Location: Castle Clytha (nr Llanarth), Coed y Bwnydd (an Iron Age fort) and Mynydd Llangorse (a hill), Monmouthshire, Wales
We left Somerset in bright sunshine and turned Truffy’s nose north-west, aiming for a bridge over the River Severn. After so much time looking at the Bristol Channel, it was great to be able to see higher up the river and cross over the great body of water. As we passed into Wales, we left the blue skies and drove into fog…fortunately soon lifting as we reached our destination.
We pulled into a quiet National Trust carpark beside the River Usk. The river starts high up in the Brecon Beacons, before flowing through Wales to emerge at Newport into the River Severn, opposite Western-super-Mare. We had decided to make our first day’s journey relatively short in order to make the most of the blue sky day. (Strava).
Mr A had found a great sounding walk on the National Trust site which would take us along the river, up to an ancient Iron Age Fort and back via a 17th century castle in a mere 12km (7.5 miles). If you’ve seen our Strava link, you will have seen we must have taken a few wrong turns, as it was 15.6km (about 10 miles) for us!
After passing a group of girls swimming and sunbathing on the river bank, we barely saw another person all day as we wound our way on our circuit walk.
As we hiked up, the views began to open up, giving us our first glimpses of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Fabulous clear views of Sugar Loaf open up in front of us – this is South Wales’ highest mountain (596 metres), and a popular day walk. Its popularity is what turned us off walking up this one, we do prefer to avoid the crowds, even when there isn’t a nasty virus around!
The walk description had been written at a time when there were no crops in the fields, so often it was a bit of a challenge finding the pathway through.
High up on a hill we emerged into Coed y Bwnydd, an Iron Age fort. This is a scheduled ancient monument that was gifted to the National Trust in the 1940s by a grieving Captain in memory of his friend killed in World War II. To the untrained eye, it is a simple woodland, but the more you look, you begin to spot the earthworks that signify the involvement of humans here more than 2,000 years ago.
Clytha Castle was a folly built in 1790 and is now available for holiday stays.
We stayed the night in the quiet car park, then the following morning we drove a short way to Llangors, where we parked up at an activity centre (predominantly training army cadets to climb and survive in the wilderness). Our plan was to climb Mynydd Llangorse, a 515 metre hill overlooking Lake Llangors and the Brecon Beacons.
Again, this walk was not on the tourist trail, and yet able to provide spectacular views (Strava) in isolated serenity. Away from the carpark, we saw one other person, just as we concluded our hike.
We could see the weather starting to change as we enjoyed the last of the sunshine for a couple of days. After climbing back down, we drove off to our next camp, just outside the small town of Brecon.
Location: West Bagborough, Quantock Hills, Somerset
During lockdown, the tiny village of West Bagborough in Somerset had become our home, our safe little bubble. The world went crazy around us, but we just strapped on our boots and headed for the hills. While there we had got to know the owners of the local campsite, Quantock Camping.
We decided to pay them a visit on our journey between Cornwall and Wales. We arrived after lunch and got Truffy settled on to a lovely grassy pitch. Catherine cooked up one of her fab spaghetti bolognaises for us all, and the conversation and laughter flowed, with the odd bottle of wine to lubricate us. Their Great Dane, Genevieve, tended to dominate the skyline somewhat, and the odd cat or chicken made its appearance, all the usual stuff at their place! So lovely to be back among these people who welcomed us into their lives when we so needed to feel part of somewhere safe.
On Saturday morning, with some fresh eggs inside us, we once again strapped on our walking boots and headed up into the Quantock Hills, walking straight from the campsite (Strava). After leaving the village, within minutes we were enveloped in the sights and smells of the countryside we have come to love so much.
Autumn is just starting to make its presence felt, with a few leaves turning a bright gold, and some giving up to the inevitable and scattering themselves on the welcoming ground. We chose a route that would take us back to a hidden valley we had only walked through once, dissected by a perfect little bubbling stream. The last time we were here in the full bloom of early summer, now it looked and smelled so different.
We pressed on to the next little village, only passing a couple of other walkers on the way. Tea was supped from our flasks sitting on a bench in the churchyard. I have rarely felt so content in my life as I did at that moment. We wanted for nothing. The sun was warming our faces, a fresh Somerset-grown apple to munch on, and we headed back over the hills for a fish and chip supper with our hosts. What a perfect day.
The next day we joined our friends and their dogs (Strava) on a walk through ancient birch forest. There is hardly a sentence said between us without a laugh while the dogs romp around, Genevieve crashing though small trees like they’re not there. We got a little lost, a crumpled map was produced, ignored and good humoured debates raged about directions, But it doesn’t matter, we are all just loving being enveloped in this stunning countryside where there’s a new view around every corner, and another bed of nettles to keep you honest.
