Thursday, 8 October 2009


Eden Phillpotts in his essay on Sand Dunes in his 1903 book ‘My Devon Year’ writes of his childhood visits to Dawlish Warren:

“Then these sand-hills were a procession of lion-coloured monsters, wandering in awful company by the waters; and the scanty grasses served for bristling hair upon them; and I imagined these gigantic and sinister things as leaping into the narrow channel where Exe flows to the sea, and crossing over it that they might devour a little town upon the other side. Yet me they hurt not, and I would lie upon their hot breasts fearlessly, roll in thesoft sand, speculate on the purple of the sea-holly, prick my fingers with it, tumble and bask, and gazing upwards, build my secure kingdom, fortress, home in the pinnacles of a summer cloud.”

And again:

“These rolling dunes are a home of many good things: for flowers that are beautiful dwell among them, and flowers that are cheerful under stress of circumstances, and flowers that are merely rare. Hare’s-foot trefoil, whose pink blooms are hidden in a pearly mist, make a sort of manna scattered by the way; soldanella spreads little arrow-shaped leaves under the grey-green wheat-grass and opens her trumpets there; sea-rocket creeps to the very feet of the sea-horses that paw the beach at high tides, and the great gulls look into its mauve eyes as they strut on yellow feet in the harvest of the last wave.”

And so on. And so on. I find it all sounding just a little alarming. Those hotbreasted monsters are about to gobble up poor little Exmouth while the sea rocket keeps a mauve eye on the yellow legged gulls (not herring-gulls then!) and the sea horses. But he was a great observer of detail was Eden Phillpotts. He would have liked to have been remembered as “a man who used to notice such things.” The quotation is from the poem ‘Afterwards’ by the writer said to be Phillpott’s ‘god’, Thomas Hardy. But compared to Hardy old Phillpotts is hardly remembered at all.

Next: A little more of Phillpotts on the Exe.

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