SGSC AND BERLIN SKB AT SALCOMBE 2018 [See photos attached]
Sunshine glinted and sparkled off the multi-layered coats of varnish of Rob Adam’s immaculately restored boat ANCIENT CITY – recovered as a sunken wreck in the mud of the river Thames at Hammersmith and now gracing the waters at Salcombe.
SGSC and SKB sailors gathered by it on the Normandy Ferry pontoon, site of the American Army embarkation for D-Day, ready for an inward-bound invasion of the upper reaches of the Salcombe Estuary to Frogmore Creek – at the head of which lay the prospect of a good dinner for everyone at The Globe Inn.
Seconded into the fleet was Rob’s friend [………] whose similar open motor boat could also easily carry 10 people. As a blue-sky sunset dipped into the West behind Salcombe town with its crowds of Bretton-shirted and salmon-pink-trousered sailors, our very own double-breasted fleet chugged happily off into the estuary heading North up this long seawater estuary, formed in the Ice Age and known as an sea inlet ‘ria’ for its lack of freshwater river inflow – brilliantly lit on our way by the low-slanted glittering light on the water of the setting sun.
Threading our way through the resident and visiting yacht moorings, and then between the narrows of Snapes Point and Scoble Reef, suddenly the vista opened up to reveal the glory of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
ANOB’s are Britain’s best landscapes. There are 46 of them, designated by government and protected by law. Each one has its own special character. South Devon AONB covers 60 miles of coastline, estuaries and countryside between Plymouth and Torbay consisting of extensive coastal plateaux (areas of elevated, relatively level land) with great panoramic views along the coastline with dramatic cliffs interrupted by inlet combes [small valleys with steep dense woods in them], extending up to two kilometres inland.
Following the fairway buoys we passed by stands of these woodlands, packed with oak and willow trees growing right down to the seashore; remarkably also with the occasional tall English Elm – sole survivors of the ravaging of Dutch Elm Disease. There were no big plantations or commercial woods here; all were too small for use except perhaps for local farmers’ handsaw milling for fencing and firewood, and with no disruption allowed by any intrusive modern house-building in these very ancient woods. The steep sides mean they are virtually inaccessible; and so they remain as an important haven for wildlife. As if on cue to confirm this, and to note our presence passing by his territory, the hoot of an owl echoed across the still water.
The view opened up into the broad inner estuary. Suddenly the landscape looked different. Because the soils of the area are so fertile and the plateau land is so easy to run machinery across, these broad fields have been stripped of the high hedges that otherwise line the steep and twisting lanes of South Devon.
Hedges are one of the really special things about this area. There are still over 2,500 miles (4,000km) of them in the AONB. They give the land its patchwork pattern. Some of the hedges were landownership boundaries originating in the Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago. Many more were built in the Middle Ages, over 500 years ago. The most recent were built when open areas of cliff top were divided up into field parcels in the 19th Century; and then acquired and inherited by family estate landowners. But then the EU Common Agriculture Policy [CAP] came along.
Big land ownership means big money in big subsidies for big farming production. And that meant ripping out all these uneconomic hedges and planting mono-culture commodity crops.
This impact could be obviously seen in the dark green/black tracks left by the tractors with 36’-wide boom-sprayers of fertilisers and weedkillers and insecticides being spread over fields of viridian-green crops. And these tractor tracks were running only up and down the fields; not across and back along the contour lines, which would be less efficient and more expensive. It means that whenever it rains the run-off is chemical pollution that runs straight down into the estuary, taking the top soil with it; with only the ancient hedges and the bank of trees on the waters’ edge to stop it.
80% of the wildlife of Britain has been lost in the last 30 years because of this. But it is now likely that post-Brexit, ex-CAP, a New Agriculture Bill based on the 25 Year Environment Plan will at last put a stop to this terrible loss and the government will pay farmers instead to protect and enhance the remaining biodiversity and thereby provide the sustainable ecosystem services on which the real economy of the area depends, such as tourists coming to see and enjoy the natural glories of nature in the AONB.
We turned up into Frogmore Creek. With the incoming tide we were accompanied by a golden brown froth on the waters’ surface, which could easily be mistaken for pollution; but it is, in fact, diatoms; phytoplankton which live in the water column and on the surface mud in estuaries. These tiny plants use sunlight and nutrients in the water and the mud to grow and to reproduce. On an incoming tide multitudes of these diatoms are lifted from the surface of the mud and form this golden brown frothy ‘scum’ on the surface of the water, providing a nutritious meal for grey mullet and crabs as they follow the water in and come out to feed – and for us to feed on them, if we wish!
We looked out for kingfishers, otters and little egrets along the shoreline while cormorants contoured up the creek beside us – and swifts overhead screamed and swirled and spun round and targeted aerial insects.
It was the Royal Wedding Day! And Frogmore House was the Grade 1 listed glamorous venue for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s post-wedding party!
