Saturday, 24 August 2013

We're Back! Part I: Kingsbridge, South Sands, Salcombe And Brixham: A Devon Odyssey

I can not believe how quickly the week went. Blink and it's gone. Such is the way with lovely holidays, and that is what we have just had.

It wasn't feeling that lovely at 3am on Sunday morning last mind. After tackling the congestion-laden roads down from Hampshire to the West Country in a two-car convoy (because our children have suddenly grown too enormous to fit into the two bijou vehicles we own) for four hours (which included sitting at a service station for the best part of 40 minutes while traffic failed to go anywhere at all- this brings out the best in the British Sense Of Humour I find, as the other people in the queue were lovely. One elderly lady giggled as she merrily directed traffic out of the parking spaces and back into line. Cheerfully she told me she'd only stopped off for a wee and had been stuck there for an hour as a result. I also got nattering to a chap who was eating a banana. He told me he was off to stay with friends he hadn't seen for years in North Devon but was wondering if he was ever going to get there. We are, as a nation, Excellent At Queuing), anyway, after all this we'd finally settled into our cottage and climbed into our bed (climbed being the operative word: the thing was about ten feet off the ground) when at 3am L burst into our room with wild eyes and a flushed face, frantically pointing at his throat and opening and shutting his mouth soundlessly. One touch of his forehead revealed he was burning up with a fever and he managed to rasp that his throat hurt so much he could barely swallow, let alone croak. Did I have any calpol with me? No, of course not. I'd bought everything but, and of course the next day was Sunday when everything was either closed or low on stock.

I thought we might well be turning around and coming straight home, but L bounced back in that remarkable way kids have and was even swimming in the pool the following afternoon, helped by a giant inflatable shark I'd managed to find in a local shop and a humpback whale the boys found in the pool and christened Andrew, so luckily we were able to stay, albeit taking the days at a slightly more muted pace than we might otherwise have done.

Home last week was a converted cottage on a farm complex near Kingsbridge in Devon. A truly beautiful setting, complete with rolling hills and the sea only a stone's throw away. I had forgotten just how claustrophobic Devonshire lanes can be though- all that single-tracked, high banked, never-endingness with only the ocassional respite in the form of a magnificent view glimpsed briefly when a field gate happens to flash by. It all reminded me a little too closely of being trapped inside a maze.

 Red soils are a feature of the Devonshire landscape.

The bridge that gives the town its name.

Our home for last week.

Our host was a gruff Yorkshireman who had an unfortunate habit of turning every conversation to money. The specifics varied but ranged from how much money the farm was worth, to the kind of grand house he could buy if he chose to sell up, to how much the place cost to run, to how little money they made over winter (largely because of the running cost of the indoor pool which I can now confidently assert costs approx £450 per week to heat through the colder months- thereby well and truly squashing a fond hope I was secretly cherishing that we might be able to have one). I also now know that a child's wooden play house costs £3000 to erect, and a lake which cost £3000 to construct thirty years ago, would, in today's money, be nearer £60,000. 

As someone who is not particularly interested in money, beyond needing enough to feed and clothe the children and keep a comfortable countryside roof over our heads, you can imagine I found these little chats utterly riveting. Another interesting aspect of his character was his tendency to speculate on the sexual habits of his guests, or rather one set in particular, who came back at midnight and didn't get up until midday and kept the curtains closed the entire time they were there. It did make me wonder what he said about us when we weren't there!

But this is part of the joy of going away isn't it? The crazy characters you meet along the way are part of the fun of the holiday, and he was nice enough and no-where near as odd as some we have encountered, such as the man who insisted on wearing leather driving gloves and seating his wife in the back of his car whenever they went anywhere, or the university professor who finished every sentence with a high-pitched giggle, or the wife who never spoke except to repeat the last three words her husband said, or the crazy lady who ran her b&b in a perpetual state of anguish at her guests messing up the bedrooms by sleeping in them, or the man whose hotel in Paris lacked tables with a full set of legs, doors with the proper accompaniment of hinges, and baths with plugs.When we asked if it would be possible to find a plug he looked at us as if we were mad.

