Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

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fifteenth-century work, and it was one of the finest in the county; much
of the work was Flemish. On it were images of saints, both male and
female, and of some of the prophets, the saints being distinguishable by
the nimbus or halo round their heads, and the prophets by caps and
flowing robes after the style of the Jewish costumes in the Middle Ages.
There was also a magnificent pulpit of about the same date as the
screen, and so richly designed as to equal any carved pulpit in Europe.
It was said to have been carved from the trunk of a single oak tree and
ornamented in gilt and colours.

The number of screens in the churches near the sea-coast caused us to
wonder whether some of them had been brought by sea from Flanders or
France, as we remembered that our Cheshire hero, and a famous warrior,
Sir Hugh de Calveley, who kept up the reputation of our county by eating
a calf at one meal, and who died about the year 1400, had enriched his
parish church with the spoils of France; but the lovely old oak
furniture, with beautifully figured panels, some containing figures of
saints finely painted, which he brought over, had at a recent
"restoration" (?) been taken down and sold at two pounds per cartload!
We sincerely hoped that such would not be the fate of the beautiful work
at Kenton.

We now came to Star Cross, a place where for centuries there had been a
ferry across the River Exe, between the extreme west and east of Devon.
The rights of the ferry had formerly belonged to the abbots of
Sherborne, who had surmounted the landing-place with a cross, which had
now disappeared. The ferry leads by a rather tortuous passage of two
miles to Exmouth, a town we could see in the distance across the water;
but troublesome banks of sand, one forming a rabbit warren, obstructed
the mouth of the river. We also passed through Cofton, a small village
noted for its cockles, which the women gathered along the shore in a
costume that made them resemble a kind of mermaid, except that the lower
half resembled that of a man rather than a fish. About two miles from
Cofton was the village of Mamhead, with its obelisk built in 1742, one
hundred feet high, on the top of a spur of the Great Haldon Hill. The
rector of the church here at one time was William Johnson Temple, often
mentioned in _Boswell's Life of Johnson_. He was the grandfather of
Frederick Temple, Bishop of Exeter at the time we passed through that
city, afterwards Bishop of London, and finally Archbishop of Canterbury,
to whose harsh voice and common sense we had once listened when he was
addressing a public meeting in Manchester. In the churchyard at Mamhead
was an enormous yew tree, over eight hundred years old. In 1775, when
Boswell came to see Lord Lisburne at Mamhead Park, and stayed at the
vicarage, he was so much impressed by the size and magnificence of this
great tree, that he made a vow beneath its great branches "never to be
drunk again" - a vow he soon forgot when he was out of sight of the tree.

We soon arrived at the pretty little town of Dawlish, and perhaps it was
its unique appearance that gave us the impression that we had reached
another of the prettiest places we had visited. There we halted for
refreshments and for a hurried excursion in and about the town, as we
were anxious to reach Torquay before night, where we had decided to stay
until Monday morning. We walked towards the source of the water, which
comes down from the higher lands in a series of pretty little
waterfalls, spreading out occasionally into small lakes adorned at the
sides with plots of grass and beds of flowers. The name Dawlish, we
learned, came from two Cornish words meaning "deep stream," or, as some
have it, "Devil's Water"; and behind the town on Haldon Hill was the
"Devil's Punchbowl," from which descended the water that passed through
the town, but which is in much too pleasant a position, we thought, to
be associated with his satanic majesty.


