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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Bantham Photo Walk

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas APRIL. 16, 2021

I decided it was now or never to get a photo walk in at Bantham Beach. This beautiful spot is only about thirty minutes away but because of accessibility it is not somewhere we regularly go to. From the main road there is what amounts to a dead end single lane road all the way down and it is about two miles. It really is just wide enough for one large vehicle so if you are in a narrow vehicle you will need to decide which one of you backs up to a passing place.

The passing places are really just areas of worn away hedgerow where people over the years have widened those spots. My solution, go early. On the way there I only met one vehicle coming back up, on the way back up I met about twenty vehicles going down, including a large truck, for which I had to squeeze very carefully up the hedgerow passing place and watch nervously as the truck edged forward.

Traffic is very much seasonal, as the main attraction is the beach, so from now on it will only get worse.

The village itself is very small although there is also a pub. It mainly consists of small rows of whitewashed thatched cottages that seem to be staged for photographers.

Being several hundreds of years old the cottages acquire some unusual window arrangements and modifications over the years.

One window below is bricked up, which is a surprisingly common sight in Britain in older properties.

Window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, and Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax, some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date). In England and Wales it was introduced in 1696 and was repealed 155 years later, in 1851. Therefore, a sight like this is a good indicator that the property predates 1696.

Ironically it became such a traditional architectural feature that traditional style modern houses still being built today will sometimes incorporate this blank inset window effect as a feature decoration. Similarly one can have acres of double glazed modern windows with narrow strips of metalized tape stuck on the glass in patterns, in memory of a time when glass was only available in small pieces joined together with lead. I am just waiting for the next development of polyester thatch with polyurethane moss and nylon cobwebs. You could even breakfast on one pot instant gruel and stick Elastoplast scurvy spots and plague marks on your infant children, before pushing them up designer chimneys in preference to school. We already have the fake log burner and LED flickering flame, solar powered garden lights.

This stile below is pretty unique and not a style of stile I have seen anywhere else. It leads to a public footpath and a lot of paths around here have stone slabs to climb over, to keep livestock in, but this one also has a hole to allow rainwater to drain off the steep path behind.

Not only is traffic seasonal, but so are the parking restrictions, another reason for going now. The "No Parking" rules don't restrict parking according to the time of the day but by the month of the year. Restrictions come into force from 1st May to 30th September so it meant I was able to park in the village for free and for as long as I liked.

The beach parking is further on and quite expensive as the whole sea front belongs to a private estate. As a pedestrian there is free access on a public footpath to the beach but to drive further than the village you go through a gate with a toll booth.

Before heading to the beach I walked down to the lower level where the ancient quay meets the river Avon just before it meets the sea. From here a seasonal ferry runs between Bantham and Cockleridge Ham. The wonderfully named Cockleridge Ham isn't so much a place or even a sandwich filling as it is somewhere you get off the ferry. The ferry is particularly popular with walkers following the SW Coast Path as without it there would be a large detour inland to Aveton Gifford to cross the river.

I had presumed from it's apparent age that Coronation Boathouse must be named for the coronation of Victoria in 1838 but it turns out that it is positively modern by Bantham standards built in 1938 to celebrate the coronation of King George VI by the Estate’s owner at the time, Commander Evans. He also built Villa Crusoe, Cockleridge House and Ham Cottage to create homes for his three daughters. The boathouse is decorated with ships figureheads.

A figurehead is a carved wooden decoration found at the bow of ships, generally of a design related to the name or role of a ship. They were predominant between the 16th and 20th centuries, and modern ships' badges fulfil a similar role.

On walking through the sand dunes towards the sea I was accosted by a voice, "Excuse me, excuse me", very polite I thought. When I turned, it was to find a small boy who explained that he was looking for a lost dog and had I seen one wandering about. I had seen several so I asked him what it looked like. "Brown and blonde" he explained. This little boy was wearing a faded red baseball cap and he was as tall as my waist. How big is it I asked. He proceeded to come right up to me and point at my leg where he estimated the dog's height to be.

So I said, sort of Labrador size then, to which he nodded. He said "The owner is looking for it". So I said, "so it's not your dog then, you're just helping to look for it?" "Yes". He then starts chatting away and it turns out that in fact the owner is his grandmother and it is she that is blonde not the dog, thereby clearing up the mystery of how one dog can be both brown and blonde.

