First published in 1948 in The Second Chalet Book for Girls.
JULY 29th. Here we are in Exeter, all ready for our tour! I must say I think it's what Sheila Terry from Melbourne calls a 'bonza idea'. We made Exeter our headquarters, and go by "mo-bus" to the various places. We travelled by train, taking the 7a.m. from Armiford and arrived just after twelve. We came straight here with our cases - "here" being another school which has swopped with us, so that their folk can tour our part of the world - had lunch, and then went to the Cathedral. Parts of it are surrounded by scaffolding. They are repairing the damage done in the war, but even so, one can see what a beautiful place it is. Most of it is in Decorated style, but the transept towers are Norman. Miss Wilson says Exeter Cathedral is unique because it has transept towers and not one great central one; this gives it 300 feet of unbroken roof-vaultin. The west front has niches in the lower part, which contains statues of kinds and saints. Of course the Parliamentarians tried to destroy them during the Civil War, but luckily a good deal remains.
Inside there is what Bill and Miss Burnett call one of the most beautiful naves in England. What interested me most were the regimental banners, the musicians' gallery, which has the figures of angels playing weird musical intruments, and, in the north transept, a wonderful fifteenth-century clock which has a bell called "Great Peter", weighing over six tones. They ring the curfew on this bell.
The alter screen is marvellous; and Daisy and Gwensi 'went crackers' over the miserere seats in the choir, which have carvings of sea-creatures like mermaids and so on.
In the south transept are the other bells - thirteen of them! Some peal! The Bishop's Chair is really lovely, with the most delicate carving, and Gwensi was thrilled over the tale of how it was hidden before the Parliamentarians marched into the city. She says she means to write a story round it some day.
The Chapter House adjoins this transept, and the library, said to be one of the finest in England, used to be kept here. Now it is in a room over the cloisters. They have a "Devonshire Domesday Book", and the "Exeter Book", a collection of Anglo-Saxon poems. The font is supposed to have been set up for the baptism of Princess Henrietta Maria, the last baby of poor Charles I and his queen. She was born in Exeter, and Lady Fanshawe, the nurse, had an awful time getting the princess safely to France after the defea of the Royalists.
Once we had seen the Cathedral thoroughly, we went to Moll's Coffee House, which has a lovely Elizabethan room, and then to the Mint. It seems odd to think that Exeter had its own Mint, but Bill says that at one time many of the great cities had.
After that, we had a very decent tea in a cafe, and then went to see the Guildhall. It is really beautiful, with some magnificent carving; Charles II gave the city a portrait of his sister Henrietta, and it hangs there.
We wound up examining what remains of Rougemont Castle - not much but the gateway - and walked in the gardens, which are charming. Now we have come back, and are waiting for supper. To-morrow we are going to Honiton and Azminster. There goes the bell!
JULY 30th. Back after a gorgeous day which began at 7. The bus came for us at 8.30, and we departed, complete with picnic baskets and Kodaks. The names of the places are simply lovely: Clyst Honiton, Fairmile, Ferny Bridges; they sound like music!
Honiton being only 17 miles from Exeter, we arrived about 10, and went for coffee before visitng the lacemakers. I don't think I've ever seen anything so wonderful as the way they twist their bobbins backwards and forwards, and move pins here and there; then the lace appears - lovely lace! We brought some of it and then went to visit the pottery. Daisy and Gwensi purchased some, and they gave me the sweetest little cream-jug. Mummy will love it!
We picnicked in a field outside the town before going to see the "Old" church, which was partly burnt down in 1911: it is now rebuilt, and we saw the tomb of Queen Elizabeth's doctor, Thomas Marwood. After that we rejoined the bus, and went on to Axminster, Carpets used to be made here, but they moved the factory to Wilton, near Salisbury, ages ago. Axminster, however, is supposed to be the site of the battle of Brunanburgh, and there is a fine old church where it's said they buried the bodies of the Danish princes who fell in the battle. I wonder how they would have liked that? After all, they were heathens!
