Copyright
Robert Naylor.

From John O'Groats to Land's End online

. (page 59 of 66)
Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 59 of 66)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


guided the mariners across the stormy ocean in past ages. Over the
lantern are the words "24 August 1759" and "Laus Deo" (Praise to God),
for the goodness of the Almighty was always acknowledged in those days
both in construction of great works and otherwise, and another
inscription also appears which seems very appropriate:

Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.

Plymouth at first sight had the appearance of a new town, with so many
new buildings to attract the eye of a stranger. Elihu Burritt, however,
when he, like ourselves, was journeying to Land's End, described it as
"the Mother Plymouth sitting by the Sea." The new buildings have
replaced or swamped the older erections; but a market has existed there
since 1253, and members have been returned to Parliament since 1292,
while its list of mayors is continuous from the year 1439. It was to
Plymouth that the Black Prince returned with his fleet after his great
victories in France in the reign of Edward III.

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Plymouth was the port from
which expeditions were sent out to explore and form colonies in hitherto
unknown places abroad, and in these some of the most daring sailors the
world has ever known took part.

Sir Martin Frobisher, the first navigator to attempt to find the
north-west passage to India, and from whom comes the name Frobisher's
Strait, to the south of Baffin Land, was knighted, along with Townshend
and Beeston, for his services in the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Sir Francis Drake, the great Admiral of Queen Elizabeth's time, made
many adventurous voyages, partly for discovery and partly for plunder,
and was the first Englishman to sail round the world. He brought news of
the existence of gold in some places where he had been, and when he
returned his well-filled ship stimulated others to emulate the Spaniards
in that direction.

Sir Walter Raleigh, who was described as a scholar, courtier, soldier,
sailor, and statesman, discovered Virginia in 1584. He was in great
favour at Court, but he quarrelled with Queen Elizabeth, who had granted
him a Patent for the discovery and settlement of unknown countries in
the West. When James I ascended the throne he was suspected of being a
conspirator and was sentenced to death, but the sentence was altered to
imprisonment in the Tower of London, where during his twelve years'
confinement he wrote his _History of the World_. In 1615 James set him
at liberty, and put him at the head of an expedition to Guinea to find
gold, but, being unsuccessful, on his return he was beheaded in Old
Palace Yard in 1618 - a sad ending to a great career. It was at Virginia
that he discovered tobacco, and possibly the potato, for he introduced
both these plants into England; and "Virginia Leaf" tobacco is still the
finest produced in America. Sir Walter explored the place when it was
named Pamlico Sound, but it was afterwards named "Virginia" by Queen
Elizabeth herself, and to Sir Walter Raleigh's efforts to colonise this
and other places we owe many of our possessions to-day. In the struggle
for independence Virginia took the lead, and the first Representative
Assembly in America was held there, while in the war between the North
and South it was the scene of the last battle and the final surrender.

Captain James Cook, whose book _Voyages round the World_ is now a
classic, made many discoveries for Great Britain, including that of the
Sandwich Islands; and he sailed from Plymouth on two occasions, 1768 and
1772. He made three voyages round the world, but on the third was
murdered by natives at Hawaii. He discovered Botany Bay in New South
Wales in 1770, which was afterwards made a penal colony, whither early
in the year 1787 eleven ships sailed from Plymouth, with 800 criminals,
over 200 officials, and many free settlers.

But the most important departure from the port was in 1620, when the
_Mayflower_ sailed for America with the "Pilgrim Fathers" on board. She
was only a little barque of 180 tons, and was sadly tossed about by the
big waves in the Atlantic. But after enduring many hardships, the
emigrants landed on the barren shores of Massachusetts Bay, and named
the spot where they landed "New Plymouth," that being no doubt what
Elihu Burritt had in his mind when he described Plymouth as "the Mother
Plymouth sitting by the Sea," for so many emigrants had gone from there
to America and other places that there were now quite forty places named
Plymouth in different parts of the world. The place whence the "Fathers"
left the port on their perilous journey was afterwards marked with a
stone. This we went to see, but we were driven off the Hoe by a heavy
shower of rain.

[Illustration: THE "MAYFLOWER STONE," PLYMOUTH HARBOUR.]

