We were invited to visit friends in Plymouth and went down on the train from Paddington. The forecast was for rain all weekend “it’s October in England for god’s sake!” so we went with raincoats, sweaters, and boots. Fortunately, we didn’t need them.
From the train, we went to visit the Dartington Trust Gardens, a beautiful property. We strolled the path to a high point where an early work by Henry Moore is positioned overlooking the grounds. The area below is called The Tiltyards, and as the path winds toward them we stopped at the whispering circle. This walled perfect half-circle allows a person to stand in the center and hear their own voice amplified. We ambled past a number of buildings, studios for artist residencies, and rental rooms for visitors. Dartington also produces fine crystal. After we returned to London, I discovered that my favorite glass in our rental house is Dartington.
We had a splendid dinner at Everest Spice in Plymouth, then fell into bed. The view from the apartment out over Plymouth Harbor is mesmerizing, night or day. Ferries to France and Spain leave from the wharf just below the hill. The overnight ferry leaves after dark and lights up the bay before it sails.
In the morning, we walked across Plymouth Hoe*, a broad green area above the shore. With a lighthouse and fluttering flags, it is the picture of an English port city; it is the banner photo for this post. We wound down past the Lido, a handsome swimming facility that made me regret that the season had ended. We strolled the cobbled streets and admired the buildings in the neighborhood near the harbor called the Barbican**, cobbled streets and historic buildings.
Our friends’ apartment has a terrace with views each direction, over the city and over the harbor. It would be easy to sit by the window or on the terrace all day. I imagine watching the weather change, or a storm roll in over the Atlantic.
After our stroll in the Barbican, we drove out of town to have lunch at the Royal Oaks, in Maevy, on the edge of Dartmoor, the vast national park of grasslands and forest. There are open grasslands, bog areas, and woodlands. On a bright autumn afternoon, it was not nearly as threatening as in The Hound of the Baskervilles. A pub lunch is always fun. I was a bit concerned that my glass of cider would make me want to take a nap rather than continue on our exploration, but it was a very small glass.
We continued on to Buckland Abbey, an extensive group of buildings and gardens that began as a Cistercian monastery in the 1200s and continued until Henry VIII took over the church and began the destruction of all English monasteries in 1536. The monks ran a profitable farm, managed other property and held markets and fairs, and the king sold the property to Sir Richard Grenville, a member of his court. In 1580, the Grenville family sold the property to men acting for Sir Francis Drake (who Grenville despised). Though Drake only lived in the house for 15 years, his descendants lived at Buckland until the 1930s. Buckland Abbey was donated to the National Trust and has been open to visitors since 1951. The grounds are perhaps best known for the enormous Tithe Barn built by the monks to house the agricultural goods and livestock paid to them by their tenants and members of their congregation. It is a cavernous space for something built before 1530.
(Clockwise from top: Buildings at Buckland, exterior of the Tithe Barn, garden at Buckland.
We visited the main building at the Abbey, where memorabilia from the Grenvilles and Sir Francis Drake are on display, along with a painting recently cleaned, restored, and attributed to Rembrandt. After our visit we returned to Plymouth by another route that let us see more of the countryside. We passed through the tiny and picturesque town of Milton Combe. Back at the apartment, we had a delicious dinner with our hosts and two of their friends, and discussed everything from the new Prime Minister (Rishi Sunak) to where to go on safari in South Africa. It was a lively evening.
We left the next day to return to London. The advantages of the train are many, avoiding traffic, the congestion charge, and where to park. Our train came in to Paddington Station and I took a moment to say hello to Paddington Bear. We arrived back at our townhouse in Kennington without any trouble.
* What is a Hoe? An ancient Anglo-Saxon word for an open area in a town that includes a gentle ridge.
**A barbican is a fortified gateway. In Plymouth, the Barbican is a neighborhood by the harbor that somehow avoided being flattened by the bombing that destroyed most of Plymouth during WWII.