On arriving in Colyton, I spot a sign. ‘Devon’s most rebellious town,’ it says. The rebellion in question refers to that of the Duke of Monmouth, the illegitimate son of Charles II, against the new Catholic King James II in 1685.
More than 100 men from Colyton joined the so-called ‘Pitchfork rebellion’ — but it didn’t end well, owing to the retribution of the infamous ‘Bloody’ Judge Jeffreys and his fellow judges.
Today, though, when the locals re-enact the rising in full dress costume, it’s a much happier affair, with cream teas and cakes all round.
Colyton is a charming place, with steep narrow streets built on the circular Saxon model and if you come in summer, you’ll see colourful heraldic banners proudly fluttering from its buildings.
Everywhere you look there’s history. East Devon grew rich on the cloth trade and in The Merchant’s House, my guide Maggie tells me the story of the medieval wall painting which was exposed in the 1970s.
On his visit to the Devonshire town of Colyton, Neil Clark learns that an electric tram service (pictured) has been operating from the town to the Jurassic coast since 1970
Experts were called and identified the characters in the painting as musical angels. I then learn about ‘The Feoffees’.
These were 20 merchants who went to London in 1546 to ask Henry VIII if they could work for the benefit of the townsfolk in place of the ‘Lord of the Manor’, Henry Courtenay, who lost his head.
They were ‘enfeoffed’ by the King and to this day, the Feoffees of Colyton operate as a sort of shadow parish council.
Just across Market Place is the Church of St Andrew. Its distinctive 14th-century octagonal lantern tower is a local landmark.
Neil stays at the Old Bakehouse, a ‘tastefully furnished’ guesthouse on Lower Church Street
Inside, a plaque tells of Captain Henry Wilson, who commanded the East India company’s packet ship, Antelope.
Wrecked on the Pelew Islands in 1783, it ‘was wonderfully preserved with the Ship’s Company amongst Strangers, in a Land unfrequented and unknown’. Wilson got home and died in Colyton in 1810 at the age of 70.
St Andrew’s also has a great West Window, one of the most magnificent you’ll see in any parish church anywhere in England.
My base in Colyton is the Old Bakehouse, a Grade II-listed building in Lower Church Street dating to the late 1600s.
‘Colyton is a charming place, with steep narrow streets built on the circular Saxon model,’ writes Neil. Above is the town’s tram station
The Old Bakehouse offers B&B rooms from £95 per night, cottage accommodation from £109 (minimum three night stay), colytonbakehouse.com, 01297 816240. For details of the Colyton-Seaton tram, visit tram.co.uk.
Today, it’s a tastefully furnished, comfortable guest house run by a delightful couple, Fiona and Steve. They are most welcoming and all the ingredients for the delicious full English breakfast are Devon-sourced, including a Colyton sausage from award-winning Anton’s Butchers on Market Place. Colyton thrives.
Not only does it have a butcher’s, there’s a pharmacy, a library, two convenience stores, a social club and a town hall still in use. There’s also a tannery and a father-and-son master wheelwrights.
At the Gerrard Arms, an old coaching inn, I enjoy a pint of Exmoor Gold. The tasty local fare on offer at The Kingfisher, built around 1600, includes Lyme Bay crab and hand-dived scallops.
One afternoon. I head for Colyton Tram Station, where an electric tram service to the Jurassic coast has been operating since 1970.
I enjoy a delightful three-mile open-top ride on a beautifully preserved vintage tramcar, passing along the Axe Valley and the Seaton Wetlands where a wide variety of birdlife can be seen, depending on the season.
The driver tells us to look out for a buzzard on the pole ahead. The bird is nicknamed Boris, on account of his unruly hairstyle.
I later find out that the good folk of Colyton are still rebelling, this time to make sure they have their say on any infringements of the ‘green wedge’ between them and the seaside town of Seaton. Good luck to them.