Plymouth was also the last port of call in Europe of the ship
_Northumberland_ bound for St. Helena, with Napoleon Bonaparte on board;
and we thought it a strange incident of travel that the list of
distinguished visitors here in 1871 should have included (in addition to
ourselves of course!) the names of the unfortunate Emperor Napoleon III,
and his still more unfortunate son, who had been there about a fortnight
before we arrived. During that year the French agreed to pay the great
indemnity which the Germans demanded, and which it was said laid the
foundation of the prosperity of the German Empire.

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


_Wednesday, November 15th._

We left our hotel at daylight this morning, having made special
arrangements last night for a good breakfast to be served in time for an
early start, for we had a heavy day's walk, before us. We were now in
sight of Cornwall, the last county we should have to cross before
reaching Land's End. We had already traversed thirteen counties in
Scotland and fourteen in England since leaving John O' Groat's. But an
arm of the sea named the Hamoaze separated us from Cornwall, and as our
rules prevented us from crossing it either by boat or train, the
question arose how we were to get across the water, which was one of the
greatest naval anchorages in the world, and near the great dockyards in
which the Government employed some thousands of men. We had come that
way in the hope of seeing some of the big warships near Devonport, and
at length we came to the great railway bridge at Saltash. The thought
occurred to us that we might reach the Cornish coast by walking over the
bridge to the other side. We had walked across a railway bridge on one
occasion in Scotland to enable us to reach Abbotsford, the former
residence of the great Sir Walter Scott, so why not adopt a similar plan
here? We were some time before we could find a place where we could
scale the embankment, but ultimately we got on the railway and walked to
the entrance of the bridge; but when we reached the path at the side of
the bridge it looked such a huge affair, and such a long way across the
water, that we decided not to venture without asking some advice. We
waited until we saw coming along the railway track a workman, to whom we
confided our intention. He strongly advised us not to make the attempt,
since we should run great bodily risk, as well as make ourselves liable
to the heavy fine the railway company had power to inflict. We rather
reluctantly returned to the road we had left, but not before seeing some
of the big ships from the bridge - the finest and last of the iron
tubular bridges built by the famous engineer Brunel, the total length,
including approaches, being 2,200 feet. It had been opened by H.R.H. the
Prince Consort in 1859, and was named after him the "Royal Albert"
Bridge. We had now to leave the main road and find our way across
country, chiefly by means of by-lanes, until we reached Tavistock, where
there was a bridge by which we could cross the River Tavy. We had become
quite accustomed to this kind of experience, and looked upon it as a
matter of course, for repeatedly in Scotland we had been forced to make
a circuit to find the "head of the loch" because we objected to cross
the loch itself by a ferry.

[Illustration: THE "ROYAL ALBERT" BRIDGE, SALTASH]

We had only proceeded a mile or two beyond the great bridge at Saltash,
when we came in sight of the village of St. Budeaux, at the entrance of
which we came upon a large number of fine-looking soldiers, who, we were
informed, were the 42nd Highlanders, commonly known as the Black Watch.
They were crossing a grass-covered space of land, probably the village
green, and moving in the same direction as ourselves, not marching in
any regular order, but walking leisurely in groups. We were surprised to
see the band marching quietly in the rear, and wondered why they were
not marching in front playing their instruments. The soldiers, however,
were carrying firearms, which quite alarmed my brother, who never would
walk near a man who carried a gun - for if there was one thing in the
world that he was afraid of more than of being drowned, it was of being
shot with a gun, the very sight of which always made him feel most
uncomfortable. He had only used a gun once in all his life, when quite a
boy, and was so terrified on that occasion that nothing could ever
induce him to shoot again. He was staying at a farm in the country with
a cousin, who undertook to show him how to shoot a bird that was sitting
on its nest. It was a very cruel thing to do, but he loaded the gun and
placed it in my brother's hand in the correct position, telling him to
look along the barrel of the gun until he could see the bird, and then
pull the trigger. He did so, and immediately he was on the ground, with
the gun on top of him. His cousin had some difficulty in persuading him
that the gun had not gone off at the wrong end and that he was not shot
instead of the bird. It was one of the old-fashioned shot-guns known as
"kickers," and the recoil had sent him flying backwards at the moment of
the noise of the discharge - a combination which so frightened him that
he avoided guns ever afterwards.

