Saturday, 28 May 2011


When in, probably, 1933 that remarkable young man Raymond B Cattell came paddling down the Exe in his two seater, German, sailing canoe, Sandpiper, he and his bold companion, Hugh Crowther, spent the night at Lympstone.

"Lympstone, like many fishing villages, is in its material possessions a slum, but in this picturesque setting and with the sturdy independence of its inhabitants, to say nothing of their fine and handsome appearance, it might be a dwelling of kings."

The two young men walked by 'the ruined sea wall' where they met 'a tall dark girl, whose handsome face was as attractive as the lithe freedom of her carriage.' The boys passed themselves off as 'yachtsmen' and the tall dark girl and and Hugh took an instant fancy the one to the other. Raymond left them to flirt with each other while he 'sat on a tiny red cliff, watching the water ebbing from the estuary and dreaming of the magical nights he had spent with his lost girlfriend Monica on Dawlish Warren the previous summer.'

The next morning the two young men knocked on the door of the 'very tall, handsome and dignified fisherman' who had undertaken to look after their canoe.

"Lo, there appeared at the door the tall dark girl of the night before! She had a duster in her hand and a scarlet handkerchief about her dark hair, which accentuated her gypsy appearance...Her face wreathed itself in delicious smiles. "So you've come for the 'yacht' that father's keeping for you?" she laughed. We assented, blushing as red as her handkerchief. "You'd better get it before he comes," she said to Hugh. "He may be keeping something else for you because of my getting in late last night."

It would seem that the father was subsequently pacified and was paid a shilling for the mooring he had provided. The fisherman's daughter sent the boys off with one kiss for Raymond and two for Hugh and with a warning for both of them:

""The swell's grumbling on the bar a lot this morning, you oughtn't to go out" she added, her face suddenly grave and judicial. We listened with all our ears, but to us the still morning air told nothing of what was happening three miles away at the sea's edge. We had no senses to detect the ominous drone which meant so much to the professional sixth sense of the fisherman's daughter."

Long, long ago these innocents parted.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


I was watching a ring ousel this afternoon on the shingle at Sowden End. It might have been a blackbird for all the fun it was, but it wasn't. It was a ring ousel and the female of the species. She was coming and going and feeding on the sandhoppers in the seaweed there. I was familiar with ring ousels in my youth when I lived and worked in the Lake District but had never seen one here on the Estuary before. It was a 'what's a bird like you doing in a joint like this?' experience.

The ring ousels have white gorgettes, which is what officer cadets have. Generals have red ones. The connection is that the 'tabs' of the military are the skeuomorphic suspenders of the crescent shaped throat armour that is properly the 'gorgette'. Anyway the whitish patch on the ring ousel's throat is the very same shape as this last worn chunk of plate armour. I suppose one might define a ring ousel as a blackbird that has winged its way through the Regular Commissions Board.

Friday, 20 May 2011


From The Exmouth Journal, Saturday February 8th, 1930:


To The Editor of The Exmouth Journal.


In your paper you always seem to encourage kindness to dumb creatures, so I send you the following.

Kindly residents at the bungalows throw food to the birds and a week ago two sportsmen (!) with their guns were seen to hide behind a boat on the sand in order to get shots at the birds as they hungrily fluttered in crowds on the beach.

I wonder if all the youths who are continually shooting at birds round the Point have paid for their gun licences.

Yours truly,


The Point, Exmouth, February 3rd."

I think this letter well defines the unbridgeable gulf between those of us who love and those who hate seagulls. Myself, as readers of this blog might know, I tend to side with the former. As for those Exmouth 'youths', they will be at least in their nineties by now but they know who they are, I hope they are still thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011


It was a grey morning last Monday. There was a cold breeze and I was standing once again at the end of the boat shelter wall at Lympstone and leaning on the rail. It was low water. The mud banks stretched away for a mile in front of me, a depressing sight to see. There was a dearth of birdlife.

Then I found myself watching a lone house martin. She, I had the impression she was a she, was the first martin I am conscious of seeing this spring although the birds must have been hereabouts for a few weeks. She was coming and going and landing twenty yards in front of me, collecting mud for nest building.

I had never thought of it before but estuarial mud must be a blessed convenience for house martins especially when, as now, there has been very little rain.

I imagined a conversation between two martlettes:

“The trouble these days, my dear, the mud just isn’t as wet as it used to be.”

“That's so, ma'am, everybody says so. My Martin thinks 'tis all this global warming. It makes things so difficult for first time home builders like us.”

“Well, my dear, if you’ll take my advice, don’t you even bother to go mud hunting inland. There’s plenty of wet mud out there on the Estuary, enough for everybody and for ever. 'Tis a bit salty mind, but…”

Sunday, 15 May 2011


When the Exmouth lifeboat, the Maria Noble, was called out on Christmas Day 1957 and Lifeboatman William Carder was washed overboard and drowned, the second coxwain, Jack Phillips, was also washed overboard into those raging seas. He lived to tell the tale to the coroner.

"There was nothing I could do. I caught hold of a rope of some sort but I could not hold on, and it would not have done me any good if I had. I was conscious all the time I was in the water and I was washed up on the beach. I felt the ground under my feet and tried to to get up but another wave took me back. I told myself, 'I'm not going to be had this time' so I crawled the rest of it."

The coroner said "You were both swept overboard. You were lucky and Mr Carder was unlucky; that is really what it comes to."

Jack Phillips had crawled onto the beach near Orcombe Point. He was then able to stagger homewards in the howling gale and through blinding rain. Coastguard Tutton and members of the lifesaving team from Budleigh Salterton were already on the beach and saw the staggering figure of Jack Phillips by the light of their torches. Mr Tutton told the coroner, "We were very surprised to see him I can assure you." They supported him for a while and then handed him over to other members of the search party and went on to find poor William Carder who had not been lucky.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


Take my word for it, there is too much light,
up poles, down holes, from bulbs and tubes it pours
and too much noise; the world shouts ev'ry night,
clanging, jangling, piercing my limp ears.

So to be lighted is to lose one's sight,
to miss the comet with his fiery train,
to miss the countless stars that grace the night,
to miss the sacred moon, her wax and wane.

And we are deafened 'til we hear the singing
of these dark waters where the salmon leap
and sea birds pass like ghosts silently winging
over the shallows where the shadows creep.

Come, why should we be blind? We'll sail beneath
stars in their glory, there we'll see the bright
road to eternity; shall we be deaf?
Hush!, you shall hear the silence of the night.

Light Pollution?