We just made it to a pub for last orders. A beer never tastes as good as when its drunk after a walk like that. Shared with friends in a sunny garden, and brewed just up the road on Exmoor.
Sadly we said our goodbyes, but knowing we have a safe refuge we can head back to if things go pear shaped makes all the difference to our confidence as we head off to Wales. Well, it’s only 90 minutes down the road!
All was going so well. We were packing up camp like we so regularly do, me tidying and locking things away inside, while Mark was busy on the outside, putting away the eye mask and filling up with water as we were planning to park at a pub that night, with no facilities. He called out for me to check how full the tank was. “50%” I called back….Mark looked at me quizzically, “But it’s overflowing…..” It was at this point his face dropped, as he realised what was happening. He’d mistakenly inserted the water hose into the diesel tank.
All the colour drained out of Mark’s face, and I quickly jumped on to the Hymer Owner’s Group on Facebook to see what was recommended – I correctly assumed that this mistake had been made by others. The advice was as follows:
Do not turn on your engine
Call a specialist to drain the tank – Google ‘Wrong Fuel’ – there are plenty of companies willing to take your money!
Replace your fuel filter – especially where water is involved – the filter is made of cardboard!
Mark made the call which was answered by a very sympathetic lady who for the price of a kidney would immediately send out someone to help. We had to agree, and within two hours our tank-cleaner was busily draining us of water and diesel, and popped in a few litres to get us to a fuel station to fill up.
Thankfully all the water had been pumped out and Truffy ran like clockwork. A few hours late and slightly less money in the bank, we headed off on our way towards our next destination, Tintagel.
As we approached Tintagel we could see a grey haze on the horizon. From my childhood living on the Sussex coast I could recognise it as sea fog. I remember playing in the sunshine in the garden and mum suggesting we catch the bus down to the beach…only to arrive in thick fog and temperatures several degrees lower than those we left.
Arriving in Tintagel, indeed it was. Fog so thick you could hardly see across the road and chilly temperatures that encouraged us to ditch the shorts and pop on long trousers. It didn’t matter to us though, we were meeting my friend Kelly (she also has subglottic stenosis) and her husband Patrick.
We enjoyed a lovely pub lunch, Mr A allowing a pint of beer to help him calm down after the stresses of the morning, before having a walk around the village. Kelly kindly treated us to a Cornish cream tea – scones, cream, jam and black tea to enjoy back at Truffy. Fabulous!
We stayed overnight in the car park, waking up early to the sound of wind. When there’s wind, that means there cannot be fog…and indeed, we had a perfect morning!
We were eager to see Tintagel in the sunshine, knowing we had to leave by lunchtime to drive up to Somerset to have a new fuel filter fitted in the morning. We were off out exploring by 7.30am – mug of tea in hand, beating most of the tourists (Strava link).
The village of Tintagel dates back to possibly the year 700, at which point there may have just been a castle there on the cliff, but there are also many clues to previous lives nearby with Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill forts in the district. There are many legends relating to King Arthur and the wizard Merlin, including one that suggests King Arthur was conceived in Tintagel. Of course that means there are a handful of magic crystal shops and other tourist traps to avoid.
In the main street is the Tintagel Post Office which dates to the 14th century.
As we walked down the street we saw a familiar sign, pointing us to the South West Coast Path and Tintagel Castle. We followed a trail to the cliff tops.
We decided to follow the coast path south for a few kilometres, the views along the coast continuing to be spectacular on this sparkling morning.
We looped back to the village across the fields, calling into the bakery Kelly had taken us to. There we purchased a proper (and incredibly delicious) Cornish Pasty to share for lunch. Delicious!
After our very tasty brunch we moved on a short way up the coast to the small settlement of Boscastle. Boscastle was in the news back in 2004 for a devastating flood which swept through the village. Due to the high sided and narrow valley, coupled with extremely heavy rain, flood waters were funnelled though the town, sweeping aside and destroying everything in their path. There is little evidence of it now, other than a couple of signs telling the story.
We had an explore through the predominantly one street village, centred around the river which leads to a tiny port. Fishing and pleasure boats were tied up on the sandy harbour bottom at low tide.
Leaving Boscastle we headed north, one of our biggest drives in a long while, a couple of hours up to Bridgewater in Somerset. We camped up in a little village on the outskirts for the night in anticipation of an early start at the mechanic’s in the morning.
