Tag Archives: Teign

Keats at Teignmouth

Charles Causley

Charles Causley

So, moving on to people.  Almost inevitably we keep returning to Keats and there are still more to come.

We have already seen a sonnet that Wilfred Owen wrote about his ‘hero’ Keats. Here is another eulogy to Keats, this time from the poet Charles Causley.  It is one of his earliest poems and comes from his ‘Collected Poems 1951-1997’.

If you want to feel the full power of his words try walking the ‘wild sea-wall’ and reading this out loud whilst standing on the point at Teignmouth!

Keats At Teignmouth – Spring 1818
(Charles Causley)

By the wild sea-wall I wandered
Blinded by the salting sun,
While the sulky Channel thundered
Like an old Trafalgar gun.

And I watched the gaudy river
Under trees of lemon-green,
Coiling like a scarlet bugle
Through the valley of the Teign.

When spring fired her fusilladoes
Salt-spray, sea-spray on the sill,
When the budding scarf of April
Ravelled on the Devon hill.

Then I saw the crystal poet
Leaning on the old sea-rail;
In his breast lay death, the lover,
In his head, the nightingale.

Want to know more?  Check out:

Charles Causley …..
Poetry Walk …..



Passing Through

SW Coast Path Teignmouth - The Ness to Holcombe Head

SW Coast Path Teignmouth – The Ness to Holcombe Head

So back to the wreck of the Teignmouth Coal Boat –  our shore journey in verse begins from that wreck off Hopes Nose.  How will we return to Teignmouth?  We’ll walk ….. yet another of the fine features of Teignmouth is that it lies on the South West Coast path.

This National Trail is rated as one of the top walks to be found anywhere in the world by Lonely Planet and voted Britain’s best walking route by the readers of Walk magazine.

Sam Allen - walking the South West Coast Path

Sam Allen – walking the South West Coast Path

It was originally a means for the coastguard to track and pursue smugglers and continues to provide access to 630 miles of stunning coastal scenery from Minehead to Poole.

Early in September I met a woman, Sam Allen, with a 40lb pack and three dogs who was walking the whole length of the trail for charity – Macmillan Cancer Support and the Dogs Trust.

That was a catalyst for this poem which gives a different take on the South West Coast Path.

Passing Through

You peer from the eyrie of the Ness
through gauzy mist
that warps and drifts from sea to shore.

In sinuous hush between the river banks
it veils the distant flanking hills,
the guardians of the Teign.

Maybe you rest on the salt-stained bench,
shrugging off your pack of life
to ease the tension coursing from your shoulder blades

down the knobbled pennines of your back.
You reflect you’ve travelled so far
from your Minehead birth

when you crawled and skipped and slid and ran
your youth and teens along the northern coast
gyring at the end of land, finisterre,

from where you shed the hinterland of youth,
grew up and garbed the journey of your stride
treading on the edge of life.

To your left the safety of the land,
to your right the cliffs
and risk of slip to pitbull rocks below.

The path’s not easy on the coastal clefts,
chasms carved by wind and brook,
smoothed by toughened hands of time.

You brace yourself for each descent
and feel the lactic pain
of every tortured step you climb.

Babbacombe, Watcombe, Maidencombe –
the deceptive wombs of comfort
that lead you to that Shaldon Ness.

Teignmouth lies below,
a flat oasis, a musing ground
in your autumnal haven years.

But you’re just passing through.

Want to know more?  Check out:

South West Coast Path …..

Kingsteignton to Teignmouth on the Number 2 bus

The Number 2 Bus

The Number 2 Bus

Time to return back down the river to Teignmouth.

This time we travel by bus to relish the spectacular views along the estuary and reflect, leaving behind eighteenth century verse for a more modern piece.  Thanks to Virginia Griem for this.



Kingsteignton to Teignmouth on the No 2 bus
(Virginia Griem)

After the roundabout
The road rises, steep,
Winds right and left.
On the lower deck windows
Grey dusty rape stalks – hedgerow invaders,
Tap, flick flack
The bus stops, picks up a hiker,
Dark head amongst silver holders
Of bus passes, shopping bags.
Gears grind, and the hot smell of engine
Joins cut grass for a moment,
Fades, is forgotten
As the Estuary sweeps into view.

And where are they going these people
With their bags for life and their memories
Down to the shops, Spend £40,
get a voucher
a free cup of coffee

On the top deck
The great arrow of mud
Pierces the eye,
shot from the distant sea.
Channels meander, hit high ground
Change direction, bubble, suck, stick,
Release, flow, shimmer, shine.
Vast banks of silt stretch empty,
but at their edge
White egrets dart with delicate step
Oystercatchers probe
Herring gulls strut their stuff.
Smaller black heads search brackish pools

And where are they going these gulls
After they’ve raided the mud flats
Down to the seafront, steal a warm pasty
From a tourist
A free ice cream

On through the valley
River no longer in sight.
Swifts hunt above waves of wheat,
Devouring their weight in winged creatures.
And all the while from the top of the bus
The landscape is being revealed.
Behind us the moors herald rain
As fields turn to gardens,
Washing lines, wheelie bins,
Manicured lawns,
Shop fronts, traffic lights,
Playgrounds and car parks.

And now the bus rests.
The shoppers, the hiker, silver haired lunchers,
Beachgoers, sandseekers
Dropped off in the town.
Estuary past
Journey completed
Kingsteignton to Teignmouth
On the No. 2 Bus

The Siren

Siren on a gate

Siren on a gate

Let’s move back from the river to the bank.

