To go from one Dorset or East Devon coast town to another by rail involves an amount of thought and a consultation of time-tables that would not be required for a journey from London to Aberystwyth, and unless the traveller hits on a particularly lucky set of connexions he will find that he can walk from one town to the other in less time than by taking the train. From Lyme to Seaton by the Landslip is barely seven miles; by rail it is fifteen, involving two changes. From Seaton to Sidmouth is nine miles by road and twenty-four by rail, with two changes and a possible third. Each of these sections can be comfortably tramped by the average good walker in a morning or afternoon with plenty of time for "side issues" and rambling about the towns themselves in the evening. One word of warning to those who adopt this method of seeing their own land, the only effective way in the writer's opinion. Do not be deceived into thinking that a mile on the map is a mile on the road. In this country of hills and valleys the distance can be added to considerably by these "folds in the tablecloth." A contour map in colours such as Bartholomew's "half inch" is a great help in this matter.

From Lyme the walk westwards by the cliff is, of course, the most beautiful way. Our present route, by the high road, passes between Rousdon, the great house of the neighbourhood, and Combpyne, where there is a station, the only one between Lyme and Axminster. This is a pleasant place, lost between hills, and quite out of sight from the railway. It has a church, built about 1250, with a gabled tower and with a hagioscope in the chancel. The communion plate dates from before the Reformation and is said to have been in constant use for more than four hundred years. In the thirteenth century a convent stood here; part of the buildings are now a farmhouse, but the villagers still point out the "Nuns' Walk" close by. A series of lonely and delightful lanes, difficult to follow without a good map (directions given by a rustic require a super-brain to remember their intricate details), lead down to the high road just short of the bridge over the Axe. Here a turn to the right leads to picturesque old Axmouth. The houses climb up a narrow combe down which tumbles a bright stream from the side of Hawksdown, the hill which rises to the north-east and is crowned by an ancient encampment. The church was originally Norman, but only the north door and south aisle remain of this period. In the chancel, which is in the Decorated style, is the effigy of a priest within a recess, and in a chantry chapel a monument to Lady Erle of Bindon. The curious wall paintings were discovered during the restoration of the church some years ago. An old standard measure for corn called the "Lord's Measure" is kept in a recess in the churchyard wall. Turning to the left from the church are some ancient cottages. On one of the chimneys will be seen the date 1570 and a motto: "God giveth all." Not far away is the entrance to Stedcombe, a house designed by Inigo Jones, which replaced an older building destroyed in the Civil War. Bindon, the home of Sir Walter Erle, a famous officer of the Parliamentary army, is about a mile from the village in the direction of the Landslip. It is a fine sixteenth-century mansion, now a farmhouse, a chapel attached to which is more than a hundred years older than the original building.

A road by the east bank of the Axe leads in a mile to Seaton, which is at the actual Axe mouth. This is a town almost without a history, although it still makes the not-proven assertion that it is the site of Moridunum. Some years ago the townsmen, with the idea that the label is the principal thing, stuck the word along the Esplanade wall in letters of black flint. Although the claim is not an impossible one, the probabilities point to the junction of the two great roads, the Fosse Way and the Icknield Way, near Honiton, as being the actual site of the Roman station. The remains of a villa of this period, together with various relics, pottery and coins, were found sometime ago at a place called Hannaditches just outside the town, so that the ubiquitous Latins were at any rate here.