I had been researching rail trails we could ride in the South West (and there’s many to choose from, bless you Devon, Cornwall and Somerset councils), and up comes one called The Camel Trail near Bodmin. I immediately had visions of cycling along past lines of dromedaries munching scones and jam. But no….the trail gets its name from the river it runs beside. In Cornish the river is called “Dowr Kimmel”, meaning crooked river. Kimmel became camel.
Now that begs a series of questions born out of the ignorance I had for this delightful part of the world. I only have vague memories gleaned from long childhood car trips from the Midlands on an annual pilgrimage to find a patch of sand to sit on, with thousands of other hanky-on-the-head wearing, beetroot-coloured Brits.
So firstly, Cornwall does have its own language, derived mainly from over the water in Brittany, France. Cornish is even taught in some schools, all as part of a national cultural revival. Dig a bit further and apparently a person from Cornwall from 2010 onwards was able to identify themselves, should they wish, as seperate ethnic minority. There was even a movement to devolve Cornwall from the rest of the “United” Kingdom, an affiliation that you wouldn’t currently describe as a happy, close-knit family. Perhaps we are all reacting against globalisation and seeking to retain, or recoup, our cultural uniqueness?
I digress, as is my prerogative, being old…so back to the cycling. The Camel Trail runs traffic free for nearly 30 wonderfully wooded kilometres through rural Cornwall. It is extremely well used, even before the lockdown fuelled surge in bike riding here, the trail was contributing over £3 million to the local economy. Judging by how packed the tea shops along the trail were, this must have sky rocketed. So a good investment by the council. New South Wales (Australia) state government take note,: build it and cyclists will come. The UK has 8,400km of traffic free paths and the South West of England is punching above its weight in having so many of them.
Our first day along the trail took us to the small fishing port of Padstow, home of celebrity chef Rick Stein‘s original seafood restaurant in the 1970’s.
Some say the town should be renamed Steinstow, given old Rick now has a deli, gift shop, fishmonger, cafe, bistro, cooking school…and chippy. The crowds were too much for us, and we rode on out of town with no real plan, and doesn’t that sometimes work out the best? We cycled down some gravel tracks and I chatted to a local who suggested a route to a lookout. Check out these views!
We loitered and punctuated the gobsmacked silence with the odd “wow”. What a seascape.
Things did go downhill, literally, as we rode into the small settlement of Trevone at the bottom of the valley, then also when we tried to have lunch. Couldn’t have been further from Steinworld. This is what the only cafe in town produced for a tuna melt, without cheese. White bread and….tuna. I had emphasised she could have mayo, but no there was no tomato, or lettuce or onion…nothing.
And this is so England. In one town the most amazing world class food, and 4km away a village packed with tourists that serves food even British Rail would be ashamed of. Always keeps you guessing does Blighty – whether its the weather (did that sound right?) that is stormy and wintery in August and now in September positively tropical. Or the people, who are on the most part the most courteous, friendly, do anything for you types, then you mention the B word (Brexit..to be clear…not Beyoncé) and they go all mad crazy!
The following day we rode up to the start of the trail (Strava link) and followed it to the small town of Bodmin, and underwhelmed, left quickly, and looped back round to camp. The day before, Catherine got sunstroke, today we wore long sleeved sweat shirts and wind-proofs. and felt disappointed we forgot our gloves!
I think Autumn will suddenly spring upon us (that didn’t sound right either…but I’m leaving it in) and another season will delight us with its changing colours and smells. England…oh England …the land that keeps you guessing…and dressing….
Leaving Falmouth we drove a short way around the coast to a near empty field just outside the village of Porthleven. It was Friday afternoon when we arrived, the sky grey and uninspiring, and the past few days of hiking and travelling had worn us down. We needed an afternoon off – we enjoyed a chance to stop and read and just relax.
So when we awoke on Saturday morning with sunshine and clear skies, we were excited to pull on our boots and get exploring (Strava link).
It was a brief walk down into town from our camp, which was fairly bustling on this hot weekend. It did not take long to escape the crowds though, as once again we made our way towards the South-west Coast Path.
Porthleven is the most southerly port in the UK, originally developed as a safe haven for shipwrecked sailors when such events were common on this rocky coastline. It appears to be popular with tourists with a lot of holiday homes overlooking the coast, but most of the visitors seemed to be milling around the pubs and cafes surrounding the harbour.
We think we might be developing a combination of phonophobia (fear of loud noises, such as cars) and enochlophobia (fear of crowds) as we can literally feel our anxiety levels rise when surrounded by people and vehicles. It is such a relief to take a few steps and head back to nature, where the sounds of the waves, chirping birds and crying seagulls are the only interruptions to the peace.
