The doorstep

A habit of mine is to go for a walk somewhere every day of the week. Or at least try to, even if this is a little amble to the shops or a trudge through puddles in a park. It’s a habit easily fed in Canberra, where leafy suburbia intermingles with random patches of bushland and sprawling hilltop reserves, usually rising under big blue skies. I can walk out of my door and be in any number of spots that hardly feel as though they are in the middle of a city: trees and birds and kangaroos and a horizon of mountain wilderness espied in the west.

This habit bordering on obsession can become a little harder in the UK, which is surprising when you consider all the public footpaths and country lanes and bridleways and muddy fields marked on an Ordnance Survey map. British cities are denser and usually grimier and most definitely wetter, meaning a walk from the doorstep often requires a little deeper investigation, a tad more imagination, and a dose of good luck. Like finding the slightly cottagey lanes of Compton Vale in Plymouth or clumps of woodland on a steep highway embankment, or the spooky cemeteries of Janners past.

Of course, with a car the options open up exponentially, but so too do the speed cameras and the filter lanes and the traffic lights and the roundabouts clogged with cars rarely indicating. It can be a bit of a chore to get out of Plymouth for a walk, but once you make it the world is pretty much your oyster. Until the next village with a parade of speed bumps and cattle grids.

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The roundabout at Roborough is a significant, welcome milestone in the escape from Plymouth; a conduit between giant superstores and industrial estates and the rambling wilds and shady valleys of Dartmoor National Park. This is Plymouth’s backyard and, once you get there, a fairly quiet one away from the usual honeypots and ice cream traps.

Even on a sunny Saturday – admittedly a bracingly cold Saturday for early May – the moor was more than ample to soak up the extra ramblers and cyclists and trippers tripping on cream teas. This includes an additional fellow in young Leo, who was adamant he was coming with us for a walk and, of course, ended up being carried the whole way. Kids, huh?!

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The walk near Princetown felt a far cry from the city, all empty and remote, a desolate bleakness intensified by the icy wind casting sun and cloud patterns upon the barren brown moors. Yet here civilisation creeps in, or at least tries for a while. The solitary austere brick structure of Nun’s Cross Farm stands resolute, providing a little shelter in the lee of the wind to tame Leo’s hair. Rather than a blight on the landscape, it seems to fit, offering as much a representation of life on the moor as ponies and tumbling clusters of granite…

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…And clotted cream teas. After such an frigid walk can there be anything more delightful than a log fire, buttery scones, pots of tea and the usual trimmings? It’s not like I planned the walk around this or anything, it just happened to be nearby, and we were hungry, and well… There is only so much rugged emptiness one can take. What’s the point of walking if you can’t get to enjoy it?!

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Back through that roundabout at Roborough within the city of Plymouth, there is a pocket of countryside on the banks of the Plym, wedged between the Devon Expressway and the South Hams Tractortrack. It’s ideal for a pre-dinner stroll or – better still – post-dinner, when Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders zap the brain cells of millions of devoted followers. Saltram is a gracious property boasting copious, succulent Devonian land, including plenty of woodland pockets in which Mr Darcy can brood.

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Saltram has its trails but is not without its trials. First off, National Trust property, which means the good people of busybody parkingland can’t wait to rob you of gold. For all the wonderful things the National Trust provides, it all seems a little exorbitant to me…I can’t help but feel some of the charges are siphoned off to some sycophantic Daily Telegraph fundraiser to install the natural heir to Churchill as PM. That dog from the TV ads.

The other thing with Saltram is that it takes a circuitous effort to reach by car, navigating a manic roundabout whose lanes disappear into a wormhole, and then a slip lane clogged with cars turning into Lidl for a pint of milk or 60 inch flat screen. Such is the travail of the journey, the prospect of digging into your life savings to park, and – should you mistime – the odorous tidal pong of the River Plym, that Saltram can prove a frustrating affair.

hm06Or it can be wonderful, arriving a little before rush-hour and just after the parking attendant has gone home. This yields a quiet fist pump of glee and a good mood in which to walk the parklands. Along the river, the tide is high and holding on, and clouds part to release the sun. Forget the roar of traffic along the Embankment, and the mould-tinged sails of Sainsburys, and focus instead on the flourishing green of the woods and bounteous swathes of wild garlic. Embrace the chirping birds and walk with the hope of encountering a deer.

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hm08Look down upon manicured fields and be thankful that this is indeed upon your doorstep. A doorstep in which the land and sea meets, producing conditions that are often frustrating but usually fruitful. Beyond the chav-filled potholes of the city, a land of strawberries and cream or raspberries and cream or just cream goddammit.

A daily walk is an obsession not for the air, nor for the nature, nor for the killing of time in a rather pleasant way. A daily walk is the only way I can try to keep that goddam luscious cream off!

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Exhausting

I love how there are so many different roads meandering through the English countryside, linking villages that you never knew existed; undistinguishable places called something like Dompywell Saddlebag or West Northclumptonbrook, typically boasting a new speed bump and a church roof appeal from the 1980s. It’s a situation converse to Australia, where a few main roads emanate from the cities and towns, off which a handful of mysterious dirt tracks disperse into nothing. Setting off from home for a country drive in Australia is exhausted in four or five trips. Whereas in England the possibilities seem infinite.

When I say roads, of course, most are only a little wider than a Nissan Micra, especially in Devon, where they are also frequently clogged with tractors. Farming is still king – I think – in the South Hams, though tourism, teashops and production of Let’s Escape To Buy An Expensive Seaside Residence With Five Bedrooms And A Private Mooring On The Estuary To Get Through Our Retirement In The Sun TV shows prosper.

When the sun does appear, there is hardly anywhere more contented; there must be some primeval appeal in the lusciousness of those voluptuous green hills and snaking river valleys, the sheen of golden sands recently cleansed by the ebb and flow of a shimmering sea.

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Remembering this is England, the sun of course doesn’t always shine and in the spring-like indecision that is early May it can be a fickle environment in which to salivate. At Bigbury-on-Sea, raincoats, fleeces and hot chocolates might be required while waiting for a break in the clouds. Temptation abounds to get back in the car and turn around; but you’ve paid for that parking now and you are British, and you’ll courageously stick it out like MEPs campaigning against their very existence (Customary Brexit Reference: tick). You have to be patient staying in this particular part of the world, but the benefits in doing so are clear and tangible.

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A bit further down the A-road mostly suitable for two cars to pass, the town of Salcombe boasts a rather desirable ambience, even on another cloudy and cool day. Tucked inside the Kingsbridge Estuary it has some of the most golden sand and emerald water around, lapping at elegant houses and dense woodland thickets. There is a palpable sense of envy from the smattering of visitors strolling past the homes and gardens perched with lofty views across the water. I could live here, we all bitterly seethe in our heads.

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sd04No doubt many of the loftier residents of Salcombe were in jovial mood; not only from their elevated perch surveying the ambling peasants seeking a cheap pasty, but with the news of a royal baby to join the ranks. Does it have a name yet? I can’t even remember. Have the Daily Mail criticised the parents yet? Oh probably.

One of the perks of Salcombe are the options for food and drink, many of which come with waterside tables and a brief taste of refinement. Mum and I commenced the day at North Sands and a somewhat quirky café – The Winking Prawn – serving coffee (and for future reference, buffet breakfast). We then did the amble along the water and fancy homes to the town centre, where the usual offerings of pastry products, ice creams, pub food, overpriced crab bits and line caught organic fish goujons with quadruple cooked fondant sweet potato discs were up for grabs. Probably the best looking things were a tray of Chelsea Buns in a bakery, swiftly bagged and taken home for trouncing the Arsenal.

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Really, it should have been a day for a Salcombe Dairy ice cream, the delicious embodiment of the verdant landscape all around. But after a bone-chilling ferry ride to South Sands, the moment had gone. Perhaps for another day.

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Plymouth to Dartmouth is not the quickest affair despite only being around 30 miles apart. One option includes the tortuous A379 through thatched villages that become irretrievably clogged in battles between buses and B&M Bargains trucks – threading a camel through the eye of a needle is a doddle by comparison. Or there is the route via Totnes, which seems a bit too zig-zaggy to appear logical. An alternative cut through just past Avonwick was a new discovery that proved highly effective on the way almost there, and highly ridiculous on the way back.

One of the joys of that cut through, in the morning at least, was finding yet another road that took me through even more unknown villages as pretty as a picture, following river valleys and archetypal ten foot hedgerows and fields of newly minted lambs. The sun was shining too, and my meteorological calculations to head east appeared to be paying off.

