The unique character of Totnes and Salcombe

Totnes is a market town that sits at the head of the Dart estuary. It has prospered since medieval times and has grown a reputation for alternative therapies. Totnes is its main street, lined with a huge range of independent traders including butchers, bakers, fudge-makers, cheese producers, cafes, bistros, ethnic bags and bangles and banjolelesl. The iconic clock tower spans the street around the half-way mark.

This plaque is particularly interesting, coming from Oxford as I do.

Salcombe is a bit further west on the Kingsbridge Estuary. It has a long and rich history as a centre for fishing and as a trade port importing particularly fruit from Spain , the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

Ship building took place in the town and many small workshops still remain. In the past the town could boast sail makers, blockers, blacksmiths and sawyers.

The first holiday home was built here in the 1700s.

As ship building and trade declined so the town developed its recreational side and it became a bustling resort town with many holiday lets and a busy ferry to take holiday makers over the estuary to the beaches opposite.

All these Devon towns are worth a visit but I have learned a couple of things about them. Firstly parking is a nightmare and it usually takes several circuits of the car parks and streets before a space is spotted. Warning: 9 times out of 10, in order to park will require you to carry out parallel parking  maneuvers (when’s the last time you did that?). Secondly, any space is usually at the top of a hill, requiring a quick descent to places of interest but a laboured accent at the end of the day to rejoin your vehicle. Park & Ride schemes are sign-posted but all seem to be seasonal and none ran after October.

My one tip to you: park on the other side of the estuary to these tourist towns. In most cases at least one passenger ferry dashes about from A to B to C. Although a bit chilly on the water, it beats being stuck in queues in town. Check on-line before you travel.

 

And then there is Dittisham

And then there is Dittisham. This picturesque village lies on the estuary of the River Dart. It has a population off around 420 and is a couple of kilometres upstream from Dartmouth. It has two pubs, one of which trebles up as a shop and a post office and the seasonal Anchorstone Cafe which serves excellent local seafood lunches. Other than that, it is a sleepy place with lots of holiday lets and a rather affluent feel. But don’t get me wrong. It has a charm and an attraction which makes it a relaxing place to chill out on holiday, although I expect the character might well change in the high season as boats and visitors are drawn to the estuary.

The narrow main street, called The Levels, is the only level surface in the village. It is cut into the scarp of the hills that line the estuary providing wonderful views of the estuary from houses on both sides, above and below the road. Sight of the water can also be grasped though gaps in hedges and over walls.

The approach to the estuary is always steeply downhill. A fact that fills the heart with dread as the minute the gradient starts to increase, you know that the return journey will require a massive effort for muscles and lungs alike.

Two passenger ferries serve the village from the small beach by The Ferry Boat Inn, a small cosy pub right beside the water, and the new pontoon which also acts as a crabbing hotspot.

One runs to and fro between here and Dartmouth, bringing visitors upstream to frequent the pub itself or wander the quiet lanes or as part of a circular amble along the estuary.The other plies across the narrow stretch of water to Greenway House. This is now owned by the National Trust and was once the home of Agatha Christie. Greenway Quay mirrors the pontoon on the west bank. A bell can be rung to summon the boat.

Trains and boats and planes (or three sailing ships) in Dartmouth

Dartmouth is just that…a bustly town at the mouth of the River Dart where narrow streets abound with history and drivers find it impossible to park. Having driven around the town three times and the only car park a similar number, I decide to do the sensible thing and follow the signs out from the centre to the Park & Ride. Here a scruffy piece of A4 over the ticket machine announces that the P&R buses (the whole point of P&R) ceased to run on October 29th. I ask you…what is the point of having the signs from the middle of town. Two more circuits and a bit of hovering and I time it bang on as car leaves from the street and I carry out a pretty impressive piece of parallel parking.

So, in the words of the title of that well known song by Peter, Paul & Mary, I had first hand experience of the train element. From over the estuary the sound of a real steam train stirs boyhood memories with the sound of the whistle and the sight of the ribbon of steam billowing behind above the carriages.

Planes must have passed overhead during my visit. However it was boats that took the biscuit. I saw countless boats of every description. I also saw three ships, well ferries, two of which carried vehicles, pass me by, plying across the water at different locations, even though it was not Christmas Day, nor the morning, just as they have done since the 13th century.

Bayard’s Cove is the oldest part of the town. It is a quay whose cobbles ooze history. Read this bit about the coal gangs that operated from here.

I love the Tudor houses amid the narrow steep alleys and the small fort at the end.

Further along the estuary, where the river meets the sea, yes….the mouth of the Dart (!), is a church, it’s graveyard and, on each bank, two parts of a larger fort. Both would have had cannon and a huge chain would have been stretched across between them to prevent pirates and enemy forces entering the river and threatening the town.