Modern Dawlish (though "Doflisc" appears in early charters) only dated
from the year 1810, when the course of a small stream was changed, and
the pretty waterfalls made; rustic bridges were placed over it and
houses built near the banks; this scheme, which was intended to make the
fortunes of the prospectors and of the inhabitants generally, was
completed at the beginning of November in that year. But, sad to relate,
before nine o'clock on the morning of November 10th in that same year
scarcely a vestige of the improvements remained, and in place of a small
rippling stream came a great river, which swept away four houses with
stables and other buildings and eight wooden bridges. It seemed almost
as if the devil had been vexed with the prospectors for interfering with
his water, and had caused this devastation to punish them for their
audacity. But a great effort was made in 1818, and a more permanent
scheme on similar lines was completed; and Dawlish as we saw it in 1871
was a delightful place suggestive of a quiet holiday or honeymoon
resort. Elihu Burritt, in his _Walk from London to Land's End_, speaks
well of Dawlish; and Barham, a local poet and a son of the renowned
author of _Ingoldsby Legends_, in his legend "The Monk of Haldon," in
the July number of _Temple Bar_ in 1867, wrote:

Then low at your feet,
From this airy retreat,
Reaching down where the fresh and the salt water meet,
The roofs may be seen of an old-fashioned street;
Half village, half town, it is - pleasant but smallish,
And known where it happens to _be_ known, as Dawlish.
A place I'd suggest
As one of the best
For a man breaking down who needs absolute rest,
Especially too if he's weak in the chest;
Torquay may be gayer,
But as for the air
It really can not for a moment compare
With snug little Dawlish - at least so they say there.


The light-coloured cliffs of Dorsetshire had now given place to the dark
red sandstone cliffs of Devonshire, a change referred to by Barham in
"The Monk of Haldon," for he wrote:

'Tis certainly odd that this part of the coast,
While neighbouring Dorset gleams white as a ghost,
Should look like anchovy sauce spread upon toast.

We were now bound for Teignmouth, our next stage; and our road for a
short distance ran alongside, but above, the seashore. The change in
the colour of the cliffs along the sea-coast reminded my brother of an
incident that occurred when he was going by sea to London, about nine
years before our present journey. He had started from Liverpool in a
tramp steamboat, which stopped at different points on the coast to load
and unload cargo; and the rocks on the coast-line as far as he had
seen - for the boat travelled and called at places in the night as well
as day - had all been of a dark colour until, in the light of a fine day,
the ship came quite near Beachy Head, where the rocks were white and
rose three or four hundred feet above the sea. He had formed the
acquaintance of a young gentleman on board who was noting every object
of interest in a diary, and who, like my brother, was greatly surprised
at the white cliffs with the clear blue sky overhead. Presently the
captain came along, and the young man asked him why the rocks were
white. "Well, sir," said the captain, "the sea is as deep there as the
rocks are high, and they are so dangerous to ships in the dark that the
Government has ordered them to be whitewashed once a month to prevent
shipwreck." Out came the pocket-book, and as the captain watched the
passenger write it down, my brother looked hard in the captain's face,
who never moved a muscle, but a slight twinkle in one of his eyes showed
that he did not want to be asked any questions!

The Devon red sandstone was not very durable, and the action of the sea
had worn the outlying rocks into strange shapes. Before reaching
Teignmouth we had some good views of the rocks named "the Parson and the
Clerk," the history of which was by no means modern, the legend being
told in slightly different ways:

A great many years ago the vicar of Dawlish and his clerk had been to
Teignmouth to collect tithes, and were riding home along the cliffs on a
dark wet night when they lost their way. Suddenly they came to a house
that they did not remember having seen before. The windows were bright
and light, and they could hear the shouts and laughter of a very merry
company within; they were just wishing themselves inside when a window
was thrown open and they were invited to come in, an invitation they
very willingly accepted, and they soon began to enjoy themselves,
drinking deeply and waxing merrier every moment, the parson singing
songs that were quite unfit for a priest, entirely forgetting the
sanctity of his calling, while the clerk followed his master's example.
They stayed long, and when, with giddy heads and unsteady legs, they
rose to depart, the parson said he was sure he could not find the way,
and he must have a guide, even if it were the devil himself. The man who
had invited them into the house said he would put them on the right way
for Dawlish, and led them to the top of the road, and telling them to go
straight on, immediately disappeared. When they had gone a little way,
they thought the tide uncommonly high, as it reached their feet,
although a minute before they were sure they were on dry land; and the
more they attempted to ride away the faster rose the water! Boisterous
laughter now echoed around, and they shouted for help, and a bright
flash of lightning revealed the figure of their guide, who was none
other than the devil himself, jeering and pointing over the black stormy
sea into which they had ridden. Morning came, and their horses were
found quietly straying on the sands, but neither the parson nor his
clerk were ever seen again: but meantime two isolated rocks, in which
were seen their images, had risen in the sea as a warning to their
brethren of future generations to have no fellowship with the unfruitful
works of darkness.