It was also joyous to have a functioning car, without an exhaust dangling onto the road and probably projecting sparks onto the windscreen of a doddery couple heading to the post office. This happened later, on the A3122 at Collaton Cross, about a mile after the BP garage and before Woodlands Adventure Park. Details etched into my brain to guide the saviour that was the breakdown truck towards us.

sd07And so, the unexpected and unplanned once again yields some of the most memorable moments. Waiting in a small layby among the gorgeous fields of Devon in the warming sunshine could be worse. Being patched up and guided to Totnes for repairs by endearing locals eager to provide a helping hand (and earn some pennies) proved heart-warming. Spending a few hours in Totnes, charmed and enlightened by good coffee, markets overflowing with abundance and leafy riverside walks. And the satisfaction of rediscovering batter bits with malt vinegar (good work Mum!)

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Killing time in Totnes wasn’t too much of a chore in the end, and it was partway along a path following the River Dart that we got the call that the car was fit and ready. It had been an eventful day covering a lot of ground, but I was determined to head to where I had originally planned, several hours earlier. Another slice of succulent South Devon that oozes curvaceously into the sea.

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sd09Such are the ample proportions of the landscape here that the coast path between Strete and Blackpool Sands struggles to keep to the coast. The barriers are too immense, and the trail cuts inland as it dips down towards the bay. But this too is something of a blessing, for not only do you make it without falling to an inevitable death into the sea, but you become once again immersed into a countryside apparently so  utopian. Farming must still be productive here, despite the temptation to become a campsite or a tearoom or a paddock for some pampered hobby horses.

The coast path comes back to the shore via a row of thatched cottages that could have almost been deliberately placed there to charm dewy-eyed tourists like myself. The fine shingle of Blackpool Sands lends a bright and airy light even through the sunshine of the morning is rare. And down near the shingle, a café, winding down for the day has some Salcombe Dairy on tap.

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After fish and chips and batter bits there is hardly need for additional gluttony. But this is a land of overindulgence, of profligate abundance, blessed with more than its ample share of what makes life good. And I still have one of those gorgeous hills to climb to get back to the car, a climb that is incessant and delightful and my own private nirvana full of ice cream and South Devon. A climb and a day entirely, wonderfully, exhausting.

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Mother country

I am back in Australia, honest! Proof of this are the shorts adorning my waist, the flat white on my desk and the gorgeous melodies of magpies lurking outside ready to peck my eyes out. Yet still the European adventures linger on, and the feeling of being at home away from home away from home.

Plymouth won’t win any prizes for Britain’s most beautiful city, but it is my home town and I’m happy that way. Mostly thanks to its geography and history there is a lot to love about Plymouth, despite clusters of concrete dreariness and chavvy hang outs. Somehow I felt an air of greater positivity in Plymouth this year, which is perplexing given years of council cutbacks and the potential cliff edge that we all know weighs upon the near future. Perhaps this is what a good summer yields.

The Hoe, how I relish seeing Plymouth’s Hoe, especially on fine evenings as families gather for picnics, friends congregate for frisbee, and old fogies stare out to sea behind the protection of their car windscreens. I love the sense of community, the fraternity, this contented coming together in public spaces…from the ridiculous music coming out of the devices of yoof splayed out on the grass to the flasks of tea being enjoyed by elders within the comfort of a Nissan Micra.

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Many people are out enjoying Plymouth’s classic circular amble, milling their way through the historic Barbican before rising up along the foreshore and taking in vistas of Plymouth Sound from The Promenade. The Barbican is a reliable go-to to wile away an hour, to seek out food and drink and to perhaps even discover a good coffee…eventually. A salty air of old sea-dogs and staggering drunks, intertwined with fancy foods and crumbly fudge.

And what of the sights and experiences within half an hour or so? Well, on three sides there is Cornwall, Dartmoor, and the South Hams respectively on your doorstep. All national park or areas of outstanding natural beauty, designated or otherwise.

Probably the most pleasing way to cross the frontier west into Cornwall is on the tiny passenger ferry from Cremyll to Mount Edgecumbe. Here, the rather expansive country park offers everything from rampant rhododendrons to tumbledown towers. A shoreline of seaweed and pebbles is fractured by swathes of woodland meandering down to the waterside, while formal lawns and regimented flower beds are dotted with Romanesque statues and Georgian hidey-holes. This is a place of childhood summers, an escape accessible to all Plymothians, as long as the ferry price doesn’t continue to escalate.

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Trips to Cornwall require a river crossing of one way or another, producing a deliberate period of transition between the city and its exterior. Travelling to the South Hams provides no such moment; one minute you are navigating parked cars and speed cameras, the next, you are in the rolling green ambrosia characteristic of this part of the world. Longer drives lead to jewels such as Bantham, Hope and Salcombe and, of course, a little closer sits the timeless charm of Noss Mayo. Closer still – practically a Plymouth suburb – is Wembury, where many a local will pop out for a National Trust delicacy and stroll upon the beach. Better still – as I discovered – you can park up towards Wembury Point and head along the coast to Heybrook Bay for a pint.

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It’s a blessing to have these places on your doorstep but if there is one clear antidote to the drab post-war concrete jungle, overloaded roads, and profusion of Janners grunting something like “Fook, I’m goowun down Demnport un gonna smassh iz fookin fayce in” it is the rugged expanse of Dartmoor National Park. The higher parts are open and barren, bruised by the weather, the shattered granite tors tumbling down amongst bracken towards fast-flowing streams. But there is also a tamer side to Dartmoor, replete with an abundance of countryside charm, cute villages and human enterprise.

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ply06It is from these hills, from this sponge in the middle of Devon, that the waters which give Plymouth its name first spring. The River Plym here is a far cry from the sludgy and stinky tidal estuary meeting Plymouth Sound. Clear and rapid, tumbling over boulders and pooling on bends, the river descends into dense valleys packed green with mosses, ferns and leafy trees. Plymbridge Woods is but a short descent through a dark, narrow lane from industrial estates and Asda superstores, yet it is another world away.

 

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ply09So, to the north, to the east, to the west there are pleasures easy to reach. Should you have a boat or a longing for Brittany, the south also offers much. And slap bang in the middle, Plymouth. My home that still feels mostly like home while existing slightly distant. It’s funny how things you took for granted, things that you didn’t notice when you were younger now trigger a fond, sometimes joyous sensation. And that extends from leafy green woods and cobbled quays to the family comforts of laundry fairies and roast dinners. Home, still.

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Counting counties

Did you know, the westernmost county of England has no motorways? In the height of summer, as holidaymakers trawl through Truro, pummel Padstow and flock upon Fowey, this can seem an incredible oversight. But then you encounter Britain’s motorway network and you think thank golly gosh goodness for that. No lorries overtaking lorries overtaking lorries at miniscule increments of speed. No white vans whizzing up slip roads in a traffic jam and appearing again to barge their way in, a whopping gain of ten metres to show for it. No Range Rovers hogging the outside lane forever like this is one’s own private drive. No dreadful Welcome Break Costas.

Alas, while the appalling ubiquity of Costa has not left Cornwall untouched, it is a truth universally acknowledged that the county is often a wild and rugged place, unsuited to motorways and factories and large B&M Bargain warehouse hubs. The pock-marked, rumpled coastline preserves small towns and villages largely the way they have been, barring a Grand Design here and a landslide there. Both of which are inevitable in Boscastle.

There is something ritualistic in heading to Boscastle, an almost-annual feat of figuring out the various B-road junctions around Tintagel, meandering down several hairpins and feeling bitter at the price of parking and the price to pee. But the bitterness fades like jam underneath lashings of cream as you walk past the cottages, above the small harbour and towards the entrance to the Atlantic, often a Hell’s Gate of oceanic torment.

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trip02With its prominent headlands, Boscastle offers a sense of protection from the great expanse beyond. There’s a cosiness to the village, which is a formidable asset in attracting people down its B roads. Nearby Tintagel doesn’t possess as much cosiness but instead relies on tenuous associations with King Arthur, Pengenna Pasties and – until recently – Granny Wobblys Fudge Pantry. Sadly, this year it seems Granny Wobbly has retired, along with her legendary fudge making abilities and fudge crumble ice cream (ice cream + clotted cream + fudge). Suddenly Tintagel seems devoid of purpose and Boscastle wins.

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Navigating B roads and the occasional dual carriageway back to Devon it is not until the east of this county that motorways first appear: the solitary blue line of the M5, commencing at Exeter and happily transporting folk to the alluring attractions of Birmingham. I was only on here for the briefest of spells, turning off towards the town of Seaton on the fringe of the Jurassic Coast.

The first stop on a trip up country, my departure from the south west was accompanied by a determination to take a break from clotted cream. BUT, I was still in Devon and hadn’t reckoned on the temptation fostered by a meet up with my Aussie cousin Fleur and Rob. Indeed, when Rob and I both received our chocolate cake sans clotted, I was the first to pipe up and gesticulate wildly in a state of panic, desperately miming the necessity of cream at the same time my cheeks were stuffed with cake. All class.

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After cake we headed off to the nearby village of Beer on what was a very grey and windy day. The sea churning brown, a row of deckchairs positioned on the pebbly cove appeared a fanciful proposition. But then of course a couple with a dog sat down and you were reminded this was Britain and clearly not Queensland. Some of us were a long way from home.

