Cream Of The Country: Blackawton

Community spirit is strong in one of the last working villages in south Devon, says Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

The South Hams is Devon's premier tourist area, with one in nine properties now a second home and hot spots like Salcombe having flats with sea views selling at over £500,000 each. But don't expect that sort of thing in the tiny village of Blackawton.

The sea views are out because it is four miles inland from Dartmouth, but there are not many second homes as this remains one of the few working villages in the area. Farming is still a major industry and as Blackawton is only accessible via narrow lanes, most traffic consists of locals or tractors - and often, locals driving tractors.

"There are perhaps six properties a year on sale in the village. It attracts people from elsewhere in Devon because it's relatively uncrowded but still close to pretty coastal areas, to bigger towns like Totnes, and it's only 45 minutes' drive from Plymouth. It's also cheaper than most well-known south Devon villages," says a local estate agent.

Within a 10-minute drive of Blackawton is Slapton Sands, one of the UK's largest bird-watching havens and a long stretch of unspoilt beach. One of Devon's largest golf courses is close by too, as is a large family water-park that heaves during summer holidays, and a caravan park. The gorgeous, tiny port of Dittisham, where over half the properties are second homes - some owned by the Dimbleby brothers - is a short drive away.

In 1998 local government officer Helen Hick bought a small two-bedroom cottage in Blackawton when she was relocated from St Albans. "It's lovely - very quiet, has a pub that doesn't attract too many visitors and the primary school has a great reputation. It's featured high in league tables for several years. Blackawton's a village, so locals can be wary when you first move in, but that soon subsides," she says.

Compared to surrounding villages Blackawton is modest and its residents not well-off. Houses are neat and tidy, not ostentatious, and the only four-wheel drives are ageing farm Land Rovers rather than the Porsche Cayennes of the Notting Hill set.

There is a history, too. Blackawton was used as the base for the rehearsal of the D-Day landing during the Second World War and the more elderly locals talk of being evacuated as the US military commandeered the village and swore the population to secrecy.

A pub on the outskirts is called the Forces Tavern and until recently had 1940s sandbags at its front door. Another pub, The Normandy Arms in Blackawton itself, contained memorabilia left behind by 1940s sailors until it was converted to housing in 2003. Even now the village remains a visiting spot for retired servicemen.

A more whimsical source of modern fame occurs every May Day, when the village hosts what it claims is the world's largest international worm-charm. This strange ritual involves local teams squatting in a field and applying potions, brute force or even music to roped-off squares of earth to try to coax worms to emerge.

Why is it international? Well, only locals take part but there is inevitably a US or Japanese TV crew following the action to inform viewers about the eccentric English.

The local primary school has made the news, too, introducing a so-called sustainable food initiative when parents recently volunteered to replace Turkey Twizzlers with the likes of fresh fish for lunch.

But Blackawton has downsides as well as charms.

Like many small villages, it has one surviving pub and the only general store doubles as a newsagent and post office. Teenagers are bussed to secondary schools far away, but otherwise public transport is predictably scarce and very expensive. The nearest latte is 15 minutes away - so is the nearest hospital, which has no A&E department.

The lowdown

Cost of living: The only flats are a few recent conversions, but there is a rare ex-council house with views for £150,000. New bungalows start from £250,000 but most homes are converted farm buildings, bakeries or forges. They range from £200,000 to over £500,000 for upmarket barns.

Attractions: Here is Archers-style village life with a busy school, an amateur dramatics group, and committees looking after the church, parents' concerns and the annual entry into the Britain in Bloom competition. A few months after the Worm Charming event the summer season starts with barbecuesat The George public house, a church fête and a street charity cricket match.

What to watch out for: Don't expect a quick house sale - some properties linger on the market for a year or more.

How to get there: Three-and-a-half hours from central London to the Totnes turn-off of the A38, then 20 minutes on increasingly narrow lanes. The nearest train station is Totnes, up to four hours from Paddington.

USP: No through traffic, fewer tourists than almost anywhere in the area, and still a working village. Residents enjoy abundant, free parking.

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