Tag Archives: st. lukes hospice

Tavistock

Tavy Toy Town by Jamie Henderson. Image used under Creative Commons; click pic for link

Tavy Toy Town by Jamie Henderson. Image used under Creative Commons; click pic for link

There are some towns which are just lovely, and Tavistock’s one of them. It’s found secluded in the Tavy valley, nestled amongst foliage at the foot of the Dartmoor hills – just a short drive from Plymouth, but a world away in character. The town centre is chock full of local granite buildings, many of them named after the Russell family, Earls of Bedford and lords of the manor, who held great sway in this stannary town from Henry VIII onwards. The towns roots run much deeper than that though – today’s pannier market was charted in 1105, and the ruined abbey goes back to 961; but there’s plenty of evidence of habitation way before recorded history. It isn’t just an olde town though – Tavistock’s history continues through its favourite son, Francis Drake, a wide range of mineral mines, even a canal and two railways – although none of these are functioning today. These last do make for some highly attractive features though – you can walk the canal for several miles through this part of the UNESCO world heritage site. In fact, any direction you wish to strike out from the town you’ll find something rather beautiful.

So – plenty of history and plenty of scenery. But that does not make a charity shop tourist destination in itself, does it? Happily, Tavistock is just as good here. The outermost shop here is Children’s Hospice South West, on West Street, on the corner of Russell Street (that name again…). A large shop this, with some huge linguaphone sets and mad Pyrex dishes causing certain individuals trouble here. On the same stretch is Sue Ryder, opposite Brown’s Hotel, which served us very well for a coffee stop.

Further down there are two Oxfams, an ordinary one and an Oxfam Bookshop with a collection of beautifully illustrated children’s books. Thankfully, at this stage on our holiday we had convinced ourselves that when we returned to civilisation we were going to go and live on a boat, which rather limited our purchases (and somewhat relieved our bank accounts). I’m not even joking; if Diglis marina weren’t so overlooked, we might well have been living afloat by now. St Luke’s Hospice is large and bright and well-stocked; Woodside Animal Hospice is almost its exact opposite, dingy, cramped and crowded, and filled with all sorts of amazing gubbins you had no idea you needed.

We found several secondhand-by-commission shops in this part of the world – Handmedowns takes a small cut on any children’s clothing you want to sell on, which doesn’t seem a bad idea (although I’d a bit rather donate to the charity shop). That just leaves us with MacMillan, tucked away up a little shopping alley called Paddon’s Row, surrounded by hifi shops, art shops, vintage clothes shops and the like. In fact there’s plenty of this sort of shop scattered through the town. A few chains aside, the majority of shops here are independent concerns, some of a highly excellent nature – the cheese shop and health food shop in the market come very much recommended. The market itself is, to be honest, a bit pricey for the likes of me; but again it’s mostly individuals selling their own crafts and produce, and there’s a very lovely atmosphere indeed.

I feel I’ve probably failed to sum up Tavistock’s charm. We spent a whole day here, which is very rare for us, not just pacing the charity shops but exploring the alleyways, browsing the market, walking along the river and canalside through the very charming Meadowlands Park. We certainly have plans to return and will be walking the canal route, as well as lunching in the Tavistock Inn on Brook Street, home of pretty much the biggest pub grub portions ever, and a lovely pub to boot. If you’re ever in Devon, try and make a detour, this is my advice.

Find: Tavistock @ Google Maps
Get there: no railway connections anymore (as yet) – you’ll be after the A386 halfway between Okehampton and Plymouth.
Consume with: definitely lunch at the Tavistock, though bear in mind you’ll need that riverside walk afterwards.
Visit: plenty to go to, but to be honest our loveliest time was spent walking the canal and riverside paths in the park, trying out the outdoor gym equipment and chasing ducks.
Overall rating: five mad pyrex dishes

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Filed under 5/5, Devon

Kingsbridge

Kingsbridge, by menthedogs - under a creative commons licence. Click pick for menthedogs photostream.

Kingsbridge, by me'nthedogs - under a creative commons licence. Click pick for me'nthedogs' photostream.

Drive south from Totnes on the A381 and you’re in for a treat. One of Britain’s areas of outstanding natural beauty, the South Hams are genuinely lovely, and don’t fail to live up to their title. Devon is a very English county: only next door to Cornwall, but there’s no chance of a separatist movement here. Whereas Cornwall revels in its isolation (sort of, at least), and takes pride in its place names beginning with Z or ending with -ick, Devon’s a much more genteel location: cream teas, cricket on the green, villages with names like Aveton Gifford, Chudleigh Knighton and Buckland Monachorum; farmers’ markets, local smokeries, church fetes. When I visited in August, seemingly every village in the district was holding a fete, or a ram roast, or some sort of themed jamboree. It means that unlike Cornwall, Devon’s much less split into two camps. Cornwall is a land of two halves: the massively popular tourist side with its surfing beaches, artists’ havens, and glowering moors vs. the impoverished local population, with few jobs, low wages and inflated rents. Devon is somewhere to live and enjoy life – if you’ve got a bit of spare change handy.

The road from Totnes wends through picturesque villages and rolling fields, over heritage steam train lines and alongside sparkling brooks. As you descend into Kingsbridge you’re guided away from the steep high street and around until you reach the very bottom, the harbour. This is hardly a fishing outpost or a cruise liner destination: Kingsbridge is situated at the head of its eponymous estuary, which itself is of great beauty. Apparently it’s technically a ria, although I’d struggle to tell the difference. The harbour is mostly for pleasure cruises and the occasional lazy sea-fish. I parked on the harbour, and started exploring from there, however it’s recommended to go straight up to the top of the slightly dizzying Fore Street first and make your way back down, if only to avoid having to slog up it on your way back.