Returning to town we had a look around the cafes and restaurants, with one fish and chip shop advertising local oysters. If you’ve followed our posts for a while, you’ll know we love a good oyster….but not at £3.50 each ($7!)…we moved on. Any thoughts of eating out were soon quashed, with most restaurants charging in the region of £25 ($50) for a main. We continued back to camp.
Back in our field, we settled down to admire the view with a gin and tonic. Moments later the owners of a nearby Hymer motorhome popped over to invite us to join them for drinks with their friends which we gladly accepted. A lovely hour was spent exchanging stories over a few wines….experiences like that are priceless and part of what we most enjoy about travelling – the chance to meet new and interesting people, share experiences and learn new tips. Sadly in these Covid times, this type of mingling (we were suitably distanced and there were only six of us in total) has been quite infrequent, people more inclined to keep themselves in their own bubbles. We greatly appreciated the chance to socialise with people other than each other!
Sunday morning was also bright and sunny and we had planned to make our first foray on to the west coast of Cornwall, with an overnight stay just north of St Ives. Unfortunately the combination of blue skies and a 26°C day meant that every single person with a surf or boogie board within a three hour radius had the same idea. It was literally heaving. We felt so uncomfortable. We knew it wasn’t for us, and felt that anywhere by the coast would be the same. We pointed Truffy’s nose inland.
We ended up finding a friendly pub in the quiet village of Fraddon to let us stay the night. Fraddon overlooks the coastal town of Newquay, up in the hills.
We had a relaxed afternoon catching up on some more reading (we are both now absorbed by The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, which covers a couple’s experiences hiking the whole of the South West Coast Path – all 630 miles of it (1,114km)). An evening in the pub enjoying a Sunday roast topped off our weekend.
A birthday always gets me musing. Another year, what has been accomplished? What has it taught me? What will I do differently this next year? Given the current challenges that face the world and impact us , those are particularly difficult questions to answer this year. We are not in as much control to shape our lives as we wish, given the constraints of travel and risk to health. Throw in financial uncertainty, and you have a real mix to try and navigate a path.
Compared to so many, we are living a wonderful life, we are still travelling around, albeit not where we planned to, but still enjoying exploring the great outdoors in England. So many places we are finding that are still away from the crowds.
Falmouth is our first big town for a while, and it remind us of that when we can’t even book a table at any of the nice restaurants there for a celebratory dinner. But we are living with a really big risk. If we get the virus we have no home to run to and recover. Our tiny motorhome is not somewhere you want to be seriously ill in., and what campsite would accept us anyway? What rental property would have us?
Its a risk that we understood we were taking when we got on the plane to Europe last March – but then we thought it would be over in weeks, not years. Now it looks like a second wave is hittingt the UK. It is a threat that seems very real, espcially if there is even the sign of a sore throat or cough. Are we putting ourselves uneceassrily at risk? Should we have come home on the repatriation flights? Our decision not to was based on the better access to specialist medical resources here that Catherine would need, plus an unwillingness to give up our plans. Being treated for COVID-19 when you already have an impaired airway requires understanding of her specific disease. Here in England (in fact especially where we are in the south-west) there are multiple senior doctors who know her and would understand how best to care for her. In Australia there’s only a couple.
So in the middle of these musings, our flights back to Australia were cancelled. We had not been following the situation closely, naively thinking that as we had tickets booked months ago, our airline would be obliged to find us an alternative option to fulfil their contract. Apparently not. There are currently between 20-30,000 Australians who want to return, and only a few airlines who are still flying to Sydney. Plus the Australian government had said in the early stages of the pandemic, get back quick or settle in for the long haul where you are. So they are now severely restricting the numbers of incoming international passengers they will process. Sydney is 300-350 a day, Brisbane and Adelaide 75 a day each, not sure on Darwin and Perth, but it means at this rate it will be a long long wait. Meanwhile, the airlines are bumping people off economy and just selling business and first class tickets. Bless them…I guess they have to make money to survive.
So what this year will bring? It‘s hard to tell. We only know we want to get back to Australia to see our friends and fur child, check on our assets (car and caravan still stored and all our house contents). When and how are unknown. And what about next year? When we store our beloved little home on wheels here, when we will be able to return? We have no idea. Should we just move back into our property when the current tenant’s lease is up in December, give up our travel dreams for a year? We don’t know…it depends on so many variables connected to the pandemic and therefore out of our control.
Meanwhile the historic port city of Falmouth shows us her beautiful side. On my birthday we took a cab into town. Even that felt a bit weird…then a couple of outdoor drinks and an Indian. That will do us. Some lovely digital catch ups with people the next morning then on with the walking boots once again.
We wander around the harbour foreshore on a blue sky day, watch the boats come and go, sit and have a lovely lunch by the beach, its like a mini Sydney!
