The South West of England: Pt 14 – Dartmouth/Kingswear Ferries

Kingswear is a large village sat opposite the major town of Dartmouth, the two settlements separated only by the river Dart which flows between them, and out to sea between Dartmouth Castle on one bank, and Kingswear Castle on the other. There are no tunnels, and no bridges, but there is another option, the Dart Ferries…

Lower Ferry

As it happens there are three distinct ferry services that cross the river Dart so you can get from Dartmouth to Kingswear or vice versus. Moving up the river from South to North, the first of these is the Lower Ferry, shown above. The ferry consists of a large ferry that can take around 8 cars, with space for pedestrians down one side. It is pulled along by a Tug, which is attached to the side via ropes. When the Ferry leaves either end the Tug is facing towards shore, and then swings around on the ropes to face the direction of travel. You can see on the 2nd picture the Tug if halfway through turning round. The ferry here is leaving from the Dartmouth side. Both sides have a special slip road for cars to use.

Overall there are two sets of Ferries with Tugs and they leave either side of the route at the same time and cross in the middle, meaning there is a service around every 10 minutes. It is a major route from Dartmouth towards Paignton, Brixham and Torquay as the alternative is travelling a much longer route via Totnes. For example, travelling from Dartmouth to Torquay using the ferry has a total mileage of 11 miles, whereas the Totnes route is a whopping 23.2 miles.

The ferry has its origins back in the 14th Century as a ferry here was recorded in 1365, and the service has been running almost non stop since at least 1873. The first steam powered boats were introduced around 1900, including one called Hauley, named after a family from the town. Hauley (later converted to use a motor) was in use until the 1930’s, when it was succeeded by Hauley I and Hauley II. Hauley III was then introduced in 1933, followed by Hauley IV in 1965 and Hauley V in 1966. Marks IV and V along with a newer one called VI are both still in use and Hauley V is the one shown in the pictures. The new pontoons to carry the cars were first built in the 1990’s and also have names, the Tom Avis from 1994 and the Tom Casey from 1989. You can buy tickets for the ferry once you have arrived onboard, and for regular users you can get a discount by purchasing a number of journeys together, and you receive a plastic card abit like a credit card which the crew scan when you use the service.

Passenger Ferry

The next service is the Passenger Ferry, specially for the use of foot passengers, which was begun by the Dartmouth Steam Packet Company on behalf of the Dartmouth & Torbay Railway, which eventually became the South Devon Railway (SDR). The SDR then took over the service from around 1873.  The SDR became part of the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1876 and was finally nationalised in 1948. Now the service, like the Lower Ferry, is operated by the district council and run continuously, often with more than one in service at once. We saw two different boats, on picture 1 is the MV Dartmouth Princess (1990, originally built as the MV Devon Belle II for use in Plymouth) and on picture 2 is the MV Kingswear Princess (1978, bought for the ferry service in 2010).

Higher 1

Higher Ferry

The final ferry, and the furthest north up the river is another car ferry, the Higher Ferry. It is quite distinct from the Lower Ferry, as there are a number of different features:

  • The Ferry is made up of only one vessel rather than a boat pulling a Pontoon
  • It is much larger and can carry up to 32 cars and a large number of foot passengers.

The route on the Kingswear side meets up with the Lower Ferry route just outside the town, and again cuts down the journey towards Torquay from Dartmouth. For movement, two engines are used to turn a hydraulic wheel on either side of the vessel which pulls the ferry along the two steel wires that cross the river. Usually they lie underneath the river, rising up only as the ferry passes overhead, so another boat can cross behind it without hitting them. Whilst the service is called a Chain Ferry, no chains are used in the design making it slightly different.

The idea for the Higher Ferry first came about in 1831 but the original chain ferry design by J M Rendel didn’t catch on and was soon replaced. This meant that horse pulled ferries ran here until 1867 when they were replaced by a new steam ferry, which was again replaced in 1896 with a new ferry which could carry up to 4 vehicles. In 1920 the chain ferry was installed, using the engine from the previous ferry to operate paddles which carried it across the river using the wires for guidance. This lasted until 1960 when yet another ferry was built, using special electric/diesel powered paddles. Over the course of the next 50 years traffic in the UK increased dramatically so in 2009 a brand new ferry entered service, with the paddles replaced with the hydraulic wheel design and space on board for vehicles increased.

During our visit we used all three ferries at varying times, and entered the village of Kingswear to explore…

The South West of England: Pt 13 – Dartmouth, Devon

Our Static Caravan for the week was located just outside the town of Dartmouth, a pleasant fishing port that it was time to explore…

Dartmouth:

Status: South Hams District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 09-16/08/2014

Travel: Car, Lower Ferry (Dartmouth – Kingswear), Passenger Ferry (Dartmouth – Kingswear), Higher Ferry (Dartmouth – Kingswear)

Eating & Sleeping: Station Restaurant, Rockfish Chip Shop

Attractions: River Dart, Dart Ferries, Dartmouth Castle, Dartmouth Boat Float, Butterwalk, Crab Fishing, York House, Lloyds Bank, Royal Castle Hotel, Station Restaurant, Bayards Cove, Bayards Cove Fort, Market etc

Dartmouth 1

Dartmouth is quite a close knit town, with most things of interest clustered together, with the Boat Float (above) at it’s centre. The Float is tidal, so as the water level of the River Dart rises and falls throughout the day, the boats do the same. If you visit in the morning the tide it as its highest, around 10am so the Float is full allowing boats to exit into the river, whereas in the middle of the afternoon the level has gone back down and they are stranded on a bank of mud until the water returns. Already we were treated to some beautiful views around the town, and there is a lot of history contained within its buildings, and two of my favourite are located to the left of the picture:

1) The Tudoresque Building from 1893 was built by EH Back, and it turns out instead of it being one large building it is actually split into 3 parts, 3 separate Listed Buildings:

  • The left hand side facing the River is called York House, and has two shops on the ground floor, with a large red door between them marking the entrance to York Place itself which consists of the houses above the shops.
  • Further down the river front (out of shot) adjoining York House is Number 2, South Embankment, which was built as a shop but there is now a restaurant on the ground floor, with houses above.
  • The right hand side of the building down the side of the Boat Float is called Number 1, the Quay. The only main difference to the other parts is that instead of houses at the top there are in fact offices, along with the usual shops on the ground floor.

The design of three sections together is just incredible, and from the outside you would have no idea that they are distinct from each other, as the building is seamless. All three sections have shops along with a front door leading to the residential space above.

Whilst it was my favourite building in Dartmouth after our visit, can I still say that now I know its 3 different ones? Sure I can, so together they form my favourite building in the town!

2) The stunning Edwardian Lloyds Bank Building, furnished in sections of Red Brick separated by Portland Stone, across the 3 storeys. Completed in 1911 it is a lovely contrast to some of the older buildings in the town, and whilst it fits in perfectly and doesn’t spoil the aesthetic charm of the town centre it add another of many many layers of architectural heritage to Dartmouth.

Dartmouth

The Boat Float has a history going back centuries. This area of Dartmouth was once part of the river, and has been gradually reclaimed over the last 500 years. Outlined in Pink on the Map is the general shape of the inlet which ran from the River and up between North/South Ford Roads to the West. A dam was put across where Foss Street is now (in Blue) and the area west of it became a Tidal Pool which could run two water wheels on the Dam. The area East of the dam was open river at this point.

