Excerpt from "We Donkeys" in Devon by Volo Non Valeo

Excerpt from "We Donkeys" in Devon by Volo Non Valeo[1]

Day the Tenth

To-day our road all the way lay through beautiful and much varied scenery, from wild moorland to sheltered Devon lanes, with hedges thick with primroses and orchids, to winding roads through valley and upland and woods winding up steep ascents, with the trees full of the promise of spring; for here in North Devon, though we have nearly reached the middle of May, only some of the earlier trees have their complement of leaves. This only adds to the many-coloured hues, which gain much from the bright green of the larch, and the rich beauty of the young copper beeches. Our drive finished in yet another phase of scenery — the beautiful deer park of Stevenstone,[2] the road winding through it, with its thoroughly English scenery, with deer feeding on one side and a herd of pretty cows on the other. We find by our long road instead of gaining in ease we had lost. Had we come the short way we should have descended one steep hill and ascended another; as it was we had been up and down at least six hills, but we did not grudge it, for we had by this mistake seen one interesting church and enjoyed the most beautiful views. If the hills constitute the difficulty of locomotion in North Devon they make its beauty, and are at once the cause of, and objection to, travelling there. We had no idea how widespread a parish St. Giles was ; therefore when we arrived at the place where our steeds were to abide we were rather horrified to find we were nearly two miles from our own restingplace ; but here, fortunately, was an old Budleigh friend, who kindly lent us his "trap," and with equal good nature, his daughter drove us to the Rolle Arms at Kingscote, a very charming little inn, where we found every possible comfort.

Day the Eleventh

On Thursday, May 14th (Ascension Day), we did not attend morning service, as we had intended, because there was a mistake with regard to the hour. By the kind permission of the Hon. Mark Rolle, we paid a visit to Stevenstone House, which is principally a modern structure. Some of the ceilings in the old parts of the house are very good, and also some carving. The house is very rich in beautiful paintings. The views, especially from the upper windows, are very striking. After resting for a while under a grand old tree, and enjoying the scenery, we went on to the church, which has been perfectly restored,[3] and is probably one of the most beautiful in the county. There, are a few interesting old tombs—two to members of the Risdon family. In one the date was illegible.[4] The other is a brass, partly broken and defaced, of the date of August 26th, 1636.[5] There was another very curious brass of the date of 1670.[6] Unfortunately, this is partly hidden by some of the seats. There is a very interesting monument, with a recumbent figure, apparently in a clerical dress, of Thomas Chafe, Master of Arts, of Exeter College, Oxford, of the date of 1648.[7] The whole inscription is in Latin.

Our afternoon was chiefly spent with a needle and cotton—this sort of tour is singularly destructive to the garments. We should have liked to have paid Xenophon Edward and "Nem. Con."[8] a visit, but, unfortunately, they were too far off. Our faithful Romulus[9] did much to relieve the melancholy inseparable from the unusually protracted absence of our patient steeds.

In the evening we attended a bright, cheerful service at the beautiful church, and so finished our day. A grave was being dug in the churchyard for an inhabitant of one of the almshouses, who had died a day or two before in her 99th year, a proof that St. Giles is healthy as well as beautiful.[10]


[1] Volo Non Valeo was the pseudonym of Maria Susannah GIBBONS (1841-1900) of Budleigh Salterton, Devon. "We Donkeys" in Devon is an account of a May 1885 journey by donkey and cart that appeared in a series of articles in the Devon and Exeter Gazette. The articles were later published in book form.

[2] Stevenstone was the home of Mark George Kerr TREFUSIS (1835-1907). Trefusis inherited Stevenstone from his aunt's husband, John, Baron ROLLE (1751-1842), with the condition that he change his name to Rolle.

[3] The Parish Church of St Giles in the Wood was restored in 1862.

[4] Gibbons is most likely describing the 17th century monument to Mary Risdon. Mary's husband, William RISDON, was the son of Tristram RISDON (abt 1580-1640) of Winscott, author of The Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon.

[5] A monumental brass with a Latin inscription to Joanna POLLARD (abt 1547-1610), mother of Tristram RISDON, is mounted above a carved inscription to Margaret RISDON (1613-1636), daughter of Tristram RISDON. While the inscription to Margaret RISDON bears the date of 26 Aug 1636, the monumental brass inscription to Joanna POLLARD bears the date of 17 May 1610.

[6] This is most likely the monumental brass to Margaret FORD (abt 1525-1592), wife of John ROLLE (1518-1570)

[7] At the time of Gibbon's visit, the effigy of Thomas CHAFE was located in the belltower of the church.

[8] Xenophon Edward and "Nem. Con." were the names of Gibbons's two donkeys.

[9] Romulus was a "handsome black dog" that accompanied Gibbons on her trek.

[10] Mary MOORE was born in St Giles in the Wood about 1786. She married her second husband, Thomas MATTHEWS, on 27 Dec 1819.

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