[Illustration: THE HAMOAZE, SEPARATING DEVON AND CORNWALL]

We were obliged to walk quickly, for we knew we had a long walk before
us that day and must get past the Highlanders, who fortunately were in
no hurry. We passed one group after another until we reached the narrow
road along which we had been directed to turn. Here we saw the soldiers
going the same way, now walking in twos and threes, and presently the
road developed into one of the deep, narrow lanes so common in
Devonshire. We continued to pass the soldiers, but there was now a
greater distance between the small groups. Presently we were accosted by
a sergeant, one of the most finely proportioned men we had ever seen - a
giant, as we thought, amongst giants, for all the soldiers were very big
men - who said to us, "Now, my lads! if you see any of the enemy, tell
them we are two or three miles away, will you?" We wondered what he
meant, but as he smiled, we considered it a joke, and replied, "All
right!" as we moved on. We had passed all the soldiers except the first
two, who were about fifty yards ahead. They had climbed up the high bank
on the left-hand side of the lane, and were apparently looking over the
country and shading their eyes with their hands so as to get a better
view, when we saw a number of others belonging to the same regiment file
quietly down-the opposite side. Crossing the lane, they ran up the bank
where the two soldiers were still standing, and almost before they
realised what was happening their bonnets had been taken off their heads
and they found themselves prisoners. It was a clever capture, and as it
took place immediately before our eyes, we remained standing there
looking on with astonishment, for we had no idea what was about to
happen.

But immediately the scene changed, and soldiers appeared in front, both
in the lane and high up above the road. But the worst feature was that
they began firing their guns; so here we were in a deep lane from which
there was no escape, and, as we afterwards ascertained, between the two
halves of one of the most famous regiments in the British army, one
ambuscaded by the other! We were taken completely by surprise, as we had
never seen or heard of a sham fight before, and it appeared a terrible
thing to us, as the fiery eyes and fierce countenances of the soldiers
were fearful to see, and we became greatly alarmed, expecting every
minute to be taken prisoners. I consoled my brother by telling him the
guns were only loaded with blank cartridges, but his only remark was,
"But suppose one of them isn't, and we get shot," and he began to walk
onwards more quickly than I had ever seen him walk before. Keeping as
near one side the road as possible, and dodging between the soldiers,
with myself following closely behind his heels, perspiring profusely
with fear and exertion until there was scarcely a dry thread upon us, we
managed at last to escape, and were profoundly thankful when we got
clear of the Black Watch and so ended one of the most exciting
adventures we ever had. It reminded my brother of the Charge of the
Light Brigade, a story he was very familiar with, an Irish friend of his
named Donoghue being one of the trumpeters who sounded it, and of
Tennyson's words:

Cannon to right of them.
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them,
Volley'd and thundered.

In our case, he said, we had guns at our back in addition.

We did not know at that time that the 42nd Highlanders were so famous,
but a friend of ours, an officer in the army, has since handed us a
description of that regiment, bringing its history down to a later
period.

The 42nd Highlanders were originally formed from the independent
companies raised in the year 1729 to keep the King's peace among the
Highland Hills; the Black Watch, so called from the dark hue of its
tartan, was first paraded as a regiment of the British army in 1740.
They had distinguished themselves in all parts of the world: America,
India, Flanders, Egypt, Corunna, Waterloo, Sevastopol, Indian Mutiny,
Ashantee, Egypt, Nile, and South Africa, and lost heavily at
Ticonderago, Toulouse, Waterloo, and afterwards in the Boer War. They
were amongst our bravest soldiers, and were famous as being one of
the four regiments named for distinction by Wellington at Waterloo;
twice they had been specially called upon, once at the Battle of
Alexandria, when the Commander-in-Chief, Sir Ralph Abercromby, called
for a special effort at a critical period in the fight, saying, "My
brave Highlanders! Remember your forefathers! Remember your country!"
and victory immediately ensued; and again at the Battle of Corunna,
when Sir John Moore in the thick of the fight, before being mortally
wounded, exclaimed, "Highlanders! Remember Egypt!" and the foe was
scattered in all directions. In Egypt, after storming Tel-el-Kebir
and taking part in the battles that followed, such was the conduct of
the Black Watch that Lord Wolseley sent the following telegram:

"Well done, old comrades of the Black Watch."