From Axminster we went to Beer, which is a dear little fishing village at the mouth of the Axe. They make lace here, too; and Beer used to be famous for its smugglers. There are big quarries outside, from which most of the stones for Exeter Cathedral came. The bus then took us westwards along the coast to Sidmouth, and we stopped to see Beer Head, which is a tremendous cliff dropping sheer into the sea. I'd be sorry for any boat wrecked there. The crew wouldn't have a chance!
Sidmouth is interesting for two reasons: first the old town is buried under the shingle from the beach, the cliffs having fallen; secondly Queen Victoria stayed here as a baby. You can see the house, Royal Glen, where she was nearly shot by some silly boy messing about with a gun. Bill says Sidmouth has one of the finest climates in England, and you get safe bathing, and good fishing, too.
After Sidmouth, we left the coast, and drove inland, back to Exeter. It means early bed to-night as we go to Plymouth to-morrow, and that will be a long day.
AUG. 1st. I was too tired last night to do any writing, and to-day is Sunday. We went to service in the Cathedral this morning, and are just being quiet for the rest of the day. Yesterday was wonderful! We set off at eight, visitng Buckfast Abbey on the way. It is exquisitely beautiful, this great white building, and the gilded alter isn't gaudy as I'd thought, but just right. A very nice monk showed us round and explained everything. It does seem strange to think that most of the work has been done by the monks themselves. You do feel that the Abbey has been really built "to the Glory of God", and not just for wages.
We reached Plymouth about noon, but couldn't hope to see everything. No time! We walked along the Hoe, where Drake was playing bowls when the Armada was sighted, and saw his statue and the Naval War Memorial. Nearer the sea is the upper part of Smeaton's Eddystone lighthouse, and out in the Sound in Drake's Island - "Yonder lumes the Island" ("Drake's Drum" by Newbolt). It used to be a prison, but is now a fort. Then we went to the Old town where we saw a fine Elizabethan house, and came out at th Barbican, the quay to the old Plymouth Harbour. On it there's a stone telling how the Pilgrim Fathers sailed from here to America in the Mayflower. Then we saw the Royal William Victualling Yards, which were built under William IV, and have been the naval storehouses ever since. After that, we went on to Devonpart, where there is a statue to Captain Scott, the famous Antarctic explorer, and the great dockyard. There are the loveliest old ships' figureheads there, a Ropery, and miles and miles of dry docks, where naval vessels are repaired.
It was a glorious trip, but you really ought to stay in Plymouth to get a proper idea of it. If there had been time, we wanted to take the sea trip round the Eddystone, but there wasn't. We came back through Tavistock, where one of the earliest printing-presses in England was set up by the monks, and saw what is left of the huge Abbey - the parish church, which used to be the monks' washroom, and the Unitarian chapel, which is another part. The entrance to the Abbey church is now the doorway of the Bedford Hotel.
After Tavistock, Yelverton, where we had a gorgeous view of western Dartmoor, and through Bonvey Tracey, awfully pretty - and so back to Exeter. To-morrow it's Bideford and Clovelly! Whoops! as Daisy says!
AUG. 2nd. Set off at 7.30 as Bill wanted us to be back early. We drove through Chulmleigh, but didn't stop, and then to Bideford, which is a dear old place with a magnificent bridge of twenty-three arches, no two being alike, over the River Torridge. The town is built on hills, and the the streets all seem to be tumbling down to the river. We walked to the end of the Quay to see Kingsley's statue, and then went to the Royal Hotel, where they show you the room in which he wrote Westward Ho! After that, we got into the bus again, and drove to Clovelly, getting out at the entrance to the Hobby Drive, as cars aren't allowed there. It is a beautiful walk, with the loveliest glimpses of the sea through the trees. Then we reached the top of Clovelly Street, and I didn't think such a weird place existed. It drops so steeply to the arbour that the houses look almost as if they were standing on the top of each other. The street is in terraces, paved with cobbles, and the only way of getting things up and down is by donkey. The harbour is a picture, and when we got into the boats to row round to Gallantry Bower, the great steep cliff a little way off, the whole place looked quite foreign! Gallantry Bower is even worse than Beer Head. It seems to fall absolutely plumb to the water!
