The Culm Valley (2)
The continuing journey down the river Culm
We visit the villages of Uffculme and Willand and the town of Cullompton. Together with Hemyock and Culmstock these make up the larger settlements along the river Culm. It is a beautiful part of Britain and well worth a visit. The upper half of the Culm valley is also part of the Blackdown Hills noted for their beauty.
The road from Culmstock to Uffculme down the Culm Valley
The road from Culmstock to Uffculme wends through the middle distance in the next photo.The river follows the first line of trees, the road beyond it. I travelled this road every school day for nine years in the school bus, having ridden my bicycle to Culmstock from the hamlet of Prescott. In the later years I travelled this way and then continued on to the market town of Tiverton, but that is another story not being in the Culm Valley. One morning as an adult I got up at 5 a.m. and took the dog, a lovely black Labrador called Cherry and cycled in a circle from Prescott to Culmstock, along the road I have just mentioned, on to Uffculme and back to Prescott. It was a beautiful June morning with hardly any traffic. I saw the delivery of green groceries to the village shop, but little movement otherwise. I know why people who get up at that time every day say it is the best time of the day.
Transportation in the Culm valley
This is where the railway used to run. It doesn't look possible now, but there is the bridge to prove it. This was a wonderful way to connect with the whole of the valley. Now we have buses which serve Uffculme and onwards very well, but there is no connection between Hemyock and Culmstock with the rest of the valley. Instead there is a connection to Somerset. This makes for a dis-jointedness in the valley and makes cars essential. If the railway had remained it would undoubtedly be a tourist attraction now with our wonderful scenery.
I remember going to this church for Carol services when I was at Top School. It was called that because it was right up the hill at the top of the village. We all had to walk down the hill in pairs holding hands, to keep us safe. At that time the church had old-fashioned pews. Now it has movable pews in more or less a circle or semi-circle. The spire was modelled on that of Salisbury Cathedral.
A triangular square
You can't really see it in this picture but the square at Uffculme is actually three sided. Traffic hold ups happen here everyday, especially when the children are going to or from school. I have chosen a quiet time to take my photo. A building used for coffee mornings is called the Square Corner, because it is at one of the corners of the square. There used to be a cobbler's shop in the square and a green grocer's. The village used to have lots more shops and pubs. Now there is just the Co-op and the Post Office and one pub.
The one remaining pub
There is The Ostler with its shiny new roof. There was a fire there a few years ago. Fortunately no one was hurt. Pubs are having a hard time these days. They are closing quicker than churches. Even though they are also restaurants now and produce good food, still they struggle. This one has a bench and tables outside so that the clientele can enjoy a pint in the fresh air.
This striking old building has had many uses over the years. Obviously a brewery, but also a crisp factory. It has been used as an activity centre where people were taught handicrafts. Now the top floor is a spacious flat with a roof garden. There is planning permission to create more flats in the lower stories. For two and a half years I lived in the flats opposite this building, so it is an old friend. The arched windows had a particularly pleasant proportion to them. This was fortunate as this was my only view at the time.
The Woollen Mill
This is the old woollen mill. Here, amongst other things were made puttees for the soldiers in the Crimean War. Culmstock also had a woollen mill. Many people were employed here, in fact it was the biggest employer of village folk and it did not shut until the 1960's. It is now a working museum and attracts bus loads of school children who come to see the terrible conditions children worked under in days of yore.
I was born in sight of Coldharbour chimney in the little hamlet of Smithincott, within the parish of Uffculme. I can't remember the house as we left when I was two years old. Of course I have seen the house on many occasions since, but my childhood memories are all of Prescott. My brother and sister used to walk the mile into Uffculme to go to school. At that time much of the streets were cobbled. This looks very pretty but is very uneven to walk on.
Visit Coldharbour Mill for Yourself
- COLDHARBOUR MILL
This is a working woollen mill. A little treasure of history.
Off to Willand in the Culm Valley
We leave Uffculme and travel two miles West to Willand. Willand was formerly known for its abbatoir and the smell of cooking meat pervaded all. Of course the main industry of the whole valley is farming, and unfortunately this includes the need for an abbatoir. The train on the main line from London used to stop here, but no longer does as the station has been relocated to near Sampford Peverell and is known as Tiverton Parkway. Willand's station was known as Tiverton Junction. I used to hate going there as a child, as I found the bridge over the railway very frightening, as the slats of wood in it did not meet and you could see the light through them and as a small child I was terrified I would fall through.
Willand used to be on the main road through to the coast and as such had a lot of trade from the queuing holiday makers, but this has ceased since the coming of the M5. Willand has a good bus service to Exeter. It has seen a lot of housing development in the last decade and consequently has doubled its size.
This is where I play bowls in the village hall and so I have many friends who live there.The village hall is used for a gardening club and also for barn dances on a regular basis.
In the last year the church has seen an increase in its membership under the care of a woman vicar.
Onward to Cullompton
Passing on through Willand we cross over the motorway and the river. After two miles we come to the town centre of Cullompton. this is in many ways an attractive place with interesting old buildings and an open tree-lined central area known as the Bull Ring, presumably from times when there was a cattle market here.
Cullompton, too, has suffered from the coming of the M5. They were glad to see the end of traffic jams but with them went trade. As you will see Cullompton has some lovely buildings and it is a shame to see them in disrepair.What it needs is a multi-millionaire to come along and give it a face-lift. Every time there are road works in the town it affects trade adversely .One other advantage in the town are the lovely trees in the bull ring area. At Christmas time these trees are hung with small white lights which give a very pleasing affect. If every person who lives in Cullompton were to buy one thing each week from the town centre it would make a huge difference to trade there.
The middle of Cullompton is laid out in an interesting fashion. There is one main street straight through the town and from this alleys lead off at right angles. These are narrow, some being just wide enough for one car to gain access. Down some of these alleys are houses. Down one is the old Methodist church which has been sold for redevelopment. It was too big for the present day congregation, who have all joined their fellow Methodists at Willand, where the church was renamed Culm Valley Methodist church to make the Cullompton people feel they were truly a part of this church and they could all go onward together with a new start.
The church is a splendid structure
Madame D'Arblay visited Cullmpton church on her travels during 1791 and called it "an extremely rich, Gothic structure". She said it had all the appearance of being an Abbey church as its splendour was too great for a country church. I must say I had never realised how beautiful it is until I came to photograph it. It has a large congregation today worshipping there Sunday by Sunday, with other activities in the week.
The end of our journey down the Culm Valley
And so we come to the end of our little journey down the Culm Valley. I hope you have enjoyed it and will come and see us for real one day. There is good hospitality in the guest houses along the way so you would be made very welcome. Perhaps later I will tell you more about our towns and villages.