Coastal Spring

A few days amongst the narrow-laned, softly rolling hills of the North Cornwall and Devon coast are drawing to a close. It’s been a wonderful time, with my whole family – celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday (which is officially next week), and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary (which is officially in a few weeks time).

It nearly began in disaster, on our first day, when at the end of a long walk my poor Pa tripped and fell heavily, on a cattle grid. Seeing my strong father tumbling over and receiving a terrible gash to his forehead was a huge shock. As, I suppose, in all such moments, the mind goes in to an overdrive of clarity—but, I’ve got to admit, with a deep underlying panic. With kind help from a passer-by, and the owners of the fantastic farm where we’ve been staying, we swiftly found our way to hospital.

And I don’t know what it is – because we all read horror stories in the newspapers – but every single time I’ve ever been near the NHS, they’ve always been superb. No let down this time. Dad was brilliantly looked after, and 14 stitches and a few hours later we drove home. Thank goodness he’s quickly on the mend.

Cornwall was on the brink of spring, brilliant sunshine fighting the bitter east wind. Today, I would say, the sunshine won. At the end of the longest winter, the first enchanted days of April. We haven’t gone far; walks to the sea and today a trip to dreamlike Clovelly. Well, my niece Polly (who plans to become a fashion designer… watch this space) and I did a cross-country trip to beautiful Antony House, in south Cornwall, owned by the National Trust.  But really, its been about hanging about and spending time with my Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces. You might have thought that would be a bit of a recipe for chaos, or even for trouble. But, Dad’s drama aside, I haven’t had such a great time in a long time.

Beautiful Coombe village, not far from where we were staying – where you can rent these perfect little cottages from the Landmark Trust

I’ve always loved the magic of north Devon, since summer holidays years ago just up the coast at Hartland with my old boss Charles Morris and his family.

Grey, austere Antony House: my perfect, perfect type of house.

Can you think of a better place to curl up with a book than this pale yellow armchair in the toast-brown Library at Antony?

My niece Polly.

It was too cold that day to spend more than a few minutes in the fine gardens, with their extraordinary terraces and yew hedges.

The woodlands around the farmhouse were spare and mossy; strange to think that a month from now they will be carpeted with bluebells.

Today, we visited Clovelly, tumbling down cobbled paths through a wooded valley and narrow streets to the sea:

Many of the houses bear the initials of Christine and Frederick Hamlyn, who owned and restored the village in the 1920s.

I loved the colour of the Methodist chapel, that transports you to the Caribbean. Others were not so sure.

Clovelly is one of those strange museum-towns (like Venice) which are wonderful to visit but in which I think you would hate to live. (Sorry, if you live in Clovelly). Beautiful, but the little side streets have a curiously ominous air… Don’t they?

My family is from Cornwall.  We came from much further south, near Penzance, and I’ve always thought I cannot think of anything worse on the planet than living in Cornwall in the mid 19th century.

But looking at this copy of a pre-Raphaelite painting of the ‘Clovelly Crew’, in the little Clovelly Museum, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t think again.

See what I mean?!

Okay, we can calm down. Here’s another print in the Museum. I rather like the idea of Hobby Driving.  And I particularly like posters like this one.

Little has changed at the habour since the 19th century:

There’s a lot of good typography at Clovelly. But none better than in the Donkey Stables:

If you visit Clovelly, make sure you go to Clovelly Court (where the Hamlyn, now Rous, family lives).  It has one of the most perfect walled gardens that I’ve ever been in (and regular readers of this blog like a walled garden).

Heaven is a walled garden. I’m sure I must have written that before, and I’m sure I’ll write it again.

Next door, Clovelly Church has some of the finest stone letter cutting I’ve seen, in a churchyard filled with 19th century slate gravestones.

As we left the churchyard, the spring sunshine was warm. What was that strange feeling? Coastal Spring.


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