Busy bank holiday weekend for ambulance crews in North Devon

North Devon Gazette

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This was an exclusive story. After thinking of the idea and contacting SWASFT, I wrote it for local title the North Devon Gazette and produced a radio report for my hourly news bulletins on The Voice commercial radio.

Emergency ambulances were sent out around North Devon almost 360 times across the bank holiday weekend, the Gazette can reveal.

South Western Ambulance Service Foundation Trust (SWASFT) figures show 358 emergency responses from Saturday, August 25 to Bank Holiday Monday – a slight fall from 370 in 2017.

Across Devon the service responded to 1,797 calls, including 1,309 in the rural areas of North, East and West Devon combined.

A SWASFT spokesman said: “We experienced a busy long weekend, despite receiving fewer calls than we anticipated.”

There were 7,733 calls throughout the South West region – stretching from Wiltshire to Cornwall.

It is a six per cent decrease on the total number of calls in the August bank holiday last year, when the figure was 8,227 and Devon-wide saw 110 more incidents needing a response.

But the average of almost 2,600 emergency calls each day this year requiring an ambulance meant it was still a hectic weekend for paramedics.

It follows SWASFT’s campaign leading up to the August bank holiday to reduce unnecessary 999 calls, encouraging the public to call NHS 111 with non-life threatening issues.

“The reduced number of calls may have been in part down to our campaign,” the trust spokesman added.


Exclusive: North Devon cyclists fear decline of cycling despite Tour of Britain

North Devon Gazette

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This was an exclusive story. I was seeing plenty of positive coverage about the Tour of Britain coming to my home town (tourism boost, getting people into cycling, a spectacle etc), but I knew there was. another, less rosy, story deep down. So I went out, spoke to local cyclists and found it. Here it is published online and on my radio bulletins.

As the final potholes are filled for the Tour of Britain’s arrival on Monday, some North Devon cyclists have warned the ‘dangerous’ cracks in North Devon’s roads are causing the decline of grassroots cycling.

Teams of maintenance workers have been seen sprinkled along the tour’s Devon Stage route over recent weeks, racing against time to fill potholes before the cyclists arrive.

Devon County Council says the event will generate £5million for the county’s economy, but the Gazette has learned of a less rosy picture among the cyclists who see North Devon’s roads at their best – and worst.

Cyclist Andy Brock, who works at a North Devon bike shop, said: “The roads are getting worse and worse – it’s just dangerous and to avoid the potholes you often have to swerve onto the centre line, it’s so dangerous.”

The Raptor Racing member added: “We’re finding that most roads are deteriorating badly and they’re just not getting the funding they need. You get certain places like Stibb Cross near Bideford where the actual road condition is appalling, especially going downhill.”

Marten Gallagher, a cyclist from Torrington, said: “It’s certainly a shame that we suddenly buck up our ideas to make sure the roads are nice and smooth when we’ve got a cycle race. Let’s see it happen all the year round.

“It’s definitely putting people off of cycling in the grassroots, a lot of people, my two daughters for one, say that they won’t cycle on the road anymore.”

Devon last hosted the Tour in 2016, when 250,000 people were thought to line the route, and one in five came from outside the region.

Stuart Hughes, DCC cabinet member for highways management, said the route was selected for low maintenance, or where it is already planned, so the cost has been kept low.

He said: “To put the costs into context the last Devon Stage to travel through North Devon in 2012 generated approximately £7.3m of extra spending in the county according to an independent report.

“This was a significant boost to Devon’s economy. This compares favourably to the £200,000 it costs the County Council to hold a typical Devon Stage.”

But Mr Gallagher disputed the economic case, saying: “If there’s an economic benefit to Devon from having the Tour of Britain come through it and because of that we can justify repairing the roads, then what about the economic benefit to the NHS and for the environment generally.

“In pure monetary terms for the NHS, in terms of people keeping fit and reducing our demands on that service, what about paying us back for that, in the same way.”

Featuring the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, the 174.9km Devon stage will finish on The Strand in Barnstaple before travelling around the country ahead of the grand finale in London on Sunday, September 9.

Mr Brock, who works at a North Devon bike shop, added: “It’s not like you want to smash every Strava segment, but actually you can’t ride at a safe certain pace because of the potholes, and as soon as it starts getting wet it’s treacherous – you don’t know how deep that pothole puddle is so you’re starting to move across the road in reduced visibility”

“The A377 is really bad, you’ve pretty much got to ride in the middle of the road. It’s a massive knock on effect with repairs if you hit a pothole.”

