Local traces of our Elizabethan Hero, Sir France Drake

If you visit Tavistock or Plymouth it won’t be long before you see the name ‘Drake’, you can go shopping at Drakes Circus, have lunch at Drake’s Cafe, and relax beside Drake’s reservoir. You may even see statues of him, one on Plymouth Hoe, another in the centre of a roundabout in Tavistock and one looking down on you as you enter Plymouth Market.

Local people are still very proud of Sir Francis Drake (C. 1540 – 1596), when I was a child I remember my grandfather telling me the story of how, in 1588 he was playing bowls on Plymouth Hoe when he was told that the Spanish Armada had been spotted nearby. When his game finished, he sailed out to  successfully defeat the armada. The story is not quite historically accurate, but it is quite impressive.

He was also famous for circumnavigating the world (1577- 1580) and raiding spanish ships bringing back gold from the Americas. But in 1580 he returned and bought Buckland Abbey, not far from from his birthplace, Tavistock.

He was highly involved in politics and became mayor of Plymouth in 1581. In 1584 he was part of a committee which put a bill through Parliament to allow a leat, which was called Drake’s leat, to be built on Dartmoor to carry water to Plymouth and the ships there. The walls of the buildings which carried water to houses in Plymouth were later remodelled and turned into a reservoir, known as Drake’s reservoir.



A new discovery in a familiar place

A few days ago I visited Totnes and discovered a new part of it I had never seen before, despite knowing the town all my life. As I walked from the carpark to the market square I passed through a narrow alleyway and a little garden. Towards the end of the garden my attention was caught by a cheeky blackbird who almost fell off his perch on some ivy in front of me in his endeavours to reach some berries. After watching him for a minute I noticed a sign on the wall below, it showed several trails around the town, including one to an intriguing sounding leech well. I followed the alleyway back, past the carpark, past another garden, it twisted and turned, and I heard the sound of running water, the alley went uphill and opened out into a meeting of three narrow alleyways, and right in the centre, the well.


It has a medieval feel to it, with its little stone basins and cobbled floor, water rushing across everything and lots of little decorations around it, from african style paintings to colourful ribbons. The amosphere is very peaceful and there is the air of something magical about the place, it has clearly been revered for many centuries and perhaps longer. Springs and wells were revered by people in the iron age, perhaps as a looking glass into the underworld inwhich they might see a glimpse of their ancestors. Perhaps a continuous reverence for it is what gives it its magical quality.


Not there yet

For this blog post I really wanted to talk about my visit to Berry Pomeroy, however it hasn’t happened yet as my purse is feeling a little too light at the moment. I’m not sure when I will go, but in the meantime I shall look at other places nearby, which I may be able to visit on the same day. Berry Pomeroy is not the only place in the area with tales of hauntings and interesting legends.

The bustling market town of Totnes lies nearby, it has an alternative vibe and is full of quirky, unusual independant shops which is what makes it so interesting to visit today. One of my favourite shops is a vintage clothing shop which is so full of clothes that you can’t see the walls and there are clothes of every style from delicate, lacey, white edwardian dresses to tough bikers’ leather jackets from the 70s.

Totnes also has a castle, which has wonderful views across the town and surrounding countryside as well as many historic buildings such as the guildhall and the strikingly pink church. You can follow the line of the town wall, which has long gone now, but whose shape has left traces in the shapes of old buildings and walls, curving around with a road where the ditch once was.

For my next post I shall delve back into my books to see what haunting tales Totnes has to offer.IMG_4262

The ghosts of Berry Pomeroy

Berry Pomeroy got it its name from Ralph de Pomeroy, a norman knight who was granted the lands around the castle by William the Coquerer. His name comes from the french word for an orchard of apple trees, pommeraie, quite appropriate for the south west, where orchards are common.

The Seymour’s plans for Berry Pomeroy were left abruptly unfinished because Edward Seymour (circa 1500 – 1552), who had been Lord Protector at the beginning of reign of his nephew, Edward VI (1537 -1553), fell out of favour at court and was beheaded at the Tower of London in 1552. Because of this you might expect that he would haunt the ruins, but in fact it seems he is the one ghost who doesn’t.

One story says that the ghost of a highly distressed, richly dressed, young woman can be seen walking upstairs in the castle, foreshadowing someone’s death within the walls. The story goes that she was the daughter of a baron who bore a child with her father which she then murdered. Some say she wears a blue hooded cape and she was witnessed by Sir Walter Farquhar, a prominant 18th century doctor, when he visited the steward’s ill wife who died soon after.

There is another tale about Lady Margaret Pomeroy who was imprisoned by her sister who was jealous of her beauty, she now resides in St Margaret’s tower where a mysterious blue light is sometimes seen at night. Some say she lures people to their deaths in more dangerous parts of the castle.

People often mention that they feel unusually cold and that there are strange drafts blowing through the walls. I have heard there is a tradition of putting copper coins in the castle walls, however I cannot find any reference to it, perhaps I shall see them on my visit. Its interesting how some people leave different traces when they are in a place, whether it be their ghost or a coin, or perhaps something else, these will be things I shall look out for.

Now, as it is St Piran’s Day, and I ‘appen to be cornish, I shall wish you Gool Peran Lowen and go off to eat a pasty.

Of Tempests and Trains

As I plan my trip to Berry Pomeroy Castle I’m sat on an overflowing train in the clutches of a storm called Doris, which is causing lots of problems by blowing trees on the tracks. These are the same tracks which were traversed almost 100 years ago by SPB Mais, a prolific writer, radio broadcaster and journalist who wrote ‘Glorious Devon’, a guidebook to the county aimed at tourists taking advantage of the railways, first published by Great Western Railways in 1928. The copy I’m using is a second edition published in 1929, it is a faded, well worn, green volume with gold lettering. It greets you with a simple, but clear map on the inside cover and a lovely art-deco railway poster style illustration just a few pages in.

A short way into the book you come across the image of the dramatic, ivy strewn ruins of Berry Pomeroy Castle. As Mais explains, the castle has two main phases of building. The first as a fortress protecting the Pomeroy family, whose imposing gatehouse towers are still spectacular to behold. The second, as a showy mansion for the Seymours, and perhaps the birthplace of Jane Seymour (1508-1537), third wife of Henry VIII (1491-1547). Mais goes on to tell us that the Seymours’ addition cost them £20,000, but despite this, were never completed.

The spectacular ruins, as you may expect, are more than just tumbledown stone walls, over the years a number of ghostly tales have been told. To find out more read my next blog, which will be published next week.


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