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….
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.
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.
When bad weather is given a name, you know it’s not going to be a fleeting visit, and this has been the case with Storm Ellen. Ellen is a combination of two storms – a tropical storm that originated off the east coast of the USA which met up with another storm coming from Greenland. Is this just weather or the impact of climate change? Nevertheless, the resultant high winds and rain have been what we have been ‘enjoying’ here the past week.
We moved inland from Bude to a farm near Holsworthy, a small market town just across the border into Devon. It is very rural, with few major roads, predominantly a network of tiny narrow lanes, winding around and over the rolling hills, joining up little villages and farms. It makes for ideal walking and cycling territory, and with a break in the rain we went for an explore.
Holsworthy holds a small market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, so we drove in to check it out. It really was small, but we found a lady selling a whole stall of vegan cakes. Being dairy-free, this was very exciting for me (I rarely can consume cake!), and we selected a chocolate orange cake which was divine, and ideal for an afternoon of sheltering from the rain with a cup of tea.
Mark did a little research and found a vineyard about an hour’s cycle away which offered tours and tasting. The wine industry in the UK is growing rapidly and some of the more established vineyards are achieving a great reputation, though to date, British wine accounts for only 1% of consumption here. Its another sign of the changing climate, with the South of France often reaching summer temperatures in the mid to late 30s, and parts of the UK now much more similar to temperatures of France of the past.
We didn’t get very far, with a thorn wedging itself into my rear bike tire, and after 5km I was off my bike and pushing it back to camp. Perhaps it was for the best. Once back, the weather changed , with blustery showers accompanied by strong gusts of wind. We rebooked the wine tasting for next weekend, when hopefully the weather will be more favourable.
Friday morning we drove off to Exeter, about an hour’s journey south-east. My breathing had been doing really well, but slowly starting to decline, so I had an appointment to have some steroid injections at Charing Cross Hospital in London. I farewelled Mark, donned my face covering and settled onto the train to Paddington.
All went well at the hospital, with a successful procedure and my trachea looking really good apparently, and soon I was off to stay the night with friends in Twickenham. I first met Jacky face to face back in 2017, but we had been friends for a couple of years before that, having met online through the support group I run for patients with idiopathic subglottic stenosis. She and her husband Austin were amazing hosts, taking me out in Twickenham to an Italian restaurant, followed by a stroll along the River Thames.
Before I caught the train back to Exeter, we enjoyed a Saturday morning explore along the riverside, opening my eyes to a new side of Twickenham, which I previously only knew for hosting rugby matches. Lovely parks, historic houses, art galleries, barges and birds on the river, it was really interesting and very unexpected.
We’ve been in the UK for six months now, and in all that time had not managed to go for a pub Sunday lunch. Linda, one of the owners of the campsite we’re staying on (Headon Farm), had recommended lunch at The Black River Inn in the village of Black Torrington, so we booked ourselves in.
It was a 40 minute cycle across country to Black Torrington, following some of Route 3, a cycle network along quiet lanes and cycle paths between Land’s End and Bristol. We were grateful for our motors on the rolling hills, particularly on the way home.
A brilliant dining experience, well deserved of their great reputation. They even served Wicked Wolf ale, the beer sold by our old neighbour in West Bagborough.
The coming week is going to take on a different pace, with my sister Helen coming camping with her family, and friends from Honiton also joining us for a couple of nights. We’re really looking forward to it – whatever the weather, we’ll brave it together!
Our fabulous 66km ride out to Okehampton and back left us curious to tour more of this stunning area, in particular to explore Dartmoor National Park. It is the largest area of open space in the south of England, and has been shaped by centuries of human activity.
First though, we got some unexpected news. I had emailed an old work colleague from Australia, who, I recalled in the depths of my memories, had moved to Devon from Sydney several years ago. We weren’t sure where in Devon she was living, but given we are here until the end of the month, we thought it might be possible for us to pay her a visit and learn more about her new life on this side of the world. Her response was just as surprised as ours – she had moved to none other than Tavistock!
We jumped on our bikes and cycled over to her house via the Tavistock Viaduct. The viaduct is pretty much all that remains from the old railway which ran through here and closed in the 1960s – now turned into a short 2km walking and cycleway through a cool leafy reserve and offering fabulous views over the town.
We joined Mary for cold drinks in the garden and proceeded to ask her lots of questions. It was a lovely afternoon and helped us understand more about the decisions behind a big and brave move back around the world after more than 20 years living in Australia.
