Category Archives: Devon 2014

The Million Pound Jewel

“That thing costs Plymouth a million pounds a year and it’s a complete waste of money!” 

Barbara is eighty one and angry. I was surprised at her reaction. We’d been waiting at a bus stop on the coast path, overlooking Plymouth Sound – not far from where she’d learned to swim. But she was adamant in her views, reflecting on a time when learning to swim was seen as a punishment rather than gaining a valuable life skill. Yet looking at Tinside Lido just a couple of days before, it was hard to see how anyone could hate this place.

Built a year after Barbara was born, this stunning bit of Art Deco loveliness is often described as the jewel in the crown of Plymouth’s waterfront. And rightly so. Barabara’s dislike is linked to one of the unique features of this outdoor pool – its water is unseated and is pumped straight in from the sea.

Other visitors have fonder memories. Harry Roberts is in his eighth season as General Manager and talks about the loyal band of regulars, known as the Golden Girls. “Thelma grew up here and met here husband, who was in the US Navy. After the war he sent her a one way ticket and she left Plymouth. But for the past few years they’ve been coming back and spend their entire time at Tinside.”

Sitting at the Terrace Cafe, just along the Hoe, it’s easy to see why. On a warm day, you could easily be on a Greek Island.

The worn looking walls around the back of Tinside give you an idea of just how vulnerable this place is to the weather. In the winter of 2014, much of Plymouth’s waterfront was wrecked during violent storms. The Lido took a battering too, but a frantic programme of repairs ensured it was ready to open for the season. A season that saw some 27,000 visitors.

Tinside represents the best of public facilities, and at a time when budgets are squeezed, those numbers should secure its future. Even if it’s a little too cold for the likes of Barbara.


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Posted by on May 27, 2015 in Devon 2014, Travel Stuff


Land Of Ope And Glory

Throughout Devon towns and cities, you’ll see street signs ending “Ope”. They’re normally side roads and the meaning is simply short for “opening”. Which is apt, as I open a new chapter in Plymouth – moving to my very own Ope.

When I mentioned to colleagues that my new address was on Theatre Ope, few knew where I was talking about. When I mentioned the district it was in, I was met with an awkward pause, followed by (complete with emphasis) “You’re moving to Devonport?!

It’s fair to say that this area has a reputation. There are three pubs within spitting distance of my new place. In the first, I was met with a sea of tattoos and muscled forearms, and that was just the barmaid. In the second, I was offered a cut of sirloin for £1.50; no label and an obviously removed security tag. The third can wait for later.

But Devonport is changing. The photo above showed Ker Street in 1959. The sixties followed and with it some terrible town planning and horrible flats. They’ve now been replaced with modern apartments. At at the top of the street, the jewel in Devonport’s crown.
The Guildhall was a bold display of civic pride. It was built in 1822, when Devonport was still a town in it’s own right. (Plymouth as we know it today only came into being in 1914). Sitting on a hill, the building looked down on its own citizens. But more importantly in looked down on the neighbouring town of Plymouth.

The modern day authorities neglected the Guildhall, until, in 2009, it was acquired by the Real Ideas Organisation, a social enterprise company. As well as hiring out the main hall, an artisan bakery has started up in the basement. At one stage, the Guildhall was both a hospital and a magistrates court : the main bake house is in the former mortuary and you can drink your coffee in one of the cells.

And here’s the third pub I mentioned.
The Ker Street Social Club, also known as the Odd Fellows Hall. This is the real heart of Devonport life today. A distinctly older crowd than the other bars, and certainly a more welcoming atmosphere.

It’s a world away from the student pubs I’ve grown used to in Mutley. But if you’re going to be a real journalist, you have to meet real people. It doesn’t get much more authentic than this area. Rough and ready, with a touch of gentrification – for those who dare to put their trust in it.

I think I’m going to like this.

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Posted by on October 26, 2014 in Devon 2014, Travel Stuff


Start The Week

The tourists have largely gone, which makes exploring Devon at this time of year a whole lot easier. Yet “this time of year” doesn’t feel like the first week of October. Much of the UK has been enjoying the Indian Summer, but nowhere else has quite the same views as those in Start Bay on the South Coast.


The last time I came here, in the height of the summer season, you couldn’t move for tourists. In fact, in Torcross, you could hardly move at all because of the long queues of traffic trying to squeeze into that last space in the car park. Just around the coast  – yet a good 40 minutes negotiating perilous back lanes – is the stunning Start Point.

There are a good dozen cars parked up, yet the entire stretch of coastline seems completely deserted. It’s one of the best things about being in this part of the world right at the end of the season. The October sunshine contrasts brilliantly with the colours of Autumn streaming down the cliff. Best of all, the hut in the privately owned car park is locked up (seasonal charge : £4.50).

From Torcross itself there’s a walk along one of Devon’s largest natural stretches of open freshwater. Slapton Ley’s nature reserve attracts a rich mix of wildlife. And by the beach, there’s another collection of rarities.

