Devon

A miscellany of adventures in SW England

After spending a couple of weeks in Cornwall and Devon, I have had many random and wonderful experiences. So in this post I’m covering a miscellany of adventures not hitherto covered in recent posts.

Cream Teas
One can’t come to this part of the world and not fall in love with cream teas — otherwise known as scones with jam and clotted cream, with tea (or in my case, coffee). Our first cream tea was enjoyed at Charlotte’s Tea Rooms in Truro, a classy establishment with chandeliers and linen tablecloths (see picture).

After that I was hooked, and have eaten cream teas on Dartmoor, in Appledore and the home-baked variety at my friend’s house in St Dominick. The key is the clotted cream — cream that has been heated and thickened via a unique process to produce a gooey yummy substance that smears on top of (or under, depending where you’re from) the jam on the scone. The scones vary considerably from tearoom to tearoom too. All are delicious. Long live the cream tea!

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Bodmin
We stayed just outside the Cornish stannery (tin mining) town of Bodmin for a week, although didn’t spend a lot of time in the town. We did, however, visit the town’s one main attraction, which was the old gaol, the site of numerous hangings in the region. The gaol is laid out as something like a chamber of horrors, with macabre mannequins reenacting the various crimes. Much of the building is a ruin — my favourite part!

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Fowey
In search of a ‘light’ day of touring, we visited the near-to-Bodmin fishing village of Fowey for a ramble about its cobbled streets and lunch in one of its quaint pubs.

Also, as with many old English villages, Fowey has rows upon rows of interesting doors directly onto streets.

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Restormal Castle
A quaint castle I rather liked was Restormal Castle in the village of Lostwithiel, near Fowey. Another ruin, Restormal is almost perfectly round, and very neat and compact. It seemed to be built more for status and show than defence, but was nonetheless very cute. Weird quirks include a ‘secret’ staircase within the wall and several deep pits that might have been tower foundations or storage cellars… The experts aren’t sure.

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Cotehele
While staying in St Dominick, we visited the Tudor Cotehele, an old stone manor house with an impressive collection of old tapestries. We happily explored the rambling old house, which has a lovely old main hall with weapons and armour arrayed on the walls (along with the stuffed head of a baby albatross), and a peephole overlooking it from one of the other rooms. The house had multiple old stone staircases, and a maze-like layout in the style of very old houses. I love the juxtaposition of stone and wood and tapestries.

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The Cotehele estate also includes the old quayside, where limestone and coal were imported and smelted to produce lime, and a working mill. The latter was the highlight for me — I love seeing how such things worked, back in the day. Water wheels make such wonderfully clean energy. Totally ingenious. Alongside the mill, which was grinding wheat into flour while we watched, are other displays — such as a blacksmith, wheelwright, potter, furniture maker… Overall, we had a lovely day at Cotehele. Here’s that fabulous waterwheel.

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This wraps up posts about Cornish subjects, with one more to come from Devon, about Exeter, which I thought a lovely city. Please excuse my brevity; iPhone blogging is losing its appeal… Really looking forward to getting back to a computer. Thanks for bearing with me!

Tomorrow, I head to Brighton for the start of the World Fantasy Convention. Time to get my writing brain back into gear!

South West Coast Path: Westward Ho! to Clovelly

Many walkers might have sat in the pub for an extra day instead of braving the SW Coast Path in the rain… Or caught the bus instead. But they would have missed out on a unique experience (that might have put my travelling companion off hiking for ever…).

Having delayed our plans for a day already, we were keen to walk the SW Coast Path from Westward Ho! to Clovelly, even though it was raining. We knew we would get wet and bedraggled and possibly miserable; but it wasn’t too cold (~16 deg C) and we were feeling energetic and adventurous. Also, I figured it would be good research for us, both fantasy writers, to experience the whole ‘trek in the rain’ thing.

So off we went. The first half of this 18km trek took us over the cliff tops — and up and down them as well. It was strenuous as expected, but beautiful too. I loved it.

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But we did get very wet. And muddy. This is me about an hour in…

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The path is very well marked with signs bearing the SW Coast Path acorn symbol, or else a simple acorn and accompanying arrow attached to a post.

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After a couple of hours of up and down (into a fierce headwind of rain — rain in the face is so much fun… and our glasses fogged up), the track moves into woodland, which spoilt the view, but did provide a measure of protection from the weather.

