We’ve had a busy few days since our last post. Determined to make the most of our English Heritage membership, we’ve been visiting as many properties as we can along our route West towards Cornwall. I’ve never seen Mark concentrate so hard on paperwork! Here he is, busy updating his “savings” list:
Unfortunately for Mark, the first place we visited was free….. Maiden Castle is the largest iron age hill fort in Britain (mai-dun meaning “great hill” in celtic).
The top of the hill fort is huge, with an area apparently equivalent to 50 football pitches:
Here’s what it would have looked like “back in the day”:
Our next stop was Portland Castle, another of Henry VIII’s “Device” castles. Portland harbour would have been a good place for the pesky French or Spaniards to land troops. Portland worked with Sandsfoot Castle on the opposite side of the bay to prevent this.
From Portland Castle we got a good view of two Phoenix caissons, reinforced concrete breakwaters of the type towed across the Channel in 1944 to form the Mulberry Harbours used in the D-Day landings.
Our route took us on a short ferry ride across to Dartmouth…..
We had a full day visiting Dartmouth Castle and Dartmouth itself.
Dartmouth Castle (as the name suggests) guards the entrance to the river Dart. There has been a fortification here from the late 14th century. In the late 15th century a new tower was completed from which a chain could be laid across from one side to the other to stop enemy ships entering
We spotted a sign advertising a ferry to town at the bargain price of £2.50 each and decided to get the ferry there as the Sun was shining, then walk back to SOK later.
On the trip into town, everyone on the small ferry seemed to be playing the same game: which house would you have?
We liked Dartmouth. It was compact, picturesque, and had plenty of shops to keep us tourists entertained for an hour or two window-shopping for things we have no use or space for in a 6 metre van.
Dartmouth had lots and lots of plaques on walls highlighting the various local historical figures and events (all significant things / people we had heard of – impressive for such a small place).
The Mayflower called in at this very spot for around 8 days in 1620 (as the ship it was supposed to be travelling to America with, the Speedwell, needed repairs):
We spent Thursday night on a camp site near Slapton Sands. Well, flipping heck, Mark announced that he’d heard of Slapton Sands as he’d read a dog-eared paperback about Exercise Tiger on his first trip to Antarctica over 20 years ago now….. I’d never heard of Exercise Tiger…..
It seems that before the D-Day landings, practice landings were arranged and Slapton Sands were chosen as the beach was very similar to Utah beach, one of the planned landing sites in France. Over 750 local families were given six weeks’ notice to leave the area, with 30,000 acres requisitioned for ten months.
Exercise Tiger was one of the later exercises. Ships set off from various South coast ports, the aim being for the travel time to Slapton Sands to approximate the “real” travel time expected in the D-Day landings. On this occasion, German torpedo boats unfortunately found and attacked three tank landing ships heading for Slapton Sands, with the loss of over 800 US servicemen’s lives. The D-Day landings themselves were then at risk until the bodies of all those senior enough to have known the plan were recovered, removing the possibility that they could have been captured by the Germans.
The “swimming tank” pictured above with SOK (an adapted Sherman tank) was recovered in the 1980s having sunk 3/4 mile offshore when it disembarked from a landing craft without its waterproof engine plate in place. Oops. Well, that’s what practices are for I suppose….
Today (Friday) we visited Totnes. The council here provide much clearer instructions for motorhomers than the Isle of Wight did. We were allowed on one car park only, which turned out to be a very suitable and not too busy long stay car park on the edge of town. Just what we wanted.
Totnes Castle is a motte and bailey castle of the kind that bored me to tears when we had to learn about them (repeatedly) in primary school. They’re much better “in the flesh”:
The motte (mound) dates right back to the late 11th century. Originally, the construction on top would have been made of wood. The stone walls are much more recent – early 14th century (so a mere 700 or so years old…).
The town centre of Totnes, with its medieval street plan, was very attractive and had a good range of what seemed to be thriving shops (the locals may beg to differ, in which case I’d have to suggest they head North and have a look at our sorry excuse for a High Street as a comparison).
After a couple of successful purchases (a book on the Tudors from the second hand bookshop for me, a scotch egg from the butcher for Mark – plus ça change and all that…….) we left Totnes for our overnight stop in a farm yard. Oh, the glamour 😎
We’re slowly getting ourselves more organised – we’ve got a ferry to Brittany booked for Sunday 15 April and a return Calais-Dover crossing booked for Thursday 03 May. As Mark announced a few days ago, “these short trips are no good… it’s all a bit of a rush”.