Seaton is quite a different town to Lyme; it has practically no ancient buildings and the few old cob cottages that made up the original village have entirely disappeared. A "restoration" of the church in 1866 destroyed most of the old features, including a beautiful screen. The main fabric belongs to the Decorated period with some Perpendicular additions and very scanty remains of the original Early English building. The hagioscope in the chancel appears as a window in the outer wall. The Perpendicular tower replaces an older erection on the south side, of which the base alone remains. A flat gravestone in the churchyard has the following curious inscription: -


  Starre on Hie 
  Where should a Starre be 
  But on Hie? 
  Tho underneath 
  He now doth lie 
  Sleepinge in Dust 
  Yet shall he rise 
  More glorious than 
  The Starres in skies


The main streets of the town are pleasant enough, though most of the houses are small and of the usual lodging-house type. Seaton depends for its deserved popularity upon its open position, in which it differs from most Devon and Dorset resorts; its bracing air, due to the wide expanse of the Axe valley, and above all to the beautiful surrounding country. Treasure hunts along the beach for garnets and beryls are among the excitements of a fortnight in Seaton.

The unimposing way in which the Axe enters the sea will be remarked at once. It is supposed that the Danes made use of the river mouth as a harbour for their pirate ships and it was without doubt a port of some importance in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For the siege of Calais it provided two ships. But Leland (temp. Henry VIII) remarks that the silting up of the Axe had made the harbour useless for all but "small fisschar boates." The river now has great difficulty in getting to the sea at all through the high bank of shingle.

A good deal of Honiton lace is made both here and at Beer, though this East Devon industry is slowly dwindling in the several localities in which it was once an important commercial item.

The environs of Seaton are beautiful and interesting. The most popular excursion is to the Landslip at Dowlands. The nature of the scenery is so strange and bizarre, as well as beautiful, that it would impress the most stolid and sophisticated as something quite out of the common. North of the town are the villages of Colyford and Colyton; visitors are usually content to view these from the train, but they are worthy of closer inspection. The first-named is now a small village two miles from the sea. It is on the high road from Lyme Regis to Exeter and was once an important borough with a charter dating from the reign of Edward I. Colyton, a mile farther, is a queer old place with narrow, crooked streets. Its Perpendicular church is of much interest, and seems to have been designed by an architect with original ideas who, however, has not been preeminently successful in its details. The square battlemented tower with its octagonal lantern above is poorly executed, but otherwise the uncommon conception arrests attention and is worthy of praise: The parvise chamber over the porch, like many others, was for a long period the town school. The nave, rebuilt about the middle of the eighteenth century, is of no interest, but the Perpendicular arches between the chancel and aisles are very elaborate and fine. The Pole chapel is formed out of the eastern end of the south aisle and separated from the other portions by a stone screen of elaborate and beautiful workmanship. Within are the ornate figures of Sir John Pole and his wife. On the other side of the chancel is the Jacobean mausoleum of the Yonges, a great local family during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Gothic tomb with the recumbent figure of a girl upon it is known locally as "Little Chokebone." Margaret Courtenay, daughter of an Earl of Devon, was said to have been suffocated by a fish-bone, but the tradition has been doubted. From the armorial bearings above the tomb it would appear that the figure represents one of the daughters, or possibly the wife, of the sixth Earl of Devon. An interesting inscription in the south transept perpetuates the name of John Wilkins, who was minister from 1647 to 1660 when, as a Nonconformist, he was deprived of the living.

The vicarage was originally built in 1529 by Canon Brerewood, who erected the stone screen of the Pole chapel. It has been altered and partly rebuilt, but the porch retains the original inscription placed there by the Canon - " Meditatio totum; Peditatio totum."

Colcombe Castle, half a mile from the town, is now Colcombe Farm. It was once the seat of the Courtenays and the headquarters of Prince Maurice during the Civil War. In 1680 the Duke of Monmouth stayed either here or at the Great House near by, now a farm, but once occupied by the Yonges. An old stone arch in a field above the castle covers a spring of clear cold water.