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From Beer I continued to avoid the motorway network while crisscrossing the Devon-Dorset-Somerset countryside in reaching my destination for the night, Street. It seems the main attraction of Street – its raison d’etre – is Clark’s Village, a conglomeration of ubiquitous high street brands and factory outlets. A town that embodies the Costafication of Great Britain to the Extra-Grande.

What this means is that nearby Glastonbury is refreshingly absent – barring a Boots chemist – of all the trappings of almost every single British town and city. In part, this void is filled by the ‘New Age’ industry: crystals, mindfulness mantras, tie-dye shawls, and all kinds of crazy crap. Unwittingly lured by free Wi-Fi I had possibly the worst coffee of my trip in a spot that was too veganly earnest for its own good. Maybe a Costa would go down well…

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Glastonbury is a pretty place and I suppose its new-age industry is premised on a combination of mythical relics, luscious countryside, and an almost annual music festival somewhere in a muddy field nearby. From these fields, the ancient – indeed mystical – rock of Glastonbury Tor dominates, topped out by St Michael’s Tower. At its base I encountered a small group of people with unwashed hair banging some drums and fluttering some rainbows. All part of the scenery.

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The climb up the tor was steep but short, an ascent rewarded by astounding views over Somerset. Patchwork fields occasionally dotted by sheep would run into farmsteads and small hamlets. To the north, the Mendips framed the horizon while the Somerset Levels stretched to infinity further south and west.  Somewhere out there was perhaps the M5, continuing its journey to Birmingham. Perhaps somewhere, over the rainbow.

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I left Glastonbury around 11am on a trip traversing a parade of other counties towards Lytham in Lancashire. From the south to the north, a journey that shouldn’t really take eight and a half hours. But I hadn’t factored in the motorway network, where almost every junction seems to bring traffic to a halt and this feels like it will continue all the way to the M6. Tuning into BBC Radio 2, every traffic report elevates a sense that this is going to be a long day.

Passing into Gloucestershire and then Worcestershire, I was becoming increasingly bored of the interminable trawl that would re-form every few miles. Just as you were getting up speed, brake lights would synchronise, and once more a car park. White transit vans would disappear up slip roads to emerge again two spots further up. Lorries would attempt to overtake lorries in slow motion. Range Rovers wouldn’t budge from the outside.  And still the radio would report more stuff-ups yet to come.

So I gave up. I turned off. Back onto A-roads through Shropshire, a tiny bit of Wales, Cheshire, and – finally – Lancashire. In the end it was unlikely any quicker, limited dual carriageway and roundabout ring roads making progress slow. But in a way it seemed more pleasing as it wasn’t professing to be an express route. Some of the countryside was nice. And I avoided Birmingham. After all, who needs motorways anyway?

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Bolt out of the blue

Britain excels in that insipid low cloud misty drizzle. It lends the country a rather depressing air, accentuating the abundant greyness of post-way concrete city centres and dimming the allure of the countryside. Dampness saturates to the bone, and you can see why comfort is taken in massive cups of abysmal coffee and, at least, sumptuous cake. As a native such conditions provoke familiarity, but as a visitor it’s as frustrating as hell.

Part of the annoyance is you can never tell when and where it will strike, how long it will last, and whether it’s shrouded in gloom five miles down the road. Sometimes the world around you can disappear totally and the futility of a trip out seems complete. Like when driving out of dreary Plymouth, passing through murky Modbury and still wondering where the South Hams has gone. Usually this corner of Devon is better.

But we know that Hope is on the horizon and it comes first with a slightly whiter patch of cloud. Maybe a small sphere of light pierces through, like a torch low on batteries being shone through a winter duvet. Gaps increase and suddenly a pale blue splodge of sky appears overhead. And then it happens oh so quickly, the cloud vanishing without trace. And you stand there bewildered. Bewildered, and deliriously happy.

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More often than not this is not the case, but today delirious happiness ensued. Indeed, for a couple of hours on the South Devon coast I had not seen England with as much clarity this year. Perhaps it is the deep blue of the seas around here, invariably pummelling the fierce outcrops around Bolt Head. Or the generally fine air of Salcombe tucked away inside the estuary.

While the vision was clear and fresh, the smell was far from it. At least not upon parking at East Soar, sited amongst the fertile fields of Devon in September. Cows had clearly been in action and silage was readily ripening, whipped up by the sea breeze.

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There were farms to traverse on this walk towards the coast path but happily the smell had eased by time we reached a pile of barns, sheds and cottages providing a variety of rustic lodging. Within this enclave was The Tea Barn, which looked suitably delightful if only we hadn’t come from Plymouth on the back of an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.

And then, the coast, with its deep blue seas, sandy coves and rocky outcrops. Starehole Bottom seems as sumptuously titillating an English place name as you can get, a crevice between two mounds leading down towards the water. With shelter from wind, it was getting warm in this valley and I kind of wished my bottom was clad in shorts rather than jeans. The water too, looking inviting.

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What goes down generally comes up again, and from Starehole Bay we climbed towards Bolt Head itself. The pinnacle so to speak, looking back over the bay and across the estuary all the way along to Start Point. This is the kind of deliriously happy, pinch yourself moment that you get post-murk. One where it is virtually impossible to believe that there was nothing to see an hour before.

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bolt04The scenery and amazement at such scenery being so visible, being so wondrous, continues around the corner as we slowly head back in a loop towards the car park. The last vestiges of heather and sweeping gold of flowering gorse add an extra splash of colour on this most brilliantly saturated afternoon. Leaving the clifftops high above the sea, only bovine-induced pungency can prove more overwhelming.

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bolt07_editedCould I end this day, this once dreary day, any better? This morning – actually even at two o’clock this afternoon – I would have had myself committed if I said I would be bathing in the sun, drinking a cold shandy, lounging in shorts. But with the regular dreariness of Great Britain you need to retain that hope. And in South Devon, we are of course blessed with hope. Hope indeed.

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Hope for blue

Devon, oh Devon. Rolling hills, white fluffy clouds in a blue sky, white fluffy sheep in a green field, the deep blue sea shimmering in a haze of paradise. Oh yes, the picture-perfect Devon of custard cans. Such were my thoughts on the first day back here as gales lashed rain sideways upon a window in gritty Plymouth city, the smell of roast dinner the only comfort. It’s good to be back.

That stormy day has been the exception rather than the rule but, while there have been some blessed interludes, the predominant feature has been cloud. Cloud and cream and catch ups and cars to get used to ferrying family and escaping Emmerdale.

Like practically everyone else in this sceptred isle I have been paying frequent visits to the BBC Weather website, analysing the hourly chance of sunshine breaking through the milky clouds and estimating with a little skill, experience, and luck, where the gaps could emerge. And the success rate hasn’t been so bad.

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Noss Mayo is a reliable friend. I know its lanes and paths well – meandering up past happy farms, coursing loftily above the sea, before weaving down underneath a green canopy as jaunty boats upon the Yealm begin to break through. I know where to crawl tentatively around which corners of single-track lane to avoid a head-on crash. I know sunny spells can be more likely to emerge here. And I know where to park and where not to.

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Well, I thought I did, unless there is a fete on and the compact car park becomes overwhelmed to the extent that a complex series of nine point turns on a 20% gradient is required to squeeze in next to a wall against which you can’t open the door necessitating an undignified scramble over the passenger seat. I guess ferret racing, wellie throwing, and cake tasting is an enduringly popular attraction in Devon.

Despite this bank holiday anomaly, the rest of Noss was as pleasing as ever. Happy farms, lofty sea views, jaunty boats, that kind of thing. The sun even broke through. Customarily, I had half a pint at the end but – given things had been slightly awry from the start – made a controversial visit to The Swan rather than The Ship. From where that time-honoured tradition of watching unknowingly parked cars become submerged by the rising tide could play out.

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After Noss Mayo, greyness came and went for much of the week and my continued scrutiny of the BBC Weather page started to wane as it became clear that they didn’t really know what was going on. The supposed sunny mornings were cloudy, cloudy afternoons became bright, and once in a while shorts might have been tolerable in the same day that you were wearing a fleece and long trousers and struggling to see through drizzle.

In an effort to get out with the sun and conveniently avoid a pile of tripe being served up in The Woolpack, an evening on Dartmoor produced a fine end to an otherwise dull day. The drive itself proved an adventure in threading a car through lanes hemmed in by characteristic ten-foot-high hedgerows on roads I did not now. Disorientation is never far away. Happily, I ended up on Harford Moor Gate, an area I had never previously accessed and one which led to a yomp over open moorland burnished golden by the lowering sun.

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I set out for a random tor in the distance with the nebulous but entirely logical aim of seeing what was over the other side. Avoiding anguished cow bellows and boggy hollows, it turned out the other side had more open moorland and little else. On a whim, I headed for another pile of rocks a few hundred metres south. And there it was, the view of South Devon and its patchwork fading in the dying light.