After this, further reclamation reached out to the South West corner of the Float which was then called the New Quay and ran along the front. Next was Duke Street, highlighted in Yellow, along with the area surrounding it near the start of the 1600’s, followed by the “New Ground” Quays in 1684. The “New Ground” was at the time an island connected to the mainland and Duke Street by a bridge, and was located approximately where the Red Shape is, now occupied by the Royal Avenue Gardens.

As the town expanded, the Mill Pool was eventually filled in by 1825, and a new Market was built over it, along with a new main road called Victoria Road which runs out of the town. The final part of the towns advance into the river was the building of the North/South Embankments in 1885, which, along with the filling in of the rest of the Pool, created the shoreline of today, smoothing it out to make it more or less straight. The old New Ground was now part of the Quays, and the New Quay, which became the Boat Float was enclosed on all sides and the South Embankment was built across it to the East, with a short tunnel underneath to allow access to the river. A few further feet of land was then created in the 1980’s (the area East of the road) along the front and contains jetties and mooring points.. You can find out more about the towns expansion in greater detail on the discover Dartmouth website here.

The River Dart is the town’s main water feature, and its origins can be found up on Dartmoor, where two rivers, called the West Dart and the East Dart flow for around 12 miles, to eventually meet at a point called Dartmeet. Together they then flow the last 20 odd miles down through Dartmoor towards Dartmouth and out into the English Channel.

Dartmouth 2

There are a number of historic buildings in the centre of Dartmouth, and one of the most famous is the “Royal Castle Hotel” which overlooks the West side of the Boat Float on a road called the Quay, and is visible in the 1st picture on this post. The building looks reasonably new, however it dates all the way back to 1639 when it was two separate 2 Storey Merchant’s Houses, to the left (built for Joseph Cubbitt) and right (built for William Barnes). The right one was bought by John Summers, and became an Inn by 1736. In 1782 John Browne bought the other house and the two became known as the Castle Hotel and at some point by the end of the 18th century the two were unified, possibly after John Browne bought the other house. The 2nd & 3rd floors were later added around 1840, and you can see the architectural gap between the 1st and 2nd/3rd floors.

Its incredible how this grand building originated and it has come a long way over the last 400 years. Today the Hotel is one of the most sought after in Dartmouth, with 25 rooms over 4 floors, along with a Bar and a Restaurant which is open to the general public. Visitors who get rooms at the front are treated to views out over the Boat Float to the River Dart and out over neighbouring Kingswear.

Dartmouth 4

One of the new buildings built in the town during the land reclamation was called “The Butterwalk”, a row of Merchant Houses dating back to between 1635 and 1640, which can be found on Duke Street coming off The Quay not far from the Castle Hotel. Along the bottom are a number of shops, as well as the Museum of Dartmouth, which contains fascinating facts and history about the town. It is billed as one of the most popular attractions in Dartmouth, and if you’re interested in visiting you can visit their official website here to explore the various collections on show. The whole structure had to be refurbished in the 1950’s as they were damaged by bombs during World War II, but today you’d be hard pressed to tell.

The designer for the Butterwalk was called David Nye & Partners (Firm of Architects from Westminster) and their grand ideas were then built by PW Wilkins & Sons (Builders from nearby Torquay). The pillars that support the upper 2 storeys are made out of Granite, and a mighty 11 of them are located down the length of the row.

The Butterwalk has to be one of the most incredible collection of buildings in Dartmouth and I always say you can tell that a building like this is really old as it has started to bulge, and I’d say that applies here too! There are many gems like these all over Dartmouth, down side streets and indeed on the many town centre streets, and they are always a joy to discover.

Dartmouth 5

Walking past the Butterwalk, away from the River you will reach the Market, built over the old Mill-Pool which was filled in in 1828. The Market is made up of a central courtyard, in which sits the old 2 storey Market Court House, built out of Sandstone when the rest of the Market was put up. Today it is occupied by offices, which may date from the 1970’s renovation. The Courtyard is surrounded on all sides by walls like the one above, which contain shops/stalls. Aside from a regular market held during the week, a Farmers Market is also held here, every 2nd Saturday of the month.

Moving back towards the Boat Float you will reach the Royal Avenue Gardens, which, as I said earlier, sit on the site of the “New Ground” from the land reclamation and now makes up the Northern boundary of the Boat Float.

Named in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of her Majesty Queen Victoria in 1887, the gardens stretch from The Quay all the way to the South Embankment, and contains a number of sites of interest. A fountain sits in the interest, and behind that to the left, out of shot, is the Band Stand, a popular meeting point in the town. Around the rest of the Gardens you will find various War Memorials, a Rockery, a Rose Garden and a small Pond. We even saw a stunning floral display designed like a ship, in keeping with the maritime history of the area.

At the North end of the Park is the Tourist Information Office, which contains a famous invention from the town…

In 1712, a man named Thomas Newcomen (1664 – 1729, English Inventor) made history by inventing the Atmospheric Steam Engine, a large pumping machine which operated using steam to pump out water from the mines. It was a valuable addition to the Industrial Revolution and a life size working version can be found in the Tourist Information office. The Staff will even set it going if you ask them, to show how it operates (using electricity rather than steam however). A smaller model can also be found in the same room and shows how it would fit into a working environment, and gives some more detailed information as to how exactly it operates. It is popularly known as the Newcomen Engine and is a proud part of Dartmouths heritage.

Dartmouth 6

Down along the Waterfront, at the East side of the Boat Float, stands the Station Restaurant. At first glance it just looks like an ordinary restaurant, in a building that resembles an old Station. Some further investigation reveals that it IS an old Station, despite no trains ever calling at Dartmouth…

In 1864 the new Dartmouth & Torbay Railway (part of the South Devon Railway) opened to the public, running from Torbay on the Great Western Railway through to Kingswear. The original plan was to take the railway then on into Dartmouth but due to building difficulties associated with crossing the Dart, the line eventually terminated in Kingswear. This presented a problem, as one of the main reasons that passengers were using the line to Kingswear was to reach Dartmouth and the Naval College so a landing stage was built in Dartmouth. It included the above Station, with its own Ticket Office and Goods Handling unit, and a passenger ferry ran between Kingswear Station and the new Dartmouth one. You could buy your train tickets here, hop on the ferry and get the train from Kingswear. This makes Dartmouth rather unique, for having a genuine train station which has never had any platforms, tracks or trains.

Over the next few decades more stations on the route opened, in places such as Paignton and Brooksands, but they didn’t last. The line eventually closed to passengers in 1966 and it was nearly destroyed completely but it was sold to the Dart Valley Railway Company who turned it into a heritage railway which still runs today, although only as far as Paignton, half way to Torbay.

Today the old Station is called the Station Restaurant and we visited a number of times to enjoy fish and chips down by the riverside.

Dartmouth 7

This is a panoramic shot I took from the Quayside, looking over towards the village of Kingswear on the far bank. Like Dartmouth, the village is layered up on the hill, and has a marina. Often when you look over you can spot the steam train leaving Kingswear Station to head towards Paignton, either the small tank engine or the larger engine that has a tender. This has to be one of Devon’s best views, and just between the hills on the right as the river curves round, the English Channel awaits intrepid voyagers.

The Station Restaurant is shown on the far right, and the boats to hire are located just in front of it. The Passenger Ferry for foot passengers only which crosses the river is similarly located, on the far side of the restaurant.

Dartmouth 8

On the picture of the Boat Float earlier in this post, a square Tower rises up behind the buildings to the immediate left of the Royal Castle Hotel. The Tower belongs to the Church of Saint Saviour which is a short climb up some steps behind the main town centre buildings, on Anzac Street.