Thunder storms rumbled around us but we remained dry, with the rain fortunately holding off until we were back holed up in Truffy.
Mary had given us some advice on where to start a walk, and despite continuing wet weather forecast, we were keen to get out on the moors. We drove a short way out of Tavistock and parked up behind a pub, The Dartmoor Inn. We decided to book in for lunch after our walk.
First though, we had to work up that appetite. A lane beside the pub led us directly onto Dartmoor, a completely different scenery to the bright green fields and farmland we have been used to. We decided to take a walk up to Widgery’s Cross up on Brat tor. This was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, and is the tallest of all the crosses on Dartmoor, made from slabs of granite. A tor is the name given to peaks topped with rock, most frequently granite. Dartmoor National Park has more than 160 tors.
As we climbed up the hill, the ‘Devon sunshine’ descended around us, with swirling cloud obscuring the views and settling thick around us. We clambered up the rocky tor, and sat at the base of the cross enjoying a cup of tea.
At just over 5.5km (Strava link), this was not a long walk, but a great taster of what’s potentially on offer for us on Dartmoor. We are certainly hungry to see more in the future.
Our lunch at the Dartmoor Inn was a wonderful surprise. The new owners have only been there 12 months, but in that time spent several thousand pounds renovating the interior and bringing the menu up to date. We opted for two entrees each – crab salad and scallops for myself and a roasted tomato soup for Mark, followed by scallops as well. Absolutely delicious and accompanied by some fabulous wine options – just one glass for myself and half a beer for Mr A.
Head chef and co-owner Jay Barker-Jones popped out to chat as we finished our meal – explaining his food philosophy and dreams for the pub. We wished them every success – the food quality is definitely in line with Jay’s training in Michelin starred restaurants around the UK. We would say this meal has been the most outstanding of our visit to the UK so far.
Bonus fact for travelling folks like us – they welcome motorhomes to come and park up for the night, as long as they’re dining there that evening. If you’re travelling this way, I would definitely take up that offer and enjoy more than just one glass of wine!
Location: Tavistock, Okehampton and Dartmoor, Devon,
Having time to learn has been one of the great joys of retirement. We have found ourselves, in our three years on the road, improving our understanding of the world around us. Its history, geology, flora, fauna, macro and micro cultures. What a privledge, and we don’t want to waste that opportunity. Take this week for example. we took another walk from our campsite, and came across an old arsenic works from the early 20th century. That led to a bit of reading up about mining more generally in this area, and all of a sudden this whole new chapter in my learning journey opens up.
So we had seen the signs around Tavistock designating it a World Heritage site, but hadn’t really understood why. Its all about the mines.
I have also wondered how this little island I once called home got to be so important for a while on the world stage (Noah Harare in “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” was the most readable explanation I’ve read on that) and the role mining played in Britain’s rise to fame I hadn’t really appreciated.
The archaeological record shows a history of taking ores from stream beds and turning them into something useful since the mid Bronze Age, around 4,000 years ago. In this area, it was mainly tin and copper, thanks to its abundance given a specific geology where mineralisation had occurred. I was definitely asleep in my history and chemistry lessons, as I hadn’t remembered that by adding small amounts of tin to copper – hey presto— you have bronze, an even harder metal. Although the first evidence of this process has been uncovered in Turkey over 5,000 years ago, first evidence so far in UK was a 1,000 years later. It has been postulated even as a reason the Romans invaded to get their hands on Cornish and Devon tin. By the 12th century there was over 60 tons of tin ore recorded as being mined out of Dartmoor and the surrounding area.
This mining activity has so shaped the landscape and made an unique contribution of the area we are exploring that in 2006 it was awarded World Heritage status, as the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape. The 18th and 19th century saw deep mines (over 1500 feet at Morwhellan) for tin and two thirds of the world’s copper, as well as half the world‘s arsenic production. Mining machinery built in this area was sold around the world and become one of the drivers of the Industrial Revolution. Another piece in the puzzle of understanding this country’s history put in place.
So it is a with different eye that we can walk around this landscape, admire its rural beauty, and now appreciate its role on the world stage.
Just imagining the children, some as young as 9, their graves in the local churchyard, climbing down into these mines, sent shivers down our spines, even on this baking hot day. I think of my grandchildren at that age now, and how their world is so different.
