The Teignmouth and Dawlish Way

One of the best ways to keep rights of way open is to devise and publicise local walking routes for people to follow. You don’t need to invent a Pennine Way or a Coast to Coast route. Just link some paths together to provide a circular or linear trail, publish a guide and encourage people to get out there. Well walked paths are paths that get noticed and protected.Scan

A success story in devising short routes is the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way, an eighteen mile circular trail linking these two Devon seaside resorts. It’s pleasing to note that the guidebook has now gone into a third edition, written and published by the Teignmouth and Dawlish group of the Ramblers Association.

And a splendid edition too, sumptuously  illustrated with lots of photographs, not only of the stunning Devon scenery, but – clever this – with pictures of some of the turnings on the route, just so there’s no confusion about which way to go.

Although the T and D Way formally starts from Teignmouth Pier, it can be started, being a circular walk, from any point along the route. Fit walkers might like to do the whole eighteen miles in a day, but many ramblers might care to linger and explore this quieter area of Devon at a gentler pace, perhaps over a weekend or even in shorter stages. The guide gives information on public transport and how to seek out accommodation.

This part of Devon isn’t as well known as some others, but is well worth looking at – from Teignmouth the route takes in the villages of Bishopsteignton, Luton, Ideford and Ashcombe, before winding down to the seaside resort of Dawlish. Paths then take the rambler on an inland route back to the start in Teignmouth.

Along the way, there’s a lot of history – Bitton House, where the poet Mackworth Praed and the Nelsonian Admiral Pellew lived, the ruins of a medieval bishop’s palace, several early parish churches, and a town with links to authors such as Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Eden Phillpotts.

And the profits of the guide go back to the Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers, who work hard to keep open the paths in this part of south Devon.

So why not try the Teignmouth and Dawlish Way? Excellent walking at all times of the year.

You can order a copy by post for just £2.50 or by sending a cheque to Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers c/o 1 Shillingate Close, Dawlish, EX7 9SQ or from the Dawlish Tourist Information Centre. A real bargain for such a great booklet!

And if you are in Devon why not walk with the Teignmouth and Dawlish Ramblers (visitors welcome). You can find out more about them at their website:


Footloose in Devon

My new Devon book  is now out in paperback and on Kindle…   
Here’s the blurb…411C+iYtNWL._AC_US218_
“The novelist John Bainbridge has walked in the Devon countryside for over fifty years, and is well known as a writer and broadcaster on the county.
In this miscellany of country essays, he explores many of the quiet corners of Devon, from the wild moorlands of Dartmoor and Exmoor to its spectacular coastline and peaceful pastoral landscapes.
John Bainbridge is the author of the country books The Compleat Trespasser and Wayfarer’s Dole.

“As a rambler, I’ve spent much of the past half century roaming through the Devon countryside, exploring the county’s quiet villages, winding footpaths and bridleways, lonely moorland and dramatic coast. I’ve had the privilege of leading walking groups to share what I know of this land. For much of that time I’ve also written and broadcast about Devon – in a number of books and many newspaper and magazine articles and for a local radio station. In fact, my first published work was an article about Dartmoor, written and sold when I was sixteen.

Devon has changed a great deal since I began my walks there – not altogether for the better. Ill-thought out development has blighted some of the countryside I knew. I salute those campaigners who are fighting to protect what remains. I spent nine years as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, so I appreciate the hard work involved in saving the beauties for future generations to enjoy.

But even with all these changes there are still the quiet secret places there to discover, and what better way to seek them out than on foot? I’ve enjoyed my Devon walks, both alone and in the company of other ramblers.

I’ve written about Devon in my two earlier walking books Wayfarer’s Dole and The Compleat Trespasser, which give accounts of some of my longer walks.  But there are some shorter pieces I’ve written, many previously published as magazine articles, which didn’t fit into the themes of those titles – fugitive pieces which I thought might make a collection on their own, hence this little volume.

This is no definitive account of Devon, nor yet a walks guide, though there are snippets of history, legend and topography in the pages which follow. Footloose in Devon is rather a bedside book, a volume to be dipped into when the reader has a quiet moment.  I hope the places mentioned might inspire some rambles and expeditions into the heart of this very lovely county.”

