Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Exmoor's the spot

Autumn afternoon on Exmoor

We left Tony & Maureen's place in St Austell feeling a little teary this morning. It's one of the special "second homes" we have here; Bondi's mood always picking up when he has a familiar kitchen floor to stretch out on. With only five weeks left in the UK, I'm having to say goodbye to people for longer than a few weeks or months. No longer will they be just a few hours' drive away.

I thought I might be able to view a few more places along north Cornish coast, but after reviewing my planned stops for the day, and the rapidly reducing amount of daylight each day, decided to press on for Holsworthy, just over the county border in north Devon. I've been trying to pick up the thread of my ancestor Samuel Jones, whose birth record I'd located in Tavistock just on a year ago. Re-reading an old blog entry now, I see I've overlooked one possible set of parents, and will have to check that again. In the meantime, I was following up some census records that suggested the possibility of his parents coming from Holsworthy.

Yesterday I had a call from my newly-discovered 4th-cousin, Patricia who shares this ancestor with me. After a quick 200 year catch-up, we agreed that there must have been some gypsy blood in Samuel or wife Jane Woolcock that persists to our generation.

At Holsworthy's information centre, I was directed to the nearby museum to ask after such records, and was given a lot of assistance by the ladies there, who had paper and microfiche copies of many of the birth and marriage records that I was looking for in the 1780-1810 period. I couldn't find any match on a Thomas Jones/Joans for birth or marriage, but took copies of other Jones records just in case they turned out to be siblings or cousins.

View Larger Map; Your friendly archivist

Leaving Holsworthy around 1pm, the next stop was Barnstaple, whose library houses the North Devon Records Office. Bondi came up and snoozed beside the microfilm reader while I scanned the Bishop's Transcripts for that period. Still nothing. Bugger.

Although the records offices were unproductive, it was a spectacular autumn day to be out between the russet hedgerows. I had two more intermediate stops planned for the day before we got to Cardiff, but figured that the second (Cheddar Gorge) was not achievable in the two hours of daylight left, so we could just take our time, and then do the final stretch into Wales after dark.

Mid-afternoon we entered the third great moor of SW England, so now we have done all three: Dartmoor, Bodmin and Exmoor. Based on my short time here, this is my favourite and I'm really looking forward to returning here one day. Still so much to see in England after bouncing in and out of here for over 2 years.

Back of Timberscombe Methodist church

J.P. Martin was Methodist minister of Timberscombe until his death in 1966. In the final years of his life, his Uncle stories were finally published to much acclaim. There was a memorial bench in this village, since vandalised, and replaced by a plaque in the church. The church itself is rather inauspicious, small and soberly Methodist in absolute contrast to the surreal immensity of Uncle's Homeward.

The building was locked, so we had to content ourselves with a quick stroll around the perimeter.

After a further pleasant drive to the edge of the moor, I finally got onto the M5, ready to turn towards Cardiff near Bristol on the M4. When I got to the approach ramp, traffic was at a complete halt. After 40 minutes or so of nothing happening and no indication of when it might clear, I managed to extricate the car and look for another route. The surrounding roads were continuing to choke up so the other route via the second bridge over the Severn was out of the question. This basically meant we'd have to drive as far north as Gloucester in order to cross the river and get back down to Cardiff. After a short foray north, I was really sick of driving (not helped by the time in the car in Cornwall this week) and calculated that it would actually take less time to get back to London than to proceed to Cardiff. I made up my mind and turned us eastward once more...

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