I recently returned from a short break away with family, something I think the three of us needed after the months of lockdown. We decided to stay within the UK, not quite ready to tackle airports and planes and the rapidly changing quarantine laws, instead driving down south to the coast of Devon.
And it was utterly gorgeous. We stayed at Croyde Bay, a golden curve of beach held within a cradle of hills, where mists came and went and the sea shone silver, sunsets painting golden trails across the waves. Croyde is home to some of the best surfing in the UK, which suited my surfing hubby, and the gorgeous girl and I danced in the waves and explored the rockpools every day, letting cool water wash away the stresses of the past few months.
There were still reminders, of course. It was an unusual holiday in that we didn’t eat out anywhere, choosing to stay in our self-catering accommodation. Masks were worn wherever we went within the resort, and the indoor pool could only be booked for a limited number of people at one time. But it was just a short walk across golden dunes to a beach that remained mostly uncrowded, plenty of room on the sand and in the water for everyone to keep their distance, life feeling almost normal again. We also ventured along the coastal path, where long fingers of rock stretched into the sea, brambles and orchids and butterflies lining the way.
I do like to explore when I visit new places, and I’d done a little bit of research about the area before we arrived. The small viallge of Croyde sits on the bay, home to a few shops and restaurants, as well as some lovely homes. There is evidence that the settlement dates back to before the Saxon era, and there are a few standing stones in the area, as well as some erratics, boulders said to have been left by retreating glaciers after the end of the last Ice Age. The village is mentioned in the Domesday book as Crideholde, and the oldest building in the village is a chapel from the 12th century, which was a daughter-house to the nearby Benedictine Priory at what is now Barnstaple.
And the chapel is dedicated to none other than… St Helen. When I read that I knew I needed to go and find it. We wandered off down narrow lanes, clues to the landscape in house names all around us – Chapel House, Chapel Nook, Priory Stables. However, apparently the chapel is now ruined and on private land, so we had no luck in seeing it,though local lore has it hat many of the stones were used to build some of the nearby cottages.
And there is one small remnant of the chapel still open to the public. This is the ancient holy well of St Helen, located on the driveway of a house called Ladywell (appropriately).
While it is a holy well, I do wonder whether the tradition around it goes back to a time before Christianity – it is fed by a natural spring, one of several in the area, and there were clouties decorating the scrolled iron gate, which are often seen at Celtic holy places.
Christianity has a long history of appropriating holy places and symbols for their own, as I suppose it’s easier to convert people when things don’t seem too different to what they’re already doing. But that’s another blog post 😉 Whatever the situation, this lovely little well was a treat to see, a small hidden treasure and a reminder of the ancient roots of this green land.
Our last day dawned rainy and cold, and we bade farewell to the ocean, to the calling gulls and cradling hills. I can still feel the pull, though, of the cool waves, the tide’s pulse in my blood, the soft grit of sand beneath my feet. We were so fortunate to be able to get away, and to do so safely – I’m truly grateful. Now it’s back to routine, to writing and working and getting the gorgeous girl ready for school in a few weeks, in whatever form that might take.
I hope that, wherever you are, you’re all keeping safe and well xx
Enjoyed this post? Want to read more? Find me on Twitter @AuthorHelenJ, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest. Plus my latest book release, Under Stone (Ambeth Chronicles #4), is now available on Amazon. Visit my Amazon Author Page to see more.