One unintended benefit for us of this historical landscape is the abundance of old railways that the far sighted Devon Council has converted to rail trails. I had read about one called the Granite Way that started around 15 kilometres from our campsite. So off we rode, the excitement of the wheels rolling somewhere new never dulls.
We cycled through some pretty hilly terrain, with liberal use of the pedal assistance provided by our bikes. Would we have chosen to ride to the start without battery support? I doubt it. It added over 30 km to the trip, with another 36km return for the rail trail to come. But knowing we could “flatten the hills” a bit we rode it (Strava link).
We are so glad we did. The ride took us through an unfolding landscape dotted with churches with commanding views, Norman castles, and some very enticing looking pubs.
But we pressed on to the welcome more level tarmac of the Granite Way. I had seen pictures from various blogs of the highlights of this route, which is part of the much longer “Coast to Coast” route through Devon (Plymouth to Ilfracombe) , but was still taken aback when we rounded a corner and this restored viaduct came into view.
It was great seeing so many smiles from other cyclists as well, clearly enjoying the day. Even a couple of lycra clad road warriors smiled, unheard of in Australia! It is so relaxing to be away from the threat of cars, and just to be able to take in the view without constantly checking mirrors and worrying if you will be come one of the many accident statistics where bike meets car. Cyclist rarely comes off better! Touch wood, so far, we have experienced really respectful road sharing behaviour from car drivers. The only near accident was when we were pedestrians and a road cyclist came hammering around a blind bend in a village and nearly took Catherine out!
As we reached the end of the trail in the small town of Okehampton, we spotted a family from our campsite who has just ridden the trail with their three boys, one of whom was only five! Brilliant. A long pub lunch while our batteries charged back up, and we rode back, catching them up and riding the return rail trail leg with them. It was so inspiring to hear their story. The two highest mountain peaks in England and Wales have bagged by these little guys, when one was only four!
They don’t posses tablets, and haven’t asked for them. Life in their home town of Newquay seems busy enough with swimming, surfing, riding and hiking. There are many different ways to parent, and I’m sure not an expert, but seeing these young guys’ confidence and interest in the world around them as we shared a bottle of wine with mum and dad, I filed that observation away.
Leaving our campsite in Dorset, it was just a hop skip and a jump into Devon, the adjoining county. Our next destination was a campground near Tavistock in Devon, just north of Plymouth.
We first became aware of The Old Rectory, Camping and Caravan Park when we were desperately looking for a place to live, just before Easter. The nephew of Declan (the campground owner), knows someone we know, as he contacted us via Facebook and suggested we park up here. As it turned out we were able to find and rent Honeysuckle Cottage in West Bagborough instead, and the rest is history.
Still, we had taken note of this location, surrounded by interesting hikes and cycleways, and nestled a short way from the tors and moors of Dartmoor, and had decided to book in for two weeks. What a great decision!
The weather has been variable since we arrived, with temperatures similar to winter in Australia (daytimes at 16-18 degrees) with a good dose of rain and drizzle ranging to a hot and humid late 20s the past couple of days.
Our first impression of Tavistock was of a grand, good looking town, with its central square centred around its Pannier Markets. These were purpose built in the 1850s by the 7th Duke of Bedford using money made from the local copper and asbestos mining operations. The river was re-routed to allow for this building and the square (Bedford Square). There are still markets held here every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
The sunshine of our first day was not set to last, so on Tuesday morning we decided we would cycle into town and have a good look around. Our campsite, The Old Rectory is just out of town, but we managed to ride in with only a short distance travelled on roads.
Diverting down a narrow farm track, we soon arrived at the Tavistock Canal. This picturesque area is now primarily a footpath (bikes tolerated with care), but has an interesting history dating back to 1817. It links to the River Tamar and Morwellham Quay, and was used to transport goods for shipping. These days it’s home primarily to waterfowl, but the excellent craft involved in building this watercourse is still holding strong.
We had a good explore around town on our bikes, the rain holding off enough for us to enjoy a picnic of Cornish Pasties (a vegan one for me – one of the benefits of this latest food trend is dairy-free goodies!) and a hot chocolate.
Wednesday dawned grey, but the rain continued to hold off, so we donned our walking boots and decided to hike to see the aforementioned Morwellham Quay (Strava link). Our campground is located in the hamlet of Gulworthy, on the edge of a huge network of mountain biking and hiking tracks known as the Tamar Trails. The trail network is open for all to use, with maps around detailing which are for walkers only versus shared with bikes.