Family-friendly beaches from Dartmouth to Salcombe

Hi Everyone. For me, it’s down to south Devon for a few days over New Year. I have rented a small cottage in Dittisham, overlooking the calm waters of the Dart estuary, between Totnes and Dartmouth (more about that on another occasion). Today I went exploring. I decided to complete the short stretch between Dartmouth and Salcombe as part of my journey around the UK coastline. This section has tall cliffs interrupted by crescent bites of beaches gnawing into the landscape.

Unable to access the coast through the sizable settlement of Stoke Fleming due to its location high up on the cliffs, I drive south of the Dart to find Blackpool. Yep, absolutely true. Blackpool Sands has a similar wide beach but only a few rather classy buildings and an extensive tea shop and eatery. Three rather forlorn beach huts separate the car park from the refreshments.

Streete is also high up on the cliffs. A mile or so out of town the road drops down to the wide crescent of Slapton Sands with the unusual sight of the fresh water nature reserve on the land side separated from the sea by a long, thin spit of land which holds the road.

Torcross at the southern end of the beach is a village of tea rooms and holiday lets hiding behind the sea defences with larger properties holding more impressive positions overlooking the sea from the surrounding cliffs. It’s only claim to fame is that it was a practice beach for unloading troops before the D-day landings. Indeed a tank was found in the sea just off the village around shuts in the car park to be admired by visitors.

Across the cliffs, Beesands is an old fishing village from where crab and lobster fishing took place. This single street settlement hides behind an impressive sea wall, fronted by huge giant rocks, with a small beach at one end, a pub in the middle and a tall closed up house at the other end.

Hallsands is even smaller. It too has a beach. But the sea defences here failed to stop the cliff erosion and now the cliff road has been cut and the terrace of houses at the far end leans close to the precipice, in danger of collapsing onto the rocks below.

Start Point Lighthouse can be seen in the distance.

Thames Crossings for Christmas

Do you remember this? It describes my journey down the River Thames from source to estuary, capturing every crossing as an image and in writing, with some history on each one. Many of you kindly bought a copy last year.

This is a small reminder that if you want to buy friend or family a copy for Christmas this year, than simply get in touch. Each copy costs £15.00 and I can pop one in the post for you for an extra £2. Simply drop me a line at markchesterton@hotmail.com or claykettlebooks@gmail.com and I will confirm the order, the address and provide you with my bank details.

Many thanks.

Mark

24 hours around Chicago

So, I’ve come to my last 24 hours in Chicago. Rather than writing any lengthy commentary I thought I’d just share this collection of images taken with my camera or on my phone to show you what random activities these hours contained.

The 24 hours starts at lunchtime on Saturday with a trip out of town and a double cheeseburger at Superdawgs Drive In. The order is placed at the terminal from the window and delivered to your car. You don’t have to move from your seat.

Then a visit to the five-plus sheds of classic cars, vans, mobile homes, scooters, bicycles, tractors, juke boxes, pinball machines, motorboats & outboard engines in the Volo Auto Museum.

As the sky darkens I arrive in the town of St Charles and its 33rd Scarecrow Fest. No kidding.

Dinner is in the Arcada Theatre. In the Speakeasy on the third floor, the Flapper girls take us through a jumbled history of US popular music.

This morning, breakfast was corned beef hash n eggs, with a side order of crispy bacon, at Louis Mitchell’s place, a traditional diner frequented by presidents and every visitor to Chicago of any worth.

Every item any self-respecting cow-person wishes to purchase can be found at Alcala’s.

The Garfield Conservatory is a connection of huge glass-houses containing collections of flourishingly opulent hot-house plants.

The penultimate stop is at SereniTEA (speak it through slowly to get the real impact of the name), an English tearooms down by the tracks.

I will add on a few hours to the 24 so I can include dinner at the very classy North Pond. No photo. Sorry, that is still a few hours away.

What a fantastic 24 hours. Tomorrow, with great sadness, it is home. Thank you so much, Kate & Tony. A fantastic trip.

Chicago in its best light

Certain aspects of the city are best appreciated in the special light that dusk brings at the end of the day. Cloud Gate, or The Bean, as it is affectionately known by locals, is a sculpture by Indian-born Brit, Sir Anish Kapoor, and situated in Millennium Park. Three quarters of its external surface reflects the sky. In the sculptor’s mind, its intention is to bridge the space between the sky and the viewer.

 

I never thought of Chicago having a beach. Well it does. A long, long expanse of soft sand running north along each of Lake Michigan. It is not only a summer playground for Chicago locals but a holiday destination for the whole Midwest. At dusk the joggers, the roller skaters, the skateboarders, come out and run their circuits up and down the flat promenade. Lines off empty, netless volleyball courts stand idle, with only a few fortunate enough to feel useful and be in use. But what a backdrop, with the city behind.

The toilet, changing and refreshment block is closed. It feels like a set from Grease in the fading day which colours it with a warm, 1950s hue when everything was golden laughter and happy and fun.

Oh Happy Days!