Seaside memories – help the National Trust celebrate caring for our coast!

Sand between my toes, shivering (and slightly terrified!) in the waves and enjoying a fast-melting ice cream – just a few of my cherished childhood memories of seaside holidays! This year, The National Trust is celebrating 50 years of caring for the coast with the Coastal Festival. It is collecting stories from people who love the coast and are asking them to take part by answering seven coastal questions and then posting their answers on their blog or Facebook page.

So, here are my seven answers.

Teignmouth Beach… complete with groynes!1. What’s your favourite beach?

Now remember we are talking about British beaches here, I will pipe down about Caribbean sand(!). I think my favourite has to be my closest as that’s where we have built so many memories. Teignmouth beach has a lovely long promenade and so has been useful for newly walking babies, elderly folks who can’t walk far and dogs that need to use up some energy!

2. Sea or sand?

I like damp, firm sand, but the kind that gets in your sandwiches … mmm not so much! So I’ll go for sea.

3. Tell a memory of being by the sea.

I have happy memories of my girls playing on the beach but the most amusing was probably Emily when she was little, bouncing along the beach with Richard until they got to a wooden breaker water – I think the official name is groyne … but anyway a strip of wood that runs up the beach to help keep the sand in place etc. They were both running and jumping, they ran up to it, jumped over it … but, unfortunately, the level the other side was three feet lower and it was full of water … so they had an early bath that day!

Ah, the good old 99!4. What’s your favourite seaside food?

Favourite seaside food … ooh what to choose? Fish and chips or a 99…? Hard choice, can I have one of each please? 

5. Favourite ice cream flavour?

As this is talking about the seaside I will restrict the range to choose from (ie skip all the Ben and Jerry ones on my list!) and I would say coffee followed by chocolate – but to be honest, if you are offering I’ll be thrilled with any of them

6. Have you lived by the sea?

Does three miles from the beach and one mile to a panoramic vista across the coast count? I would love to live actually on the edge of the beach (assuming I had double glazing) I think a sea view is wonderful.

Fossils on fascinating Lyme Regis beach.7. Favourite place on the coast?

I chose Teignmouth for my favourite beach so I don’t think I would choose it a second time and I would probably opt for Lyme Regis as there are such exciting fossils to entertain the children with – happy memories.

I’d love to hear your memories too, and so would the National Trust! It asks that you take part now with 7 questions tag – coast facts. Post with answers on your blog or Facebook page and then tag 7 friends or bloggers. 





Miniature ponies – maximum fun!

Top to bottom: Eros the baby donkey, getting hands on with a tiny foal, Professor Bumble in action, a pony ride – of course! – and the pony drive at the end of the day.The school summer holidays will soon be upon us and it’s always tricky to think of ways of keeping children and grandchildren amused. If you are fortunate enough to be visiting this part of the world, then I can highly recommend a trip to the Miniature Pony Centre, just outside Moretonhampstead.

I took my eldest daughter there, many years ago now, and she loved it so much, she wanted to move in! I recently visited again with a friend and her eight-year-old… and I can confirm it is just as much fun as I remembered!

Small or baby animals are always going to be a hit with children, but at the Miniature Pony Centre, they seem to have a knack of making it extra special. Children (and parents) can have lots of ‘hands on’ time with all sorts of animals, from foals to lambs to pigs and more. ‘Eros’ the baby donkey was an absolute delight, utterly cuddleable and with the softest fur (do donkeys have fur?!) you can imagine, and so gentle! The children can get right in among the donkeys and ponies in the barn area, or out in the fields. A pony ride was also on the agenda and the staff are all friendly and knowledgeable.

An added bonus was an excellent children’s entertainer, Professor Bumble, who kept around 30 children utterly enthralled for over half an hour… which left plenty of time for we adults to enjoy a coffee in the very pleasant café! I’d give the Professor a gold star as he juggled, rode a unicycle, made animals out of balloons, performed magic and told jokes endlessly, with all the children ranging in age from about two to 12, genuinely captivated. Talented chap!

We didn’t manage to get to the bottle-feeding session as we were too busy petting a lamb, but instead ended up in the ‘Fort Bovey’ – a sort of indoor assault course that meant going up a climbing wall, down a slide and through various tunnels again and again and again – you have so much energy when you are eight!

