Wednesday, 27 January 2010


The edition I have of the very well devised Methuen ‘Little Guide to Devon’ is the tenth, rewritten in 1949 and, 1n 1959, reprinted with corrections. The original text, 1907, was supplied by that reverend old romancer, Sabine Baring Gould.

Of the Estuary the Little Guide says:

The estuary of the Exe below Topsham is very beautiful at high water, but when the tide is out presents a wide tract of mud. To the W. is Haldon. On both sides is rich woodland with stately mansions set in parks. Conspicuous among these is Powderham Castle, the seat of the Earls of Devon, and Nutwell Court. On the E. side is the village of Lympstone, famous for its oysters and whitebait, and at the mouth, on the same side, is Exmouth, a favourite watering place. The entrance to the river is obstructed by a sand-bar called the Warren.

Whitebait, in this country, are the young of the herring. Lympstone is now famous for neither oysters nor whitebait but, in the days of the great shoals of herring in Exmouth Bay, armies of whitebait used regularly to come rushing up the Estuary with the tide. The bass followed the whitebait and devoured them from below and a snowstorm of screaming tern came from the sea and devoured them from above.

In the sixties a neighbour of ours, an old Lympstone widower called John Clapp, creaked many a day to the slipway called the Green just when the cockle beds were tapping and gazed expectantly down river. What he was looking for was this cloud of tern. The tern, however, mostly disappointed him. They have put in ever fewer appearances over the years and today they seem never to have cause to muster in such great number. On the rare occasions that Mister Clapp, it was thus that I knew him, did see the tern he would wade out to his punt and motor off to troll beneath them and , as likely as not, come home with a basketful of bass. I only once took advantage of this phenomenon. Whether the birds were taking whitebait I doubt perhaps the sand eels were massing and on the move. In any case it was a rare delight to go fishing in among the piping, plunging birds.

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