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The sun was heading back into a band of grey on the western horizon, but before it did I managed to make it back to my first tor to say farewell. Farewell again.

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The by now notorious BBC Weather page continued to largely offer the ambiguous white cloud symbol. Always a few days into the future, perhaps some sun. Always offering a little hope. And finally delivering.

Still in the school summer holidays I feared Hope Cove in the South Hams would be largely inaccessible. Farmers would have seen the blue sky and decided to secretly annoy everyone by undertaking essential tractor on road affairs. Grockles would be flocking to car parks, caravans would be wedged between quaint red post boxes and quaint red phone boxes, kids and dogs would be running amok in a melange of buckets, balls and bowls of water that I always trip over. How, exactly, is the tranquillity?

But I was surprised. We got a park. We got a spot on the small beach cove. We got an ice cream. And we got a blue sky that was very comfortable for shorts and a walk along the South West Coast Path. That tranquillity? It’s pretty fine thanks.

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Leaving the bubbling hubbub of Hope behind, I headed up towards Bolt Tail for magical views back to town and over the sapphire calm of the bay. There is little that is more joyous than traipsing on the trails of the coast path when it is like this. Nowhere in the world.

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For now, here was Devon. Devon, oh Devon. Rolling hills, white fluffy clouds in a blue sky, white fluffy sheep in a green field, the deep blue sea shimmering in a haze of paradise. Oh yes, the picture-perfect Devon of custard cans. Such were my thoughts surrounded by hope. It’s good to be back.

 

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Cream days at the hotel existence

I had spent almost two weeks overseas before making it officially home. While Bristol Airport provided little pockets of Englishness (M&S pork pie, terrible latte from Costa), and the impressive one pound Falcon Stagecoach crossed borders into luscious Devon, it wasn’t until the Sainsbury sails of Marsh Mills emerged in sight that I truly felt back home. Plymouth.

hm01It’s funny because arriving here doesn’t particularly feel exciting or exotic or out of the ordinary. But it was a moment I had longed for; I suspect precisely because it doesn’t feel exciting or exotic or out of the ordinary. I say this despite a diversion to a new coach station, the inevitable addition of more Greggs in town, and some positive additions to family structure. But at the heart of it, the connection with home yields a familiarity that is the very essence of comfort and, for the most part, happiness.

hm02Happiness is that first bite of scone with jam with clotted cream. OH. MY. GOD. Obviously this happened the day immediately after my arrival at the coach station. And it was in a new location. Cardinham Woods in Cornwall, where there was plenty of wooded green to soothe the mind, Snakes and Owls and Gruffalo to find, and deliciousness of a kind, which is unmatched anywhere on earth.

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hm04Happiness is going to see a Hoe, and a very familiar one at that. That walk that I have walked five hundred times and I will walk five hundred more. Plymouth Sound constant companion by my side, the stripes of Smeaton’s Tower a backdrop to proper footy kick abouts and OAPs parked up, gazing out to ocean as they lick languidly away at their Miss Whippys. For me, it’s coffee in the sun by the Sound; shit coffee but sun and the Sound.

hm06Happiness is going to see Sarah, who is definitely not a hoe, but a very fine woman who I am hugely in love with. I have no idea who Sarah is, but she makes bloody good pasties. So much so that any other pasty is now disappointing. It means a trip to Looe, an adventure in trying to find a car park, an effort of restraining expletives as grockles spill aimlessly over the roads and flock to inferior pasty chain stores. There is achievement to be felt, reward to be had, and attention still needed to protect incredible nuggets of pastry from seagulls as undiscerning as the grockles.

Pasties are Cornwall, but Cornwall is more than pasties, as you can find out here!

hm07Meanwhile, have I mentioned the accessibility of cream teas at home? That makes me happy. Cream teas in Devon that are not Devonshire teas in Cremorne. Another quest, another discovery, this time at the Fox Tor Cafe in Princetown. It’s not much to look at – and weekends bring out an excess of Lycra – but the buttery scones are utterly Devonly divine. And the jam and cream ain’t so bad either.

hm08Happiness is not often a product of the English weather. But expectations are so, so low that you cannot fail to smile when the forecast is for light cloud and a top of nineteen degrees. Get a bank holiday weekend when the temperature builds under blue skies and you’ll find everyone turns mildly, wildly delirious. Blackened charcoal sausage is the staple food source, evenings out are comfortable and you begin to think, hmm maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Followed by the inevitable if only it could be like this all the time. These are the words uttered outside waterside pubs, along the promenades, within the leafy parks and wedged between giant hedges as countryside spills down to coast.

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It has to rain sometime though. To grow grass, to colour those fields the most soothing shade of green. To make the cows happy and produce the very best cream. A landscape you criss-cross all the way to Fingle Bridge on the eastern side of Dartmoor. Where lush wooded riverside offers the picture perfect snap of Devon. Even if the scones turn out a little stale and insipid.

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But Devon is far more then Devonshire Teas or – god forbid – that brand of fatty processed meat that they sell in the deli counter in Coles. Devon is more a fine, aged Serrano in the ham stakes, as you might find out here!

hm11For all its tea-based pleasures and intricacies, Devon and Cornwall – and England and the rest of the UK – is not, it must be oft said with an eye roll thrown in, accomplished in the art of coffee. But there are glimmers of hope; hope that possibly makes you think hmm maybe this isn’t so bad after all. Followed by the inevitable if only it could be like this all the time. These are the words uttered inside my head as I sup on a reasonable flat white among the glistening cobbles and boats of Plymouth’s Barbican.

hm12Happiness is the aspiration pushed by marketers at Morrisons and Sainsburys and Tesco and, yes, Aldi. The Aldi happiness is more a utilitarian, Germanic form of pleasure, and certainly hard to pinpoint at 3:30pm on a Sunday afternoon, before the stores close in a quaint but annoying reminder that Sunday used to be a day of rest. These are the temples of a kid in a candy shop or, um, actually a grown man in a candy shop. For every reliable revisit of a Double Decker there is a new discovery or a forgotten one rediscovered. Like Wispa bites, and Digestive cake bars, and more things contributing to the presence of salted caramel as a major food group. And then I see the dairy aisle and the copious supply of clotted cream, and I feel a bit sad.

Sad that I am leaving tomorrow, sad that I am leaving Plymouth, Devon, Cornwall and – eventually – the UK. Again. More than pasties and green fields and hoes and chavs and freakish warm days and even more than the clotted cream, sad to be leaving behind those who are linked by blood and love and a shared fondness of some plain old cake with a lump of tooth-rotting fruit and heart-shattering congealed cow milk on top.

But let us not dwell on such sadness, because we can squeeze in a little more happy and let that linger in our minds and our hearts. The train isn’t until three and there is a final family visit to the Fox Tor Cafe to be had…

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Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey

Hope and some glory

And so, over a month since I last had a cream tea I can bring myself to write about pockets of Devon explored and re-explored in 2017. It’s not that I have been avoiding it out of separation anxiety, as such. Just rude work interruptions punctuated by apathy and good sunshine. I love to get outside every day if I can, and being raised in Devon I am pre-programmed to do that whenever it is dry and reasonably pleasant. So writing a blog post in front of a screen in Australia when there are magpies to swoop at me and sunburn to frazzle requires a commitment far beyond my genetic capability.

Now it is gently raining in Canberra, something which it largely failed to do in my first week in Devon. The second spell made up for that a bit, but even then there were suitable gaps to encourage a punt on winning a hole in the cloud.  But that first week, wow. Could Devon look any finer?

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Apart from the blip of Plymouth and a few other towns of much less note, the southern half of Devon is dominated by Dartmoor and the South Hams; one a National Park, the other a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And like an indecisive lump trying to pick between a cream tea and fish and chips I flitted from one to the other at regular intervals. There was plenty, as ever, to savour.

Dartmoor is relatively convenient from the home base in Plymouth. I say that despite seemingly endless road works and traffic lights and, of course, speed bumps and congestion caused by people flocking to superstores and drive throughs on their way to the homeware warehome. But once you’ve got to that last roundabout and whizzed past the Dartmoor Diner, it’s like your inner dog is released; nose through a small gap in the window, full of anticipation and impatience, and – possibly for more deviant types – panting at the prospect of free-roaming sheep.

dv01On the road to Burrator, the sheep are out in force, arse sticking out into the tarmac, head tucked into a giant gorse bush, oblivious to the fact that there are two cars coming at opposite directions on a lane built for one. Further on, a few sheep mill about in the foot of Sheepstor, just so they can pose for clichéd photos and get in the way of cars trying to park. Better to get out on foot though, and take in a stretch of reservoir, country lane, farm and hamlet aesthetic, before climbing the wilder, granite strewn hill itself. It’s a route I’ve taken a few times now and strikes me as a wonderful bona fide welcome back to Devon.

