Friday, 20 November 2009


Celia Fiennes who famously travelled side-saddle throughout England in the seventeenth century had a glimpse of the Estuary in the year 1698. She was thirty-six and had been travelling and writing the account of her travels for some thirteen years already. Celia had stayed with friends in Exeter and had noted how the Exonians slew the leaping salmon on the river there with spears. I suspect that this already seemed to her to be archaic but in fact fishing spears were still being used in the estuaries well into the nineteenth century.

From Exeter she went to Topsham, “which is a little market place a very good key; hither they (the Exonians) convey their serges and so load their shipps which comes to this place all for London, thence I saw Starre Cross where the great shipps ride and there they build shipps, this was up the river, 5 or 6 miles up the river, but the tide being out could not goe and it was ten mile by land and their miles are soe long here I would not goe it, seeing almost as well the shipps that lay there as if at the place.”

What a heroine was Celia! She may not have known her uprivers from her downrivers but she was a noble noblewoman nonetheless.

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