At the end of the afternoon, as ice creams were being consumed, we all lined up and shouted and clapped to drive the ponies out of the field and up into the main barn for feeding. This was great fun as the ponies (who know perfectly well where they are going!) all go cantering past at speed to the delight of the watching, and squealing, children!

When asked what she had enjoyed the most, our eight-year-old guest said simply ‘Everything!’ Now you can’t ask for any more than that, can you?


Kitty Jay’s grave – the making of a Dartmoor legend

Hound TorThere is a very pretty drive that I enjoy up over Dartmoor that is especially lovely just now with primroses and gorse in flower. It takes you down winding narrow lanes and then up over wild stretches of moorland, and past some of the best know tors such as Haytor and Hound Tor. Abount a mile from Hound Tor, I always glance to my left as we go past a small junction to check that there are flowers on the grave… and there always are! This is Jay’s Grave (or Kitty Jay’s grave), supposedly the last resting place of a young woman who is thought to have died in the late 18th century. It has become a well-known landmark and is the subject of local folklore, and several ghost stories…

Since it was first set down in the late 19th century, the story attached to the grave has changed and been greatly embellished, as these things so often are. An early newspaper account of the discovery of the grave appears in the North Devon Journal for 23 January 1851, under ‘County Intelligence’: 

Kitty Jay’s grave, complete with flowers, when I drove past earlier this month…“In the parish of Manaton, near Widdecombe on the moor while some men in the employ of James Bryant, Esq. of Prospect, at his seat, Hedge Barton, were removing some accumulations of way soil, a few days since, they discovered what appeared to be a grave. On further investigation, they found the skeleton of a body, which proved from enquiry to be the remains of Ann Jay, a woman who hung herself some three generations since in a barn at a place called Forder, and was buried at Four Cross Lane, according to the custom of that enlightened age.”

There are numerous other reports, with the name changing from Betty Kay to Mary Jay and then Kitty Jay. But the unchanging fact is that it is the body of a young woman who took her own life in tragic, if sadly predictable, circumstances.

As told by one ‘Granny Caunter’ the sorry tale was:

“Mary Jay was the poor maid’s name. I heard my mother tell of it, when I was a li’l maid. Her was an orphan from the workhouse, ‘prenticed to Barracott Farm between Manaton and Heatree. One day, when her was quite young, her tooked a rope and went to the barn there on the Manaton Road, and hanged herself from a beam. Her was quite dead when the farmer found her. Us reckoned ’twas the same old story – a young man, who wadn’t no gude to her, poor maid.”

HaytorBy 1965 Jay’s Grave had become a major Dartmoor attraction, with tourist coaches stopping there while the driver related his own version of the story. The mysterious appearance of fresh flowers upon the grave was always mentioned. 

Recent versions of the legend include embellishments such as the orphaned baby being taken into the Poor House in Newton Abbot where she was given the name Mary Jay. She sometimes acquires the name Kitty after being sent to Canna Farm as a teenage apprentice. In one version she is wronged by a local farmhand, in another, she finds romance with the farmer’s son. Either way she becomes pregnant which results in her being thrown out of the farm. Such is her shame and despair that she hangs herself in a barn, or perhaps from the great kitchen fireplace lintel, or else she drowns herself in a shallow pool.

It is said that the three local parishes of Widecombe-in-the-Moor, North Bovey and Manaton all refused to bury her body within consecrated ground, so she was buried at a crossroads, which was standard practice for suicide victims at the time.

There are always fresh flowers on the grave, but how they get there is the subject of local folklore – some claim they are placed there by pixies. By 2007 the placing of flowers had expanded into all sorts of offerings: coins, candles, shells, small crosses and toys. Motorists, passing at night, claim to have glimpsed ghostly figures in their headlights, others report seeing a dark, hooded figure kneeling there.

All I know is that whenever I have driven past, and that is quite a few times in the past 25 years or so… there are always fresh flowers there. So who knows, perhaps it is the Dartmoor pixies looking after the poor girl… 


The reasons for seasons…

We’ve had several glorious warm and sunny spring days this week – so lucky for everyone enjoying an Easter break down here in Devon, or indeed for those of us fortunate enough to live here! I love springtime and the whole cycle of rebirth and renewal heralding the arrival of longer days and (hopefully) more sunshine – so uplifting!

Somehow, seasons used to be more clear-cut when I was a child. Summers were warmer, it always snowed at Christmas and I am sure all of that is probably poppy-cock – it’s just childhood memories that seem to change as you get older. But what really makes our seasons and the weather that they bring? I thought I’d investigate…

What causes the seasons?