Frogmore House has attracted Monarchs and Lords and Counts for the grandest of English-German royal parties since the reign of George III and his equally glamorous German wife, Queen Sophia Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz – who served as the first Queen of a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until her death in 1818. But that Frogmore is set in the immaculate lawns of Windsor Great Park.
Our English-German post-wedding Frogmore party venue was at the tiny head of a watery cul-de-sac matted with wavy reeds and wading birds pecking away in the mudflats and amongst the seaweed on the encroaching tide.
And as if in our own Royal Party procession, after leaving our boats, and in a long and single crocodile line, we carefully crossed, one-by-one, with our wedding-trains lifted up, along a line of slippery stepping stones laid across the upper reaches of the salt marsh to find The Global Inn of Frogmore.
It’s a small and snug 18th century traditional Devon pub; with local limestone kiln-dried and whitewash-painted outside walls and, inside, low-slung roof beams and bare stone floors with nooks and crannies with benches and wood-burning fireplaces – and a perfectly-sized small party dining room at the back with two big refectory tables for us all to cram around.
Still stuffed with the enormous doorstep-sized crab sandwiches marvellously organised by Heather that we had all eaten at lunchtime on the sunny terrace of the Salcombe Yacht Club after the Royal Wedding, there was some thought about the great array of food on the menu: steaks and seafood, salmon and pigeon – and also the question of what to drink.
While pondering this and plumping – of course – for local Devon cider, Tim found there was a drawer under the table which opened up to reveal sheaths of hand-written poems! It seems as though a tradition had developed by parties previously gathered in this room to write and leave poems about the occasion. Some were really personal and intimate and [very] explicit, while others ranged from the philosophical about the rain and the weather, while the best were hilariously nautical and bawdy. Obviously, something had to be written by us!
The SGSC version was composed by Andy Ross:
“The Germans from Berlin are here
And they’re not just drinking the beer.
The sailors from the Stand
Have made their stand;
And Devon cider is something to cheer!”
And, in response, an SKB version was composed by Klaus:
The good times have passed so quickly,
We hope will not have to worry about a Visa,
When in two year’s time,
We will once again travel,
To enjoy over here,
Cider and Beer,
After much kerfuffle at the end of the meal over the apportionment of how the bill was split between the tables all was resolved and we emerged into a vast and starlit night. If only Brexit negotiations were so easy!
In fact, though, there is a strange money background to the story; which affected us. It’s indeed about the real bill. There are actually two currencies in the AONB.
There is the Pound Sterling. This is the currency of the robber barons of the area.
They are the owners of the great landed estates living off the CAP subsidies at the expense of local smallholding farmers; most of whom are close to poverty. And it is the currency of the speculators who invest in the range of huge and empty properties high on the hillsides of Salcombe: tombstones of international property portfolios owned by oligarchs; be they Arabs or Russians – international trophy properties increasingly now being traded into by the Chinese. And it is also the currency of all the pubs and shops in Salcombe who charge London prices to fleece the tourists in a seasonal earning spasm that sees the town’s population rise from a residential 1,700 to a transient 23,000 during the summer. Historically, it is just the same as the traditional Salcombe and East Portlemouth seafarers who kept a sharp eye out in bad weather in order to set false harbour lights and lure sailors, especially French, seeking refuge, to destruction on the rocks; to loot and pillage in the wreckage. Now global travellers and tourists are lured to spend by the lights in the Salcombe shops.
But local people cannot live on this unsustainably high cost of living. It’s far too expensive. And so there is an alternative currency in the AONB: the Totnes Pound.
It is a local currency. A local economy is normally like a leaky bucket. Wealth comes into the area and as soon as it is spent at a shop or in a business that has more financial connections outside the area than inside; that money disappears. However, the local Totnes Pound money doesn’t leak out of holes through to the multi-national banks. As a voucher system it bounces around and back inside the local economy, again and again. It keeps more money in local pockets at lower cost.
The local money is used for sustainable production and consumption closer to home. It pays attention to how products are locally made and traded and it reduces the waste streams that result from them. People and businesses using either the paper or the electronic or mobile Totnes Pound get a local discount on all transactions and earn loyalty points. They can all trade and communicate and advertise their products and their services to each other online. Its why there are no big supermarkets in the AONB. They are not allowed in. There is an hourly bus service to Kingsbridge and Totnes for that. And thereby local pubs can charge less to locals. But not to us.
So we set off back, sliding to seaward on the ebbing tide in a vastly dark night sky.
After such a baking hot day, and on a warm still night, the dank scent of seashore seaweed combined with the aroma of the flowering plants of the hillsides and hedgerows; primroses, violets, bluebells and pink campion, smells of blackthorn and wild rose wafted across the water. White phosphorescent sparkles arose in the bow waves and in the wake of Ancient City.
Totally dramatically as we turned the corner, Salcombe town suddenly appeared in a blaze of lights; as dazzling as a Royal firework display.
What a triumphant finale display on a truly Royal day!