THE WEST OF ENGLAND
This first visit stretches the very limits of my memory; some vivid episodes remain in my mind but much has long gone from my consciousness. My sister Margaret – eleven years older than me- and my mother took me to Ilfracombe in 1957. We went by train from Norwich; the line from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe was then still open, but unfortunately I have entirely forgotten this part of the holiday. All the locomotives were steam engines and the corridor coaches had spacious and comfortable compartments. If you had a lot of luggage the guard would look after it for you in the brake third coach, normally at the end of the train. The carriages then were divided into first and third class – no second class had existed for many years.
We were visiting mother’s friend Olwen Morris, who had previously lived at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk. Her husband was a farm worker whose special responsibility was looking after cattle, which job he was doing at a farm near the settlement of South Molton. I remember how wet the climate was compared to the drier East Anglia. I can still see roadside in my mind’s eye, with its glistening wet rocks, a strange new sight for a Norfolk Dumpling like me. Snails only come out in the wet, but they were everywhere because of the pervading damp. They were the colourful common snails which were yet another new sight to me; I had previously only ever seen the larger but duller garden snails which are brown all over. These were all colours, pink, yellow and red, with darker whirls.
The farm cottage was quaint and old but not cramped. The Morrises had two sons, Geoffrey and Michael, and Michael was confined to a wheelchair with disseminated sclerosis. He did not live beyond his teenage years. The sanitary arrangements were an outdoor privy, but this was nothing new to me because that was what I was used to at home in Norfolk. In fact I seem to remember that things were a bit more advanced in Devon because although the privy was outdoors, it had a water closet.
Two places I remember visiting were Hartland Point and Clovelly, both on the coast. Hartland Point was nothing remotely like a seaside resort however. The huge Atlantic breakers surged remorselessly in and crashed against the sandstone and shale rocks. It was something to experience, not with pleasure but with awe. The geology of the surroundings is something special and Devon is unique among the counties of England in having given its name to a global geological time period, the Devonian.
Clovelly was much cosier but it clings to an extremely steep cliff. The hill was too narrow and precipitous to allow cars down; it had steps rather than a roadway. Donkeys would make their way up the hill with people who were unwilling to walk but could afford the fare. We walked of course. The picture of Clovelly in this blog dates from the 1920s and shows my father-in-law Alfred Turner walking up the cliff as a child. It is nearly 90 years ago but the scene is very similar today. The pub sign you see belongs to the New Inn. It is very ancient, naturally.
I have been to Devon on only one other occasion, in the summer of 1969, when I went with my father on a day trip to see the Dart Valley Railway. We did not call preserved railways Heritage Lines in those days, but that is what it was. By comparison with the North Norfolk Railway, which was the preserved line we knew best (and which had organised the trip to Devon) the Dart Valley was impressive. It had only been opened in April of that year, so the North Norfolk Railway. The work was progressing at Sheringham, but is was a long way behind. No trains were yet running on the NNR- none that were open to the tourist anyway.
We went by train from Norwich through Exeter and experienced the long stretch of Brunel’s impressive civil engineering along the coast to Dawlish before getting off the train at Newton Abbott and going by coach to Buckfastleigh. In those early days of the preserved line it had no station at Totnes, but it still took some trains through to the terminus at Ashburton. This section was closed in 1971 to enable the land to be used for road improvements. Unlike my earlier Devon adventure which was extremely wet, this time I only remember unbroken sunshine.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST