Saturday, 12 February 2011


Last Wednesday I went for a midnight walk along the shingle beaches of the Estuary. It had been a beastly day, cold, cloudy, damp, but the night was warm and pleasant. Everywhere there was cloud except over the Estuary. Even out at sea it was cloudy but over the Estuary there was a circle of clear sky. Above Exeter was low cloud and the lights of the city were reflected by the cloud bank which glowed golden. In the circle of light over the river the stars shone brightly. Orion dominated. There was a moon, at its first quarter. There was a planet, Jupiter?, to the South. Orion was not lying up and down the Estuary as in my scurrilous verses. He was lying aslant, across the water, his head towards the East.

This clear sky over the Estuary is such a regular phenomenon there must be some reason for it. Day and night it occurs and sometimes the pattern of cloud and clear seems to mirror the geography of the coastline. For this reason the Estuary is often a grand place from which to gaze at stars. For another reason too! There is a lot written these days about light pollution. There is too much light and we do not see the stars. The Estuary, however, a mile wide and many miles long bestows a dark sky to all who care to look. The stars shine brighter . The moon and the planets shine brighter. One is never nearer the night sky than when one is in a small boat, without lights, in the middle of the Estuary.

Saturday, 5 February 2011


The Topsham names for the Exe salmon hauls, “salmoning holes”, are well documented by Sara Vernon in ‘Talking about Topsham.’ On page 99 there is even a chart of the Estuary mapping some of them. Bill Pym tells Sara Vernon:

“ These are the names of the salmoning holes, starting from Church Causee on the right hand side: West Mud, under the Drifters; The Bightway; Black Oar Mud; Ting Tong; The Cupboard just above the Turf; Jan’s Cove; Range Banks; Out Over the Neck; the Drain of the Neck; Scot’s Pool; Pool Mud; Canal Hard and down to the Warren.

Then if you start the other side, from Shapter Street and the Goat Walk, the first one is Withies Mud, then Black Oar Hard; The Reach; The Spit; The Nob; then Eastern Side; the Sands; the Hookers and down to Bull Hill.”

There’s poetry for you!

In ‘Devon Life’ for January 1979, some ten years before Sara Vernon’s book was first published, Marc Millon wrote about his day out with a salmon crew. The skipper is called Pym:

“Undaunted, the long net is regathered into the boat, and Pym heads further downstream, through the main channel to one of the many bends in the river where the salmon range – bends which have strange names centuries old – Black Ore , Ting Tong, the Spit, the Stile, In through the Mud, Out through the Drain, the Clock, and many others.”

Strange names indeed, but centuries old? That’s a guess. Some of them might yield to research. Scot and Jan and Withie would appear to be men's names. I doubt if the names of the hauls were ever written down before 1979 but would like to be proved wrong.

To me “Ting Tong” is the strangest name of all. There is of course the hamlet up on the commons near Budleigh Salterton. The name would seem to be ancient and to do with parliaments, but then it would have to be Danish, wouldn’t it?, and that seems unlikely..

When I was young and foolish I used to say that I hoped one day to live in one of the big houses at Ting Tong and rename it ‘Far Ting’.

I think I prefer Ore to Oar, but am not sure why. 'Black Haw' would make more sense, the Old English 'haw' being a fence, hedge or enclosure.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


From 'The Exmouth Journal', Saturday, August 6th 1938:

On Thursday last:

"Slight murmurs of a distant thunder in the early hours gave warning of the apprehending storm, and at 4.30 a.m. when the peals became louder and aroused numbers of the townspeople, the sky was of a curious lemon hue, with flickers of lightning playing over the whole area, from the horizon to the zenith.....

.....With the tide rising in the estuary, there came a succession of rainstorms of growing intensity, the climax coming right on top of the tide just after 1 p.m. when for nearly an hour rain simply lashed down and filled the whole of the sewers of the town to overflowing. Roof gutters were unable to cope with the rush of water, which cascaded into the streets like miniature Niagaras.

Chapel Street and the Parade for the third time became impassable, water flowed into the houses in Stables Buildings almost to the height of the dining tables, and residents and summer visitors had to make their escape to the upper rooms, where they endured as best they could the abominable stench from the sewage."