Friday, 26 August 2011


In the spring of 1910 the salmon fishing on the Estuary was slack with only two or three fish per tide being taken at Topsham but the fishermen were further frustrated by 'porpoises' making an appearance in the river and chasing the salmon, scaring them upriver. Moreover many of the salmon taken in the seines had savage bites on them. It would seem they were being porpoisely blemished.

'Porpoise' is a jolly word, being a contraction of the Latin porcus pisces, a pig fish.

There is, I learn, not a lot of difference between porpoises and dolphins. Sailors and fishermen tended not to discriminate between the species. It would seem they were all porpoises to most people. I wonder, therefore, if these reported porpoises of a century ago were in fact bottlenose dolphins like the ones who still draw an audience by leaping about and playing with the salmon off the Scottish coasts. If so it must have been fun watching them chasing the salmon up the Exe. I also wonder how far upriver they came and until how recently they were to be seen in the Estuary. More questions than answers I fear! Nowadays they do not seem to visit us.

Still, much though they are fun to watch, I don't suppose the poor, struggling Exe salmon fishermen were greatly amused by them.

Sunday, 21 August 2011


In one respect Exmouth cannot be faulted. It has the finest charity shops in the South West. There is no end to the treasures to be unearthed in the Exeter Road and elsewhere. A charity shopper in Exmouth is a prince of Serendip.

Last Friday I bought the original copper line engraving here illustrated for six pounds only. It is one of the illustrations to "The Beauties of England & Wales", a series of books published between 1801 and 1815 and the print is entitled "Powderham Castle. &c. Devonshire". It was engraved by W. Angus from a drawing by W M Craig.

Mr Craig,the artist, is sitting on a sand dune at Dawlish Warren and the windmill in the middle ground is on the Point at Exmouth. This is a rare glimpse of this windmill which did not survive the middle of the nineteenth century. It is high water and calm and the Warren is busy. Then as now it is a grand place to beach boats and to attend to them. The mariner in the foreground sitting on a barrel is holding a bumkin or bumpkin. 'Bumkin' is a lovely word from the Dutch boomken , a little boom. He has been working no doubt but like most boatmen he has time to listen to a tale, today from the knock kneed mariner in the tarred hat. To the left is a fishing party setting out. If my eyes don't deceive me the standing figure in the boat is handling a net.

The western bank of the Exe looks as deserted as any African riverbank. Haldon is bald, a wild tract of common rather than a forest. That lone building at the end of the Point must surely be a boatyard. This corner of Exmouth would appear to boast only four boats where now are a hundred and these few boats are not moored but pulled up on the beach. There are no boats shown to be moored on the Estuary but we cannot see the Bight where the big ships ride. Powderham Castle and its new Belvedere are not for me the most interesting things in this picture. I prefer the &c. But the magnificent castle walls are gleaming in the sun.

Thursday, 18 August 2011


I have thought that the Cornish family name Quiller, as in the great Quiller-Couch, might have something to do with the large strong feathers of swans and geese, a 'quiller' being either a supplier of quill pens or, perhaps, a writer of glorious mediaeval gothic. It would, however, seem more likely that the name has to do with operating weaving machines, with spools and bobbins. A 'quill' says the OED is first and foremost 'a hollow stem or stalk, as that of a reed' and by extension other hollow things. The word 'pen' of course means since ancient times a feather and only by transference does it mean a writing tool.

In the first weeks of July the Estuary tideline was punctuated by swans' feathers. The swans must have been scattering plumage like our post riot politicians have been scattering platitude.

My little granddaughters wanted some pens from which to make quills, or perhaps they wanted some quills from which to make pens. A good neighbour found a dozen fine swans' feathers for their experiments between Lympstone and Nutwell, the best of them a good eighteen inches long.

One wonders how the mediaeval scribes and illuminators went about finding the ultimate writing tool. There would have been flocks of geese no doubt honking around the monastery at Exeter but the image I am nursing is of a couple of twelfth century, holy hoodies wandering along the banks of the Exe on a day in July and keeping their eyes open for the whopping great writing instrument that will shock the vestiments off their brethren.

(In the photo are, left to right: Lily Rochester, Ines McDonald, Charlotte Rochester.)

Friday, 12 August 2011


(Taken freely from the Norwegian of Arnulf Įžverland)

The blades dip. The blades ride high.
The shining drops that fall are silent tears.
Around my sleepy boat the ripples sigh.
The shining drops that fall are silent tears.

My boat drifts. She drifts and dreams.
All things are drowsy on this lazy tide.
Nothing I see or hear is what it seems.
All things are drowsy on this lazy tide.

My boat glides. She skims along.
We’re bound for golden joys and heart’s desire.
The sea sings softly, sings a sleepy song.
We’re bound for golden joys and heart’s desire.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


The name Morrison Bell is remembered here if only because of the 'Morrison Bell Cup' which is competed for by the Devon and Exeter Football League. In 1910 Major Morrison Bell was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Honiton. He was a character straight out of John Buchan, the younger son of a Northumbrian baronet, educated at Eton and Sandhurst, then commissioned into the Scots Guards, resigning his commission to become a Member of Parliament but returning to the Army at the age of 44 to fight in the First War. He was buried in rubble by a shell that killed three of his fellow officers but was dug out by the Germans and taken prisoner. After the war he returned to be the Member for Honiton until 1931 and, in 1923,was created the first and only Baronet, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir (Arthur) Clive Morrison Bell, of Harpford.

Anyway, "the Major" loved the Estuary and in June 1910, only a few months after he entered Parliament, he had a seventeen foot Canadian canoe delivered to Exmouth. He kept it in Mr W. T. Holman's boathouse at the Dock. The Exmouth Journal for June 25th 1910 has the following:

"Our popular representative, Major A. C. Morrison Bell is an expert canoeist, and recently purchased a Canadian canoe, which he has had brought to Exmouth, and in which he has made several excursions on the Exe. During one of his trips it came on to blow, the voyageur being compelled to retreat. A unique experience, illustrative of the general popularity and esteem in which the Major is held, befell him as he was commencing one of these trips.

"At the back of the houses at the Point, a number of children were paddling, and had their attention arrested by the queer-looking boat, and the strange manner of its propulsion. Suddenly one of them recognised the occupant and called for 'Three cheers for Major Morrison Bell.' which were heartily accorded, the Major waving back a smiling acknowledgment....

"Major Morrison Bell intends making another trip up the river in a week or so and will, if possible, do the double journey to Exeter and back in one day."

They don't make Members of Parliament like that any more!