The National Trust acquired the area around Coleton Fishacre, in deepest South Devon, as part of Operation Neptune, which seeks to protect our precious coastline from unnecessary development. In this case, however, they were beaten to it by about 90 years, by property developers of a very different era, but by people who worked with the grain of the site, and - ultimately - to the benefit of the rest of us .
By NT standards the house at Coleton Fishacre is both modest and modern, having been built in the 1920s. Unlike much 20th century construction however, it shows that even the mega rich of their day, in this case the D’Oyly Carte family of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, could produce something that was both striking and modern in its time, yet blends in beautifully with the surrounding vernacular.
So what has this place, which at first glance looks like a somewhat grander version of what our parents and grandparents would have aspired to own themselves, to offer the dowser? Rather a lot, actually.
The first item on the agenda can be found in the car park. Fault lines, and one substantial crack in particular, run down through the site towards the sea. More or less along this main fault runs a wide ley. Whilst the emerging understanding of leys is that they are some form of thought-line, the common juxtaposition of geological faults and ley lines presents us with another, uncomfortably-shaped, piece of the cosmic jigsaw. Following this ley as it crashes through the gift shop, we find it emerging in the front courtyard and driving straight through the front door. CF itself may have been designed in the secular inter-war period, but perhaps the architect, Oswald Milne, used his Masonic connections in a way that may not even have been apparent to the owners. The ley runs through the house and leaves it via the striking semi-circular design feature on the southern elevation.
In the front courtyard, the ley is crossed by at least two others, once right in front of the main entrance. Additionally, in that courtyard is what purports to be an artistic turning head for the Bentleys and the Daimlers of the art-deco era guests. In fact the concentric feature, laid out in bricks, marks a lively energy spiral, that dowses to have existed there well before the house was conceived.
Under the house itself are numerous positive earth energy lines and an underground stream, which emerges into a pond on the terrace. In times gone by this would have been an obvious sacred site (well, obvious to the dowser). To find out if this is so at Coleton Fishacre, we will need to wait for another visit, when maybe we can have a look inside the house itself. In the post-religious age, CF was a cathedral to the nirvana of the day - hedonism. It still looks very much like an earthy paradise today.
The great joy of CF, however, is the spectacular setting - the garden tumbling down towards the sea from the subtly manicured terraces, through luxuriant exotica, blurring into more natural vegetation as it absorbs the South West Coast Path and drifts down to the cove below.
In the first lawn stands a most impressive American tulip tree. We came up with a range of dates for its age, but Alan Neal settled on 93. I came up with 87, which was probably the date of its planting (need to be more specific when framing questions!), while Alan showed that it had been a six year old mature sapling when it had arrived from the nursery. In its own vast energy spiral and victualled by its own subterranean water supply, this is a quite magnificent living sculpture of what some would term the earth goddess - and with considerable justification.
Nearby, a recently removed fir tree provided some interesting practice in sensing the remanence of the recently living. The damaged trunk may have been taken away for winter fuel, but on one level it can be felt, still standing erect in the dappled spring sunlight. A philosophical moment, aided by the meditative music of the nearby stream and the absence of the background noise of high-season touristica.
Being an ‘Arts and Crafts’ building, the D’Oyly Carte family used as much local materials as possible, including quarrying some of the stone from what is now the garden itself. Quarries are notorious for causing, or energising, geopathic stress, and this is no exception.
Although the ‘quarry’ is small by commercial standards, it cuts across a natural fault, and is sufficiently active energetically to make some of the group quite uneasy. From the floor of the quarry, you can look up at the Gazebo on the edge on the man-made escarpment. It looked as if the careful energy modelling in the house might not be replicated in the grounds, but on reaching the Gazebo, not only is there a stunning, yet calming, view out to sea, but the centre of the geopathic stress bends away to the east, missing this element of landscape design by a couple of feet. The stress actually traverses the feature tangentially, implying some pre-war compromise between the energy-sensitive designer and the view-seeking occupants.
As with most of southern England, this is a location that was a place of human habitation centuries before the D’Oyly Cartes spotted the potential of it from their passing yacht. We found the outlines of various buildings, both stone-built and wooden - mainly of an agricultural nature and from the mediaeval period or earlier.
Also suffused into the gardens are the remanences of former residents, both the modern and the monastic. This site appears to have been part of a monastic farm - of which the interesting buildings of nearby Collaton Barton may be residual fragments. None of the presences seemed uncomfortable and we left them to their quiet enjoyment of this very English idyll.
Does the confluence of earth, water and ley energies beneath the house indicate the former location of a significant sacred site? Unlike the Time Team, we didn’t have three days, so we shall have to wait for a future opportunity to find out.
Very many thanks to John and Ruth for setting up this unique outing, which was greatly enjoyed by the 15 TDs who made the 50-odd mile journey to experience it. Many thanks, too, to the National Trust’s local Head Gardener, Andrew McCoryn, for allowing us a sneak preview of this beautiful site, a week before the multitudes arrive to experience Coleton Fishacre in a more 21st century style - and also to Alan Neal, for sharing with us his own dowsing insights in his inimitable manner.