This beautiful building is older than most of the town centre, as it was effectively commissioned in 1286 when permission to build the Church was given by the highest authority in the land, King Edward I himself. Completed in 1372, it opened as the Church of the Holy Trinity, consecrated by Bishop Brantingham from nearby Exeter. It wouldn’t be until 1430 that it was renamed St Saviours, which it remains to this day. It’s a stunning construction, and its a shame that so much of the building is hidden behind the rest of the town centre and its not until you go exploring through the towns streets that you can look upon the building in all its glory.

Remember the Tudoresque building down by the Boat Float at the start of this post? That is just one of many similar looking buildings, and two of my favourites are shown above, starting with “The Cherub Free House” on the left. It is claimed to be the only surviving medieval building left in the town, due to its construction in the 14th century, around 1380. An information board outside the Cherub lists some of its interesting features, such as the “2-Light Windows on the 1st Floor of the North Wall” which are a rare feature. The building itself is listed by the Department of Environment due to its age and unique character.

It is a fully functioning pub, but if you’re going to visit it bear in mind that the ceiling is quite low, as they were all those centuries ago. Inside it has kept its medieval charm and its like stepping back in time, although I think we have more choice in alcohol now! The Cherub can be found on Higher Street, just a few streets down from St Saviours.

The second building I saw that really caught my eye can be found on Fairfax Place. A set of steep steps runs up from Fairfax to Higher Street so the Cherub is only a few minutes walk away from my 2nd choice, a series of 3 buildings from 1880 that together form one large Mural. Shown in the picture are the left section, Number 3 Fairfax Place, and the central section, Number 2 Fairfax Place. Both of these have been painted in Black, and the final part, Number 1 Fairfax Place off to the right is actually brown, which is unusual although its possible that now the three buildings are owned by different people who has different colour tastes!

The buildings were built for RC Cranford and consist of up to 4 storeys, with shops across the bottom and living space across the top. Despite being relatively new it is their fantastic design that allows them to fit in so well with the town, and the intricate mural on the front adds centuries to the design.

Dartmouth 9

I’ve talked a lot about land reclamation to create a lot of the new riverfront in Dartmouth, but there is one section that predates all of the new reclamation work by centuries. This area is called Bayards Cove and is located South of the South Embankment, and at one point was the only wharf in the town.

The Cove was the site of a historic visit around 1620, when the Mayflower and the Speedwell, which had journeyed from London, to Southampton and on to Plymouth on its famous voyage from England to the new colony that became part of the United States, Virginia. They arrived in Dartmouth after the Speedwell developed a leak and needed repairing before they could set out into the Atlantic. Just after the two ships had passed Cornwall and journeyed far into the Atlantic the Speedwell developed another leak and had to be abandoned, eventually being sold. The Mayflower continued on her way and the Pilgrims reached North America at the end of the year, although slightly further North of their planned landing site.

Dartmouth 10

Bayards Cove’s defining feature is the 16th Century Tudor Fort, originally built in 1534 for the same reason as Dartmouth Castle, to protect the town from invaders coming up the river from the Channel. As there was only one wharf at the time, where Bayards Cove is, it was ideally located. It is free to enter and you can go inside the structure to look round.

The Cove is a beautiful little area, marked by cannons which are a regular feature of seaside towns and cities. It is another prime example of historic Dartmouth,

On one of our last days in Dartmouth we decided to hire a boat for a 3 hour trip along the River Dart, where in turn we could each take the helm and go on a little expedition. The boat we got is shown above, and there is space for around 4 people in the back, and another 4 inside the cabin. Space wasn’t really an issue as there were only 4 of us overall, so we set off upstream.

You can hire boats for as long as you like, and you are provided with a free lifejacket and maps to show you were on the River you are allowed to go, as there are some areas where larger boats pass through, or there is shallow water as the tide starts to drop. Marker Buoys on the river help to indicate safe areas of the water. On our journey not only did we pass up and down the river, but we also got a great view of some local landmarks, starting with the Britannia Royal Naval College which sits proudly on a hill overlooking the town.

Naval Training has always been prevalent in the surrounding counties, from Portsmouth to Dorset, and it eventually came to Dartmouth when the HMS Britannia (built in 1820) was refitted as a Training Ship in 1859 and was eventually brought to Dartmouth in 1863. The Britannia lived on despite its demise when it was sold for scrap in 1869, as its successor, the HMS Prince of Wales (built in 1860) was renamed Britannia to take it’s place. Training here continued until the start of the 20th Century, when the stunning Edwardian Building that now houses the Cadets was started, by no less than King Edward VII (1841 – 1910) who laid the very first stone in 1902. Designed by Sir Aston Webb (1849 – 1930, English Architect), the building took 3 years to build, and in 1905 opened as the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. It was later renamed the Britannia Royal Naval College and is also officially known as HMS Dartmouth after the name Britannia was given to a new Yacht called the HMY Britannia in 1953. Bombing raids during the War targeted the College, so functions were moved up to Cheshire in the North of England for the duration of the War. Today it is the only Naval College left in the UK, as the 2nd to last one, located in Greenwich, London, closed in 1998.

Next, we passed Dartmouth Castle, at the other end of Dartmouth close to where the Dart exits into the English Channel, hence the name Dartmouth, mouth of the River Dart. The Castle sits opposite the smaller Kingswear Castle, but more on that in my Kingswear Post. There are two parts to the complex, the Castle, and St Petroc’s Church behind it. Starting with the Castle, this dates back to 1388 when an old Fort was built here, before being replaced by a new tower around the 1480’s. This was further enhanced in the 16th and 17th centuries as new guns were invented, as it is located at a strategic position. The Civil War hit Dartmouth in 1646 and it was captured first by the Royalists and then by the Parliamentarians. Today the best preserved section is the 19th Century Gun Battery, along with ruins of the old Towers which were a guard for the estuary during both World Wars during which it was an important outpost.

St Petrocs is dedicated to… St Petroc (Died 564), and may have been founded before 1192 as a Monastery. Over the next few hundred years it remained in use until a new church, called St Barnabas was built in an easier to access position, so St Petrocs fell out of use until a new route towards it was built in 1864 and it has grown in popularity since, and is still in use today. Together the Castle and the Church make an imposing figure and their position on a rocky outcrop makes it a sight to behold, and the best way to see it is certainly from the River itself.

If your interested in hiring a boat on the river you can get more information on their website here.

Dartmouth 13

As we had a full week in the area, unusually for one of our trips we had time to engage in some leisure activities, and one of the most popular in Dartmouth, and indeed around Devon as a whole by the coast, has to be Crab Fishing. Don’t worry about the Crabs, they get free food and gently tipped back into the water when you have finished, none the wiser for what has just happened. Heres how it works:

1) Equipment

You get all the equipment you need, which consists of a Bucket, some food (either Bacon or Squid etc) , a line with a Hook on the end and of course a Quayside. For anyone interested you can find a pack with all of these items in at the Station Restaurant on the riverside.

2) Water

Fill the bucket with Water and find a good place to sit on the Quayside.

3) Setting Up

Simply put the food, which you can get in a small netted bag, onto the hook and lower it into the water.

4) A Catch

Wait until you feel a tugging or just check it at regular intervals and slowly pull up the line.

5) Reeling It In

If there is a Crab on the end pull it up gently but quickly and dangle it over your bucket at the top until it falls in.

6) Happy Crabs

Put a bit of food into the bucket to keep the Crab happy, and repeat steps 3 – 6 until you think you have enough!

