Tags: Five Go to Demon's Rocks, Five on a Hike Together, Joel Segal Books, Landmark Trust, Lympstone, Peters Tower, Route 2, Topsham
‘”What I’m looking forward to is our first night there,” said George. “All alone, high up in that old light-house. Nothing but the wind and waves all around! Snuggling down in our rugs, and waking up to hear the wind and waves again.”‘ (Five Go to Demon’s Rocks)
On my weekend trip to Peters Tower I mostly channeled Demon’s Rocks (life in a lighthouse), with a hint of Five on a Hike Together (an autumn excursion). It was dark and rainy by the time I arrived in Lympstone after a 3 and a half hour train journey from London. I had a simple supper (by FF standards) of cheese and biscuits and then wrapped myself up in one of the tower’s regulation rugs to reacquaint myself with its small but perfectly formed library.
The Landmark Trust provides a thoughtful selection of books, many with local(ish) interest. Titles like Devon Shipwrecks and A Book About Smuggling in the West Country sit alongside novels (some Hardy, Austen, Sterne and Fowles) and modern cookery books.
The next day dawned bright and fine. Peters Tower is a clock tower and chimes the hour between 7 in the morning and 11 at night. As the bedroom is immediately under the bell I woke up at 7. You never know what view will be waiting when you look out of the window. The Exe estuary is extremely tidal so sometimes the water comes right up to the tower and sometimes there is nothing but a long stretch of mud between each shore. On Saturday morning there was water.
A few miles up the estuary from Lympstone is the small town of Topsham. I took the train but had cyclist envy. National Cycle Route 2 runs alongside the coast here (it is planned to eventually traverse the south coast all the way from St Austell to Dover) and Topsham is the home of the Route 2 Cafe and Cycle Hire. It’s nice inside and they have their own Route 2 cups. I had a fruit scone and a pot of tea which was fine – but not a patch on the scones served just around the coast at the Cosy Teapot in Budleigh Salterton.
There are other nice things in Topsham too – the views, an array of good pubs, a good deli/butchers, a cheese shop, and the excellent Joel Segal Books. The shop is spread over three floors of an 17th century building and its contents range across most subjects. The books are arranged in aesthetically pleasing ways, often organised by publisher/edition. I liked the current (and slightly 70s feeling) autumn-inspired window display.
There were more autumn colours and leaves when I went for a walk along the cycle path on Sunday. This bit of Route 2 (between Lympstone and Exton) could seem a bit sanitised but cycling in London on a daily basis makes me think that a little bit of boardwalk riding away from terrifying taxis and white vans is actually ok.
The storm on the final night was quite appropriate, as per the climax of Five Go to Demon’s Rocks:
‘”Are you quite sure that the light-house [tower] can’t be blown down?” said Anne, in a small voice.
“Dear Anne, use your common sense,” said Julian [unbelievably smugly]. “Would it have stood for all these years if it hadn’t been strong enough to stand against storms far worse than this?” […]
There was an extra big gale of wind that buffeted the light-house, and made Timmy stand up and growl. Rain pattered against the window, sounding as if someone was throwing pebbles…’
The next morning (my final morning) I went out to look at the tower from the small jetty that sticks out into the estuary. The flood gate next to the tower had been closed, the dustbins blown over, and the water seemed higher, and murkier, than usual.
And then it was back to school. Well, work…
Tags: A la Ronde, Budleigh Salterton, Cosy Teapot, cream teas, Exmouth, Lympstone, National Cycle Route 2, National Trust, Peters Tower
We arrived at Peters Tower full of curiosity and anticipation. Turning the key in the big red door, we stepped inside and began to explore. Inside it is like being in a vertical boat. The interiors have been done in teak and brass, and in fact, the Landmark Trust’s architect spent time in boat yards gaining inspiration for this project.
Tower living is spread across four floors, all of which are united by one single majestic ironwork spiral staircase which takes up about a third of the floor space on each level.The bathroom is located on the ground floor, the kitchen on the first floor, a snug sitting and writing room on the second, and two bunk beds on the top floor, right behind the clock face and directly underneath the bell (which chimes between 7am and 11pm).
This was our view on the first morning from the kitchen. Being right on the estuary meant we were witness to the extreme ebb and flow of the tides. At low tide there is nothing but mud, sandbanks and the odd stream dividing you from the far shore, at high tide the water comes within metres of the base of the tower. Across the water we could see an old tower on the hill – but would mysterious lights shine out at night, a la the lonely Wreckers Tower in Five Go Down to the Sea?
The tower is located in Lympstone, an excellent village with a train station, four pubs (three within a few minutes of the tower), and a post office that does really sell ices. Because it is so close and therefore commutable to Exeter and Exmouth, it is also a place where people actually live – it’s not one of those lovely but slightly sad villages that are deserted all week and only fill up when people arrive for the weekend.
Nearby is the National Trust property, A la Ronde, built to house the Grand Tour treasures of cousins Jane and Mary Parminter. It’s yet another quirky building, filled with unusual objects and famous for its shell gallery which contains nearly 25,000 shells. Because it is so fragile the gallery can only be viewed on close circuit television. Unlike George, Jane Parminter thought that girls were ok and in her will stated that only unmarried female relatives could inherit A la Ronde. In 200 years only one man, the Rev Oswald Reichel, owned the house. He improved its home comforts by installing a massive central heating system and replacing the thatched roof (seen in the model, right) with a tiled one with lots of windows. Like Uncle Quentin in Five on Kirrin Island Again, Reichel also asserted his masculine presence by adding a phallic tower to the property, although not to the house itself but in the form of a laundry building just behind.