Such we may venture to say were the men among whom we found ourselves on
that occasion. In after life we always took a deep interest in the
doings of that famous regiment, and we noticed that when any hard
fighting had to be done, the Black Watch nearly always assisted to do
it - so much so that sometimes we regretted that we had not had the
honour of having been taken prisoner by them on that ever-memorable
occasion!

The next village we came to was Tamerton Foliot, in a lovely situation,
standing at the end of a creek which fills with the tide. At that point
the waters of the Tavy join those of the larger River Tamar, and
eventually assist to form the Hamoaze. Tamerton was a very old
settlement, as Gilbert Foliot, who was Bishop of London from 1163 to
1188, and one of the most prominent opponents of Thomas a Becket,
Archbishop of Canterbury, was a native of that village. There was a
recumbent effigy in the church dating from the year 1346; but beyond
that the great object of interest in the village was an old oak tree
named the Coppleston Oak, because of a very sorrowful incident which
occurred near the church one Sunday morning many centuries ago. It
appeared that a local squire named Coppleston, a man of bad temper and
vile disposition, when at dinner made some gross remarks which were
repeated in the village by his son. He was so enraged when he heard of
it, on the Sunday, that as they were leaving the church he threw his
dagger at the lad, wounding him in the loins so that he fell down and
died. An oak tree was planted near the spot, and was still pointed out
as the Coppleston Oak. The father meanwhile fled to France, and his
friends obtained a conditional pardon for him; but to escape being
hanged he had to forfeit thirteen manors in Cornwall.

[Illustration: TAMERTON CHURCH AND THE FATAL OAK]

We were now fairly off the beaten track, but by devious ways, with
lovely wooded and river scenery to the left and the wild scenery of
Dartmoor to the right, we managed to reach Buckland Abbey. This abbey
was founded in 1278 by the Countess of Baldwin-de Redvers, Earl of
Devon, and we expected to find it in ruins, as usual. But when Henry
VIII dissolved the monasteries, he gave Buckland to Sir Richard
Grenville, who converted it into a magnificent mansion, although some
few of the monastic buildings still remained. He formed the great hall
so as to be under the great central tower of the old abbey, and the
dining-room he formed out of a portion of the nave, while the
drawing-room was at the end of a long gallery upstairs; so that
altogether it formed a unique structure. In 1581, however, it was sold
to Sir Francis Drake, and the mansion contained some relics of his,
amongst which were two drums; there were also a chair and a table made
out of one of his old ships, the _Pelican_, and a fine portrait of Sir
Francis by Jansen, dated 1594. The gardens were very beautiful, as the
trees in this sheltered position grew almost without let or hindrance;
there were some of the finest tulip trees there that we had ever seen.
We were informed that when Sir Francis Drake began to make some
alteration in his new possessions, the stones that were built up in the
daytime were removed during the night or taken down in some mysterious
manner. So one moonlight night he put on a white sheet, and climbed a
tree overlooking the building, with the object of frightening any one
who might come to pull down the stones. When the great clock which
formerly belonged to the old abbey struck the hour of twelve, he saw the
earth open below, and about twenty little black devils came out and
started to pull down the wall. Sir Francis began to move his arms about
and flap them as if they were wings, and then crowed like a cock. The
devils, when they heard the white bird crowing, looked up, and, thinking
the morning must be close at hand, immediately disappeared to the
regions below. We could not learn if or how often these performances
were repeated, but it seemed a very unlikely thing for Sir Francis Drake
to do, and the story sounded as if it belonged to a far remoter period
than that of the Spanish Armada.

[Illustration: DRAKE'S STATUE, TAVISTOCK.]

Drake was idolised in Plymouth and the surrounding country, where his
name was held in everlasting remembrance, and his warlike spirit
pervaded the British navy. At a much later period than that of our visit
even his drum was not forgotten. Whether it was one of those that were
preserved in the old abbey or not we did not know, but it is the subject
of a stirring poem by Sir Henry Newbolt.