Seaton Hole, the western extremity of Seaton Bay, lies under White Head, which is not white but brownish grey. Up the steps from the beach, a path leads from the "Hole" for a mile of steep up and down walking and then the explorer reaches Beer, famous for its "free trade" and its memories of a prince of smugglers - Jack Rattenbury; the 'Arrypay of Seaton Bay. His adventures, though not on the grand scale of the hero of Poole, were exciting enough, from his capture by the French, while ship's-boy on a local coaster, to his attempted arrest by a posse of soldiers in a Beer inn, where his escape was effected by the women of the village raising the cry "A wreck! a wreck!" and diverting his captors' attention. Rattenbury died in 1833 after receiving the princely sum of one shilling per week pension during the last years of his life from Lord Rolle. During this period he dictated his memoirs for publication in Sidmouth, to an editor who unconsciously gave the book a delicious touch of humour by putting into the mouth of this son of a Devon shoemaker the grandiloquent phrases of an early Victorian divine.

The picturesque and unspoilt little beach and the village street leading down to the sea are in great contrast to the new houses built on the hill behind, and the fine new church erected at the instance of the Lord of the Manor, one of the Rolle family. This replaced an ancient chapel dedicated to St. Michael, from which two old memorial tablets were transferred; one is to "Edward Good, late an Industrious fisherman," who left twenty pounds in trust for the poor of Beer and Seaton in 1804, and the other to "John, the fifth sonn of William Starr of Bere, Gent., and Dorothy his wife, which died in the plague was here bvried 1646." The dwelling of this Starr family was the Tudor house at the end of the main street which bears on it the design of a star, the rebus of the one-time owners.

A firm tradition is current among the fishermen, most of whom gain a livelihood in the summer by boat hire, that their forefathers were Spaniards shipwrecked in the Cove just after Beer had been depopulated by the plague, and that they settled in the empty houses, intermarrying with the maids of Devon left in the village. The story is certainly made convincing by the remarkably dark and foreign appearance of the villagers, especially in the case of the older men.

The famous quarries, from which the stone for Exeter Cathedral was taken, are about a mile from the village. The subterranean quarries are not now worked. They were used by the Romans and possibly before. The passages extend for a long distance under the hill and are said to communicate with the shore. They were no doubt of great value to the smugglers. It is extremely dangerous to attempt the penetration of the mysterious passages and caves without a competent guide and a dependable light. Holes of unknown depth filled with water are met with in the passages and a fatal accident is possible in any unwary exploration.

Bovey House is about a mile to the north. It is chiefly remarkable for a well about 180 feet deep which has a square chamber, 30 feet down, undoubtedly built as a hiding place. Another secret chamber in one of the chimneys is traditionally said to have hidden Charles II, but it has been proved that he did not pass this way.

Beer Head is the last outpost of the chalk and is a dazzling contrast to the prevailing reddish yellow of the Devonian coast. On the other side of the airy common that crowns the head, and that is known as South Down, is the delightful village of Branscombe (usually pronounced "Brahnscoom") built in the three valleys that unite at Branscombe mouth, the opening to the sea under the shadow of Bury Camp. The fine cruciform church is mainly Norman but with Early English and still later additions. It is supposed that the base of the tower is of Saxon workmanship. A monument (1581) in the transept is to Joan Tregarthen, her two husbands and nineteen children. One of the sons of her second marriage was the founder of Wadham College, Oxford. In the churchyard is a rough pillar usually described as a coffin-lid. It is probably a "Sarsen," indicating that the church site was used for worship in prehistoric times or at least that it was a place of sepulture. There are two headstones of very early date - 1579 (?) and 1580, and the tomb of Joseph Braddick (1673) bears the following curious epitaph:



There are several other curious records here that will repay perusal by their quaintness and unconscious pathos. One is rather ferocious:


The dedication and the name of the village are in some doubt. Authorities make claim for St. Brendan as the patron, hence Branscombe. A chapel was built at Seaton in honour of this traveller saint.

