Zdrada, machlojki i siedziba rodowa na wybrzeżu w hrabstwie Devon - Treachery, Skulduggery And an Ancestral Seat on The Devonshire Coast
My passport states that I am British, and, even though I love my country I have found myself happily settled in Poland. I love it here, I even think of Poland as my second home. My spoken Polish, albeit enthusiastic, is somewhat dreadful, as my friends will no doubt attest to - many is the occasion when I have been stopped by some exasperated taxi driver, shop assistant (I love those guys in Empik) frustrated receptionist, and occasionally my boyfriend - and asked if I could possibly speak in English (at no small cost to my pride) because they couldn-t understand what I was talking about.
This usually leads to a conversation about my country of origin - England. If I had a pound for every time the conversation has been furthered by "Aaaah London" I would never have to work again! Actually, I-m from Devon on the the South Western coast of England, from a tiny hamlet called Rocombe, the nearest town is Torquay, about a 20 minute car ride away.
I grew up in the Rocombe hamlet, which is even smaller than a village, at the top of a valley. The house I lived in was a converted barn and is roughly 400 years old. There are two other barns such as my childhood home, further down the valley. Mine was called Higher Barn, the other two barns, also converted into living accommodations, are somewhat unimaginatively named Middle Barn and Lower Barn.
This is where the story starts to become more interesting. The barns were once smugglers barns. A short walk from Rocombe through the fields will take you to the coastline, alternatively you could drive, but the period of time I-m about to describe pre-dates cars by several centuries.
Some of the coastline in both Devon and Cornwall is marked by high cliffs - far smaller than the ones of Dover, but too high to climb, whilst other areas are far more favorable when trying to reach the shore. This type of coastline has given rise to many small secluded beaches. Reaching the shore when you are on foot is all very well, but what if you are in a boat, or even a ship?
The coastline is marked by treacherous rocks which during the 15th and 16th centuries would have sunk any ship if they didn-t know the area. Reaching the relative safety of port, or navigating one-s vessel past the treacherous rocks during the day was one thing, but what about if you were sailing at night? Or if the seas were stormy or foggy? That is what lighthouses were for - to both warn and protect. Or so the theory went.
Throughout the history of these two previously lawless counties, dating as far back as the 15th century, we see that wreckers and smugglers were very active - in fact, it was a way of life, just like farming! If a ship carrying a cargo of sailable goods was known to be passing, or coming into port, beacons were raised. These were basically huge bonfires that could be seen far out to sea - and lured the unwary boats to their doom.
About a twenty minute hike through the fields from Higher Barn - my childhood home, will bring you to one of the small secluded beaches that I mentioned earlier. The area, like the beach is called Maidencoombe. This is a place of notorious local historical significance, as it was here that great burning beacons were set alight. Many ships carrying cargos of whisky, brandy, silk and lace from France were wrecked and their goods were salvaged from the sea or from the beach by the wreckers and smugglers. However, not all items washed up on the shore were welcome. Any survivors of the wrecks were swiftly disposed of - so as not to leave any evidence, as the saying goes, "dead men tell no tales."
Recovered items were then transported to Higher Barn, the first of the holding barns for illegal goods. Later they were moved down the valley to both Middle and Lower Barns. From there the items were transported to Teignmouth, and then taken down the river Teign to wherever they were wanted.
In fact, there was such a high level of smuggling and wrecking activity around the Devon and Cornwall coasts, that H.M. customs and excise came into existence.
As you can imagine, this drove the illegal activities further underground, in more ways than one. In order to hide illegal goods from the customs and excise inspectors, they were sometimes buried. Usually in a small part of a freshly ploughed field, or a vegetable patch, or on a secret location on one of the hills. The idea was, that they would be dug up again later, when the coast was clear. Not only do I know this for a fact from local history books - but as a little girl, I myself used to dig up lots of "buried treasure,"which I would gleefully present to my horrified parents!