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Journeying into the South Hams also presents traffic perils, often in the form of a grumpy farmer at the helm of a tractor revelling in sticking two proverbial fingers up to everyone else. Peak season for this would be August, when holidaymakers increase traffic by a factor of ten thousand. Add in twelve foot high hedgerows on single track roads down to car parks with a capacity of twenty spaces and you begin to get the picture.

It’s in this mix that a little local knowledge and strategic blue sky thinking can come in handy. For instance, set off later in the day, when the tide happens to be out anyway (as you would have diligently checked on Spotlight the night before). Try to avoid the A379 as much as possible if at all possible. Not very possible, but possibly possible if you consider the A38 and cut down at some point, such as through Ermington. Avoid Modbury and head down to Mothecombe. Where you will have cheaper post-3pm parking and plenty of sand left for everyone.

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dv04It really is in a delightful setting, Mothecombe; the tranquil shallows of the River Erme meandering out to sea, the sandy banks and rock pools revealed at low tide, the sheltered, undeveloped bay with gentle waves and translucent waters. Such appealing waters that people were in there swimming and I got the shock of my life when I put my own feet in. Not the usual, anticipated shock of oh my god what are they doing this is f*****g freezing, but a slight eyebrow raising oh this is actually tolerable for a bit up to ankle height I guess. No wonder the roads are so busy.

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If that was Devon in the joyous throes of summer, my final week (after an interlude in other parts of the UK) was very much an autumn affair. The most overused word of that week was blustery, closely followed by changeable and showery. On Dartmoor, the scene was moodier, more forbidding, occasionally bleak. But Dartmoor does bleakness to such great effect; in fact bleakness really is its preferred state.

dv07Following a day of showers merging into longer spells of rain I was keen to get outdoors when a longer spell of rain appeared to have passed leaving a few showers behind. I was in the habit of checking the weather radar by now, and took a bit of a gamble on a potential gap in the way things were tracking. Out around Sharpitor, as cloudbursts pummelled the Tamar Valley and a black doom sat unyielding beyond Princetown, some late sunshine pierced the skies and set the landscape aglow. Sheltering from the cold wind, I stood insignificant within expansive moorland and raggedy tors, alternately shining golden in sun or darkened by racing clouds. Barring the occasional car on the main road crossing the moor, it was just me and the sheep and a pony or two to witness it. I felt as though I had struck gold.

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There was less good fortune back in the South Hams, where a Harvester I had pictured in my head didn’t exist and lunch ended up somewhere down the road and over the hill and a little further along from the tiny hamlet of traditional dining hours. This wasn’t terrible, for outside the intermittent showers had done their let’s merge into a longer spell of rain thing and ducks revelled in the whole experience. But essentially I am an optimist and British…an entirely contradictory thing I know, apart from when it comes to the weather. There is something in our character that makes us look up at the skies and sigh with a grudging acceptance before donning sexy pac a macs and trudging on regardless. On to the eternal hope that is Noss Mayo.

dv10And you know what? In a turn of events that no good travel writer would ever make up, it pretty much stayed raining albeit with some slight easing off for about five minutes. Thankfully the Ship Inn had some funky outdoor pods to huddle together and drink hot chocolate in – think three quarters hamster ball in Teletubbie land – and with the tide being in (well checked, sir), the scene was not one of stinking tidal sludge. Indeed, it was rather serenely pretty under a comfort blanket of cloud.

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Instead, Hope was on the horizon the next day, my very last day in Devon. Hope, just down the now more placid A379 and a rollercoaster lane of twelve foot high hedgerows. Hope, where there is parking for twenty cars and a few spaces to spare. Hope, set into its namesake cove surrounded by steep wooded cliffs iced with undulating pasture. Hope, sat in warm September sun outside the Hope and Anchor with half a Tribute and in the Salcombe Dairy ice cream taking the bitter edge away. Bittersweet is Hope on days like these. Days when Devon couldn’t – again – look, smell, taste, and feel any finer.

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Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Better late than never

Ah live blogging. Tweeting Trump tirades. Instantaneous pictures of food. All the wonders of the 21st century. And here I am stuck in the past, thinking back to early September and a final foray (in 2016 at least) in the southwest of England. Luckily the memories are vivid, and the wonders of the 21st century mean that I can draw on way too many photographs than is healthy.

swlast01I remember arriving back from London in splendid sunshine and almost immediately rushing to the moors. The car had alternate ideas, but some rectification and replacement meant that the day wasn’t totally ruined. In fact the afternoon sky was bluer, the light clearer, the warmth warmer on a rapid trot up from the tinkling cascades around Norsworthy Bridge towards Down Tor. Clearly, so clearly, and happily back in Devon.

And then, crossing counties, there was the day. In other years it has been around Porthcurno or Padstow or Fowey or St Agnes. The Cornwall Day. The day when I venture out into a world set up so perfectly that you start to question why you would even think about going anywhere else. Sure, it was a long trek down to Penzance on the train, and then to Land’s End with its touch of tack and touristification. But head north, mostly along the coast path, and you are transported into a rugged, beautiful, heart-warming world that oozes pasty filling and rich clotted cream.

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swlast03Practically round the corner from Land’s End is Sennen Cove. Though most of the Land’s End crowd have filtered out, the beach remains busy and tiny car parks are amply populated with people eternally waiting for someone else to move. But beyond the main drag the alleys are cosily quiet, and the coast path is trampled in only an infrequent fashion by jolly people with beaming smiles. I may have been one of them.

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swlast05Further along the path the beach empties out, disappearing altogether as a small headland perforates the arc of Whitesand Bay. There are rocks to clamber over and a tightening of the sea against the land. It’s just a small inconvenience when you round a corner and discover another bay, another beach, another dream that you might want to pinch yourself from. If anywhere in the UK is ever going to get close to a rugged beach of southern New South Wales, then maybe Gwynver Beach is the one.

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But unlike the other souls who have found this place, there is little time to linger, other than to eat a somewhat squishy Double Decker on a rock. I have public transport timetables to consider, and there is not very much to consider. It is the bus or bust. So I move promptly northward, following the cliff line towards Cape Cornwall. The sandy beaches have gone and it is all raggedy rocks and windswept heather, brilliant in the afternoon light beamed from the west. It is archetypal Cornwall and it is only right for this particular Cornwall day.

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I never make it to Cape Cornwall, thanks in no small part to bus concerns and the elongated fissure that is Porth Nanven. In true Cornish fashion, the coastline is pierced by a stream, the steep valley it has left in its wake stretching to the suburbs of St Just and requiring a significant detour. With St Just tantalisingly in site and consulting my bus timetable, I instead make a dash for the 1644 to Pendeen.

The bus is – almost inevitably in this part of the world, at this time of year, at this hour in the day – a little late. But it is running and drops me off at The Queens Arms in Botallack. This is a handy place for a bus stop, as I make a mental note of the time back to Penzance and do swift calculations in my head to ensure there is opportunity for a pint. It all depends though on how much I linger around the Botallack mine sites.

There is plenty to linger for here, and with the sun gradually moving lower you know it will probably get even better. At first glance it doesn’t seem the most aesthetically pleasing spot, mining remnants littering the whole coastline, chimney stacks towering above a small gravel car park, wheelhouses crumbling into a pile of rubble. But out on one of the headlands is the iconic site of a mine perched precariously next to the Atlantic Ocean. And another above that. It is a right proper Ginsters Smugglers Pilchard Jamaica Inn Poldark of a sight, and it takes a lot to tear you away.

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swlast08Such as a pint. A pint of Doom Bar in a Doom Bar glass in an independent, old school pub perched on the edge of Cornwall, the edge of England, maybe even the edge of civilisation (though that is debatable more than ever these days). Can there be any better way to toast an exemplary Cornish Day than waiting for the bus like this?

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You know, as well as getting frequently drunk it seems the in thing in England these days is to get bleatingly nostalgic about the supposedly good old days, often while drunk. I was wondering what it would be like after the whole let’s leave Europe and go our own way rah rah rah eff off we’re full thing. Maybe it was a decent summer, maybe it was Olympic glory, and maybe it was the fact that not much had really changed – yet – that doses of an idyllic, untroubled, pacific England were there to be had. Like that final late afternoon upon Brentor, sticking up above the rolling patchwork, dotted with sheep, cows, the odd cosy farmhouse and distant church-steepled villages. I love this spot.

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And with sweeping sentimentality there were also the inevitable farewells to be had on those last few days. A farewell to Plymouth, who’s Hoe I finally got to visit one spontaneous evening. A farewell to proper clotted cream for another year, nurturing and sustaining me through winding lanes and gigantic hedgerows. A farewell to the school summer holidays, mercifully. A farewell to pasties, though with Sarah deciding to close on a Sunday, the last taste was one of bitterness and disenchantment in Looe. Oh, and a farewell to some of these people, once again. People who never fail to entertain, irritate, feed, amuse and always capture my heart.

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Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

The other side of the road

For countless miles past I have been chauffeured around the highways and byways of Devon and Cornwall by my brother. Often to head out for a walk, a spot of sightseeing, some lunch. Maybe a round of golf or a special treat to a humungous Tesco. But not until August 2016 did I only partially return the favour (albeit without the Tesco) for him and his son.