The coast at Branscombe is wildly beautiful, and an interesting ramble may be taken at low tide among the masses of rock that form a sort of undercliff; the miniature valleys between are carpeted with rare and beautiful flowers. It is not practicable to continue by the shore except at the expenditure of much exertion. The road to Sidmouth should be taken by way of the few houses that constitute Weston, and then by the highly placed Dunscombe Farm and the picturesque ruin near it. These winding lanes lead eventually to the lonely little church hamlet of Salcombe Regis - "King Athelstan's salt-works in the Combe." This is one of those sweetly-pretty lost villages by the sea which one hesitates to mention lest a speculator should investigate with the idea of an elaborate "simple life" hostel in his mind. But Salcombe is too difficult of approach, even for faddists, although only a nominal two miles separates it from the South Western terminus on the other side of the hill. The church dates from 1150, though aisles were added a hundred years later and the tower in 1450.

We now approach the borders of the older Wessex, the limit for which for want of definite evidence to the contrary the writer has had to fix arbitrarily at the mouth of the Otter. The last of the coast towns in this region is one of the best centres in south-east Devon for a detailed exploration of the countryside. That is, the best if a coast town must be chosen. To the writer's mind a better plan is to make a break from this established usage and get quarters in one of the quiet old places about eight or ten miles inland, such as Ottery or Axminster. But Sidmouth is an exceedingly pleasant spot, in which one need never feel dull or bored, and in which the vulgarities one associates with the "popular" watering place are entirely absent. The bright and clean appearance of the stuccoed houses, nearly always painted white, contrasting with the red of the cliffs and the green foliage with which the town is embowered, is very effective and even beautiful. The houses are grouped in a compact and cosy way between the two hills, although of late years a number of new and, at close quarters, staring red brick efforts at modernity have been made on the hillsides. But these are decently covered, in any general view of the town, in the wealth of trees that climb the lower slopes.

Certain quarters of Sidmouth have an air of antique and solid gentility that is a heritage from those days when it was a select and fashionable resort before the terraces of Torquay were built on the lines of its parent - Bath. After Lyme it was the first of the western coast towns to bid for the custom of the habitues of such inland resorts as Tunbridge Wells, Cheltenham and the like. The Victorian-Gothic building known as Royal Glen, originally Woolbrook Cottage, was for several years the home of the Duke and Duchess of Kent and the infant Princess Victoria. The Duke died here in 1820 and Queen Victoria caused a window to be placed to his memory in the rebuilt parish church.

The town is mentioned in Thackeray's Pendennis, and was the home of the immortal Mrs. Partington, an old acquaintance of Sidney Smith; she is supposed to have lived in one of the cob cottages that used to be on the front. Like the Lords with Reform, so was Mrs. Partington with the Atlantic Ocean, which she tried to keep out of her front door with a mop. "She was excellent at slop or puddle, but should never have meddled with a tempest." If she was an actual character the good dame's house probably stood where now the fine esplanade runs its straight course between Peak Hill and the Alma Bridge over the Sid. At the bridge the shingle bank baulks the stream from a clear course into the sea and usually forces it into an ignominious and green scummed pool that slowly filters through the stony wall. From the bridge a path ascends to the Flagstaff, where there is perhaps a better view than that from the much higher Peak Hill on the west. Torbay, Start Point, and the south Devon coast are in full but distant view across the bay, but Teignmouth and Dawlish hide behind the promontory called Black Head.

The direct Honiton road goes up the valley of the Sid through pleasant Sidford, which has a fine old farmhouse called Manstone and a number of picturesque cottages, and through Sidbury, beneath the encampment called Sidbury Castle. The Early Norman church at Sidbury is interesting. Alterations at various dates have given the building thirteenth-century transepts and a roof and aisles dating from two hundred years later. The fine Norman tower was entirely rebuilt about forty years ago when the two figures of SS. Peter and Giles were found and placed on the new west face. A Saxon crypt was discovered under the chancel when that portion was restored and a trap door gives access to this chamber from the floor. The church porch has a room over it known to the villagers as the "Powder Room." It is thought that this formed a sort of magazine for the troops quartered in the neighbourhood during the Napoleonic wars.