From the Teignmouth side the Parson appeared seated in a pulpit the back
of which was attached to the cliff, while under him was an arch just
like the entrance to a cave, through which the sea appeared on both
sides; while the poor Clerk was some distance farther out at sea and
much lower down. We thought it was a shame that the parson should be
sitting up there, watching the poor clerk with the waves dashing over
him, as if perfectly helpless to save himself from drowning. Still, that
was the arrangement of the three-decker pulpit so common in the churches
of a hundred years ago - the clerk below, the parson above.

Our road terminated on the beach at Teignmouth, and near St. Michael's
Church, where on a tablet appeared the figure of a ship, and underneath
the following words:









Readers be at all times ready, for you
Know not what a day may bring forth.

Teignmouth was a strange-looking town, and the best description of it
was by the poet Winthrop Mackworth Praed, who described it as seen in
his time from the top of the Ness Rock:

A little town was there,
O'er which the morning's earliest beam
Was wandering fresh and fair.
No architect of classic school
Had pondered there with line and rule -
The buildings in strange order lay,
As if the streets had lost their way;
Fantastic, puzzling, narrow, muddy,
Excess of toil from lack of study.
Where Fashion's very latest fangles
Had no conception of right angles.

Possibly the irregular way in which the old portion of the town had been
built was due to the inroads of the French, who had invaded and
partially destroyed the town on two occasions; for in those days the
English coast between Portland and Plymouth was practically undefended.
By way perhaps of reprisal Teignmouth contributed seven ships and 120
mariners to Edward III's expedition to Calais in 1347.


That unfortunate young poet John Keats visited Teignmouth in 1818. He
had begun to write his poem "Endymion" in the Isle of Wight the year
before, and came here to revise and finish it. The house where he
resided, with its old-fashioned door and its three quaint bow windows
rising one above another, was pointed out to us, as well as a shop at
that time kept by the "three pretty milliners" in whom poor Keats was so
greatly interested. Endymion was a beautiful youth whom Selene, the
moon, wrapped in perpetual sleep that she might kiss him without his
knowledge. Keats, who was in bad health when he came to Teignmouth, was
reported to have said he could already feel the flowers growing over
him, and although he afterwards went to Rome, the warmer climate failed
to resuscitate him, and he died there in 1820, when only twenty-five
years old.

We had expected to have to walk thirty miles that day, via Newton Abbot,
before reaching Torquay; but were agreeably surprised to find we could
reduce the mileage to twenty-three and a half by crossing a bridge at
Teignmouth. The bridge was quite a formidable affair, consisting of no
less than thirty-four arches, and measured 1,671 feet from shore to
shore. It was, moreover, built of beams of wood, and as it had been in
existence since the year 1827, some of the timber seemed rather worn.
The open rails at the sides and the water below, and our solemn
thoughts about Keats, tended to give us the impression that we were not
altogether safe, and we were glad when we reached the other side, and
landed safely at St. Nicholas, or rather at the villages which formed
the southern portion of Teignmouth. With the Ness Rock, a huge dark red
rock with a nose turned upwards towards the sky, to our left, we walked
briskly along the coast road towards Torquay in order to reach that town
before dark, as we were obliged to find a good inn to stay in over the
Sunday. Continuing along this road, with fine views in the neighbourhood
of Anstey's Cove, we soon arrived at Torquay, of which we had heard such
glowing descriptions on our journey.

