Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Today is a sunny day and a good day perhaps for lying on the pebble beach at Salcombe Regis and watching cormorants for an hour or so.   They are fitting creatures for a Jurassic Coast - prehistoric monsters!  There are now eight birds on two tidebound rocks all facing into the breeze, Not one of them wants to go for a swim.   Not one of them wants to make the famous cormorant cross.  The sea is choppy but not rough and the breeze is strengthening.

Half an hour ago there was a fair amount of activity.   Some of the birds were swimming and there was a coming and a going on the rocks. Some birds were apparently having fun pushing others into the sea like young men on the radeaux of Mediterranean resorts.   When the cormorants wanted to get back onto the high rocks most of them climbed up it foot by foot, each foot gained by a fluttering leap upwards,  but one or two arrived from the sea in full flight and landed on the top deck like helicopter pilots of the Royal Navy.   There has been little evidence of the birds catching fish.  If they were feeding they were doing so in a way that deceived the eye.  As soon as one gained the summit of a rock it spread its wings and shook them. Then for a short while it would stand still, spread-winged, the way that is expected of a cormorant.

Now though, there is no coming or going and no spreading of wings.  The birds are not moving. Watching them now is like watching grass growing.  For the last twenty minutes these eight cormorant have been about as lively as Antony Gormley's Iron Men. 

Friday, 28 August 2015


During the Great War, if you were a Boy Scout and over fourteen you could be employed as a coast watcher.  The boys worked a twelve-hour shift, six hours walking the coast and six hours in the post. They were seen to be valuable to the war effort, joining with the Coastguard in watching out for Zeppelins, submarines, spies and invaders.  Most of the time none of these came along to be spotted from the East Devon cliffs but Mr Hastings of Sidmouth felt that there were not enough Boy Scout coast watchers and wrote to the  Devon Education Committee asking them to withdraw their prohibition on boys under the age of fourteen being employed in coast watching.

The Education Committee met at the beginning of May 1916 and discussed Mr Hasting's letter and his request.  Mr Hurrell said he was sure it was a bad thing for boys to be engaged in this work.  It was bringing them up to be idlers and loafers.   Mr Morshead assured Mr Hurrell that there was no loafing where the East Devon boys were concerned.  They did not loaf;  they did not smoke and they certainly looked better than they would poring over miserable books.

Mr Vickery was of the opinion that coast watching had a tendency to make boys idle and he did not think it desirable.  Mr Young said the Boy Scouts of Teignmouth took their duties seriously and coast watching did them any amount of good.

By a majority the Committee decided to keep the age limit at fourteen.

Only a few days before, on Easter Saturday 1916 one of the coast watchers between Teighnmouth and Maidencombe had looked down from the cliffs and seen two young ladies perched on a rock surrounded by the sea and with waves breaking over the rock upon which they sat, or perhaps stood.  They had been on the beach all night having set off from Teignmouth in the afternoon of Good Friday.  They had at first been cut off by the tide and had sheltered in a sea cave overnight.   The next morning they tried to reach Maidencombe but ended up marooned on the rocks.   The coast watcher ran to his post and used the field telephone to alert Teignmouth and a motor boat was despatched to rescue the young ladies who, so the newspaper reported, "bore traces of the trying ordeal through which they had passed."

Source:  The Western Times,  April 24th. and May 5th.  1916

Friday, 17 October 2014


This altogether unimportant and inconsequential story I found in the Exeter Flying Post for 26th November 1857:   

John Richards had a coat worth one shilling.  He was a boatman who sometimes picked up passengers from the railway station at Starcross and ferried them to Exmouth.   On Sunday 15th November 1857 he made his boat fast to the landing at Starcross and went ashore to collect passengers from the station.  He was gone for only ten minutes but when he came back to his boat his coat had been taken.   John Richards reported the theft to Constable Froude. Two little lads from the collier brig Wyke Regis had been seen rowing about near John’s boat.   The intrepid Constable Froude went in pursuit of the suspects.   He boarded  the brig and saw fifteen year old Robert Puckett throw a bundle over the side.   The constable first fished out the bundle and found it to be John Richard’s one shilling coat,  then he confronted two boys with the evidence.   The second boy said to Robert Puckett,  “Now, tell the truth,  I had nothing to do with it, had I?”   “No,”  said Robert,  “I stole the coat.”

