Saturday, 25 July 2009

The Devon and Cornwall Road Trip

It was well over twenty years ago, during a stint of living in the UK, that Jules and I, with our four year old son David, bundled ourselves into a very small red hire car and headed south from London towards Devon and Cornwall. It was the summer of 1988 and while being typically grey, there were a few special days where the sun managed to peep through to shed its light on this glorious part of England. For years we carried with us pleasant memories of rolling hills, narrow laneways, country B&B’s and seaside villages complete with the distinctive sound of seagulls flying overhead. In fact we were so keen to relive the experience again that we planned a five-day road trip that would retrace much of that journey. So in the height of yet another English summer and despite grey clouds brewing on the horizon, we took off expectantly down the M5. As had been the case all those years ago, no particular destination was planned and no accommodation booked. We would simply follow the road and rely on our AA map and Jules’ fabulous navigation skills to get us there.

We arrived in Lyme Regis by late afternoon as the first showers began to fall and although it seemed quite a nice little coastal town, like most of the holiday makers on the beach our enthusiasm was being somewhat dampened by the weather. Nonetheless, Jules had read about a particularly good restaurant that was well worth visiting, so we decided to stay the night. It was at this point that we realized that our cunning plan to simply drop into popular seaside towns in summer in the hope of finding somewhere to stay might have a serious flaw. After several phone calls from the tourist office we finally managed to secure something, but suffice it to say it made ‘Fawlty Towers’ look like the Hilton Hotel and we hit the road very early the next day.

Continuing our journey south, the rain began picking up where it had left off the night before. With the wind screen wipers working overtime, we eventually reached the quiet inlet of Noss Mayo and enjoyed a hot chocolate in the local pub that overlook this tranquil fishing town. We soon pressed on to the historic town of Plymouth where I couldn’t help but think of the many convicts who once boarded ships here for a one-way passage to sunny Australia … there could have been far worse punishments I’m sure! As we moved down the coast towards the picturesque towns of Looe and Polperro, fond memories came flooding back, as this region was our favorite. These are quintessential fishing villages that have barely changed for centuries, if you discount the fleets of tourist buses that visit each town daily. With the rain driving down, we looked for brighter horizons on the west coast and in particular in the town of Padstow, which has become somewhat of a tourist Mecca due to it being the home of celebrity chef Rick Stein. In fact this charming fishing town could well be renamed ‘Rick Steinville’, as we counted at least five business establishments baring his name. Of course his celebrity has done much for local economy and in particular the demand for accommodation, as we found out first hand when we tried to find a room for the night. This time there was not a bed to be had and so late in the evening, we drove out of town only to find a very remote hotel somewhere near Newquay ... our B&B plan was not working well!

The next day we backtracked through Padstow and continued north to the mystical town of Tintegal. The ruined castle here is believed to have provided the inspiration for Camelot, King Arthur and the knights of the round table. After a lengthy drive, we arrived at the rugged cliffs to view what is said to be the ruins of the ancient castle. To be honest the few remaining stones bare only a passing resemblance to a castle and there is considerable reliance upon the public’s imagination to create the medieval scene. However what can be guaranteed is plenty of wind! This, combined with on going rain, meant for pretty bleak conditions and this was the height of summer!! Feeling cold and wet, we settled for the best attraction to be found in Tintegal, the genuine Cornish pasty!

Over the next few days we would take a slow and meandering course back toward Bournemouth. We would head through the Dartmore National Park, staying in the quaint town of Mortenhampstead, where following the advice of our B&B host, we ventured south to Salcombe. This was one of the nicest surprises of our road trip, as it is a charming little fishing town with a lovely outlook. Skirting the outskirts of Torquay, we headed toward Exeter, then onto the seaside town of Budleigh Salterton, which was again quite nice despite the drizzle. In the end, the sun did make the occasional appearance offering us hope of brighter days, but it seemed that this time we were destined to experience a typical English summer. Our road trip was not quite what we had imagined, nor did it totally recapture the fond memories of all those years ago. If we can take anything from this trip it is that we must always treasure those wonderful moments of travel, as they are often so difficult to ever recapture again.

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