The "Sid Bury" is the tree-clad hill on the west. Upon its crown is an encampment with a ditch, its bottom 45 feet from the summit of the wall. The view, except down the Sid valley to the sea, is restricted, but in every direction it is beautiful.

About half a mile north of the village is a fine old mansion called Sand, belonging to the Huish family and erected in the closing years of the sixteenth century. It is now a farmhouse, but practically unaltered from its ancient state.

The coast from Sidmouth to the mouth of the Otter bends south-westwards in a long sweep and encloses within the peninsula thus formed the small and uninteresting village of Otterton that has on the other side of the river a station on the line running from Ottery St. Mary through Budleigh Salterton to Exmouth. The fine Peak Hill has its western slopes running down to the Otter valley just north of Bicton Park, where is a magnificent arboretum. The line from Sidmouth climbs round the northern slopes of the hill and drops into the valley at Tipton St. John's. The train then follows the waterside as closely as may be to Ottery St. Mary. This beautifully placed town is as delightful and convenient to stay in as any in Devon.

Ottery's proud boast is that it has the grandest church, apart from the great fane at Exeter, in the county. It is said that it owes its plan and general appearance to the inspiration of the Cathedral, and there is a striking resemblance on a small scale to that beautiful and original building. Not that St. Mary's is a small church; for the size of the town which it dominates it is vast. Erected during the period when national ecclesiastical art was at its most majestic and imposing, the Early English style of the greater portion of the structure is given diversity by certain Decorated additions. The beautiful stone reredos is at present empty of figures. Behind the altar the Lady Chapel, which has a stone screen, contains an old minstrels' gallery. The carving here, and the vaulting throughout the church, but especially in the chapel on the north side, is deservedly famous. During the time of Bishop Grandisson, about 1340, the church was made collegiate. In 1850 a so-called restoration by Butterfield did much damage, and some of the woodwork then introduced could well be "scrapped" and the church again restored to something of its previous simple dignity. The painting of the nave and chancel roofs has a peculiarly "cheap" and tawdry effect.

Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have lived in the town for a time, and during the Civil War it was for a month the head-quarters of Fairfax, who turned the church tower into a temporary fortress. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a native of Ottery and the son of one of its vicars. The poet was only nine when his father died in 1781. He was then placed in the Bluecoat school and there met his lifelong friend, Charles Lamb. The theological studies that at first seemed to be his natural bent were no doubt a consequence of his early environment. Near the church is a house now occupied by Lord Coleridge. Thackeray spent his school holidays at Larkbeare, the house of his stepfather, Major Carmichael Smith, and afterwards used Ottery ("Clavering St. Mary") as the scene of part of Pendennis.

The steep, narrow streets around the church have lost many of their picturesque old buildings, though a few of the smaller houses remain in the side turnings. The pleasant aspect of the town is greatly increased by the beauty of the river and of its banks both above and below the bridge. The stream is a great favourite with anglers, and Otter trout have a great reputation.

The great high road from Exeter to London passes a short distance north of Ottery and follows the river valley on its way to the old town under the shadow of Dumpdon Hill. Honiton is of world-wide fame in connexion with the beautiful lace that is still made in the vicinity. The long and broad High Street is practically all there is of the town, except for a few shops and smaller houses on the way to the railway station. Save on market day Honiton sleeps the hours away, or seems to do so; possibly there is an amount of business done behind doors, and in a quiet way, to account for the comfortable appearance of the burgesses (for this is a municipal borough). By reason of its sheltered position from any breeze that may be blowing aloft and its open arms to the sun, the town has, on an ordinary summer's day, the hottest High Street in England; that fact may partly account for its air of somnolence.

The Perpendicular cruciform church suffered greatly from fire some years ago, though happily the tower escaped. A beautiful old screen and several other interesting details were entirely destroyed. The black marble tomb of Thomas Marwood commemorates a fortunate physician who cured the Earl of Essex of an illness and was rewarded by Queen Elizabeth with a house and lands near the town. On the Exeter road is St. Margaret's Hospital, endowed by Thomas Chard, Abbot of Ford (1520), for nine old people. It was originally a lazar-house founded about 1350. The chapel was built by its later benefactor.