The Chairman of the Magistrates  (Cole Cole Esq.) told Robert Puckett he was sorry to see so young a lad charged with such an offence,   He hoped that the punishment which the Bench inflicted - a month’s imprisonment - would have the effect of inducing him never to repeat the offence.    

Sunday, 6 April 2014


Woodhead Farm in a Branscombe Mist.

"On Sunday morning last, from information they had received, a party of our active coast guardsmen, consisting of chief boatman Teed, and Messrs. Charlesworth, Fox, Mitchell, Sneedy, Dunn, Wilson and Dingle, proceeded to a barn, in the occupation of farmer Bray at Woodash in the parish of Branscombe, in which they discovered 35 tubs, and eight flagons of smuggled brandy, concealed under some straw.  The waggon in which it had been brought was standing outside, and in a very short time they had the whole loaded and brought to the coastguard station at Sidmouth, from whence it was taken, on Tuesday last, to Exeter.   Bray was taken into custody but is out on bail,  himself in £100 and a substantial security for £50. The case will be heard on Tuesday next, the 3rd instant."

Woolmer's Exeter and Plymouth Gazette,  Saturday, February 28th 1857.

Subsequent reports give 'Woodhead Farm'  not 'Woodash' which, GR 204901, would appear to be the farm where the goods were seized.

Thursday, 27 February 2014


In the summer of 1813 John Keble was 'engaged in private tuition' at Sidmouth and John Taylor Coleridge, nephew to the poet, was passing his vacation at Ottery St Mary.  The two young men  (they were in their early twenties)  many times walked together between the two.  This is JTC's description of the route:

"The foot-way from one place to the other was over the steep ridge which divides the two valleys of the Sid and the Otter, the distance not more than six miles, and the views on the way remarkably beautiful.  It was a delightful walk, and the frequent intercourse between us was principally kept up on foot over the hill.  At the termination of the ridge where it drops down with a steep descent into the Sidmouth Gap,  are the remains of an Armada beacon, according to the tradition of the country.  These, at the time I speak of, were not, as they are now, suffered to be overgrown and hidden by a plantation of firs.  There on the short green turf we often rested and enjoyed a view which for beauty, variety and extent is not easily to be surpassed.  At our feet was spread out Harpford - wood as a grand carpet laid on a surface here and there deeply indented, and beyond lay the rich and wooded valley of the Otter; thence the ground rises in successive ranges of hills, until you reach the higher outlines of Dartmoor.  Down deep on the left lay Sidmouth and the blue sea;  this sea view is interrupted by the bluff and wooded landward end of Peak-hill,  and opens again beyond this to a wide range of sea and sea-coast, down to and beyond the Berry Head, the westermost point of Torbay."

From "A Memoir of the Rev.John Keble, M.A."  by Sir J. T. Coleridge.  Jas Parker, 1869.

Saturday, 22 February 2014


It's February and a dismal day.
Coal black cloud has robbed us of the sun.
I wander mopish on my clifftop way
and don't perhaps look forward to much fun.

When suddenly, a glory not expected,
a gleam, a glare, a brightness from the sea,
the sun's face hidden still but so reflected
my winter shadow has crept home to me!

Now too is warmth.   On Weston heights I rest
at th' bench on th' beetling cliff, bask in the bright
mirror of sea, there to watch our good knight best
his dragon, to watch where dark is slain by light.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014


"After a lapse of a couple of years,  and through the exertions of an energetic Committee,  this popular aquatic holiday has been this year revived, and was held Monday, when, notwithstanding the unpropitious state of the elements,  the programme was, as far as practicable carried to a most successful issue.   On Sunday and indeed up to yesterday morning,  it seemed likely that there would be no probability of holding the Regatta, for throughout Sunday there was a very heavy south-westerly gale blowing,  the sea washing over the Esplanade,  throwing up tons of shingle more than twenty yards beyond the charming sea walk,  and doing considerable damage to the Esplanade.  Such a storm had never been remembered at this season of the year by the oldest inhabitant,  the sea on Sunday presenting a majestic sight as the waves beat against the houses facing the beach, drenching all who endeavoured to witness or weather the storm.   The Committee, however, decided to proceed with the sports,  although the gale still continued yesterday morning,  so much so that no boats could come from any other place and all the competition was confined to Sidmouth."

From:  The Western Times,  Friday, September 7th,  1883.

Tough lot,  these Sidmothians!