We returned here about 6, and to-morrow we have our last trip in Devon.
AUG. 3rd. No time to write before. We are in Truro now. This is the cathedral town. The Cathedral is modern, but quite good. There is some fine ol glass here, which came from the ancient church of St. Mary. We went to see the museum - most interesting - with prehistoric collections, and an art gallery. Bsides this, there is the old Grammar School, which isn't used now. This afternood we went to Falmouth, a packet port with two castles overlooking the harbour. The sea is the bluest I ever saw - deepest sapphire! To-morrow we are going to see the art centres.
AUG. 4th. Went to Newquay, which I didn't like very much - too tourist-y! But it has wonderful sands, and the cliffs are grand. Newlyn was much better, with sweet little fishermen's cottages, and a duck of a quay. They had pilchard fisheries here, and the keep people to "watch" in the season. When the water looks as if it is boiling, someone shouts, "The pilchards are in!" and all the men go off in the boats, with long nets, which they sweep round the fish, and drive them to shore. Everyone goes in with buckets and baskets, and scoops up the pilchards. These they heap into piles, and the people draw lots for each. They "weren't in" while we were there.
Penzance is the most westerly town in England, and has gardens filled with the loveliest flowers, as well as palms and cactuses growing out of doors. We went to Land's End, too, and saw the great Atlantic rollers flinging themselves at the cliffs. The route back to Truro went by Marazion, which people think may be where the Phoenicians landed when they came trading for tin. Off the coast here is St. Michael's Mount. You can cross to it at low water by a causeway, and they say it is very like Mont St. Michel off the Breton coast. It has a little old chapel.
On to Helston! Here they do the Furry Dance on May 8th. The streets are all decked with flowers, and anyone can join in. I wish we could have seen it! To the south of Helston is the Loe Pool, into which, some folk say, Sir Bedivere flung Excalibur when King Arthur was dying. Gwensi said it made cold shivers run down her spine to think of it! I don't call it a "big sea" myself, though!
AUG. 4th. Almost the last day! We went to Padstow, and then on to Tintagel, where King Arthur was born. The ruined castle stands on a great cliff, which is really a peninsula. The remains of a Celtic monastery have been found there, and it is terribly wild and desolate. From Tintagel we went to Bodmin, near which lies the Dozmary Pool. This is another of the places supposed to be the scene of the returning of Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. There are prehistoric earthworks here, and Celtic crosses show the forces that were powerful in pre-conquest times.
AUG. 5th. Just back from the Scillies, though actually we saw only St. Mary's, the chief island. The Scillies are supposed to be all that is left of the ancient land of Lyonesse, after the sea broke in. They are wild and magnificent round the coasts, with huge granite cliffs in which there are many caves. At one time the Scillies were the happy hunting ground of the wreckers - Sir Cloudesley Shovel's flagship went down here with two others, and most of the crews were drowned. Now, there are two lighthouses, one on St. Agnes, and the other on the Bishop's Rock. Many of the people here go in for flower-culture. They say that in the spring the islands are a sight with the great gardens filled with daffies, narcissi, violets, jonquils, and so on. It must be marvellous! As it is, the fuchsias, myrtles, geraniums, and hydrangeas are exquisite, and they bloom all the year round. Snow is rarely seen, and it is never really cold, but they do have the most awful gales. Lobster fishing here! We had lobster salad for lunch. Scrummy!
This is the end of our trip. It has been glorious, and I only wish all schools would do this sort of thing! Good-bye, diary, till I get home!