Coastal Spring

6 April 2013
Ben Pentreath

A few days amongst the narrow-laned, softly rolling hills of the North Cornwall and Devon coast are drawing to a close. It’s been a wonderful time, with my whole family – celebrating my Dad’s 80th birthday (which is officially next week), and my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary (which is officially in a few weeks time).

It nearly began in disaster, on our first day, when at the end of a long walk my poor Pa tripped and fell heavily, on a cattle grid. Seeing my strong father tumbling over and receiving a terrible gash to his forehead was a huge shock. As, I suppose, in all such moments, the mind goes in to an overdrive of clarity—but, I’ve got to admit, with a deep underlying panic. With kind help from a passer-by, and the owners of the fantastic farm where we’ve been staying, we swiftly found our way to hospital.

And I don’t know what it is – because we all read horror stories in the newspapers – but every single time I’ve ever been near the NHS, they’ve always been superb. No let down this time. Dad was brilliantly looked after, and 14 stitches and a few hours later we drove home. Thank goodness he’s quickly on the mend.

Cornwall was on the brink of spring, brilliant sunshine fighting the bitter east wind. Today, I would say, the sunshine won. At the end of the longest winter, the first enchanted days of April. We haven’t gone far; walks to the sea and today a trip to dreamlike Clovelly. Well, my niece Polly (who plans to become a fashion designer… watch this space) and I did a cross-country trip to beautiful Antony House, in south Cornwall, owned by the National Trust.  But really, its been about hanging about and spending time with my Mum and Dad, brothers and sisters-in-law, nephews and nieces. You might have thought that would be a bit of a recipe for chaos, or even for trouble. But, Dad’s drama aside, I haven’t had such a great time in a long time.

Beautiful Coombe village, not far from where we were staying – where you can rent these perfect little cottages from the Landmark Trust

I’ve always loved the magic of north Devon, since summer holidays years ago just up the coast at Hartland with my old boss Charles Morris and his family.

Grey, austere Antony House: my perfect, perfect type of house.

Can you think of a better place to curl up with a book than this pale yellow armchair in the toast-brown Library at Antony?

My niece Polly.

It was too cold that day to spend more than a few minutes in the fine gardens, with their extraordinary terraces and yew hedges.

The woodlands around the farmhouse were spare and mossy; strange to think that a month from now they will be carpeted with bluebells.

Today, we visited Clovelly, tumbling down cobbled paths through a wooded valley and narrow streets to the sea:

Many of the houses bear the initials of Christine and Frederick Hamlyn, who owned and restored the village in the 1920s.

I loved the colour of the Methodist chapel, that transports you to the Caribbean. Others were not so sure.

Clovelly is one of those strange museum-towns (like Venice) which are wonderful to visit but in which I think you would hate to live. (Sorry, if you live in Clovelly). Beautiful, but the little side streets have a curiously ominous air… Don’t they?

My family is from Cornwall.  We came from much further south, near Penzance, and I’ve always thought I cannot think of anything worse on the planet than living in Cornwall in the mid 19th century.

But looking at this copy of a pre-Raphaelite painting of the ‘Clovelly Crew’, in the little Clovelly Museum, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t think again.

See what I mean?!

Okay, we can calm down. Here’s another print in the Museum. I rather like the idea of Hobby Driving.  And I particularly like posters like this one.

Little has changed at the habour since the 19th century:

There’s a lot of good typography at Clovelly. But none better than in the Donkey Stables:

If you visit Clovelly, make sure you go to Clovelly Court (where the Hamlyn, now Rous, family lives).  It has one of the most perfect walled gardens that I’ve ever been in (and regular readers of this blog like a walled garden).

Heaven is a walled garden. I’m sure I must have written that before, and I’m sure I’ll write it again.

Next door, Clovelly Church has some of the finest stone letter cutting I’ve seen, in a churchyard filled with 19th century slate gravestones.

As we left the churchyard, the spring sunshine was warm. What was that strange feeling? Coastal Spring.


30 comments on this post


Yes I see what you mean about the Clovelly crew. Good to hear your Dad had good care and treatment, as a nurse working in the Department of Health it’s always reassuring to hear when people have been well looked after in the NHS.


Ben I’m very glad someone appreciates the Clovelly Crew… as well as the NHS and the walled garden pics 😉



Ben, I love your blog and I thank you for sharing so much of your life with others. I was sad to read about your dad falling (I just hate seeing older people fall), but was gladdened to hear that he is on the mend and that the visit to hospital was positive. The photos are just beautiful. Thank you for this wonderful blog, it brightens my day.


Is that the Clovelly that appears on the Rex Whistler china?


Bideshi, it is exactly the same. B

I wonder what a charabanc is? I’m sure you wouldn’t want one on a Hobby Drive! Whatever that may be!

Autumn has arrived in Cape Town – quite jelous to see daffodils on you’re side.. thanks for an inspiring post as always..


perfect, perfect images. i ache at the beauty they portray.