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Eventually, slightly more than halfway I think, we arrived at the ‘village’ of Bucks Mills. Though cute, Bucks Mills was very disappointing from an amenities point of view. No refreshments at this time of year, not even a pub/inn. We were really hoping for somewhere out of the weather, where we could sit down and have a hot cup of something (hot toddy?). There was not even a toilet. Pft!

Following Bucks Mills the track got easier through more woodland, still up and down, and less slippery and steep. We still had a few hours to go, though. We skirted meadow and woodland (chasing flocks of pheasants — beautiful birds), until we came out to Hobby Drive, the old coach road, which wound around the last few spurs, eventually (after about 45 mins of weary trudging) bringing us to the top of Clovelly village.

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We still had a 15min trek to our B&B in Higher Clovelly [Tip: Stay in the village if you can — there are only about three options though], and by the time we reached it we were beat. We hadn’t sat down all day. But there is nowhere to eat in Higher Clovelly, so our kind hosts at Fuchia Cottage drove us down again to the top of the village, a little later on.

After that effort, we decided not to trek further along the Coast Path, so instead spent today relaxing in the picturesque village of Clovelly. It has been privately owned for centuries (weird) and is very geared towards tourists. It’s quiet this time of year, which is nice. We made friends with several of the local cats, who are very friendly and like to pose for photographs. This is ‘Beau’, who followed us around for a while.

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Down at the water’s edge, we watched some local fishermen (who I’m convinced are hired as a tourist attraction, because they spent a lot of time explaining what they’re doing and posing for photos) gut ‘fish’ (sharks for the Spanish market), and gained a gorgeous view of the village from the old stone quay.

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It’s been a relaxing day after two days of walking. I think we both needed it! The weather has once again been rather grey and rainy, but we did glimpse the sun a few times. I think perhaps autumn is starting to set in…

South West Coast Path: Instow to Westward Ho!

The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile walk around the coast of SW England, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset. As soon as I heard about it, when planning my current trip, I resolved to hike a couple of legs. Today the plan was to hike from Westward Ho! in north Devon to the picturesque village of Clovelly. However, we left it too late to arrange our luggage transfer, so we had to delay that a day, leaving a day up our sleeve.

[Tip: In the off season, contact the luggage transfer people before 6:30pm on the day before you want the service, even if it says you have until 7pm…]

With our extra day, we decided this morning to catch a local bus to Instow, the start of the previous leg according to some guidebooks, and walk the 18km back to Westward Ho! in the interests of ‘training’. It is described as an easy leg, and we might as well have been walking as not.

The walk mostly follows the estuary of the River Torridge, down and back, so we had views of our destination for most of the day. We began in the hamlet (not even a village) of Instow — where there is nonetheless coffee — and a pretty view of Appledore.

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The walk from here follows an old rail trail, shared with cyclists — which I dislike intensely. It was long and straight and flat, and I thought there was much to be said for the high-tide ferry between Instow and Appledore.

But then we would have missed Bideford, which is a pretty little port town with all the amenities, including banks. Little was open on a Sunday, but I can recommend historical Cleverdons Restaurant and Tea Rooms for a range of meals, both light and more substantial. We both had soup (choice of several) for just 3.25.

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Bideford marks the turnaround point, and we headed back downriver towards the sea and Appledore. The track here got much more interesting, but I still think the ferry a good option if it’s high tide. Low tide is very interesting, though, as the river estuary is essentially a massive mud flat with beached boats. This is the view back to Instow from near Appledore.

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The village of Appledore was the highlight of this leg. It’s largely 16thC: narrow twisty laneways, old houses with interesting name plates, gorgeousness plus. We had promised ourselves a cream tea, and found the perfect spot in Susie’s Tea Rooms.

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We had been walking for about 2.25h up until this point (1h Instow to Bideford, 1.25h Bideford to Appledore), and judged we had about 1.5h to go from Appledore the long/coastal way to Westward Ho!. As the crow flies, they are quite close, but the coast path takes you out around Northam Burrows Country Park, which feels a little, er, pointless at times. Nonetheless, we ploughed on around the point, and battled a ridiculous headwind on the approach to Westward Ho! along the beach. It took a little longer than expected. We did, however, enjoy this stunning view of Appledore in the late afternoon sun.

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Westward Ho! itself is a new village, filled with holiday accommodation and surfers. Our B&B — Brockenhurst B&B — is very nice and centrally located, right opposite The Village Inn Hotel, where I am currently enjoying a quiet one while I use their WiFi. It’s fine and comfortable, but not in any way historic, which I have come to expect from England. We are staying here a second night, and tomorrow it’s on to Clovelly!