The South West of England: Pt 29 – Slapton, Devon

Just down the road from the village of Torcross, which we had just visited, you will find the charming settlement of Slapton, which is famous for Slapton Sands beach as well as its historic centre…

Slapton:

Status: South Hams District, Devon, Village, England

Date: 13/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Slapton Sands, American War Memorial, St James Church, Chantry Church Tower, The Tower Inn etc

Slapton 1

As I mentioned in my earlier Torcross post, which you can read here, Slapton Sands is a beach separated from the Slapton Ley, the largest fresh water lake in the South West of England, by a spit of land which the local main road runs over. It was also the scene of a tragedy in the form of Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for the Normandy Landings in 1944. A number of boats left Portland Harbour in Devon to land here on the beach, but were intercepted by German U-boats en route. The boats that survived continued on, and were supposed to advance on the beach after a series of explosions had gone off, to acclimatise them to a war situation. This was mistimed, so many of the surviving soldiers where instead killed by the barrage on the beach which was late. The vast majority of the soldiers were American, and a number of memorials stand in their memory, from the Torcross Tank and plaque, to this War Memorial on at the Slapton end of the beach.

Slapton 2

Moving into the village centre, there are a few historic sites of interest you can visit, starting with Slapton Tower, the only surviving remains of the Collegiate Chantry Church, founded here by Sir Guy de Bryan (1319 – 1390) in 1373. Guy was a notable figure of the time, and fought for the English against 1st Scotland in 1332, and then against the French a few years later during the 1st part of the Hundred Years War.

The tower stands 80 ft high, and is in a strategic position above the rest of the town, well protected on all sides. When it was complete, Church took possession of a 10th of the holdings of the Parish Church, known as a “tithe”. In 1536 when Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries, it also affected the Chantries and they were abolished as well. Their revenues of the Chantry were passed to the Arundel family, who remained in possession of them until being granted to the Page family. At some point prior to 1923 the Church became a ruin, and all that is left is the Tower, and the adjacent Tower Inn.

Slapton 3

Directly to the left of the Tower is “The Tower Inn”, a stunning old building dating back to 1347. It was built for workmen who were building the adjacent College, and began life as a series of cottages. Over the years it has been amalgamated into one large building which is now an Inn. There is a small courtyard outside it, from where I took this photo as well as the one from the Tower, which looms over the Inn.

Slapton 4

Further into the village, you will find the aforementioned Parish Church, called the Church of St James. It was this Church that ended up having to give a 10th of its income to the Chantry, as St James predated it by over a century, having been built around the end of the 13th Century.

The 1st section to be completed was the Chancel, dedicated around 1318. The tower followed by the end of the century, around the same time as the Chantry was being built. Unfortunately the Church began to suffer financial difficulty due to the money it was giving to the Chantry, but it did survive, as there were new additions at the start of the 16th Century, in the form of the North & South Aisles. The South Aisle is evident above, with the Tower at the West end of the Church. The Aisle visibly protrudes from the main portion of the building, showing it as a later addition to the original structure.

The Church is in a beautiful setting, in the centre of a historic village and surrounded by the well tended graveyard, and the Devon hills in the distance. Slapton is a stunning place to visit, and along with the neighbouring village of Torcross we had an enjoyable start to the day. Nearby places include the village of Kingswear, the town of Dartmouth and Blackpool Sands, another local beach that is popular in the area. Our next stop the harbour town of Brixham at the tip of Tor Bay, which the towns of Paignton and Torquay also inhabit.

The South West of England: Pt 28 – Torcross, Devon

The next day, we had a road trip around the local area near Stoke Fleming and Dartmouth, starting with the small coastal village of Torcross, and it’s famous memorial near the beach…

Torcross:

Status: South Hams District, Devon, Village, England

Date: 13/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Torcross Beach, Torcross Tank

We arrived in a car park next to the imposing figure of the Torcross Tank, a legacy of the importance this area of Devon played during the D-Day landings. In 1943, over 15,000 allied troops descended on the coast here to practice for the Normandy Landings in France. Troops and equipment from the UK, USA and other nations trained here, preparing to liberate the rest of Europe from the Nazi menace. Sadly, the Germans also turned up, and on April 28th 1944, a group of U-Boats detected the high amount of radio transmissions related to the practice, and torpedoed part of a convey on route to Torcross and neighbouring Slapton Sands, from the Isle of Portland in Dorset. Tragically 749 British & American soldiers lost their lives, but that wasn’t the only incident to befall the troops here.

