Chiddenbrook Lane, leading from the surgery in Crediton across undulating hills to Hollacombe Cross, is well known to many Kirtonians. But years ago, it was also the favourite walk of Dame Margot Fonteyn. Tom Davies describes how he discovered that the prima ballerina used to enjoy walks past his house at Middle Hollacombe and how she revealed some fascinating history about his home.
A few years ago an old college friend was browsing in a bookshop when she came across a photograph of my house. It was in the book English Country Lanes – a Celebrity Choice by Elisabeth Chidsey, comprising the favourite walks of ten famous people. I bought a copy of the book since it appears that the walk along Chiddenbrook Lane from where the surgery now stands to Hollacombe Cross was chosen as her favourite walk by Dame Margot Fonteyn. The route is reproduced from the book by kind permission.
She was taken on this walk by her mother during the summer holidays, when she and her brother were teenagers. The scenery has changed since then, starting at the beginning of the route where at that time there was a wooden bridge over the now culverted stream, where Western Lea now stands.
The walk description comprises the scenery as it then was plus historical notes about places along the route. Margot “thought it was marvellous to bring tents and camp out in rolling fields. We would wake up on a fine summer morning and feel ourselves in perfect harmony with the earth and the sky- the epitome of romantic feeling for innocent teenagers. And then we would explore the country lanes , feeling the history in them and sensing the people who had used them. I loved the deep Devon lanes sunk into the dark red earth all set about with blossom filled hedges, festooned with flowers and soft grasses- their fragrance filled the air and I can still recall it. Ever since I was quite young certain combinations of landscape have aroused a curious sensation in my soul. It is somehow a sensual desire – to unite with the sun-dappled countryside and at the same time an overwhelming nostalgia as though I once inhabited those very places in centuries long past.”
The walk description includes the well known story of the construction of Cromwell’s Cutting.
But of particular interest to me was the revelation that Middle Hollacombe was the home of a certain John Kingdon who fought at Trafalgar as second in command of HMS Pickle, one of the Royal Navy’s favourite ships, so much so that on November 4th every year (known as Pickle Night) the Navy hold widespread celebrations. I dare say a few sailors get pickled.
More about Pickle and Kingdon in my next blog, but suffice it to say that without my friend stumbling across the reference to Middle Hollacombe in a bookshop, I would still be living in ignorance of these interesting Crediton historical snippets.