A Love Letter to Devon

A Love Letter to Devon

Once upon a time there was a man named Isaac Singer that purchased a house in 1871 on beautiful lush grounds where he added gardens, tennis courts and bowling greens.  He bought it as his private residence with the money that he made with the invention of the Singer Sewing Machine, which still stands today as the standard for the modern sewing machine.  He lived from 1811 until 1875  and then this stunning house was rebuilt it in the style of the  Palace of Versaille, by one of his children, Paris Singer.

This breath taking property is named Oldway Mansion and sits in Paignton, Devon England.   Oldway Mansion was purchased by the Paignton Urban District Council in 1946 and was used as council offices and then marriage ceremonies till 2013 and since then it has sat empty.

I strolled around the massive home in the mist of a light rain with patches of fog rolling along the tennis courts and gardens. 

There is a statue with the head of a woman and body of a lion protecting the steps going up to the back of the house.  I’m not sure who it is.  Perhaps a member of the royal family?  I can’t tell. 

Vintage faux leopard coat over a Zara jumpsuit

What I can say, is that this hauntingly beautiful estate sits empty and rotting.  It is the saddest thing to see such a lonely empty historical landmark deserted and ignored because of a lack of funding.  I know that local historians are gutted to see it just sitting there like a discarded pearl at the bottom of the ocean. It seems no one can come to an agreement with what to do with the enormous estate.  It should be reopened to the public as a museum, if nothing else.  One can only imagine what it was like when it was a private home with parties and dinners and events.  I peered through the windows and snapped some shots of a ghostly interior trapped in a time warp of opulence.  A grand piano sits alone in a vast room.  Parkay floors are faded and stained but the windows still have curtains and the style of the room hearkens back to a period of decadence.   

I yearned to go inside but there are bolts on the doors and no one is allowed.

Crumbling brick and dead leaves are starting to collect and if nothing is done this symbol of the 1800’s will collapse. 

Oldway Mansion

Chard, Somerset – Courthouse – circa 1640

I visited another amazing private residence in Devon that was built in 1640 and, originally, was the town courthouse.   The judge was known as “the hanging judge”. It is a thrilling monument to the times with its turrets and lovely courtyard. 

Old photo circa 1920’s of residence

There is a ghost who has been there for centuries. One day an old woman knocked on the front door, which resembles the entrance to one of the castles on Game Of Thrones, and said she had lived there as a child in the 1920’s. She brought along an old photo of herself on a tricycle out front of the place, gifting it to the current resident. He brought her inside so she could revisit her childhood dwelling and she immediately asked if the female ghost was still there. And.. yes.. she was, still entertaining and watching over his children as she had watched over this woman so very long ago. It seems this spirit loves children and therefore they are the ones who have the gift of seeing her.

The original entrance

The courtyard

The back grounds are meticulously taken care of and the flowers are in full bloom.  There is  Ivy clinging to the walls and framing this idyllic English garden. 

Moving back to the courthouse.

There were many hanged in the Gothic brick building with its heavy wooden door and concrete stair case. 

the door leading up to the courtroom

I pleaded with Val to come into the old courtroom at night and we were terrified at the top of the stairs to see a mannequin dressed in period clothes at the back of the room.  A dark specter watching over its ghostly tenants.   I almost pee’d myself when Val’s blood curdling scream rang out and she scramble to the door in a desperate attempt to escape.

A mischievous tenant and keeper of all things spooky stood at the foot of the stairs giggling. A practical joker of the highest order.

I took some photos where I caught a large orb.  They were zipping around so quickly it was difficult to catch them on film.  I could definitely see them when the light flashed in the darkness. 

It was cold and ominous and the light through the giant windows cast shadows on the concrete floor and ceiling.  

The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I retreated to the warmth of the main house where there is always laughter and music and great food.  I’ve been fortunate to have been invited for more than one Sunday roast and the host does not disappoint.  Big thick slices of roast beef and home- made gravy, from scratch.  Cheese topped cauliflower, parsnips roasted in Madagascar honey, a  perfectly crispy roasted chicken and deliciously crunchy, yet, melt in your mouth, roasted potatoes. 

To top it all off, the dessert was fresh berries with clotted cream and a sprinkle of sugar.  A feast for a King or a Queen or a couple of Princess’s.   At least I felt like one, when I visited this incredible house and it’s owner.  Whatever the atmosphere has been over the years in this ancient place, I can say it is filled with love and happiness now. I doubt it has always been.

Dunkeswell

A stunner of a sunset in front of Val’s house

I photographed the old church and cemetery near Val’s place in Dunkeswell. I wanted to share some of them with my readers in case any of you decide to make the trip. It just such a beautiful place.

Tubbys Diner at the WWII Airfield – Dunkeswell

Val took me for breakfast one morning in an old hanger at a WWII Air Force Base. It was called Tubbys and there was one large gentleman cooking in a small kitchen in the back of the hanger.

He whipped up a great hearty British breakfast of eggs and ham, baked beans and potatoes and toast.

