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Welcome visit to flood-hit village by Charles and Camilla

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 27, 2013

  • Clockwise from above: The Duchess of Cornwall carries a posy at Exeter Cathedral, where she and Charles attended a service of thanksgiving and saw restoration work; the royal couple look at the roof of Exeter cathedral with the Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish; Braunton residents welcome Camilla and her 'Prince Charming'; Charles chats with residents of Braunton, which was badly affected by recent flooding

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The Prince of Wales has proved a tonic for a flood-hit community, as part of a Royal visit to Devon.

Charles was joined by the Duchess of Cornwall on a tour of Braunton, one of the villages worst affected by last year's storms. The Royal couple later visited Exeter and Plymouth.

Floodwater surged to 5ft (1.5m) in parts of Braunton in the run-up to Christmas, forcing businesses to work tirelessly in an effort to keep trading.

Hundreds of people braved the chilly north Devon wind that whipped through the village to welcome the royal couple, who had specifically asked to visit Braunton to see the recovery effort.

Most of the 300 pupils at nearby Caen Primary School lined the streets, while one group of well-wishers surprised the next in line to the throne with a "Welcome Prince Charming" banner – something he joked must have been intended for someone else.

A handful of sandbags at the roadside acted as a reminder of the reason for Charles and Camilla's visit. Many villagers were effectively cut off in the days leading up to Christmas after the River Caen twice burst its banks.

Ivan Rees, manager of the At One cafe, said the royal visit inspired businesses in Braunton to "bounce back" from adversity. He said: "The visit today means a lot because it shows we are being listened to."

The royal tour started with a visit to Braunton News, where flood waters up to 3ft resulted in serious damage to the stock. Owner Nick Phillips said: "Both the prince and the duchess asked about how we were affected, what had been done to help, and what lessons had been learned. To have people as important as them come down to Braunton has been a real boost to all of us." The royal couple later headed to Plymouth for a series of military engagements.

During her visit to HMS Drake's Hasler Company – which helps to aid the recovery and re-integration of injured and ill service personnel – the duchess met marine Spencer Vaugan, 25, who broke his neck during adventure training in 2010.

The marine plans to study Physical Development at university when he leaves Hasler Company, and is to marry fiancee Jodie Jenkins next year.

The duchess wished the pair good luck with the wedding.

Meanwhile, the prince visited HMS Bulwark at sea where he met members of the ship's company.

Later, the couple attended a special service at the 1,000-year-old Exeter Cathedral, marking the success of its Third Millennium Campaign.

The prince, in his capacity as patron, has helped raise £8 million for the fund, which has gone to support conservation of the building and its library services.

Prince Charles and Camilla took their seats at the front of the 600-strong congregation for the afternoon thanksgiving service, at which the National Anthem was sung.

During their hour-long visit, the royals were shown the historic Exeter Book, a 10th century collection of Anglo Saxon poetry, as well as a wonderfully preserved 350-year-old bill for a cathedral organ.

Schoolchildren waving their flags and posters

Hundreds of well-wishers were present as the royal couple visited a still-recovering Braunton yesterday to get a glimpse of them.

And, like every royal visit, the occasion proved to be popular with local children who enthusiastically greeted their guests in the way only children can – with a flurry of flag waving and from-the-heart, homemade posters.

Schoolgirl Phoebe Hutchings, 11, from Caen Primary School, presented the Duchess with a bouquet of flowers before the royal couple departed on the next leg of their trip.

Phoebe, who was chosen for the honour because of her recent fundraising efforts, described it as a very special day.

She has raised more than £50 for a cerebral palsy charity by selling pink ribbons after being inspired by April Jones' disappearance in Wales last year.

Finn McAuley, 11, and also from Caen Primary School, was also chosen to meet the royals for his part in organising fundraising activities at the school, including themed fancy dress days for Red Nose Day and Children In Need.

He said he was really happy to meet the Prince and Duchess.