Several cyclists that the Gazette spoke to said the roads in France and Italy are worlds apart from North Devon.

Mr Gallagher also said the Tarka Trail was ‘bloody dangerous and not being repaired’, so he feels no choice but to use the roads from Barnstaple to Torrington to avoid the track.

“The main issue for me is that the potholes at the edge of the road, where cyclists have to cycle, don’t seem to get treated with the priority they deserve, simply because they don’t fit in with the depth requirements that are aimed at cars,” he added.

Five years reporting on a local Archant news desk…

North Devon Gazette

Below are just some of Ewan’s numerous bylines for his local Archant title, the award-winning North Devon Gazette. For more since 2014, search the ‘North Devon Gazette’ tag on this site or search the paper’s archive. 


Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 03.00.11

Shown are only a selection from 2018 – Ewan has been reporting for the Gazette since 2014

Selected stories

Busy bank holiday weekend for ambulance crews in North Devon

Brexit hate crime steers clear of North Devon

Pictures: ‘You’re not welcome here’ say Barnstaple Trump protesters

First Barnstaple Pride march is a ‘landmark moment’

Wounded veterans dive beneath Lundy Island coast to explore shipwreck

Pictures: Thousands flock to Pilton Green Man Festival 2018

Virtual monsters pop up all over North Devon as Pokémon craze sweeps Britain

Pictures and video: Rapturous applause at festival to honour Pilton’s late greats

Bideford woman hopes to share 40th birthday party with Gary Barlow

Heritage steamship begins voyage to Bideford

North Devon athletes compete on national stage at Gateshead

Quaking good time at Chulmleigh old fair

Bideford awards citizen of the year for ‘tireless’ work in community

Pictures: ‘You’re not welcome here’ say Barnstaple Trump protesters

North Devon Gazette

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Around 100 people gathered in Barnstaple Square tonight to protest against the Donald Trump’s visit to Britain, “standing shoulder to shoulder to say go away Trump, you’re not welcome here.”

Summer feast for foodies on the North Devon coast

North Devon Gazette

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North Devon’s wildest foodies are set to stage a summer feast on the rugged rocks of Morte Point this weekend.

Looking across cliff tops, beaches and valleys, foodies will tuck into a seafood stew over an open fire following a valley walk on Sunday (July 15) and revel in dessert from the heights of Bennett’s Mouth.

The ‘one-of-a-kind’ evening is a joint venture between The National Trust and successful local caterers Seadog Foods, which began in 2016, aiming to celebrate the coast and its community.

Seadog Foods has gone from strength to strength since it was established in North Devon five years ago with a street food approach, winning ‘Best of the Best’ at the 2015 British Street Food Awards and making the bill at Glastonbury and Bestival.

Sunday’s event will also feature sea shanty band Anchors Aweleigh, and foodies’ creative streaks will be unleashed in live painting and wood demos.

Peter Cousin from the National Trust said: “Seadog was the perfect partner to bring these foodie events to life as like us, they are committed to creating a sustainable future for food production.

“In North Devon, the National Trust is carefully managing their land to remain agriculturally productive and better for nature.

“We have been looking after beautiful areas across North Devon including Bennett’s Mouth and the Kipscombe, so it will be looked after forever, for everyone.

“These events will be a great occasion to celebrate these surrounds as well as the fantastic produce from the local area.”

The pair team up for another event on August 10 and 11 at Kipscombe Farm on Exmoor, with a long table barn feast, spiced with local ingredients and continuing into the evening with camping and campervan pitches.

Jim Coslett, co-manager of Seadog Foods, said: “Beth and I are really looking forward to creating a unique, intimate dining experience at these amazing secluded locations.

“We’re really happy to be working with the National Trust to showcase some of their best land and we’re confident it’ll be the ultimate foodie experience for everyone involved.”

Limited tickets are still available for Sunday’s event, beginning at 2pm in Mortehoe, for £40 by emailing seadogfoods@outlook.com.


Trump protest set to hit Barnstaple

North Devon Gazette

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Barnstaple will join nationwide shows of defiance to Donald Trump this evening (Friday) in its very own protest against the US President’s visit.

Organised by Stand Up to Racism North Devon, the rally will be held from 5-7pm in The Square.

Nearly 250 people have said they are going or interested in the Facebook event, protesting against the President having been invited by the Government on a three-day working visit to the country.

It forms part of dozens of rallies across the country, including protests planned tonight in Exeter, Plymouth and Totnes and thousands took to the capital’s streets today.