This whole area is part of the Cornish and West Devon Mining Landscape World Heritage Site – protected along with the likes of the Taj Mahal and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Tamar Valley was home to numerous successful copper mines in the 19th and 20th centuries.
We made it down to Morwellham Quay, the site of what used to be a busy bustling port – shipping copper to Swansea to be smelted, and receiving other goods such as coal from Wales. Today it’s a museum, with carefully restored mining artefacts and (when there is no Covid), theatre and exhibits depicting life for the mine workers and their families.
Mark had read that the pub, The Ship Inn, had just reopened its doors to the public, and spotting empty benches and an open door, checked to see whether they were serving yet. It was 11.30am, but yes indeed, two half pints of a locally brewed beer were soon drawn and we enjoyed those sitting outside on the cobbled streets.
It was very quiet on this afternoon, just a few people camping in the nearby field, and none of the usual attractions open. We explored what we could around the quay, all very interesting and somewhat hard to imagine with the river not looking deep enough to cater to much more than small pleasure boats, much less the huge ships required to transport goods.
The following day was wet and drizzly, our location high up on the edge of Dartmoor meaning we were surrounded by cloud and fog. We caught a bus into Tavistock to have a look around the Pannier Markets and shops. It’s such a shame the experience has been tainted by this virus. Masks have to be adorned, the market stalls have been halved to allow for social distancing, and people are somewhat on edge. I think the whole experience of not being able to see peoples’ faces has tainted perceptions. A visage hidden behind a mask can look threatening and unfriendly and sadly that is how we were treated in a few of the stores. We didn’t spend long in town, stopping only for lunch in a cafe and returning to Truffy earlier than anticipated.
Friday morning we woke early for us (before 7am!) as fine weather was promised and we had an exciting day planned.
We cycled to the next village of Gunnislake and caught the train from there into Plymouth.
Face coverings are required on trains, and I didn’t much fancy wearing a hot mask for the best part of an hour. I experimented with my scarf, which worked quite nicely.
Neither of us can remember ever visiting Plymouth before and were both impressed on arrival. It was a short cycle from the train station down to the front, adorned with magnificent hotels with incredible views.
We explored around the Barbican area, a buzzing harbourside suburb
We had an explore around the foreshore, enjoying the authenticity of the port buildings and fish markets, not simply providing sights for tourists. When the storm hit, we ducked into a pub to find lunch.
Sated, we set off on our way back to Tavistock. We rode along National Cycle Route 27, following a section known as Drake‘s Trail, named after Sir Frances Drake, the famous Elizabethan seafarer. The track is a 33km (21 mile) route which winds through riverside fauna, forest and through part of Dartmoor National Park.
It was a great day out, and we left Plymouth keen to visit again. It is such an interesting city – with islands, forts, and a lot of history to explore. It’s on our list for a longer trip in the future.
A hot day dawned on Saturday so we had a chilled out day. Next month I have been invited to present at an online conference (for the Patient Centred Outcomes Research Institute – PCORI) about conducting research via the rare disease support group I run, so worked on my biography and presentation, while we caught up with the washing before the next rain arrives.
Location: Moreton, Weymouth, Bridport and Charmouth, Dorset
Arriving at our next campsite, another Camping and Caravan Club site, it was becoming “normal” to have to wait in the motorhome and be given a list of all things you couldn’t do because of the restitutions designed to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But the sun was shining and we tried to cast aside our concerns, deciding to catch the train into the nearby seaside resort of Weymouth. Not a place either of us had recalled visiting before when we lived in England, but the wow factor on this blue sky day was huge.
We walked around the old harbour area, I’m always fascinated by them, and not just because that’s always where the cafes and restaurants are (although that does perk me up), but its the history that seeps out off the buildings. What tales they could tell.
This town just had both of us gawking at it loveliness. It seemed to have just a great balance between feeling like a working harbour, and a place you would love to holiday in. It wasn’t until afterwards that we read it was the first place to record the Black Death arriving in 1348!
Once we moved around the edge of the harbour, walks opened up along the coast. The South West Coast walk for instance stretches for hundreds of miles in either direction from here.
