Thursday, September 21, 2023

'The Orange Way' - in the footsteps of William - a 350 mile walking trail from Brixham to London

Much as I love Northern Ireland, sometimes to understand 'us' better it's good to escape 'us'. I'm in Devon a few times in the year and on my most recent visit a few weeks back I have found that there is an 'Orange Way' - a trail which follows the route taken by William Prince of Orange in 1688, from his landing place at Brixham Harbour on 5th November 1688 all the way to his arrival at St James's Palace in London on 18th December 1688. There are statues of William in both places, and various monuments and memorials along the way.

I was aware of scattered places in the south of England which have links to William's era, but I didn't know there was a coherent, mapped, walking trail which follows the route that he actually took. It's 350 miles / 560 kilometres long, and a few walkers, writers and bloggers have published their own journey experiences and advices. Leslie Ham published his account, The Orange Way: A Long Distance Walk in 2003. He broke the route down into 15 sections.

Brixham Harbour on the 'English Riviera' at Torbay is beautiful. It's one of the UK's most important harbours and plenty of my Portavogie neighbours know it well, having landed catches there over the years. A famous statue of William was installed at the head of the harbour, by public subscription. The foundation stone was laid on the bicentenary of his landing in 1888. The inscription says that the statue was unveiled one year later by His Excellency Count De Bylandt and C.A. Bentinck, a descendant of one of those who arrived with William. Local dignitaries from England, Holland, the US Navy, the Royal Navy and also the Grand Orange Lodge of England took part in the ceremony. Here are a few pics of it - it was made by W & T Wills of London. 

To be honest the face is terrible, but the nearby fish and chip shops are outstanding. Various cafés and ice cream shops are named for William.

• There is also an obelisk in memory of William at the side of the harbour, which, according to, was built exactly 200 years ago in 1823. There used to be a gas lamp on the top, and a flat stone known as "King William's Stone" at its base, which said "On this stone and near this spot, William Prince of Orange, first set his foot on his landing in England, the 5th November 1688". In Thomas Babington Macaulay's monumental History of England (1848) he wrote this description:

... (William) landed where the quay of Brixham now stands. The whole aspect of the place has been altered. Where we now see a port crowded with shipping, and a market place swarming with buyers and sellers, the waves then broke on a desolate beach: but a fragment of the rock on which the deliverer stepped from his boat has been carefully preserved, and is set up as an object of public veneration in the centre of that busy wharf...

A later account (Christian World, 7 October 1870, page 7) says that the obelisk was 'in a dingy, disreputable state' but that Macaulay rescued the monument - it had originally been near Brixham fish market, and then was moved to the ballast bank, where it was "allowed to lie there as a thing of no use. From this ignominious resting place it was rescued through Lord Macaulay. Happening to visit the neighbourhood with some ladies, he inquired for the obelisk and found it at the ballast bank. Whereupon he sharply reprimanded the Brixhamites, and the result was the present monument".

The obelisk has been moved around Brixham a few times, it was moved to its current position for the tercentenary in 1988. The harbour-facing side of the obelisk now contains the original inscribed stone; the street-facing side has an inscription from 1988 when Queen Elizabeth II unveiled it in its current position.


• Parliament House, Stoke Gabriel is a short distance from Brixham and its where William reputedly met with local allies including Sir Edward Seymour, to discuss their plans for Revolution. It's a beautiful building, I had visited it before back in 2010 (see previous post here) but this time I had a chat with the owner who recently purchased and renovated it, and it's now available as an AirBnB. An inscribed stone memorial in the garden commemorates the tradition of William's Parliament.

• At Newton Abbot, there is a memorial stone marking at St Leonard's Tower at the base of the pedestal where Rev John Reynell read aloud William's Declaration for the first time (the pics below are not my own). 

And so on. You get the general idea.

Is the 'Way' authentic? Yes. The route was journalled at the time by some of those who accompanied William, such as the Rev. John Whittle, one of the chaplains in William's army. His detailed An Exact Diary of the Late Expedition of His Illustrious Highness the Prince of Orange, (Now King of Great Britain) From His Palace at the Hague, To His Landing at Torbay; And from thence To His Arrival at White-Hall. Giving a Particular Account of all that happened, and every Days March. By a Minister, Chaplain in the Army. was published the next year, on 23 April 1689.