No harbour town visit is complete without a boat trip, so off we scuttled over on a little ferry to the little village of St Mawes, famous for the artillery fort built by Henry the VIII to keep those pesky French Catholics at bay.
On the way across we got a good view of “The World”, largest luxury yacht in the world. If you have US$10 million in assets you can buy in to have a cabin ranging from a few million up to US$15 million and then you have your “maintenance fees” of…around $900,000 a year! I’d love to have a look around the wine cellar, with 12,000 bottles of wine in their collection…mmm. And now…moored up – for the first time in 18 years, it has stopped moving. So many firsts in this new world we live in.
So you can see by the blue skies in Cornwall at the moment, there is no shortage of vitamin D in our systems to fight off that virus, fingers crossed.
A burger for dinner, sat on a bench by the harbour and we are done with Falmouth. A little too busy with tourists for us, too many crowds to distance from, and many of them don’t seem to bother. Was this the best birthday I’ve had? No, but under the circumstances pretty damm good. What was missing was physically being around some friends and family, to feel connected with them. But thats how it is, and with Catherine by my side, not much else matters other than our health.
Leaving Pentewan we supposedly only had a 30 minute drive to our next campsite on a farm a few miles outside St Mawes. Unfortunately Google Maps lost GPS signal on the way and we ended up driving one way down a tiny lane, branches brushing the roof of Truffy, not knowing whether we could turn around anywhere at the bottom. Fortunately we popped out at the tiny little village of Portholland. With one general store, a post office and 40 residents, we got a few shocked looks as we appeared, turned around and returned back up the road. A tense journey!
Luckily there were no further mishaps with the navigation and we arrived safely on our farm. Our location for the next two nights was purely for the walking – other than a farm shop a short walk away, there was little else on our doorstep other than another stage of the south-west coast track. Suits us perfectly!
After setting up camp and a little lunch we headed off, following quiet lanes and spotting footpath signs until we could see the sea. Our next decision was whether to turn left or right. We chose right and followed a track across the cliff tops (Strava link).
The thing we love about hiking is that there are so few other people about, the fresh air is abundant, and sights so interesting. We picked our way down to quiet sandy bays, maybe one other person visiting, the oyster catchers and seagulls ever present with their calls.
After about an hour’s walking, we emerged at a tiny fishing village, Portscatho. Although it is clear there are several holiday homes here, it didn’t feel touristy at all. It is still an active fishing port, and has been for more than three hundred years, with pilchards the primary catch.
We had a look around before making our way back. We’d spotted what appeared to be a helicopter making a rescue from a boat while walking over. According to the coastguard station volunteer we chatted to, it was the Royal Navy folks from nearby Falmouth conducting training.
We called into Curgurrel Farm Shop on our way back and picked up some freshly cooked and dressed local crab for dinner – delicious!
The following day dawned bright and sunny, so we pulled on those hiking boots again and made our way back to the coast path, this time heading east (Strava link).
We left earlier in the day and carried our lunch this time. The weather was spectacular – blue skies and sparkling waters beside us the whole walk. We enjoyed many blackberries from the plentiful bushes alongside the path, and collected some to take back with us as well.
It was a long, hilly (and warm) walk, with Nare Head our intended destination, rewarding us with incredible views and a soaring osprey circling over us. We even braved paddling our feet in the water on the sandy Carne Beach on our way back.
We now can hardly believe we almost decided to give visiting Cornwall a miss, anticipating it would be really busy, The absence of any crowds has been an absolute delight – avoiding the main holiday destinations has definitely helped. We can tell by the fully booked caravan sites around the likes of Newquay and St Ives that those areas would tell a different story, but by sticking to the little, less touristy spots, we have been enriched with a far quieter experience.
Locations: Dartmoor, Devon and Pentewan, Cornwall UK
A couple of weeks ago we had “discovered” (i.e. a new to us) a gastro pub, The Dartmoor Inn, which was… you guessed it, right there on the moor‘s doorstep. We had lunch there last time, this visit we were splurging for dinner. With my birthday coming up on Wednesday, we had tried to book up some restaurants in the town we will be at then, but each one was either closed or booked out. Its ‘Staycation UK’ time still. So “Carpe Diem” I said, quoting a Roman poet with the somewhat ridiculous name of Horace. Let’s seize the day.
We arrived to find the car park full of vintage Bentleys, and a modern Aston presiding over them. Truffy looked positively clunky, but we didn’t care. None of those cars would be providing a home for the night like ours does. We had sought permission from the Inn to stay overnight in the car park, a very small stagger in mind to bed. But before dinner we had too earn our supper, and marched up one of the highest tors (read small hill) on Dartmoor called Great Links (Strava link).
