Thursday, 15 November 2018


Approaching Axminster

Long shadows by the Axe

We spent last Christmas in a cottage not far from Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. As I described at the time, we had driven there in our venerable (2002) Renault Scenic, which had suddenly begun to have a crisis of faith in its ability to go up the slightest incline, never mind Wessex-scale hills. Fortunately, a small local garage in Axminster specialising in Renaults was able to sort out the problem. The guy so obviously knew and understood the psychology and physiology of Scenics that I made a mental promise to ours that, when the time for its next service came around, I'd drive it back down to Axminster. That time was this week, and so – mad as it may seem – that's what I did. While its innards and peripherals were being tweaked, calibrated, and wotsinated (I know nothing about the mechanics of cars) I stayed in a nearby B&B and took advantage of the garage's loaner vehicle to have a little R&R myself.

Axminster is one of those places that has an indelible (but usually long gone) manufacturing association, like "Sheffield steel", "Staffordshire pottery", or "Dagenham Fords": in this case, Axminster carpets. It is said that the church bells were rung each time a carpet was finished, which says a lot about the laboriousness of the process, and probably helps to explain why there's not so much carpet-making going on there any more. I doubt the factory hooter goes off in Delhi, or wherever they're made these days, every time one rolls off the line. In fact, the area's association with Hugh Fearnley-Wotsisname's River Cottage brand is probably of greater economic significance. River Cottage being the monetized apotheosis of the urban hippie's Escape into Rural Self-Sufficiency fantasy. I ate in the River Cottage Deli & Canteen, and it was very good. In fact it was better than good, as the free-range airheads working there had lost my order and I had a bit of an extended wait before eating, with the result that they waived payment, despite my protestations (I always worry these compensatory freebies get taken out of someone's wages, as in my observation hip entrepreneurs seem to frown on trade union membership). Free beer, too.

Lyme Regis skips

Black Ven & Golden Cap from the Cobb

I did make the obligatory excursion down to the coast at Lyme Regis – one of my favourite places, packed like a bucket of sand with memories of holidays with our kids – hoping to see the remnants of the annual November 5th beach bonfire and fireworks, but it had all already gone the way of all beachworks. There's something poignant about any holiday resort in winter, even one as ready for all seasons as Lyme Regis: no photograph ever quite captures the ringing and rattling of mainbraces spliced against bowlines in the bitter wind (I know nothing about the mechanics of boats, either), or the heads-down fortitude of dogwalkers tossing chewed-up tennis balls on the beach. By the end of the afternoon I was glad that the light had failed sufficiently to justify heading back inland.

I also had a productive walk along the River Axe, which by some strange coincidence runs past Axminster in the Axe Valley and down to the sea at Axemouth. It's an idyllic spot, only slightly spoiled by the incessant and industrial levels of noise coming from some housing developments on the edge of Axminster. Apparently, or so the B&B owner told me, they're filling in an entire little valley with rubble so that the estate can be extended further over this natural obstacle. As a New Town boy I'm far from opposing the building of much-needed new housing, but it does look a bit of an unsympathetic eyesore, and I think you can be pretty certain this will be at best "affordable" housing, rather than council housing.

Over the lush meadows on the rural side of the river I spotted a marsh harrier, a birding first for me – it looked rather like a buzzard trying to do an impression of a red kite – and, looking away from the town and the building sites, it all felt incredibly timeless. But I also saw a lot of improvised "KEEP OUT" and "KEEP TO THE FOOTPATH" signs on the gates of fields with livestock which suggested there was already an unwelcome level of encroachment from townsfolk, particularly those with frisky dogs and no "countryside sense". On the other hand, "Git orf my land!" is the timeless, traditional refrain of the farming community on encountering the non-farming community. Sadly, though, I suppose ever more dogwalkers and "recreational" countryside users may yet see harriers and other wildlife retreating ever further away from town, unless they can adapt to disturbance and living on scraps and refuse. It's what we do best, isn't it?

Meadow outside Axminster

Along the Axe

But why make them white?


David Brookes said...

Hello Mike

I do not seem to have commented for ages, but I do read your blog regularly and enjoy it.

We like Axminster, and I think it very clever of you to have found a sympathetic Renault mechanic there - just imagine if you had found the aforementioned in Scunthorpe or somewhere like that.

We are moving next week, so if your viewing stats tell you that you have a new regular reader in Dursley but have lost one in Ludlow - that is me.


David Brookes

Mike C. said...


Hope the move goes well. I know Dursley (sort of): back in 1983 I did an etching course at the arts centre there. It;'s probably gone, now, but I used to drive out there once a week from Bristol with my brother-in-common-law (or whatever you call your unmarried partner's sister's husband...) to fiddle around (cautiously) with zinc plates, acid baths, and an etching press.


Huw said...


We regularly holiday near Honiton at Easter and know this part of the world well. It's the kind of place to have a Renault whisperer.

And great pictures. Particularly like the one from the Cobb, and of the autumnal trees on the horizon in the field.


Mike C. said...


Thanks, and "a Renault whisperer" -- exactly so!