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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Odds and Sods March 2024

The rain continues and I am fairly convinced that this is the wettest winter I ever remember. I have a physical measure just to be sure. The garden wall outside my window was finished in September, and I have been waiting for it to dry enough for me to put a coat of paint on it. It hasn't yet. It gets close sometimes. It goes pale almost all over, but just as that last wet patch is starting to shrink the rain starts again. So my March collection of Odds and Sods is mostly overcast and grey, with the shots taken every time the wall started to dry and we ventured out. Even these ventures out usually ended up with a sprint for cover, like here at Greenway House.

When Agatha Christie was on her summer holidays and sleeping in late to wake up to breakfast in bed before descending the stairs to her study to write another best seller this was her first view of the day ahead. This is the stairwell of Greenway House on the river Dart in South Devon.

It is quite some holiday home. But then she is the best selling author of all time. Dame Agatha, or The Queen of Crime, or Lady Mallowan, wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short stories, and created two of the world's best known detectives, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Her book sales according to the Guinness Book of World Records amount to over 2 billion. UNESCO cites her as the most translated of all authors ever, with her novel "And Then There were None" selling over 100 million copies. Now, this house is starting to look quite understated.

The house is now owned by The National Trust and furnished throughout with original objects belonging to the family. They were all avid collectors, making the house appear more like a museum of things than a home.

The house is in a remote spot, with grounds overlooking the river Dart. There is limited parking space for cars and you have to book a space to visit, but the best way to visit is by boat from Dartmouth itself. A short ferry ride drops you at the slipway opposite Dittisham where you can enter the grounds. You can also get the Dittisham ferry to The Ferry Boat Inn for lunch before using the Dittisham ferry to cross over.

The estate of Greenway was first mentioned in 1493 as "Greynway" and was a known crossing point of the river Dart. The first known building was a Tudor mansion built in the late 16th century by the Gilberts, a seafaring family. Sir Humphrey Gilbert was the first man to take possession of Newfoundland for Queen Elizabeth I. Sir John oversaw 160 Spanish prisoners of war during the aftermath of the routing of the Spanish Armada and their half brother was Sir Walter Raleigh who also resided here at one time. The estate was worked by the Spanish prisoners of war.

Some investigation of the current house has revealed traces of the original Tudor courtyard underneath the floors. The Tudor house is believed to have been demolished in the late 18th century. The house that replaced it had several owners who all left their mark.

Todays property listings pale in comparison to those of 200 years ago......

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 05 July 1832

In Devon.

A singularly delightful MARINE RESIDENCE, on

the Bank of the famed River Dart, within sight of DARTMOUTH

and TORBAY, with its finely timbered Park

and Grounds, and at least Three Miles of Plantation Walks,

on the Bank of this splendid River.

Tithe Free

MR. GEORGE ROBINS has great pleasure in announcing to the Public in general (but he would especially direct his observations to EAST INDIAN VALETUDINARIANS, for manifest reasons, presently to be noticed), that he has been favoured by the instructions of the respected Proprietor of


to Offer, with the Extensive DEMESNE connected with it

For SALE, by Public Competition,

At the Auction Mart, London,

On Thursday, the 2nd Aug. Twelve o'Clock.

This Freehold Marine Residence, and the beauties of the



are familiar with the immediate vicinity, and the tourist who has sojourned here will not fail to have a lively recollection of some of its imposing features. To such he feels that no apology will be due for this endeavour to extend the publicity and great renown of


nor will he be charged by those who have partaken of this great treat with having too highly coloured the landscape that is to follow. To do it justice, and yet avoid the charge of making the picture too vivid, is by no means an easy task and conscious of the feeble hand that has to pourtray many of the beauties of


......and that was just the introduction.

In 1938 Agatha Christie had married her second husband Max Mallowan the archaeologist and looking to move from nearby Torquay she describes in her autobiography.....