With thankfully not a golf course in sight, and at 582m above sea level, we were treated to a pretty special view. We have come to love this largest area of open space in the southern part of England. It has a Scottish Highland feel to it, and so easy to get away from the other ’walkers’ who barely stray from the car parks. We came across one young lady on the trail as we walked our final kilometre back to Truffy. She was stood in the middle of the path with her phone on speaker while she shouted into it: “IT IS SO QUIET AND PEACEFUL UP HERE”. I groaned at the irony lost on this millennial .
Dinner was a sumptuous affair. Catherine had tender scallops, for me it was the wood pigeon. I tried to withhold the thought of it flying around, cooing in the treetops, unsuspecting of its coming fate. I picked a wine from Saint Emilion, one of our favourite terroirs in France. This was a classic of the area with a blend of Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sav. Simply delicious with my main of slow roasted shoulder of beef. Maybe a little powerful for Catherine’s fish dish but hey…I was claiming birthday voting rights.
Saturday dawned for us a little groggily, a pre-dinner drink and a whole bottle of wine between us more than our usual quota these days! We decided to clear our heads and hike up to a church we had noticed up on a hill, anticipating another magnificent view, which indeed we were rewarded with.
Brentor Church sits presiding over the rolling country, and is a favourite (very short) walk it would seem, so we moved on.
So next it was off to our home for the new two nights down in the south-east corner of Cornwall in a small coastal settlement called Pentewan.
This was not our usual type of campground, it was a massive holiday park. Feeling a little underwhelmed we donned our walking boots and pottered down to the beach. Wow! Its so rewarding to have low expectations! What a gorgeous stretch of coast we had landed at.
Off we trotted up the ever present South West Coast Path (well, if you’re in the south west of England between Poole in Dorset and Minehead in Somerset!). What a feast for the eyes, and the belly with all the plump blackberries we were scoffing on the way. Even the locals were friendly here, having a chat with one out gardening. A pleasant change from Rude in Bude.
On the way back we had a poke around the old harbour that once had been bustling with ships carting away the china clay mined locally. Now all silted up, it did provide a lovely backdrop to the pub perched on its edge. Oh that was a beer well earned on the steep paths (Strava link).
Sunday dawned with the rainy showers that have been ever present since the dry spring, but we donned our cycle gear and headed off anyway. We had noticed a rail trail (the Pentewan Valley Trail), our favourite traffic free riding option, and had an explore inland initially, then up and down some country lanes and just followed our noses. once again with no expectatations we were delighted to emerge in the small port of Charlestown (Strava link). Another wow moment. I just love old harbours like this, and these old ships, the stories they could tell. It seems the port and its ships has been a favourite movie set for classics like Poldark. Catherine, with her movie star looks, blended in perfectly.
Returning to camp, the day was not done yet. After madly getting some washing done in our little on-board twin tub washing machine and hung out, it was once again on with the walking boots, and off up the coast path, this time in the opposite direction towards the small port of Mevagissey (Strava link).
Two ports in one day…lucky boy. The walk there was definitely in our ‘Top 10 Global Afternoon Wanders‘ (no we don’t have that list but if we did…). This is world class scenery though, and when we were more than a 5 minute stretch from car parks, not too crowded.
Walking into the village though, and the proximity of their cars, the crowds returned, but not enough to spoil the views of this quintessential Cornish fishing port. An ice cream savoured to fortify us for the return walk, we were off once again along this magnificent coastal scenery.
We are reminded this will be the third season in which we have seen and enjoyed a section of the South-West Coast Path. What a wonderful asset to the country this piece of infrastructure is. All praise to the many individual campaigners, as well as local and national councils who have fought off developers and landowners that sought to restrict walkers’ access to this fabulous coastline.
Location: Castle Drogo, Dartmoor, Honiton, Devon, UK
In addition to the change in weather over the past couple of weeks, we are beginning to see signs of autumn everywhere. The flowers we were admiring a few months ago are now beginning to go to seed, their leaves decaying. Trees and bushes which once sported blossom, are now carrying fruit and nuts, with every hike rewarding us with fresh blackberries. We continue to appreciate the change in seasons.
Farewelling Holsworthy on Sunday morning we drove down some tiny lanes in Dartmoor National Park to Drogo Castle. After all the stormy weather it was a relief to see the blue skies again as we wound our way down single track roads, hoping we would not come across another vehicle. We parked in the coach parking space at Castle Drogo – a National Trust volunteer advising us that yes, not only coaches come here but buses too! Not today though, so we had a nice big parking space to settle in.
