Explore Braunton - The Most Biodiverse Parish in England

Life at Sea

Working hours on board were long and hard and not to be underestimated.  Regular hours were unheard of, as everything depended on the tides.

Eilian crewLiving space was cramped, especially after the addition of engines, which lessened the quarters still further.

When torrential rain lashed the deck, high seas thrust the bow high into the stormy air and then buried it in the surf, when sleep was scarce and sailors were a long way from home, it took a tough soul to survive. However most sailors lived for the days during summer when, with a favourable breeze, the sails billowed and the ship, with its timbers creaking, sailed over the waves and demonstrated the romantic beauty and power for which they were so well loved.

The Mariner's Arms

Upon returning to the village, sailors congregated in the Mariner’s Arms of an evening, where the air was heavy with valuable gossip (such as knowledge of the state of certain channels and banks) and, without diluting the immense pride these men felt, rivalries were forgotten.


Although lads went to sea at such tender ages as 12, 13 and 14, they were stood in good stead by their Braunton experience, as it was considered an excellent reference. By the age of 15, they could obtain jobs in any class of ship: some went on to become naval officers and others to hold the highly skilled and responsible post of pilot in other ports.


Cooking was something that even the youngest seafarers had to get to grips with and which, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not always have the most appetising results. Cooking was often done on deck, or the forecastle (foc’sle), using a coal-fired stove more often than not of a local make known as a Bodley.

Sam Mitchell says that a pang of jealousy ran through you when you saw a puff of smoke rise from a ‘down-homer’, which meant that the stove on that ship had been extinguished because they were about to reach home, where a pint and a good meal awaited them. The food on board was pretty awful by today’s standards but when the sailors were hungry, they’d eat whatever was proffered, whether mouldy, dry or full of weevils or not!  Further gastronomic pleasures included toe rag (salt cod), barque (rolled oats), brisket of beef with teddies (potatoes), cabbage, swede and coffee.

explore braunton, the most biodiverse parish in england - a north devon aonb project