Later that same fateful day, the surviving boats in the convoy arrived at Torcross and nearby Slapton Sands, to complete their original exercise. The idea was they were to land whilst the beach was being shelled to harden the troops to conditions they would face in Normandy. A communication error however led to the troops arriving at the same time as the shelling and 300 soldiers were killed, resulting in a total of 1000 deaths in boths tragedies during that day. The operation was known as Exercise Tiger, and was hushed up for the remainder of the war.

The tank was one of the pieces of equipment used in the preparations, and it was found in 1984, almost a mile off the coast from the beach. A man named Ken Small bought the tank off the Americans, as it was one of their Sherman Tanks, and eventually had it hauled up from the bottom of the sea. It was cleaned up and put on permanent display as a memorial to Exercise Tiger and the brave soldiers who trained on the beach that day.

Torcross 2

Ken then contacted the Americans to get them to put their own official monument next to the tank, and in 1987 a US delegation unveiled a plaque next to one Ken put up by the tank. Ken sadly passed away in 2004, but he shall always be remembered for uncovering the fate of the soldiers that day, as his research into why the tank was out there brought the forgotten information to light. The tank was on one of the landing craft involved in the operation and subsequently sunk.

Torcross 3

A 3rd memorial is also located here, and is shown above. The local district which covers Torcross, Slapton and Dartmouth etc is called South Hams. South Hams District Council contributed to the Caen International Commemorative Garden which remembers the Normandy Landings and all those who sacrificed their lives during the operation. This memorial is a small replica of the version featured in Caen, and as the plaque next to it states has been put here to commemorate the locals who had to evacuate and leave their land whilst the D-Day preparations were under way.

Torcross 4

You might have noticed the large body of water sat behind the Tank and it’s associated memorials? This is called the “Lower Ley” which forms the Western half of Slapton Ley, which stretches 1.5 miles to the next village across, Slapton, where the “Higher Ley” is located. Together the two halves form a lake, which also happens to be the largest freshwater lake in the South West. It’s fascinating that it still has this distinction, as all that stands between the lake and the saltwater sea off the coast is a narrow strip of land which the main road (A379) runs along, along with a small portion of beach. There are fears that this strip is slowly being eroded by the tide, and should the Ley be breached salt water would flood it and ruin it’s unique eco-system.

Torcross 5

Aside from the various wildlife in the lake itself, the shores attract a plethora of our feathered friends. Just up the road from here is the local convenience store, where you can buy bags of special bird feed for the ducks. Contrary to popular belief, bread isn’t actually good for ducks as they can’t digest it properly so this is a much better alternative. The feed is made up of small pellets, and going off the ducks reaction they can’t get enough of it! In fact they wanted it so badly I had them literally eating out of my hand (terrible joke I know!). It was a pleasant way to kick off the days exploring, and only the 2nd time I have ever had a duck eating out of my hand, with the 1st being at Martin Mere Nature Reserve back home in Lancashire.

Torcross 6

This is the near portion of Torcross village, and the building on the far right, behind the parked cars is the convenience store I mentioned earlier, where you can buy the duck feed. The rest of the village is located on the far side of the Ley, and is known as the inland portion.

Torcross 7

Moving away from the previous scene, you wouldn’t think that this beautiful sunny beach awaited us as we cut through the buildings to the sea front. Waves lapped across the golden sands and crashed against the concrete sea wall, with the sound of the ocean reverberating all around us. A number of refreshment houses are located on the right of the sea wall, and it’s a great spot to sit and relax. I imagine the house on top of the cliff must get an incredible view during daylight hours!

Torcross 8

Looking South from our position here by the beach, we spotted “Start Point Lighthouse” in the distance, which of course inhabits a rocky outcrop known as Start Point. This area is particularly dangerous for shipping, and there were many instances of ships wrecking themselves on the rocks. Because of this, the Lighthouse was built in 1836, as a beacon shining across the waves to warn intrepid travellers of the dangers of this stunning yet dangerous area. It is so hazardous in fact that the sea almost claimed the Lighthouse itself, as in 1989 the area had eroded so badly that a portion of the Lighthouse complex fell into the sea, including a Fog Horn which had been installed in 1862, although by this point it had been superseded. Walls now protect it from further erosion, as without it maritime accidents would soar.

Start Point is close to being the most Southerly point in the county of Devon, only being beaten by East Prawle just a few miles further West. Beyond land here the nearest land is the Channel Islands, closely followed by the European Mainland (France).