Anyway, lots of lovely trips and outings to the sea and various towns, fishing villages and such-like places have been had this week, too many to jot down in one post so I will attempt to be brief and cover them in two. 

My favourite beach was South Sands, because I found three different types of anemone among the rocks there.

 Beaded Anemone 
(very common round the UK- out of the water this resembles nothing so much as a blob of strawberry jelly)

Gem Anemone

 Snakelocks Anemone

I was also rather chuffed to discover quite a few shells had been taken over by hermit crabs, who obligingly pocked their little clawed feet out at me for the camera.

I'd never seen this spectacular Green Leaf Worm before, even though it is apparently quite common around UK coasts. Anyone else come across one before?

F is our Master Crab Hunter, and came up with a goodly number at various different beach locations. This picture below was my favourite. The small crab looks to be in danger until you realise that the posture of the bigger one isn't attack mode at all but defence. Shortly before this picture was taken he had made the mistake of picking the little one up and swinging it over his head, whereupon the small crab reached out and thumped him soundly on the head. The large crab was so surprised he let the small one go, and a second after this picture was taken the little one had leapt down out of F's hands and scuttled off to safety.


M took F and J mackerel fishing off Salcombe and they came back with 5 fish, which we cooked on the barbi. They tasted of the sea. Salcombe didn't impress me much- the best way I can describe it is Chelsea come to Devon. You couldn't move for 4x4s and people wandering aimlessly along the lanes as if they'd never heard of other people needing to go places. They were all kitted out from head to toe in identikit clobber purchased from places like Jules and Crew (which perhaps explains the presence of both shops in the town). Any sense of Devonshire fishing village evaporated as a result, which to me was a real shame. It was, to coin a favourite expression of M's "relentlessly posh," which is not my cup of tea at all. Salcombe is best viewed from one of the many pretty bays which line the coast directly opposite. More on that tomorrow.

Much nicer was Brixham. We drove up round Slapton Sands, telling the children about the WW2 tragedy that struck just off the beach there when the Germans attacked a British force who were practicing for the D-Day landings. Many British soldiers lost their lives in the bay and it is a place filled with poignancy as a result. 
Both M and I had grandfathers who saw active service n the Navy during WW2. They both also passed through the Royal Naval College up the road in Dartmouth. My Grandfather was torpedoed by a German U-Boat which sank his ship just off the English coast in the early stages of the war. Ma has a copy of a newspaper photograph showing Hitler congratulating the commander of the U-Boat responsible. It shows him shaking his hand. Grandpa swallowed a lot of oil when the ship sank; he lost all his possessions and was in the cold water long enough for it to affect his health ever after. Like many in that position, he never spoke about it. Slapton therefore came close to home for both of us. 

We took the car ferry across from Dartmouth and arrived in Brixham in time for ice-cream. We waved at Berry Head in case Seagull Suzie was looking, and had a stroll around the harbour, which was bustling and alive with people and boats.

This is a copy of Drake's ship The Golden Hind, which circumnavigated the globe between 1577-1580 (the snazzy zig-zaggy one on the left, not the small white one with four windows on the right)

Love this shot of the crab and lobster pots. I'm very partial to crab and lobster pots, I have absolutely no idea why but they always draw me. Perhaps there is a fisherman lurking somewhere in my ancestry.

Baby Seagulls

Back to our cottage and it was time to feed and muck out the caterpillars, all of whom had traveled well.  I expect they are the only pillars ever to go on holiday and they clearly enjoyed it judging from the relaxed manner in which almost 50 have now turned into pupas. I did have to keep them hidden away from Mr Yorkshire though after he told us he was harboring murderous thoughts towards cabbage whites after they'd ravaged his cabbages. I didn't think it was prudent to tell him I'd got 50 in a box waiting to hatch out. No one did while we were away, so they've all come home again, but Movement Is Starting To Happen. Very Exciting. More on that in a later post....

