Dartmouth and the river with its creeks is very familiar ground to both Marcia and me. We had both lived in the town, severally and then together after we were married. At various times we had boats that were kept in the boatfloat or moored in Old Mill Creek – indeed (and this is a sad story) the boat on which we lived for nearly a year shortly after we were married ended her days at the head of Old Mill with the tide swilling in and out of her twice a day as she gently rotted into a hulk.
We may as well see the river as James did on his first trip to view the cottage he was to rent . . .
. . . and meet one of our Newfies. These dogs were the inspiration for Admiral Jellicoe.
This photograph was taken many years ago from our family home and it gives a good idea of how the town sits beside the river. From this viewpoint, little has changed although just out of sight to the left is the new road that was cut down through the valley to the north of the town in order to relieve the old streets of the weight of traffic that was making life intolerable.
What the Bedford Hotel is to the characters in the Tavistock books so is the Royal Castle to Hattie and her friends. This is much older than the Bedford as it was built in the 1600’s on what was then a quay to which ships from all over the world would tie up. Now it faces the boatfloat but, as always, provides a warm welcome to all.
You could describe the boat float as the focal point of the town. Sooner or later you will meet everyone you know in this small town if you stand on the corner by the kiosk in this picture.
This is the same view but taken about fifty years ago. As you can see there have been quite a few changes. Cundell’s, the high class grocers who served the town for over a hundred years, has gone and the National Westminster Bank has replaced the shops to the right of the view. One welcome change: this part of the town is now much more cheerful thanks to the hanging baskets you can see in the photo above.
Time to take a look at the creek itself. Obviously this is impossible as Abbot’s Mill Creek does not exist but here I will use Old Mill Creek as a stand in. Today the head of the creek is much tidied up but, as you can see, it is still very much a working creek. The tide is coming in and is almost full. In six hours time there will be no water to be seen other than the stream trickling down between shallow mud banks.
One constant visitor is the mute swan. Most years a pair nest somewhere alongside the creek and can be very tricky if you go too close once the eggs have been laid.
Meanwhile you can get a fairly good idea of what creekside boatyards look like. No one could pretend that they are tidy places since they are always surrounded by bits and pieces – some valuable and much not. This was taken about fifty years ago but Toby’s boatyard would be little different.