Torcross 9

Looking the other way, due North, we could see yet more towers on the horizon. The 1st, to the left, is called “Day Mark Tower” which stands around 82 ft high, towering above the village of Kingswear and the town of Dartmouth, a few miles to the North West. The Limestone Tower was completed in 1864, and performs almost the opposition function of Start Point Lighthouse. Whereas a Lighthouse is designed to warn seafaring vessels of the impending danger of striking land, and put them back on course, the Tower is a Day Mark. This means that during the day it stands out on land as a navigational object, and guides ships into the mouth of the River Dart and Dartmouth Harbour near it’s base.

We kept exploring the area, and made our way into the village of Slapton, via the other American War Memorial located on Slapton beach…

The South West of England: Pt 27 – Buckfastleigh (For South Devon Railway)

Leaving the beautiful surroundings of Buckfast Abbey, we made the short 1 mile journey to the next village along, Buckfastleigh, which is also the home of the South Devon Railway…

Buckfastleigh:

Status: Teignbridge District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 10/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: The Valiant Soldier, South Devon Railway etc

Leigh 1

We drove through the town of Buckfastleigh itself on the way towards the railway, and there are a few landmarks to look out for as you pass through, but the one that stuck out for me was “The Valiant Soldier”. It’s got an interesting history, which began in the 1700’s, when it was built as a house. By 1813 it was registered as a pub, owned by Norman & Pring Ltd, from the nearby city of Exeter. It became a popular local inn over the next 150 years, until one day in 1965…

The story goes that the local brewery decided there were too many pubs in Buckfastleigh, and withdrew the license from the “The Valiant Soldier”. When that happened, everybody left, the patrons, the staff, the customers, but there was no tidying up, no closing down. Everything stayed the same, from the dust to the change in the till, and time almost stopped in the pub. Even though the Roberts family, who were running it at the time, bought the pub from the brewery a few years later, they never opened the doors again. Mr Roberts passed away 4 years after the pub closed, and his wife Alice stayed on the top floor as a resident until the 1990’s, but since then the pub is still in it’s 1965 state, and visitors can come in at certain times of the year to view this unique building. You can find out more about this piece of history here.

Leigh 2

We moved on to the railway, where there are two different car parks you can stop in. We parked up in the far one, and to access the platform you have to cross an old footbridge which crosses the rails themselves. Unlike many of the other heritage railways we have been too, this is standard gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 inches) which is in common use on mainstream Railways as well as in other countries like the USA and Australia.

The line starts in Buckfastleigh, and runs around 6.5 miles to the town of Totnes, which is interesting as the Dartmouth Steam Railway, another local heritage railway, also runs into Totnes. We haven’t been to many places where two heritage railways terminate in the same town. Like most heritage railways, it was originally built as a public use train line, between Totnes and Ashburton, past Buckfastleigh, which opened in 1872. It joined the GWR (Great Western Railway) in 1897, and then British Rail when the various different lines were nationalised and came under government control. Thanks to the Beeching cuts in the 1960’s, the line closed in 1962. It was quickly bought and re-opened as a tourist line by a group of local businessmen. You may have noticed that I said originally the line ran to Ashburton? In 1971 the A38, which runs from Buckfastleigh to Ashburton, was widened and the line past Buckfastleigh was cut off, reducing the line by 2 and a half miles to it’s present length.

Leigh 3

Just after we reached the platform, the train pulled into the station, with one of the old Great Western Railway locomotives from the early 1930’s at it’s head. It’s a beautiful locomotive, and it’s been a while since we have seen a full size steam engine, seen as we volunteer at a narrow gauge steam railway.

Leigh 4

Behind the platform and the main station building is a storage yard, where a number of other loco’s can be found. This particular one is called Lady Angela, built in 1936 by Peckett & Sons in the city of Bristol, Gloucestershire. For any train spotters out there, it’s operation number is 1690, and in the 1970’s was moved to Shackerstone Railway, until 1976 when Dennis Braybrook, part of the South Devon Railway, bought the engine. He sadly passed away and his wife gave the engine to the railway for safe keeping. At the moment is isn’t actually running, but is on proud display to all visitors.

It’s name comes from Angela Mariota Tollemache, the 2nd wife of the 3rd Baron of Belper, Algernon Strutt (1883 – 1956) as the owned the estate where the engine originally worked, a Gypsum mine in Kingston-upon-Soar, in the English county of Nottinghamshire.

