Monday, 9 April 2018

Cannington Viaduct, Nr Uplyme, Devon

Opened in 1903, this 600ft viaduct was the first in Britain to be constructed in concrete. Unfortunately, the builders ran into problems when subsidence was discovered between two of the arches. This was subsequently reinforced by a fill-in arch, which gives it an unusual and distinctive look. It is the only remaining part of the Axminster to Lyme Regis railway branch line, which was closed in 1965 during the 'Beeching Cuts'.

The viaduct can be seen from the A3052 road between Seaton and Lyme Regis, and looks quite toy-like nestling between the hills. Close to, its impressive height has a slightly oppressive quality, and seems incongruous to be spanning a quiet country lane in the middle of a farming community.  There's a slight high-pitched singing from the wire attached beneath the span too, which is a little eerie.

A short distance along the lane is Shapwick Grange Chalk Quarry, which also adds to the otherworldliness of the landscape. I didn't know it was there until I looked at the maps on-line before going, and was really chuffed to be able to explore that too while there. My first quarry! Please note though, that since my visits to the quarry it is no longer abandoned but is now being re-worked, therefore access may not be possible.

The photo of the viaduct below, taken from the quarry.

My first visit to the viaduct was in November 2007, followed by a further explore the following year with a friend, at which time we investigated the possibility of walking across it. As it happened, the bridge was fenced off and totally overgrown. Mind you, I'm totally acrophobic, so I wasn't keen on walking over if it had been accessible! Not least because of the tiny ridge of earth across to the bridge with massive drops either side, below.

However, late in 2010, another friend had been told that it's now accessible, and invited me to join him to investigate. It was indeed accessible, and the following photos show some of the walk across and the views from the top.

I have to admit that there were moments of complete frozen terror for me whenever I remembered what wasn't between me and terra firma, but it was so well worth it. 

Below...that's a long way to go to get to the end! 

By the way, I must apologise for the bad quality of some of the photos; I seem to have had a bad camera day, plus the printer managed to lose half of the first film in the machine. The biggest problem with 35mm photography is that you don't know what you've got until the films are processed, and it isn't always possible to go back and retake in this case!

Cracks in the concrete walls didn't inspire my confidence!

Looking back, below.

Fantastic views through the grills in the parapet walls...

...with the lane looking like a stream in the low Winter sunlight.

Finally reached the western end.

 Very overgrown at that end and no way off, which meant, of course, going back the way we came. I was very much hoping we didn't have to do that! ;) 

A final photo of the fantastic view over the parapet; lower due to the build-up of earth from the trees and shrubs growing on the bridge, then a much-needed ciggy break before the journey back across to the start.

Next post up, Shapwick Grange Quarry just along the lane. :)


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Farm Worker's Cottage, Colyford, Devon

This is a bit of a mystery. I was told that it used to be a cottage belonging to a nearby farm. But it's so overgrown during the summer that only the roof can be seen, and appears to be extraordinarily tiny. However, exposure during the winter reveals more to this building than meets the eye.

I'd often noticed it while going past on the bus and one day on the way home I decided to cut short my journey to investigate.

Despite the frustration of too much undergrowth and not being able to get a proper look all the way around, or clear photos of some of it, it was a lovely little mooch and some intriguing detective work. The undergrowth was far worse than it looks on the photos - a machete would have been helpful! - and was mostly impassable, but it was fun trying.

Interestingly, I've since discovered that very old farm buildings that we today would consider tiny, were home to quite large families. There are remains of these - sometimes just the basic foundations - dotted around the Devon countryside and usually hidden from view in small woods and coppices.

However, what appeared to be tiny was, in fact, only part of an altogether larger structure. The rear wall is over twice the length of the frontage and only the rear and end walls of the right-hand side of the cottage still remain.


It was walking behind the rear wall that made me realise the building was longer than appeared at the front. The above photos show the end of the rear wall, which was as far as I could go...or wanted to, in case I fell down into what looked like a steep pit the other side.



The other oddlty is a small porch-like structure at the rear of the building. There's no access between it and the building, and I did wonder if it was originally an outside toilet. But, I now realise that it must have been the porch entrance to the front door, taken off and dumped at the back when the frontage was either demolished or became unsafe.

With the front more exposed during winter, and by wriggling through some of the hedge, I could see that the right end wall of the intact part of the cottage was once inside, and only the rear and end walls of the right side remains. It's impossible to explore that side due to the coppice of trees and brambles which have grown up and around it. Also there is the considerable drop to the same level of the ground floor or a cellar beneath, which I thankfully managed to avoid falling down!

The photo below shows the once interior wall from the front. It can't be seen on the photo, due to the intense undergrowth, but there is a door halfway up the wall. The roof and floors have been removed from that section.

Altogether a nice little mystery and a rather interesting explore, despite the struggle through the undergrowth to see it. Then a nice walk of just over a mile home and a well-deserved cuppa.  

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Sea Shanty, Branscombe, Devon

Following on from the National Trust Trail (see the last four posts for the Forge, Forge Cottages, The Old Bakery and Manor Mill), the Sea Shanty is the perfect end to a good walk with lots of interesting things to see. And, although this one isn't owned by the National Trust, it also has plenty of architectural and historical interest.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this is a place that has recently been built by adding to an existing farmhouse. Interestingly though, from what I can discover so far, there have been tea rooms here for at least 85 years.

