Last Friday was the 3rd annual William of Orange walk held by the History with English foundation degree team at South Devon College. Just to clarify, this wasn’t a pro-Protestant march to highlight religious tension, but rather a historical walk to commemorate the impact that William of Orange’s arrival (or is that invasion?) had on the local community of Torbay in 1688. The group walk from Brixham harbour across Torbay to end at Berry Pomeroy Castle (for a cream tea), covering some 11-12 miles on a hot sunny day.

How about some context? The year is 1688 and James II sits on the throne of England and Scotland. However, problems are stirring: James is a Catholic and there are many in the country who do not wish to return to the religious upheaval of the Reformation period (yes, we’re looking at you Mary I). Leading bishops petitioned against James’ Declaration of Indulgence, which provided greater rights for Catholics in the country; however, James reacted by imprisoned several of them in the Tower of London (one of their number was the Cornishman Jonathan Trelawny). Many of the nobility feared James asserting his royal authority and acted swiftly; their anecdote was to call out to William of Orange to come to England to become the new king.

William himself had royal blood in his veins and was also married to James’ daughter (Mary), and most importantly of all: he was a Protestant. William didn’t need much convincing – the power of England would help the Dutch in their fighting against the much larger French – and so he readied his troops and headed for England. Brixham was the landing spot, and the day itself – 5th November – served as a good omen. Yet another Catholic plot was to be rumbled and the Protestants, it was hoped by many, would prosper yet again. William’s army numbered up to 40,000 and he marched from the west-country to London to seize the throne. Rather than meet his rival in the field of combat James II fled to the continent, leading to the start of the reign of William III – the so-called Glorious Revolution (if we are to buy into the Whig interpretation of history).


The local connection is an interesting one, what with William deciding to land in Devon rather than closer to the capital city of the kingdom. Perhaps a key reason was the welcoming response of the local nobility and gentry in the region, and the local legend includes a Seymour of Berry Pomeroy Castle meeting with William at Parliament Hill (on which a stone stands in memory outside a cottage). Of course, this is one part of many other legends and myths: was William invited, or was it an invasion; how large was the army; and where the heck did he sleep on his first night? I’ll post again in the near future with more on these legends with the hope of coming to a consensus.

In terms of the walk itself the group have found that it allows us to get outside the classroom and to re-connect with a piece of history. All of those years – and centuries – ago William of Orange came down Long Road itself, outside South Devon College. On hearing of this a couple of years ago I was fascinated that our connecting road played a small part in local, national, and international history. The walk allows us to get inside the heads of those from 1688, of the army arriving on the English shore and of the locals and their possible responses on seeing all of these new Dutch arrivals in the community.


The recent walk was completed with an orange with a carved face: the so-called William of Orange orange. The hot sun produced mass volumes of sweat, but the walk was completed in high spirits despite the never-ending hills that impeded our progress. By the end of it all we relaxed at the tea room outside Berry Pomeroy Castle knowing that our day’s work was done. For William himself the stop at the castle would have been the first of many; the long road to London laid out before him and at that point his mind would have been filled with suspicion, worry, and wonder.

Next year will be the 4th walk in succession. Perhaps the William of Orange orange will develop into something more. Perhaps next year some will go in costume. Whatever happens it has been fantastic to see this walk grow and grow every year and to still produce questions and thoughts in those stomping the ground.

To read more about the past two William Walks click here!