Our Close County Neighbours

Last week I described some of the features of Dorset’s iconic landscapes and seascapes and it’s easy to see why visitors to our lovely county flock here, not only in the summer but throughout the year.

Our neighbouring county to the west, Devon is also a popular tourist destination and we’d booked a few nights just over our county border, in tiny Axmouth, where we’ve stayed before. The site is in the heart of the village, facing the River Axe as it becomes an estuary flowing out to sea at the small town of Seaton. It’s easy to walk into Seaton from the campsite, by walking along the river and across a bridge. A new, road bridge has replaced a much older one, notable for being the first one constructed of concrete!

The site is much busier than it was the first time we came. It is in a wonderful position- not only having interesting views but also near to the two village pubs and bus stops. Across the other side of the River Axe we can see the cute, Seaton trams trundling backwards and forwards around the ‘Axmouth Loop’. I’m a sucker for a tram at any time, but these are restored, vintage vehicles, dinky, colourful and fun.

We head into Seaton and to the tram station. It’s a large, imposing building for such a small tram network! But of course it houses the ticket office, gift shop and is a station. A tram is about to leave, luckily an ‘open-top’, which gives a good view of the estuary mud flats and Seaton marshes. So we clamber up the narrow, winding steps and bag seats on top; soon we’re off, rumbling along a track that winds out of Seaton, past the old tram shed and along the river, where the tide is out and there are flocks of waders congregated on the muddy shores.

An occasional tram passes on the other side, sometimes waiting on a siding. There is one station along the way, in a wooded section, then we roll along to Colyton, where the track ends. The station here capitalises with [another] gift shop and a cafe. After a short turn around the gift shop there’s little to do except wait for the return tram to Seaton, which we do, rattling back the way we came.

We’ve booked to have dinner at the pub which adjoins our site, which is a result! Next day we take advantage of the bus service and go off to Lyme Regis, famous for ‘The Cobb’ and featured in John Fauld’s well known novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman [also a film]. The Cobb is merely a part of the sea wall surrounding the harbour, but from the end there is a fine view of Lyme Bay. It’s a quaint, characterful town and although it’s crammed with visitors on this sunny afternoon I get a pang of nostalgia as it’s here we stayed 25 years or so ago when Husband and I first got together, taking a room and ‘The Red Lion’ in the High Street and striding out for one of our first SW Coast Path walks.

It’s heartening to see that The Red Lion still exists! For some reason our room’s en suite bathroom had a mysterious, bogus door. Stepping out of the bath, I wrapped a towel around myself and, curious to see where the door led, I opened it, just as people were walking along the corridor it accessed. I wonder who was more surprised?

Later, after dinner I remember we gatecrashed a disco being held by a group called The Buffaloes’, distinguished by hefty chains around their necks, but not by their dancing, as we were the only revellers gyrating on the dance floor. Some of them must have been passing our bathroom when, towel-clad, I opened the door. If they recognised me with my clothes on they gave no sign…

But we aren’t staying in the hotel this time, so it’s back to the bus stop and home to our lovely van-

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

A Fine Week for Devon

We reserved a table outside at The Ship Inn at Cockswood for 6.00pm, hoping that the sun would last long enough for us to be comfortable. In the event, although we’d selected a table that would catch the last rays, the wrought iron chairs, surrounding trees and an invading cloud thwarted any hopes of warmth. It was a good meal, but I envied those who’d had the forethought to bring cosy blankets to wrap up in. A chilly edge to the wind persisted.

Half way through our week exploring the Ex estuary we moved to the other side of the river, to a site called Prattshayes, joining a handful of vans and caravans in a field next to a small stream, presumably once a farm but now a holiday complex consisting of camp site and rental cottages. Less than half a mile up the lane lies the village of Littleham, a large community with two pubs. We wandered up in evening sunshine and had a beer in the garden of The Clinton Arms, although the menu wasn’t tempting.

Cycle fanatic van neighbours, older but clearly more sprightly, recommended a route along an old railway track to Budleigh Salterton, which we decided to tackle next day.

The first climb came up through Littleham village, then after some confusion about where the cycle path began we rode up…and up…

The path curved up through woods, occasional gaps giving glimpses of wonderful views over the Devon countryside and farmland. While it was never steep the gradient was relentless. I vowed not to get off and push as I had on the way to Dawlish and was relieved to make it to the top without walking and even with one or two gears left! Then it was the blessed downhill slope and a hopeless muddle of attempts to find the cycle path in the back streets of Budleigh.

At last we plunged down into the tiny town and to the pebbly beach, where a kiosk was doing brisk business in ice creams and coffees. Feeling that an ice cream might be deserved by now we indulged, then walked the bikes along the prom until we were back in town.

We followed up for our final day with a walk up and along the coast path via ‘Sandy Bay’ holiday park, memorable in that in must surely be the most vast array of chalets the world has to offer, [unless you, reader, know better?]. Once we’d crossed it, though, the coastal views were wonderful and we could loop back along the lanes and a footpath to our site without retracing our steps.

That was it for south Devon- until the next time- and somewhere I’ve never been…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

A Tiny Taste of Freedom

We are in Devon, south west England, just for a week. I’ve paused my antipodean travelogue for this diversion, mostly because any kind of change of scene is a novelty in these restricted times.

