Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 55 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 55 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

chords; so, as his excuses were not accepted, he had to submit to the
inevitable - -not altogether unwillingly. They had only just begun when
their father came into the room and claimed our company for the promised
walk, and, as I was the only member of the party ready to join him, we
went out with the understanding that they would follow us. After walking
a short distance I suggested waiting for them, but the gentleman assured
me they knew the way he always went on Sundays, and would be sure to
find us. I enjoyed the company of our host, as he seemed to know the
history of the whole neighbourhood, and possessed a fund of information
ready at command concerning every object of interest we saw. He pointed
out Portland in the far distance, where convicts worked, and where the
stones used for sharpening scythes were produced. He also told me that
formerly Torquay consisted merely of a few cottages inhabited by
fishermen, but some nobleman bought the place for £13,000, and let the
ground in lots on short leases for building purposes. Now that it was
covered with fine houses, he received tens of thousands a year from
chief rent, while many of the houses would come to his family in a few
years' time.

It surprised me greatly how much I missed my brother's company. We had
never been separated for so long a period during the whole of our
journey, and at every turn I found myself instinctively turning round to
see if he were following. It was a lovely walk, but when we reached the
house on our return, neither my brother nor the young ladies were to be
found, and it was nearly time for the five-o'clock tea before they
returned. They all looked very pleasant, and assured us they had
followed us as promised, and the young ladies seemed able to convince
their father that they had done so; but to my mind the matter was never
satisfactorily cleared up, and I often reminded my brother in after
years about those two young ladies at Torquay, who, by the way, were
very good-looking. Many years afterwards some poetry was written by a
lady who must have been an authority on the "Little Maids of Devon," for
she wrote:

Oh! the little maids of Devon,
They've a rose in either cheek,
And their eyes like bits of heaven
Meet your own with glances meek;
But within them there are tiny imps
That play at hide and seek!

Oh! the little maids of Devon,
They have skins of milk and cream,
Just as pure and clear and even
As a pool in Dartmoor stream;
But who looks at them is holden
With the magic of a dream.

Oh! the little maids of Devon,
They have honey-coloured hair.
Where the sun has worked like leaven.
Turning russet tones to fair,
And they hold you by the strands of it,
And drive you to despair.

Oh! the little maids of Devon,
They have voices like a dove,
And Jacob's years of seven
One would serve to have their love;
But their hearts are things of mystery
A man may never prove!

We all attended church again for evening service, and after supper
passed the evening singing hymns, in which I was able to join, some of
them very beautiful and selected because they had been composed by
people connected with the County of Devon. One of them was written by
Charlotte Elliott, who died at Torquay in 1871, the year we were there,
and still a favourite even in these later years, the first verse being:

Just as I am, without one plea
But that Thy Blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bidd'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.

The first vicar of Lower Brixham was the Rev. Henry Francis Lyte, who at
fifty-four years of age began to suffer from consumption, and who, when
he knew he had not long to live, prayed that he might be enabled to
write something that would live to the glory of God after he was dead.
As a last resource he had been ordered by the doctors to go to the
Riviera, where he died at Nice a month later. The night before he
started he preached his farewell sermon, and, returning to his house as
the sun was setting over the ships in the harbour, many of which
belonged to the fishermen he had laboured amongst for so many years, he
sat down and wrote that beautiful hymn:

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail, and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Then there was the Rev. A.M. Toplady, for some time vicar of Broad
Hembury, near Honiton. While walking out with some friends in Somerset,
he was caught in a storm, and the party sheltered in a well-known cave
by the roadside, where, standing under its rocky entrance, he wrote this
famous hymn:

Rock of ages, cleft for me.
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the Water and the Blood,
From Thy riven Side which flow'd,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

All these hymns are sung in every part of the world where the English
tongue is spoken.

The two ladies were good singers, one soprano and the other contralto,
while I sang tenor and my brother tried to sing bass; but, as he
explained, he was not effective on the lower notes (nor, as a matter of
fact, on the high ones either). He said afterwards it was as much as he
could do to play the music without having to join in the singing, and at
one point he narrowly escaped finishing two bars after the vocalists.
Still we spent a very pleasant evening, the remembrance of which
remained with us for many years, and we often caught ourselves wondering
what became of those pretty girls at Torquay.


