Maldon U3A - Maritime Group Trip to Exeter

Maritime Group Trip to Exeter 8th - 12th September 2016

The Exeter Case XGEXJ5*

This Maritime investigation began on 8th. September when a crew of 48 left Maldon by coach to Bristol. There, on a sunny but breezy day we inspected the Floating Harbour by Packet Boat. The sights ranged from Brunel's S.S Great Britain to a newly commissioned hospital ship destined for the Amazon region; from luxury flats to peregrine falcon roosts, a 200 year old steam crane to present day shipboard night clubs. Then to the Jury’s Inn, Exeter, that gave adequate service for four nights once Malcolm had sorted out the errant management.

Saturday came with a fine mist that lifted as we reached the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. Prior to 1814, Dads paid ship's captains to take their 12 to 14 year old sons. The boy's experiences were variable and life span often short. Then a Captain Harris developed a structured training scheme that eventually formed the basis for the present system. Since 1863 Dartmouth and the River Dart have been the home to all initial Naval Officer training.

The present College was opened in 1905. The architect, Sir Aston Webb used local red bricks and limestone. We toured the 146 acre site and watched raw recruits being drilled on the parade ground. We were told how they were watched and assessed for every moment of a grueling 36 hour cadet selection process. Those that make the grade go through 30 weeks of training before their Passing Out parade.

We were guided with great good humour by two long serving, retired Navel Officers whose pride in the traditions, history and ethos of the Service was enthralling. We entered the building through the ceremonial main doors hung with a huge 8 pound knocker. An 1/8 th mile. long corridor links the Senior Gun Room (dining room to landlubbers) at one end to an interdenominational Chapel at the other with numerous rooms and points of interest between. The Chapel is aligned so that at 3.15 p.m. on the 21st. October – the precise time and day of Nelson’s death – the sun shines through an oriel window in the roof at one end of the Chapel to cast a beam on the raised hand of Christ carved on the reredos behind the altar. This seemed to typify the sense of history and the precision evident throughout the Navy.

Our guides pointed to a lawn near the parade ground where a thirteen year old Princess Elizabeth met Philip for the first time when the Royal family stayed at Dartmouth.

Thence by steam train to Buckfast Abbey. The former GWR railway between Totnes and Buckfastleigh .runs in parts alongside the River Dart on what must be one of the most attractive heritage routes in southern England.

Buckfast Abbey built by Cistercian monks during the reign of King Canute was raised to the ground by Henry VIII - with the help of Mark Rylance as we all now know. Between 1905 and 1938 a new monastery was built in Norman/Early English style on the same foundations reputedly by six Benedictine monks. A vibrant mosaic on the transept ceiling was a notable feature of the interior. Tradition required that we sample a Devon cream and jam scone in the modern restaurant. No monks were sighted.

Saturday also began with a damp mist when we took a two and a half hour cruise from Exmouth along the 140 million year old Jurassic coast of East Devon. The skipper pointed out the different strata and explained the geological events that formed this wondrous red sandstone coastline. Shortly after the boat turned homeward the sun came out and highlighted the majestic sea stacks at Ladrum Bay. The boat came within a few metres. The bird watchers among us were in their element.

Back on the coach to Sidmouth for lunch and ice creams then on to Seaton. For many of us the Seaton Tramway was a rattling trip down memory lane. The track is narrow gauge so the trams had to be rebuilt to fit but, all are based on those that served our towns in the first half of the last century. The track to Colyton runs for the most part alongside the River Axe and wetlands teeming with wild life.

Sunday, a glorious sunny day, ideal for a tranquil trip along the Tiverton Canal in a horse-drawn, traditionally painted barge. The canal was built in 1814 to convey limestone in horse-drawn tub-boats for 11 miles from quarries to Tiverton Wharf. Now Devon Council own and manage the canal within a Country Park and Nature Reserve. A family owns the barges. Ours was drawn by a Shire horse but apparently the original barges would have been pulled by small colliery ponies.

In the afternoon we visited Knightshayes (NT) set in parkland amid beautiful rolling countryside. Within the parkland are formal, kitchen and woodland gardens but time and distances did not allow many of us to explore these. The house is a Gothic revival pile. It was the home of the Heathcoat Amory family who produced several eminent Government Ministers. The money came from John Heathcote who invented lace making machines. When the Nottingham Luddites destroyed these, he moved south and set up a new factory in Tiverton. He was a benevolent employer and many of his workers walked two hundred miles to join him. He acknowledged their loyalty by building houses for them in Tiverton. He was a liberal MP for the town but lived modestly. His grandson, John Heathcoat Amory had greater pretentions, and used the wealth to build Knightshayes in 1869.

Before returning home on Monday we paid a brief visit to Exeter Cathedral to marvel at the magnificent structure but also read the many personal life stories recorded on the memorial tablets. Enroute home we called at the Fleet Air Arm restaurant for lunch but it was closed due to a fire a few hours earlier. We had couple of stops on our way and returned to Maldon a little earlier than expected.

We concluded investigations by unanimously finding Malcolm Case guilty of conspiring with "Just for Groups" to meticulously pre-plan and superbly execute yet another action packed, interesting holiday enjoyed by all. He was sentenced to continue the good work for another year. Alan Buck was found guilty by association and our wonderful Brummie driver Phil, was awarded a golden medal for coming first in every run.

*Oh! In case you are puzzled, the title comes from the travel company’s reference: Exeter (Case) XGEXJ5. Harry Bacon.

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Last revised 29th September 2016