The seasons are a result of the tilt of Earth’s axis in relation to the Sun as we orbit around it. This tilt (all 23.5º of it!) means that throughout our orbit around the sun (which is our calendar year) certain areas of the earth are tilted towards the Sun, while other areas are tilted away from it. This creates a difference in the amount of sunlight that reaches different parts of the Earth and that’s how we get the seasons.

When does spring officially start?

Well, that depends on whether you are referring to the astronomical or meteorological spring.

The date on our calendars that marks the start of spring refers to the astronomical season which is a result of the Earth’s axis and orbit around the sun. However, organisations like the Met Office use meteorological seasons based on the annual temperature cycle as well as coinciding with the calendar to determine a clear transition between the seasons.

Since the astronomical seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year. This makes it difficult to compare seasons between different years and resulted in the introduction of the meteorological calendar. This splits the calendar into four seasons of approximately the same length. The astronomical seasons run approximately three weeks later than those of the meteorological calendar. So now you know!

Which is your favourite season?

Do tell me your favourite. I think I could make a case for each season in turn and I am very grateful to live in a country where there are actual seasons rather than constant sunshine… would one of you remind me I said that in the depths of next winter please!



Time to ‘spring forward’ – why do we change our clocks twice a year?

Time – there’s never enough of it, sometimes it flies past and at other times, it drags… Ah, we do like to talk about time and we mess around with it too – this weekend it is time to ‘spring forward’ into British Summer Time (BST) so I thought it was a good time(!) to have a search online and find out why we change the clocks twice a year…

British Summer Time is a thorny subject and something that people get very heated about. The Scots would quite like a different time to the rest of us, and those of us in the West Country are ahead of you in East Anglia, or is it the other way around? I was amused to discover that at the beginning of the 20th century, Sandringham Time (30 minutes ahead) was used by the royal household. King Edward VIII put a stop to it an effort to reduce confusion, but I rather like the idea of Queen Victoria trundling along in her own time zone… Perhaps I can introduce ‘Joanna time’? Ah, Richard says ‘no’!

Back to the facts – British Summer Time was first introduced by the Summer Time Act of 1916, after a campaign by builder William Willett. His original proposal was to move the clocks forward by 80 minutes, in 20-minute weekly steps on Sundays in April and by the reverse procedure in September – somewhat complicated!

In 1940, during the Second World War, the clocks in Britain were not put back by an hour at the end of Summer Time. In subsequent years, clocks continued to be advanced by one hour each spring and put back by an hour each autumn until July 1945. So during these summers, Britain was TWO hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and operating on British Double Summer Time (BDST). The clocks came back to GMT at the end of summer in 1945. This DBST gave much lighter evenings for everyone, but the dark mornings must have been awful.

An inquiry during 1966–67 led the government of Harold Wilson to introduce the British Standard Time experiment, with Britain remaining on GMT+1 throughout the year. This took place between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971, when we reverted to the previous arrangement. I must say, I don’t remember this at all… I was obviously far too young to take it in!! 

Much of the reason for this experiment was to try and reduce road accidents in the dark early evenings. Analysis of accident data for the first two years of the experiment showed that while there had been an increase in casualties in the morning, there had been a much greater decrease in casualties in the evening, with a total of around 2,500 fewer people killed and seriously injured during the first two winters of the experiment. Strong evidence to keep GMT+1 all year you would think… but it wasn’t that simple as the period of the experiment coincided with the introduction of drink-driving legislation so the estimates were later modified downwards. 

I can remember that for years we were always out of sync with the rest of Europe or, ahem, should I say they were out of sync with us. Working out when to phone people abroad was always terribly complicated as for the odd week or two, we were on the same time, or two hours ahead or behind, or…  and it is only since October 1995 that the dates of starting and ending daylight saving time across the European Union have been aligned – amazing it took so long!

And so… the arguments for and against switching to permanent BST rumble on to this day. As well as being ‘safer’ for people on the roads, campaigners also say that it would save a great deal of energy. But then groups like farmers and other outdoor workers, and many residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland, strongly object. In northern Britain and Northern Ireland, the winter sunrise would not occur until 10am or even later.

Me, I’ll just keep trying to remember to ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’ and, if that fails when I am old and potty, I jolly well shall introduce ‘Joanna time’ and have done with it!