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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Slapton, Part 1

First published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas SEPTEMBER. 08, 2021

Slapton is pretty unique or even pretty and unique. Even for around here, it is exceptional, in many ways. It is very old, recorded in the Domesday Book of 1089 as Sladone.

When researching history in Britain it is notable how place names have changed, sometimes unrecognisably over the centuries. When the majority of the population were illiterate, spellings didn't feature as an issue. Even the handful of people who could write had no reference for how to spell anything so just had to make it up. Thus over time, place names changed with changing pronunciation, and it is only in recent times of mass literacy and widespread officialdom that place names and their spellings have become cast in stone, so to speak.

Cast in stone - Permanently fixed or firmly established; not subject to any amendment or alteration.

The nearby beach is a coastal bar, known as Slapton Sands. After Lalla Rookh, a tea clipper, was wrecked at Prawle Point in March 1873, some of her cargo of tea and tobacco, heaped up to 11 feet (3.4 m) high in places, as well as pieces of wreckage, were washed up on Slapton Sands.

I think it would have been a salty cuppa though.

Thomas Garway, a tobacconist and coffee house owner, was the first person in England to sell tea as a leaf and beverage at his London coffeehouse in Exchange Alley in 1657. He had to explain the new beverage in a pamphlet. Immediately after Garway began selling it, the Sultaness Head Coffee House began selling tea as a beverage and posted the first newspaper advertisement for tea in Mercurius Politicus on 30 September 1658.

The announcement proclaimed, "That Excellent, and by all Physicians approved, China drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other nations Tay alias Tee, ...sold at the Sultaness-head, ye Cophee-house in Sweetings-Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London".

The village is set well back from the sea. Most of the oldest villages along this coast are. Those that are on the water tend to have developed much later, when attack from the sea was less likely. Those later developments tend to be the larger towns of the area today as they were more accessible by water for trade.

Roads in this part of the world and bridges too, are a relatively modern thing. Even as recently as the early 1800's some areas were only accessible by packhorse and not by wheeled transport, so good was the access by sea.

As a consequence these villages developed with four legs in mind not with wheeled vehicles.

On the day of my photo walk this sight below was the Dartmouth Royal Regatta Yacht Race.

1822. First recorded Regatta organised by the gentlemen of the neighbourhood for the gentlemen.

1834. A new start and regarded as the 1st in the present series, a Regatta fund was set up.

1856. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visit. The Queen bestows the title of Royal on the Regatta.

1939. 100th Dartmouth Regatta held, followed by a 7 year gap with no Regatta’s due to War.

2018/19. First ever Flyboarding display (James Prestwood) on the river. Kontiki Raft race returns.

I don't drive into Slapton if I can help it. There is a small layby on the left just outside the village. I walk a few hundred yards from here. The "main road" through Slapton goes to Totnes 11 miles away. It explains here it is a mile long through the village.

The bus certainly doesn't enter the village as it wouldn't fit the gap at some points and certainly would find no area to turn around. 6'6'' equates to just under two metres. They are not exaggerating. That doesn't stop people ignoring the signs though.

Near here there is a B and B down a narrow lane where the owner will tell of the day that two vehicles met, that couldn't pass, more vehicles joined at both ends and soon the queue of vehicles was so long in both directions that no one could move or turn. This traffic jam took more than three hours to resolve itself.

On a previous walk we passed a large mobile home already half way through, using a Sat Nav system. At that point they had not reached the narrowest section. They had come all the way from Totnes, 11 miles away.

This is the wide bit of the road below. It gets narrower. It is also blind bends and steep slopes. The village is small but there are no straight lines, you soon lose your sense of direction and I always get lost. But it leads to Totnes, 11 miles away.

The buildings in Slapton are very much cheek by jowl as can be seen below where the Gospel Hall is built half behind the cottage at the front, the cottage being much older. In fact it looks to me like the chapel was built in the garden of the cottage.

One of a pair of cottages, grade 2 listed, possibly originally one house. Probably C18.

Up hill or down dale, the choice is yours, below. Notice how the owner of the cottage on the left has installed their own makeshift rope handrail to aid ascending the slope. Both pubs are on the right so we'll go up hill, at least there will be a drink available, and Totnes is 11 miles away.

This is the Queens Arms and in the background you can see the ruined tower next to the Tower Arms.

