Our arrival at our new home for the season coincided with a very wet and windy few days. We manoeuvred Bill the Bailey into our compound and started the mammoth task of unpacking all our worldly goods from both the caravan and van. Everything was stacked in the bathroom pod and site garage until we erected the awning the following day which actually then took 2 days to get sorted. The wind was ferocious, coming from the east blowing straight off the sea and up the valley where the site is situated, stepping out from behind the caravan was like being in a wind tunnel. Thankfully the awning was well secured down so it didn’t take flight across the site.
From our front windows we have a slightly elevated view looking out over our “front garden”. After 4 months of the site being closed there was an awful lot of grass out there that needed cutting. Problem was there was no let up in the rain forecast so that job wasn’t going to get done anytime soon. There was still plenty to occupy our time and thoughts to get the site ready to open on the 11th March. Water turned back on, electric bollards cleaned and switched on, boarding removed from windows and doors, weeding, pruning, machinery serviced, facilities cleaned, fences painted, shop stocked and an information room to revamp. Oh and then we could cut the grass after we were blessed with a few sunny days in between.
Once we had finished the essential setting up we were keen to get out and about and see our new surroundings. We had holidayed in the area several times but living here gives it a whole new perspective. Trips to do the food shop are not a ‘nip’ and are generally planned in with a sightseeing day to make it a worthwhile journey. 3 of the major supermarkets can be found in both directions out of the site. Kingsbridge to the West and Dartmouth to the North, but for any other retail park shopping its a trek to Torquay, Newton Abbott or Plymouth.
Turning right out of the site takes you to Kingsbridge, the nearest small market town about 6 miles away which sits at the head of the Kingsbridge Estuary surrounded by lush green rolling countryside.The town takes its name from an ancient bridge built to link two royal estates – Alvington and Chillington, and by 1219 it had grown into a market town. By the 18th Century milling had become its major income and throughout the 19th Century Kingsbridge had an active coastal shipping trade, with thriving shipbuilding and tanning industries.
Today it has a steep main street full of independent businesses, antiques, art galleries, gift shops, cafes and a Saturday farmers market. Sailing boats are anchored in the estuary and it has a very upmarket water based vibe.
Turn left out of the site and you can see the sea of Slapton Sands and the freshwater lake of Slapton Ley Nature Reserve. A 10 minute walk from the site takes you to the seafront and pebble beach that stretches for 3 miles before the road turns inland and uphill to follow the coast all the way to Dartmouth. On the way you pass through several small villages on steep roads sometimes single width with sheer drops which isn’t for the faint hearted. But the views are spectacular if you’re the passenger, just best not to suggest the driver takes in the view too often! Blackpool Sands is a vista to behold as the road drops down one hill to the beach and climbs up the next. It is a Blue Flag beach backed by evergreens and scented pines, you could almost be on the Mediterranean instead of in Devon. Its privately owned and so has a parking charge, but does have a cafe, toilets, a beach shop and watersports hire so spending a whole day there is extremely popular.
Dartmouth is a beautiful town situated at the mouth of the picturesque River Dart. Its location and maritime heritage make it a very popular sailing venue and most of the activities and shops reflect and cater for this fraternity. River and sea cruises can be taken from here to pretty riverside villages further up the Dart and to Greenway the home of Agatha Christie which is now owned by National Trust. It has a castle where the river meets the sea, built in 1388 it is one of the most picturesquely sited fortresses in England. Bayards Cove Fort was built between 1522 and 1536 to house heavy guns as defence against enemy ships that had eluded Dartmouth and Kingswear castles and the iron chain stretched across the Dart estuary between them. The cobbled Quay and its pretty pastel houses with window boxes filled with flowers has appeared in many historical TV series. There are two open air ferries to take passengers and vehicles across the river to Kingswear from where there is quicker road access to the resorts of Brixham, Paignton and Torquay. Also there is the train station for the 6.7 mile heritage steam train railway line to Paignton. The town hosts festivals for food and music and Dartmouth Royal Regatta sailing week at the end of August is a must on the calendar for water enthusiasts.
We have had lots more lovely days out along this stunning coast which I will tell you all about over the coming blogs, but for now to finish the story of the Sherman tank and Exercise Tiger connection to Slapton we jump from 1944 to 1969.
Whilst walking on the beach after a severe storm a local guesthouse owner Ken Small began finding large amounts of shrapnel, bullets and tunic buttons washed up. Wondering why these items should be here he began asking local residents who then told him of the stories that had been handed down from their families who had lived in the area during the war. A fisherman told Ken of an object on the seabed 60ft down and about three-quarters of a mile off shore that continually snagged his fishing nets. Divers were persuaded to investigate and found it to be an American Sherman tank. Further investigation then uncovered the Exercise Tiger story and the tragedy became public knowledge. Ken became determined to recover the tank and make it a lasting memorial to those that had perished. After years of negotiations the tank was purchased from the American Government for 50 USDollars but it took until 1984 before the tank emerged from the sea. The publicity led to American survivors and families making contact and telling their own stories of events that took place that night in April 1944. Consequently the memorial is now recognised by the US Government and on 24th April each year there is a memorial service conducted at the site. Ken went on to write a book about the events and his quest to raise the tank from the seabed called ‘The Forgotten Dead’, and right up until his passing in 2004 could often be found sitting in his car on the carpark next to the tank always willing to talk with visitors and re-tell the story.
Catch up with us in the next blog as we explore more of South Devon and its stunning coastline, make several journeys back home and officially declare ourselves full time van-dwellers.