I've ever heard on Hound Tor, and the ominous clouds that made for such stunning skyscapes passing over without raining on us (much), and the lovely mug of tea we had at the Hound of the Basket Meals, but today the bluebells had it, and not just on the eastern edge of the moor either.

Here they are at Challacombe ...












and on the steep slopes running down to Sherberton Firs ... 


... and on the banks of the West Dart ...  



... and at my much loved Hexworthy, where I set the main action of my novel, 'Dart'. Did my family living there in the 14th century see them like this?  I hope so.  

The day didn't end with bluebells, however, as a chance meeting with Bristol poet and friend Hazel Hammond in Shaldon the day before had reminded us about Tradewinds, the monthly open mic run by Susan Taylor and Simon Williams at the Tradesmans Arms in Scorriton.  (Hard to resist even without the promise of a pint of my favourite Thompstones cider.)  

Not having come to Devon prepared to read poems, I had to copy a couple out legibly by hand (surprisingly onerous when you are used to tap-tapping on a laptop and then printing them off in a large enough font to read without resorting to glasses).  I chose one I wrote last year about a dead mole at Heaven's Gate and another about Mahala Northcote, who drowned herself at Chagford Bridge in 1867 - a poem in two voices and the first time I'd read it in public. I especially loved to hear other poets reading their poems about Dartmoor, which has sustained my own writing so generously over the years, and Simon's come-all-ye singing at the start of the evening almost made me weep, as it could have leapt straight out of the pages of 'Dart'.  

Unfortunately we didn't stay till the end on account of Ted being a little restive after a time, it being his first poetry reading, but I hope we can revisit another time.