After giving in to the possibility the NT tea-shop offered of scones, jam, clotted cream, and a steaming pot of tea, we walked along the East Lyn River to Lynmouth, then made the steep ascent to Lynton, before continuing along the coastal path towards the Valley of Rocks. We then made our way back to Watersmeet along the other side of the river.
Killerton is a funny peach-coloured building, which struck me as somewhat reminiscent of a Nilgiri Hills guesthouse (though obviously far grander). Apparently it was intended as a temporary residence, but the family never got round to actually building the neo-Gothic mansion that it was waiting for, and so it became their permanent home — until his conscientious socialist instincts led Sir Richard Acland to bequeathe it to the National Trust.
Upstairs the house houses an exhibition of fashion — focussed when we went on the theme of innovation, and full of fascinating titbits of information about the genesis of zips.
We arrived at Arlington Court less than two hours before closing time, and there’s such a lot to take in that we were forced to rush round with eyes agoggle. The house is a treasure trove of amusing artifacts, including a painting by William Blake and an apparently endless collection of minutely-detailed model ships — one of which was apparently given by the ship to the parish church that had committed to pray for it, as an aid to their intercession!
As well as this, the old stables now house the National Carriage Museum — which collection includes the magnificent State Coach that was used (from the late 17th Century until as recently as Princess Diana’s wedding) by the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Museum guidebook is actually available online, and is well worth at least a quick flick through.
We tried initially to squeeze Knightshayes into the same day as Killerton — an error that left us standing forlornly in the rain as we were told that we had arrived past the time that they allow the final visitors to the house to enter. We decided to return a few days later — an excellent decision that was well worth it. The house is full of story and character: there is a tiger-skin rug with the head still attached lying in one of the bedrooms; the elegant but inconsistent interior decoration testifies to the conflict of vision between the architect and the family; and there’s the great backstory of how the family fortune was made from the invention of a machine that revolutionised the production of lace, and when an actual Luddite rebellion destroyed his factory in Derbyshire and led the original Heathcote-Armory to move to Devon in search of a more peaceful existence, his factory workers made the journey on foot so that they could continue to work for him.
On top of all that, there’s a walled organic vegetable garden, with a little wood of pine trees behind it.
We parked next to Hunter’s Inn, and then walked down through Heddon Valley, up through the woods towards Woody Bay, and along the sheer coastal path beside a sparkling turquoise sea.
Our final afternoon in Devon, and we went for one last walk along the Devon coast — this time around Baggy Point. Not for us the Croyde beach — just one blast of the wind at Westward Ho! (the exclamation mark is part of that village’s name!) had convinced us that we weren’t interested in subjecting ourselves to the sea. Instead a final scenic stroll — except that the walk we were trying to do wasn’t as straightforward as I’d hoped (at least not without the instructions to hand), and after hopping over a couple of stone walls but deciding in the end not to put ourselves in the middle of a field of cows of uncertain disposition, we got back to the car just in time to make it to Jim and Mary’s for dinner.
Okay, this one isn’t actually in Devon. But since it’s situated conveniently midway between Barnstaple and Harpenden, we decided to stop for lunch at Tyntesfield : another fantastic masterpiece of a Victorian Gothic family home.
I think this would be the outstanding example of all the National Trust sites that we visited — but the problem with the final place that you visit is always that its glories begin to blur into the tangle of memories of exuberant architecture and perfected gardens.