Near the entrance to the town we overtook a clergyman, with whom we
entered into conversation, telling him of our long journey, in which he
was much interested. We asked him if he could recommend us a good hotel
where we could stay until Monday morning, as we did not walk on Sundays;
and he suggested that we should stay at one of the boarding-houses. We
had never thought of staying at these places, but when he said he knew
of one that would just suit us, and would be pleased to accompany us
there, we were delighted to accept his kind offer.


I knew my brother was rather suspicious of boarding-houses, and when we
arrived opposite the rather nice house where the clergyman had taken us
I noticed he looked rather critically at the windows both below and
above. When he saw that the curtains were drawn equally on each side of
the windows and all the blinds drawn down to almost exactly the same
distance, he was quite satisfied, as he had often said it was a sure
sign that there was somebody in the house who was looking after it, and
that similar order would be certain to reign within.

[Illustration: ANSTEY'S COVE. TORQUAY.]

The clergyman was evidently well known to the people at the house, and
an introduction to the master and mistress, and (shall we record?) to
their two daughters as well, placed us immediately upon the best of
terms with the whole family. We received every attention, and after a
good tea we had a walk in and around the town, and were well pleased
with the appearance of Torquay. It was a much larger place than we had
anticipated. In a stationer's shop window we saw exhibited a small
_Guide to Torquay_, published in Manchester, and sold for the small sum
of one penny, from which we learned that the population of Torquay had
risen enormously during the past few years, for while it registered
11,294 in 1858 and 16,682 in 1868, in 1871, the year of our journey, it
stood at 26,477; and it further informed us that the distance from there
to London was 216 miles, and that "the express which leaves Paddington
at 9.15 and arrives at Torquay at 4.34 has a third-class carriage for
Torquay" - an example of the speed of express trains in those days. The
_Guide_ must have only just been issued, evidently in advance for the
coming year, as it gave the Torquay High Water Table from May to October
inclusive for 1872, and the following precise account of Anstey's Cove.


Anstis Cove deserves a special visit. Passing from the Strand, under
an avenue of trees opposite the Post-Office, and leaving the Public
Gardens on the right hand, the visitor will go as straight as the
road will permit till he comes in sight of St. Matthias' Church. The
road to the right leads down to Anstis Cove. He will notice among the
ferns and trees a door in the mossy bank, like the entrance to a
hermitage in the wilderness. It is the door of the venerable Kent's
Cavern. Persons who are now employed by the Torquay Natural History
Society will guide the visitor and supply candles. The vast cavern is
six hundred and fifty feet in length, with small caverns and
corridors, which are most dangerous without a guide, rugged, wet, and
slippery. Some years ago the skeleton of a woman who had lost her way
was found. No one now enters without a guide. In some parts the
cavern is so low that the visitors are obliged to crawl and squeeze,
but in other parts it is 30 feet high. The eminent geologist, Dr.
Buckland, here discovered the bones of rhinoceros, elephants, lions,
wolves, bears, hippopotami, and hyaenas - beasts of prey that haunted
the forests of prehistoric England before the times of the Celts.
Rude implements which have been found in the cavern prove that in
very remote times it was the resort of savage tribes. The cavern is
now in process of careful examination by qualified persons, at the
expense of the British Association, to whom they make periodical
reports. Fossil remains which have been, discovered may be seen at
the museum of the Natural History Society, in Park Street, between
the hours of ten and four daily.

But Anstis Cove is the object of our search. Proceeding down the
shady lane, taking the first turning on the left hand, we find a
gateway leading to a footpath among all kinds of bushes and shady
trees, down to the pebbly beach. The lofty limestone cliff of Walls
Hill is before us - such rocks as are nowhere else to be seen. They
seem like huge monsters creeping into the ocean. Here, amongst huge
rocks on the shore, are the bathing machines. The water is clear as
crystal. Rowing-boats are also here for hire, and here the strata of
the neighbouring cliffs hanging over the sea can be examined. Here is
a cottage, too, where lobsters and picnic viands may be procured. On
the beach the fossil Madrepore is often found.

