Recollections . . .
. . .through the eyes of a ten-year-old, recalled by a 65 year-old Romantic . . .
Going to Slade for a Holiday for many people meant an afternoon arrival. In my case, a 3 hour train journey from Paddington in London, to Newton Abbot.
Some years, we had a hired car take us to Hexworthy, other times, Mrs Coaker would come and fetch us from Newton Abbot.
Arriving at "Slade" made a deep impression on me from my first rememberings. Mrs C's black Austin Saloon, full with all our luggage for a month's stay always needed first gear up Holne Chase - but we always arrived safely. For me, the strange mixture of smells - the sun-baked leather upholstery, mixed with exhaust smells and the smell of the moor as we crossed the cattle-grid above Holne, signalled that the Holiday had started - We were nearly "Home".
Looking around, as we drove along, you were immediately struck by the changeless nature of the Moors.
As I had travelled this road before, a year earlier, I was keen to check that things were as I remembered them.
Superficially, everything seemed in its place. Both sides of the road sported the familiar embedded granite rocks of various sizes, abundance of both Gorse Bushes and Bracken, and of course Heather, all of which contributed to the sheer natural beauty of the distant hills - resplendant purple, mixed subtley with the Green and Gold of the Gorse . . . . If the Sun was out, this was especially impressive.
The exitement that built up as we came over Coombestone Tor and got a momentary glimpse of "Slade" was truly amazing. After opening the Gate at the top of the Drive, Mrs C would park just in front of the Garage where we disembarked.
A flurry of activity ensued, with the cases being taken upstairs to our bedrooms. At this point, you would meet Mrs C's "Helpers". My earliest recollections are of Pat and Beryl. Later, Jill Hyett, Irene Blomgren and Rosemary Allen- (eventually Rosemary Mudge - who must have been about 16 when I first met her).
Many others followed down the years. I think the arrangement was, that these girls stayed the summer long and got their bed and board plus a little "pocket-money" in return for helping out with bed-making, washing, cooking and organising the pony rides.
As a "Townie", "Slade" was a whole new experience. The first revelation was that there was nothing hanging from the middle of the ceiling in any of the rooms and NO light switches. I remember visiting every room to check I was not mistaken - but it was true!
Having arrived thus - we would be in time for the evening meal - around 7pm. A small amout of "play" was allowed afterwards before bedtime. Bedtime was" democratically" regulated by age. The older kids were allowed to stay up later, by degrees. Those considered "responsible" were allowed to take candles to light their way.
In the Dining/Living room, Mrs Coaker sometimes lit Tilley Lamps once it had got dark.
My Mum and Dad usually had the small bedroom upstairs in the middle of the house. The other two bedrooms were for kids, and the arrangement varied depending on numbers. Due to the numbers staying, The "Garage" (A large detached building designed to accomodate three cars) was reserved for girls, and kitted out with Bunks and regular beds allowing accomodation of upwards of a dozen girls.
Boys slept in the bedrooms in the house. Bunks were the order of the day, and the two upstairs larger rooms could take up to 6 kids. There were some regular beds as well. Numbers decided it all. I am reliably informed, that the "Head Helper" was allowed a single bed. . . .
After an often sleepless night, we would eventually dress and wander tentatively downstairs for breakfast. The first morning was always a bit scary as there were "new" people to meet - and you always felt a bit self-concious and very aware of being "new", but such was the "atmosphere" of Slade and the demeanour of those staying - by the next day you felt "one of the crowd" and friendships developed that often lasted years . . . .
I seem to remember that early rising was encouraged as breakfasts were not generally served after 9:30a.m.
The milk was fresh. Very fresh - having been inside the cow a couple of hours ago. Mrs C was usually up around 6a.m. to do the milking. The milk went through a "Lister" hand-cranked seperator, that seperated out the cream. Sufficient milk was put by for our needs and the remainder put back in the pail and fed to the calves.
Mrs C would then busy herself making sandwiches for the kids who were going pony-trekking at Sherberton after breakfast . . . .
This done, Mrs C and one of the helpers would start on the breakfasts.
Fried breakfast was often available though not every day. CornFlakes and Shredded Wheat were always available, as was bread and butter with a selection of various things to spread on it. Jam, Marmalade, Golden Syrup and sometimes Cream - from the seperator . . . .
When the place was busy - there were sometimes Three sittings for mealtimes.
After breakfast - the rides were organised. Mrs C had around eight ponies that the kids could ride. These were supervised by one of her helpers.
The great thing about riding at Slade was that you learned the whole thing from basics.