Yummy breakfast

One thing I did a lot of was eat on my trip. The old myth about Britain not having good food is seriously a myth. I had delicious food everywhere I went… even Val’s house… because she makes a mean Chicken Fajita, that cannot be topped!

Val admiring her meal

If I want to shop, while in Dunkeswell, I go to Exeter where there is a mixture of the old and the new. Top Shop and Zara and other fashionable stores are mixed with small bakeries and vintage shops. There is always a pub or restaurant to stop and have a drink or a bite.

I think the most heart felt thing I can say about anywhere I have been in the world is the connection to people that you meet. In my case I am fortunate to have a friend that always makes me laugh and is the best travel companion you could ask for. She selflessly goes to the most touristy, cheesy spots and shows just as much enthusiasm as I do and she deserves an Academy Award for that. So my hat is off to Val and her laugh and her wonderful Devon. If you are looking for a peaceful, lovely holiday I suggest Devon, England. You will not be disappointed.

LoNdOn cALliNg

LoNdOn cALliNg

London is a city like no other.  Its fashion and music history for starters.  Lets start with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They changed music forever. Everything that was mod and mini came from London.  The birth of punk fashion came with Vivienne Westwood’s and Malcolm McLaren’s store. They capitalized on the safety pinned youth that were poor and had created something out of necessity. The real punks couldn’t afford to buy clothes from the shop that stole their fashion. The irony.

I started my trip to London in Camden Town. My friend Val and I stayed in a cozy little Airbnb that was within walking distance to Camden Market. It was a two level apartment that I mistakenly thought we would have to ourselves. When we arrived there were men’s socks draped across a radiator. Our upstairs room had men’s briefs on display at the foot of our bed. Our hosts slept in the bedroom beside ours. It was hilarious. I don’t think he quite had the whole hosting thing down. Still, we could walk to the market and the apartment was clean despite the socks and undies… and the sand paper towels they gave us to bath with were horrendous but it was all manageable.

Late night incognito on the streets of Camden Town

I love the quaintness and small town feel by the market.  The cobble stoned streets through Camden Market wind their way through stalls of fashionable clothing, cutting edge bondage looks and great vintage.  There is the “Mod Store” where the gentleman who owns it walks around in his authentic mod suit spewing a wealth of knowledge regarding the clothes he sells.  “This is from a London based designer who only made a few pieces… very rare.”  “This sequined flag jacket could have been made for Elton John.”

Then there is the beloved statue of Amy Winehouse in the center of the market. She lived in Camden Town and her house still has offerings of flowers and poems and gifts ,displayed across the road and under a tree, from fans who miss her. She was incredibly talented and incredibly tiny with her massive hair. I wish I’d had the opportunity to see her perform but she’s gone and the closest I will ever get is posing beside this bronzed Amy.

Beloved Amy Winehouse in Camden Market

There is an array of foods from around the globe in Camden Market and always somewhere to stop for a pint or a cocktail.  I spent two days just wandering , eating fantastic coconut based Indonesian curry from a stall on the first day, and having delicious Mexican on the second day. I ended up purchasing a dark red burgundy velvet waist coat that I found in a steam punk store.  I’m not sure what inspired me other than the fit was perfect and I felt a bit like David Bowie when I put it on.  I also found a vintage satin DKNY coat that would not allow me to leave it behind.

From there I traveled to Brighton where I immediately started singing “We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods” from “The Who’s” epic film “Quadraphenia”.  The film was shot in Brighton forty years ago.   I love The Who and I love that movie. It is a gem of great music, fashion and art and it features the lovely seaside town of Brighton.   I sat at an outdoor pub and drank pink gin and lemonade… refreshing and deceivingly innocent until you stand up after a couple.  Gin is not a drink I normally partake in but for some reason I drank a lot of it in the U.K.  I also discovered Espresso Martinis… a delicious blend of coffee and chocolate with vodka…  and something called a Porn Star Martini… a fruity mango based elixir with vodka and a shot of prosecco …both delicious and deadly… and I blame my mates Val and Angela for that obsession.  It became my mission for the rest of my trip to find cocktail lounges that could make those two drinks.  I was successful in my hunt and have had a couple of Espresso Martinis in my own home since I’ve returned… a full blown lush.

Val and I… another round

Brighton reminds me of San Francisco with its hilly streets and sea front.  The boardwalk is spectacular and still has rides on it that look like old -timey fairground rides.  The weather was a bit chilly, although it was sunny all day long, but even the heartiest of Brits was not giving in to the lure of the sea in May.  I have seen people swim where it could not have been much above 50 degrees and I turned blue just watching them, but not this time.    I went to see a Canadian band called The Sadies from Toronto and they blew the roof off the sold out show which was packed with enthusiastic guitar nerds and drunken dancers … myself being one of them… and afterwards everyone spilled out onto the streets to find the next libation.  My friends and I went to a wonderful place called The Bohemian where we drank my new fav, the Espresso Martini, that came on a concrete chalice filled with dry ice.  It was a drunken Game of Thrones moment for me.