_Monday, November 13th._

From time immemorial Torbay had been a favourite landing-place both for
friends and foes, and it was supposed that the Roman Emperors Vespasian,
Titus, and Adrian, when on their way to the camp on Milber Downs, had
each landed near the place where Brixham now stands. Brixham was the
best landing-place in the Bay, and the nearest to the open sea. It was a
fishing-place of some importance when Torquay, its neighbour, was little
known, except perhaps as a rendezvous of smugglers and pirates. Leland,
in his famous _Itinerary_ written in the sixteenth century, after
describing the Bay of Torre as being about four miles across the
entrance and "ten miles or more in compace," says: "The Fishermen hath
divers tymes taken up with theyr nettes yn Torre-bay mussons of harts,
whereby men judge that in tymes paste it hath been forest grounds."
Clearly much of England has been washed away or has sunk beneath the
ocean. Is not this part of the "Lyonesse" of the poets - the country of
romance - the land of the fairies?

[Illustration: BRIXHAM HARBOUR]

In 1588, when the Spanish Armada appeared outside the Bay, there was
great excitement in the neighbourhood of Torbay, which grew into frenzy
when the first capture was towed in. The _Rosario_, or, to give her the
full name, _Nuestra Señora del Rosario_, was a fine galleon manned by
450 men and many gallant officers. She was the _capitana_, or flagship,
of the squadron commanded by Don Pedro de Valdez, who had seen much
service in the West Indies and who, because of his special knowledge of
the English Channel, was of great importance in the council of the
Armada. He was a bold, skilful leader, very different from the
Commander-in-Chief, and as his ship formed one of the rearguard he took
an early part in the fight with the pursuing English. He was badly
mauled, losing his foremast and suffering worse by fouling two ships,
one of his own squadron, the other a Biscayan; all three were damaged.
He demanded assistance of Medina Sidonia, but the weather was rough and
the Duke refused. In the darkness the _Rosario_ drove off one or two
English attempts to cut her off, but Drake himself in the famous
_Revenge_ lay alongside and called upon Valdez to surrender. His reply
was a demand for honourable terms, to which Drake answered that he had
no time for parley - the Spanish commander must come aboard at once or he
would rake her. The name of Drake (El Draque, the Dragon) was enough for
the Spaniard, and Valdez, in handing over his sword, took credit to
himself that he yielded to the most famous captain of his day. Drake in
reply promised good treatment and all the lives of the crew, a thing by
no means usual, as can be guessed by the remark of the disgusted
Sheriff, when so many prisoners were handed over at Torbay; he wished
"the Spaniards had been made into water-spaniels." Drake sent the
_Roebuck_ to see the ship safely into Torbay, where she was left in
charge of the Brixham fishermen, her powder being secured at once and
sent by the quickest of the fishing-boats to our own ships, at that
moment badly in need of it. The prisoners were taken round to Torbay,
where they were lodged in a building ever afterwards known as the
"Spanish barn."


In 1601 the first squadron organised by the East India Company sailed
from Torbay, and in 1667 the Dutch fleet, commanded by De Ruyter, paid
the Bay a brief but not a friendly visit, doing some damage. In 1688
another fleet appeared - this time a friendly one, for it brought
William, Prince of Orange, who had been invited to occupy the English
throne abdicated by James II. We were informed that when his ship
approached the shore he spoke to the people assembled there in broken
English - very broken - saying, "Mine goot people, mine goot people, I
mean you goot; I am come here for your goot, for your goots," and
suggested that if they were willing to welcome him they should come and
fetch him ashore; whereupon one Peter Varwell ran into the sea, and
carried the new King to the shore, gaining much renown for doing so.
This happened on November 5th, the date for landing doubtless having
been arranged to coincide with the anniversary of the attempt of Guy
Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament with gunpowder eighty-three
years before, so that bonfire day served afterwards to celebrate the two
occasions. The house where William stayed that night was still pointed
out in Brixham.

