Wednesday, 3 May 2017

À La Recherche de Shaldon Perdu

During the four days I spent in Devon over the long weekend, I wandered the village of Shaldon a fair bit and realised I hadn't actually stayed there since I was ten, when my parents bought a caravan on the site across the River Teign and a couple of miles up the coast at Holcombe. 

Yet of all the places of my childhood, Shaldon has perhaps shaped me more than anywhere else barring my home city of Bristol. All that red sand made an indelible stain on more than just my white socks. 


It seems that every passage and alleyway holds memories, from the clacking of my plastic beach shoes on tarmac ... 


... to the inky business of fetching my father's paper, which necessitated going through School Lane and which I hated because who wants to think about school when you're on holiday? 


The duck pond's still there, minus its ducks (mallards, mandarins and chloe widgeons) and the low wall you could sit on replaced by railings. The gunnera still grows in the same spot, though - 'Look at the rhubarb, Mummy!' - and the fish wouldn't disgrace a safari. 

Clearly the telephone box has seen better days, and the Ness Gift Shop with its corrugated plastic awning is no more. 


We holidayed in lots of different places before The Holcombe Epoch. I was a baby when we stayed in the cottage at the Ringmore end of the village. 


It had two entrances on different levels in separate streets, and freaked my mother out because she thought she was on the top floor but could hear someone dragging their lame leg across the ceiling. 


I do remember the draughty old Manor House in pole position on the Strand, now divided into apartments. The flat above the Clipper cafe and gift shop, which was as close to staying on the beach as you could get, and is currently an upstairs annexe to the restaurant. And Chez Nous, a B&B owned by Mr and Mrs Cordon and their Jack Russell, Jo-Jo, and now seemingly the local headquarters of UKIP. 


I was envious of Jane and Sarah Woolley because they got to stay in the Dairy which was cool and dark, and had corridors, crannies and window seats. They used to keep their collections of pink and white top shells on the meeting rails of the sash windows.

It's long been a private dwelling. 



The most spectacular change has been the transformation of the caravan park by the bridge - we stayed in caravans and chalets there - into a development of modern cottages cunningly designed to resemble the other Georgian dwellings in the village. 


The first time I saw them, I really did think I was dreaming as it looked like they had always been there. The only giveaway is the width of the roads and their names, Oystercatcher Court being rather more high-falutin than Albion Street, Middle Street and Coronation Street. 


All this change is not without melancholy. Walking the back streets I saw familiar houses with unfamiliar names or, in  the case of Lan Y Môr and Sandy Nook, no name at all. A door I must have entered dozens of times opened and an unknown face peered out. 


And the voices of the old are gone. More Waitrose than West Country these days.


The wind still sounds oceanic in the woods on top of the Ness ...


... but you know you really are getting on a bit when the headland itself has undergone a fundamental change.  


I can't help wondering whether seven-year-old me would look at today's somewhat stumpy Ness at the mouth of the River Teign and still see some sort of god. 


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