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Monday, 07 March 2011

Learning About Smuggling in Lee Bay

Yesterday Jon & I went for a walk around Lee Bay. We chose here because Jon found a site listing a couple of walks in the area, including one that describes the history of smuggling in the area (a topic that fascinates me!).

Before I tell you about our walk, I'll mention some brief details of what we learned:

Situated at the foot of Fuchsia Valley, and with its sheltered cove, Lee proved to be a superb spot for smugglers to go about their business, which was rife in the 18th & 19th Centuries along the coast of North Devon. There are records from these times that mention smuggled goods in the area including brandy and gin, red Portugal wine, salt, tea and playing cards.

One of the more infamous smugglers in Lee (and possible most successful, too, from the sounds of it!) was Hannibal Richards. He moved to the area in 1789, after leaving Morwenstow where it is said he had been part of the Cruel Coppinger's gang. While he was wellknown to the customs authorities, he never appears to have been convicted, and made quite a success from the smuggling business until he decided to retire; a decision which was brought about when he was the only one of his team to escape capture during a raid!

It was all this and more that we learned as we enjoyed our walk. We started with sandwiches on the beach, and then made our way up the steep road until we reached the South West Coast Path. A short walk along there brought us to the steps down to Sandy Cove. This is the beach that the smugglers used, and there used to be a cave where a lookout hid to watch for the coastguard.

Jon and I spent quite some time on this beach, exploring fascinating caves and wondering about what it would be like to be on lookout or to hide our smuggled wares there - or even to have to make a quick escape! One particular cave (possibly the one used by Richards as his lookout?) was especially fun, as, if you are careful, you can make your way right to the back and climb out onto another part of the beach!

After enjoying fun and games there, we made our way back to walk around the village of Lee. We were somewhat sad to see The Lee Bay Hotel closed and looking in quite a state of disrepair, surrounded by barriers warning of DANGER and "no cash on site" - we attended a wedding here a few years back and it was a wonderful place! We hope that it's only closed while work is done to return it to its former glory...?

As we walked through the village, we passed the Chapel Cottage, which it is believed Richards used to store smuggled goods; the Old School Room, which is now a craft gallery & gift shop (but was closed yesterday); the Lee Memorial Hall, which has a very pretty clock; St Matthew's Church, and the Old Vicarage, with its interesting gargoyle on the gate post!

Then we made our way to another part of the Coast Path, with the intention of finishing the walk and returning to the car. A sign for the village pub, The Grampus, however, tempted us to divert back to the village as we were both thirsty. And it was well worth visiting - what a lovely place!

Having refreshed ourselves and enjoyed the atmosphere, we made our way back to the car and home. However, we have since learned of some other places of interest in the area, and we really loved Sandy Cove, so we will certainly return sometime later in the year!

FairyJo! x

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