The Lady Angela is but one of an impressive collection of engine’s kept on the railway, which includes Diesel engines, which we would see later. Some of the smaller engines in it’s collection however, are shown below…

Leigh 5

Inside the railway shop to the left of the Lady Angela, they have a fantastic OO Gauge model railway, which is amazingly detailed and kept in a large glass case, for customers to marvel at as they browse. They do have Hornby stock in the shop, from trucks to engines to rolling stock, along with the scenery and building materials to go along with it. We also found a brilliant map that shows most of the other Heritage Railways in the United Kingdom, totalling around 160, which Gemma bought and hung up in the shop at the West Lancashire Light Railway (WLLR, where we volunteer) when we got back home. It has captivated visitors to the WLLR and its amazing how spread out all the railways are around the country.

Leigh 6

Moving further round the back of the platform and station buildings, you will find the other locomotives I mentioned earlier. This diesel is a class 37, No.37275 which was previously operating on the mainline routes with a company called Harry Needle. The South Devon Railway made a deal with Needle and had it transferred to them, and in return they sent a Class 20 No.20118 back for use on the mainlines. It has been much restored, as when it arrived it was in a sorry state.

Leigh 7

One of the many steam engines on show includes this one, called the “Dumbleton Hall”, No.4920. It was built in 1929 in Swindon, Wiltshire, for use on the Great Western Railway (GWR), and is a member of the “Hall” class, designed by Charles Benjamin Collett (1871 – 1952, Engineer on the GWR) and a further 258 models were built.

The locomotive is named after an actual house called Dumbleton Hall near Evesham in Worcestershire, which dates back to 1830. Like the Lady Angela, 4920 is out of use at the moment and by the looks of it is a good candidate for some extra restoration work.

Leigh 8

We moved onto the platform, and into the museum building, where a number of artefacts from the history of both this railway and many others reside. My favourite piece of the collection is called Tiny, No.2180, which is unique as it is apparently the last surviving GWR broad gauge locomotive left. When the GWR was originally built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, English Engineer who also built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and SS Great Britain in Bristol), it was done in Broad Gauge, or 7 ft 0.1/4 Inch, and it was later converted down to standard gauge, pioneered in Britain by George Stephenson (1781 – 1848, English Engineer), in 1892.

This stunning piece of engineering was built in 1868, by a company called Sara & Co based in the major Devon city of Plymouth. It began life as a shunter in the town of Newton Abbot, until the GWR purchased it in the 1880’s and it began running on the line. The machine has been here at Buckfastleigh since 1980, on display for the public to enjoy its amazing design. The rest of the museum is full of detail and incredible old items, so if you ever get to visit spend some time in the museum and see what you discover.

Leigh 9

Sadly we didn’t have time to actually ride the train as it was still a bit of a distance back to the Caravan in Stoke Fleming near Dartmouth, so we set off. On the way, we passed the line and as it happened we met the train, with the D7612 at the front. This is a diesel engine which is a class 25 engine, also known as a Sulzer Type 2. It was built for use in Glasgow in the 1960’s but by 1967 it had moved down towards the English Midlands, and ended up in Bescot, part of Walsall in the West Midlands, in 1973. It remained in service in a variety of locations over the next few decades, including a maintenance depot at Kingmoor in the Northern city of Carlisle, until 1987 when the whole class was taken out of service. Harry Needle then took possession, before it was bought by the East Lancashire Railway, which runs from near Bury in Lancashire up to the town of Rawtenstall. It arrived here in Devon in 1999 and is currently running passenger services on this line.

The South Devon Railway is a great place to visit, and a trip on the line must be even more incredible. As I said it terminates in the town of Totnes, where you could get another steam train to the village of Kingswear on the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which lies opposite the larger town of Dartmouth, accessible via the Dartmouth Ferries. You can find out more info about visiting the South Devon Railway, on their official website here.

The South West of England: Pt 26 – Buckfast (For Buckfast Abbey), Devon

I unfortunately missed two trips we made in Devon a few days before we went to Cornwall, so I shall recap an interesting visit to the beautiful Abbey at Buckfast…

Buckfast:

Status: Teignbridge District, Devon, Village, England

Date: 10/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: Buckfast Abbey Cafe

Attractions: Buckfast Abbey, Buckfast Methodist Church etc

Buck 1

This magnificent Abbey is one of those things you really don’t expect to find when exploring the pleasant countryside of the South of England. Despite it’s modern appearance, the site itself dates back to 1018, when the original Monastery was founded here by Benedictine Monks, similar to various other locations in the UK. King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) sealed the original buildings fate in 1539, as he instigated the Dissolution of the Monasteries (1536 – 1541) which was a direct consequence of his split with the Pope in Rome, when he created his own Church of England. The buildings were abandoned, and eventually destroyed, although one portion did survive, in the form of a 14th century Abbot’s Tower. The whole site was turned into a large stone quarry by Sir Thomas Dennis, until 1800 when the area was bought by Samuel Berry who built a large mansion and a woollen mill.

