Tuesday, 3 October 2017

South West holiday - the Villages

Got up and checked out early to give Jenna, another guest, a lift to Moretonhampstead where she was catching a bus. It was a drivingly wet day on the high roads, and persistently drizzly as we came down, so I was glad I'd chosen today to see some of the villages.  I was heading North East to my sister's in Bristol, and there were a couple of stops I wanted to make on the way...

Jenna and I let the rain rain itself out over a cup of chamomile, said goodbye, and then I went round the art galleries and craft shops.  There's one near the church that has a little museum upstairs, giving a little history of the area.  I also passed a really nice forge and tracked down some of the sculptures placed round the village.  It's a nice little place, but I didn't want to stop too long.  There was somewhere in particular I wanted to visit.

I headed over to Chagford, where I wanted to spend more of my morning.  Chagford is a bigger place, and beautiful to walk round.  It's known, among other things, for the community of artists and crafts-folk who live in and around the village.  For over five years now I've been following the blog of Terri Windling, an author and editor who lives in Chagford and writes about the creative process and what she refers to as the 'mythic arts' over a range of art disciplines.  Also I really like her taste in music (listened to on Monday mornings as I start my week at work).  Through her blog I've come across a number of other artists who often have this same sense of mythic liminality in their work - capturing both the pragmatically mundane and the otherworldy extraordinary in the same works of art.  It's not something I get to pursue much in my own work, but it strikes all the right chords in me and I love to see it.

Having visited, I can understand why his particular place either draws or grows so many such people.  Chagford is perched right on the divide between farmland and moor, occupying a sort of liminal space itself.  From the top of the big hill that dominates the village, you can see both landscapes by barely turning your head.  For all it's tourist popularity, Dartmoor is still very much a wild space, and I can imagine that living on the edge of it, seeing it eternally hovering above you, would feed that side of you to a point where you just had to make something in response.  It's an ever-present source of inspiration, and impossible to get away from.

There are several galleries local craft shops in and around the Square, all full of work by local artists.  The Three Hares gallery was particularly lovely, featuring work exclusively by Eleanor Ludgate.

It's not polite to photograph gallery work for sale,
so this is taken from the website http://devonsnatureinart.com
Even so, it doesn't do justice to the vibrant blues and shimmering golds of the real piece.

Also, the all-purpose shop in the high street stocking 'Moorland Goods' is arguably one of the most useful shops I've ever seen.  I tried to think of something I might want to buy that wasn't stocked there in some form, but couldn't come up wth anything!  Poking about in here was a lot of fun.

The other thing Chagford is known for are the two Tinners Hares that you can find in St Michael's church.  A Tinner's Hare is a symbol featuring three running hares with two ears each despite there only being three available between them.  It must be magic!  They appear in in a few other places, particularly around Devon, but here they can be seen as oak bosses that decorate the church ceiling, one gilded and in the centre near the communion table, and the other tucked away in one of the aisles, but lit with spotlights to aid visitors.

Although the hares are a special feature, it's worth tearing your eyes off the ceiling if you can to look at the rest of the woodwork, because it's really quite lovely.  The rood screen separating the congregation from the choir in particular is incredibly intricate.

I hadn't planned to do much walking today, as I wanted to turn up in Bristol in a presentable state, but the rain had cleared a bit and I couldn't resist wandering.  I followed a road and a path down to Padley Common, and found myself eyeing Meldon Hill - it was staring at me, begging to be climbed.  However I couldn't spot how it's path and mine linked up so I decided to return to the car, have my sandwich, and try to work it out on the map.  As I headed back to town I found myself walking behind a couple with a black Labrador, all three of them looking oddly familiar...

As I overtook them the woman glanced at me and I realised that I did recognise her - I recognised all of them - it was Terri Windling, her husband Howard, and their dog Tilly!  I was so surprised that I couldn't think what to do - I knew that all these people I'd heard of lived here, but I hadn't expected to actually bump into anybody! - and so I kept walking for a minute, trying to decide if I should say anything.  If we'd been at an event it would have been an easy choice, but they were all 'off duty' and probably near home; I didn't want to intrude too much.

Fortunately there was a gate in our path which I held so they could catch up.  I introduced myself and managed to tell Terri how much I enjoy her work, and what I was doing in the area.  Despite my wandering suddenly into their personal life, they were very gracious about it, I managed to keep my foot mostly out of my mouth, and Terri even directed me down to a studio in town where some of those artists were setting up for an exhibition.  "Tell them I sent you, and they'll let you have a look."  They'd finished and gone to lunch when I stuck my head in, but some of the artwork was up in the foyer and so I got to enjoy that.  It was lovely of her to do it.  What a wonderful surprise to end my Dartmoor visit with!

And I did get up that hill in the end.  Definitely worth the effort.

On top of  Meldon Hill, looking towards Chagford and the civilised farmland beyond
And turning only slightly, the heights of Dartmoor just a few miles away.
Also, this little gentleman scratching an itch.
My last stop was the nearby Castle Drogo, a faux castle built by a guy who'd made his fortune establishing what became a famous supermarket chain, but didn't have the sense not to put a flat roof on a building on the edge of Dartmoor.  It's been leaking ever since and consequently needs massive restoration.  "National Trust is saving Castle Drogo" read the signs.  "From itself!" I wanted to add with a marker pen.  As usual NT card holders get in for free and you can look round the finished parts of it, and see what they're up against and how this sort of work actually gets done.  The gardens are also very nice.  It's a good spot for a castle, with a beautiful view across the valley, and I'm sure it'll be lovely when it's done.  Again.

And finally to Bristol, to eat fish and chips, and have a glass of wine and good old natter with my sister.

A cup of tea: £2

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