In 1690 James II, who had been dethroned and exiled to France, told
Tourville, the French Admiral, that if he would take his fleet to the
South of England he would find all the people there ready to receive him
back again, so he brought his ships off Torbay. Instead of a friendly
reception here, he found the people decidedly hostile to James's cause,
so he detached two or three of his galleys to Teignmouth, quite a
defenceless place, where they committed great ravages and practically
destroyed the town. These galleys were a class of boat common in the
Mediterranean, where they had been employed ever since the warlike times
of the Greeks and Romans. In addition to sails, they were propelled with
oars manned by slaves; and a similar class of ship worked by convicts
was used by the French down to the middle of the eighteenth century. The
men of Teignmouth, who had no wish to be captured and employed as galley
slaves, seeing that they were in a hopeless position, retreated inland.
Lord Macaulay thus describes the position in his History:

The Beacon on the ridge above Teignmouth was kindled, Hey-Tor and
Cawsand made answer, and soon all the hill tops of the West were on
fire. Messengers were riding all night from deputy lieutenant to
deputy lieutenant; and early the next morning, without chief, without
summons, five hundred gentlemen and yeomen, armed and mounted, had
assembled on the summit of Haldon Hill, and in twenty-four hours all
Devonshire was up.

It was therefore no wonder that Trouville found his landing opposed by
thousands of fierce Devonshire men, who lined the shores and prevented
him from landing his troops; the expedition was a complete failure, and
he returned to France.

In those days, when railways and telegraphy were unknown, the whole
country could be aroused very quickly and effectively by those beacon
fires. The fuel was always kept ready for lighting on the Beacon hills,
which were chosen so that the fire on one hill could be seen from the
other. On our journey through England we passed many of these beacons,
then used for more peaceful purposes.

In 1815 another ship appeared in Torbay, with only one prisoner on
board, but a very important one. The ship was the British man-of-war the
_Bellerophon_, and the prisoner the great Napoleon Bonaparte. We had
already come to the conclusion that Torquay, with its pretty bay, was
the most delightful place we had visited; and even Napoleon, who must
have been acquainted with the whole of Europe, and who appeared in
Torbay under what must have been to him depressing circumstances,
exclaimed when he saw it, "_Enfin, voilà un beau pays_!" (What a
beautiful country this is!) He arrived on July 24th, five weeks after
the Battle of Waterloo, and departed on August 8th from Plymouth, having
been transferred to the _Northumberland_ for the voyage to his prison
home in St. Helena, a South Atlantic island 760 miles from any other
land, and where he died in 1821. During the few days' visit of the
_Bellerophon_ at Torbay, thousands upon thousands of people came by land
and water in the hope of seeing the great general who had so nearly made
himself master of the whole of Europe, and although very few of them saw
Napoleon, they all saw the lovely scenery there, and this, it was said,
laid the foundation of the fortunes of the future Torquay.

[Illustration: NAPOLEON ON THE _BELLEROPHON_. _From the Painting by

We had intended leaving Torquay for Totnes by the main road, which
passed through Paignton, but our host informed us that even if we passed
through it, we should not see Paignton in all its glory, as we were
twelve years too early for one pudding and thirty-nine years too late
for the next. We had never heard of Paignton puddings before, but it
appeared that as far back as 1294 Paignton had been created a borough or
market town, and held its charter by a White-Pot Pudding, which was to
take seven years to make, seven years to bake, and seven years to eat,
and was to be produced once every fifty years. In 1809 the pudding was
made of 400 lbs. of flour, 170 lbs. of suet, 140 lbs. of raisins, and
240 eggs. It was boiled in a brewer's copper, and was kept constantly
boiling from the Saturday morning until the Tuesday following, when it
was placed on a gaily decorated trolley and drawn through the town by
eight oxen, followed by a large and expectant crowd of people. But the
pudding did not come up to expectations, turning out rather stodgy: so
in 1859 a much larger pudding was made, but this time it was baked
instead of boiled, and was drawn by twenty-five horses through the
streets of the town. One feature of the procession on that occasion was
a number of navvies who happened to be working near the town and who
walked in their clean white slops, or jackets, and of course came in for
a goodly share of the pudding.

