How Damien Hirst ruined Devon

There are few better locations to resist la rentrée than the wilds of Exmoor. The late August heather and gorse. The hidden coves. The bracken and this year’s superb crop of blackberries. Then the rain. So much rain (though of course the reliably incompetent South West Water still has a hosepipe ban in place). The only blot on the landscape remains Damien Hirst’s ill-conceived 65ft statue of ‘Verity’ – a flayed pregnant woman, with her innards on show, standing on a pile of books and holding a sword – which dominates Ilfracombe’s harbour. It exemplifies the worst of public-private art, lacking any meaningful connection to the history or culture of

Where to escape the crowds in Cornwall and Devon

The wild, rugged beauty of the far southwestern tip of the UK needs no introduction. The appeal of life by the sea is at fever pitch. Nowhere in the UK boasts quite the same breadth or quantity of excellent, award winning beaches – picturesque stretches of sand, coves and swimming spots can be found peppered up and down the coastline. Keeping away from the crowds is increasingly difficult, but it can be done. In this list of some of the best beaches in Devon and Cornwall, we’ve focused on a good balance between accessibility and facilities, and those more secluded beaches that require a little more effort to get to.

Disregarded for decades, Jean Rhys stayed true to her vision of life

Jean Rhys, who died at the age of 88 in 1979, lived to be forgotten and rediscovered. Like many readers, I first came across her through her novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which imagines the pre-history of Jane Eyre’s ‘madwoman in the attic’, the Creole heiress married off to Mr Rochester and then incarcerated by him at Thornfield Hall. When it came out to great acclaim in 1966, it marked the rebirth of a writer who hadn’t published a book for more than a quarter of a century and who had even been presumed dead. Born Ella Gwendoline Rees Williams in Dominica in 1890, Rhys drew on her own background as

The call of opium-based analgesics and introspection

On the morning of my last day in England, I drew back a curtain and there in the garden, browsing one of the flower beds, was a brown hare. It hobbled cautiously but not timidly among the spring bulbs, choosing thoughtfully like a discriminating shopper. I leaned on the window sill and watched it for perhaps ten minutes. The hare was in the process of exchanging its tatty winter fur coat for a shorter, smoother, lighter-brown one, visible underneath. Overnight late spring had turned to the softer air of early summer and I was sorry to be leaving the country at the exact point of the season’s changing. In the

Elegy in a country churchyard

‘I love this old watering can,’ said my sister, sprinkling the miniature rose. ‘Though I do worry about soaking Mum. How far down is she? Do you remember?’ I said I thought about five foot. The country churchyard is sheltered by hedges and trees and the graves are decently spaced. On Mothering Sunday mown grass was scattered across the gravel path and graves and a chill sea mist billowed like smoke off the sea. Two months before Covid struck, I’d thrown my handful of soil in after her. This was my first visit since that day. The earth was still broken and heaped but now there was a grey headstone

The windswept Devon island adored by Agatha Christie

Burgh Island certainly knows how to make an entrance. As you descend the hill at dusk into Bigbury-on-Sea the white hotel drinks up all the light. Like a flashy piece of costume jewellery, it’s the only thing you notice on the skyline. But, then again, it’s used to making good first impressions. Despite its diminutive size, the island appears in Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun before any of the novel’s characters, upstaging even Hercule Poirot. The reader is never in any doubt that the book’s murder will hinge entirely on ‘the little windswept gull-haunted promontory – cut off from land at each high tide’ and the ‘comfortable and most exclusive hotel’ on its

More than one bad apple: the sorry demise of English cider

Can you imagine if, in the 20th century, wine producers in France had switched from a product made (almost) entirely from grapes to something that was essentially grape-flavoured alcoholic sugar water? It’s inconceivable. In fact, they did just the opposite. To stamp out the growth of ersatz wines, the appellation contrôlée system was created, which, for all its faults, provides a guarantee that a particular wine will be made from grapes from a certain area. But there was no such regulation in England. After the second world war, large-scale cider-makers in the West Country began lowering the amount of fruit in their products, specifically characterful bittersweet cider apples, and making