Dashing into Devon
As Cornish fishing villages faded and the Royal Navy’s presence loomed ever larger, it has been a busy ten days meeting commitments, rushing for ferry deadlines and reliving some of Plymouth’s history.
I squeezed my way through Polperro’s narrow streets of tightly-packed cottages before getting back on the cliffs. Once a pilchard fishing village, Polperro is now big on tourism, rather like the village’s larger neighbour, Looe. I paused at Looe to admire the beautiful bronze of Nelson - a one-eyed scarred bull grey seal! For many years and until his death, Nelson was a familiar and favourite sight to Looe residents and holidaymakers alike.
Still just in Cornwall, at Portwrinkle on Whitesand Bay, I detoured on foot into HMS Raleigh. Here, I was hugely honoured to be given a musical welcome by the RM Band Fanfare Team. It was a lovely surprise. I’d a fascinating morning meeting a selection of trainees, including those who were proudly preparing for their passing-out parade in three days’ time. Later, on my departure, Naval chefs provided a Guard of Honour: an inspired choice because these men and women are rarely seen as a group - they are usually working very hard ‘behind the scenes’.
Returning to the Cornish path on a gloriously sunny morning, I rounded Rame Head which is a familiar landmark to seafarers approaching Plymouth Sound. The headland itself is topped by a tiny chapel dedicated to St Michael; I stopped here for a while taking in views up and down the coast. Afterwards, I continued through Kingsand, Caswsand and Mount Edgcumbe which offered panoramic views of Plymouth City and the Sound – I couldn’t quite believe I was there!
Dropping down to catch the Cremyll ferry across the river Tamar and back into Devon, I admired the former Royal William Victualling Yard at Stonehouse. Once a major supply depot for the Royal Navy, today the listed buildings have been lovingly restored into a mix of business, residential and retail accommodation which has brought this historic site back to life
Thereafter, I walked to HMS Vivid, my former Royal Naval Reserve unit where I’d been a member for so many years. It was good to be back amongst friends that evening. I continued on foot to HM Naval Base, Devonport where another busy morning ensued meeting a mixture of Royal Marines, submariners and sailors, all with their own distinct sense of humour.
Before moving off to Devonport’s Naval Heritage Centre, we enjoyed a brief lunch stop in HMS Drake’s wardroom. Nervously we left the Victory Van parked directly outside the front door. Although we had the blessing of the Base Executive Officer, it still felt a bit naughty – almost like parking across the gates of Buckingham Palace!
Although the Heritage Centre is part of the Naval Base Commander’s parish it is predominantly run by volunteers. They and other veteran organisations came out in force to welcome me and support my walk with some generous donations, just as all the Naval establishments had done over the past two days. However, before I could enjoy tea and cakes I had to ‘sing for my afternoon tea’ by giving a short talk about the walk.
With visits behind me I set out for Plymouth Hoe, made famous by Sir Francis Drake who insisted on completing his game of bowls as the Spanish Armada approached. I noticed a game was taking place at the Hoe Bowling Club, and from his lofty statue’s plinth, I’m sure Drake would have approved!
Nearby, I saw yet another distinctive and brightly painted elephant on display. I’d seen various ones on my Plymouth travels and learned there are 40 in all, based on Elmer the Patchwork Elephant, a children's picture book series. To encourage people to walk a trail around Plymouth, these elephants can be seen until September, after which each of the unique elephants will be auctioned to raise funds for St Luke’s Hospice in Plymouth. An inspired idea and I hope it raises a lot of money.
Plymouth Hoe offers superb views out to the city’s breakwater and Plymouth Sound. It was here in July 1815 that thousands of people flocked from across the West Country to catch a glimpse of Napoleon, Emperor of France, who was prisoner on board HMS Bellerophon, anchored in the Sound. Held there for ten days, it was reported that on one day alone, over 8,000 people took to the waters, circling HMS Bellerophon in the hope of seeing the man who had been such an arch enemy of England. It was this lengthy war which had prompted Lord Palmerston to have so many forts built around the country – I’ve passed many. Plymouth alone was guarded by forts at Bovisand, Picklecombe, on the breakwater and on Drake’s Island.
Walking towards Plymouth Barbican I passed the beautifully renovated art deco Tinside Pool. Built in 1935, it was closed in 1992, by which time lidos had lost their appeal and the pool had fallen into a state of neglect. Plymothians fought back, winning it Listed Building status and millions of pounds for its renovation: it reopened in 2005. During WWII after the City had suffered yet another devastating bombing raid, it is said that on one evening, over 3,000 weary and exhausted people who’d spent hours clearing rubble, came and swam at Tinside.
Nearby, the Barbican and its Mayflower Steps are probably best known for being the departure point of the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620. This group of people, persecuted for their religious beliefs, set sail for a new life; they became the first English settlers in North America. However, these weren’t the only emigrants who left from the Barbican.
In March 1787 two transport ships left here, taking men and women convicts to Australia. They arrived in Port Jackson the following January and this became Sydney, New South Wales. Another plaque acknowledges the vast number of people from Cornwall, Devon and Dorset who left from Plymouth in the 1840s to contribute to the development of this new Australian colony, particularly in the businesses of mining and farming.
I too set sail from the Barbican, catching a ferry across the Cattewater to Mountbatten, from where I walked the South Devon coast to the ‘yachties’ paradise at Salcombe. Reaching there entailed more river crossings: the Yealm, Erme and Avon. Offshore from the Avon’s mouth I passed Burgh Island on which Agatha Christie based her novel ‘Then There Were None’. Apart from one day when I walked in rain and fog, I enjoyed some stunning views along this scenic piece of coastline which I know so well. I felt I was being rewarded for all the miles I’d tramped around the UK coastline since leaving Portsmouth.
Now back in the county of my birth, I aim to celebrate by topping-up with as much Salcombe Dairy ice cream and Devon cream teas as I can decently manage!
See Photo Album Numbers 82
- Arriving at HMS RALEIGH
- Departing from HMS RALEIGH
- Dashing into Devon