Happily the site eventually came back into the possession of a group of French Benedictine Monks, exiled from France in 1880. They hired an architect called Frederick Arthur Walters, who designed the present Abbey, which was then built between 1907 and 1938. The Abbot’s Tower was included in the rebuild and forms part of the new guesthouse from the 1990’s.

Aside from what you see above, there is a large series of Monastic buildings to the right of the main Abbey building, and it is a functioning Abbey as the Monks themselves reside here.

Inside, the building is no less spectacular. Despite it being an operational Monastery, the public are welcomed in by the Monks, many of whom you will probably spot going about their daily business. You enter via a small door at the front left of the building, into the stunning Nave, which stretches almost the length of the building with towering arches on either side of you as you pass through. Passing between the immaculate rows of pews, you reach the beautifully crafted choir, with stalls on either side leading you towards the high altar when you arrive in the Chancel.

Between the Choir and the Chancel you will find the two transepts, one to the right (2nd picture) and one to the left (3rd picture). Behind the Chancel is a dedicated prayer room, with a fabulous stained glass window in the far wall, complete with a large figure of Jesus. Whilst I got a photograph through the outer glass wall, it is a place for quiet reflection so don’t enter if there are people inside.

Buck 2

Outside the main Abbey, as you stroll around the grounds, there are a number of points of interest, the 1st being the quaint old Methodist Church from 1881. It’s mere presence here struck me as quite odd, due to the fact that the Benedictine Monks are in fact Roman Catholic, but as it turns out the Methodist Church predates their arrival here, in 1882. When it was built, this area was a main road leading through the village, and was eventually swallowed up by the new Abbey and its buildings, but happily it has been left alone and exists in harmony with the Abbey.

Buck 3

This is the main entrance into the complex from the visitors car park, and to the left of the archway is the Abbey Shop. Around to the right out of shot is the North Gate, a 12th century Gateway which is now part of the Tearooms, where you can sit and have lunch in the shadow of the imposing form of the Abbey.

Buck 4

 

Turning left to look past the Methodist Church which faces the Abbey, you will see the Abbey Farmhouse, shown at the back of the picture. The Farmhouse is an extra wing which was added to the Abbot’s Tower/Guesthouse, shown behind the tree to the left, in the 15th century. It now contains another shop, after spending a period of time as a Farm after the original Monks had left the 1st Abbey. Reconstructed in the 20th century, it features a slate roof from the 1990’s and stone walls. The Abbot’s Tower is now a Guesthouse and you can even stay here, as it has it’s own facilities.

There is plenty to do at Buckfast Abbey, you can explore the incredible Abbey itself, marvel at the fine interior and decorations, then take a break for lunch at the Abbey Cafe across the way, browse the shops, and enjoy the pleasant nature of the local Devon countryside. For us, it was time to move on, and we passed through the nearby village of Buckfastleigh, on our way to the South Devon Railway…

The South West of England: Pt 25 – Saltash, Cornwall

Our next stop was the Cornish town of Saltash, home to the two fantastic landmarks that span the divide between Cornwall and Devon, the Tamar Bridges…

Saltash:

Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Tamar Road Bridge, Tamar Rail Bridge, Brunel Statue, River Tamar, Union Inn etc

Saltash 1

We pulled up by the riverside, on the North side of the Tamar Road Bridge, which sits in front of the Rail Bridge, which we would move round to later. As soon as we arrived I had a flashback to our visit to North Queensferry in Fife, Scotland, where the Forth Road and Rail bridges arrive from Edinburgh on the other side of the river. The Tamar Bridges, whilst slightly smaller and shorter, are no less spectacular, and I something I had very much been looking forwards to seeing.

The Road Bridge is the newer of the two, and until construction began in 1959, the Rail Bridge stood alone. The Bridge connects Saltash with the Devon city of Plymouth, and before the bridge was built the nearest road crossing for the Tamar was in the village of Gunnislake, nearly 15 miles away. Overall, to cross from Saltash to Plymouth this was a detour of almost 30 miles. In 1961 the Road Bridge was completed, and opened to traffic, providing a direct link between Devon and Cornwall for mainstream traffic. When it opened, it became the longest suspension bridge in the United Kingdom at 335 metres, a title it retained until the Severn Bridge was completed in 1966.

Whilst it was actually opened in 1961, it was officially opened a year later, by HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (1900 – 2002) on the 26th April, 1962. It wasn’t until we walked underneath it however, that we noticed what made the bridge so interesting, at least from an Engineering point of view.