A curious custom is kept in Honiton Fair week, usually held the third week in July. On the first day of the Fair a crier goes about the streets with a white glove on a long wand crying:

  "O yes the Fair is begun 
  And no man dare be arrested 
  Until the Fair is done."

It is said that this strange privilege is still respected.

The high road to Axminster climbs up the long ascent of Honiton Hill (there is an easier way over the fields to the summit for pedestrians), and with beautiful views on the left keeps to the high lands almost all the way until the drop into the valley of the Yarty.

Axminster is on a low hill surronded by the softer scenery of typical Devon. The by-ways near the town are narrow flowery lanes such as are naturally suggested to one's mind whenever the West Country is mentioned. Axminster has given its name to an industry that has not been carried on in the town for over eighty years, though "Axminster" carpets are still famous for their durability and their fine designs. The whole period during which the manufacture was carried on in the town did not cover a century. The carpets were made on hand-looms and the house, now a hospital, that was used as the factory is opposite the churchyard.

The church is said to have pre-Norman work beneath the tower. The building as it stands is mostly Perpendicular, but with certain Decorated details in the chancel and a Norman door. The sculptured parapet of the north aisle is interesting. On it are the arms of many ancient families of the county. The two effigies in the chancel are supposed to represent Gervase de Prestaller, once vicar here, and Lady Alice de Mohun. In the churchyard is a tombstone with two crutches; this is the grave of the father of Frank Buckland, the famous naturalist, who was born here in 1784.

The town suffered greatly during the Civil War. It was taken by the Royalists and used as a head-quarters during the investment of Lyme Regis. It was the resting-place of William "The Deliverer" on his way from Lyme northwards. He is said to have stayed at the "Dolphin" while it was the private residence of the Yonges.

Close to the Axe and to the main line of the railway are the scanty ruins of Newenham Abbey, once of great renown. Founded in 1245 by the de Mohuns, it met with the usual fate at the Great Dispersal. A mile farther, on the Musbury road, is Ashe Farm, which once belonged to the Drake family. A daughter of the house married one Winstone Churchill, and here in 1650 was born John, afterwards to become the great Duke of Marlborough. These Drakes were claimed by Sir Francis as his relatives, but they rather fiercely repudiated the claim, and this obscure county family took proceedings against the great Seaman for using their crest - a red dragon. Gloriana, however, retaliated by giving her bold Sir Francis an entirely new device showing the dragon cutting a most undignified caper on the bows of his ship. The effigies of three of these Drakes, with their wives in humble attitudes beside them, are to be seen in Musbury church, another mile farther on.

Somewhere in this fertile and beautiful valley, between Axminster and Colyton, was waged the great battle of Brunanburgh between the men of Wessex led by Athelstan and the Ethelings, and Anlaf the Dane, an alien Irish King, who captained the Picts and Scots. Five Kings (of sorts), seven Earls, and the Bishop of Sherborne were killed, but the victory was with the defenders. Athelstan founded a college to commemorate the battle and its result, and caused masses to be said in Axminster church for ever (!) for the repose of the souls of those of his friends who fell.

The London road from Honiton runs a beautiful and lonely course of fourteen miles up hill and down dale to Chard in Somersetshire, passing, about half way, the wayside village of Stockland. The hills that here divide the valleys of the Otter and the Yarty are crossed by the high road and involve several steep "pitches" up and down which the motorist must perforce go at a pace that enables him for once to view the landscape o'er and not merely the perspective of hedge in front of him. The remote little village of Up-Ottery is away to the left on the infant stream surrounded by the southern bastions of the Blackdowns. Here is the fine modern seat of Viscount Sidmouth. Beacon Hill (843 feet), to the north of the village, commands a celebrated view, as wide as it is lovely.