One of the notables of Paignton was William Adams, one of the many
prisoners in the hands of the Turks or Saracens in the time when the
English Liturgy was compiled. It was said that the intercession "for all
prisoners and captives" applied especially to them, and every Sunday
during the five years he was a prisoner at Algiers, William Adams' name
was specially mentioned after that petition. The story of his escape was
one of the most sensational of its time. Adams and six companions made a
boat in sections, and fastened it together in a secluded cove on the
seacoast; but after it was made they found it would only carry five of
them, of whom Adams was of course one. After the most terrible
sufferings they at length reached "Majork," or Majorca Island, the
Spaniards being very kind to them, assisting them to reach home, where
they arrived emaciated and worn out. The two men left behind were never
heard of again. We had often heard the name "Bill Adams," and wondered
whether this man could have been the original. The county historian of
those days had described him as "a very honest sensible man, who died in
the year of our Lord 1687, and his body, so like to be buried in the sea
and to feed fishes, lies buried in Paignton churchyard, where it
feasteth worms."

[Illustration: PAIGNTON OLD TOWER]

We could see Paignton, with its ivy-covered Tower, all that was left of
the old Palace of the Bishops of Exeter, but we did not visit it, as we
preferred to cross the hills and see some other places of which we had
heard, and also to visit Berry Pomeroy Castle on our way to Totnes.

Behind Torquay we passed along some of the loveliest little lanes we
had ever seen. They must have presented a glorious picture in spring and
summer, when the high hedges were "hung with ferns and banked up with
flowers," for even in November they were very beautiful. These by-lanes
had evidently been originally constructed for pedestrian and horse
traffic, but they had not been made on the surface of the land, like
those in Dorset and Wilts, and were more like ditches than roads. We
conjectured that they had been sunk to this depth in order that pirates
landing suddenly on the coast could see nothing of the traffic from a
distance. But therein consisted their beauty, for the banks on either
side were covered with luxuriant foliage, amongst which ferns and
flowers struggled for existence, and the bushes and trees above in many
places formed a natural and leafy arch over the road below. The surface
of the roads was not very good, being naturally damp, as the drying
influences of the wind and sun could scarcely penetrate to such
sheltered positions, and in wet weather the mud had a tendency to
accumulate; but we did not trouble ourselves about this as we walked
steadily onwards. The roads were usually fairly straight, but went up
and down hill regardless of gradients, though occasionally they were
very crooked, and at cross-roads, in the absence of finger-posts or any
one to direct us, it was easy to take a wrong turning. Still it was a
real pleasure to walk along these beautiful Devonshire lanes.


In a Devonshire lane, as I trotted along
T'other day, much in want of a subject for song,
Thinks I to myself, I have hit on a strain -
Sure, marriage is much like a Devonshire lane.

In the first place 'tis long, and when once you are in it,
It holds you as fast as a cage does a linnet;
For howe'er rough and dirty the road may be found,
Drive forward you must, there is no turning round.

But though 'tis so long, it is not very wide,
For two are the most that together can ride;
And e'en then 'tis a chance but they sit in a pother.
And joke and cross and run foul of each other.

But thinks I too, the banks, within which we are pent,
With bud, blossom, berry, are richly besprent;
And the conjugal fence, which forbids us to roam.
Looks lovely, when deck'd with the comforts of home.

In the rock's gloomy crevice the bright holly grows:
The ivy waves fresh o'er the withering rose,
And the evergreen love of a virtuous wife
Soothes the roughness of care - cheers the winter of life.

Then long be the journey, and narrow the way,
I'll rejoice that I've seldom a turnpike to pay;
And whate'er others say, be the last to complain.
Though marriage is just like a Devonshire lane.

Late though it was in the year, there was still some autumn foliage on
the trees and bushes and some few flowers and many ferns in sheltered
places; we also had the golden furze or gorse to cheer us on our way,
for an old saying in Devonshire runs -

When furze is out of bloom
Then love is out of tune,

which was equivalent to saying that love was never out of tune in
Devonshire, for there were three varieties of furze in that county which
bloomed in succession, so that there were always some blooms of that
plant to be found. The variety we saw was that which begins to bloom in
August and remains in full beauty till the end of January.

