15 intrepid walkers gathered at the centre of the village of Ermington on a surprisingly sunny Sunday morning, anticipating a jaunt through three villages and three farms, cradled by the Rivers Erme and Plym, taking in the tranquillity of the Flete Estate en route.
A brief detour at the start (uphill, of course), brought us to the gate of Ermington Parish Church, to view the Holy Well, and to hear from Ken the story of the pioneering Violet Pinwill and her sisters, daughters of the Rev’d Edmund Pinwill, Vicar of Ermington. The Pinwill sisters were woodcarvers whose work can be seen to this day in over 185 churches in Devon, Cornwall, and further afield. Violet is acknowledged to be one of the finest of the great Victorian woodcarvers, and a truly inspiring woman for our times.
Our next stop was to be the little gem of Ford, a tiny parish of Holbeton, after wending our way along the Erme-Plym Trail from Ermington, traversing Sexton Farm. Here we planned to take tea in the woods, but a rather large felled tree blocking the entrance put paid to that. Instead we took a slightly muddy walk along the ‘back route’ bridleway to Holbeton Orchard, where delightful views of the farms and villages awaited us, along with convenient tables and benches (and a community BBQ, surplus to our requirements on this January day).
Refreshed, it was time to make our way up and over Hole Farm to Efford House, set on gently rising ground overlooking the estuary (Efford takes its name from the ‘Ebb Ford’). The house is a Victorian addition to Flete, and features in the films ‘International Velvet’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’, though our exit from the rickety path leading down to the cottage of Efford House formed a less palatial setting.
From here, we walked along the river to the Flete Estate, where we quietly made our passage at a distance from Flete House, historic home of the Mildmays. Remarkably, Flete House was requisitioned during the Second World War, when Freedom Fields Maternity Hospital was bombed, returning to the family at the end of the war. Although during this time the house took something of a battering from hundreds of medical staff and patients, it has given the estate a higher profile locally because of the existence of so many ’Flete Babies’ (9,000 born in total during the course of the requisition).
Today, the Flete Estate prizes its peaceful and tranquil setting (despite the A379), and so we tiptoed on our way, taking a short, wooded path running alongside the Old Engine House, to exit. Here we paused for breath and resumed our usual raucous chat, before silence fell once again as we walked steadily uphill to the crossroads of the Erme-Plym Trail, taking the track road through Hole Farm before returning once more to Holbeton, this time for lunch at the Church of All Saints.
This church at the heart of Holbeton features in Simon Jenkins’ ‘Top 1,000’ list of English churches, and today it did not disappoint, offering ample features of interest, as well as a perfect spot in which to lunch. We were also delighted to learn that our very own Adam was married here in 1987, to a daughter of Devon who lived in the parish.
From here, it was time to set off for the final leg of our trek, through the fields of Hollowcombe Farm. Unfortunately, a frisky herd of crossbreeds requiring a secure boundary of electric fencing, presented the alternative of a steady climb along the road out to Yealmpton (a quiet route rarely taken by drivers outside of the locality). We were compensated by beautiful views of the farm and woodlands all round, fortifying our will to make our way back along the Erme-Plym Trail, and to the final stile opposite The Plantation Hotel.
Now it was time to make a mad dash across the A379 and on to the safety of the final climb up the winding bridleway to Ermington. Here our leader faulted at the final hurdle, marching on past the last turn off, but mercifully Barry, Sal, and Neil saved the day and spared everyone yet another climb, gratefully received a little under 13 miles later!
Teas and coffee were taken at The Avon Inn on our way back to Totnes, the day redeemed, and all concerned revived and ready to relax for the evening. Three Villages, Three Farms, Two Rivers, and the Flete Estate … a well done to all!
Jules O’N S