This is what it says on the website of the Queens Arms .......

"Delicious home-cooked food and a great pint (just remember to remove your face mask first)."

...... and this is what it says in the window, below.

Covid rules specified originally that no pub could serve customers at the bar. All customers must sit at a table and be waited on. That is the opposite of a pub, that is a restaurant, so consequently many pubs had no option but to remain closed. Smaller pubs without space inside or outside for social distancing had to remain shut. Pubs that could not afford the extra staff to serve fewer customers at tables had to remain closed.

An estimated 400 pubs have closed permanently during the Covid-19 pandemic. Across Britain, there are 9.7% fewer restaurants to choose from, compared with before the pandemic.

This is the view of the church from the pub, so you can contemplate higher things as you sup your pint, or drink up and pop in for a quick prayer.

Because of the geography of the village, houses are built where there is a gap or a level plot, sometimes stepped on different levels, sometimes wedged into a triangle or a curve. This property is both raised up above the road and wedged into a triangle. This door leads into the walled garden, while the driveway on the right leads up to the gate. The narrow road on the left is the main road to Totnes, 11 miles away.

This is the most hair raising part of your journey by car. Narrow, high walls and a blind bend, and yes, this is a two way street, to Totnes, 11 miles away.

Another doorway into the same property below. Be careful emerging though as you could be swiped by a wing mirror.

Before it became overgrown there was a private footbridge over the road which now makes a fine Wisteria feature. Upstairs which is actually downstairs, there is a cantilevered walkway that hangs over the road, making it feel even narrower.

Below, and you're thinking, well that looks OK, plenty of room. But that isn't the road on the right, that is just a passing place in case you get to the bend and find someone got there first. The car on the left is probably going to Totnes, 11 miles away.

While you wait for the traffic jam to clear in the passing place you can wind down your window and read the Parish Notices, below.

As I said, triangles and curves.

Here is the tower next to the appropriately named Tower Inn, below. The Inn is currently closed due to a serious fire earlier this year, so yes a fire engine did have to get here down that road.

The Collegiate Chantry of St Mary was founded in 1372 or 1373 by Sir Guy de Brian. The Tower Inn and West tower remain and the tower has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building. In 1373 Sir Guy de Brian, standard-bearer to Edward III at the Battle of Crecy and lord of the manor, founded a collegiate chantry here with an endowment of 6 priests, 1 rector, 5 fellows and 4 clerks.

After the foundation of the college the tithes of the parish church were appropriated to the chantry one of whose priests was appointed Minister to the church. The last rector of the chantry was Nicholas Morton. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries the chantries revenues were granted to Thomas Arundel. It remained in the possession of the Arundels until the C17 when it passed to the Page family. Now all that survives above ground is the west tower of the chantry church.

You will by now have a sense of how small Slapton is, so a remarkable fact is that there are 59 listed buildings in the village.

Part of the Chantry complex next to The Tower Inn.

The small cottage to the left, below, with the small porch is Pound Cottage, Grade 2 listed.

Circa C18. Rendered stone rubble. Thatched roof, hipped at right end and with gabled left end with projecting rendered stack with short tapered shaft with slate weathering. Doorway to right of centre with C20 glazed door and large C20 glazed porch.

The Land Rover is fully equipped for the surf. And we are still climbing up to the heights. Totnes is still 11 miles away.

Don't park opposite this corner, below, because as you can see the timber, wall and the sign itself have been scraped multiple times.

This is still the main road to Totnes, below, it's 11 miles away. No passing place here just crossed fingers.

Crossed Fingers - To cross one's fingers is a hand gesture commonly used to wish for luck. Occasionally it is interpreted as an attempt to implore God for protection. The gesture is referred to by the common expressions "cross your fingers", "keep your fingers crossed", or just "fingers crossed". The act of crossing one's fingers mainly belongs to Christianity. The earliest use of the gesture had two people crossing their index fingers to form a cross.

At the top of the lane you can now look back towards the sea as you are at eye level with the weather vane on the church. The church will feature in Part 2.

Coming back down the hill now, with another lane or two to explore, some exotic fruits and the church interior, with a memorial to someone with an unusual name. All of these should feature in Part 2.

So I leave you with an intriguing question about maths. If you enter a village a mile long, and Totnes is 11 miles away when you enter the village and 11 miles away when you leave the village, what happened to the mile in the village?

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