Beside the fire with toasted crabs
We sit, and love is there;
In merry Spring, with apple flowers
It flutters in the air.
At harvest, when we toss the sheaves,
Then love with them is toss't;
At fall, when nipp'd and sear the leaves,
Un-nipp'd is love by frost.
Golden furze in bloom!
O golden furze in bloom!
When the furze is out of flower
Then love is out of tune.

Presently we arrived at Cockington, a secluded and ancient village,
picturesque to a degree, with cottages built of red cobs and a quaint
forge or smithy for the village blacksmith, all, including the entrance
lodge to the squire's park, being roofed or thatched with straw. Pretty
gardens were attached to all of them, and everything looked so trim,
clean, and neat that it was hard to realise that such a pretty and
innocent-looking place had ever been the abode of smugglers or pirates;
yet so it was, for hiding-holes existed there which belonged formerly to
what were jocularly known as the early "Free Traders." Near Anstey's
Cove, in Torbay, we had seen a small cave in the rocks known as the
"Brandy Hole," near which was the smuggler's staircase. This was formed
of occasional flights of roughly-hewn stone steps, up which in days gone
by the kegs of brandy and gin and the bales of silk had been carried to
the top of the cliffs and thence conveyed to Cockington and other
villages in the neighbourhood where the smugglers' dens existed.


Possibly Jack Rattenbury, the famous smuggler known as "the Rob Roy of
the West," escaped to Cockington when he was nearly caught by the crew
of one of the King's ships, for the search party were close on his heels
when he saved himself by his agility in scaling the cliffs. But
Cockington was peaceful enough when we visited it, and in the park,
adorned with fine trees, stood the squire's Hall, or Court, and the
ivy-covered church. Cockington was mentioned in Domesday Book, and in
1361 a fair and a market were granted to Walter de Wodeland, usher to
the Chamber of the Black Prince, who afterwards created him a knight,
and it was probably about that time that the present church was built.
The screen and pews and pulpit had formerly belonged to Tor Mohun
church, and the font, with its finely carved cover and the other relics
of wood, all gave us the impression of being extremely old, and as they
were in the beginning. The Cary family were once the owners of the
estate, and in the time of the Spanish Armada George Cary, who was
afterwards knighted by Queen Elizabeth, with Sir John Gilbert, at that
time the owner of Tor Abbey, took charge of the four hundred prisoners
from the Spanish flagship _Rosario_ while they were lodged in the grange
of Tor Abbey.

[Illustration: COMPTON CASTLE.]

From Cockington we walked on to Compton Castle, a fine old fortified
house, one of the most interesting and best preserved remains of a
castellated mansion in Devonshire. One small portion of it was
inhabited, and all was covered with ivy, but we could easily trace the
remains of the different apartments. It was formerly the home of the
Gilbert family, of whom the best-known member was Sir Humphrey Gilbert,
a celebrated navigator and mathematician of the sixteenth century,
half-brother of Sir Walter Raleigh, and knighted by Queen Elizabeth for
his bravery in Ireland. Sir Humphrey afterwards made voyages of
discovery, and added Newfoundland, our oldest colony, to the British
Possessions, and went down with the _Squirrel_ in a storm off the
Azores. When his comrades saw him for the last time before he
disappeared from their sight for ever in the mist and gloom of the
evening, he held a Bible in his hand, and said cheerily, "Never mind,
boys! we are as near to Heaven by sea as by land!"

We had a splendid walk across the hills, passing through Marldon, where
the church was apparently the burial-place of the Gilbert family, of
which it contained many records, including an effigy of Otho Gilbert,
who was Sheriff of the County and who died in 1476. But the chief object
of interest at Marldon appeared to be a six-barred gate called the
Gallows Gate, which stood near the spot where the three parishes
converged: Kingskerswell, Cockington, and Marldon; near this the
culprits from those three places were formerly hanged. We looked for the
gate in the direction pointed out to us, but failed to find it. Some
people in the village thought its name of the Gallows Gate was derived

Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 55 of 66)