"One day we saw that a house was up for sale that I had known when I was young ... So we went over to Greenway, and very beautiful the house and grounds were. A white Georgian house of about 1780 or 90, with woods sweeping down to the Dart below, and a lot of fine shrubs and trees – the ideal house, a dream house."

Family time at Greenway was interrupted by the Second World War. It was first requisitioned and used to provide a safe place for child evacuees. It was used again from 1944 to 1945 by the U.S. Coast Guard for D-Day preparations. You can see evidence of the Coast Guard's occupation of Greenway in the Library. A decorative frieze was painted by Lieutenant Marshall Lee who was a graphic artist.

The house was unexpectedly decommissioned and returned to Agatha on Christmas Day 1945. She was pleased to see that little damage had been done but was somewhat surprised to find the 'graffiti' left in the Library. The commander wrote to Agatha offering to have ‘the fresco’ painted out and, as her autobiography records, she hurriedly wrote back that ‘it would be an historic memorial and I was delighted to have it’. The National Trust

ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot episode "Dead Man's Folly" was filmed at the house.

Dead Man's Folly (1956)

The boat house of Greenway Estate is described as the spot where the first victim is discovered, and the nearby ferry landing serves as the place where another murder victim is dragged into the water for death by drowning.

The battery was built in the 1790's as a second line of defence up river from Dartmouth during the Napoleonic wars.

March saw some rare very high Spring tides that coincided with storms and high winds, which made getting into your boat a lot easier and sitting on the benches to admire the view a bit wetter.

When it wasn't raining it was possible to walk along the coast path. This section runs from Beesands to Hallsands and there was Spring colour everywhere.

The trees and shrubs are kept constantly wind pruned into aerodynamic ground hugging curves.

We've had so much rain that springs have appeared all over the place and even the local farmers are finding new springs on their land where none have been seen in living memory. The reservoirs are now all full, that's official, and so is the land beneath the surface. Water is overflowing everywhere, even running down the beaches.

I took the opportunity of the main coast road, the A379, being closed at Stoke Fleming to do a photo walk around the village. That will form a later post but I have included a few shots here as a taster. The road was closed to repair a very large stone retaining wall that forms the edge of the road at a narrow point. It took three months to build the new wall. This is the centre of the village.

Outside the Green Dragon was this old barrel, with its rusty rim and watery top.

This is a narrow lane out of the village that leads to sea views. Stoke Fleming is high up on the cliffs.

I cannot understand how this lane got it's name.

This is the ancient church in the centre of the village. I have a seperate couple of posts about it here.

This is the narrow section of the main road which was impassable. The official diversion is several miles around.

But if you dare to attempt this "dogleg" in the lanes with it's less than 90 degree turn and width restrictions then you are very brave.

This is a "belly button" plant in the moss on a stone wall. Also called Navelwort or Wall Pennywort it thrives around this area. Both the name "navelwort" and the scientific name Umbilicus come from the round shape of the leaves, which have a navel-like depression in the center.

Navelwort is also assumed to be the "Kidneywort" referred to by Nicholas Culpeper in The English Physician, although it may actually refer to the unrelated Anemone hepatica. Culpeper used astrology, rather than science, to classify herbs, and as such is not a reliable source.

He claimed:

The juice or the distilled water being drank, is very effectual for all inflammations and unnatural heats, to cool a fainting hot stomach, a hot liver, or the bowels: the herb, juice, or distilled water thereof, outwardly applied, heals pimples, St. Anthony's fire, and other outward heats. The said juice or water helps to heal sore kidneys, torn or fretted by the stone, or exulcerated within; it also provokes urine, is available for the dropsy, and helps to break the stone. Being used as a bath, or made into an ointment, it cools the painful piles or hæmorrhoidal veins. It is no less effectual to give ease to the pains of the gout, the sciatica, and helps the kernels or knots in the neck or throat, called the king's evil: healing kibes and chilblains if they be bathed with the juice, or anointed with ointment made thereof, and some of the skin of the leaf upon them: it is also used in green wounds to stay the blood, and to heal them quickly.

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