The President arrived in the country yesterday and following a black-tie dinner at Blenheim Palace last night, he today met Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers and the Queen at Windsor Castle.

The working visit falls short of the state visit that was initially proposed, but it has not stopped protesters expressing their anger – with a 20ft tall ‘Trump Baby’ flying above Parliament Square today.

Dave Clinch, a member of the Stand Up to Trump group, said: “Some say the office of the president should be respected, but that does not mean you have to respect the person who is President.

“It’s appalling that he should have been invited. Today’s protests have been big so far, and anti-racists in Barnstaple will add their voice too.”

Michele Jayne, who is attending tonight, said: “North Devon is an open and tolerant community, and I march to support all the people who are marginalised by Trump.”


Rapturous applause at festival to honour Pilton’s late greats

North Devon Gazette

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Pilton let its hair down on Saturday at an emotional Green Man event that paid homage to some of the festival’s late greats.

Thousands braved the showers to support the annual festivities, held for the first time since the deaths of Albert Linacre, Dave Butt and Laurie Wedge, who have all played key parts in organising the festival over the years.

The traditional parade to Pilton from the Square paused outside Albert’s house to allow for rapturous applause and cheer in honour of the gone-but-not-forgotten trio.

Pilton Festival organiser Martin Haddrill said it was a day to remember.

Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville
Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville

He said: “This festival has been a real tribute to Albert, Laurie and Dave in its different ways; they saw it evolve into something which is a really special community festival.

“Unexpectedly, it’s been an amazing day because very often the rain dampens things,” he added.

“We thought this year’s numbers might be a bit less than last year, but actually they have been right up where they were so we’re really pleased.”

Alison Rickman, from Northam, who makes costumes for the event, said: “I came first in 1998 and love to make costumes so asked to join in, and have been coming now for 12 years.

Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville
Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville

“It takes me about an hour to put on my costume and has taken me a few years to make it.”

Duncan Walsh, a visitor from London, said: “Coming here – there’s no security, people just enjoying themselves, drinking in the streets; the atmosphere is amazing.”

“For a street festival it’s very busy, much busier than some of the festivals you get in London.”

The endless factory-line of musical talent in North Devon was showcased once again across three stages, with Tyler Prouse booming his voice from the bottom stage, and the Dambuskers keeping everyone on their feet on the top stage.

Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville
Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Molly Davies, who performed with her dad John on the bottom stage, said: “We had lots of fun even though it was raining and everyone was really welcoming.

“It’s such an individual festival and tight-knit community; it felt like everyone was connected when we applauded outside Albert’s house.”

Jennie Tomlinson, who ran the middle stage, said: “It’s gone very well – despite the rain everyone’s turned up, played exceptionally well, we’ve had a great crowd and as usual we’ve had a wonderful time.”

Stalls peppering Pilton Street and the Pilton House grounds included local charities, the Rotary Club, freshly baked cakes and cookies, ethnic clothing outlets, barbecue grills, and the brand new local authors’ book stand.

Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville
Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Michelle Woollacott, who initiated the idea, said: “We thought it would be more personal if our readers could come and talk to us; we’ve had a lot of interest and it’s been an interactive day.”

Ruth Downie, who has had numerous novels published in Britain and the USA, said: “This is the first time I’ve ever done a stall at Green Man and I’m so impressed.

“I would urge anyone who is thinking about starting writing to just have a go as you never know what could happen.”

Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville
Pilton Green Man Festival. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Virtual monsters pop up all over North Devon as Pokémon craze sweeps Britain

North Devon Gazette

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Virtual monsters are being discovered hiding around Barnstaple as viral sensation Pokémon Go takes Britain by storm.

Fans of the cult 1990s media franchise have been downloading the brand new smartphone game in their droves, with the number of daily users already eclipsing Twitter since the app’s launch in America last week – and in Britain yesterday (Thursday).

New ‘augmented reality’ technology merges the digital and physical worlds, enabling players to catch Pokémon using their smartphone camera.

Many users in Barnstaple have been glued to their mobile screens, with ‘Pokéstops’ – special places to gather supplies – in abundance all over the town, including at the Post Office and pannier market.

Gotta catch 'em all! Pokémon spotted on Barnstaple High Street. Picture: Ewan Somerville
Gotta catch ’em all! Pokémon spotted on Barnstaple High Street. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Other places to gather vital Pokémon-catching supplies include the bus station, Christ Church and the Queen’s Theatre.

The central aim of the game remains in its original format – to catch and train Pokémon for battle to progress levels.