But our tummies told us it was time to pick a lunch spot, and after chatting to one of the locals, who turned out to be a London chef with a holiday house in town, we went to the restaurant he recommended. It was our first “flash” lunch since Sydney in February. It was so perfect, until they messed up the order and brought Catherine a dish that contained dairy. But once the error was pointed they were mortified, and wouldn’t let us pay for a thing! What exceptional service.
Some places just have a great vibe about them, and this was one of them. I even managed to get my eyes pressured checked on the spot – and all was well – a great relief.
Every time we looked up and out at the sparkling ocean, we had to remind ourselves that we hadn’t been transported to some mediterranean resort. Well until you looked at the people wandering around – definitely Brits!
Next stop on the Dorset whistle stop tour tour close to the small town of Bridport. We had managed to find a space on a Caravan and Camping Club farm site. These are great places for us, with just a water tap, somewhere to empty your toilet waste, and on this one, mains power.
We could walk right from the site out onto the hills, and ended up doing an 18k circuit.
A little stiff, the following day a we pumped out a 39km cycle up through enough hills to give us decent workout, even with our batteries. People seem to think an electric bike is like a moped. You just twist the throttle. Some of them are. Ours are whats called “pedal assisted” – you get a little help – but you still need to work.
We then had the pleasure of a long, fast downhill into the small seaside town of Charmouth, heaving with school holiday visitors, but with almost no tourist development. The few cafes there were had massive queues for the standard fried fare. As usual we were relieved to have brought a picnic and a flask of tea.
This is a part of England‘s south coast that we will come back to and explore more, ideally when its not peak season. It has ingredients we love – walking cycling, and enticing pubs. Hopefully it will at least be when we can actually get in to a pub spontaneously and not have to book – as we were told we needed to at the one place we tried. Testing times.
Location: Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire, Braintree, Essex, St Leonards-on-sea, and Rye Harbour, East Sussex, Lancing, West Sussex, Portsmouth, Hampshire
A whirlwind of emotion accompanies our travels as we finally have in person visits with family around the country. Following a busy three days in Milton Keynes with Mark’s daughters and grandchildren, we continued our journeys around England, gradually travelling south over a ten day period.
Sunday night was spent with my cousin Karen and her family in Little Gaddesden where we were treated to a magnificent roast dinner and delicious wine, as always very generous with their time and company, with many laughs enjoyed.
It was just a flying visit, and by lunchtime the following day we were back on the road, driving to Essex and our friends Mel and Barny.
We were privileged to be the first guests in their nearly finished new home set in picturesque countryside, plenty of bird life and a rail trail at the end of the road. Their young working cocker puppy, Bertie kept us all on our toes with his endless energy and demand for tummy tickles and despite having spent the weekend moving in, Mel and Barny somehow found the energy to whip up a delicious salad and BBQ steak dinner. A great evening was spent with them and was over all too soon.
After leaving Essex, our next stop was Sussex, off to see my mum for a couple of nights. The weather continued to be absolutely glorious, the sun shining and showing off Hastings’ sea front in its best light, the sea like a mill pond lapping on the pebble beaches.
The following day Mr A decided to take himself off on an ebike ride adventure, while I joined mum and her husband Barry on a trip to nearby Rye Harbour. Rye Harbour is a little peaceful village situated near the mouth of the River Rother, a short drive from Hastings. Seals are often seen fishing in the estuary here, and there are numerous working fishing boats that moor alongside the jetties.
On the other side of the river is popular sandy beach, Camber Sands, which on this warm, summer’s day was packed with visitors, despite the ongoing Covid-19 distancing restrictions. In contrast, our walk around the nature reserve was politely distanced and peaceful.
The walk followed the coast, the pebble and shingle beaches lined with old weathered wooden groynes, designed to help protect the land and marshes behind the beaches from erosion from the sea.
It was a lovely afternoon out, clocking 8km (Strava link) and plenty of fresh air. That evening, Mum treated us to a delicious Indian meal at Flavours of India in Hastings. It‘s our second visit there and the food has been consistently excellent.
We farewelled mum the following morning, and drove to Brighton. It was a very exciting day for me – finally I was going to the hairdressers! I spent a warm afternoon wearing a mask and disposable plastic cape – not the usual luxury experience, but such a relief to get a good cut after all this time.
With somewhat shorter and neater hair, I called in to see my sister Helen briefly, before catching a train along the coast to the village of Lancing where Mr A had parked Truffy at a campground.
The following morning, Mr A and I jumped on our bikes and went for an explore. Lancing is a coastal village just 20 minutes on the train from Brighton. It has a cycleway which follows the coast for some miles which is easily accessible from the campsite.