Being the midst of summer holidays it was typically overcast on the jaunt through the South Hams to Salcombe. Atypical was the lack of traffic however, and we were in the centre of town foraging for treats before you know it. Fudge, pasties, ice cream, supposedly good coffee. Fodder for a very British lunch in the refreshing drizzle, which naturally timed its arrival to perfection.

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gui03Just a stone’s throw from here – but via tortuously scenic roads hemmed in by a picture postcard of thatched cottages – sit the pebbles of Slapton Sands. Even on dismal days the pebbles lend vibrancy to the air, clarity to the water, and a chance to display consistent inadequacy at skimming. The alternative option of tossing increasingly giant rocks into the sea proved far more accessible and entertaining.

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The stubbornness of cloud to vanish endured the following day driving over the Tamar and towards Holywell Bay, just west of Newquay. Two things appeal here: an array of rides, games, and equipment for child entertainment and the spacious, undeveloped sandy beach. Actually three things: the pitch and putt links. No make that four: Doom Bar on tap in the golf clubhouse.

gui06As the afternoon evolved, summer came back with a bang. Perfect golfing weather and opportunity to get a little burnt. I never get burnt in Australia, only soggy little Britain, quite probably because I never expect to be on the receiving end of such ultraviolet aggression. The golf wasn’t exactly red hot, but we coped around the course sculpted in such a splendid location.

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gui08aHaving abandoned a bunch of wildlings on the beach, it was late afternoon by time my brother and I rejoined the rest of the family, who didn’t seem to miss us one bit. And why would they, frolicking in the sun, attacking one another with water, jumping over surf. It was quite wonderful to see, together in perfect harmony, in amazing weather, in an attractive place. What else do you need? Fish and chips maybe? Okay.

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Lots of families were in various states of disharmony in Looe on what proved to be the warmest day yet. On the coast of South East Cornwall not a million miles from Plymouth, Looe can be quite agreeable. In October or April perhaps. On a hot day in August I would say the only thing going for Looe is the presence of Sarah’s Pasty Shop. I don’t know Sarah but I would marry her tomorrow, no qualms (she also has a divine looking cake shop so there really are no negatives as far as I can see).

gui09The criminal thing – though actually fortuitous for us locals in the know – are the queues of people backing out of Ye Olde Cornish Bakehouse or West Cornwall Pasty Ltd or whatever they are called. Chain stores in mediocrity. Delivering nourishment to hordes of people trying to find a few metres on the grainy beach. This is why Looe on a hot August afternoon is not for me. But I’d go there for Sarah.

Of course, escaping crowds can be achieved by venturing out of the seaside towns and onto the coast path. Lantic Bay made a striking debut in my consciousness last year and – earning a calendar appearance – my brother was keen to soak up the cliff top views and countryside ambience. Hands down this is better than Looe, but then, the beach isn’t as accessible…something which can cause consternation amongst beach-lovers. Back to Looe it is. Hi Sarah!

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gui12In a final hit and miss cloud affair in which there were more misses than hits we returned to the North Cornwall coast the next day. The aim was a last hoped-for paddle in water and delicious cream tea, something that could please everybody. The setting on the River Camel at Daymer Bay was agreeable enough, and could have been quickly heightened with a spot of sun. But it was under a mackerel sky that a few of us tiptoed into the water and clambered over rock pools.

gui13Because I was actually really enjoying driving around blind bends and along single track lanes I decided we could seek out a cream tea further up the coast near Boscastle. For once eschewing the village, we managed to get a parking spot at Boscastle Farm Shop, which hosted not only cream teas but an array of impressive looking cakes and a half decent coffee.

It’s a spot to put on the list for future visits. And with the coast path literally on the doorstep, who’s to say I will reach it by car next time around? Sometimes, passenger or driver, the best of the south west is out there on foot. Overlooking the sea with the allure of cream at the top of a hill. Lovely.

 

Driving Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Over the hills

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It wasn’t so long ago that I spent an awfully long time in the south west of England. Time that was only occasionally awful in the gloomy despair of November; otherwise it was all sunshine and lollipops or – more accurately – white cloud and clotted cream teas. Thus arriving back again on the most sublimely gorgeous of blue sky days proved no big fuss.

clr_00Who am I kidding? It was a sublimely gorgeous blue sky day after all and, following a quick embrace of various family members, I scarpered for the moors, reuniting with narrow lanes, wayward sheep, dry stone walls and a Willy’s ice cream. And on the subject of willies…such was my frantic rush to climb Sheepstor I ripped the trousers I had on while straddling a ditch, leaving me delightfully well ventilated if a little wary of human encounters. The views – from my end at least – were majestic.

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clr_02Ripping trousers so early on are not a good portent for the remainder of a holiday which has historically involved a deluge of high fat dairy products, intense sugar, and hearty stodge. The fact that I was here not so long ago for an awfully long time (acquiring at least one stone in the process), failed to have little impact on my behaviour. Pasty done, cream tea done, massive barbecue meat fest done and 48 hours not yet passed.

Lest things become all a little familiar, a circuit breaker came in the form of a Canadian visitor – Claire –  who I had not seen since 2003 in New Zealand. Visiting the country for a couple of weeks I naturally proceeded to take Claire to some familiar Cornish places and indulge in familiar Westcountry treats. But at least I got to experience them through a new pair of eyes – an experience confirming that jam on cream is definitely wrong and not at all aesthetically pleasing (I mean, what do Canadians know about cream teas anyway?!!)

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clr3Unfortunately it was all a little murky in Boscastle, but at least the descent to the harbour took us out of the clouds and into a flower filled, tourist peppered, boat bobbing idyll. From which we promptly walked up and up (a seemingly recurrent theme all day) along the coast path to the western headland. Here, the clouds skimmed our heads and offered a little pleasant drizzle, obscuring the coastline and patchwork hills inland. While a weather feature atypical of Manitoba, it could only divert for a few minutes at best, and half a cream tea back at sea level felt like a more agreeable option.

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Radically, the cream tea was in a new location for me. And such adventurousness continued when I stopped midway between Boscastle and Tintagel and sought to find Rocky Valley. After a touch of on road uncertainty I found the path (hint: look for the valley with lots of rocks), and it was quite a sight. Of course, walking down into a valley meant going back up again, but what would Cornwall be without all these hills, eh?

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Familiar ground was back on the cards in Tintagel, where we called in for a Cornish pasty, obviously. The pasties here have acquired a legendary status over the years, rivalling those of wizards and knights and horses and pixies and things. But as such legends have become diluted by a parade of tourist tat shops, so too the pasties may well be in decline. They are still more than tolerable, but not on the pedestal they once inhabited. Next year, I will have to check again!

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The Cornish pasty was of course the typical tin and copper miner’s lunch. In fact, it probably features in Poldark, crumbs smeared down the body of that actor dude that everyone seems to think is a bit of crumpet. Well, Poldark lovers, I may have trodden in his footsteps (and pasty crumbs), radically keeping my top on in the process. I cannot be sure of course, for I have never watched the goddam show, but the scenery around St Agnes looks the part. All windswept headlands, precipitous cliffs, thrashing waves, purple heather and golden gorse, with the added decoration of Wheal Coates mine. It is Cornwall in a snapshot, as Cornish as the pasty, and I am pretty sure as pleasing to a Canadian visitor as patchwork fields, jam on cream, Arthurian legends, mist, bobbing boats, and – undoubtedly – the novelty of hills, those inevitable, never-ending, Westcountry hills.

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Driving Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Changing of the guard

Britain is a pretty unspectacular place. It has no alpine peaks or broad rift valleys, no mighty gorges or thundering cataracts. It is built to really quite a modest scale. And yet with a few unassuming natural endowments, a great deal of time and an unfailing instinct for improvement, the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily-spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known – almost none of it undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is, quite often, perfect. What an achievement that is.

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And if you are thinking that is the most masterful, evocative, and passionate paragraph I have ever written (or, alternatively, overly rose-tinted, nauseating and contentious), then you are just plain wrong. For the always marvellous Bill Bryson had that to say in a Christmas present I bought myself, courtesy of some shady international bank transfer originating in Switzerland. With researcher instinct and the preposterous suggestion that someone might a) read b) notice and c) sue me for breach of copyright, that would be Bryson (2015, p.33).

montage1aNow, back to some original nonsensical drivel, and Christmas in Great Britain finally came and went. Blink and you may have missed it. I think I was part of it – my waistline certainly attests to such – but already it seems a world away. I remember a Christmas jumper and a gargantuan dinner and a predictably endless game of monopoly. I recall a losing battle to eat my way through four types of cheese and multiple slices of ham and final dollops of clotted cream with practically anything. I recollect a Boxing Day trip to Argyle and another success to stay top of the league. This part sounds the most fantastical, and perhaps I really am just dreaming.

montage1bA fond memory persists from Christmas Eve, rain sweeping briskly through to provide a few bright hours pottering in Polperro and tackling a cloying coastal path. Sunlit and sedate, contentedly winding down towards the Christmas weekend, it was all rather lovely. With the addition of a Doom Bar in a low-ceilinged, cosily log-fired, jauntily handsome pub, it delivered a moment to cherish.