DRAKE'S DRUM

Drake he's in his hammock, an' a thousand mile away,
(Capten, art tha' sleepin' there below?),
Slung atween the round shot in Nombre Dios Bay,
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
Yarnder lumes the island, yarnder lie the ships,
Wi' sailor lads a-dancin' heel-an'-toe,
An' the shore-lights flashin', an' the night-tide dashin',
He sees et arl so plainly as he saw et long ago.

Drake he was a Devon man, an' ruled the Devon seas,
(Capten, art tha' sleepin' there below?),
Rovin' tho' his death fell, he went wi' heart at ease,
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
Take my drum to England, hang et by the shore,
Strike et when your powder's runnin' low;
If the Dons sight Devon, I'll quit the port o' Heaven,
An' drum them up the Channel as we drummed them long ago.

Drake he's in his hammock till the great Armadas come,
(Capten, art tha' sleepin' there below?),
Slung atween the round shot, listenin' for the Drum,
An' dreamin' arl the time o' Plymouth Hoe.
Call him on the deep sea, call him up the Sound,
Call him when ye sail to meet the foe;
Where the old trade's plyin' an' the old flag flyin'
They shall find him ware an' wakin', as they found him long ago!

In olden times there existed a much older abbey than Buckland, named
Buckfast Abbey, but it was right on the other side of Dartmoor, and the
abbots and monks formerly crossed from one to the other. In those remote
times there were no proper roads, and the tracks between the two places
were mainly made by the feet of the monks, with crosses placed at
intervals to prevent their losing the way, especially when the hills
were covered with snow. The track still existed, being known as the
"Abbots' Way." The distance between the two abbeys was about sixteen
miles as the crow flies, but as the track had to go partially round some
of the tors, which there rose to an elevation of about 1,500 feet above
sea-level, and were directly in the way, it must have involved a walk of
quite twenty miles from one abbey to the other. Buckfast Abbey is one of
the oldest in Britain, and ultimately became the richest Cistercian
house in the West of England. The last abbot was Gabriel Donne, who
received his appointment for having in 1536 captured Tyndale the
Reformer, who was in the same year put to death by strangling and
burning.

[Illustration: BUCKLAND ABBEY.]

One of the earliest stories of the "lost on the moors" was connected
with that road. Childe, the "Hunter of Plymstock," had been hunting in
one of the wildest districts on Dartmoor, and was returning home at
night, when a heavy snowstorm came on and the night became bitterly
cold. Having completely lost his way, and as his tired horse could go no
farther, he stopped at one of the ancient crosses and dismounted. His
blood, however, began to freeze within him, and to try to save his own
life he killed his horse, and, cutting a great hole in its body, crept
inside. When daylight came in the morning, knowing he was dying, and
that some of the monks would probably find his body when they came to
the cross, he dipped his fingers in his horse's blood and scribbled on
the stone:

They fyrste that fyndes and brings mee to my grave,
The Priorie of Plymstocke they shall have.

His body was found by the "monks of Tavystoke," and buried in their
abbey at Tavistock; and from that time to the dissolution of the
monasteries the Abbey of Tavistock had possession of the manor of
Plymstock, Childe having no children to follow him.

We were sorry that we had been unable to explore Dartmoor itself instead
of only its fringes, so we decided to make an effort to see Dartmoor
Prison, which we were given to understand was only a few miles away. We
changed our course a little and passed on to Walkhampton, where we were
advised to follow the by-road above the Walkham river, from which the
village took its name, this being the easiest and most pleasant way. We
had a nice walk along the valley until we reached Merridale, but there
we succumbed to the attractions of the small inn. We felt that we should
never be able to wait for food until we reached Tavistock, as the
mountain air and the exertion of climbing up the hill had been too much
for us, so we ordered refreshments there instead of at Tavistock, as
originally intended. We had loitered a little on our way up the hill,
stopping to look at the views behind us, which were better than those in
front - a necessary procedure, for we were rather inclined at times "to
keep our noses too near the grindstone," or perhaps, like Othello, to be
"led by the nose as asses are," and to toil up the hills with the
wilderness before us, in total forgetfulness of the lovely scenes
behind. We therefore advise all tourists on a walking expedition to look
back occasionally, since much of the pleasure and beauty of the tour may



Online LibraryRobert NaylorFrom John O'Groats to Land's End → online text (page 59 of 66)