To read more or to order just click on the link:


Jay’s Grave – Burial at the Crossroads

Kitty Jay was buried at the crossroads because, legend tells us, she was a suicide. Her little grave is a much-visited place on Dartmoor, marking the crossroad of two highways – one a present-day modern road, the other a green track leading from the Widecombe valley towards the high ground around Manaton. Four Cross Lane, though the name is not often used these days.

Burying suicides at crossroads was not unknown in earlier times. There are other examples by the old tracks and roads of the British countryside, but the story of Kitty Jay strikes a note that seems to reach out to people.

But what is the truth about Jay’s Grave?

Well. here’s the legend: Kitty or Mary Jay (sometimes Ann) was apprenticed as a maid from Newton Abbot workhouse. She became pregnant and hanged herself in Canna Barn (when I was young, the farmer said the one rafter in the barn that wasn’t rotting was the one she tied the rope around!)

In Victorian times, the grave was found once again, as recounted in Devon Notes and Queries:

Jay’s Grave, which is by the side of the Ashburton and Chagford road, where the Heytree and Hedge Barton Estates meet. A workman of mine, aged 74, informs us that about forty years ago, he was in the employ of Mr. James Bryant, of Hedge Barton, Manaton, when he remembers Jay’s Grave being opened, in which a young unmarried woman who had hung herself in Cannon (sic) Farm outbuildings, which is situated between Forder and Torhill, was said to have been buried, but no one then living at Manaton could remember the occurrence.  The grave was opened by order of Mr. James Bryant in the presence of his son-in-law, Mr. J. W. Sparrow, M.R.C.S. Bones were found, examined, and declared to be those of a female. The skull was taken to Hedge Barton, but was afterwards placed with the bones in a box and re-interred in the old grave, a small mound raised with head and foot stones erected at either end. Such is the present appearance of the grave.

Jay’s Grave became a early tourist attraction in the twentieth century, promoted a great deal by the author Beatrice Chase (Olive Katherine Parr) in her bestseller The Heart of the Moor.

Beatrice Chase was mostly responsible for the tradition that flowers mysteriously appear on the grave when nobody is watching. She was one of the first to actually put them there, though there have been many others – several of them known to me. Now the multitudes deck the grave and there’s no feeling of mystery at all, which is a pity.

The grave, by the way, has changed a great deal in the fifty years I’ve known it – it used to be a much simpler mound, and has, I think, been spoiled by the adjustments.

The tale has inspired lots of Dartmoor Culture, with songs by Seth Lakeman (whose dad Geoff used to interview me about badgers for the Daily Mirror many years ago), and Wishbone Ash. John Galsworthy, who lived nearby at Manaton wrote a short story based on the tale, called The Apple Tree. Lois Deacon (of whom more below) wrote a whole novel entitled An Angel From Your Door.

How much of the Kitty Jay legend is true is debatable. Why did a pregnant woman in c.1820 feel the need to kill herself? Parish records for both Widecombe and Manaton suggest that it was not uncommon for young Dartmoor girls to be pregnant as they walked down the aisle for a later marriage? The legend suggests she killed herself in shame…

Was she, as the legend implies, suicidal because of a broken love affair?

We’ll never know, but if she was the victim of social exclusion, it’s rather amusing that she’s remembered to this day and those who judged her are quite forgotten.

But many years ago I did all I could to investigate the tale. I spent an afternoon with Lois Deacon at her Chagford home. She was a formidable but charming Quaker lady who’d become notorious for writing a book about the early love life of Thomas Hardy, Providence and Mr Hardy.  She was also long before the secretary of the great Liberal politician Isaac Foot, father of all those famous sons, Michael, John – another friend of mine – and Dingle, who all made a mark on politics.

She admitted to me that she often put flowers on Kitty’s grave. But then she showed me a humdinger of a piece of evidence – she produced a photocopy of an apprentice record from the Newton Abbot poorhouse. It showed that a Catherine Mary Jay was apprenticed as a maid to Barracott Farm at Manaton – not that far from Canna Barn where the fatal deed was done. I believe the date was around 1820, though I can’t remember for sure.

Could this have been the Kitty Jay of legend? I think it very probably was, though how much of her subsequent tale is true is probably lost in the mists of time.

Annoyingly, I never followed up the evidence in the document Lois produced, and the lady is  long dead. But it’s out there… somewhere. Perhaps in the Record Office or some parish archive? If anyone can track it down then please do let me know.

And while you are walking our ancient tracks, do take a long look at any unspoiled crossroads you come upon. Burials at such places were not that uncommon.