Castle Drogo was apparently the last castle to be built in England – in the early 1900s. It is more of a manor house with castle features than a ‘real’ castle designed to keep out invaders. We were not here to visit the castle or its gardens however, rather to hike the Teign Gorge Walk, a circular hike (Strava link) through various vegetation down to the Teign River and back. This area is apparently one of the most famous walks on Dartmoor, but despite this accolade, it was not too busy on this sunny Sunday morning.
I think we appreciated everything all the more because of the glorious weather – everything looked clean and fresh after the rain, the insects buzzing around, newly hatched butterflies flitting around the heather.
As we drove out of the area towards the main road to Exeter, we fortunately didn’t come across many vehicles, and those we did were easily able to reverse neatly into one of the passing spaces found alongside the lanes…apart from this one lady. It literally took her 10 minutes to reverse back three metres – she kept reversing into the hedge, driving forwards angrily and repeating the same manoeuvre. Just torture to watch. I bet she was relieved when we finally drove past her and went on our way. Top tip – if you cannot reverse confidently, then do not visit Devon. According to a recent study, Devon has more than 16 metres of road per head of population measuring in excess of 8,000 miles (nearly 12,900km) – and very few of those roads are major arteries. You can expect to have to reverse at some point!
Our next location was the small town of Honiton, about 18 miles north of Exeter. This was to be our home for the next five nights as we had agreed to cat-sit a rather handsome 16 year old called Wooster for our friends Karen and Dan. They were off to Wales for five days of fun with their twin boys before they went back to school.
What an absolute delight Wooster was! In case you hadn’t noticed, we are somewhat cat lovers, and dearly miss our feline fur child, Tassie, who is being cared for by her foster parents in Sydney, Australia. Wooster adopted us immediately, happy to allow us to groom him, and welcomed a warm lap to sleep on. He even took to sleeping part of the night between us…we felt very privileged. In return, we kept him fed and watered, plus gave him his daily asthma inhaler and medication.
On Tuesday morning we walked into Honiton for an explore. It was market day and the high street was bustling. The market wasn’t as impressive as we’d hoped, but we picked up a couple of bargains as we wondered around. Unlike many towns, Honiton has not pedestrianised its main street, meaning huge lorries disrupt the peace as they rumble through the centre. It’s in dire need of a bypass but had a nice feel otherwise.
On Wednesday we decided to explore the nearby city of Exeter. We donned our face coverings for the short train ride, Mr A proudly wearing his very scary Darth Vader variety! Exeter is a university city, and that general vibe could be felt right away. Unlike Honiton, it has gone down the pedestrianised route, with a one way system on the streets to protect people from Covid-19…that everyone was ignoring. Oh well, they tried!
After a delicious lunch at a street-food market, we started to explore around the shops. but the constant hand sanitising and mask wearing got a little tiresome. Several of the store attendants were clearly feeling a little tense at having to deal with the general public and snapped and barked rules at us as we entered. It really took the shine off shopping, and despite being very bored with our current limited wardrobes, we left with nothing new.
Feeling a little dejected, we followed signs down to the Quay. This is a historical area which used to serve a multitude of ships which travelled up the river to this port. These days it is full of interesting craft shops, cafes and bars – we could imagine it being bustling during ‘peace-time’.
We had a look around before returning to the station to catch our train home.
In addition to appreciating some furry company, our house and cat-sit was a great chance to enjoy four days with space, a long shower and a washing machine. As much as we enjoy staying in Truffy, it is good to sometimes move around and recharge our batteries. Having had little drying weather recently, our washing mountain was quite substantial, so finally we feel on top of things.
We left Wooster with a few new catnip mice, a massage brush and heavy hearts. We’ll miss his vocal chats and loud purrs as we move on our way to new adventures.
Last week was Storm Ellen, this week was Storm Francis’s turn to bugger things up. We had it all planned. Catherine’s sister and family were coming to camp with us for the week, and their childhood friend Karen and her family also joining us for a couple of days.
Well, Helen and family lasted one night before their tent was shredded by gale force winds, and holiday spirits drowned by rain squalls lashing; the field turned into a mud pit. Karen and her family sensibly decided to abort completely.
We just felt so sorry for them. This has been a super tough year for all of these folk for many reasons. They were so looking forward to a chance to get escape to somewhere different and hang out with each other. But nothing could be done. Their tent just buckled under the wind. It was pitched well, it just couldn’t stand up to the 52mph gusts that were buffeting us on Monday night. This was only the third night of use for this brand new tent. Poor show Outwell, and we’ve told them so, even posted a number of pictures on their Facebook site showing the broken poles. Not even an acknowledgment. It did make us realise how so much more robust, and good value, our Australian camping equipment is.