We returned back to camp in time for my sister Helen to arrive with a car full of camping gear and children. Niece and nephew Isabel and Elliot soon found the playpark while Helen, Mark and I were joined by another camper to erect her tent in the increasingly strong winds. Perfect kite flying weather!
The following day was somewhat of a wash out with the strong winds continuing but now accompanied by driving rain. Helen’s fiancé Stuart came to join us for lunch, after which they decided to abandon camping and go home for the rest of the afternoon and evening, leaving us to shelter in Truffy and watch Netflix!
The sun returned on Sunday morning and our fair-weather campers returned to take down their tent and join us for breakfast. They made up for wimping out of Saturday night‘s camping by providing the most delicious bacon from their local butcher, contributing to a brilliant full English breakfast.
After our brunch feast we felt the need for some exercise and so rode out to the nearby Widewater Lagoon, a nature reserve along Lancing seafront that attracts a variety of bird life, including osprey on occasion. It used to be part of the estuary of the River Adur many centuries ago. It has been artificially maintained with a shingle bank separating it from the sea, and a pipeline designed to replenish the water from the English Channel during the summertime.
The strong winds continued, much to the delight of the many wind and kite surfers along the coast. It was hard work cycling into the wind, especially for the children – Isabel struggling along on her scooter and Elliot by bike. We ducked off down to a beach to shelter and hunt for shells and sea-glass with the children. Helen treated us all to ice creams before we farewelled one another and returned to our respective homes for a break from the wind.
Leaving Lancing on Monday morning, Mark and I made a stop in the village of Arundel to pick up some goodies for a BBQ and have a brief look around. Truffy enjoyed his regal parking location outside the castle.
From Arundel, we drove to see our friends Nick and Laura at their home just outside Chichester. For a short time back in March we thought we might be living in their house during lockdown, but they ended up managing to fly back from Australia and of course we found our cottage in West Bagborough. They booked a lovely country restaurant for lunch, the Crab and Lobster, and we enjoyed sharing lockdown stories over a delicious seafood feast.
It was a short hop from there to our next location, the Churchillion Pub in Portsmouth which allows motorhome stopovers as long as you stop in for a drink and/or dinner.
We were collected by my brother-in-law John, who whisked us a short way to their house for a glass of wine and a catch up. It was the first time meeting our new niece, Iris, who was born just before Christmas. Mark introduced nephews Edward and William to his ‘Robot Tag’ game which is guaranteed to reduce little boys to shrieks and giggles as they attempt to escape the tickle monster.
Our night behind the pub was not as peaceful as we had hoped, with two incidents of car alarms going off and seemingly a motorcycle race roaring past us for several hours. We decided to move to the street outside my sister Elle and John’s’s house the following night.
Before that, however, more adventures were ahead. One of Mark’s old school friends, Andrew, lives just a stones throw away, and drove over with his mountain bike so we could ride around the coast of Portsmouth together (Strava link).
We had a great day out, picnicking in some rose gardens, and finishing up back at the pub mid afternoon. Farewelling Andrew, we drove down and parked up by Elle and John’s house.
We had a fun evening with them, a delicious BBQ and flowing gin and wine.
The past few weeks have provided exactly what we have been missing – the simple things, breaking bread with friends and family, laughing until you cry and your sides hurt. They say you cannot choose your family, but fortunately we have been blessed with family (and friends we consider as family) who are likeminded and enjoy a laugh as much as us – the perfect tonic!
Another week streaks by in our lovely little rented cottage here in the west of Somerset, with a clear blue sky greeting us as we pull the blinds back every morning, apparently the sunniest May on record,
The toughest decision of the day, ‘Shall we walk or ride?’ and ’What shall we have for dinner?’ I think we will always remember this lockdown for the bizarre dichotomy of living our day to day lives in the most stress-free way we ever have, surrounded by the world in chaos.
This is a life we have never experienced before, having been mostly city dwellers, passing though the landscapes as we travel, but not being immersed enough in it to really appreciate the depth of its beauty and function. Not really seeing the rhythm of a life that goes on there by people who call it home.