This particular Mini Owner’s Club come from Tiverton in mid-Devon, and one of the drivers describes today’s gathering as “our final chance for a good run out before winter sets in.”
With temperatures today hitting a balmy 17 Celsius, the concept of winter seems a long way off. But the forecast for this week shows some wet and windy conditions to come.

And there’s also something of a personal crossroads for me. More of which later.

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Posted by on October 5, 2014 in Devon 2014, Radio Stuff, Travel Stuff


Cruise Control

In rural areas, I’m often impressed by the topiary lining some of the roads. Up until now, I’d always assumed it was the careful work of the local council’s highways department, diligently trimming every tree and hedge in uniform fashion.

But it’s more likely to be the work of a double decker bus, swiping through the canopy whilst trying to avoid idiots coming the other way.

I’ve not always had the best relationship with bus drivers, but today – taking the 93 from Dartmouth to Plymouth – every passenger on the upper deck is awestruck by the manoeuvring of the driver, pulling in so close to houses that you can touch the bathroom window, and allowing traffic coming in the opposite direction to squeeze through. For those of us not behind the wheel, the views around Blackpool Sands are stunning.

Unlike its Lancashire counterpart, this Blackpool is about as far away from the bawdiness of the British seaside as you can get. Last night I stayed in Paignton, which was a slightly different story.

Of the three towns that make up the English Riviera, Paignton does its best to uphold the traditions of trash, be it amusement arcades, fudge shops or not one but two Wetherspoons pubs. Both child friendly, of course.

I was meeting a friend who’d come down for an Agatha Christie tour. Having seen the worst that Wetherspoons could offer, we decided that the best old fashioned boozers were probably going to be on the back streets. The first seemed even more child friendly, since three of the six customers were under 10. We decided to leave bawdiness behind and head for Brixham.image
Ok, The Golden Hind replica may still be tacky, but at least it gives a nod to Brixham’s history. As does the Crown and Anchor on the harbourside. Or it might, if it weren’t for the “free jukebox” facility on a Saturday night.

A group of middle aged blokes have decided it should be non-stop Elvis night, and programmed in all of his hits. The highlight is their singalong rendition of The Wonder of You – with six drunk men joining in, but one line behind the actual tune. It was like The Two Ronnies’ version of mastermind.

It’s high time we talked like a pirate.
I said… oh never mind. Our new companion is sitting in the middle of the Maritime Inn on the other side of the harbour. He doesn’t say much, but is clearly the centre of attention among the customers. He’s not the only character here : the landlady, Pat, is a Scouser who insists on imposing a dodgy Merseybeat compilation CD on the rest of us. The pub ceiling is a curious collection of collections. Tankards, potties and key rings.

I daren’t ask if there’s a lock in.

And so back to Paignton, which despite its clichéd seaside image has one big attraction. A fantastic route out.
The steam train takes you to Dartmouth, with some staggering views over Goodrington Sands and the Dart Estuary. On arrival, it’s like being thrown back to a simpler time. Dartmouth drips of money. Lots of it.

And not a Wetherspoons in sight.

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Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Devon 2014, Travel Stuff


A Prior Engagement

As far as villages go, Fairmile in East Devon is fairly nondescript. But its modesty, tucked away by the side of the A30, belies its recent past. Here, in the mid 90s, I interviewed a young man camping with his mates in a field. They’d vowed to stop the road being widened, and were among the first of the modern age “Eco warriors”.

I politely listened to what this bloke had to say, then – not quite knowing where it would go – returned to the office and told my boss I’d got a good interview, but there might be a problem with identification. This guy called himself Swampy. We couldn’t possibly use that on air. Could we?

For the next few weeks, Swampy was rarely out of the headlines. Digging tunnels, disrupting construction and generally becoming a folk hero. Which is somewhat ironic, because if his campaign had succeeded, it would have taken a damn sight longer to get to Fairmile this weekend to see some genuine heroes of folk music.

Beautiful Days isn’t a folk festival as such. Nor is it a pop, rock, jazz or punk festival. But you can find all of these genres and much more, thanks to this annual event masterminded by The Levellers.

Regular visitors to the blog might remember that, but I’ve been persuaded by my brother once again to slum it out in a tent in the name of art. And I’m not disappointed.

Big - in Devon : Land of the Giants

Big – in Devon : Land of the Giants

Plymouth based Land of the Giants are among the early acts on the main stage. And they’ve earned their place here, having already played Glastonbury as well as a host of smaller gigs across the region. They have an infectious, raucous and often smutty sound (turn the subtitles off if you have young children) – but are just what’s required to get the crowd in full party mode. And – just to show their rebellious side, SOME OF THEM TAKE THEIR SHIRTS OFF. Rock and roll.
As nice as all this to look at, my real interest here is the second stage, housed inside the big top. To say that Courtney Pine “plays a bit of jazz” would be an understatement, though when I mention his name to my brother, I get a blank look. Followed by “is Courtney a man or a woman?”
I’m too embarrassed to stand with him during the gig, which is just as well as he hates jazz. Courtney and his band get the crowd into a real frenzy, with a set based on a calypso carnival theme, complete with brilliant steel drums. The audience isn’t disappointed. But in a twist of fate they will be later.