Saltash 2

This is the underside of the Road Bridge, and one was thing was immediately obvious. The Bridge is wider than it should be. A series of cantilevers on either side of the Bridge hold an extra carriageway, easily visible to the naked eye. Some quick research soon told us that the Tamar Road Bridge was in fact the 1st suspension bridge in the world to be widened using cantilevers, back in 2001. This was no mean feat, and it had the overall effect of increasing the number of lanes from 3 to 5. 3 of these are for the A38 (Exeter – Bodmin), 1 is a pedestrian lane and the final one is for local traffic which can dodge around the busier A38 lanes to cross to the other side.

Saltash 3

Reaching the South side of the Rail Bridge, we spotted this rather colourfully painted Pub, called… yep you guessed it, the “Union Inn”. The building must predate at least 1873, as it was before this year that William Odgers (1834 – 1873, a famous Sailor from the town who was awarded a Victoria Cross in 1860 for his bravery and savvy during the 1st Taranaki War between the Maori and the people of New Zealand) retired to Saltash and took over as Landlord of the Inn.

In 1995 the Inn’s signature Union Jack mural across its front facade was painted, to celebrate 50 years since Victory in Europe Day, 1945. It was painted by a man named David Whitley, and despite some opposition after its inception, it has become a well known local landmark, along with the pub itself. On the right hand side wall of the pub is another mural, presumably of events in the towns history, and the message at the bottom of it reads “Burgus de Saltashe et libertas aquae de Thamer” although I am unsure exactly what that means. It just shows what amazing things you can find in the strangest of places, as already we had been distracted from one of the most impressive Rail Bridges in the South of England, by a lovingly painted pub.

Saltash 4

Turning to look at the Rail Bridge itself, we marvelled at its construction, a triumph of Engineering and another piece of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s (1806 – 1859, famous English Engineer) extensive portfolio. It sits alongside his revolutionary SS Great Britain, stunning Clifton Suspension Bridge and perhaps his crowning legacy, the Great Western Railway from London to South Wales/Bristol/Exeter which now runs into Cornwall over this very bridge.

The Bridge is commonly known as the Tamar Rail Bridge, however its official title is in fact the “Royal Albert Bridge”, named after Prince Albert (1819 – 1861) Consort of Queen Victoria, and it was in fact he who officially opened the bridge upon its completion. Construction began in 1848, with a contractor called Charles Mare, who also worked on the Britannia Bridge between Anglesey and the Welsh Mainland, carrying out the work. He eventually went bankrupt a year later, so Hudson & Male took over. By 1857 the Cornish half of the bridge, including the approach pillars and the 1st central span had been completed. The 2nd and final span over to the Devon side was added the following year, with the approach pillars on the Plymouth side finished in 1859. Both central spans are an impressive 455 ft long, with space for a 100 ft tall ship to pass beneath them.

In May of 1859 Albert himself arrived to open the bridge, although unfortunately Brunel was ill and couldn’t attend. Tragically Brunel passed away just a few months later in September, so a slight addition was made to the Bridge. Above either end of the bridge as you enter one of the central spans from either Devon or Cornwall you will spot the words “I.K. Brunel, Engineering, 1859″.

You can just see them on the picture above, at the far left where the Cornish span begins. Various upgrades have been carried out since 1859, with the track being replaced with Standard Gauge in 1892, and the replacing of some of the small spans between the landward pillars being added at the start of the 20th century to allow wider trains to cross. It’s a marvel of Engineering, and one of a series of incredible railway bridges across the country, including the Forth Bridge, Britannia Bridge, Tay Bridge and the various famous rail bridges in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Saltash 5

After admiring the bridges, we caught up with the man himself. A statue of Brunel stands on the riverside not far from the Union Inn, and I pointed out a few interesting features of the bridge to him! We eventually left Brunel to it, and made our way over the Tamar Road Bridge back into Devon, to the caravan we were staying in near Dartmouth.

Thanks to its proximity to Plymouth, Saltash enjoys good transport links. There is a regular bus to and from the city, and the local train station opened in 1859. Trains run South to Penzance via Truro and other main Cornish towns, as well as North/West to Plymouth. Travellers can change at Plymouth for destinations all over the UK as well as ferry services to Mainland Europe, France, Spain etc.