It would seem that I was not the only one in my family with a penchant for buried treasure. My uncle - on my mothers side, has a keen interest in researching our family tree. In doing so it has turned out that I am descended from a long line of wreckers and smugglers! Around the 15th and 16th centuries my ancestors were particulary active around the town of Wyke. My little 14 year old cousin was fascinated by our Uncle Barry-s tales about our questionable ancestry, until he discovered - much to his horror - that they were also murderers as well. As I mentioned earlier, if any survivors were washed up on the beach they were swiftly disposed of. Or were they?
Now, here-s the funny thing about my family. I myself am pale skinned, blue eyed and well, quite frankly, English looking. I take after my fathers side of the family. Now my mother and little brother on the other hand are a different kettle of fish entirely. They both have dark, almost black hair - well, my mum used to, she dyes it blonde now - because its grey (but don-t tell her I told you!) They both have liquid brown eyes and the most amazing ability to pop outside under the watery English sun for five minutes and get the most glorious suntans. It-s just not fair!
However, there is a suprising reason for this colour inconsistency in my family. Remember that I told you that the wreckers and smugglers dispatched survivors, well, apparently not all of them. It appears that at some stage in the 16th century my ancestors had a hand in wrecking a Portugese ship. A little Portugese baby was washed onto shore, and was adopted into my ancestral family. Later this little Portugese baby - all grown up now, married one of the boys in her adopted family and produced children. The amazing tanning ability, and sultry good looks of my Mum and brother are a genetic throwback to this suprising addition to my family. My Uncle Barry has discovered all this in the process of researching our family tree. Mind you, my Uncle-s hair was red when he was younger, I wonder where he got that from?
Today my father and brother both still live at Higher Barn. They tell me the spirits of the wreckers and smugglers from Maidencoombe beach are still very much alive. However it is not illegal alcohol, silks and lace that are being trafficked these days, but the far more sinister spectre of drugs. Thankfully however, Higher, Middle and Lower Barns are no longer being utilised as smugglers warehouses. Unfortunately modern technology and the 21st century have seen to it that once goods have come ashore, they are far more swiftly dispatched than any of the old wreckers could ever have dreamed possible.
So, yes, I am from England. Not from London, or any other big city. Just a small hamlet, of about 20 people off the coast of Devon, an area where my ancestors have dwelled for centuries.
A place doesn-t have to be big to have a big history. Sometimes, it-s those quiet, sleepy, boring looking villages that have the wildest tales to tell.
treachery - willful betrayal
skulduggery - trickery or deciet, old fashioned theatrical word
albeit - although
attest to - affirm the truth of
exasperated - to be deeply frustrated by someone or something
hamlet - small cluster of dwellings in the rural countryside, it has no church. to be a village you must have a church, and usually a post office and sometimes a school. a town has businesses, shops, schools and churches. a city must have a cathedral to give it city status, if there is no cathedral - then it is merely a big town
barns - large covered dwellings for animals, animal feed or food grains. built out of a variety of materials, but usually stone or cob (a mixture of straw, mud and horse manure)
secluded - remote, cut off in a positive way, affording one sought after privacy
wrecker - someone who deliberately destroys something - in this context, a ship
vessel - ship or boat
beacons - fire or light on a hill or tower, usually used as warning
bonfires - large outdoor fires
hike - walk a long way - usually for pleasure - in the country
salvaged - saving of a ship or other property from destruction
lace - delicate and decorative fabric made from thread
h.m. customs and excise - his/her majesty-s
customs - duty charged on imports or exports - a government department collects these
excise - tax on goods produced for the home market
gleefully - very excitedly or happily
penchant - inclination or liking
to dye - to colour one-s hair
watery sun - diluted, weak, not very strong, sun
dispatch - to get rid of
sultry - warm and sensual, sexy
trafficked - trade, usually illicitly or illegally
spectre - menacing mental image
dwell - a place where people live
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