Sunday, 5 November 2017

Carolyn's Birthday - Vikings, Buccaneers and Druids

Boringdon Hall, Hotel and Spa 

This week Carolyn and I took a few days to celebrate Carolyn's birthday with a trip to Borindon Hall in South Devon just outside Plymouth followed by a trip to Dartmoor and Plymouth to visit Will at university.

As well as enjoying a great sauna and spa at Boringdon plus some excellent dinners out, I was keen to grab some pictures of the places visited that I thought followers of the blog might be interested in.

So Boringdon Hall is the first highlight for, as well as being a very nice five star hotel to spend a day and evening at, it also has a fascinating history.

The name Boringdon comes from the Saxon 'Burth-Y-Don' meaning 'enchanted place on the hill' and the hall is recorded in the Domesday Book.

King Edgar granted the Manor of Boringdon and Wembury to St Peter of Plympton in 956 AD and thus it remained in the hands of the Priory until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by King Henry VIII; when it became Crown property and was later passed to Thomas Wriothesley, the Earl of Southampton.

Pied Wagtails are always a delight to see, always living up to their name and wagging those tails

Wriothesley sold the Manor to Henry Grey the Duke of Suffolk and father of the unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for just nine days, until executed at the tender age of 16 in 1553.

The original Manor House is attached to the later Elizabethen hall seen further back on the left

In that same year, 1553, Henry Grey sold Boringdon to Richard Mathew of Tavistock whose grand-daughter married John Parker who inherited it in 1582 when he had the house remodelled into the traditional 'E' shaped house alongside the original medieval hall.

A magnificent entrance hall welcomes the visitor

With work on the hall completed in 1587, John Parker held a banquet in the Great Hall in honour of his old friend and perhaps the greatest hero of Devonshire, Sir Francis Drake, circumnavigator and terror of the Spanish Main.

In the entrance was this notice board that immediately drew my attention to the long history of Boringdon

Sir Francis Drake
Drake had just returned, to great acclaim, for leading the daring and highly successful raid on Cadiz that year in which large numbers of Spanish ships destined to be involved in the attempted invasion of England were destroyed along with supplies and munitions and a treasure ship taken, just arrived from the South American colonies.

Raid on Cadiz

Along with Drake, Parker entertained the other greats of English seafaring history of that period, namely Drake's uncle Sir John Hawkins, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir Walter Raleigh and William Parker, brother of John Parker, a great captain in his own right and part of Drake's command that attacked Cadiz.

I knew Elizabethans were very short but surely not!

The fire place in the Great Hall bears the coat of arms of King James I and dates from 1640 with the figures of Peace and Plenty either side.

The fire-place in the Great Hall

The Parker family were great loyalists and supported King Charles I through the civil war that caused them to have their house confiscated by Parliament only to have it returned to them on the restoration of King Charles II.

It remained in the hands of the Parker family up until 1920, when, since then it has had many owners, including the National Trust.

Boringdon Hall was bought by the current owners in 2011 since when it has had a lot of investment to turn it into a premier hotel and spa.

All very cosy and inviting

It was a real pleasure using the spa and then dining that first evening in the Great Hall imagining the greats from history including Queen Elizabeth I who stayed at the Hall several times on her trips to the West Country.

The restoration of the building has been very considerate to the age and history of it with the additional bedrooms fitted out in the older medieval manor still retaining the arrow slits within each room now fitted with a glass window to add to the interior comforts.

The next morning after a traditional English breakfast with a superb black pudding, we were off up to Dartmoor to make a return visit to a site we had only seen in pictures and from a distance but on a bright sunny November morning were determined to walk up to and get a close look for ourselves.

Wistman Wood seen centre right in the West Dart Valley as we began our walk

Wistman Wood can be found close to Two Bridges nestling in the valley of the West River Dart and is an amazing example of the upland oak woodland that once covered much of the moor around 7,000 BC until it was cleared by Mesolithic hunter/gatherers about 5,000 BC and has been protected as a Sight of Special Scientific Interest since 1964.

Wistman Wood, Dartmoor
Legendary Dartmoor

The autumn hues of the wood became clearer the closer we got

The day we headed of along the path that follows the babbling Dart River, along its meandering course, saw the morning starting at a bracing 10'C with gloriously blue skies, which, as the sun rose, caused the temperature to rise and we were soon peeling of the layers.

The journey was accompanied by the gentle babbling of the Dart River 

As you get closer to the wood you immediately notice how stunted the oak trees are in comparison to their lowland cousins and yet these are not saplings by any means as their gnarled twisted appearance immediately displays their great age.

Stunted oak trees on the edge of the wood as we got even closer

The whole slope covered in trees was also covered in large boulders

The wood lies on the sloping ground of the valley and as you get close to the edge you can immediately see that the floor of it is covered in large moss covered limestone boulders that make traversing the area quite tricky whilst watching your footing and trying to avoid hitting your head on low lying branches.