My brother’s knowledge of folk is almost as shameful as his take on jazz. “So, Steeleye Span – did they sing something about a hat?”
Maddy Prior and her gang started doing this in 1969. Their combination of prog-rock inspired mixes and traditional folk still baffles many people today. And, I’ll come clean, I can’t say I’d know much of their stuff beyond Guadete and All Around My Hat. Sadly, there’s no time for either of these as the Spans’ set is cut short. Evidently, Courtney Pine went on for too long. Backstage, Maddy is visibly fuming. But despite being in a field miles from any significant population! the timetable must be adhered to.

And then, Bellowhead happens.
“Happens” is probably the best description I can manage. There are eleven members of the band. Fiddles, guitars, mandolins, whistles, cowbells and just about anything brassy and loud mix to form a brilliant, tent filling sound. This is how folk should be – traditional, accessible and vibrant. By close of play, everyone’s very happy. And mostly drunk. And ready for bed.
If only I didn’t have to sleep in a tent.


Making Tracks On Dartmoor

For many newcomers to Devon – myself included – Dartmoor can seem a very inhospitable place. There’s no doubt that its remote, bleak location was a great place to put a prison. But it’s threatening wilderness can be tackled in relatively easy chunks, so long as you start in the right place.
Thankfully, several public bodies have invested in Dartmoor’s natural beauty and its potential for tourism, not least the . Controversial to some, the Authority is largely unelected, and has enormous powers when it comes to planning issues – putting extreme restrictions on development.

But on the plus side, it promotes a range of outdoor activities, publishing plenty of information on neat, manageable walks. The sort that don’t involve too many hills and include pubs and cafes en route. And you get to learn about the area’s history too.
These stone lined channels, or leats were used to transport water from the moor to communities using gravity. It’s an ancient system – and in some ways is still in use today, with reservoirs like Burrator storing natural resources and delivering them down to centres of population.

In recent months, there’s been a big debate about transport across the Moor, too. When the railway line at Dawlish collapsed in the winter storms, some suggested that the old Dartmoor route, climbing up to Okehampton, could be used as an alternative way of connecting Devon. The plans were ruled to expensive. But there was once an alternative form of traction up here.
The lighting along this lane near Yelverton means you can’t quite make out the regular lines of stones in the ground. It turns out that these are sleepers – not for trains, but trams. As well as water, Dartmoor provided a host of natural resources to be used. Peat, clay and stone all needed to be transported to turnpikes and ports. And so it was that sprung up in the nineteenth century.

Today was meant to be the day Devon had to batten down the hatches in the wake of Hurricane Bertha. It’s brought flash flooding back home in Nottingham. But although it’s been very windy on the Moor, the best advice with a weather forecast here is simply “see how it goes.” And the resulting views have been a great reward.image

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Posted by on August 10, 2014 in Devon 2014, Radio Stuff, Travel Stuff


Yachties, Trust and Honesty

The last time I was in Salcombe I met The Levellers. Quite by random, they were playing at the very first Salcombe Festival, which must have been around 1998. This isn’t the kind of event that an indie, somewhat leftie band, would normally be seen. The lead singer, Mark Chadwick, joked that he “loves to hang out with the yachties”. All these years later, The Levellers headline their own Devon festival – Beautiful Days – over in Ottery St Mary. Salcombe, meanwhile, still welcomes the most middle class of tourists. Like James Bond and his entourage.
OK, maybe it wasn’t Daniel Craig in the speedboat. But it might have been. A glance in the window of the estate agent has a two bedroomed apartment fetching £1.25 million. Of course, it has a sea view. As does my parking space.
I’m not going to reveal exactly where this photo was taken from – even though it wouldn’t be hard to find with a map or if you’ve ever been to Salcombe. But it had the rarity of being free. For a late July day around here, that’s quite a feat.

“The trouble with Salcombe is that it’s terribly insular,” says my landlord. “The dinner party circuit in a place like that would be so boring.”

The fact that he even uses phrases like “the dinner party circuit” reveals a lot. But I think he has a point. Much better, in my opinion, would be the village of Modbury. image
Cliches such as “picture postcard” or “chocolate box” are difficult to avoid in Devon, since so many places match those words. Modbury beats Salcombe in terms of connectivity to Plymouth and Exeter – both big selling points around here. And, just like Salcombe, it has price tags to match.

One thing Plymouth doesn’t have is its own beach. Well, not in the traditional sense. However, just a short hop along the coast is the delight of Wembury.image
Owned by the National Trust, Wembury has no sand, but thousands of small rock pools, which means millions of memories for children. This is seaside tradition at its best – unspoilt by commercial enterprise, apart from one small beach side cafe which doesn’t take advantage of its monopoly on trade.

And a tip if you come here. Don’t pay the hefty official car park fee of £4.50. I won’t divulge the secret – except to say that it’s a little further up the hill and runs on good old fashioned honesty.

And not a yachtie in sight.

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Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Devon 2014, Radio Stuff, Travel Stuff