As well as the ubiquitous whites there were stacks and stacks of peacocks, tortoiseshells, red admirals, fritillaries, wall browns AND a Painted Lady (at last!) on a particularly sumptuous buddleia just up the lane from the house, so I have plenty of lovely butterfly people to show you. These will also be on another post because I think I've gone for long enough on this one and I'd hate for you to get bored.

I've done lots of swimming on holiday which has been lovely, but means that I have to go for a run now because I am feeling twitchy at not having swum my regulation 40 lengths today. That covered 600 metres. Does this mean that I have to run 600 metres I wonder? The positives are that I can at least get back into my trousers without breathing in, which is a powerful incentive to continue with my new fitness regime. 

It's nice to be back, see you tomorrow...

CT x

ps- I will do my best to catch up with all your excellent blogs and reply to comments over the coming week :-)


  1. Welcome home, glad you had a wonderful holiday
    despite the start. That is a favourite area of Devon for us too. Maybe as I do have sailors from Brixham lurking in my ancestry! I have never seen a green worm before I will have to look out for them. I'm pleased your
    caterpillars survived their holiday and didn't get to taste the delights of your landlord's cabbages!
    Sarah x

    1. Ah, is that what draws you to the sea I wonder? Ancestral memory is a powerful force for some of us....
      I'm very envious you have the sea on your doorstep, I definitely need to visit it a few times a year or I start to feel wonky.... :-)

  2. Glad you had a good time, after the trauma of the first day! I hope the caterpillars enjoyed it too. I shall be putting Brixham on my ever lengthening list.

    1. It's definitely worth a visit, and presumably not too far for you? I think it must be a mark of how used to me they all are that no-one in my family batted an eyelid in even the remotest way at the caterpillars accompanying us!

  3. You see - you have just managed to encapsulate in a single holiday blog all the things I love about England! The crazy people, the seaside, the landscape, the stoicism, the taking creepy crawlies for a jaunt to the West Country...fabulous!

    And I learned something new - that sharks are inflatable! Pray tell me, dear CT - up which end does one blow?

    1. I think it's probably best not to answer the last question so will leave it to your imagination instead, which will afford you more fun.

      UK holidays are great aren't they? Especially with kids in tow. This is our first with no picnics in the rain. They had come to symbolise our week away and we almost felt nostalgic for their absence, which tells you everything you need to know about the British!

  4. Glad you had such wonderful time and good weather after traumas of first day!! I shall be steering clear of Salcombe - a shame really as we used to holiday there a lot when I was little as mum and dad loved it there.

    Glad the caterpillars survived the holiday - I remember once we had to take a containerful of baby stick insects away with us as I couldn't find anyone to look after them!

    Love the photos of rock pool inhabitants :) Look forward to hearing more of your holiday :)

    1. That's interesting re Salcombe. Our neighbour grew up near there and said he loved it as a lad for sailing and now avoids it like the plague. Such a shame.

  5. Hi CT. Love the anemone images, the hermit crab and the Green Leaf Worm-so lovely to see some different creatures. Delighted to hear you enjoyed Brixham. It's at its best when busy and sunny. Good that you got to Slapton with your family history-it's important to remember. Poor Salcombe has been assimilated by the Chelsea brigade. We went once, said it's not for us and have never been back.
    Looking forward to the butterfly images.

    1. We had a giggle while we were eating our ice creams wondering if you'd walked past and we'd never have known it! Lovely place- really glad we could visit and even more pleased to be able to keep in touch with it via your blog.

  6. I've read part II of your holiday first (typical for me). I'm glad the caterpillars all survived their adventure! Brixham looks lovely (as it does in Suzie's blog) but Salcombe really does sound as though it should be missed altogether.
    I was interested to read about your grandfathers and why Slapton means so much. My dad was in the navy at the end of the war and saw action - as I get older I appreciate more what he must have gone through.

    1. I'm the same with my Grandfather. He died when I was about 14, long before I had any real sense of the tremendous bravery involved in going to war or the chance to ask him about his experiences. There was a lovely German family staying on the farm with us, we all got on well and shared many laughs- it's strange and sad to think that only a relatively short time ago our two nations were at war.


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them. CT.