7) Finishing Up

Get as close to the water as you can and gently tip your Crabs back into the river.

Happily we managed a rather impressive 25 crabs when we had a go, ranging in size and colour. They were reasonably small, but it does take a little while to get the hang of, the Crabs like jumping off just as your about to get it to the top!

Dartmouth 14

Our time in Dartmouth was very enjoyable, and on the last day we spent there we paused for a moment close to Sunset on the way back to the Caravan for our final night, and gazed out across the town and the River Dart from a hill above the town, to get one last look… Of course we had many adventures in between the various activities we did in Dartmouth, from Lands End in Cornwall to the City of Plymouth, and I shall be posting about them all in the coming weeks.

Despite its position as a major tourist attraction in the area, there are no train stations and as I mentioned earlier you could cross to Kingswear to get a train from there to Paignton or travel to Totnes and get a train on from there. The nearest Motorway is the M5 which terminates around an hour away near the city of Exeter, and Exeter International Airport is also around that area. Dartmouth is a beautiful town, and is to me THE typical Ye-Olde English Port, and Captain Jack Sparrow himself wouldn’t look out of place amongst it’s preserved buildings and cobbled river front.

You might have noticed at the start of this post in the “Travel” section I mentioned three ferries between Dartmouth and Kingswear. Find out more in my next post, as we crossed the river to reach Kingswear…

The South West of England: Pt 12 – Stoke Fleming (Static Caravan)

Devon has some stunning views, and there was one in particular that we got to wake up to every morning for the next week, as we gazed out of the front window of our Static Caravan…

Stoke Fleming:

Status: South Hams District, Devon, Village, England

Date: 09-16/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Leonards Cove Caravan Park

Attractions: Stoke Fleming Coast, Stoke Church, Leonards Cove Caravan Park etc

FLem 1

This is the view from the Caravan, looking out into the English Channel, separating Great Britain from the European Mainland. The Caravans are all layered in tiers so everyone gets to enjoy the view instead of the back of another Caravan.

Flem 2

One morning we were even treated to a rainbow making an arc through the sky, as the rare wet weather disappeared out to sea leaving the sun trailing behind it.

Inside, the Caravans are well furnished with everything you need for your stay. They are split into sections, with the main living/dining area at the front looking out to sea, complete with a Sofa, a Fireplace and a TV. Joining onto that is a decent sized Kitchen area, with all the usual facilities such as an Oven, Microwave, Fridge, Kettle etc. You have a choice of bedrooms, one that has a large double bed in and one with two singles, depending how many of you are visiting. Of course a Bathroom is also included, complete with a shower cubicle.

Other things that help to enhance your stay include Wi-Fi, you do have to pay for it but if you are visiting for say a week the price is quite reasonable. Car parking is provided and there are a few spaces outside each row of Caravans, as well as further spaces nearer the entrance. If you don’t fancy the Caravan life but are looking for somewhere to pitch your tent there is space near the entrance for a number of tents, and many of them had a deliciously smelling BBQ on outside! If you’re interested you can book a Caravan, or find our more about the site on their official website here.

As for the village itself, it’s located around 3 miles out of Dartmouth town centre, and 2.5 miles from Blackpool Sands, a nearby beach that is quite often rated amongst one of the best in Britain. Places of interest around Stoke Fleming include the 12th Century St Peter’s Church, and the local Village Hall where a library is held 3 days a week. There are local restaurants such as “The Brill Plaice” a seafood restaurant just up the road from the Caravan Site, as well as a pub called “The Green Dragon”. The only thing I do regret about our trip is that we got back so late everyday from travelling around Devon and Cornwall that we never got chance to have a proper wander around the village, but passing through it a few times each day I can say its a lovely, charming little place. After resting up after the journey down from Somerset, the next day we headed into Dartmouth, and its accompanying village, Kingswear…

The South West of England: Pt 11 – Somerset to Devon

As we drove towards Dartmouth through the picturesque countryside that is typical of both Somerset and Devon, we passed a number of quaint old Churches throughout the towns and villages we encountered…

Peth

North Petherton, Somerset

The 1st place we visited was North Petherton, close to Somerset’s County Town, Taunton, which was our previous stop. The 120 ft Tower of St Mary’s Church loomed ahead of us, and we got our first view of the Grade I Listed Structure. A Church has existed here for centuries in various forms, and a previous version dates back to at least 1086. In the 12th Century the lands around North Petherton came into the ownership of Buckland Priory. The present building is mainly 15th Century, so it must have replaced the previous building as the town grew in size. Alterations to the main building were later made in the mid 19th Century by an architect called Richard Carver.

It is a stunning Gothic Church and along with the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Taunton, has one of the finest Towers in Somerset.

Harberton

Harbertonford, Devon

Moving down into Devon, and just 10 miles out of Dartmouth, we passed through the village of Harbertonford, home to the local Parish Church of St Peter’s. The village forms part of the Parish of Harberton along with the larger village of the same name. In 1860 Harbertonford became it’s own ecclesiastical Parish, and required it’s own Church. This resulted in the construction of St Peter’s, and although it isn’t as grand as that in Harberton, it is still a lovely little building in the midst of unspoilt countryside.

Halwell

Halwell, Devon

Halwell is a small village about 3 miles further South from Harbertonford. Within the village it’s most notable landmark has to be St Leonard’s Church, another 15th Century building incorporating some older stonework from the 13th. It is quite a large Church for such a small village, with a large Tower at the West End, which looks more like a fortified Tower than part of a Church. The design is brilliant, and the slate rubble exterior lends it a lovely aesthetic quality.

Our next stop was just outside Dartmouth, where we would be spending the next week in a Static Caravan, in the village of Stoke Fleming…

The South West of England: Pt 10 – Taunton Dragon Trail

As we explored the town of Taunton, we were also in the middle of a hunt! Spread out across not just Taunton Town but the wider Taunton Deane district, was a collection of 30 model Dragons, very similar to the Superlambanana’s in Liverpool and the Rhino’s in Southampton etc…

Out of the 17 Dragons in Taunton Town Centre, we managed to find 9, which isn’t bad with only a few hours to look round. The designs on every Dragon are different, from a rainbow Dragon to a nighttime Dragon. The Trail began on the 12th of July and will run through to the 10th of September when all the Dragons will be auctioned off to raise money for the Somerset Community Foundation which sponsors projects not just around the District but the wider County. The Taunton Dragons are located at notable places in the town, from outside the Market Hall, to inside the Tourist Information Centre and outside the entrance to Taunton Castle. The Trail is raising money for a great cause so I hope it makes a lot from the auctions at the end.

Below is a map of the Dragons that can be found in Taunton Town Centre, each with their own number. A complete map of all the Dragons along with their names can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre based in Taunton Library, where Number 3 (Picture 1 above) is on the map. Next to it is Number 2 which can be found in the nearby Shopping Centre.

Taunton Map

You can visit the official Trail website here, and it includes maps of Wellington, Wiveliscombe and the rest of the District to show the locations of the other Dragons.

The reason for the Dragon is that a Red Dragon on a yellow background is used as the county flag of Somerset, and Taunton is the county town, the perfect place to base the Trail. This was certainly one of the many surprises we had on our trip to the South West of England as we had no idea the Trail was on before we visited, and it was great fun following the map to find as many as we could. Happy hunting!