So-called ‘gyms’ – where gamers can battle others with their Pokémon – can be found at a number of locations, including the parish church and Castle Green.

In Ilfracombe, Damien Hirst’s Verity statue and the Landmark Theatre are among the many ‘gyms’ listed in the town.

Gotta catch 'em all! Pokémon spotted on Barnstaple's Tesco Extra. Picture: Matt Smart
Gotta catch ’em all! Pokémon spotted on Barnstaple’s Tesco Extra. Picture: Matt Smart

Jake Slee, 26, a Pokémon Go fanatic from Barnstaple, said: “I can catch an Abra down my road – how good’s that?”

Connor Balment, a 16-year-old Pokémon fan from Combe Martin, said: “It is great fun to play to be able to walk around and visit places you never been to before.

“Seeing Pokémon in the real world is something different.”

However, the game hasn’t gone without incident.

In America, there have been numerous reports of players injuring themselves while playing the game, including two players who were rescued after walking off a 90ft cliff in California.

Children’s charity NSPCC has also warned of the child safety concerns arising through the app’s geolocation features.

Nonetheless, the reception from fans in the North Devon area has been largely positive.

Have you downloaded the app? How many Pokémon have you caught? Email newsdesk@northdevongazette.co.uk

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Sky is the limit for North Devon theatre stars

North Devon Gazette

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Two members of a North Devon theatre group are heading to top performing arts schools to develop their talents.

Tolley Angell, founder and chair of All Starz theatre society, will be heading to the Guildford School of Acting whilst 14 year-old youth committee member Dan Gray is set to embark on his GCSEs at Tring Park School of Performing Arts.

All Starz, established in 2007, started out with six cast members performing in local schools, but has since gone on to perform to sell-out audiences at the Queens Theatre with casts of more than 60.

Following the success of The Phantom of the Opera last year, the All Starz will be dazzling audiences once again this month with their production of Barnum, running from Thursday to Saturday, July 28-30 at the Queen’s Theatre.

The show, which tells the true story of a circus novice who built a circus company that is still in existence today, will be dedicated to Dan’s father Jon and local teenager Ellie Easton, who both lost their battles against cancer last year.

Tolley, who will be directing the show before leaving for Guildford, said: “They have both shown me how precious life is and the importance of living it to the full, making me want to follow my dreams.”

Dan, who will be taking the starring role of PT Barnum, said: “I wanted to be in Barnum because I’m full of circus, song and dance just like the production.

“Being accepted at Tring is a great achievement for me and a massive step for the future I want on stage and screen.”

Tickets are available from the box office on 01271 324242.

Bideford woman hopes to share 40th birthday party with Gary Barlow

North Devon Gazette

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A Bideford woman is making a last ditch plea for Gary Barlow to make a surprise visit to her 40th birthday party.

Rachel Pusey, from Londonderry, has been campaigning for five months for the Take That star to appear at her party – a secret location in Barnstaple – on July 22.

Ever since the singer announced on Twitter in March that he would be attending a number of milestone birthdays this year, mum-of-three Rachel has been raising her hopes.

“I would really love him to come, now that it is getting closer and everyone’s so excited,” she said.

“I want him to come as much for the guests as for me because they’ve helped so much in the campaign.”


Rachel Pusey, from Bideford, with a lifesize cut-out of her idol, Take That star Gary Barlow. Picture: Ewan Somerville

Rachel, who works at Colour Distributors in East-the-Water, said she’d been a big fan of Take That from the beginning and had seen them several times in concert, but had never met Gary.

“My favourite songs have to be Do What You LikeA Million Love Songs and Greatest Day as that’s the one he sings at the milestone parties,” she said.

“I think Gary is a lovely person, especially to his fans – he surprises us all the time and when he announced he was doing milestone birthdays, I went ‘I’m going for it’.”

Rachel has been battling against thousands of other fans, making thousands of posters, sending the star around 100 tweets a day, and heading out and about with a lifesize cardboard cut-out of her idol.

Her online petition – Help me get Mr Gary Barlow to sing at my 40th – has so far attracted 224 signatures.

“I’m in it to win it,” she said.

“I send him lots of messages – hundreds so far – and I’ve done 16,000 tweets; I try and do roughly 100 or more a day,” she added.

“At first my family thought I was crazy, but as the campaign progressed they were like ‘ah actually she’s really serious about it’.

“I’m trying to convince myself that he isn’t coming, and remember that I’m celebrating my 40th with my family and friends. But if he does come, it will be a bonus, the icing on the cake.”

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