So that was that. We were back on our own. The wind subsided to a fresh breeze, and it stopped raining briefly, so we jumped on our bikes and rode into the local town of Holsworthy for a pub lunch. It was the last day of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme the UK government has been running to help the pub and restaurant industry by providing £10 a head subsidy at participating restaurants a few days each week in August. We’ve not managed to use it before, so was nice to get a cheap feed.
The riding around here, as I’ve said before, is just magnificent. Several long distance cycle routes come through the area, often following old railways lines, and we headed out a short way on one towards Bude. We joined for a while two touring cyclists who were heading from land End to John O’Groats,. They worked for Sustrans, the national cycle body that has been the driver behind so much of the program of work that has transformed cycling in the UK. I envied them the ride.
With another forecast of rain, wind and more rain, we decided to drive over to the picturesque village of Clovelly, backdrop to so many films, including one of our favourites, The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. You have to park outside the village entrance, and then pay a small fee for entry before you are able to walk down the pedestrianised high street (we like that!) that descends precipitously 120 metres to the little harbour.
It’s while in the fisherman’s museum that we learn the link to Sydney’s expensive eastern suburb of Clovelly A Plymouth born pastoralist with links to this village of Clovelly in Devon sailed to Australia in the early 1800s. His name was Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur. He purchased a house in Watson’s bay which he named Clovelly after this village. Later, when Sydney’s Council was trying to name the suburb, they considered Eastbourne, but picked Clovelly instead, influenced by the name of his house.
With the rain lashing down it was a slippery walk on the cobbles, but the views were just tremendous. The sense of history once again was palpable. Its easy to see why a number of famous writers and artists have taken their inspiration from living here.
The weather certainly wasn’t suiting the feline population, with several practically knocking on windows and doors to be let in out of the cold and wet. We however braved it down to the harbour, and sheltered while we sipped our hot tea and contemplated what life would have been like heading out on a fishing boat. In 1838 twelve boats set out and only one returned, a storm hitting them and taking twenty six lives that day. We however, fortified by a Devon pasty, and educated by the shop owner about the difference between a Devon and a Cornish one (its all in the pastry folding apparently) and we headed back to Truffy somewhat bedraggled.
After another day of rain…we finally saw a window in the forecast, fortuitously for when we had booked a wine tasting. Yes…English wine….So off we went on the bikes, the winery (Torview Wines) conveniently being located on the same cycle route we had headed out on previously, when we visited Black Torrington and the delicious pub lunch last weekend.. Happy to repeat that stunning ride, off we pedalled with a freezing north wind causing us to wrap up warm. And yes… it is August.
Tim and his wife are the owners of the winery, and the only employees. Run as a family business they feel they can better control the inputs and outputs. We really enjoyed our visit here. Tim really did a great job of giving an overview of viticulture in this neck of the woods. They acquired the property from one of the many farmers whose cattle had been hit by foot and mouth.
Tim has been involved in the wine industry all his life, and felt he wanted to do things a little differently in his winery, based on what he felt would work best. For instance, the weeds are allowed to grow between the vines. The nettles were thigh high and it didn’t make for a pretty picture, but Tim is adamant it helps the wine because you are not running up and down the soil with vehicles compacting and damaging it, and the added stress on the vines ensures they produce fewer leaves and more fruit. With two pairs of barn owls living on the property, the longer grass also provides them with ample hunting ground.
He also has a novel way of sourcing his pickers for the harvest. He approached several local charities and offered to donate £30 a day for any volunteers they could find him. What a neat idea.
We tasted a number of his wines, with three main varieties, two we had never tried before. In this climate they need to be pretty robust! Climate change is having its impact here like everywhere else. Earlier springs for instance, which becomes an issue when there is a frost, which led to some varieties being decimated this year. Interestingly this is another business that sees its market as being almost exclusively local, with stock for instance going to bed and breakfasts for their welcome packs, and regional farmers markets. We left understanding a lot more than the zero knowledge we had. That counts as a good day.
This is our last day of the nearly a fortnight we have spent at Headon Farm. We have been made so welcome by the owners, Linda and Richard. They epitomise what we’d love every campsite owner to be like. Everything is so well kept and clean, and local knowledge always forthcoming. I wish we could store our Truffy here, they have a gold standard facility, and know they would be such good carers, but having to get back to Heathrow. with all of our luggage…tricky.
For the people who drive here in cars and come back year after year, what a fantastic base to explore Devon and Cornwall. The weather hasn’t been kind, but we can’t control that. We have still enjoyed our time here, just wish we could have shared more of it with friends and family as we planned. It wasn’t to be.