Plymouth now brands itself as ‘Britain’s Ocean City’ and next year they’ll be pulling out all the stops to celebrate the 400th anniversary of sailing of the Mayflower from the Barbican for the new world in 1620. Consequently all museums and galleries are currently closed and undergoing major refurbishment, being rebranded into a cultural hub to be known as ‘The Box’. For me Plymouth was THE city just 15 miles away on the 84 Bus from Tavistock but a world apart. The place I was occasionally taken to with mother to shop as a child in the 1950’s & early 60’s. Having been badly bombed in the war the centre was in effective a new town in the aftermath. I remember swathes of pink flowered rosebay willow herb – fireweed – growing profusely in undeveloped bombsites. Armada Way, a leafy pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of the city, leading us from rail station to the Hoe, has since matured into a leafy green pedestrian corridor. Not that anyone was sitting around to enjoy it much; only the homeless, the alcoholics, the crippled elderly. Where once I was led as a child into big aspirational department stores like Dingles or C&A there were now only Poundland & B&M bargain basement emporiums.
ofThe new huge statue standing acrobatic guard outside the Theatre Royal (Where I once performed with Orchard Theatre Company) has split public opinion. The massive dark figure is modelled on an actor playing Bianca in Othello in rehearsal at the theatre. Can’t say it does much for me but as Mae West famously said “It’s better to be looked over than overlooked” and given the dramatic imperitive for attention in the public forum then the theatre cannot really lose. The structure that appealed to us in this great city in the process of rediscovering itself was the Royal William Yard. It’s an ongoing regeneration project by Urban Splash of the interconnected complex, severely elegant stone built warehouses built around its own self contained dock. An eclectic mix of restaurants, galleries, shops, artists workshops and a terrific commanding view from Devil’s Point over deep and fast moving tidal waters to Mount Edgcumbe on the Cornish side. We took the nearby Cremyll passenger ferry there and back. Only a short distance but it yields a magnificent vista full of interest. We clock Royal Marines on exercise in high powered landing craft, a frigate sailing in at speed, tug boats, yachts in harbour, small supply boat with a pair of divers at work. Plymouth Sound with its series of docks and sheltered river estuaries is a superb natural harbour which has given birth to a long and proud maritime and naval history. Mount Edgcumbe is the city’s country park, all 865 acres of it + the big house at the end of the avenue and drive ascending from the shore; lots of interconnected historic listed gardens & scores of monuments, scattered amongst fields, villlages, paths and tracks offering much to explore and with stunning views of city, harbour and western approaches. We only had time to sample a part of its generous multi-faceted offer and learned that due to Government imposed austerity cuts to both Plymouth and Cornwall County Councils (who between them run the park), the future funding of this magnificent estate – gifted to Plymouth & Cornwall by the Edgcumbe family – now lies in doubt. It’s inclusive free access is threatened, leaving it ripe for exploitation by profit making commercial interests if proper ongoing local authority funding is not secured. How good to see Plymouth in a new light, a place with great possibilities if they get their economic and socialpriorities right and secure the hearts and minds of citizens and visitors in the 21st century…I wish them well and look forward to returning one day to see the results.
The joy of walking this all too easily overlooked corner of Devon is its ease of access by train. The villages of Bere Alston and Bere Ferrers are both on the Tamar Valley Community Partnership line. We get there from where we are staying outside Calstock, across the border in Cornwall. Day One is an outing to Bere Ferrers where we discover the ‘Tamar Belle’ rail heritage site, separate from but part of the Victorian station. The signal box says “Beer Ferrers’ while the platform signs (in old Southern railway green livery) ‘Bere Ferrers’. We are informally hosted by Chris the owner and his passing friends, all seriously committed rail buffs, who between them have collected, repaired, maintained and developed the carriages, engines, cranes and assorted equipment redolent of the age of steam. We are shown the brilliantly converted B&B accommodation of the carriages and are Refreshed with tea we set out on our ramble. It takes us past an orchard – one of many that used to dominate this region – on a rough farm track that, with the coming of the railway in 1890, was used to convey early season fruit and flowers ferried over from Cargreen on the Cornish side to catch the trains that would rush the fresh produce up country to the London markets. (The route, via Tavistock & Okehampton, was axed in the 1960’s Beeching cuts). Cautiously sidetracking a herd of cows and calves we divert steeply downhill to link up with the ‘discovery trail’ following the tidal river upstream between lush species rich meadows and a strip of ancient woodland overhanging the wide waterway. We quit the footpath and return to the station uphill via a deep lane with high hedged banks full of campion, stitchwort, bluebells, vetch etc. At the top we pass a farm selling home produced honey and take in great views of the two rivers moving towards their esturial confluence with the distant Cornish and Devon moors providing the finest of backdrops. We follow the long village street down to the ancient parish church overlooking the Tavy with its fine stone tomb effigies of the Ferrers family, Norman lords of the manor here. A more recent memorial – a polished brass plaque on the wall – commemorates ten New Zealand soldiers killed by a passing express in September 1917 while stepping out of a troop train that had halted unexpectedly at the station. These ill starred Kiwis, after travelling half way round the world and before ever seeing action on the western front were killed in their allies land, far from home…A terrible, if ironic, tragedy.
Where to start? At the beginning, of sorts. I was born by the Tamar, in Saltash Cornwall, but grew up from the age of 6 across the river in my mother’s home town of Tavistock in Devon. I left for London and drama school aged 18, leaving there for Lancashire (my father’s county) in 1973 and have been happily based in the north ever since. Today, for the first time on the annual return visit west, am staying in the upper Tamar valley outside Calstock in Cornwall, looking eastward to Devon on the other bank. It’s given me new perspectives on the lie of the land and opened up new ways and means of appreciating the area’s rich industrial archeology, wonderful natural beauty and the many facets of its cultivated landscape. They all call to be acknowledged so I will attempt to do so here in the days and weeks to come….
The greenhouse has arrived. Hurray! Jim from Sunderland arrived this week and within a few hours had erected our green greenhouse, complete with shelving. we added wood treads and I carefully surrounded with a layer of gravel & placed big pots. Kim put seedlings in little pots and we both stood and stared in small wonder at the welcome addition to our happy acre of garden. The old cold frame will survive another season and has done good service hardening off a full house of tender young plants, most now put into borders and beds. A minor emergency with two days of late arctic wind and sleet saw us fleecing in advance our apple trees and cordons all in blossom plus some of those vulnerable annuals in the studio border. We were helped out by my old school friend Dave, up for a fortnight from Devon volunteering down the road on the annual dig at Vindolanda. The eight tups billeted on our four acre field looking an increasingly sorry sight with their peeling fleeces, lethargic grazing and chronic scratching and rubbing on gates and fence posts. The field is liberally scattered with their discarded wool and mega droppings. On return from holiday I intend to gather both and add to the contents of our new wood slotted compost box, next the greenhouse. Our old plastic ‘dalek’ shaped bins are removed and ready for recycling. That whole corner of the garden, with replaced turf and bark looks infinitely better and brought into productive use for the very first time. We couldn’t be happier! The meadow next the west end is filling with ewes and their new offspring. Southridge’s later lambing time has had one major drawback, we’re told, in that good Spring grass and later birthing meant that many ewes were too fat and struggled with delivery. All our neighbouring farmers have been scarifying the fields with chain drags and some have been muck spreading. All the hawthorn is out, buds opening, plants flowering, grass greening in the growing…All good.