Dwight Peck's personal website

Cornwall and Devon in the autumn

Whenever things start to pile up and get on top of you, it's time to take some time off and go to Cornwall.

And then Devon.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Famous historical sites, in the rain

Beera Farmhouse B+B, overlooking the Tamar River border between Cornwall and Devon, 15 minutes down teensy lanes northwest of Tavistock near Milton Abbot -- not much to look at on this side, at the first glance, but the rooms are commodious, Hilary and Robert are excellent hosts, and Hilary cooks up an excellent breakfast that will take you through the day and a very nice BYOB dinner if you don't feel like taking your chances driving down the dark lanes to the Royal Inn pub in Horsebridge. The views are very nice indeed, and the location is right if you need a base to visit Cotehele and Buckland Abbey. Which is why we're here.

Our comfy corner room, with views of sheep out the windows on two sides. The Wifi was extremely dodgy, not so good for guests who need to do a little work even during their downtime, but Hilary was happy to let us set up in the kitchen when necessary.

Beera Farm is a working sheep farm built in the 1840s, and Robert is both a traditional and a modern farmer, aware of all of the political and environmental issues and able to explain his participation in the various government schemes to bring farming into the 21st century. Some of which he seems to think are useful and some merely political.

We're off from Beera Farm in the morning for a bracing hike in the neighborhood.

Starting out with a hike up the paths along the River Tamar, a great day out in the historical countryside.

No, we're not. Turns out this is all posted private property along the river, no "trespassers" (or "poachers", or "serial killers", as it might be). No walking hereabouts, it seems, unless you want to stick to the paved lanes or take your chances on getting shot at. Thanks for that; we've got paved lanes in downtown Geneva. We didn't come here for paved lanes.

We're back on the ancient bridge over the Tamar at Horsebridge (built by industrious French monks in 1437), trying to decide whether to go to Plan B or back to read our novels (I'm half through an unputtable-downable Aurelio Zen mystery). Plan B wins, we're moving our Cotehele pilgrimage up by about 22 hours. The Royal Inn at Horsebridge (white blotch in the background), just a mile down the claustrophobic lanes from Beera Farm, was brilliant -- we dined there nearly every night, and dreamt about the "real ales" throughout the day.

Plan B: Cotehele -- it's only about ten miles south on the Tamar, so we're well placed to dash down through the hidden and often unmarked lanes and salvage our day.

Cotehele is a celebrated Tudor manor house and farm, very well preserved, owned by the regional overlords the Edgcumbes for many centuries (and by the National Trust now) after they bought the estate in 1353 and built the house beginning in the 1480s. Actually, this is why we're here -- Kristin has been yearning for years to visit Cotehele, and here we are, on a drizzly day. Another dream fulfilled.

The remarkable Tudor authenticity of the place is said to be explained by the fact that, as the grandees of the Edgcumbes continued to prosper, they upgraded to new digs at Mount Edgcumbe in the mid 16th century, and this place was no longer modified and updated to prevailing tastes as a family home over the next three centuries, when it was turned over to the National Trust in 1947.

The present management discourages photos of the interiors, but there was a great lot of extremely interesting stuff in there (armor, tapestries, etc.). Including a large entrance hall, formerly the medieval great hall for big dinners, with an alcove peephole built high on the wall so that the family could check out the guests before deciding whether to come down and join them.

We're peeking into the odd doorways with a look-out for the loo. Not this one.

But now we're heading for the Garden Room evidently. Once inside the house, you've either had the forethought to bring a flashlight, or they'll lend you one, for reading the room description cards with. There's no electric lighting here.

And now finally we're headed for the Ladies'. (When I say "we". . . )

The back of the main tower. As the additions have been built up the gradual hill a ways, there are interesting half-story stairways and landings all through the house. In the US, we would have called this a "split-level" castle, if there'd been a US then.

The split-level house and tower again, from the back gardens. There are rooms up in the tower named after various kings and queens who may or may not really have stayed there, some of them fugitives at the time.

Another arched doorway. The Edgcumbes were certainly wheeler-dealers back in my period of study, the 16th century -- most of them were named Piers, as I recall, with some Richards, too -- but I don't know what happened to them all. To their descendants, I mean. Most of the originals are probably still walled up in the chapel.

Out the back of Cotehele manor, the river side, even more interesting than the front side. The manor sits up the hill, with its elaborate gardens, from the river Tamar and its Cotehele Quay shipping facilities, and as I was dreading, Kristin wants to walk all the way down there.

A lovely building, and the gardens are probably fabulous in a less dead season.