Our next stop was Dartmouth in Devon via some beautiful countryside and local Churches…

The South West of England: Pt 9 – Taunton, Somerset

Today was our last day staying in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, as we moved down towards Dartmouth in Devon where we were due to spend the next week, as a base to explore Devon and Cornwall. On the way down we took a short diversion to Somerset’s County Town, Taunton…

Taunton:

Status: Taunton Deane District, Somerset, Town, England

Date: 09/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Taunton Castle, County Hall, Museum of Somerset, County Mall, Dragon Trail, Taunton Library, Old Cider Mill, River Tone, Tone Bridge, St John’s, Mary Magdalenes Church, Market Hall, War Memorial, K6 Phone Kiosks, Mitre House, Castle Bow, Old Post Office, Castle Hotel, Knights Rest Pub, Tudor Tavern etc

Taunton 1

Our journey began outside Somerset County Hall, the main entrance of which is contained within a stunning Neo-Georgian facade. Located at the junction of Park Street, The Crescent and Tower Street, the County Hall has stood here since 1935, after it was designed by Emanuel Vincent Harris (1876 – 1971) who also created the City Hall Venue in the Yorkshire city of Sheffield around 1932. Other council buildings are located to the South of the Hall, back along The Crescent, with the Shire Hall behind it. The Shire Hall, built in the 1850’s by W B Moffat, houses the County Court and was previously the home of the County Council before County Hall was built.

Taunton has been located here since Saxon Times, when a settlement called Tone Tun was founded. Tone comes from a word meaning river, and indeed the river Tone passes through the town, completing a 32 mile journey from Brendon Hills in West Somerset, out to the village of Burrowbridge where it merges with the River Parrett. The tun means farm, so the towns name basically meant farm by the river, which is what the settlement would have originally been. Over the centuries the name has gradually become Taunton after the original name.

Across the road, you can see the spire of St John’s Parish Church rising high above the trees. This fine Gothic Church was designed by one of my all time favourite architects, Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811 – 1878, Gothic Revival Architect) and completed in 1863 after 5 years of construction. Dedicated to St John the Evangelist, the buildings tower/spire stand 80 ft tall, and materials around the building include Bath Stone, most notably used in the city of Bath, also in Somerset.

Taunton 2

As we walked from County Hall into the city centre, we passed our next building of interest, called “Mitre House”, originally built as part of the Convent of Perpetual Adoration in 1867. Designed by John Francis Bentley (1839 – 1902, English Architect who also created Westminster Cathedral) the building is also known as St Pauls House, which is also the name it comes up under on the Listed Buildings Register. The name comes from the Chapel of St Paul which once existed here in Medieval Times. Behind Mitre House is a 3 storey house, which was actually built earlier than the tower, around 1800. Together they now form one large building according to the Listed Building Register, and contrast each other brilliantly.

Taunton 3

We moved on, into my favourite area of the town. A large square at the heart of Taunton contains a variety of interesting buildings, starting with the “Knights Rest Pub & Restaurant” at the West end of the square. The pub has a stunning Gothic look about it, and dates back to 1816 when it was built by Josiah Easton (1767 – 1845), under the name “The Winchester Arms” although obviously it has since been renamed. It replaces a previous Inn here called the “Horse & Jockey”.

Taunton 4

A year before the old Winchester was completed, Josiah also finished built the “Castle Hotel” which sits at the Eastern end of the square, although at the time only the Ground and 1st Floors existed, as the original idea was for the two buildings to mirror each other across the square. It was also only a private house, and it wasn’t until 1834 that the building became a hotel, called the “Sweets Hotel”. Sometime later in the 20th century two more floors were added to the building and it’s current look was established, meaning it now very much overshadows the old Winchester. Whilst it would have been really interesting to see the two identical buildings as they were first built, the now different designs really add to the character of the square.

The Castle has been home to some famous guests, including Tsar Nicholas I (1796 – 1855, Russian Emperor from 1825 – 1855) in 1817, the Duke of Wellington (1769 – 1852) in 1819 and the Mexican Emperor Agustin I (1783 – 1824) in 1824.

Taunton 5

The North side of the square is home to what is arguably the most impressive of the major buildings at all 4 sides of the square. The history of Taunton Castle can be traced back to at least the 11th Century, as an Augustinian Priory was in residence here. Various buildings made up the complex, including one called the Bishops Hall, which was converted into a new Castle building by William Giffard (died 1129, Chancellor of England under William II and Henry I), being completed in 1129. This was then upgraded into a much larger Castle building by Henry of Blois (1098 – 1171, Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, and later Bishop of Winchester) around 1138.

Over the next few centuries the complex expanded to include a schoolhouse, a Great Hall and a Gatehouse. In my Glastonbury post I talked about Judge Jeffreys (1645 – 1689), the Welsh Judge famous for executing various members of the Monmouth Rebellion, who had been plotting to get James II (1633 – 1701) off the throne. Jeffreys held trials in various locations, including Glastonbury, and here at Taunton Castle in 1685. Many parts of the Castle were rebuilt in 1780 due to their deteriorating condition, and are now furnished in a Georgian style. The main parts of the Castle do still exist, although the Outer Ward of the Castle was where the square, called Castle Green, is now, and it corresponds to its original size. The design of the Castle Hotel was designed to fit in with the Castle buildings, as was the old Winchester.

The flag of Somerset flies over the Castle entrance, consisting of a Red Dragon on a yellow background.

Taunton 17

The East Gate of the Castle, called the Castle Bow, built in the 13th century is located just off to the right of the Castle Hotel and is now a part of it and leads through to the high street. It was once part of a large Bailey but this was destroyed by Charles II (1630 – 1685).

The rest of the Castle, the Inner Ward, along with the Great Hall, now forms the Museum of Somerset, and covers a history of Taunton, Somerset and much more, with a Courtyard just past the Castle’s main entrance leading to the Museum. Until 2008 it was called the County Museum, after the Castle had been refitted at the end of the 19th century for use as a Museum. After a revamp it reopened as the Museum of Somerset in 2011. We did have a look around the Museum and the exhibits are fascinating, and we would recommend anyone visiting the Castle Green to pop in for a look round.

Inside the Castle grounds, aside from the Museum there are a few other things on interest. The first of these is a restored Almshouse, which was one of a number of Almshouses built over in St James’s Street at the start of the 16th century. The rest were demolished in 1897, but this one was moved into the Castle grounds in 1899 and to its present position in 1992. It can be found in the Castle Courtyard, along with the 2nd item of interest, a bust of John Harding of Petherton (1896 – 1989) a Colonel in the Somerset Light Infantry between 1953 and 1959 and later the Somerset & Cornwall Light Infantry until 1960. He was also the Governor of Cyprus during the 1950’s. He was born in nearby South Petherton, and was the 1st Baron Harding of Petherton, being succeeded by his son John who became the 2nd.

Around the back of the Castle a large metal sword can be found sticking out of a rock. This closely resembles Arthurs Sword in the Stone, although sadly I was not destined to become the new King of England as the Sword stayed where it was!

Taunton 6

The final edge of the square, to the South, stands the old Municipal Buildings, where local Government would have been decided centuries ago. The East side of the building (on the left) was the first part of the building to be constructed, back in 1522 as a Boy’s Grammar School, replacing previous schools dating back around 2 centuries. It was founded by Bishop Richard Fox (1448 – 1528, Bishop of Bath, Durham, Winchester, Exeter and Oxford) and remained in use as as school until 1870, and 20 years later the local Borough Council bought the building for use as their local offices. The West side of the building (on the right) was then built at the start of the 20th century as a large extension, and you can really tell the difference between the two halves of the building, especially if you look at the stone quality.

