Wessex Attractions: MAKE Southwest

MAKE Southwest, formerly the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, was founded in 1955 by Edward Baly, to promote regional crafts. They started out creating small exhibitions in various venues across South Devon, but now have over 250 members and a permanent home, Riverside Mill in Bovey Tracey, purchased in 1986.

Riverside Mill contains a retail gallery and three exhibition galleries, hosting over 20 exhibitions a year between them. Members include printmakers, silversmiths, sculptors and many more categories.

The satnav postcode for RIverside Mill is TQ13 9AF, and the what3words is figs.roost.rabble. Bus number 178 from Newton Abbot to Okehampton stops nearby, and the nearest railway station is Newton Abbot. The gallery is open 10am-5pm Tuesdays to Saturdays, and admission is free. There are two pay and display car parks located within a minute’s walk. If you cannot make it there in person, their website hosts virtual exhibitions. Click the link for details.

Wessex Attractions: Corfe Castle

Last week, we looked at Shaftesbury Abbey, once home to the relics of Edward, King and Martyr. This week we turn our attention to Corfe Castle, the original site of his murder, Destroyed by the Roundheads during the English Civil War in a misguided attempt at denormanisation, this year (2023) saw its ruins become the subject of the National Trust’s biggest ever conservation project, restoring loose and damaged stonework, and removing excess vegetation without destroying valuable wildlife habitats.

Species found in the castle and surrounding area include the Adonis Butterfly and the Grey Bush Cricket. Perhaps fittingly, its gothic ruins are also home to birds of prey and carrion eaters; ravens, red kites and peregrine falcons.As with the Tower of London, legend has it that if the ravens ever leave Corfe Castle, England will fall.

Corfe Castle also gives its name to a nearby village and civil parish. Its railway station was a rather late casualty of the Beeching rail cuts, closing in 1972, but was reopened as part of the heritage Swanage Railway in the mid-1980s.

As well as the ruins themselves, Corfe Castle also has a tea room and bookshop, and is licenced for civil weddings. Opening hours are 10am to 6pm daily, with last entrance to the castle at 5.30pm.

The castle has a car park, and the satnav postcode is BH20 5DR. The nearest main line railway station is Wareham, and bus number 40 (Swanage to Poole) stops at the nearby Village Centre.

Wessex Attractions: Shaftesbury Abbey

Shaftesbury Abbey was founded by Alfred the Great in 888, and continued until it was dissolved in 1539 by order of Thomas Cromwell. At the time, it was the wealthiest convent in Wessex, and the second wealthiest in England, exceeded only by Syon Abbey in Richmond, Surrey.

For a long time, the Abbey was the home of a shrine to Edward, King and Martyr. The translation of the relics in February 981 from Wareham, their previous home, was overseen by Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ælfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia. The latter was a rather ironic choice, as he was a supporter of Edward’s stepmother Ælfthryth, whose servants were behind the murder, and who was widely believed to be the instigator. His involvement appears to be a way of distancing himself from the killing. The procession was reenacted in 1981 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary.

In Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy wrote of the ruins of Shaston Abbey (his name for Shaftesbury) that “Vague imaginings of its castle, its three mints, its magnificent apsidal Abbey, the chief glory of south Wessex, its twelve churches, its shrines, chantries, hospitals, its gabled freestone mansions—all now ruthlessly swept away—throw the visitor, even against his will, into a pensive melancholy which the stimulating atmosphere and limitless landscape around him can scarcely dispel.”

Today, the abbey survives as a museum and herb garden. It often hosts open air events such as movie screenings during the summertime. Interestingly, their website features the Wessex coat of arms in its masthead.

The museum is open from March to October. The nearest rail station is Gillingham (Dorset), and bus numbers 2, 6, 7, 27, 29 and 86 serve the nearby Town Hall bus stop. The satnav postcode is SP7 8JR.

Wessex Attractions: Newton Abbott Racecourse

Newton Abbot racecourse, situated on the edge of Dartmoor, was founded in 1866 as a community venture, funded by local horse racing enthusiasts. However, it lacked a proper grandstand for over a century, until one was opened in 1969, in a ceremony attended by the Queen Mother. In 1974, a greyhound racing track was added after the nearby Halfway Greyhound Track closed down.

The racecourse features two on-site restaurants, picnic benches, a children’s play area, and dedicated facilities for owners and trainers. The dress code is smart casual.

Ladies’ Day takes place in June every year. There are prizes for the best dressed and best hat.

The satnav postcode is TQ12 3AF. The racecourse is close to Newton Abbot railway station, and is served by multiple bus routes.

Wessex Attractions: St Catherine’s Oratory

St Catherine’s Oratory on the Isle of Wight was built in 1328 by Walter de Godeton, lord of the manor, as a penance ordered by the pope after he was found to be in possession of wine destined for a French monastery plundered from a Gascon ship wrecked on the nearby shore. A lighthouse helped ships navigate the treacherous rocks, while monks prayed for the safety of sailors, and for the souls of those drowned at sea.

Today, an octagonal tower is all that survives of the oratory, while the current lighthouse, one of the first in the world to be powered by electricity, dates from the 19th century. The tower is managed by English Heritage, while the rest of the site is owned by the National Trust. The postcode is PO38 2JB, and the what3words is into.bluff.tops. Southern Vectis bus route 6 passes nearby.

More recently, the lighthouse was used as a location in the video for the Wet Leg song Angelica (see below).