First - go out and "catch" your pony. This was done either with a halter or a bridle depending on how experienced you were, and a handful of pony-nuts - or you went along to learn how.
The trick here was to ensure you had the rein OVER the Pony's neck, (and preferably, the bridle ON) - BEFORE parting with all the pony-nuts . . . .
All ponies gathered? then saddling up was done, and the ride left Slade for about two hours riding over the moors on a number of set routes. These were just right for those learning to ride - but were no less enjoyable for the more experienced. A great way to experience the moors. There were oportunities to trot and canter, jump little ditches and you learned how to open and close gates on horseback. Great Stuff . . . .
On return to Slade, ponies were fed and watered and taken back to their fields.
Time for lunch: This was usually a roast with potatoes and veg. often followed by one of Mrs C's Crumbles - usually Apple, or Apple and Wortleberry (if someone had been up the Tin Mine road to collect them) - and of course CREAM - fresh that morning.
After lunch, you could largely please yourself what you did. Mrs C would usually enquire who was doing what, and actively encouraged everyone to go "somewhere".
In fairness, she often used to take a nap in the afternoon, and was happier knowing folk were "out and about" rather than hanging round the house. Not unreasonable - she had been up since 6a.m. . . . .
My Dad and I would often go fishing at this point. My Mum would gather up the youngest and take a walk with them round to "The Bees" - which was along the top road - past "Upalong" - a curiously small house, past the left turn to the Moor Gate, past the right cut that was a back route to Hexworthy Village, and on, through Gobbet Gate, past the open-cast mine on the left, locally called Gobbet Gulley, past RJ's caravan and down onto the bank of the Swincombe.
On the far Bank, could be seen "The Bees". A collection of Hives in a gated, walled enclosure on the side of a Hill. These Hives were cared for by "Brother Adam" from Buckfast Abbey, who was a World Authority in the area of Bee Breeding. Though these were breeding colonies, and part of Brother Adam's research, a certain amount of Honey was forthcoming from them, and Brother Adam would sometimes call at Slade with half a dozen Pots of Honey for Mrs C. He seemed rather distant and never spoke (to us at any rate). On several occasions, Mrs C gave a couple of pots to my Mum, when we left Slade to come home . . . .
Afternoons at "The Bees" would be whiled away, playing on the bank and around the river's edge. Those more adventurous could try "Rock-Hopping", though care was needed as some rocks were moss-covered and slippery . . . There was a small wooden footbridge to cross, allowing access to the gate where the hives were.
On hot days, the Bees themselves would land in hundreds on the moss growing on the rocks in the river to drink. A little scary to begin with, but none of us kids ever got stung.
Mum did, on one occasion get stung, but only because a bee got trapped in her hair, and Dad (bless him) legged it all the was back to Slade to get a pair of tweezers to remove the sting . . . .
Another favourite afternoon activity was a walk down to "The Bridge". This was Hexworthy Bridge, or Huccaby Bridge - depending on your point of view . . . .
The shortest way down, was to go down the upper field, exit left out of the lower field, past the memorial of Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, keep right past "Bearas" the cottage, and slither down the cut on to the road that led down the hill, past "Jolly Lane Cot", "Rixy" and "Little Meadow" - past Mrs Coaker's field on the left - further down, past "Jollymead", across the Bridge and you were there . . . . .
At the height of the season - this used to be rather busy most afternoons. The left bank was sandy, whereas the opposite bank had a very large sloping granite slab, that tended to be slippery. The depth of the river here was such that you could generally NOT walk all the way across.
The water was wonderfully clear and breathtakingly COLD. Despite this, one summer, one of the girls from Slade taught me to swim here. Sadly I don't remember her name after all these years, but I have always been grateful . . . . Close by, there was a large sandbank which varied in size depending on the amount of water in the river. A little upstream there were plenty of rocks in the river to go rock-hopping on . . .
Occasionally there would be a mobile ice-cream kiosk there - a curious, home-made-looking trailer, advertising "Piper's Ices". These were a little granular and watery, but were large and (importantly) cheap.
Across the road, Huccaby House did open their river frontage for car parking (for a small fee) and eventually a kiosk was built from which you could get different ice-cream, chocolate, crisps, burgers (eventually) and postcards . . . .
Prior to this, I DO remember being allowed to enter Huccaby House through a back entrance and climb the stairs to access a small glass-cased counter from which you could buy a limited range of chocolate and sweets. This was a facility for guests, as HH was being run as a Hotel back then, I believe . . .
Last updated on Sunday, August 21st, 2016. © Chris N Miller