Devonian Adventures

July 1, 2014 at 5:07 pm Leave a comment

priests

We set off for our week’s holiday at the Priest’s House (Landmark Trust) in Devon in good time. We were in the brand new, shiny, and wonderfully showroom smelly Q5. After a couple of years on the “orange side” (BMW drivers all seem to have bad fake tans) I have returned to my Audi roots. Much classier, sleeker and streamlined. Not unlike my better half.

Our journey, which in childhoods before the M5 would have taken several days, took just over four hours, despite the roadworks, the now ubiquitous motorway speed cameras, and a lunch break at Strensham services.

I know I was perhaps a little less blasé or confident driving a new car and especially after my brother-in-law’s recent near death experience when he was sideswiped by a Polish HGV (Eastern European that is rather than the cleaning product) at 60 mph on the M42. In any case, it seemed that many an HGV and coach driver were intent on forcing me off the road or into the crash barrier in the narrow lanes of the M5 roadworks. C, never a relaxed passenger, was chewing her arm, sobbing quietly and calling upon Jesus more loudly for long periods……

Those same coaches followed us into the motorway services and spewed forth some of the lumpiest, most genetically challenged tattooed people of dubious sexuality, many wielding walking sticks, with some of the least attractive causing considerable confusion/panic when they turned into the ladies toilets. They might have been Eastern European shot putters but I suspect they were more likely Brummies heading to Weston Super-Mare, Burnham-on-Sea or the Butlins at Minehead. We took our MacDonalds outside while the hordes queued for the loos, chain-smoked, took their diabetes shots and piled on as many calories as possible in their brief stopover, whilst still finding time to play the slot machines.

The further south we travelled the easier the motorway became and soon we found ourselves at junction 27 and the turnoff for Holcome Rogus. After a brief diversion to Tiverton to procure provisions we returned to Holcombe, retrieved the key and moved ourselves into the dark, smoky, tranquility (more of that later) of our home away from home for the next week.

In the evening we headed out for the five minute walk to the Prince of Wales pub, much lauded in the Log Book by previous residents of the Priest’s House. It wasn’t bad but was not as good as advertised. It needed a good tidy up and I was slightly put off by the fact that one local had thrown his pruning shears and secateurs down on the bar by way of a challenge. We ordered steak, pie, a Sheppy’s cider and a cleansing local ale and retired to the slightly tatty beer garden. Those shears might prove useful after all…..cider

We people watched. We were entertained by an overloud local and his tales from last year’s Glastonbury including all too vociferous denials of chemical consumption, and by a collapsing bench. I think the collapse was more likely the result of poor maintenance rather than the size of the poor embarrassed girls arses. At least their throwing of cider over themselves was more convincing than that of Graham Taylor in the current Aldi advert. Our food was fine but soon the draw of a glass or three of red wine and soft sofa before bed proved too much for us.

We enjoyed several forays into the surrounding environs during the week. Bampton had the air of an old people’s commune. The only people we saw who were under 50 served us our lunch in the pub, or sported vests specked with white paint and the whiff of weed, or were shouting like a fisher woman in the middle of the street. It wasn’t quite the foodie heaven we had been promised – although the burgers we had at the Quarryman’s’ Rest were excellent. On the way back home we stopped off at the Gothic revival Knightshayes house. Clearly designed with the aid of opium, it looked like an English country home from the mind of Walt Disney.

Our Bampton burgers has been good but they were not as good as the pork pie and scotch eggs in the Bridge Inn at Dulverton, where we found alara warm welcome, a lovely ambience and free wi-fi. Civilisation. Dulverton was much more what we had been looking for – a fistful of decent pubs, a little supermarket where we topped up our wine cellar (the rather cheeky cashier wished us a happy evening), a deli, butchers, grocers, gift and book shops, and National Trust shop where we purchased a map of walks in the area. And so we did. Walk. Up the hill from Tarr Steps, so reminiscent of Dovedale, and across the moor, accompanied by a couple of very healthy looking herds of Exmoor ponies to the Caratacus Stone, which was of dubious origin and spelling and reminiscent of Spinal Tap’s Stonehenge in scale. The walk seemed much longer than the five point three miles that were advertised but it was very pleasant, especially as C was looking sexy as the spit of Lara Croft in her shorts, walking boots and tight top…..stone