By 1928 the building was now in use as a Courtroom, until the 1970’s when the new Taunton Deane District Council (created out of the Local Government Act 1974) moved back in. The Council are now located over on belvedere road, and the old building is now the home of the Taunton Registry Office.

Taunton 10

We eventually left the square, following a path that runs just behind the Castle to the river Tone. A number of bridges cross the river here, including the Tone Bridge, shown above, designed by J H Smith and opened in 1895. It carries the A3027 into the town centre, and is a mixed use bridge for road traffic and pedestrians. We followed the river up to the bridge and re-entered the town centre after enjoying the relaxing sounds of the river flowing past. Taunton is a very pleasant town, in a reasonably rural setting in one of England’s most rural counties.

Taunton 11

As we made our way towards the very centre of town, where the main square, Market Hall and War Memorial are located, we passed the beautiful Edwardian Post Office from 1911. It makes great use of Red Brick and Portland Stone, especially at the front, and the words Post Office are still visible above the main entrance down on the left of the building. It was designed by Arthur Rutherford and built by Pollard & Son from nearby Bridgewater.

The top two floors of the building have now been converted into apartments (2008), leaving the ground floor which is currently for sale by the current owners, Primeco (as of 2014). Interested parties in the building include a Bank and a Building Society, and it is thought that by the end of October 2014 an announcement will be made on what the future of the main building will be. I hope the stunning exterior is retained, as it is one of the defining buildings on North Street, which leads from Tone Bridge towards the Market Hall.

Taunton 16

We soon reached the most central point of Taunton, where the shopping streets, main roads and shops all meet up together, not far from the Castle Green. In the very centre of the road, acting as the roundabout amongst the sea of cobbles, stands one of the towns War Memorials. This particular one is dedicated to the soldiers from the Somersetshire Light Infantry, who fought and died in the 3rd Burmese War between 1885 and 1887. The Regiment was originally called the 13th (1st Somersetshire) Regiment of Foot until 1842, when the 13th participated in the defence of the British Outpost in Afghanistan, called Jellalabad. The British successfully held off the attacks, and this incredible victory caused Prince Albert to allow his name to be used in the regiments title and it became the 13th (1st Somersetshire) (Prince Albert’s Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot. A large barracks called the Jellalabad Barracks was later built in Taunton around 1880, and still survives today with an impressive Gatehouse Tower.

Behind the Memorial is one of the towns most well known buildings, the Old Market Hall. Whilst its present look was the work of H S W Stone in 1932, the main structure of the building can be traced back to the 1770’s, when it was designed by Coplestone Warre Bampfylde (1720 – 1791, British Artist and Amateur Architect). Originally there was also a single storey wing to either side of the main building, but these were demolished as part of the 1930’s works. Sadly this area ceased to be the town’s main market in 1929, and the former site of the outdoor market, a triangular section directly in front of the Hall, was later lost due to road improvements in 1996. There was a small outdoor market being held behind the Hall however when we visited, and we got a lovely Pork Roll!

Although annoyingly a bus got in the way on one side of the picture, there is one other thing of interest that is associated with the Market Hall. At either end of the Hall, stood outside, is a typical British Red Telephone Kiosk, and the one of the left is visible above. They are both original, and are of the K6 Variety, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880 – 1960, English Architect who also designed Liverpool Cathedral) in 1935 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of King George V (1865 – 1936). They were however delivered only after his death the following year so he never got to see the Kiosks out on the streets. These K6 Kiosks are still in use today all over the UK, and have a crown on all four sides above the word Telephone. The original crown was known as the King George crown per the original design, although in 1953 Elizabeth II had the crown changed in what became known as the Coronation Crown. The right hand Kiosk in Taunton has a mixture of crowns on it, for both George and Elizabeth. It is by far one of the most iconic British symbols and thousands can be found all over the country.

Heading right at the roundabout, just along the road brings you out at the front of the old Municipal Buildings and you can cut through from there into the Castle Green. The Gatehouse that meets with the Castle Hotel is located a short distance back up North Street on the left hand side as you head towards the river, although not as far along as the old Post Office. You might also notice the street lighting on the roads around the town. Whilst there is nothing particularly special about the current street lights, their presence is notable as Taunton was the first town in the South West of England to permanently install street lights, in 1886.

Taunton 13

This is a view from the outside the Hall itself, looking North East towards the Parish Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, at the end of the similarly named Magdalene Street. The 163 ft Tower is quite significant, as not only is it the tallest tower in the entire County, it was also once home to the town’s first Fire Engine back in 1734. My favourite fact however has to be of Somerset’s luckiest Donkey. The Tower was rebuilt in 1862 to it’s original designs, and a Donkey was used to operate the pulley to get the stone to the top, with it walking down an adjacent street. When it was completed the Donkey itself was then pulled up to the top to enjoy the view, where no donkey has gone before!

The first stone version of the Church was built in 1180 and existed legally as a Chapel. This was changed in 1308 when it became a fully fledged Church. The Tower was then added around 1514. As I said before the Tower was then later rebuilt in 1862, and like the K6 Kiosks this was done by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. It is truly a stunning building, and one of Taunton’s greatest landmarks.

Taunton 14

Behind the Market Hall is one of the towns most well preserved Tudor Era buildings, known as the Tudor Tavern. The only date available for the building is 1578, when the main front of the building was rebuilt. This means that the rest of the building is even older, and through the centuries it has passed through various hands, from the Trowbridge Clothiers to a grocer called Thomas Baker in 1685. Today it is owned by Caffe Nero who moved in in 2003, beautifully restoring the building at the same time. At the top of the building there is a large figure head, possibly where a hook once hung to pull goods up to the top of the building.

Taunton 15

Our last stop in the town was the Cider Mill shown above, located just off Corporation Street, across from the Municipal Buildings (to the right). The Mill was presented to the town in 1971 to celebrate 50 years of Cider Making by the Taunton Cider Co. Ltd in the town.

To the left of the Mill is a building called the Somerset College of Art, constructed in 1905 by C Samson and A B Cottam. To the right is the Public Library, which opened the same year. It was part financed by Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919, Scottish Entrepreneur) who provided funds for various libraries around the country, from Scotland to England. Since 1996 it has been a pub called the “Pitcher & Piano”, which was frowned upon due to the fact that the Carnegie Foundation advocated no drinking of alcohol on any of its premises.

Taunton is a lovely old town, with interesting buildings, historic sites and a pleasant atmosphere. Taunton Railway Station is located North of the river Tone, and trains run not only to local destinations such as Penzance in Cornwall, Weston-super-Mare in Somerset and London, but also all the way up to Edinburgh in Scotland via Birmingham, the Midlands and many more. The town is almost midway between Bristol and Exeter International Airports, 35 and 30 miles away respectively. Elsewhere in the town you can explore more of the historic buildings that date back centuries, visit Vivary Park, or the Tourist Information Office in the library behind County Mall. Our time in Somerset was at an end and we began the short journey down to Dartmouth in Devon for the second leg of our journey.

Whilst we were exploring Taunton, we were also on the hunt for one of Britains most elusive creatures, the Taunton Deane Dragon… Find out if we found any in my next post where I shall reveal all!

