At breakfast, the innkeeper and his wife gave me maps and friendly advice about laundry and buses. I packed an extra fleece (that I didn’t use); it was a sunny, very brisk day.
I asked a Jehovah’s Witness with glitter on her nails how to find Armada Way. She explained it, refused a donation, and insisted that I accept one of her booklets. A market was setting up in the shopping district. There were some kiddie rides; a beggar plonked artlessly on a drum and bell. I dropped off my laundry at Mayflower Laundry, splurging 10 pounds to have them do it for me. I went to Vision Express, which I’d found last night, with my popped lens. They fixed it for free; that paid for the laundry!
I rode a #83 double-decker bus to Yelverton. Several elderly people, clutching shopping bags and canes, climbed on the bus. I planned to transfer to a #55 to Buckland Abbey, which was Francis Drake’s home after he’d made his fortune at Spain’s expense. There would be a two-hour layover, and it was cold. I holed up in Veira’s Coffee Shop to plot my next move. Lunch seemed a good delaying tactic; so I had a bowl of butternut squash soup. Then I walked down Drake’s Trail a ways and explored the town, taking note of Drake Vets.
At length a #55 arrived and carried me further into the hills, past brushy stands of leafless trees, green pastures and occasionally the aroma of agriculture. The lanes were narrow, constricted by ancient woody hedges and closely-built hamlets. The driver deposited me at the gate of the Buckland Abbey estate; the passengers woke me up with a chuckle.
Here, old fieldstone buildings cluster around a big stone barn. Before Drake’s time, the tithes of the nearby farms, in the form of produce and animals, were stored in this barn. In its shadow stands the Abbey, a stone house of four stories centered around a square tower. I read that the abbey obtained a license from Edward III to add crenellations to the tower, to make it easier to defend.
A small museum in the house chronicled Drake’s life and deeds. But the real attraction was the house itself. It had various alterations before, during and after Drake’s time. How nice if it had been frozen in the 16th century–a reminder that nothing lasts. The thick walls, window seats, many stairwells, fireplaces and elaborate medieval kitchen evoked a busy and populous household. I found nearly vertical spiral stairs built into the tower wall, perhaps used by the monks (or soldiers defending them) to reach the ramparts. An elegant Georgian staircase was built by a descendant of Drake’s younger brother; Francis Drake left no children.
I followed a signed one-mile walk around the estate, letting myself thru gates between fields. The steep green hills, blooming fruit trees and noisy little creek make for very pretty country. If it hadn’t been for Drake, I would have missed it.
I made my way back to Plymouth, got unlost thanks to a Chinese grocer, and walked down to the Barbican to see what else there was to eat. In Arriba’s I ordered a Chicken Hombre; chicken breast stuffed with spinach and mushrooms, served with new potatoes and steamed vegetables. Not very Mexican, but very welcome; I’d been wondering if they eat vegetables in England.