Friday, 15 May 2009

Cape Cod and the Otter Valley: closer than you think!

It is said that a Budleigh resident may have played a crucial role in the creation of the United States.

Simcoe House on Fore Street Hill was the summer residence of General John Graves Simcoe (1752-1806) who in 1794 became the First Governor General of Upper Canada.

As commanding officer of the Queen’s Rangers regiment he fought for the British during the War of Independence. But Americans have a particular reason to be grateful to the general even though he was on the opposing side.

During the battle of Brandywine in 1777, one order from Simcoe changed the course of history, when he told his soldiers not to shoot three fleeing Americans in the back. It is said that one of those Americans was George Washington, first President of the United States.
Above: Portrait of General Simcoe by George Theodore Berthon

‘Beau séjour’is the proud claim made by Budleigh Salterton Town Council on its coat of arms and it might therefore be only natural to assume that French speakers make up most of its foreign visitors. In fact the links between our area and the USA are possibly even stronger than those between Devon and Normandy when you think of incidents like General Simcoe’s order, along with the transatlantic voyages of Sir Walter Raleigh and Roger Conant, both born in East Budleigh.




It was Conant, the leader of the company of fishermen who founded the town of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1626. This striking statue of him stands overlooking Salem Common.







And it’s with the Massachusetts community of Brewster on Cape
Cod that Budleigh Salterton was linked as its sister-town in 2001. Our famous beach is pictured on the Brewster Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce website at http://www.brewstercapecod.org/


Although the American town is bigger than its UK relative it shares many characteristics with Budleigh apart from its coastal situation, being an historic sea captains’ town boasting many architecturally distinctive houses and set in an area of great natural beauty.

The distance involved means that a traditional twinning arrangement involving for example group travel would be too expensive for most. But an internet-driven scheme is a different matter and could be an effective way of making Budleigh residents more aware of the Brewster link than they have been. Geoff Beech of Exmouth’s Twinning Association has commented that it could even be described as a ‘green’ version, which may become more relevant in the not too distant future.

‘Green’ issues do indeed have a high profile in both communities. In Budleigh, the area’s biggest landowner, Clinton Devon Estates, is proud of its record in maintaining the 2,800-acre Triassic Pebblebed Heaths on the town outskirts which are designated of UK and European importance and support thriving populations of extremely rare flora and fauna. All its in-hand farming operations are undergoing organic conversion and all its woodlands are certified as sustainably managed by the Forestry Stewardship Council. In recent years it reintroduced the Brown Hare onto its East Devon Estate where it is now thriving.

Clinton Devon Estates administer the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust http://www.pebblebedheaths.org.uk/ and frequently works with the Otter Valley Association, an amenity society formed, in the words of its website at http://www.ovapedia.org.uk/ to interest residents and visitors in the history, geography, natural history and architecture of the area. The pebblebeds which surround Budleigh Salterton are currently the subject of the East Devon Pebblebed Landscape Project 2008-2012 which is investigating the archaeological and historic landscapes in this part of the county, as described at http://www.pebblebedsproject.org.uk/

Clinton Devon Estates is also funding research into the Dartford warbler - one of more than 250 species which will feature in the 2007-2011 Bird Atlas, a comprehensive study of bird distribution patterns. "We have a close affinity to the Dartford Warbler, whose natural habitat is classic lowland heath with gorse and heather, just the sort of environment we are helping to preserve by careful management of our own East Devon Pebblebed Heaths,” explains Jack Varley, estate manager of Clinton Devon Estates. “Normally, the Dartford Warbler is found much further south, but it seems to like the dense gorse offered by the heaths - as do the Curlews, Yellowhammers, Buzzards and Kestrels.” More information about Devon Clinton Estates can be found at http://www.clintondevon.com/

Brewster too is situated in a noted conservation area. The Brewster Conservation Trust recently honoured Charles Sumner, town administrator, as Conservationist of the Year for his energetic approach to defending the area’s natural heritage. OVA members will find much to interest them at http://www.brewsterconservationtrust.org/

Both Budleigh and Brewster have their coastal salt marshes. It has recently been announced that the Cape Cod town is on track to acquire a critical 3.8 acres of marshside property totalling $675,000 following a successful fund-raising effort by the Brewster Conservation Trust. The land adjoins the Quivett Creek salt marsh and offers one of the few sweeping views from its historic highway of Brewster’s marshes, rich in aquatic and marine species.

In addition the town is in the Trust’s words “adorned with a necklace of blue jewels, the sparkling freshwater ponds that are precious habitats for fish, plants and animals.” Twenty-four of the ponds are larger than ten acres in size. Most of them are situated within the 1,900-acre Nickerson State Park. Not surprisingly this is a paradise for birdwatchers; latest ornithological records show that there are now 156 species of birds breeding on Cape Cod including the exotically-named red-bellied woodpeckers, Arcadian flycatchers, warbling vireos, Kentucky warblers and clay colored sparrows. And of course a trip to Cape Cod should include a whale watching package.

Conservation issues are also rated highly when it comes to the distinctive buildings of the two communities. Budleigh Salterton is deservedly proud of its architectural heritage, boasting many fine houses: grand Italianate buildings, cottages ornés, Victorian villas, Arts and Crafts-influenced homes… they make for a pleasing variety of properties throughout the town.

Many of the owners of Budleigh’s distinctive properties offer accommodation. John and Jane Crosse at Simcoe House regularly receive guests from North America.








The plaque displayed on their website can be found in the Exeter Cathedral Close.
Downderry House in Budleigh, built in 1929, is a classic example of a butterfly design and an award-winning bed and breakfast establishment in an acre of gardens on the outskirts of the town.
The Old Manse Inn in Brewster was home to the four seafaring sons of Winslow L. Knowles, himself a sea captain who was famous for running the British blockade of Boston during the war of 1812. Its magnificent dining room was once the first Lutheran Church on Cape Cod.
http://www.oldmanseinn.com/
With over 15 bed and breakfast inns and over 30 art galleries, craft shops and antique shops, Brewster is clearly a popular holiday destination. But like Budleigh it is proud of having retained an old-fashioned charm. Brewster and Cape Cod in general, like its East Devon sister has become a popular retirement location. The number of people who live on the Cape who are 65 or older is now almost double those in the 25-35 age range; in Brewster itself the average age of residents is 55. “If you like crowds of people and summer time commercialism, Brewster is definitely not for you,” say Stephen and Michele Rowan, proud of the an “attractive, laid-back, classic, down east community of well established, exceedingly well cared for old yankee homes” which, like their Old Sea Pines Inn, now offer the luxury accommodation for discerning visitors described at http://www.oldseapinesinn.com/
Budleigh visitors can be assured of a warm welcome. East Devon Councillor Ray Franklin “could not think of a better part of the USA to link up with” while Devon County Councillor Christine Channon found Brewster “a delightful town” when she visited New England in 2007.

This website has been set up specifically to focus on news and features of interest to people in both towns. If you would like to be kept informed of our progress as new items appear on the site please email mr.downes@gmail.com

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