Cotehele Quay on the riverside -- a vigorous 18th century shipping trade here, evidently, up the tidal flow of the Tamar and thence inland.

The Tamar at low tide. Left: Devon. Right: Cornwall. All of it: England, though some of the locals might take offense.

The Shamrock is a restored Tamar barge, pretty disappointing in its way, but Kristin reports that the cream tea in the tea room beyond was worth the walk down from the manor house and carpark. Now to get back up again (we're disdaining the shuttle bus, of course).

That's it for today, 25 October 2009. Tomorrow, if the weather clears, we're off for a coastal hike. If not, Buckland Abbey.

Buckland Abbey in the rain.

Buckland Abbey was an abbey -- duh! -- a Cistercian abbey, in fact, carrying on very well thank you since 1278, but on the wrong side of history when Henry VIII confiscated the place (and many others) in 1541. It was snapped up off the market by the Grenvilles, rough-hewn local grandees, and somewhat improved.

That cow's not dangerous; just keep your hands at your sides and avoid quick movements. Those are artisans' shops round the circle of sheds. Did you know that local-boy-made-good Francis Drake sailed all the way round the world in 1577-1580, the first English circumnavigation, a feat of enormous skill, endurance, and piratical mayhem, as Drake and his gang marauded up and down the western coast of south and central America, where the Spanish civilizers/looters hadn't yet got round to putting up coastal defenses? Did you?

When he came home, his entrepreneurial little fleet was able to return to its investors (including, secretly, Queen Elizabeth I) something like a 4700 percent return on their investments. (A curse for Elizabethan England, probably, since investors kept fitting out more and more privateering expeditions hoping in vain for the same results.)

Anyway, Drake got knighted by the Queen and rich, and in 1581 he bought this place off his old rival Sir Richard Grenville, who was a vile ruffian, pirate, and priest-hunter by all accounts -- and Drake settled in here at Buckland amongst other voyages (like blasting Cadiz off the map in 1587, chasing the Spanish Armada round England in 1588, and dying of the drizzlies on a piratical expedition in Puerto Rico in 1596).

And don't the National Trust just love Sir Francis Drake. The Abbey is all got up -- tastefully, and educationally -- as the home of the Swashbucklers (meaning Drake, and evidently including Grenville, who managed in 1591 to sink Drake's flagship, the Revenge, whilst commanding it against the Spaniards in the Azores, and himself dying whilst at it). Quite a lot of lurid history goes with this place, and the National Trust are not unaware of that.

A whole upper floor of the main house is got up as the interior of a 16th century ship such as Drake might have sailed, which is ridiculous but works very well anyway -- this is Kristin being taught a 16th century board game by a lovely local lass in 16th century kit -- and still more of it illustrates the life of the Abbey under the monks in the previous era. It is really wonderful fun.

The woodwork of the stairwells (and Kristin) are what I love most about the place. I took scores of photos of the stairs (and Kristin) but will post only this one, lest I become tiresome in my enthusiasm.

The commodious kitchens. The National Trust keeps up, in summer, an amazing schedule of cultural events and exhibits. We're off the summer schedule, but still we've caught "Elizabethan Weekend", with musical events that we missed but dress-ups that we didn't miss.

Elizabethan cooking lessons

Girls (and moms) being kitted out in 16th century finery. They could never have got me into any of that stuff (especially the gentlemen's hose, I have enough doubts about lycra cycling shorts), so I'm going outside now.

We're out the back side of the house now, in a drizzly rain

A wonderful house and elaborate english-style garden

One of the most fascinating things about Buckland Abbey for me, in addition to the manor house and the inspired exhibits, is the way it still fits together as a plausible working farm from the 16th century -- the Great Barn, the outbuildings, the gardens, the separation between milady's domestic areas and the slops and sties of the farm managers.

-- Solicitors please apply around at the back entrance. (If the ringpull does not answer, use your cellphone.)

Buckland Abbey in the rain. From the back.

Kristin loves nothing so much as a field-full of wet sheep. (Except marmots)(And wet ibex)

Pubcrawling in Cornwall and Devon, 2009
Cadgwith Cove to Lizard Point
Mullion to Lizard Village
St Mawes Castle, Falmouth
Cotehele, Buckland Abbey
Polperro coastal hike
Brent Tor, Lydford Gorge, Devon
Exeter and Cardiff before the plane

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 27 November 2009, revised 25 April 2013.

Devon and Cornwall, 2009

Devon and Cornwall, 2006

Devon and Cornwall, 2004

Devon and Cornwall, 2003