The 20/21 winter was long, difficult and gloomy, with its deluge of grim news and statistics pouring out day after day. It prompted a longing for at least some spring weather and lighter evenings. Nobody wants to wish their life away, least of all those of us with fewer years ahead, nevertheless I longed for spring. Now here it is; and with it a small loosening of the bonds that tied us.

We are re-aquainting ourselves with our campervan, which we have used for odd days out but not for an overnight stay since last summer. The weather is fine, with a cold-edged wind as we prepare and pack and I know for sure I’ll have forgotten items or will have packed entirely unsuitable clothing.

We sweep down and across our home county of Dorset following a route we’ve travelled many times but that always provides magnificent views of the Jurassic Coast and charming villages along the way.

We’ve had to begin reserving, planning and booking- a strategy we’re unused to employing as we usually travel on a ‘where shall we go today?’ basis, once, famously turning right at Bordeaux instead of left for the Med due to a forecast of snow, and landing up in the beautiful sunshine of Portugal instead.

Our first destination is in the village of Starcross, between Exeter and Dawlish, a farm site in a valley with a stream and a pond, beautifully laid out. We have a pitch overlooking the hens’ enclosure. It is warm enough to have coffee or lunch outside and I become fascinated by hen society; the way they move en masse from one area to another or individuals make sudden bursts of running for no apparent reason. When I approach the fence they all gravitate to me, presumably in hopes of food although I prefer to imagine it’s in greeting.

Having set up, we walk into Cockswood, a few minutes away, to sit in the outside area of The Ship pub for a drink and to reserve a table to have dinner next evening. There is just enough warmth in the sun for it to be comfortable.

We swing easily into van routine, sleeping well and waking to tea before morning chores; emptying and water-filling. There’s plenty of time to read, write or potter [Husband’s preferred activity] then after lunch we set off for our first, amoebic cycle of the year, towards Dawlish. I’ve got over my first cycle wobbles by the time we reach Dawlish Warren, a funfair and tourist spot which is seething with revellers, although my thighs are aching, but when we turn up towards Dawlish itself the hill proves too much and I have to alight and push. I’m alarmed! Is this the end for me and cycling?

Next day we stride out along the footpath towards Exeter, past Powderham Castle and the church then along the river bank towards the canal. we stop for a rest at the loch, where the pub is doing great business, most tables being occupied. We turn back and sink onto a bench, footweary by the coffee kiosk in Starcross for reviving tea and cake.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Autumn Getaway

I’ve returned from time-travelling travel to present day travel for this week’s post.

It occurs to me that we, [that is to say, Husband and myself] have not got the hang of this Covid thing at all. Yes-we are practised in the art of mask-wearing. Yes-we wash our hands lots. Yes-we keep our distance [not from each other, you understand]. Yes-we don’t throw big parties. But we haven’t got to grips with planning ahead, reserving, booking and being organised.

We have come west to Cornwall, via Dartmoor in Devon, where we stayed at a pub campsite and took advantage of the hearty meals on offer. Our departure was delayed due to Biblical quantities of rain which penetrated our house roof [again]. But that is another story. The rain has turned from relentless deluge into squally, intermittent showers punctuated with gusts of wind, a marginal improvement, although I wouldn’t volunteer to swap places with the occupants of the two tents on the site.

We head off in the morning, making for St Just, beyond Penzance, which is towards Cornwall’s ‘toe’ and on the Atlantic coast. But we aren’t in a hurry and having picked up home-made pasties in a farm shop we attempt to park in Launceston without success then find a picnic area where we can stop, make coffee [a distinct improvement on the kiosk Nescafe from yesterday] and continue on our way. After a blustery drive we stop for a break and spot a castle perched on a hill, poking up behind a field. It is, of course, St Michael’s Mount, twin of French Normandy’s Mont St Michel.

It’s years since I visited St Michael’s Mount. We decide to take a detour. When we reach Marazion, the tiny town that faces the mount, the car parks are choc-a-bloc and having been denied access to the National Trust park we have no choice but to pay a steep £8 to park in the ‘alternative’ one.

Then we battle our way across the cobbled causeway towards the Mount, sandblasted and peppered with rain, but when we get to the threshold there are NT staff in masks checking tickets and there is nothing for it but to turn back. We fight our way back across the causeway, mercifully still not breached by the waves and have a stroll up through Marazion, which, though pretty enough is upstaged by St Michael’s Mount sprouting from the broad beach in a dramatic fashion.

We return to the car park where we feel smug making a cup of tea to utilise our £8 fee.

We head off to our pre-booked site at Batallack, near St Just and a few strides from the coast path. The owner is amenable, the site pleasant, with a smattering of occupants.

Next day is cloudy but dry as we set off to walk along the coast path towards Pendeen, where we can get a bus back to the site. As soon as we reach the path the scenery is rugged, rocky cliffs falling steeply down the sea and peppered with the remains of chimneys and wheelhouses from all the old tin mines, all of which have been at least partially restored. The path dips and rises, providing some stiff climbs and descents. In one cove the rocky cliffs are striped with green where arsenic has leeched from the old mines.

After a couple of hours a dank October drizzle sets in, soaking us as we climb steeply up towards the road to Pendeen. We reach the village, legs aching, and scan the main road for a bus stop. The map app on Husband’s phone has disappeared so having spotted a car park sign I make the assumption this is the village centre and we make for it, nipping into the village pub to confirm we’re en route. Sure enough there is not only a bus stop but a shelter! and a few minutes later the double decker ‘coastal breezer’ comes around the corner to take us back to our site. Bliss!