I hear voices in the distance and see a family coming in our direction through the dunes with two woolly looking black poodles bouncing along. He seems to recognise them so I say "is that your family because they seem to have two dogs, how many have you got?" "Only one" says he and seeing me move to carry on walking he says are you going this way and proceeds to walk ahead of me muttering away about his grandmother and her dog as if we are in deep conversation, being fairly deaf myself I am not really party to most of his monologue.

While I stop to take this photo below he wanders off, and I assured him that if I saw the dog I would shout after him. After a while I hear voices approaching and when I look round, he is back, this time with his father and the two woolly dogs trotting along. I called over, "have you found the dog?" The father rolls his eyes and tuts and says "Don't worry, there is no lost dog". I got the impression from his manner that this dog regularly "gets lost".

So I am still wondering at how children's minds work and how fantastic their imagination is. If you ever read a Famous Five novel by Enid Blyton when you were young this was a potential scene straight out of one. All I needed was lashings of ginger beer, a suspicious looking farmer, some spies, and the mysterious "Kirrin Island" which is already there, out in the bay right ahead of me, with it's ruined castle and secret tunnel linking it to the mainland.

But that was all fiction in my own childhood, while this is the actual Burgh Island ahead of me, retreat of Agatha Christie, another famous writer. Burgh Island served as the inspirational setting for Soldier Island (And Then There Were None) and for the setting of the Hercule Poirot mystery Evil Under the Sun. The large white building is the Art Deco hotel where she stayed and which today plays host to international celebrities some of whom arrive by helicopter, it's that sort of hotel.

Coincidentally a few years ago I got the chance to do some photos inside an old Edwardian theatre in the town where I lived. The production set at the time was "And Then There Were None". The ten figurines (toy soldiers) in the plot are shown here on the mantle piece above the fireplace.

The play has problems these days because of the arcane nursery rhyme involved, which gave the play it's original title. A modern version of the nursery rhyme replaces the original in contemporary productions.

And Then There Were None is a mystery novel by the English writer Agatha Christie, described by her as the most difficult of her books to write. It was first published in the United Kingdom by the Collins Crime Club on 6 November 1939, as Ten Little Ni**ers, after the children's counting rhyme and minstrel song, which serves as a major element of the plot. A US edition was released in January 1940 with the title "And Then There Were None", which is taken from the last five words of the song. All successive American reprints and adaptations use that title, except for the Pocket Books paperbacks published between 1964 and 1986, which appeared under the title "Ten Little Indians".

The book is the world's best-selling mystery, and with over 100 million copies sold is one of the best-selling books of all time.

If you look through the open window into the blue distance you may just see me with my camera looking back, mysteriously standing on the dunes in the distance, on the mainland.

Burgh Island is joined to the mainland at low tide by a sandy causeway with flat beaches on both sides in two different bays. Here below you can see the causeway just revealing itself. When the tide is in, guests at the hotel can be transported through the waves by an elevated platform on wheels called the sea tractor, if they don't have their own helicopter that is.

The dunes at Bantham rise to quite a surprising height and are consolidated by grasses and wooden palings.

Beyond the Pale- outside the bounds of acceptable behaviour.

Centuries ago when civilised communities were forced to live within defensive structures , like forts, walls or fences, for reasons of safety, the dangerous uncivilised others were not inside the palings or fence, they were instead beyond the pale.

As I was walking the beach the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) lifeguard showed up to set up a guarded safe area for swimming. Conditions can be quite dangerous on this stretch of coast as the tidal range is great, and with two bays and a river and a causeway all affecting currents, care must be taken.

I didn't realise it when taking these photos but this lifeguard station had only a day or two previously recovered a body from the water after a major search. A man had been reported missing from the island and an object in the water had been sighted. At the time of writing there is no official identification or suggestion as to what happened. Sadly incidents like this are not so rare and on a pervious occasion, when visiting the island the other side, we witnessed a helicopter rescue of a surfer which had a happier ending.

If I were a choreographer looking for inspiration for a modern dance piece I could do worse than base it on this sight below as the lifeguard places his flags out to mark the safe area.

Bantham Beach is a very popular water sports location. Kayaks, paddle boards and kite surfing are all de rigueur.

De Rigueur- In French, de rigueur means "out of strictness" or "according to strict etiquette"; one definition of our word rigor, to which rigueur is related, is "the quality of being strict, unyielding, or inflexible." In English, we tend to use de rigueur to describe a fashion or custom that is so commonplace within a context that it seems a prescribed, mandatory part of it.

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