Starting mileage: 15809 km
Day started: 10:30
Day ended: 21:00
We are in a whole new country now: the land of roughly hewn coast, of tall, jagged hills and deep ravines, of shallow, hidden coves, of desolate moors and small harbour towns huddled to low, sharp cliffs; the land of granite. The weather also improved, it feels like summer now.
We tumbled down into Brixham harbour – the last of the Torbay towns, the English Riviera; and the one that looks perhaps most the part. The imitation of a Provençal coast town is almost perfect, down to pastel-painted walls of fishing cottages on top of the low cliffs; if it weren’t for the fish & chip shops and pubs that line the embankment, you could almost be fooled.
Brixham has several historic claims to fame: here is the place where William III had landed and issued the famous declaration at the beginning of the Glorious Revolution (many descendants of his Dutch army still live in the town), here is where the British fleet rested during the Napoleonic Wars; as this entire strip of coast lives off the memory of Drake’s exploits, there is a replica of Drake’s Golden Hinde in the harbour (this one doesn’t sail, like the one in London). As everywhere else, tales of smugglers and privateers are told in Brixham’s taverns.
A short drive and ferry ride west from Brixham, on the other side of river Dart lies Dartmouth. The east side, Kingswear, looks like yet another bit of the Riviera: a cluster of pastel villas, concealed beyond the forest of yacht masts. The western side, however, is a jewel of narrow streets dotted with Gothic and Tudor facades. Even the hotels in the harbour remembers the days of Drake. The town market is set in the authentic medieval market place and we spent some money there on fruits and dairy, trying to explain why we want unsalted butter for.
Dartmouth oozes history. One of the main English naval ports since the day of the Crusades, its harbour was defended by twin castles joined together with a mighty chain in the Byzantine fashion. This was the penultimate stop of the Mayflower journey, and the place where Hudson had returned from his first journey to America. This was, finally, the place of one of the most fascinating episodes of Elizabethan naval history: the capture of Madre de Deus.
Madre de Deus was a Portuguese carrack, intercepted in 1592 a fierce battle off the Azores by an English captain. She was heading to Lisbon from East Indies with her holds full of treasure; when she was brought into Dartmouth, she was three times as big as the largest of England’s ships, and the worth of her cargo exceeded half of England’s treasury. Sir Walter Raleigh himself came to Dartmouth to secure what was left of the cargo after days of looting, and carried it back to London on ten normal-sized ships.
The most precious treasure on board were the documents from Macau concerning China and Japan; the cargo and the routers combined sparked England’s interest in the East Indies. Until then, the English were mostly concerned with the Spanish-owned New World. The capture of Madre de Deus was one of the main events which led eventually to the British expansion to the East; six years later, William Adams sailed to Japan. Eight years later, the East India Company was granted the royal charter; the rest, as they say, is history.
We visited one of the twin castles, now belonging to English Heritage, and wanted to climb down to Castle Cove, a local bathing place, but it was closed down due to a landslide.
We could not leave Devon without visiting what is to many its main tourist attraction: the South Devon Chilli Farm. This is where the best – and hottest – chillis in England are grown, from simple jabaneros to Bhut Jolokia, a full 1,000,000 SCUs of heat (which, according to some brave person, has a “fruity flavour”). You can see a hundred varieties grown in the farm’s showcase tunnel, and choose from dozens of dried and fresh chillis, chilli chutneys, jams, pickles, chocolates and cookies in the local shop. We left the farm with chilli ice-cream, a bag of dried De Arbol and Chilli Jam.
I’ve often wondered who the first person was to try and like the chilli. What went through their mind? “This strange long berry makes my mouth and throat burn. It also makes me hot, and I’m already in the tropics. I will continue eating it until it starts to feel good…”
The great Dartmoor looms darkly in the North as we prepare for a great disappointment tomorrow; we are finally heading into Cornwall, the Promised Land of all tourers. Everyone we met so far (even in Devon, just across the river) told us we have to see Cornwall, a mythical place of wonder, bliss and sun. We only have been here once and the weather was rather “rough”. Will it meet the hype, I wonder?
We’ve wasted an hour in Wembury looking for a campsite that wasn’t there, and had to stop for the night at a place called Riverside; the less said about it, the better. It was huge, crowded, and full of humongous, US-style RVs with king-size beds and plasma TVs. It was fairly cheap, though, (£19 with hook-up) and the staff was nice and helpful.
We’re no longer freezing at night 🙂 It’s just cold.