I think Carolyn discovered the favourite rock of the Druids

I have never seen a wood quite like this and on entering it you can immediately appreciate the folklore and legend that has grown around its appearance, looking like something out of a 'Lord of the Rings' film set with the twisted trees covered in strange growths of mosses and lichen.

The trees were quite unlike any others I had seen before

One site even lays claim to this wood as a favourite sacred place for the local Druids and its not hard to imagine what they might have got up to here and you can't help thinking it might have been on the patrol route of the Roman garrisons, knowing how they felt about Druidism and, to the Romans, its strange sacrificial ceremonies.

Old gnarled trunks with twists and loops revealing very old trees

The mosses and lichens were equally as impressive as the rocks and trees they covered

On closer inspection the range and array of mosses and lichen are truly impressive with some very delicate examples amid the soft cushion of green, covering the rocks.

I had never seen anything like these hanging mosses on trees in the UK

Our picnic site beckoned from beyond the trees

On leaving the wood at the lower edge, Carolyn and I found a particularly sunny rock to sit on and grab a light picnic and drink whilst I settled down to read the second in the Anthony Riches series of Roman adventures on Hadrian's Wall in the company of the 1st Tungrians and Centurion Corvus in scenery that perfectly complimented the prose.

Wistman Wood is a remarkable place and now added to our list of favourite places on Dartmoor

After a very enjoyable late morning and early afternoon exploring Wistman Wood it was time to head off to Plymouth where we had arranged another hotel stay and time to visit Will our younger son who his studying medicine there.

With an evening meal arranged and a shopping expedition set for the following day before heading home we were really looking forward to a bit of sight seeing and time to meet Will and his flat mates.

With both our sons studying at Plymouth University we have got to know the city better with the many visits over recent years and the more you take the time to look the more you discover about the city's long and varied history.

On this occasion we were going to be staying close to the Hoe which for those who don't know Plymouth is the high open esplanade that faces out to sea and where it is supposed that Sir Francis Drake was enjoying his game of bowls when the Spanish Armada was sighted coming up the channel.

The Seas of Red display of ceramic poppies on Plymouth Hoe, remembering the losses of World War One

Will and his flat mates have rented student accommodation right next to the Hoe and you can see the attraction.

As well as offering glorious views out over Plymouth Sound, the Hoe is where the many memorials to Plymouth's connections with the services and the war memorials covering the Armada to the modern day are located.

At present, with the run up to Remembrance Sunday on the 11th November, there was a remarkable display of the ceramic poppies arranged in a wave shape alongside the War Memorial which Carolyn took pictures of on our walk to our restaurant that evening.

First shown filling the moat at the Tower of London in a display called Blood Swept Lands, these poppies have proven to be a popular and evocative way of illustrating the cost in human lives the World Wars imposed on the country and Commonwealth with this particular display, Seas of Red, illustrating the 7,300 British and Commonwealth casualties of the First World War who have no known grave and the seamen of the Royal Navy who sailed from Plymouth.

The Fab Four in Plymouth - 1967

The next morning after another sustaining full English breakfast we set off on a day of retail therapy, but not before exploring a few of the other sights on the Hoe.

I hadn't realised the 'Fab Four' had visited Plymouth, but the publicity picture above, taken in 1967 shows the Beatles out and about promoting their Magical Mystery Tour Album that year and the exact spot where they sat has been immortalised with a Beatles-Bum sculpture capturing the impressions of their "derrieres" and hand prints.


And finally one particular memorial I was keen to find was as a postscript to a post I did last May as part of my series looking at the Battlefields of Devon and particularity the attack on Lydford in 997 AD; which saw the Viking invaders repulsed from the walls of the Saxon burgh and pursued back along the River Tamar by the Fyrd to Plymouth where they are thought to have set up a fortified camp at Torpoint and wintered under observation by the local Saxons.

Vikings in Plymouth 997 AD

Battlefields in Devon - Battle of Lydford

The stone erected on Plymouth Hoe was set up in 1997 for the thousandth anniversary of the campaign and is positioned with views out over Drakes Island, the Sound, Torpoint and the Cornish side of the River Tamar.

Home of the Royal Navy and gateway to the Channel and Western Approaches - Plymouth Sound with Drakes Island
I hope you enjoyed some of the flavour of Carolyn's Birthday on Tour 2017 and a nice way to start our series of posts for November.

Lots of stuff to tell you about on JJs coming up , including Mr Steve's potential book reviews, 28mm Viking Bondi and more Over the Hills play-tests.


  1. Lovely images! The hall and flora are wonderful.

    1. Thank you Dean. We had a great three days and Boringdon Hall and Wistman Wood were a bit special.