I recently read a book that touched on this theme, called ‘A Shepherd’s Life’, set up in the English Lake District. The author, James Rebanks, a shepherd himself, makes a number of really poignant observations about the tourists who come and travel through his countryside, but with no appreciation of how that landscape is worked to produce the food that enables our lives. I feel in many ways our travels over the past few years, while broad in their scope, have lacked the depth of perception that comes when you stay in one place long enough to start to see the cycle of nature moving through the seasons, something we really don’t notice in Australia as much.
By this enforced stay in one place we have been able to watch spring come to the landscape, to see lambs take their first stumbling steps, to then come back a few weeks later and watch them bouncing around with their mates. To spot the wild flowers change as spring is turning into summer. It has just been a totally different, and in many ways, more meaningful expereince than the ‘drive through‘ touring we have been doing.
As I reflect back on individual walks we have done, all from our back door, they start to merge into one long memory of being immersed in this beautiful lanscape , putting one foot in front of the other as we watch a fox dash to a hedge before scornfully peering at us over her shoulder then disappearing instantly, or a deer startled by us invading its little slice of paradise, and bolting through the woods. We just want it to go on and on, relishing the breather from having to decided where to travel to, negotiating unfamiliar roads, trying to find campsites, constantly planning where we go next. Our minds feel calm, and it’s wonderful.
The history of humans in this landscape continues to enthral us. In Australia it is so inaccessible to most non-indigenous folk like us, but here it’s around every coroner. The fire beacon on the top of a hill, lit to warn of invaders sailing up the estuary, there’s a story to be uncovered everywhere we look.
It was time to swap our boots for our bikes, and I had read about a cycle trail running through the coastal town of Barnstaple. The Tarka Trail (named after the 1927 novel, Tarka the Otter, set in north Devon) is over 200 kilometres of traffic-free path, the longest in the UK, and all running along old railway lines. Off we set, for our longest drive (at 90 minutes) since mid March. It felt like quite an adventure! We had read horror stories about the traffic on the coast, but this day it was empty, as was the car park, apart from the mobile virus testing station being run from a big army truck.
This was magnificent riding, we batted along and soon found ourselves passing though a number of small villages before settling on the beautifully positioned Instow, on the estuary of the river Taw and Torridge (just roll of the tongue don’t they?).
We chatted to a couple of fellow cyclists who turn out to be motorhomers as well, as we munched into our first proper Cornish pasty. Just blissful. We so miss that random connection with another human being sharing stories and learning from each other.
With 50 kilometres under our wheels we arrived back at our car park and noticed the army truck had left, and the 2.7 metre height barrier had been put back down. Given we are driving a 3 metre high motorhome, that became a problem!
It had been lifted up when we arrived and I had sailed through, not really anticipating it would be lowered and locked. Oops…several panicked phone calls to the council, who were wonderful, and a warden arrived to unlock it. Next problem, the army had changed the padlock and not told him the combination. He tried for a while to reach them with no success. We had visions of spending the night there, which would have been illegal under the current restrictions, with no bed linen, food or cooking equipment. Luckily in the end they reached the military men and we were released.
A fish and chip supper in Truffy on the way back and our day trip was complete. There is just something about well fried English fish and chips that tastes so delicious to us, starved of that in Australia where they do it very differently. I guess its what you grow up with, hard baked into your taste buds, like mother used to make Yorkshire pudding, in my case.
The only interruption to our serene regime comes when Catherine is out on a walk and arrives back carrying the tiniest baby rabbit (apparently called a kit).
She had noticed it lying on the road, just having been narrowly missed by a car and covered with gravel. Its little eyes were still closed it was so young, maybe a day old. Perhaps the victim of that fox we saw, or a buzzard? Catherine was straight on to her sister, who worked at the RSPCA, and armed with advice put a message out onto the local village chart group. A few minutes later a kindly neighbour has offered her a heat pad and syringe to try and get some nourishment into her. All we have is oak milk, but she takes it and seems to settle down in the cosy little warm nest we have made.
So here we are on the second morning with an addition to our household, and she is still with us. So two extra days of life for this little one. Catherine’s niece and nephew are loving following the story, and just for that alone its worth it. A cycle down to the local Co-Op rewards us with kitten milk, apparently the best substitute for doe milk. Catherine is almost clucking with maternal delight feeding her this morning, until the little one releases her first pee down her arm.
We have decided now she seems stable, that a name is appropriate. Catherine has the inspired idea of Bags..as in we are in West Bagborough, so Bags Bunny. I will leave you with that to roll your eyes and laugh at us, or with us, we don’t really care 🙂