These are some of the best photos yet! Just wonderful…

Margaret Powlingsays:

Hope your Dad makes a speedy recovery.
Lovely photos as ususal – and I agree heaven is a walled garden! Also love Antony House. When we visited they had a table in the library/sitting room on which was displayed a load of green glass ‘dumps’ (I inherited some of these and love them – they were used as doorstops by my grandparents, I now have them on a windowsill to catch the light.)
Great pix of buildings, countryside, flower and sea as always. Your blog is truly uplifting (even if your Dad met with an accident!)

I particularly like your shots of cobbles and steps and walls and stones generally – a bit of ‘west country wabi’ 🙂


Lovely, there seems to be a real stark brightness I seem to see, quite unusual, compared to previous years during the same spring period.

Cornelia harrietsays:

Wonderful photos of the countryside. Kind get well wishes to your pa.


O, Ben, your father only becomes more and more endearing to his growing fan base; please send him our warmest greetings and Get-well wishes.
BTW, stopped by your shop in late March and am very happy with the lovely candle and Ravilious mug that caught my eye.

Hi Ben – Oh, what gorgeous photos and such a nice trip for you and your family. Thank you for posting them. My husband and I used to travel to the UK but can no longer – we have a sheep farm here in western Massachusetts and it is too difficult to leave all the animals. I live vicariously through your lovely photos. I found you via Jane Brocket and her Yarnstorm blog. Maybe one day I will get to your London shop. For the time being I will dream about it. Happy Spring!

Shocks like such only remind us of our own mortality. Human life is fragile yet wonderful thing. I hope that despite that you had an excellent time in North Devon with your family (and of course happy birthday Daddy Pentreath!). I cannot say I really know Devon well, I have only been once briefly. Your photographs look wonderful and now I am itching to go; I particularly love Antony House; it is my perfect, *perfect* kind of house also. There really is something about Spring on the coast which you have captured perfectly in this.

Sumptuous as ever, precious weekends spent away with family can be so magical. Happy Birthday to your Dad, so pleased that the fall didn’t dampen your spirits for too long.


Ben, How is it that wherever you are there is lovely sun? You are so kind to share it. Paris has had the greyest weather ever! Your post is a rare delight.

Ellen Spencersays:

Love, love love North Devon! Have you been to Linton and Lynmouth?

Simon, Nth Lincolnshiresays:

My dad, now an amazing 93 years old, seems to keep bouncing off the pavement with amazing regularity. Says that he was taught how to fall in the gym, whilst training in Grenadier Guards back in 1938. I asked him if he ever thought at the time that it would come in handy 75 years later….

My gran used to live on the North Cornwall coast, in a house overlooking the Atlantic. I never tire of looking at the sea and listening to the seagulls…and suddenly I feel 10 years old with my whole life ahead of me. Looking out of my bedroom windows just now, I sea container ships in the North Sea waiting for the tide to change to go up the Humber. NOT the same this side of the country…. Not ROMANTIC like Cormwall.

What a marvelous detail on those adjustable bookcases, almost like dentals. I am absolutely stealing that one.


Lillian – have a look at The Landmark Trust properties, mentioned early in this charming article. They have such a variety, I’m sure you’d find something pleasing.

Best wishes to your dad, Ben – it’s so scary when that happens, isn’t it. You’re frozen to the spot but moving faster than you ever did in your life, all in one terrible moment.



As usual your photographs are lovely. I know that it’s the eye that counts but which camera do you use?



A beautiful post – even though spring is very late I enjoy seeing the sculptural structure of the trees against a clear blue sky. When spring does decide to visit I am sure it will happen in a great swoosh.
Sorry to learn about your father, 14 stitches must have been a large gash, but hopefully it did not prevent him enjoying the rest of the break with you all.

Nicola Barriesays:

Dear Ben. What a fright you had with your father and I’m glad he is recovering well – in time for his happy birthday and another celebration (?) shortly.

Thank you for the beautiful pictures and words. Regards, Nicola

Your words and photographs always give so much joy and pleasure. I would aspire to live in such beauty…well I do, but not in this house of Early Halloween decor.
I am happy to hear that your beloved father is doing well. It is so frightening….and I am just a wee bit younger than he is. It makes my heart glad to hear of your love for and of your parents.
Thank you for enriching my life. May Spring in all of her beauty continue to shake out her skirts of warmth and goodness to you and to all whom you love.

Dorothy Lindsaysays:

Dear Ben….your uplifting blog arrived, with a longed-for sunny day, at just the right time. My eldest son (also a Ben – and my daughter is a Polly!) left this week for Australia, where he will marry his soul-mate in November, in a garden wedding. He plans to stay for a couple of years and I am finding his departure hard, but your brilliant photographs brought back many happy memories of family holidays when our children were small, slipping and sliding on wet cobblestones down that steep main street in Clovelly.
I was in your shop a couple of weeks ago; I bought a kelim cushion. It has snuggled in nicely…..
My best wishes for your Dad. May he enjoy Many Happy Returns. With thanks, again. Dorothy.

Oh, what lovely photos. The magnolias!!!! I’m so glad your father is on the mend, what a scare that must have been. Thank heavens he wasn’t alone.

Wonderful, as always. I have always wanted to visit Cornwall.where shall I go?


Just wonderful! Thank you.

Virginia Garauxsays:

That blue and gold gate sings!

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