Headteacher Karen Crutchfield, who presented the Duchess with a book of poetry written by pupils at the school, thought it was great the village was publicly recognised.

She said: "We had severe flooding at the school so we were hit hard. It's really lovely that we have been acknowledged.

Warm smiles that made a disaster seem a distant memory

A biting east wind did nothing to dampen Braunton's spirits yesterday as crowds lined the streets for the royal visit. Martin Hesp was among those watching the visit of Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

A chill wind cut its way down Caen Street, but that wasn't anything near as bad as the four foot wall of water which gushed down Braunton's main shopping thoroughfare just eight weeks ago.

The 1,200 or so trembling onlookers knew it – and so too did Prince Charles and his wife as they ducked and dived into business premises which, until recently, had looked like something from a disaster zone.

"Brrrr, it is a bit nippy," shivered the Duchess of Cornwall as she alighted from her big warm car.

In the same moment a local man called Philip Payne was making Prince Charles smile by telling him that the two shared exactly the same birthday.

"He seemed most amused when I told him my mother received a special hamper from Buckingham Palace because I was born at exactly the same time as him," grinned Mr Payne. "We are both 64."

Nancy Carder was also in informative mood: "I told the Prince that I've lived here for over 60 years and I thought he might interested to know that the Caen hasn't got anything to do with the Bible but is connected to the French town. It got the name after William the Conqueror arrived – he came from near Caen in Normandy."

Caen, however, is not the most popular name in Braunton. When the diminutive River Caen burst its banks on December 22, a large part of the lower-lying end of the community was inundated – and several businesses in Caen Street have yet to reopen their doors.

One was CJ's Sandwich bar where Braunton fireman David Williams was leaning against a wall to rest his broken leg.

"I have never seen floods like it here before," he told me. "The water was about four feet deep where I'm standing now."

A couple of doors away optometrist Mark Adams' premises looked as if a bomb had hit them and he will be closed for business for some time yet – but he had opened up specially to greet the royal couple.

"I told them how I lost all my specialist equipment in the flood, so there was no chance of us opening after the water came in. Then we had to take the plaster off the walls which was when we discovered a lot more repairs were required.

"Their visit is a great boost to the community – it shows we have not been forgotten," said Mr Adams who hopes to be open again at Easter.

His next door neighbour had a rather different tale to tell... "We told Charles and Camilla how we were open again after just one day's closure," beamed Nick Phillips, who runs Braunton newsagents with his wife Ruth. "It was terrible, yes, but we had 300 papers to go out – and that's what we did the day after the floods.

"Their visit has been good for morale – in fact Camilla told us she could sympathise because she's been flooded herself a couple of times."

Just down the street Mark Ridge was standing outside his empty, flood-damaged pub. The landlord of the London Inn told me: "We're still two or three weeks from opening again yet, but the royal couple came in and had a look around. They were very sympathetic and Camilla told us she knew all about being flooded. I can't really remember what else they said, it's all a bit of a blur right now."

Which was exactly the same impression the whirlwind tour left on 86-year-old Joyce Watts. "I have lived around here all my life and I was looking forward to seeing Charles and Camilla – but I didn't expect them to speak to me. She did – and I was so taken aback I can't remember a thing she said!"

Along the street at Copy Catz, shop-owner Dave Poulter had impressed the Duke of Cornwall by telling him a charity, set up by the Prince to help businesses which had been hit by calamity, had stepped in to save the day.

"We had over three feet of water in here – everything was damaged – and without the £500 worth of photocopy paper they gave us, we would not have been able to open up again," said Mr Poulter.

"Prince Charles seemed very pleased to hear that the charity was able to help."

The walkabout in Caen Street lasted more than 45 minutes, and it was one of the most laid-back and casual public visits by a royal party to the region in years. Both Charles and Camilla seemed to enjoy the chance of boosting the morale of a community which had so recently been so badly hit.

The 300 children from Caen Primary School certainly seemed to enjoy every chilly minute and they filled the street with their excitement and cheers.