At the top of Fore Street is the Mare & Foal Sanctuary, a massive shop which smells of damp. Tons of clothes here, although on this occasion, no vintage thrills. As you make your way downhill, have a poke down some of the little passageways and alleys, as they’re all deeply cute – a little reminiscent of Totnes in many respects. Next stop will be the St Lukes Hospice shop, a much cuter affair: split between a pokey upstairs for books, and downstairs for mostly ladies clothes – definitely ladies, rather than women, I think.

Opposite are Oxfam and Scope. Oxfam is particularly good here: not a huge amount of clothes, except for babies/children, but some great books – Oxfam always give me great trouble whenever there’s a ‘collectables’ shelf: I’m a sucker for a hardback volume, but Oxfam know their prices. Not many CDs here, for some reason, but at Scope I left with an Ella Fitzgerald double album, which is very classy of me, and also a Linda Smith standup album, which is fantastic, it goes without saying.

At the bottom of the hill you’ll find Mill Street, with the Harbour Bookshop nestling alongside The Country Hill Animal Shelter, and The Cornelius Shop. I’ve yet to work out what charity the latter actually represents but nevertheless it’s worth a poke, especially if you’re into comedy recipe teatowels. I continued my Jonathan Raban collection here, as well as gaining a passing acquaintance with the history of Irish emigration. Opposite is the frankly huge Animal Shelter shop. This is the kind of place that’s really worth rooting around in: everything’s higgledy-piggledy but there’s gems to be found no doubt – be warned, it’s also a touch on the fragrant side. You can then cross over to the large Cancer Research on Bridge Street to complete the lot.

Kingsbridge is only a little town really, with a population just shy of 6,000 people, but it serves a huge area as the main town and as such feels far more lively than other towns of equivalent size. Everybody seems happy enough to be there, whether they’re poking for bargains in the CD sale that always seems on in the town hall; watching the silver screen in the incredibly quaint Reel Cinema; scoping the market for flavoured oils and cheap tools; or frequenting one of the many artisanal butchers, fishmongers or greengrocers. I’d heartily recommend a visit if you ever find yourself this far out.

Find: Kingsbridge @ Google Maps
Best buy: probably the ace Linda Smith album for £2, or a pretty decent bike D-lock for £5.
Consume with: Red Earth Deli is nationally renowned, and it’s pretty lovely.
Visit: Plenty to poke at in Kingsbridge, otherwise have a trip out to the cute Salcombe (though not in the summer!) or have chips on the beach at Torcross.
Overall rating: four cassettes

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Filed under 4/5, Devon

Amersham

Amersham Old Town, by simonvc, under Creative Commons. Click pic for simonvcs photostream.

Amersham Old Town, by simonvc, under Creative Commons. Click pic for simonvc’s photostream.

Amersham can be forgiven for feeling a touch schitzophrenic about itself. On arrival in the town’s vicinity, the visitor is presented with signs to Amersham-on-the-Hill, or Amersham Old Town. Being a fan of Eastern European city breaks, the choice was all but foregone, and though I didn’t find any medieval Bohemianarchitecture or shops selling bearskin hats and Russian dolls, Amersham does indeed have an Old Town. It’s a Georgian looking sort of a location. You’d easily imagine a troop of Bennetts wandering through to find the soldiers, or some such Austen-worthy scene – a wide high street with expensive boutiques and grand looking coaching inns. As it turns out, it’s very pretty indeed.

Sadly for my purposes, no charity shops make the old town their home, so off we trundled up said hill to the alternative – and, it has to be said, a touch less classy – settlement on this Chiltern rise. That’s not to say it’s grotty: far from it, in actual fact Amersham-on-the-hill is a very satisfactory and pleasant location to while away some time

When we were here, Christmas was around the corner, and fuelled by Costa’s tart mince pies, we hit the shops. First up was Help The Aged, staffed by a slightly baffling selection of individuals but nonetheless a decent shop. A very pleasant coat was ummed and aahed over – even just a few weeks later, I can’t remember if it was eventually bought, but sometimes that’s not what sticks.

Shortly after, a large and ramshackle hospice shop (St. Luke’s, I believe), and around the corner, the RSPCA kept a similarly ramshackle but considerably smaller outfit. Some curious nicknacks indeed, but nothing bought.

Over the road, Cancer Research proved the highlight of the afternoon, offering up Eels’ Beautiful Freak and 12″s by Stevie Wonder and Elvis Costello, as well as a goodly selection of crockery and serving/mixing dishes that were very nearly bought simply to save finding a place for them to put them back on the shelf. A not half bad Oxfam completed the set.

Amersham then, this split town, is worth visiting on two levels. The hilltop high street, altogether more bustling and more bargainous makes for a good ‘poking’ destination; the more sedate Old Town may well see our return to scope out the January sales, and lunch at an olde publick house.

Find: Amersham at Google Maps
Transport: Amersham tube, Metropolitan Line
Consume with: next time I might visit The Crown for lunch
Visit: the Amersham Museum
Overall rating: four copies of Five People You Meet In Heaven 

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Filed under 4/5, Buckinghamshire