Northam Burrows is famous for its pebble ridge. Described by poets and writers over the years it still represents an amazing natural geological phenomenon – as well as playing a vital part in the coastal defences of North Devon.
Without it there would be no Northam or Saunton Burrows, no Chivenor and no Fremington Marshes.
Over the years, however, the ridge has periodically declined in height and breadth and to maintain its integrity local people have got together to throw back those pebbles thrown onto the Burrows by wave action.
No-one seems to know when the custom began but the name ‘pot-wallopers’ given to the locals who do this is of some antiquity.
Pot-walloping used to be an annual event. Typical was the occasion on Whit Monday 1888 when five men, S Fulford, P Reed, J Penhorwood, L Chapple and J Mills, sent out printed invitations to large numbers of locals who responded by gathering at 8.30am on a Monday morning to throw back the pebbles.
Their numbers were swelled by many others who had seen posters advertising the event which promised ‘proper refreshment’ to all who took part.
Actual numbers involved aren’t given but ‘scores’ of men began work at the Westward Ho! end of the ridge.
They apparently collected the scattered pebbles and loaded them into carts which then took them back for unloading directly onto the ridge.
Progress was slow, but sure and the men laboured for five-and-a-half hours by which time ‘the whole of the ridge from Westward Ho! to the Golf house had been well and truly done’.
Whilst the work was going on the men were liberally supplied with roast beef, bread and cheese and liquid refreshment.
This made the work go smoothly and following the clean up hundreds of people visited the Burrows, and ‘a variety of amusements were indulged in’.
So ended that pot-walloping day to everyone’s satisfaction. The custom has now been discontinued due to the spiralling cost of insurance for those taking part, which is a shame and a rather sad, bureaucratic way for an old custom to die.