Sunday, June 4, 2017

Delderfield’s Patch – Exploring Sidmouth

Zoë Sharp

After the annual CrimeFest crime fiction convention last month, I took the opportunity to explore a little of the south coast. Having got as far south as Bristol, it seemed a shame not to make the most of it.

There was another tie-in, too, which I wasn’t aware of at the time. I went to the Authors Remembered panel on the Thursday afternoon of CrimeFest, and listened to five wonderful authors talking about past writers they felt deserved to be better known. One of these was presented by Jane Corry, who was advocating R.F. Delderfield.

It wasn’t until I arrived to stay with a friend in Sidmouth, that I realised this was where Delderfield had lived for the last ten years of his life, having a house built on Peak Hill in the town. Running alongside Peak Hill is the southwest coastal path, with angled benches to better enjoy the view:

I have always loved overlooking the ocean, whether from the deck of a boat or, as in this case, from  a rather elegant fourth-floor apartment, which also overlooks the cricket ground and croquet lawn.

Of course, if you want to get a proper look at the briny, you have to get much closer to it, and a walk down the southwest coast path led to the Clock Tower, with its distinctive steep staircase leading to the beach.

Sidmouth isn’t blessed with a sandy shoreline, but what it lacks in sand it makes up for in eyecatching cliffs and shingle beaches.

The winter gales lashing the soft rock with salt spray has the expected result, which creates some amazing effects in the cliff face around the Clock Tower.

It seems that wherever there is a surface that can be easily written on or etched into, people will give in to the urge to leave their mark. The base of the cliffs was covered in graffiti, some of which caught my eye, like this – the name of the hero of John Lawton’s literary espionage thrillers:

And when it came to some of the rocks, I failed my Rorschach test yet again. Is it just me, or are there skulls and Munch-style ghostly faces discernable in this particular section?

A good deal of work has been done to try to stabilise the beaches, with piles of boulders forming breakwaters along the beach to the east of the Clock Tower.

Of course, this doesn’t prevent the cliff itself from collapsing, as with this piece. If the condition of the fallen tree was anything to go by, this was a very recent occurrence.

But Sidmouth is certainly making the most of its assets, like these spruced up pastel beach huts.

And some very arty touches like this apparently abandoned dinghy. Simple dereliction, or installation piece?

And the Connaught Gardens boasted this lovely covered walk:

As well as the most amazing triffid-like plants – this one must have been 12 feet tall:

Although this beautiful patch of poppies provided a more easily recognisable sight:

What I really loved, though, were the stone walls around the town, where all sorts of materials had been incorporated:

It always amazes me where plants can manage to take root. Especially because I know that if I tried to grow them there, I’d have no chance:

There were also odd little tucked-away touches of humour, such as this incarcerated gargoyle:

And for me no visit to Sidmouth would be complete without a visit to the local donkey sanctuary.

I adopted a donkey two years ago with this charity, as a gift for a friend, and it was a real treat to visit the facility and see how happy the animals look and how well cared-for they are.

I thoroughly enjoyed my brief stay in Sidmouth, and can quite understand why authors choose to set novels in seaside towns, real or imagined. All human – and donkey – life is there, both transient and indigenous, with all the drama that entails. Even the weather is a big factor, and the uncertainty of the landscape itself.

Hm, I think I feel a plot forming …

This week’s Word of the Week is avulsion, from the Latin avuhio, the act of tearing away, or avellere, being made up of a- off or away, and vellere meaning to pull or to pluck. Avulsion is the forcible tearing away of a body part by trauma or surgery. It also has a definition in law, where it means the sudden separation of land from one property and its attachment to another, especially by flooding or a change in the course of a river.


  1. I like how you managed to slip TWO Words of the Week in there at the end, Zoë. But you left us to guess at the meaning and derivation of usuespecially. From Late Latin usualis "ordinary," and especial from Old French especial "pre-eminent, important," from Latin specialis "belonging to a particular kind or species," from which I gather that you're an ordinary example of a particular species: scribus misterium. However, I think you've mislabeled yourself... nothing ordinary involved.

    1. Well-spotted, EvKa, I started off with 'usually' and then dug a little deeper and discovered that 'especially' was a better word. Sadly, 'usually' refused to give up without a fight!

  2. Is avulsion properly used to describe the tearing away of Idenical thoughts by another, or is the correct word for such an appropriation something more on the order of "evkalsion?"

    1. Don't think that's a word, Jeff, but it really ought to be!

  3. Thank you for this visit, Zoe. It's been a long time since I've traveled on that south coast. You make me want to return. I am not at all sure what EvKa and Jeff are talking about above. Is another meaning of avulsion a part of a conversation that detaches itself from the mainstream and floats off into the ether?

    1. Hi Annamaria. Nope, they gallantly pointed out a speeling mistook that I sneakily corrected ...

      I haven't been to the south coast for ages, either, although I'll be back there before too long as I'm giving a talk to the Portsmouth Writers' Hub in July. Looking forward to seeing that naval city.

  4. Was Lawton 500 yards ahead of you with a chisel?

    1. Damn it, Caro, I think he might have been ...

  5. what a great trip with loads of good pictures. Finally I just had a little escape from reality in your hometown NY. I will post about it on Wednesday.

  6. what a great trip with loads of good pictures. Finally I just had a little escape from reality in your hometown NY. I will post about it on Wednesday.