I like to think it was quite a feat for me to make it through to Christmas…November and December testing my patience for all things grey and damp. But in reality it was barely a chore. Over almost half a year I came to love the variety, the luxury of choice for walks and wanders near and far. I marvelled in some unseasonable early autumn weather and wallowed in a shifting, fading, tinted landscape. I discovered new wonders like the Jurassic Coast and sublime pockets of South Cornwall and cultural and historical hotspots of London town. I also found comfort in the familiar, the cream teas and BBC and old friends and Plymouth Sound. True, I struggled to adapt to an unending parade of TV soaps (how much Emmerdale does one really need in life?), but became wearily accepting of the indifferent coffee. I adjusted and accepted and it became the norm.

Now things shift back to Australia once more and a counter-adjustment is in flow. No bothersome soaps and plenty of amazing coffee. Warmish temperatures (not that it ever got cold in England), but still some rain. Pitiful ‘Devonshire’ Teas. An absence of a delectable coast path, but a plethora of sweeping bushland trails in its place. Happy reunions proving some compensation for forlorn farewells. A new year commences with a newish start in what feels – at this point – a new place. A novelty that will quell my curiosity for the weeks and months ahead, until England – and its people – comes calling again.

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Reference

Bryson, B. (2015). The Road to Little Dribbling. More Notes From a Small Island. London: Transworld Publishers

Great Britain Green Bogey

I’m an Australian, Get Me Outta Here?!

Every once in a while I pick up on a sign that I have been in Britain for a lengthy time. The coffee becomes more tolerable and I seek out a Costa. I engage in the politics, once finding myself watching Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning and invariably tutting and name-calling towards an array of politicians (just like a Sunday morning with Bazza and co in Australia). I also develop greater familiarity with popular culture, aware at least of which predictable warbler might remain in X Factor and who ends up eating cockroaches in the Gold Coast hinterland. I am persuaded that Ant and Dec can actually be quite funny. And reminded that most of the press remains dire, particularly for non-xenophobic lefties.

If anything, weather fixation intensifies and I obsessively scramble to watch the national forecast on BBC breakfast every morning. And then the local one ten minutes later. Absorbing, calculating, praying in hope that there will be a clearer slot in between graphical blues and greens depicting more rain. I doubt that I have used the word ‘dank’ in Australia, but here it re-enters my lexicon. It was inevitable, but it still comes as a disappointment.

I later discovered that November was the gloomiest on record which is absolutely brilliant isn’t it? Bright spells were as rare as succulent oak trees in a delightfully scorching sun-blasted desert. Any glimmer of blue (or white or less grey grey) prompted me to seek the outdoors. Sunshine and squally showers meant a good day, like on an outing to Newquay with Mum.

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I would naturally avoid Newquay in the summer, jammed as it would be with school holiday sun-seekers stumbling over surfboards and clinging to caravans. Out of season is a different proposition though, with Fistral Beach sparse and surfers unwilling to venture upon seas whipped into meringue peaks. An out-of-season foam party streams onto the sand as a continuous crashing soundtrack booms in from the Atlantic.

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nov03It is – to be sure – bracing, but seems more purposeful than hunkering down to watch endless episodes of Pointless. We pursue the headland for the 360 degree views and a ragged crossroads of wind and water and land. Shelter is close and welcoming, provided by another Stein enterprise which can comfortably survive a winter with fish and chips and bread and tea specials.

Post-batter and it is back through the foam party and across to Pentire Headland. Similar to before, angled walking is required to puncture through a north-westerly headwind; pausing still to take a photo requires strength and agility. Waves crash on three sides and filter into the beach at Crantock. A distant squall promptly bears down and sends us scurrying for the car. The rain is back, and the blue sky gone again.

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My standards of what constitutes a good day in November have lowered, indeed plummeted. A grey morning triggers a return to Noss Mayo, an oft-visited haven but never so late in the year. What once was quaint is turned dour, the sheep peppering the coast questioning their existence and the yachts of the estuary creaking in ghostly wails. Bleakness envelops and a downpour drenches me before I could seek refuge in The Ship Inn. Posh people hog the fire with a sense of entitlement. Times have changed but some things haven’t.

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The weather folk on TV keep trying to sound cheerful, gleefully informing us that it is unusually mild for the time of year, before presenting a summary of the week ahead featuring words like “unsettled”, “rain at times”, “overcast”, and “winds increasing”. So it came as something of a surprise to wake one Saturday morning to find a frost on the car windscreen, hastily scraped off in an attempt to enjoy the blue skies before the clouds encroached and it became “overcast” again.

The moors were looking stunning in such rarefied light, swathes of bracken glowing bronze and raggedy silver outcrops piercing a deep blue. Not everywhere was shimmering though, the sun sitting on such a low trajectory that hollows and recesses struggled to shake off the shade. Thus on a nice sunny day I find myself in a chilly, dark chasm, following a beautiful watercourse in Lydford Gorge to the foot of White Lady Falls. A very reliable supply of water (i.e. Britain) ensures the falls plunge with suitable grace and power, offsetting the annoying lack of sunlight in the valley.

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nov06With the trees rapidly denuding it seems that autumn is fast dwindling away into winter, even if the temperature is hardly playing ball. It starts to feel like Christmas is of course a-coming, although the shops have been full of Christmas since September. I cannot remember there being so many TV adverts for Christmas food, Christmas presents, Christmas drinks, Christmas movies, Christmas jumpers and Christmas music. I thought it would be nice to stay in the UK for Christmas, but this overabundance is starting to drive me mad. I guess that is part of the whole Christmas experience too!

Chances of a white Christmas appear non-existent, unless you escape to a seascape brimful of foamy fury. Unlike Newquay and the north coast, stretches of the south coast may not cut it for impromptu seafoamball fights, thanks to protection from Atlantic surge. Beaches like Bantham and Bigbury are generally more sedate affairs and miraculously the sun may break through the white cloud thanks to the shelter of the hills. At low tide, miles of sand act as a barrier to the elements and afford safe, non-muddy footing for bracing strolls.

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nov09Burgh Island is the centrepiece of this quaint corner of South Devon and easily accessed when the tide is out. Catch it at the wrong time and you’ll be faced with a giant tractor ride or a perishing wade through water surging in from left and right. Or maybe wait it out with a cocktail in the artiest deco hotel of them all. Alas, my re-acclimatisation means I am used to paying attention to the tide times along with the weather forecast and miss out on cocktails and tractors.

Despite the predominant cloud, despite the withering trees, despite the headwinds and squalls and muddy tracks, despite the gloomiest November on record, there is just a little charm and delight to be found. A few hours like those in Bigbury, or Newquay, or at Lydford make a world of difference. They are rare interludes, and may not be enough to persuade me I could do a whole November again. But then it could be a lot worse, it could be December instead…

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Seventh Heaven

I experience inevitable pangs of longing as pictures of Floriade, flat whites and thongs in thirty degrees Celsius begin to infiltrate my Instagram feed. Suddenly (and quite dramatically this year it seems) the balance tips and before you know it the people of Canberra will be cycling blissfully along the lake in bushfire smoke. I would be quite happy to throw on some shorts, pedal down to Penny University for a coffee, pop back to Manuka for some takeaway Mees Sushi rolls, have a nap if the squawking birds allow, and then watch the shadows lengthen on Red Hill. Still, I could fairly easily be doing that this time next week if I chose to.

The day will come, but not yet. There have been, and still are, plenty of good reasons to linger in the northern hemisphere. The recent weather has been better than it was in August, though the days shorten and wind now has a bite. As September trickled into October, autumn itself appeared on hold. Seven days with barely a cloud, and even those were as fluffily white as the sheep. Seven days in which I again got distracted. Seriously…

Sunday

A morning walk on the moors, what better way to absorb the clear air and open space? Intending to go to one spot, I ended up at another, but that can often be the way with Dartmoor. Squeezing through Horrabridge and up to Whitchurch Down, the setting looked exquisite enough to not need go any further.

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I think I ended up climbing to a clump of rocks known as Pew Tor but I didn’t know this at the time. It seems apt, since several rows of disorderly granite offered exemplary seating to watch proceedings across to Merivale and Great Mis Tor and down the moor into the Tavy and Tamar Valleys. Brentor was there (again) as were the beacons of Bodmin Moor across the border. A seat for a Sunday morning service I don’t mind attending.

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Monday

I had duties to perform but duties that only served to add an extra layer of holiday feeling not at all conducive to working. The A38 and M5 – often a scene of holiday hell – acted as a gateway to Bristol Airport and temporary disposal of the parents. I could’ve just turned around and come back to revel in my newly found again freedom, but that little stretch of road between the M5 and Bristol Airport is just so lush that it seems a waste to pass it by. Especially when I can zip off my legs, eat ice cream and toil atop Cheddar Gorge.