The only really non-plussed onlooker was your own WMN correspondent... royal personages do not normally speak with members of the press, but I was the second person to be confronted by the Duchess of Cornwall as she climbed out of the limousine.

"And who are you writing for today?" she smiled as she gave me a warm handshake.

All I could stammer was a polite suggestion that she might like to buy Wednesday's Western Morning News.

'Huge honour' as Hasler Company hosts Duchess

Sailors brushed shoulders with royalty as the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall also visited HMS Drake on their visit to Devon.

Charles was flown to Devonport-based warship HMS Bulwark, which was training off Plymouth Sound, while the Duchess visited injured personnel at Hasler Company.

In her role as Commodore-in-Chief of Royal Naval Medical Services she spent time talking to the medical staff and injured Royal Marines.

Marine Spencer Vaughan, who broke his neck during an adventure training trip in Gran Canaria in 2010, spoke of his meeting with the Duchess.

The 25-year-old, who lives in Plymstock with fiancee Jodie Jenkins, said it was an "honour" to meet the Duchess.

He said: "She asked about where I am in my recovery, what I hoped to do in the future and I told her I want to go to university and study sports development.

"She asked when we were planning to get married and I said in the future, hopefully next year."

Major Steve Melbourne, Officer Commanding Hasler Company, took the time to introduce the Duchess to the staff and injured personnel.

Speaking after the visit, he said: "I think it was a huge honour that the Duchess would consider coming to visit Hasler Company.

"It's an important opportunity for the guys to tell their stories. It's easy to talk statistics but it's what happened to them, what their recovery pathway is and what's next for them."

The Duchess is also Commodore-in-Chief of the Naval Chaplaincy Service and attended a reception with the Royal Navy chaplains in the officers mess at HMS Drake.

HMS Drake chaplain Roland Wort said: "We feel it is a great honour that in the middle of a busy time she made the time to come and see the chaplains."

Cheering crowds for royal couple at cathedral

Friendly spirits, a pretty spring posy and a perfect curtsey greeted Prince Charles and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall to Exeter Cathedral.

The posy and curtsey were courtesy of 11-year-old Exeter Cathedral schoolgirl Anne Hall, the warm welcome reinforced by a cheering crowd outside the West Front, clothed in 11 decks of scaffolding, wooden boards and blue netting.

The work in progress was a fitting symbol for a Prince attending a special thanksgiving service to celebrate the success of its £8 million fundraising appeal.

Many of the onlookers had gathered hours before the arrival of their royal highnesses.

Those without tickets to the event, like Cynthia Hanson and her 86-year-old companion Michael Webb, waited outside.

"It is sad we couldn't get in but they turned us away," said Mrs Hanson. "I am a Friend of the Cathedral but there was no room for us but I am here to see the Prince of Wales as I have never seen him before so I am still happy."

Marion and David Marshall were luckier. They had tickets and as well as the Royal visitors were there to see and hear their grand-daughter Laura Kerr sing in the Exeter Cathedral School Choir.

Similarly, Jean and Douglas Bruce-Merrie, married 57 years ago just a few yards away in what was St Mary Major Church, had a special reason to be there.

A stone in the restored Ladies' Chapel was dedicated to Mrs Bruce-Merrie's mother, Phillipa Hutchinson, who had lived in Southernhay.

After a quick chat with the Bishop of Exeter, the Right Reverend Michael Langrish and the Dean, the Very Reverend Jonathan Draper, the Prince, patron of the fundraising Third Millennium Campaign, and the Duchess, who was wrapped up in a plumb coloured coat with fur hat, entered through the Great West door into the packed cathedral.

The Dean said: "We are really delighted that the Prince is here today. He has been a wonderful supporter of the cathedral.

"We have raised £8m over eight years during what has been a difficult time and we have had thousands of supporters. We want to thank every person who has helped and give thanks for every penny that has been raised."

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