Sunday, 29 January 2012


How many shining hours
have we drifted here
with no more aim than flotsam
while all around us river creatures pulse
and quiver to meet their needs inherent:
feeding, fighting, mating,

Is this to be most human,
so to be idle,
least like a beast,
not to be busy,
thus to lie  low
and let sun, wind and tide
deal gently with us

but not to forget,
how we are favoured
who are free to think and float
over calm waters,
while around and about,
the storms are brewing
and the birds and the beasts are still hungry?

Saturday, 28 January 2012


The Darling Rock at Lympstone was once quite a stack and is still a landmark of the Estuary although time and tide have worn it to a stump no longer visible at springs.  Local myth records it as once havng been big enough for sheep safely to graze upon it and no doubt once it was but certainly not in living memory.    John Swete painted it in watercolour when he visited the Estuary no later than 1799 and the Darling Rock is clearly shown to be a needle remarkably much the same shape and size as when it was photographed well over a hundred years later,  which is to say not big enough for even one remarkably agile mountain goat to graze upon it.

If it is true, as it is recorded, that, in 1792 the Rector of Lympstone burned Tom Paine's Rights of Man at the Darling Rock and if,  as is written in that most excellent book, For Love of Williamina,  "The loyal parishioners of Lympstone watched the ashes float away on the ebb tide in the direction of Revolutionary France."  they must have been not so much standing on the rock as all around it.

The name, Darling Rock, appears to be ancient and consistent.  It appears on William Chapple's map of the Estuary of 1743 but it could well have been so (Deorling!) called by an Anglo Saxon.  The local account that it gained its name because women stood upon it waiting for their loved ones to come home and calling out 'O my darling!' to the waves and water seems to me not to carry conviction.

Saturday, 21 January 2012


Gytha Thorkelsdottir,  the mother of King Harold II, he who died at the battle of Hastings, spent  many years in Exeter and was perhaps the foundress and certainly a patron of Saint Olave's church in Fore Street.  When, in 1068, William of Normandy came to Devon and besieged Exeter and the city held out  against him for eighteen days, Gytha was living there but she escaped, "perhaps down the Exe" says Derek Gore in his 'concise history' of the Vikings in Devon.   Gytha is said to have been accompanied by other women who had lost their loved ones at Hastings.   She herself had lost three sons there and a fourth, Tostig, who was on the 'wrong' side at Stamford Bridge.  Gytha is then said to have taken refuge with her widows on Flatholm Island in the Bristol Channel and later to have found safety in Scandinavia..

It is a pity about that 'perhaps'  in 'perhaps down the Exe' but it can't be helped.  It was a long time ago!  But I am allowing myself an image of this longboat full of widows and the old, proud mother of dead and living jarls being pulled down the channels of the Exe and so out to sea,  the women frightened and desperate but at the same time excited and just a bit exalted to be giving the great Conqueror the slip.

Thursday, 12 January 2012


Over Haldon hills and the Western hills
Burn the winter skies
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.

And I think once more of the cheerful days
When my world was new
And up jump the ghosts of fine men I’ve known,
Fine women too.
And up jump the ghosts of fine men I’ve known,
Fine women too.

Those who seined with me, those who trawled with me,
Those who worked the tide,
Those who romped with me, those who quaffed with me
Drift to my side.
Those who romped with me, those who quaffed with me
Drift to my side.

Old friends of mine, are there fish to take
Where now you float?
And is there work for a ready man
In someone's boat?
And is there work for a ready man
In someone's boat?

Over Haldon hills and the Western hills
Burn the winter skies
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.
And the breeze falls off and the birds are still
As the old sun dies.


Friday, 6 January 2012


From 'The Evening Post with which is incorporated Trewman's Exeter Flying Post', 18th August 1888.


"The Exmouth Regatta, which is an annual event looked forward to by the inhabitants with great interest,  and by whom the day is kept as a general holiday, took place on Thursday.   The weather was beautifully fine, and in every way suited to both rowing and sailing matches.  The various events were watched with great interest from the sea wall, which was lined with spectators.  Besides the racing there were various amusements provided on the beach in the way of shooting galleries, swinging boats &c. and which during the afternoon were kept busy at work.  The number of entries for the different events were, if anything,  above those of former years and the Regatta was in every way a success.  

"The programme numbered thirteen events and in addition there were several swimming matches and other amusements such as walking the greasy pole &c. and athletic sports on land.  The starting point was from the Committee boat stationed about three hundred yards from the shore,  and the course for the large boats was from Bull Hill buoy to Fairway buoy a distance of about three miles while for the smaller boats the course was from Bull Hill to Double Ledge buoy, a distance of about two miles."

Wednesday, 4 January 2012


Listen, how wind and rain fight up the channels,
Old enemies raiding on a winter's night.
They crash upriver like berserkers.

We are none the less anxious who have forgotten how to cower.
Our walls are strong but here's still a suggestion,
A mere hint, of fears our long dead forebears knew.

Under duvets, we do not sleep but listen
For the crashes and the screams
As these old enemies pillage and murder someone else, not us.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012


At the start of the year 1910, the Fairway Buoy leading ships into the River Exe had neither bell nor light.  In thick or foggy weather or at night it was very difficult picking up the channel buoys.  The responsible,  irresponsible rather, public body was the Exeter City Council, the Navigation Committee of which had for years delayed a decision to provide a better buoy.  They did not want the expense.  It is likely that their parsimony was the direct cause of the loss of many seamens' lives and of a good many ships.

In January 1910, a public spirited Exmothian, Dr Martin, collected the signatures of a hundred and fifty of the captains, mates and seamen of vessels trading in and out of the river and of the fishermen of Exmouth, Lympstone, Torquay, Topsham and Budleigh Salterton to petition Trinity House to change the Fairway Buoy into 'a lighted buoy with a bell attached, or into a lighted buoy or into a bell buoy'.

In February, Trinity House promised to supply to Exmouth a bell buoy.   The Exeter City Council which collected the harbour dues of Exmouth readily enough made neither comment nor contribution.

In March, a bell buoy painted with black and white stripes and surmounted with a Saint Andrew's cross was placed in the Exe Fairway.

The Exeter Navigation Committee was shameless in its indignation.   'Why no light?'  asked one counsellor,  while another, a Mr Rose, at a Council Meeting of 12th March announced that the new bell buoy was a great inconvenience.  Three of his friends had  been disturbed in the night by the terrible booming of the bell.  It was one of the most dismal of sounds.

Did Mr Rose blush?  The record makes no mention of it.