On a warm August day there are few more beautiful places to have a pint than in the garden of the Drum Inn in Cockington, the Devon village frequented by a teenage Agatha Christie.
The Queen of Crime grew up in the nearby seaside town of Torquay and spent many happy hours at Cockington Court, the 16th-century mansion of friends Charles and Margaret Mallock.
But Cockington’s English charm, with its thatched cottages, quaint tea rooms and Norman church, has never dazzled Christie with life in such small rural communities.
“There is much wickedness in village life,” her celebrated detective Miss Marple once remarked. And while “wickedness” may be exaggerating, recent events in Cockington seem to have brought out the worst of human nature with terms like “close-minded,” “selfish” and “interfering nobody” appearing in social media posts about the treatment. from the mayor of the village. . . one Patrick the Pony.
Yes, you read that right. The unofficial mayor of Cockington, four years old and just over two feet high at the shoulder, is a miniature Shetland therapy pony.
Patrick took on the role of Don Mills, a (human) resident who died in 2019 and had successfully campaigned to make Cockington the UK’s first place to ban yellow lines and ensure new toilets on the The village’s parking lot had a thatched roof.
No one is kidding themselves that Patrick will be equally effective. But he’s extremely endearing, I discover when I meet him and his owners Kirk and Hannah Petrakis in the living room of their three-bed house in Torquay.
He usually runs free in a nearby field, but the couple occasionally try to acclimate him to being indoors for when he visits care homes and other places that need his therapeutic services.
Kirk and Hannah Petrakis in the living room of their three-bed house in Torquay with Patrick de Pony
“Every time we showed him around Cockington, we saw how many people it took to meet him,” said Patrick’s owner Kirk.
Because horses can’t be potty trained, the Petrakis family has learned to watch for Patrick’s tail lift and then run forward with a bright orange bucket. This weakness aside, he fits in well with the couple’s three daughters, Amy, nine; Naomi, ten; and Sophia, 16, black labrador Pippa and Echo the gecko.
So how did Patrick’s elevation to high office come about?
“Shortly after he appeared on a fundraiser for Ukraine, someone jokingly said that he is doing so much good work for the community that he should be mayor and we thought it would be a little fun so we started a petition and signed more than 200 people love it,” says Kirk, 44. Torquay-born and raised Kirk visited Cockington with his grandmother as a young boy and loved taking the horse-drawn carriage rides for which this idyllic spot is known.
But it wasn’t until 2013, when he was walking through the village as part of his rehabilitation after a near-fatal brain haemorrhage, that he noticed that the last horse and carriage business in the village was up for sale. Since Hannah is an accomplished horsewoman, they decided to take it upon themselves.
To pull the carriages, they bought four ponies named Cowboy, Nugget, Annie and Steve, and in 2019 they welcomed Patrick.
“Every time we showed him around Cockington, we saw how many people it took to meet him,” Kirk says.
Born on St. Patrick’s Day, the brown pony is naturally a fondness for Guinness. And so it was fitting that his inauguration took place on July 23 at the Drum Inn, in the presence of dignitaries including Kevin Foster, Tory MP for Torbay.
Born on St. Patrick’s Day, the brown pony is naturally a fondness for Guinness
Patrick had his own mayor’s robes for the ceremony – made from a bright red horse blanket. But the finishing touch was his gold chain of office, centered on one of the horse brasses sold in Cockington’s gift shop.
It was all very funny, of course, and most people took it in the right spirit. But since then, things have taken a dark turn. Sadly, Patrick has now been effectively banned from the Drum Inn’s garden, where the pub had allowed Kirk and Hannah to build its ‘interacting pen’ a year earlier.
Within this small enclosed space – approximately 12ft x 14ft – Patrick conducted his ‘pony therapy’. Or, as Hannah, 37, puts it, “Stand still and let people pet him. It’s really comforting and he loves it.’
His last visit was in late July with 14-year-old Jon Tarrant-Heckford of Ringwood, Hampshire, who is terminally ill with Sanfilippo syndrome, a genetic condition sometimes referred to as childhood Alzheimer’s disease. In late July, Jon spent nearly three hours with Patrick.
His mother Lorraine told me this week: “We lifted Jon out of his wheelchair and onto the floor and Patrick came over, nudged him and then lay down next to him. They were great buddies. It meant so much and gave us wonderful memories.’
Jon’s visit seemed like a great thing everywhere, but within days Torbay Council planning officers told the Drum Inn manager they’d had a complaint about Patrick’s pen.
“It was a very detailed complaint, and someone had clearly put a lot of effort into it,” Hannah says. “The last thing we wanted was to upset anyone, so we removed it the same day. I was in tears because it wasn’t just any pen, it was what it represented. All we wanted was to help people. What problem could anyone have with that?’
At first sight, the answer is a direct violation of urban planning law. Torbay Council has pointed out that Cockington is in a conservation area and that the Drum Inn, designed by the legendary architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (responsible for London’s Cenotaph), is a Grade I listed building.
That was clearly a concern of the Friends of Cockington Country Park (FCCP), a volunteer-run organization that bills itself as a “forum for people who care passionately about Cockington and its conservation and preservation.”
“It is a great shame that they have placed their pony loft in the middle of a sensitive, historic and important conservation area,” Robin Emdon, an administrator of the FCCP’s Facebook page, wrote on Aug. 2. But according to Kirk and Hannah, other fences in Cockington have been erected without planning permission and no action has been taken.
So why would Patrick’s pen have been picked out? Some believe there’s a bad feeling going back to last fall, when the couple gave up the carriage business after a lengthy dispute with Torbay Coast & Countryside Trust over adequate winter pastures in the village.
Andrew Barrand, a local councilor and fellow Patrick fan, comments: ‘This may look like a very leafy, thatched cottage-like setting, but some people may have felt that [the Petrakises] were unreasonable in their demands on grazing and tried to make themselves a bigger story than the village itself.’
But soon Patrick became the story — and not everyone wanted a horse mayor.
Patrick’s inauguration on July 23 took place at the Drum Inn (picture in the background)
Robin Emdon of the FCCP was certainly outspoken in his criticism.
‘How much . . . do residents and businesses want this?’ he asked online. ‘Patrick is a horse. No person. And not someone who can speak for Cockington.’
When approached last week, Mr Emdon said he was too busy to comment further.
But others have been much more candid in criticizing the council’s swift response to the lone complaint. MP Kevin Foster described it as “totally exaggerated” and said many residents “wish the council would address other, more serious issues as quickly as this one”.
While the council says the Drum Inn could file a retrospective planning application, Kirk and Hannah say they felt “pushed” out of Cockington and were looking for locations elsewhere.
Meanwhile, oblivious to all the, er, whinnying, Patrick continues to go wherever people need his animal magic. All that remains of his pen are 11 upright posts. They are too deeply embedded to be removed without machines and are a bewildering sight to visitors.
If explained to them, they might find it hard to believe that such events could have happened in this idyllic place.
But again, as Miss Marple noted, “In an English village you turn a stone and you never know what comes out.”