Saltash itself if mainly a small dormitory town for neighbouring Plymouth, yet it still has some incredible landmarks and river views, and it was a fitting place to end our epic road trip from Land’s End, to Penzance, Truro, Fowey, Lostwithiel and Saltash. Despite the day being over, there were many more adventures ahead of us the next day…

The South West of England: Pt 24 – Lostwithiel, Cornwall

Moving on from the quaintness of Fowey, we passed through Lostwithiel, a charming Cornish town 7 miles North…

Lostwithiel:

Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: Lostwithiel Free Methodist Church, High Street, St Bartholomews Church, Moorswater Viaduct etc

Lost 1

We were only passing through the town, but on the way we saw a few things of interest. We started on Edgcumbe, which, along with a number of other roads forms the A390, the main road through the town which runs on towards the A38 near Liskeard.

It’s a pleasant street in the centre of town, with well painted buildings and green spaces. Outside the short cream building at the end of the row of buildings, which is currently a Health & Beauty Salon, is a small stone monolith (out of shot) which is called “The Milestone” making the distance to both St Austell, VIIII (9 Miles) and Truro, XXII (22 Miles) from the town.

In the distance, the spire of St Bartholomew’s Church dominates the skyline. The Church, crafted out of slatestone rubble is made up of various sections constructed at different points in the last few centuries. The main tower is the oldest features, from the 13th Century, followed by the Nave, Aisles and Porch from the 14th. The final addition was the Vestry in the 19th Century, although various windows in the building have been replaced over the years.

Fowey 12 

Moving further down the street, after it had become Queen Street, one of the standout buildings was the local Methodist Free Church, which dates back to 1900. Aside from the main Church building to the left of the picture, which consists of the tall facade with a tower either side, one circular and one topped by a copper spire, there is a Sunday school building to the right of the Church. It’s a shame that that was all we saw in Lostwithiel, as we had one more stop on our epic journey from Land’s End back to Dartmouth, as there is more to see in the town. The River Fowey passes through the town, and enters the sea at the town of Fowey, which we had just visited. Elsewhere in Lostwithiel you could visit the War Memorial on the banks of the river, or the Lostwithiel Bridge, a 15th Century stone bridge which crosses the river. It consists of a number of arches, at least 2 of which are flood relief arches from the 18th Century.

Lostwithiel does have a train station, which opened in 1859. Trains run Southwards to Penzance via Truro, and Northwards to Plymouth and London.

Whilst our time in Lostwithiel was at an end, there was one more landmark on this section of our route. We had left the town and joined the A38 near Dobwalls. As we followed the road around the outskirts of the town of Liskeard, we spotted the spectacular figure of Moorswater Viaduct, which runs close to the road at this point. I apologise for the 1st picture which is slightly blurred, but the camera takes a few seconds to save the picture, and in the next shot I got the Viaduct was mostly obscured by trees. Even so, you get the idea of what it looks like, and it of course carries the Cornish Main Line, which, just 13.3 miles further East, would cross the border into Devon, across the river Tamar, into the city of Plymouth. The train was mostly likely running to London, as it was a First Great Western service, and they operate most of the local services in the area, aside from long distance services to Scotland handled by Cross Country.

The Viaduct was originally completed around 1867, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, English Civil Engineer who also built the Great Western Railway which runs over the Viaduct). It would be replaced just 20 years later, as by 1881 a new viaduct with 14 pillars (8 arches) was built with stone arches and an Iron parapet across the top. It is this version that still stands today, which was built a few metres further across than the original, and some of Brunel’s Viaducts piers still stand there today, side by side with the new version.

It’s quite a site, but there were two other bridges on the horizon, including one of Brunel’s even more famous creations, the renowned Tamar Bridges, in the town of Saltash, which was our next stop…

The South West of England: Pt 23 – Fowey, Cornwall

After departing the impressive city of Truro, we arrived in the small town of Fowey, and were soon greeted by some impressive views…

Fowey:

Status: Cornwall Unitary District & County, Town, England

Date: 12/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: River Fowey, Quayside, Fowey Parish Church, St Catherine’s Castle, Readymoney Cove, Fowey Cannons, River Views, Working Mens Club, The Ship Inn etc

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When we arrived, we followed the signs for St Catherine’s Castle, which lead us to a small car park at the top of a small hill above the town. A path came off the Car Park, sloping downwards, so we followed it to see what we could find. This is the view we got at the end of the path, looking down into Readymoney Cove, which its lovely sandy beach. It was a nice unexpected find, and a pleasant way to start our exploration here.