We were the only visitors at the boarding-house, where the cleanliness
and the catering were all that could be desired. The young ladies vied
with each other to make our visit a pleasant one, and after a good
supper we stayed up relating some of our adventures until the clock
struck ten, when we retired for a well-earned rest, having walked quite
179 miles that week.

(_Distance walked twenty-three and a half miles_.)

_Sunday, November 12th._

We rose at our usual early hour this morning, and were downstairs long
before our friends anticipated our arrival, for they naturally thought
that after our long walk we should have been glad of an extra hour or
two's rest; but habit, as in the time of Diogenes, had become second
nature, and to remain in bed was to us equivalent to undergoing a term
of imprisonment. As boot-cleaning in those days was a much longer
operation than the more modern boot-polish has made it, we compromised
matters by going out in dirty boots on condition that they were cleaned
while we were having breakfast. It was a fine morning, and we were quite
enchanted with Torquay, its rocks and its fine sea views on one side,
and its wooded hills on the other, with mansions peeping out at
intervals above the trees. We could not recall to mind any more
beautiful place that we had visited.

[Illustration: TORQUAY FROM WALDON HILL IN 1871.]

After breakfast we attended morning service at the church recommended by
our host, but after travelling so much in the open air the change to the
closer atmosphere of a church or chapel affected us considerably.
Although we did not actually fall asleep, we usually became very drowsy
and lapsed into a dreamy, comatose condition, with shadowy forms
floating before us of persons and places we had seen in our travels. The
constant changes in position during the first part of the Church Service
invariably kept us fairly well alive, but the sermon was always our
chief difficulty, as during its delivery no change of posture was
required. When the service began, however, we were agreeably surprised
to find that the minister who officiated was none other than the
clergyman who had so kindly interested himself in finding us lodgings
yesterday. This awakened our interest in the service, which we followed
as closely as we could; but when the vicar announced his text, beginning
with the well-known words, "They that go down to the sea in ships," we
were all attention, for immediately our adventures in the North Sea came
into our minds, and the ocean, that great work of the Almighty, is so
graphically described in that 107th Psalm, and the dangers of the
sailors with their fears and hopes so clearly depicted, that we record
the whole text, as it appeared in the versified rendering of the Psalms,
in the hope that some one may "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest":

They that go down to the sea in ships: and occupy their business in
great waters; these men see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in
the deep. For at His word the stormy wind ariseth, which lifteth up
the waves thereof. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again
to the deep: and their soul melteth away because of the trouble. They
reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their
wit's end. So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, He
delivereth them out of their distress. For He maketh the storm to
cease, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad,
because they are at rest, and so He bringeth them unto the haven
where they would be. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for
His goodness, and declare the wonders that He doeth for the children
of men.

The preacher referred feelingly to a great storm or tornado which had
visited the South Coast about six years before, when a large number of
ships, sheltering in Torbay, were swept out by a sudden change in the
wind and over forty of them were sunk. This happened in the month of
January, when drifting snow filled the eyes of the spectators, who were
within hearing distance but could render no assistance. The Brixham
sailors acted most bravely and saved many lives, but over one hundred
people were drowned. We could see that some members of the congregation
still mourned the loss of friends who had perished on that sad occasion.

We were well pleased with the service, and after a short ramble returned
to our lodgings for dinner at one o'clock, afterwards adjourning to the
drawing-room, where we were presently joined by our host, who suggested
a walk that afternoon to see the beautiful views in the neighbourhood, a
proposition to which we readily assented.


But while he was getting ready my brother happened to strike a few
chords on the piano, which immediately attracted the attention of the
two young ladies, who told us they had seen us at church, where they
were in the choir. They were beginning to learn some pieces to sing at
Christmas, and, producing a pianoforte copy, asked my brother to play
the accompaniment while they tried them over. He made some excuses, but
they said they knew he could play as soon as they heard him strike the

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 54 of 66)