The South West of England: Pt 8 – Bath, Somerset

Our next stop was the City of Bath, known for it’s famous Abbey and Roman Baths in the very heart of the city, as well as the Palladian inspired Georgian Architecture that unifies the city…

Bath:

Status: Bath & North East Somerset Unitary District, Somerset, City, England

Date: 08/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Bath Abbey, Pulteney Bridge, Roman Baths, Royal Crescent, River Avon, Parade Gardens, Pulteney Weir, Royal Crescent, Guildhall, Victoria Art Gallery, Covered Market, Alkmaar Gardens, Sydney Gardens, Holburne Museum of Art, Sally Lunn’s House etc

Bath 1

We parked up by the river Avon, which flows through the centre of Bath, then out towards Bristol and finally into the Bristol Channel which separates England and Wales. To get to Bristol it has to flow under a beautiful old stone bridge, shown above, called Pulteney Bridge, which was designed by Robert Adam (1728 – 1792, Scottish Architect) in the 1760’s. Whilst the bridge in itself is a stunning piece of design work, its most standout feature is the inclusion of shops along both sides of the 148 ft long structure, added when it was first built. When I first saw it I immediately thought of the Ponte Vecchio, a similar shopping bridge in the city of Florence, Italy from 1345 which I visited a few years ago with my parents. Together the two bridges form 2 of only 4 in the world that actually have shops built into the fabric of the bridge, with the other 2 being the Ponte Rialto in Venice, and the Kramerbrucke in the German city of Erfurt. So far I have managed to visit three of them, so I think its off to Germany next! The Pulteney Bridge was named after Frances Pulteney, who married William Johnstone (1729 – 1805, in 1767, although unusually William took her surname as she was an heiress with a well known family name). Frances was a cousin of William Pulteney (1684 – 1764, who in 1742 was made the 1st Earl of Bath by his Majesty King George II (1683 – 1760) although the title is no longer in use).

The Bath bridge has undergone quite a lot of change over the years, as it was widened just 20 years after its original construction, before floods a decade later caused severe damage to the infrastructure, although it was soon rebuilt by John Pinch (1769 – 1827, Bath Architect) and the bridge is now an ancient monument and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers most of the City of Bath.

Below the bridge is a large Weir, originally built to serve Mills in the city, so that the flowing water would drive the large water wheels which powered the mill. It also helps to protect the city from flooding, which has been a problem for centuries, and in the 1970’s the Weirs present form was built, and it includes a flood gate.

Bath 2

Moving further into the city centre, we passed the immaculate Parade Gardens on the edge of the river, not far from the Abbey. They were originally associated with the building as they Abbey’s Orchard, until around 1737 when the Gardens were laid out and designed by John Wood the Elder (1704 – 1754, English Architect) under the name “St James’s Triangle” which was later changed to Parade Gardens.

The Gardens contain a cafe as well as three sculptures, one of which is visible on the right. This one is called “Angel of Peace” and stands as a monument to King Edward VII (1841 – 1910), and consists of a tall Angel statue atop a tall pedestal. The other statues around the park include that of King Bladud from 1859, a legendary ancient British King although no physical evidence of him has been found. He is said to be the founder of the City during his reign. He sadly had leprosy, which a group of pigs he cared for in Britain also contracted. The story goes that eventually they visited the area where Bath now stands and after rolling in some warm mud they were cured, so Bladud tried it as well and was also cured. He then set up the city so that other people could come here and try it for themselves and get cured. This would grow into the Roman Baths, as the local water was thought to have healing properties, but more on that later.

The final statue is of Mozart (1756 – 1791) when he was younger, and he is shown playing a Violin in reference to the large statue of Mozart in Salzburg, Austria. It was erected in 1991, and sculpted by David Backhouse, to commemorate Mark Purnell (1938 – 1985) the son of a Mrs Mary Purnell, who had been a keen music lover.

Behind the Park rises the Spire of St John’s Church, but I’ll talk about that later on in the post.

Bath 3

Overlooking the Avon, between the Pulteney Bridge and the Parade Gardens, is the majestic form of the “Empire” a fine former Victorian Hotel built between 1989 and 1901. It was used as a hotel until 1939, as when World War II broke out it was taken over by the Navy for use as Postal Offices until the 1990’s, and today it is made up of apartments with a restaurant on the ground floor.

A large amount of the buildings in Bath were constructed during the Georgian Era (1714 – 1830), in the Palladian Style, a revival of a style that grew from designs by a Venetian called Andrea Palladio (1508 – 1580, Architect). Georgian is made up of various styles which also includes Gothic so the buildings around Bath are a mixture of these. Later Victorian buildings that were added to the City Centre also blend in really well, such as the “Empire”.

Bath 4

Past the Parade Gardens before you reach the Abbey, there stands a large roundabout with an Obelisk in the centre. This area is called “Alkmaar Gardens” and is made up of 2 parts. The Obelisk is the oldest, and was erected in 1734 to commemorate a visit by William of Orange (1650 – 1702, Dutch & British King) to Bath, during which he drank some of the local water and was rewarded with good health.

The 2nd part of the gardens is the Alkmaar Garden itself, a much newer area which has its origins in World War II, when a young Jewish man named Eli Prins fled German occupied Alkmaar in the Netherlands and made his way to England to live with his sister Rosa who had moved over in 1937 before the War. He started a campaign for British Aid for the Netherlands, which was eventually liberated by the Allies, and the Dutch Queen at the time, Queen Wilhelmina (1880 – 1962) got on board with the idea and a committee was formed to oversee it. Eventually clothes, money and much more was raised and sent over to Alkmaar which became Baths adopted twin city. The two cities continue to have an enduring friendship today, and is a wonderful example of two war torn nations coming together to help each other. Bath did sadly get bombed, destroying many of the beautiful historic buildings, although you wouldn’t know visiting today as it has been well restored.

Bath 5

Of course one of the major landmarks in the city of Bath is the magnificent Bath Abbey, in the heart of the city centre. It sits just behind the Alkmaar Gardens, looking out towards the Avon. Like many important Church buildings, it stands on the site of a number of previous Churches, going all the way back to 757 AD when a Monastery was built by the Saxons. The Normans invaded in 1066 and the Monastery was all but destroyed. Good fortunes soon arrived however, as John de Villula, who was an important Bishop decided to move the seat of the diocese from nearby Wells, to Bath. The Monastery was rebuilt and with the Monks now part of the Bishops seat, it effectively became a priory. This lasted until around 1090 when the building was considered too small, and a new, grand Cathedral was planned. John wouldn’t see it completed as he died in 1122, and it wasn’t until 1156 that the Cathedral would be completed, set back a few years thanks to a fire in 1137. A decade later official Cathedral status was granted on both Bath & Wells together by Pope Innocent IV (1195 – 1254) and this gradually lead to the Monks gravitating towards Wells (which also has a Cathedral) and the building was all but abandoned, and in a ruinous state by the 15th century.

The building was rebuilt, using money from the overall Priory including Wells. Just a few years later the Dissolution of the Monasteries, instigated by Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) occurred and all Monastic functions were dissolved, and the building left once again to fall into disrepair. It would eventually be restored and become the local Parish Church in the 16th Century, thanks to the intervention of Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603). It still serves as the Parish Church today, although it retains the title of Abbey. A further restoration was then carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 19th Century to create a fine Gothic interior (1811 – 1878, English Gothic Architect) and today it can be visited in all it’s glory.

Bath 6

Across the road from the Abbey is the stunning Guildhall, a masterpiece of Engineering. Designed and created by two architects named Thomas Baldwin (1750 – 1820) and Thomas Warr Attwood (1733 – 1775) it took 3 years to build, from 1775 until 1778, replacing the previous Guildhall from 1625.