More recently, in 2022, author Philip Badcott published The March of William of Orange through Devon which is another excellent, detailed, account.

The trail snakes its way eastwards across England, through villages and market towns, and past buildings which have various associations with William's journey.

• At the end of The Orange Way, the splendour of London is a very different experience to the Devon countryside and coastline. The 1907 statue of William, at Kensington Palace, and his own final destination at nearby St James's Palace, conclude 'The Orange Way'. There's a kind of 'circle of life' moment at St James' Palace - this is where cousins William and Mary were married in 1677, neither of them realising that just 11 years later they'd be back in the very same building preparing to be crowned King and Queen, having deposed her father, King James II.

• Completed after their reign – and so William and Mary never set foot in it – the Old Naval College at Greenwich isn't on the official 'Orange Way', it's about 10 miles further east of the two London palaces. But it should be added for completeness, as a kind of appendix, because it's where the magnificent painted ceiling, described as Britain's Cistine Chapel, can be seen. Created from 1708-24 by artist Sir James Thornhill, its formal title is The Triumph of Peace and Liberty Over Tyranny. Pics below are from my visit there in summer 2019.

England's 'The Orange Way' a very different kind of 'Orange Walk' than the ones we are familiar with in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Our NI prism has diminished understandings of the full history and significance of what took place in 1688. Far from our narrow contexts, William and Mary's Bill of Rights of February 1689 is depicted in stone in the Reformation Wall in Geneva, Switzerland, which was built in 1909. I am hoping to visit it early next year. 

These historical events are far bigger than the myopic Northern Ireland context. Perhaps, one day, they can be re-told and re-defined.

The beautiful, gentle, Ulster-esque landscapes of Devon are a marvellous context to start to rediscover 'King Billy'. The Orange Way is the sort of trail that a travelling historian like Michael Portillo, Tony Robinson or Julia Bradbury could do a superb TV job with.

• The Orange Way Wikipedia entry is here
• Blog by Edna MacLoy here
• Hiking blog here


Whittle's diary is online on GoogleBooks here. It recalls William's arrival in London as this –

"...Most of the Nobility congratulated his Highness's safe arrival at St James's and on the 20th (December) the Aldermen and Common Council of the City of London attended his Highness upon the same account and the Lord Mayor being disabled by Sickness Sir George Treby Kt Recorder of the Honourable City of London made an Oration to his Highness to this effect: 

Great Sir, 

When we look back to the last Month and contemplate the swiftness and fulness of our present Deliverance astonished, we think it miraculous Your Highness, led by the Hand of Heaven, and called by the Voice of the People, has preserved our dearest Interest, the Protestant Religion, which is Primitive Christianity restored. 

Our Laws which are our ancient Title to our Lives, Liberties and Estates and without which this World were a Wilderness. But what Retribution can we make to your Highness? Our Thoughts are full charged with Gratitude. Your Highness has a lasting Monument in the Hearts in the Prayers in the Praises of all good Men amongst us. And late Posterity will celebrate your ever glorious Name, till Time shall be no more. 

December the 25th the Lords Spiritual and Temporal assembled at the House of Lords Westminster and there agreed upon and signed an Address wherein they humbly desired his Highness in this Conjuncture to take upon him the Administration of Publick Affairs both Civil and Military and the Disposal of the Publick Revenue for the preservation of our Religion, Rights, Laws, Liberties and Properties and of the Peace of the Nation, and that his Highness would take into his Care the Condition of Ireland and endeavour by the most speedy and effectual Means to prevent the Dangers threatening that Kingdom..."

It's quite the Christmas present – "Dear William, please run the country, and sort out Ireland". 

• Brixham in Devonia, by Charles Gregory (1896) has lots of information. Online at the British Library here.

Below: OS map 1865, with King William III Monument marked.

Below: OS map 1869, with King William III Monument marked.

Below: OS map 1874, with 'stone' beside the fish market marked. This is pretty much where the obelisk is today.