The Sadies playing Brighton
Memories of Joe Jackson
Impressive makeup in a shop



Next, we made our way to my best mate Val’s farm house in Devon. A gorgeous British countryside with narrow hedged lined roads that wind up and down from one small hamlet to the next. I was introduced to clotted cream on scones with jam and probably gained five pounds in a week. It was worth it. Thank god for Spanx. There is nothing that compares to the English breakfast or countryside. Gorgeous. We visited a donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth. The grounds were immense and well kept. They even had a large maze you could run through, which reminded me of The Shining. I wouldn’t want to be there on a snowy day in the winter. The rescue donkeys were lovely and approachable. One had the most beautiful and peaceful face as we scratched her ears and whispered affections to her. I also hung out with Val’s rescue ponies and her son Will, a handsome young lad whose title is Will Of Fartingdom.

Will of Fartingdom
Vintage faux leopard coat over a Zara 1920’s inspired dressing gown and a pony
The happiest donkey in Sidmouth

Next, Val and I headed to Carnaby Street back in London and home of the birthplace of the swinging ’60’s. There was a time this street was filled with mods , punks and skinheads. It has always been the epicentre of fashion and culture in London’s West End. I tried to envision these early days as I walked the street. Now Carnaby Street is a tourist attraction that has fashionable “chain” stores that you would find in any mall. The boutiques seem to all have gone by the way side. There are some nice cafes and pubs to stop for a drink but the best thing is that it is bordered by the timeless Liberty department store.

Carnaby Street in a vintage silk DKNY coat bought in Camden Market

I didn’t purchase anything on famed Carnaby Street because I could find any of the stores back at home offering up the same fashion.

We headed over to the famous and iconic Liberty Department Store. It is known for its luxury designs and fashions. It first opened in 1875. Its famous mock Tudor front was done in 1924. It has continued on in its history of championing eclectic designs and has the enviable reputation of housing the most forward thinking and highly covetable fashions.

We made our way into Liberty and passed through a spectacular perfumery. It was heavenly, with so many different scents. I was tempted to buy something original but my pocket book was not having any of it. We made our way up the wide stair case to the second floor where I experienced a wave of envy seeing some of the most beautiful and original dresses hanging, evenly spaced, on racks, in order to give you time to process each and every one…. and once again … in my case, realize that they are all out of your price range. There was something so regal and old about this store, the creaking heavy wooded floors and large mirrors, and the highly fashionable staff. Just making the trip inside was worth the pain of not being able to buy anything. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t try something on… and I did. I tried on a pair of Stella McCartney sunglasses! We stopped for tea at the restaurant on the 2nd floor and recharged our phones. I had a couple of poached eggs, bacon and toast with some fruit on the side, and , of course, some tea. It was completely full and we shared a table with an older couple. There was lively chatter and the brightly lit room was elegant, even though it was filled with shoppers.

Stella McCartney sunglasses

Val took me to Kensington High Street where she grew up not far from Kensington Palace. It was the home of the 3 storied Kensington Market that was demolished in the early 2000’s. I was sad to hear that it had closed down and remember buying some cool bohemian trousers there in the 1980’s. Freddy Mercury even had a stall there at one time. There was just so much cool fashion and history everywhere you looked.

The church bells rang out for long periods of time as we walked past famous landmarks. These streets are well groomed and wide and the mansions spectacular. We walked past the house of Jimmy Page… well.. the castle of Jimmy Page with it’s turrets and stained glass, as we made our way to Kensington Palace.

Jimmy Page’s house

Kensington Palace was lit up in the dusk and the “no photos” signs did not stop me from snapping a quick one at a distance.

Kensington Palace

Living there must be such a public affair and I don’t think I could handle that much attention… not for all the money in the land… which is apparently what they have. I prefer a quieter and more private existence. As Val and I walked the deserted streets she reminisced about a childhood growing up so close to the palace and playing near Kensington gardens , and it’s large pond, feeding the ducks and the swans. She told me a story about herself, as a small child, meeting John Wayne in front of her house ,because he was coming to visit her next door neighbor, who had worked as a crew member on one of his films. She had no idea who he was but her mum did and the word spread that John Wayne was on the street. She also had no idea that she was growing up in a place that was steeped in so much history and was in the process of creating more. We don’t recognize that sort of thing when we are kids. We are just living in our moment. I wish I’d had that kind of history instead of growing up in a brand new suburb in Ontario. I dreamed of castles and Princes when I was growing up.

A late night kitty looking out off of Kings Road

When I think of England I think of moss and ivy covered thatched cottages and stain glass windows in enormous castles and over flowing purple Wisteria falling off of houses and fascinators and mini skirts and The Beatles and The Who and The Rolling Stones and afternoon tea and Double Decker buses and the Royals and one of my closest and dearest friends… Val…. and that would keep anyone coming back over and over again…….

Thanks readers… I hope you enjoyed this post and there is more to come from my trip to the UK!! Stay tuned. All photos featuring myself were taken by the multi talented Val Miller.