The view above is of the main front, with the iconic set of 4 pillars in the centre above the main entrance. A statue of Justice sits atop the entrance, and when we arrived I noticed a statue of Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901) at the far end of the building, overlooking the car and it turns out this belongs to the Victoria Art Gallery, which was an add on to the end of the Guildhall around 1897, located near the entrance to Pulteney Bridge. Together with a covered Market, the three contiguous buildings form one large block in the city. The Art Gallery was of course named after Queen Victoria, as in 1897 she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee and 60 years as Queen of the British Empire. The Gallery contains paintings dating back several centuries, with over 1000 pieces on display. You can visit the Galleries official website here.

The Market was formed when the Guildhall was built, although only as an outdoor Market, carrying on the centuries old tradition of a Market in the city.  An actual building covering it wasn’t built until 1863, with the famous dome on the top. This building has been altered over the years, with only a few original sections surviving. Today the main Guildhall is used as a City Hall for events from Weddings to Banquets, and is also the home of the Council Chamber of Bath & North East Somerset Council who run the Unitary District that Bath is the administrative centre of.

Bath 7

Continuing around to the front of the Abbey, another one of Bath’s famous landmarks came into view. Bath is well known for it’s springs, which I mentioned earlier in relation to Bladud. Warm water here is a natural feature, thanks to geothermal currents in the surrounding hills which heat up the water and the water is pushed up into the city under pressure around 46 degrees celsius. A shrine was built here by the Celts and dedicated to the goddess Sulis, which would lead to the Roman name for the town “Aquae Sulis” which translates as “Waters of Sulis”. After the Roman Invasion, around AD43, they built a large Temple here and before they left in the 5th century this grew into a complex of Baths. The Roman withdrawal lead to the Baths becoming derelict. John de Villula helped to reorganise the city and new baths were built above the “King’s Spring” the main bath called the Kings Bath using the surviving Roman Foundations in 1138, along with the Cross and Hot Baths that had been in use even after the Romans left. More new baths were soon created including a Leper’s Bath, and st John’s Hospice was founded nearby by Bishop Reginald around 1174 to provide accommodation for visitors wanting to use the healing properties of the water. Bath soon became a centre of healing and Mary of Modena (1658 – 1718, wife of reigning monarch James II) visited Bath in 1688 to bath in the Cross Bath. 9 months later she gave birth to James Stuart, a pretender to the throne after his father was deposed.

When the 18th Century came around, change was afoot for Bath, and a lot of the city was rebuilt by John Wood the Elder (1704 – 1754), and his son, John Wood the Younger (1728 – 1782) who together created some of Bath’s most famous new buildings including the Royal Crescent and a rebuild of the Hot Bath. They also created a new hospital called “The Mineral Water Hospital” so people could come from far and wide to try and use the healing powers of the Waters, as St John’s Hospice was mainly for locals.

A new building called the “Grand Pump Room” was then added to the complex by Thomas Baldwin, between 1789 and 1799, and is visible above at the far right of the picture. It was during construction of this that the first remains of the Roman Temple (part of the original Baths complex) were found. The Cross Bath was also rebuilt around this time.

To the left of the Grand Pump Room is a large Concert Hall, built in 1897, with the grand glass dome on the roof. This also now forms the main entrance into the Baths complex for visitors to see the old Roman Ruins and the reconstructed building around it. The Mineral Hospital built it’s own pool in 1976 and stopped using the Hot Bath, which subsequently closed. The Cross Bath had already declined in favour and the Kings Bath had also closed, so the original Spa/Baths all closed. In the 18th century a new bath, the Tepid Bath, had been created, but was replaced by a new Swimming Bath on Beau Street in 1926, but this also closed, 2 years after the Hot Bath, in 1978 due to a contaminant in the water. Bathing in the city had been wiped out, and it wouldn’t be until 2006 that a new Bath opened, and it remains the only one in use that still takes water directly from the spring. It incorporates a brand new modern building along with the one that became the Beau Street Baths to create a new modern experience. The Baths, both the new hot spring Baths as well as the preserved Roman Baths are the most visited attraction in the city. Whilst you can’t swim in the original Baths any longer they are still incredible to explore and there is a good 2000 years worth of history contained within the walls, and you can see the remains of the Great Bath the Romans once used.

Bath 8

The Roman Baths (with the Concert entrance shown to the right of the Abbey) and the Abbey are part of a large square which includes the main entrance to the Abbey. You can see the lovely colour of the Bath Stone which covers most of the buildings in the city. The stone is a type of Limestone which isn’t just used in Bath, as it covers buildings all over the South of England. The original mines are only around 2 miles away, although they aren’t in use any longer.

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Earlier I pointed out the spire of St John’s Church behind the Parade Gardens, and we made our way around to the front of the Church to check it out. St John is the local Catholic Parish Church, designed by Charles Hansom (1817 – 1888). Dating back to 1863 when it was completed after 2 years of construction, only the main body of the Church originally existed. The tower with accompanying spire followed 4 years later, and currently stand as the tallest building in the whole city. Sadly during the Bath Blitz in World War II the Church was hit by a bomb in the Presbytery and the South Aisle had to be completely demolished, although these areas were later rebuilt and the building stands proudly today.

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On the way back to the car, we had a look down some of the city centre streets and came across one building in particular.This is an eating house called Sally Lunn’s, named after a popular bun of the same name. Whilst there is no actual evidence to where the name or recipe came from, supposedly a woman called Sally Lunn moved here in the 1860’s, a refugee from France. 1680 is also featured on the Sally Lunn’s sign suggesting the eating house was opened at this time as well, possibly as a bakery Aside from this, the building is also notable as it is the oldest house in the whole city, dating back to 1482 when it was part of the house belonging to the Duke of Kingston. By 1622 it was owned by a man named John Hall, who leased it to George Parker, a carpenter from Bathford a village 3 miles outside of Bath.

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Heading back to the car, which was parked on the road which leads over Pulteney Bridge, we paused to have a look down the road, and as you look over the bridge, because of the shops built into it, you wouldn’t even know you were on a bridge if you were put in the centre blindfolded. The buildings merge seamlessly with the rest of the street, and is one of Baths many amazing qualities.

At the far end of the road, way past the fountain that forms a roundabout in the centre of the road, is the impressive facade of the Holburne Museum of Art. The Museum moved into the building in 1916, which had been the Sydney Hotel since it was completed in 1799. Behind the Museum is a large set of gardens called Sydney Gardens the only 18th Century Pleasure Gardens left in the country, built at the same time as the main building.

The Museum is named after Sir Thomas William Holburne (1793 – 1874) who originally owned the large collection of artwork currently contained within the building. There are works by various famous artists here, including paintings by Thomas Gainsborough (1727 – 1788, English Painter from Suffolk) who moved to Bath in 1759.

Bath is a stunning city, and there is one major landmark we sadly didn’t get to see thanks to the torrential rain that eventually set in. This was the Royal Crescent, which, as I mentioned earlier was created by John Wood the Younger. The Crescent is a semi-circular row of 30 terraced houses on the other side of the city, and is famous around the world for its design. You can see a picture of the Crescent here, all credit goes to Cheri Thomas the author of the website. Bath is connected by rail through Bath Spa station, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, English Engineering) who contributed significantly to the nearby city of Bristol, and completed in 1840. Trains run towards Bristol, London, Gloucester, Cardiff, Portsmouth and many more. A local Motorway network around Bristol 13 miles away includes the M5 (Birmingham via Bristol – Exeter), M4 (South Wales, Swansea, Cardiff - London) and provides links to most other major towns and cities in the country.

Bath is a stunning architectural masterpiece, and one of the most outstanding places we have ever visited in England. We would highly recommend a visit to Bath, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did.