Just as you leave Teignmouth heading towards Bishopsteignton along the road you will see a gate on the left-hand side with an enticing picture, which prompted this poem.

If the tide is low you can also walk up the estuary shore instead where you’ll find an earlier version (perhaps) of the eponymous siren on the side of a wrecked ship.

River art courtesy of local artist NME

The Siren

Teign spirit rises
hands reaching out
from cerulean wash.
With eyes that entice
and lips that implore
she beckons you join her,
stray to deep waters
away from the safety of shore.

Raven-haired siren
seductively smiles
and whispers so softly
in caramel tones.
She raises her hand
and beckons you join her
in river suffused
away from the shackles of land.

Related verse:  Elegy to a Parrat

Siren on Ship

Siren on Ship


On (and in) the Teign

This post stays on the river with the ‘Railway Poet’ Thomas Aggett. This poem is from his book ‘Vagabond Verses’ published in the early 20th century. He seemed to have had an obsession (or fantasy) about women in boats.

On (and in) the Teign
(Thomas Aggett)

The river was swollen with sweat
From the brows of the mountains around,
And ‘twas useless, when we got upset,
Our trying to walk on the ground.

But Mary got air in her dress
Which luckily kept her afloat,
And I struggled a bit, you may guess,
While I clutched at the overturned boat.

Afraid of a watery grave,
We made up a terrible fuss;
But Providence seeks but to save
Great sinners – and lucky for us.

Want to know more about Aggett’s obsession (or maybe not!)?
Check out:  “An Accident

The Waters of Teign

The Ferryman

The Ferryman

Today we take the crossing of the river for granted.  There is a fine bridge built originally some 180 years ago or so and rebuilt a number of times since.  Before that though crossing the Teign was a challenge.  There were a number of fording points for livestock, carriages, smugglers and monks.  And there was a ferry that has been running since the eleventh century at least.

I have shamelessly plagiarised a traditional folk-song as an image of the importance of the ferry over time – more poetry of Teignmouth.  If you want to know more see the connection at the end.

The Waters of Teign

I cannot get to my love if I would die;
For the waters of Teign they run strong and run high.
They’re between me and her, and drowning my sigh;
For it’s next to my sweetheart that I would fain lie.

Oh, where is the boatman, my dearest bonny
Oh where is the boatman? Please bring him to me
To ferry me over the Teign so I’ll be
Close to my lover, oh I beg of thee.

Oh, bring me a boatman, I’ll give you money
So you for your trouble rewarded shall be.
I would cross the Teign, my sweetheart to see
And I shall remember the boatman and thee.

I cannot get to my love if I would die;
For the waters of Teign they run strong and run high.
They’re between me and her, and drowning my sigh;
For it’s next to my sweetheart that I would fain lie.

Want to know more?  Check out ‘The Ferry

Larch Brook

The Teign Estuary

The Teign Estuary

Keats’ poem on Teignmouth referred to a number of places along the Teign estuary.  The existence/ location of  two of these, The Barton and Larch Brook, have been the subject of some debate.  I decided to explore for myself and took a walk up and down both sides of the estuary following the path of Keats in search of truth.  This poem reflects my thoughts.


Larch Brook

I followed the path of Keats today.
I let my footsteps lead
where the feet of Keats might once have trod.
Like a dog that gnaws a bone to extricate the best,
that unctuous flavoured essence of the marrow gel,
I am obsessed by his doggerel that has scored my mind
with lines of verse which I could not let alone
in some obscure metaphoric way.

I followed the path of Keats today,
not by ferry o’er the surging, stygian Teign
but striding forth upon the singing Shaldon bridge,
that Keats would not have known,
to reach the distant Ringmoor shore
where ancient milestone marks the Torquay road
in measured miles and furlongs, even perch,
across what’s now the Templer Way.

I followed the path of Keats today,
slip-sliding up the low-tide shore,
glissading over slime-soaked stones,
avoiding glazed-smooth flats of mud
where bristling clay-pipes peeked,
tempting lairs for crabs that scuttled there
when Selene’s breath would suck the estuary dry
to strand the crabs in traps of clay.

I followed the path of Keats today
upstream, absorbed in Endymionic dream,
in search of truth, the truth he knew as beauty,
which is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.
Each breccia’d headland opened up another cove,
carved by brook and Teign in ebb and flow,
silted hollows open-mouthed to suck you in
if you should from its hardened, lapping lips dare stray.

I followed the path of Keats today
and found the Arch of ancient stone
whose breasted brook surged out from reeded fields.
I reached the cream-tea land of Coomb at clear Teign head.
On distant hills was nestled Bishop’s Teign,
the Barton, the King’s Teign edging Newton Marsh.
Just as they, with Arch Brook, were no opiate dream
then surely Larch Brook was no casual rhyme that Keats had feigned.

I followed the path of Keats today,
followed on and passed the Coomb at head of clear Teign,
not through faerie groves, nor across Elysian fields
but edging vaporous, grey-slicked muddy coves
until I found where I believed lay truth.
A brook that oozed beside a stand of trees,
gaunt conifers in silhouette against the vernal skies.
‘Larch Brook’ – no poet’s random rhyme; I found Keats’ truth today.

Want to know more? See …..
Notes on Keats
Notes on Poem