Thursday’s weather fooled us. Quite why we were fooled I am not sure as it is Glastonbury and Wimbledon fortnight. What were we thinking? It was bright and sunny when we awoke so we donned suntan cream, swimming gear, shorts, shades and beach towels and headed for the Victorian splendour of Lyme Regis. The Cobb, beach and coastline were spectacular. We enjoyed our promenade past grand villas, art galleries and an array of pubs, fish and chip shops, purveyors of ice cream and many restaurants acclaiming fresh local seafood. We stopped to chat and take photos of people sitting in their beach huts. Beach huts seem so quintessentially British so it was a bit of a shock when the lady therein spoke in a broad American accent. The invasion continues….

And we also watched the darkness descend. We made it into the welcoming haven of the Harbour Inn just as the heavens opened. We nursed our pints of St Austells and Rattler cider and relished our fish‘n chips and a fish soup (which was meant to have been a pie!) watching the umbrellas go up outside and the waterproof hoods come down. And still one lone, brave heart remained stand-up paddle boarding in the very choppy sea….

cobb

We donned our own waterproofs and headed out to replicate the famous scene from the French Lieutenant’s Woman on the Cobb. We didn’t make it. The weather worsened. Rapidly. A monsoon descended upon us, driven almost horizontally by a gale. Meryl Streep and I sheltered briefly between a couple of shops before heading back to the car. We got drenched. Sodden. Shorts and flip flops were not the best choice of attire. I struggled back up the hill feet slipping, sliding and squeaking all the way. At least the beach towels came in useful – to sponge us down once in the car.

Having been beaten by the rain, we returned to the Priest’s House only for the “Chinese water torture” to begin. In our absence someone had fixed the bells in the church next door. They rang on the hour. They rang on the hour every hour. They rang on the hour every hour throughout the night and for every night thereafter. At best we slept for fifty nine minutes at a time. At worst we didn’t. This went on for the remainder of our stay. Every day we surfaced a little more ragged and bleary eyed, with thoughts of breaking into the church, sabotage on our mind….

On Friday we found civilisation in Wellington – a Waitrose, where we replenished our wine supplies; a deli, where we purchased local cheese; and a bakers which claimed to be the holders of the oldest recipe for Cornish pasties. In Devon! And we partook of good food in the very quaint Globe Inn at Appley. It was so good that we returned for lunch on Sunday.

On Saturday, bell ringers arrived to ring the changes at some ridiculously early hour, driving us out with our waterproofs and boots for a gentle meander along the towpath of the Grand Western Canal. It rained. We got wet. Again. We took refuge in the Prince of Wales, again, with cider, again, Doom Bar, cheese and onion crisps, free wi-fi and Trivial Pursuit. And, it was in this self-same hostelry that we ate our last meal on Sunday evening. The pub was quiet despite the football and much improved evening weather. Besides C and I there was but a small smattering of regulars in situ. And, I mean regulars. After a whole weekend of drinking they seemed to mellow towards us and tried to engage us in conversation. They tried. A west country accent is hard enough to understand at the best of times, but when it has been further “softened” by three nights and two days of hard-drinking, comprehension is nigh on impossible. We smiled politely, laughed when it seemed appropriate and adopted the same approach we would have taken abroad. We talked a little slower and louder. No one seemed offended. We got out alive.  And, quite how the pub remains in business I am not sure. The only customers we really saw while we were there were these locals. They all had tabs. We seemed to be the only ones actually paying for anything….I hope it does survive if only for the sake of the regulars. They have nowhere else to go. And, we might just want to go back….

The journey home was uneventful despite the emptying of the Glastonbury Festival. We made good time and rewarded ourselves with a good meal and a drink in the Old Hall at Sandbach, OUR regular. Now there’s a proper pub….

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Time Travel….. Happy 4th July America!

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