While at A la Ronde we felt it was our duty to sample a cream tea. It was a beautiful day so we were able to take it outside with a gorgeous view of the sea and distant harbour. This was our second cream tea of the holiday. The first, and best, was at the Cosy Teapot in Budleigh Salterton. Budleigh Salterton is a seaside town renowned for the beauty of the pebbles on its beach. It is very quaint and somnolent, perfect for a seaside holiday with rowing, fishing, ices and all of the sorts of the things the Five like (no dreaded piers etc.).
The Cosy Teapot has been voted one of the top three places to have a cream tea in Devon with impressively light (and huge) scones served on Mrs Layman-esque rose patterned crockery. If you don’t fancy a cream tea, the Teapot also sells other delicacies such as crumpets with actual ‘lashings’ of butter. You can even buy vintage crockery, butter dishes, telephones and assorted knick knacks which are all arrayed inside the tea shop.
As well as eating we did do lots of walking (honest). We also took a boat trip so we could see ‘our’ tower from the water (and we spotted a shipwreck), and caught a steam train from Paignton to Churston from where we walked to Greenways, Agatha Christie’s old summer house. One thing missing was cycling – I think this would be a good cycling holiday. National Cycle Route 2 runs along the south coast from St Austell to Dover, or it least it will do when fully linked up. At the moment it’s possible to cycle car-free along the western side of the Exe estuary, plus down the eastern side from Lympstone to Exmouth, and then from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton via a disused railway line. One folding bike would fit in the tower but no more than that (even large suitcases are problematic in such a bijou space), so if you plan a cycling/tower holiday do bear this in mind.
Tags: cardoons, gooseberries, Landmark Trust, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Lympstone, Peters Tower, St Austell
Anne and I have just returned from a long weekend staying in Peters Tower, a clock tower built in 1885 and situated right on the shoreline of the Exe estuary in Lympstone, Devon. Our holiday was a bit of hybrid of Five on a Secret Trail (Anne and George hanging out together without Julian and Dick), Five Go Down to the Sea (Cornish coastal holiday, smugglers) and Five on Kirrin Island Again (a station meeting and journey by train, coastal walks and a mixture of sunshine and showers).
We caught the Night Riviera sleeper train from Paddington. This was very clean and comfortable, reasonably priced with free refreshments served in the first class lounge beforehand (fruit, bottles of water, biscuits etc). It’s really nice to be in a virtually deserted station at midnight (a far cry from rush hour) and to have lots of time to board the train and get settled in and excited about the journey ahead. We had an obligatory midnight feast of cakes and strawberries before turning in in anticipation of an early start. I should add that the cakes, made by the wonderful Violet (and flavoured with such lovely things as English strawberry, salted caramel, coconut and elderflower), are usually things of beauty but they had gotten a bit squashed after an afternoon travelling in my bicycle bag.
We woke up at 6.15 in time to get off in St Austell, Cornwall at 6.50. Here is the deserted station. We had more than two hours to wait until we could catch our bus to the Lost Gardens of Heligan where we planned to spend a couple of hours before catching another train back east to Lympstone. When faced with various situations such as these, we often asked ourselves ‘what would the Famous Five do?’ and concluded they would make for the nearest tea shop for some orangeade and buns. Sadly, nowhere was open and we even got ‘moved along’ when sitting outside a coffee shop waiting for it to open up. It seems that we were social pariahs, just like gypsy girl Jo. Eventually though, a pub/hotel let us in and gave us some hot coffee and bad music before we set off for Heligan.
Aunt Fanny would truly be in heaven in Heligan. Although it’s situated within a gorgeous landscape and has Italianate ponds, ravines and exotic plants, my favourite bit is the kitchen garden where all manner of delicious things are grown. I was excited to see things I had read about in Lucy Yates Country Housewife’s Book, for example, cardoons, as well as enticing and enigmatically-named different types of gooseberry (‘Lancashire Lad’, ‘Yellow Champagne’ and the intriguing ‘Careless’) and plums. Also beautifully laid out lines of beans, lettuces and cabbages.
Usefully, we were also provided with a map and mini compass upon our arrival at the gardens, it’s as if they knew it was the one thing I was missing for the holiday…
Tags: Landmark Trust, Lympstone, National Trust, Peters Tower
I do actually have a life outside of my Famous Five obsession, I promise, but, I ask you, who could resist going on a Famous Five-style holiday to Devon and staying in a tower on a beach?
We’re going in two weeks’ time and will be staying in this charming little tower. It’s called Peter’s Tower and was built in 1885 by a soldier (from a wealthy merchant family) called William Peters. It’s one of the many properties belonging to the excellent Landmark Trust which was set up in 1965 to rescue, restore and rent out historically and architecturally interesting buildings. These are often quirky, obscure and perhaps not ‘important’ enough to fall under the purview of the (also excellent) National Trust, and there are many exciting properties in which you can stay, including a petite French-style chateau, Gothic follies, miniature castles and towers galore, plus (for those Edith Nesbit moments) an old train station.
I’m hoping that good weather will prevail, although there are many wet weather activities nearby in the form of National Trust houses and other forms of public house. And perhaps this year I will master the Pepys Famous Five card game?