According to the website of the current owners, the Sea Shanty has been "offering homemade lunches and cream teas to walkers of the South West Coast Path and beach lovers since 1943". However, I saw a lovely old photograph from 1931 in the Francis Frith Collection, which shows the Sea Shanty just as it looks today, and where people are sitting at the tables outside enjoying refreshments.

I found another bit of information from a review of the book Cliff and Beach at Branscombe by Barbara Farquharson & Sue Dymond, in which is mentioned that the Sea Shanty was built upon the coal yard at Branscombe Mouth. The oldest part of the building and walls may have been an original part of that.

I first visited the tea rooms some 35 years ago (circa 1980), after a long walk from Seaton along the cliff path with my little boy in his pushchair, plus my friend and her two little girls who were staying with us on holiday.

I hadn't been inside since, until this visit at the end of September 2015 after visiting the Forge, the Old Bakery and Manor Mill. 

Comprising the tea rooms and a shop, the one thing I didn't know about is the delightful courtyard 'secret garden' at the rear. Full of plants and herbs in pots, rustic seating, picnic benches, staddle stones and marine paraphernalia enclosed in ivy-encrusted stone rubble walls, with a rather grand centrepiece of a circular flower bed. In the middle of this are two mill stones adorned with large pebbles and old coloured glass fishing floats.

The ivy on the wall in the photos above and below hides the entrance to the loos, by the way, and is much more modern and beautifully kept than the entrance impies!

The photo below shows the grassy area outside where the al fresco picnic benches are.

A good walk, lots of interesting places to visit, finishing with hot chocolate and a slice of cake at the Sea Shanty. A perfect end to a perfect day! :)


Saturday, 17 March 2018

Manor Mill, Branscombe, Devon


Continuing from the last three blog posts, when some friends and myself visited four places on the National Trust trail in Branscombe, it was time for our last stop - or was it? More about that later, lol. After the Old Bakery (see last post) we went over this funky little bridge and across a field to Manor Mill; the fourth place on the National Trust trail.

This is the only surviving mill in Branscombe, which once had four mills; another grist mill, a sawmill and gypsum mill. Built in the 19th century, it was a later addition to the mediaeval ones, and was in use up until just before WW2. Left in disrepair, it was eventually restored in the 1990s to full working order, and can be seen working during opening times.

Walking past an outbuilding, the mill can be seen on the right in the above photo. The building doesn't appear to be on the British Listing register...although not all of them do appear as they are either new additions to the original listings or are on a council list elsewhere...or it may be because it wasn't considered a good enough example during its dilapidated state.

When we got there I enthusiastically walked down the slope to the front (below) but was called back by one of my friends who'd visited before... back up the slope again. Built into the hill, the top entrance leads into the first floor, next to which can be seen the waterwheel that powers the mill.

An overshot wheel, the leat runs into a wooden mill race where it then pours from the top, as opposed to an undershot wheel which has the stream at the bottom of the wheel.

The layout of a grist mill usually has four floors. Starting from the top, the highest and driest floors are the Sack Floor, where the grain is stored awaiting grinding, and the Grain Loft above that for the finished bags of flour.

The first floor is called the Stone Floor, which contains the millstones that grind the grain; together with the hoppers which deliver the grain into the stones. The Meal Floor is on the ground floor, where the machinery geared from the waterwheel to drive the stones is situated.

So our first port of call was the Stone Floor, where the grinding takes place.

Bags of grain or flour are delivered to the top floors by means of a chain hoist.

As can be seen in these photos, the grist is ground between two stones; the top one is called the runner, which is mounted on a separate spindle and driven by the main shaft, whereas the bottom one is called the bed and is fixed to the floor. The distance between the stones can be varied to produce a finer or courser flour and they turn at around 120 rpm.

The main shaft turns to drive other machinery too, such as a mechanical sieve to refine the flour and the wooden drum used to wind the chain that hoists up the sacks.

Below can be seen one of the hoppers which delivers the grain to the stones.

My friends went up some almost vertical wooden steps to see the sack room and grain loft, but I didn't think I'd manage to get back down if I tried, so I left that one. Then downstairs to the Meal Floor to see the machinery that drives the mill from the waterwheel.

The photo below is my favourite of the day, and one of my all-time favourites too. Spinning cogwheels, wood shavings, cobwebs and little model mice. Magic!

On the ground floor room there was also a rack with old-fashioned clothes for children to dress up in. Being the big kids that we are, we decided to have a go. The other two ladies wore the maids outfits. I'm not a girlie girl though, and I don't do frills and dresses, so I donned the waistcoat and cap. Someone kindly took a photo of us on one of my friends' camera - with me in the middle - but I don't have a copy of it. Not sure I'd want anyone to see it anyway! ;) 

 Outside again, exiting from the ground floor to the front of the mill.

Like most of the local vernacular buildings, it was built using stone rubble. There are wood lintels above the doors and windows, brick chimney stacks and hanging tiles on the overhang at the side, softened by a lovely ivy growing up part of one wall.

Although this was the last of the National Trust buildings there was still another place to visit, and after Manor Mill we continued along the path to the beach for our last port of call - the Sea Shanty - which has some interesting history as well as being a delightful building. It was also the perfect place to finish the day with cake and a cuppa at teatime.

To be continued in the next post.