Friday, 5 January 2018

Sir Walter returns to Budleigh Salterton

With the approach of the festivities surrounding the 400th anniversary of Sir Walter's death the good folk of East Budleigh and Budleigh Salterton are likely to meet at least one Raleigh lookalike in feathered cap and flowing cape. 

It could be a frustrated suitor looking for a likely puddle to melt the heart of his resisting lady. Or, more likely, just another baked-potato merchant. 

Here we present the jolly good show that professional storyteller Steve Manning put on in 2015, dressed as Sir Walter and complete with some good witticisms.  I met him at Fairlynch Museum.   

Saturday 4 April 2015 was a special day in the history of Budleigh Salterton. Sir Walter Ralegh returned to the town made famous by a certain Victorian painter.

He thought Fairlynch Museum was a pretty little dwelling but rather quaint and certainly not as grand as any of his palaces.  

However he was impressed by the Museum’s new marquee which our small army of volunteers had manfully erected.   “A splendid pavilion,” he opined. “Most useful for courtly gatherings in this oftimes inclement climate of our fair land.” 

Our Museum volunteers had dressed specially for the occasion in Easter bonnets.

Sir Walter was of course known for his sparkling wit at the Elizabethan court, making him one of the Queen’s favourites. “Not by any means a fowl choice of hat,” he quipped, on meeting one of the ladies.

The soup ladies were a little bit nervous, not just of his rapier but of his rapier-like wit.

They needn’t have worried. Sir Walter pronounced the soup excellent and very good for the slight ague that had been troubling him.

Fortified by the soup we set off on a tour of the town.  “Some of our burghers would love to meet you,” I told him. “As long as they’re not expecting chips,” he replied with a merry smile. “I love potatoes, but they should never be anything but boiled. And that word chip is a bit too close to the block for comfort.”

At the Tourist Information Centre, Dame Alison gave him a warm welcome although he had somewhat jumped the queue of visitors who had come to learn about Budleigh and its history.

Sir Walter insisted on a call at Bradleys Estate Agents in the High Street.  He was keen to know whether the charming farmhouse known as Hayes Barton was on the market. Some rascally knave from Otterton by the name of Duke had refused to sell it to Sir Walter many years previously.

Sir Walter was impressed by the display of so many luxurious gifts in the Rowan Tree shop. 

“A mighty fleet of vessels must have been needed to bring such goods into Devon,” he told Dame Karen, the owner. “Indeed, Sir Walter”, she told him. “Our wares come from all over the world, including your New World.”

At Bowmers café and restaurant he caused a bit of a stir by his arrival at lunchtime, without having booked a table, especially with that pipe in his mouth.  

I embarrassed myself by telling customers how he had singed the Spanish king’s beard. “No, that was the other bloke, you idiot,” Sir Walter told me with a withering look that made me feel like Baldrick in that 'Blackadder' television series.  

At the Feathers Hotel on the High Street Sir Walter was impressed by the variety of ales on display. “Clearly they ale from far and wide,” he quipped in his strong Devon accent.

In Budleigh Wines he showed a surprising lack of interest in the French wines and was very dismissive of the Spanish ones. “Have ye any vintages from Guyana or anywhere else in the New World?” he asked owner, Master James Findlay. “Indeed, we do Sir Walter,” smiled Master James. “I can certainly recommend this little number from a very choice vineyard in Chile.”

I thought at this stage that we ought to head back to the Museum before Sir Walter and James decided to share a bottle.” The shop, named at that time 'Another Man’s Treasure', proved irresistible for Sir Walter. He was clearly hoping to pick up some looted gold or silver from a Spanish or Portuguese galleon but was disappointed not to find any.

At the Brook Gallery he was impressed to meet Dame Angela Yarwood and learn about the gallery's international reputation. I think he was a bit sad not to see any portrait of him on display, considering that so many had been done by the finest court painters of our fair land.  

We got back to the Museum to find it besieged by gardening bargain hunters. These two ladies were highly pleased with their purchases. “But did ye not buy any tobacco plants?” he asked them.  

He expressed surprise when told that tobacco had fallen out of fashion, and outrage to see a ‘No Smoking’ sign in the Museum’s new marquee. 

“Did ye not know that the cultivation of tobacco has been long established in this fair land and is by no means confined to hot and exotic climates?” he asked me with yet another withering look.

When I confessed my ignorance he told me about a place called Winchcombe in the county of Gloucestershire, not too distant from our fair county of Devon.

Secretly, I had my doubts about his apparent fantasizing, but when I returned home to consult my magic almanack, otherwise known as Wikipedia, I discovered that he was absolutely right. The proof is right here at

Outside the Museum, Sir Walter was delighted to meet the Mayor. Eavesdropping on their conversation I heard mention of ‘hunting’ and ‘stallion.’ 

It was clear to me that Sir Walter was indulging in that flirtatious behaviour which had swept Queen Elizabeth I off her feet but had sometimes got him into hot water at court.

“Ha!” I heard him exclaim when he encountered this lady volunteer from the Museum. “My friend Master Will Shakespeare must have been thinking of thee when he sang thy praises!”

When I heard him about to break into song with some lines from a Shakespeare play about some woman called Sylvia I guessed it was time to move him on.

I thought that we would be on safer ground with some younger visitors to the Museum. Indeed, Sir Walter held them spellbound with his tales of monstrous beasts and fabulous cities that he had encountered on his voyages. 

A star attraction at the Museum is the version by the Budleigh Salterton Venture Art Group of ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh.’  It’s a copy by the 19 amateur artists in the Group of Sir John Everett Millais’ painting which the artist worked on in 1870 while staying at The Octagon, next door to Fairlynch. 

“Not a bad likeness,” opined Sir Walter. “But that old sailor was a dirty knave. Methinks ‘tis time for a new version of the painting, with myself in portraiture. I would be shown pointing across the oceans to distant horizons and wondrous opportunities for young people of this fair land. Like this!” he exclaimed, with outstretched arm. “What say you?”

“Indeed,” I acquiesced, unwilling to offend our distinguished guest.

And thus it was that I followed in Sir John Everett Millais’ footsteps with my digital portraits of seven-year-old Esme Clarkson, whom we encountered on Budleigh's ancient and celebrated beach. She was visiting Budleigh Salterton with her parents. The family had travelled from distant Walton-on-Thames in the fair county of Surrey and were thrilled to meet Sir Walter.


Look closely at Millais’ original painting in Tate Britain and you’ll see that Esme is sitting on the actual Raleigh Wall, of which Budleigh Salterton is justifiably proud.  You can see it here by clicking on the magic button at

It took me a little time to remove by means digital the horrid and ugly paraphernalia which so disfigures the natural landscape of our fine beach. 

I then used that email which is still a source of wonder in our little town of Budleigh Salterton to send my work into cyberspace. From there it would descend into the fair town of Walton-on-Thames and be guided magically into Esme’s home. 

With a speed that would have astonished Sir Walter   so used as he was to quills and parchment and a celerity that would have outpaced even Mercury, that wingèd messenger of the gods, Esme’s parents wrote back as follows:    

“It was a pleasure to meet you and wow what wonderful photographs, Esme will be delighted to show and tell these when she goes back to school. 

We wish you every success with your great museum. It’s really interesting for both adults and children alike.”

This was professional story-teller Steve Manning’s first performance as Sir Walter Ralegh. Steve will tackle most historical roles in costume, from Ancient Greeks to World War II ARP wardens. Fairlynch Museum can thoroughly recommend him. For more details click



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