Doomsday Village - Bucks Mills | Daily News

Doomsday Village - Bucks Mills

Juliet Coombe escapes the heat of the tropics to explore the time locked English village of Bucks Mills, where steep rocky paths lead to breathtaking views and cottages are named after the colourful characters that have made this such a notorious wreckers and pirate paradise.

Ghosts of the ill-fated Spanish Amada galleon still haunt this wrecker’s paradise, where dangerous landslides make its geography an ever-changing visual topographical feast of challenges. A place where rocky roads cling to ancient coastal paths and falcons, a regular feature of the area, nest in every available nook and cranny.

The earliest mention of Bucks Mills as a settlement is in William 1’s Doomsday Book of 1087. For generations property deeds show the areas wealthy land owning elite survived piracy, invasion, civil war, and yet in the end it was heavy death duties from the British taxation system that smashed this ancestral community run estate to pieces. Close your eyes on a misty night and you can almost hear the cracking sounds of the galleon oars and the screams of the seagulls are easily mistaken for the cries of doomed sailors from the Spanish Armada the ghostly boat that the villagers claim haunts these shores, of which only a handful struggled ashore, or maybe it is Packman’s ghost that haunts this hauntingly ethereal spot.

Bucks Mills and Bucks Cross are two villages that hark back to the dark ages and lie on the Sticklepath fault in a spot so remote that once upon a time when you did a Google map search you would have found nothing, but an undergrowth of trees vanishing in a waterfall of rocks and craggy cave like spots.

This ancient valley settlement sits along a Merlin like hanging cliff atop with whitewashed cottages perched on either side of its black cascading rocky steps and steep paths, like seagulls these white washed houses look like they are waiting for a non-existent catch. Here gossip and local story tellers talk of a mystical ruined sea fort that once controlled this historically important area from which Vikings made regular attacks and warlords like Hubba in 876 A.D. caused hundreds of ships to be dashed upon the wreckers’ rocks. Walk back in time along this coastal hand cut hidden pathways to a time when Stone Age man used flints to catch fires and men honed stone out of the rocks to build their houses and fortifications. Today this is where children rock hop and recite ‘Old King Cole’ as they play one can almost hear the words carried in the wind ‘and a merry old soul was he’ an old nursery rhyme that conjures up the joy of the place being one big rock climbers dream spot. It originates from here due to a pile of massive boulders visible at low tide, and known as the `Old King Cole Quay’, which are the remains of Coles project to create a Quay and harbour for the area.

Today Bucks Mills North Devon is mostly holiday homes as tragically the long line of Braunds came to an end with Noel Braund who died in 1997, sadly leaving no heirs to this ‘hardy race of men’. Talking to Sally as I walked along the, whose family have lived here for six generations she explains you could see they were different with the Spanish twinkle in their eyes and swarthy tanned look even on a winters day when we looked the colour of white washed houses. She reminisces of the 1950s when children had to change in one of the houses leading to the beaches, as it was not considered proper to do otherwise. “They always had a swagger and a touch of the Spanish lover about them and Mamie, whose house overlooks the cove, married her first love at 80, because back then age held no barrier to a first marriage.” When asked why Noel Braund’s family stayed in the area, one of the ancestors washed ashore from the Spanish wreck at the time of the Armada, Noel told Country Life in an interview in 1995 “There is no point moving away, when you live in the most beautiful place in the world.”

The rocky cliff people have many a bloody, as well romantic story to tell about the maritime mayhem of this extraordinary area over the centuries. The battles it seems with pirates were not confined to the sea and many believe the Bitworthy battle in 1614 which took the life of Richard Cole, the Bucks Lord of the Manor and many of the men from the area was as a result of the tyranny of piracy. Later thankfully the area was saved from ransacking when Oliver Cromwell swept the scourge of piracy from the English seas giving Bucks Mills finally a period of peace.

 

From 1760 the area became famous for its square kiln that produced excellent limestone in the area for over a century and being on the coast made it easy to ship overseas. The kiln, one of the best preserved in the area, was constructed with giant hoppers with the limestone poured through a hole in the top to be burned by the furnace that created a permanent pall of smoke enshrouding the area with a mysterious foggy look that made it vanish into a sea of smog until early April, when Bluebells carpeted the hills, and the two ancient villages awoke from their long winters’ hibernation around crackling fires and mountainous seas. Duncan Hubbard Fielder writing about the area’s history says “The burning of the lime Kiln was carried perpetually day or night in fair weather and foul” and today despite half of it falling into the sea it is a major tourist attraction from a beach steeped in history from the Vikings to the resting place of the ghost ship the Marie Celeste.

The ill starred schooner apparently struck the rocks near the Old Quay; the villagers on clambering aboard were astonished to find the ship completely deserted. Even today the ghost ship is spoken about in hushed whispers as it gaily sailed past Lundy Island at full sail as if fully manned.

Over the thousands of years of pirates and Buccaneers, turning Bucks Mills from rags to riches, from despair to piety, today it is a perfect hideaway spot. Of the natural influences, which moulded and controlled the very existence of those who lived in Bucks Mills “…none was greater than the sea. Although it was recognised as a good provider, at the same time the sea was a cruel taskmaster, untrustworthy and fickle in its tempers. Expert seamen they might be, the fisherman of Bucks feared the power and fury of the sea, and with good reason.”

As the winter sun rips across the nightly sky sending splashes of colours across the rocks, as if dancing as it sets along the almost vertical hillside.

Here many a story can be told in the Walls’ shop, which ironically sells Kelly’s ice cream, if they choose to have it open, about those that lived and loved in what are essentially traditional fishermen’s white washed houses. Cursed by its beauty and yet damned by its geographical position, which results in frequent landslides, Bucks waterfall, cascading down to the rocky beach below the lookout point, is incredibly beautiful and to think watching the sun set behind Lundy island, that this village has been here for over five centuries, it is incredible that it has not vanished altogether into the sea.

I learn the survivors of the San Juan in 1588, the Braunds, which means firebrand, needed to be just that to survive working and living off savage seas. I learn as I walk along the rocky beach about the unusual rock formation further on from the Quay was all that remains after the spit by the Devil himself to enable him to get to Lundy Island: when the stick of his Devon shovel broke, he abandoned the enterprise. As the moon rises, catching a shooting star, and a buzzard flies at eye level from the house on the cliff where we are staying, the rocks and the mountainous seas envelope one in a cocoon of sea dog salty misty happiness. The crackling wood fire warms inside the fisherman’s cottages warm the cockles of one’s heart, so you can go out on the house deck and star gaze across the cool salty sea and enjoy the panoramic ocean views from the house balcony one landslide away from falling into the abyss, surely make this a hells paradise for all that still live in this Doomsday Village. Even watching the ships pass us by late at night, I think Bucks Mills is very special with its ancestral curse-cum-blessing, it is never a dull place to be whether in the heart of winter and stormy weather or summer when you can swim with seals and be at one with this rugged historic hidden treasure.


 

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