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mag05Steep climbs made a warm sun feel hot. Only brief glimpses of gorge and harsh but inevitable comparison with the many amazing chasms of Australia put this one close to the wrong side of the effort-reward ratio. Still, the rolling Mendips and glary Somerset levels offered an appealing backdrop, and the effort was ample to justify a wedge of clothbound, cave matured, genuine Cheddar.

mag06Anyway, the weather was of course A-MAZE-BALLS and I may have added to my dirty tan. It certainly did not feel like autumn, despite a few sneaky clues emerging in shadier spots.  Who needs Ibiza? Even the drive back on the M5 and A38 was quite a pleasure, as if one was heading west on holiday oneself. Which one pretty much was.

Such gloriousness spurred me to an impromptu, upwards detour as the sun lowered across Devon. Up to Haytor to see the last, laser hues of sunlight projected Uluru-like on the grey granite. Shorts still on, but not exactly appropriate. Cooler nights ahead, but clear and calm days to linger.

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Tuesday

For balance, I completed some chores and did some work. But by about four o’clock that became tiresome and the sun was still taunting me through the window. So I hopped over on the Torpoint ferry to Whitsand Bay, parked up and walked out to Rame Head.

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mag10What gorgeousness in the shelter of the east wind, the sunlight cast low upon the rugged line of cliffs stretching to Looe. What good fortune to still be able to do this so late in the day, after being unusually productive. And what a nice spot to watch the sun go out again, the end of another year accomplished.

Wednesday

If I was to design my own exemplary birthday present it would probably involve a sparkling drive across the rolling countryside of eastern Cornwall. I would reach the north coast at Boscastle, where I would sip on a reasonable coffee by the water before moving on to Tintagel for a more than reasonable pasty. Crumbly fudge may also be picked up via this route as an optional but inevitable extra. Interspersed between the eating would be cliff top walks under a big blue sky, the sound of ocean waves rising from the caves and coves of the coastline. Yes, the coffee could be still better, and the weather still warmer, but I sense a contentment of such simple things with age. Tintagel Island my cake, a steak and stilton pasty the candle on top.

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Thursday

mag12Older, wiser, even more prone to daytime napping, I again used the day in a semi-productive manner with frequent interruptions. A few spots of cloud came and went and the hours ticked on by to leave me with yet another end of day outing. Somewhere handy and close would do the job, and while the inlets of Plymouth Sound and cars of the city are detrimental to handiness, the views from nearby Jennycliff still manage to do the job. Goodbye sunshine, see you again tomorrow.

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Friday

Having barely ventured outside of the Plymouth city borders yesterday (a few steps on the coast path veering into the South Hams), corrective action was necessary on what was shaping into yet another sunny and mild day. This fine weather is getting tediously predictable, yet I still feel the urge to make as much of it as I can, because surely tomorrow will be worse. And so, ship shape and Bristol fashion, it’s off to Salcombe we go.

mag14I think it’s fair to make a sweeping generalisation and say that Salcombe is in a more upmarket corner of Devon. Upmarket in the ships ahoy, jolly poor showing by the English against those Colonials I say dear boy mode. The Daily Mail is the predominant manifesto of choice amongst a bowls club of stripy sweaters keeping a keen eye on the watery horizon for any unwanted intruders. And, across the river – at East Portlemouth – high fences of hydrangeas protect expensive views and private beaches.

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mag16Thankfully there are access points for commoners who make the effort. The ferry – manned by a servant with pleasingly gruff countenance – bobs back and forth to link town with East Port (as the locals probably call it). The fine, golden sand of Mill Bay is perfectly accessible, as long as you abide by the many rules and regulations set out on the Charter of Public Citizen Access as endorsed by the Board of Her Majesty’s Quarterdecks and Royal Commonwealth Bridge Club. The National Trust – a more agreeable British institution – have usurped some of the land nearby for all to use, and this takes you round to a couple more secluded bays and out back into the wilds.

mag17Now, the clipped hedges and accents fade, paralleled by a spilling out of protected estuary into untamed sea. A yacht bravely ventures out past Bolt Head and into the deep blue. A sea which is looking fairly placid today, reflecting much warmth towards bare cliffs and making me legless for the second time in a week. For some reason I am reminded of a tiny stretch of rare undeveloped Spanish coast between Cartagena and La Manga. Warm, barren, secluded. A palette seemingly burnished by the sun.

There are a few people for company out in the wilds, especially upon reaching Gara Rock Beach. An old man on some rocks seems to glare at me as if I was wearing a fluorescent pink onesie emblazoned with the words ‘LOOK AT ME’ or something. Only when he gets the binoculars out do I realise his penchant for birdlife, and my likely noisy clambering disturbing a pair of superb tits. A scattering of people bathe on the sands, while fellow ramblers wheeze their way up to the cafe seventy five metres above.

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Ah the cafe. I am back in Salcombe, with its crayfish pine nut salads and cedar-pressed Prosecco, served on a deck all wood planks and reinforced glass. Torn between two worlds, I resist and plough on down through woodland with my homemade cheese and ham and – a little in keeping – avocado sandwich. Back in town, an ice cream from Salcombe Dairy perfectly caps it off, a delight that anyone can most definitely enjoy on a day such as this.

Saturday

And so we are back where we began. Or, to be precise, back where I had intended to begin a week ago: at the top of Pork Hill between Tavistock and Merivale and heading into the heart of empty, high Dartmoor. Late day light replaces that of mid morning, but the scene is much the same. Perhaps the grass is a little more yellow and the bogs a little less swampy. The sheep are thirsty and the ponies unfathomably shelter in early October shadows. Small white clouds swiftly pass on the steady breeze, projecting speckles of shadow on a landscape devoid of much at all. One small farmhouse lingers in the fringe lands of the valley. Tors rupture and balance in a haphazard jigsaw of granite. At Roos Tor, there are no roos to be seen, but I am perfectly fine with that. For now, in such magic weather, with such a magic week, there is nowhere better.

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(Sunday: It was cloudy, I napped and had roast dinner)

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More moors

Dartmoor is a very handy place. Particularly on those days where guilt gets the better of me and I engage in the preposterous proposition of work. After instant coffee breaks – a sure sign I have been in England too long and settled for inadequacy – it reaches something like 3pm and I yearn to break free. And there Dartmoor is, through the school and hospital and fast food takeaway traffic, and up the A386.

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moor05The area around Burrator is probably the handiest and offers a useful mixture of forests, tors, ponies and a chance to gobble down a Willy’s ice cream. Sharpitor, Leather Tor, Sheepstor, Down Tor all provide the opportunity to scramble around and over clutters of granite, to gaze north and east into the wilds and south and west over the patchwork dream to the hazy ocean on the horizon. Swathes of bracken meander down to gnarly forests and tinkling streams, some of which are occasionally plummeting (conveniently and suspiciously close to the ice cream van).

From such moorland vantages – and practically any other hilltop in West Devon and East Cornwall – the modest mound of Brentor is visible, disconnected from the barren tops of Dartmoor before it slides down into the Tamar Valley. Its distinction not only stems from its prominence amongst flatter surrounds, but its famous church that some dedicated god-botherers decided to construct a long time ago.

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moor02I suspect the church provided a symbolic, steadfast two fingers to the heathens, roaming the moor via their crazy stone circles and rows, all wild hair, posies of heather, and rampant Chlamydia. An outpost for civilisation, a rising up from the moral turpitude of the flea-bitten masses towards the light. I feel much the same leaving Plymouth and heading to Dartmoor today, bathed in its pure air and natural light. Swept away in wonderment, even my jeans are feeling holy, what with all the pasties and frequent straddling of giant cracks between granite blocks.

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moor07As well as flailing raggedly down from Dartmoor, heathens would have been in profusion west of Brentor and into the dark, forbidding uplands of Kernow. Willing to shake it up a little, I grabbed my passport one afternoon, crossed the Tamar and headed towards Bodmin Moor. Less defined and gargantuan than its Devonian counterpart, there are nonetheless pockets of heather and gorse pierced by shattered tors. Ponies graze and stone rows lurk and the diggings and ruins of the tin industry crumble away in profusion. There is less of the idyllic in this zone around Minions, but there is enough to encourage future exploration.

From these boggy pastures the River Fowey runs south and widens into that rather delightful spot by the sea. Upstream has its highlights too, as I found at Golitha Falls. Verdant woodlands are making the most of the last of the summer, tinges of yellow and orange and red brushing the tops exposed to the sun. A scattering of leaves are floating down towards the mossy branches and rocks of the forest floor. All the while, the pure waters of the river meander and tumble unendingly onward, luring you to follow them forever towards the sea. Cool and refreshing and rejuvenating, there are no excuses not to get back to work, other than more moors.

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