Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Easter Week in North Devon Day 3

Since 2000, when we acquired  a recently published book entitled England's Thousand Best Churches by Simon Jenkins, we have used it in conjunction with some version of a Good Pub guide to lead us on our travels around England. Over the past few years there haven't been many church excursions, and Bob was very keen to rekindle our visits to historic churches on this trip. Here we are at Combe Martin, number 333 on our list of churches we have visited (although the accuracy is not to be completely relied upon).

Combe Martin is notable for its lovely carved chancel screen with naked nymphs . . .

. . . and a scowling Green Man . . .

. . . and a congregation I would be comfortable joining.

Combe Martin is a coastal town, and the drive to Ilfracombe introduced us to the dramatic rocky coast of North Devon.

The Quay at Ilfracombe is now noted for the preposterous statue . . .

. . . donated by (no longer so) Young Brit Artist Damien Hirst after he moved  to North Devon.

Bob is glaring his disapproval of Verity, as she is named . . .

. . . but I have to agree with Damien that this is a perfect spot for a monumental piece of art. No, the sky has not suddenly turned yellow here in Ilfracombe, but really what's the point of having i-photo if not to enhance the likes of Verity.

Parracombe's St Petrock's Church is on hilltop off a dirt track in Exmoor National Park. English National Parks are not preserves or reserves with land owned by the government as they are in the States. They are large rural districts of special environmental interest designated as such because they will benefit from regional planning. Since this morning we have been to Combe Martin, Ilfracombe and now Parracombe,  so I will mention a "combe" in this part of the world is a valley, usually a steep sided one.

Parracombe is a medieval Gothic church, with an updated 18th century interior. The chancel screen has been replaced with a board that features both prayers and the royal arms reaffirming the connection between church and state after the religious upheaval of the 17th century. 

Wise words adorn the walls.

The pews are carved oak said to date from the 15th century.

A tiny bit of carved decoration appears on one  capital . . . 

. . . but the floor at the base of the pier is an indicator of how old the wood is.  Parracombe Old Church was nearly torn down  in the 19th century when a newer, more stable church was built in the village centre, but a preservation campaign led by artist and critic John Ruskin saved the building from being demolished. Parracombe is now designated as "redundant,"  but is still sanctified, so it is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, the organisation my daughter Susan works for.

The font has to be ancient. Actually it may be. Sometimes the font is an old Roman bowl. I love the multiple legs.

A few pretty angels . . .

. . . in the churchyard.

Taking advantage of the last few hours of fantastic weather we went off to Heddon Valley for a walk on National Trust land posted on their website as a "Gentle Walk to Heddon's Mouth." The National Trust is best known for their huge inventory of historic country piles, but they also own swathes of conservation land where they maintain trails and visiting facilities. The trail follows the River Heddon in a steep combe to the sea.

The last glacier left steep scree fields.

The cliffs are 400 million year old Devonian sandstone. Yes, the root of Devonian is Devon!

The rocky shore at Heddon's Mouth beneath what the National Trust says are some of the steepest cliffs in England.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Easter Week in North Devon Day 2

Woolley Lodge has magnificent wrought iron gates . . .

. . . topped with herons facing each other, grasping a snake in its beak, the Chichester family emblem. 

Our cottage Woolley Lodge was part of a mid-nineteenth century scheme to build a grand entrance to the Chichester family's country pile Arlington Court. The Chichester's had been important gentry in Devon since the 14th century. Their previous 18th century house was not well built and needed replacement. The present house was built in the early 1820s, and soon after, Sir John began construction of his grand entrance, the iron gates at the elegant Woolley Lodge gate house would open to a scenic avenue with a graceful bridge over the man-made water feature. At his death in 1851, the project was still uncompleted, and when his son and heir began spending their diminishing fortune on other pet projects . . .
. . . including this avenue of monkey puzzle trees, the plan was never realised.

Arlington Court is a boxy Neo-Classical design, a popular style of the Regency period.  There are Victorian additions to increase its size and prestige befitting the late 19th century standards of conspicuous consumption. 

There are large gardens, but nothing very exceptional. Another  Chichester heron marks
the entrance to the Victorian Garden.

A large walled kitchen garden is planted, but the seedlings are just emerging.

The perennial border is just starting to add new growth, and the trees are not fully in leaf.

The parish church is across the lawn from the house . . . 

. . . where paths lead to walks around the estate.

The guide pamphlet mentions the climate is ideal for growing vast species of lichens.

Our walk on a gorgeous afternoon of sunshine and blue sky took us along the low rise of Woolley Woods.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easter Week in North Devon Day 1

After last years's Easter Week trip to Istanbul and a few Easters in the States with the grandchildren, this year we have returned to our Easter Week tradition of a holiday in a National Trust cottage somewhere in England. We have spent past Easters in Yorkshire and Cornwall and Lincolnshire and East Anglia. This year we are heading west to North Devon. Stopping at the Windmill Inn in Portishead overlooking the Severn Estuary south of Bristol now also seems to be a tradition. 

Next stop is for food. The Witheridge Farm Shop found on the internet, advertised as The Delicatessen in the Middle of Nowhere, and miraculously found on the ground despite the webpage emphasising "we really are in the middle of nowhere." The next village is named Nomansland, no kidding. Set in the middle of a working farm, we picked up fresh veg and meats and eggs and local cheese.

And here is our cottage, Woolley Lodge, on the National Trust's property at Arlington Court. This one really is a cottage which is a generic term for the Trust's rental property. Cottages can be in any sort of unused outbuilding on a property: flats in houses, terraced rows, barns, schoolhouses. Sometimes they are less comfortable than anticipated, but they are always interesting. Back in the day, estate workers were happy to have two rooms to call their own. Woolley Lodge was one of the most comfortable we have rented.

And it was surrounded by gorgeous banks of primroses, my favourite  spring flower.

Since it was Easter, we brought along some old friends to mark the holiday . . .

. . . and our special Chicken for the door.