Revisiting my shady past in Beer, East Devon

Where I start my road trip along the Jurassic Coast with a visit to the village where my Grandmother lived. 

Beer at twilight

In the absence of foreign travel (it’s all too complicated at the moment and I’m biding my time a little), I started stalking the weather forecasts to see if I could fit in a short road trip in the UK.  The place I decided to drive to was the Jurassic coast, England’s only natural World Heritage Site.   

The Jurassic coast stretches for around 95 miles (153 kilometres) from Exmouth in Devon up to Swanage in Dorset.  

My first stopping point was the village of Beer, which is in East Devon and almost at the far (Western) end of the Jurassic coast.  

Beer in the rain

I picked Beer as my first stopping point for two reasons: firstly, because I found a hotel with a single room (translation, they had a room so minuscule that they couldn’t even fit a double bed in it).

However I also picked it because I have memories of coming here as a child and I wanted to see if it had changed significantly. 

Really it hasn’t .  Maybe the relative difficulty of getting here (there are buses but they’re few and far between) and the finite amount of accommodation keeps it  more detached from mass tourism.  

Beer is a fishing village

There’s a street with a handful of shops, pubs and restaurants, along with a cute little pebble beach complete with fishing boats and nets and really that’s about it.  There are numerous nearby walks to do.  

Branscombe beach

The gift shops that I remember as a child are now mostly ‘galleries’, selling expensive glass and pottery.  Good if you’re in the market for something like that but a little different from how I remember those shops.  

My Grandma lived in the village pretty much all her married life (I managed to find the house eventually, after extensive searching on Google Earth beforehand),  We only really visited her once a year.

I remember a dark house with lots of old-fashioned photographs on the wall, where the ‘parlour’ was kept for best and everyone sat in the kitchen.  

Actually what I remember most vividly is a small grassy bank in the garden that I would walk up and roll down again for hours on end (I’m an only child; we are good at inventing one-person games). My mother would come to the window of the house when it was time to leave and shake her head in disbelief, as if to say ‘what have I given birth to here?’, whilst I continued climbing up and rolling down again and again and again.  

Fishing boats on Beer beach

My mother never learnt to drive (father didn’t approve of ladies driving motor vehicles) and so she was reliant on him to take her, which he deemed to do once a year, amidst a flurry of complaints from him about the length of the journey and how he was ‘never doing it again’.   

The atmosphere at home would become very tense on the day we went to Beer; my mother knew that the slightest little thing could set him off and he’d be flailing his arms in the air saying ‘that’s it we’re not going then.  If you people can’t get yourselves ready in time then we won’t go’.


One of the nice walks I enjoyed, between Beer and Branscombe

The first thing that hit me arriving back in Beer after so long, was what a pretty little village it is, with the water running through the town.  I suppose I wasn’t so interested in those things as a child; really I just liked ice cream and swimming.

I remember Beer as being good for ice cream but not so much for swimming, with the pebbly beach that hurt your feet to walk on it (my mother told of rubbing surgical spirit on her feet as a child, so that she could walk on the pebbles without it hurting).

It didn’t matter though; we never stayed long enough to go swimming. My mother was under strict instructions not to stay long.  He told her that her constant  gossiping about deaths in the village upset me; I don’t remember being upset by it although I do remember being bored.  There were no cousins my age to play with and so it was quite boring.  Particularly if the weather was bad and there was no rolling down the bank  action going on.  

I suspect the truth was more that he didn’t like them talking (‘gassing’ he called it) about people he didn’t know and a life he hadn’t been part of.  My father needed to be the centre of attention in any room, and whilst they were talking about the past he became invisible.  

Beer beach

My Grandma died when I was fourteen, so that was that.  In fact, we didn’t go for the last couple of years of her life, as I remember.  My parents thought that seeing her ill would upset me.  Because having someone disappear out of your life without getting to say goodbye is obviously a lot less painful.  To this day, I have no idea what she died of.

But that was my parent’s generation, I guess.  Everything gets swept under the carpet and never mentioned again.  If you ignore it and never talk about it then it can’t possibly hurt you.  

2 replies »

  1. Hello Sarah.

    What a beautiful story and such a gorgeous looking village too. I did smile when I read the word ‘gassing’ it took me back to my childhood! Also, the rolling down a hill. My Great Grandma lived in a very small village near Romsey in Hampshire and I remember playing in the garden and then falling through the hedge, down a verge and falling into a bed of stinging nettles. Needless to say, my Mother was not impressed with me either. Even though I was covered head to foot in nettle stings. It is really funny what we remember, and I guess what we don’t remember, of our childhood isn’t it. It is really good though that you still have those memories and have been able to relive them on this road trip. I hope all is well for you Sarah xx

    • I still really hate the word gassing actually; I think because my father used it to diminish women’s talk. Men didn’t ‘gas’ they had far more important matters to discuss.
      I always remember wanting to live in the country when I was a kid; it offered endless possibilities of fields to run through. I’m sure I’d have felt differently by the time I got teenage though.
      I try not to think too much about the past. it’s been hard during lockdown with nothing to do except go over and over things. I’m sure you’ve felt that too.
      Hope all is well with you

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