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And atop the rocky outcrop on the far side of the cove, we just spotted the top of the ruins of St Catherine’s Castle peaking out between the trees. Built by King Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) in the 1530’s, the Castle has guarded the entrance to the river mouth, protecting Fowey from sea faring invaders. It saw active use numerous times throughout it’s history, from the English Civil War (1642 – 1651), to the Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815), at which time it was armed with a number of cannons. After a period of decline, the Victorians rearmed the Castle and created a battery here, which were rebuilt during World War II. A lot of places along the South Coast were particularly vulnerable to attack by the Germans, but a number of them such as Kingswear/Dartmouth already had Castles which had protected them for centuries, so these were reinforced. The same happened with St Catherine’s, and it was disarmed after the war.

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We left the Cove, and started making our way down into the town centre. En route, we found a fantastic vantage point to look out over the river, and Fowey’s accompanying village, called Polruan, located on the other side of the river. It turns out St Catherine’s has a sister fort, which is visible in the centre of the picture, in the shape of a ruined, short square tower. The fort was built around the same time as St Catherine’s, and together they form an impressive defence network for the two settlements.

The view from up here is incredible. Polruan looks like a pleasant little fishing village, and behind it the English Channel stretches far into the distance. Fowey itself wasn’t visible from this vantage point, hidden below the brow of the hill we were stood on.

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We pulled up opposite “The Ship Inn”, a fine 16th Century Inn, most of which is still original. The Inn is located at the end of Market Street, and indeed this small area of the town that we had arrived in appeared to be an enclosed Market Square, with buildings on all sides. Just around the corner was the Tourist Information Office, but unfortunately it was already closed as it was quite late in the day when we arrived.

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Moving down South Street, which runs in front of the Ship Inn, and following it round to the left, we found Fowey Parish Church, a beautiful old stone Church tucked away in the dense suburban streets. We were at the East End, the back of the Church, with the tower at the West End at the front. Whilst it is locally known as the Parish Church it’s official title is the Church of St Fimbarrus or St Nicholas, and originally dates back to 1336. Like most Churches that have traversed the seas of time, it has been extensively refurbished and restored over the years, such as a new roof being added in the 15th Century and a full restoration of the building being carried out in 1876.

Clad in Slatestone Rubble, the building makes fine use of various other materials, such as Slate on the roof and Granite around the edge of the windows. It is also one of a number of Listed Buildings, and looking at the large concentration of them in the town centre it shows how well the town has been preserved historically.

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One notable feature of the Churchyard is the Fowey War Memorial, erected sometime prior to the conclusion of World War I. There are photographs available that show it completed by 1920, placing its construction date between 1918 and 1920. It honours the war dead of both World Wars, and is a quite place for reflection on days past.

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Fowey in itself is a very compact town. There was no such thing as a car when the town was 1st conceived, and the tight winding streets between the buildings illustrate this perfectly. There are of course a few main thoroughfares such as around the Market Square and the Church, but they are still quite tight, especially for larger cars. Fowey is almost like a snapshot back in time, a beautifully preserved, historic town.

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Moving on, we passed one of the more obvious recent additions to the town (of course I use the term recent quite lightly, referring to the Victorians onwards) in the form of the “Working Mens Institute” of 1868, build out of typical Victorian Redbrick on the site of the old Fish Market. It does look slightly out of place in a town like Fowey, yet at the same time its fascinating to see the different additions of eras long gone.

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With Fowey being at the mouth of a large river, and so close to the English Channel, it was of course an important port in previous centuries. The area where we were now stood was once a bustling harbour, where goods were imported from all over Europe. When this industry eventually declined thanks to new thriving ports like Plymouth, the industry in Fowey garnered more towards fishing.

The River Fowey, which runs between the town and neighbouring Polruan, as well as the small village of Bodinnick located immediately upstream of Polruan, began its journey at Fowey Well on Bodmin Moor, before running around 8 miles through to Fowey itself. The town is connected to both Polruan and Bodinnick by ferries, as the nearest physical crossing over the Fowey is in the town of Lostwithiel, 7.5 miles North.

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In keeping with the defensive position of the town, a number of cannons are located on the waterfront, although I am unsure if they are original or not.

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You get some stunning views out across the river and into the surrounding countryside . It was a lovely day, the sun was shining and made the water glisten, with some of the tightly packed buildings of the town by this time in the day reduced to shadow, silhouetted against the the scenery.

Fowey is only a small town, and it was a great stop on our Cornish adventure. It is slightly off the beaten track, and lacking a train station, although there is one at Lostwithiel for local services in Cornwall. Fowey is also reasonably close to the A390 main road which runs from Truro eastwards towards Devon. We moved on from Fowey, and found ourselves driving through the small town of Lostwithiel…