Where I have liked a hotel, restaurant or other service, I have said so and given details. I wish to make it clear that these are my personal opinions and have not been commissioned or requested by the services concerned. In all cases where I have made more than cursory mention of a service, I have contacted the proprietors so that they can read my account and comment as they feel fit.
Saturday, June 21st 2008
My alarm went off at 6. We did the final packing and tidying up and left about 7:20. We are fortunate that the 205 bus passes our door on its way to Paddington. At this time on a Saturday the buses are not crowded and I could put the big wheelie suitcase in the wheelchair space.
We reached Paddington with 40 minutes to spare. We bought cheese baguettes for breakfast from Upper Crust and coffee with naughty cookies from Millie’s. Just as we finished breakfast, the platform for our train was announced (they keep this a secret until the last moment) so off we went to find our seats. We had asked for window seats facing one another. Both of us have long legs and this arrangement allows us to stretch out comfortably, something you cannot do when sitting opposite a stranger.
As I write this, it is typical holiday weather: rain. The train left on time at 8:35. Let’s hope the sky clears by the time we reach Torquay at 11:46.
The couple who run our guesthouse*, Mr and Mrs Orbison, kindly arranged to pick us up at the station. This is the first time anyone has done this for us and it certainly gave a good initial impression. The Orbisons are very friendly, helpful and informative. The room is small but well appointed. The TV in our room also allows us to access the Web! Another first. This will be useful in looking up information and maps of places we think of visiting.
The weather remains damp with almost continuous fine drizzle. After a cup of tea we left the guesthouse and caught a bus to Paignton where we had lunch and a quick look at the town. Because of the weather we took hardly any photos. Let’s hope the sun comes out soon.
We caught a bus back to Torquay with the intention of going back to the guesthouse as we were feeling a little tired. Torquay is not an easy place in which to find your way around. We joke about Tigger’s “inner pigeon”, as she has an uncanny knack of finding her way from place to place even in a strange town but, for some reason, it goes AWOL in Torquay. We took a bus that we thought would take us near to the guesthouse but instead it took us on a long tour without going near our destination.
Returning to Torquay again, we had supper and then tried another bus. This time things worked better. The bus let us off at Lucius Road where we set out on foot. Tigger seemed to have recovered her direction-finding skills and we soon found the guesthouse.
Below are three quick snaps taken on Torquay seafront under a dull sky.
We did not go up in the (in)famous balloon, although I am told that views from the top are spectacular. The balloon itself is not altogether uncontroversial among the residents of Torquay…
Sunday, June 22nd 2008
I was in a bad mood on this day, not helped by the problem with the buses. That may account in part for my tetchy assessment of Torquay and Brixham but I have let the comments stand as I don’t think they are all that wide of the mark.
The day started with clouds and sun and the threat of rain. After a good breakfast we started out with high hopes but these were soon dashed. We waited in Lucius Street for the X46, intending to travel to Paignton. The X46 never came. I eventually called Traveline on my mobile and they confirmed that because of events taking place on the seafront, several buses had been diverted, including ours.
No one bothered to put a notice on the bus stop of course. We were not the only people to be inconvenienced by this. I have to say that my first impression of Torquay is that organizationally, it is a shambles. Little is done to help the visitor find his way around or to work out which buses go where and at which stops to pick them up. Given the economic importance of tourism to this town, this is shortsighted as well as discourteous.
I am also disappointed with the town itself. There seems to be no town planning worthy of the name. The old and the ill kempt rub shoulders with the garishly modern. Torquay seems to have grown by haphazard accumulation, spreading this way and that with little regard for aesthetic appeal. The most pleasant parts of Torquay are its sea views and it is best to keep your eyes firmly fixed on these.
We eventually took the 12 to Brixham in order to go somewhere, and find something to do with the day.
I remembered that an aunt of mine had called her house Brixham. That suggested that it was an attractive place to visit and perhaps stay in. Maybe it was once. Today it is afflicted with the same disease of garish modernity that Torquay suffers. What saves it, perhaps, is that it is smaller and not yet subject to the same degree of shambles as Torquay.
We had lunch in a pleasant enough little restaurant up a flight of stairs and then explored the town. This didn’t take long and so we picked up the 12 again and returned to Torquay.
One thing I have noticed is that in this part of the world the gulls are extremely bold. They come close to people and beg for food. If you like photographing gulls, you have an easy time of it.
Despite the clouds, the weather was dry and warm, necessitating several stops for tea. The 12 took us to Torr just up the hill from our hotel so we returned thither for a rest. Tigger watched a DVD, of which the hotel has a small library, while I wrote this account.
Around 7:30 we decided to go out to dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. Then we walked down to the seafront, intending to take a bus along the coast. This never happened.
As we were walking, a young woman ran past us towards the sea. To my surprise, I saw she was carrying a juvenile gull. Puzzled, we followed. I was never to know where she got the gull or why she took it to the sea. She left it there and went off with other people. When I approached, I saw that the gull was young, too young to young to fly. People stopped to look and to photograph it. What was I to do?
The usual advice is to leave them alone and their parents will come to fetch them. But this one had been moved. How were the parents to find it? In the meantime, some lesser black-backed gulls were taking an interest in it and diving on it in a way that suggested aggressive intent.
I called directory enquiries and asked for the RSPCA. The RSPCA told me to put it in a box and keep it overnight as they couldn’t come out now. I explained I was a visitor to Torquay, staying in a hotel; that I was on the seafront with no hope of conjuring up a box. They said that was all they could offer.
They did me the number of a vet. I called and got a recorded message that said to call a message centre. I did so and the vet called me back. She couldn’t help, she said. Her surgery was closed and she had no one to send.
She gave me the number of the Torbay Wild Life Rescue. When I rang this, the number didn’t exist.
I now rang the hotel to ask whether it would be possible to bring the bird back overnight to give to the RSPCA tomorrow. I wasn’t surprised when they said no. However, they did tell me of a service called Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. I called directory enquiries and got the number.
In the meantime, Tigger flagged down a passing police car and the driver came to speak to me but said he couldn’t help.
The Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust answered, but said they couldn’t help. They suggested that if I left the bird, the parents would find it. I explained that this was unlikely as the bird had been moved. They suggested I call the RSPB and gave me the number.
I called and heard a message advising me to call the RSPCA. I had come full circle. It was just so bloody frustrating that I wept.
In the end, there was nothing I could do. I had to make up my mind to walk away. I did so but I shed tears. I was angry at life that gives birth to young creatures and lets them die in helpless confusion. I was angry with humans who are incompetent and unfeeling. I was angry with myself because I could not help and because I walked away.
We stopped for hot drinks and I carefully talked about other things and then we went back to the hotel where I am writing this. I left a helpless young creature to die and it hurts.
Monday, June 23rd 2008
The guesthouse breakfast room is quite small and, for me, conversation resounds uncomfortably there. I decided that I will not put my “dolbies” in until after breakfast in future. One of the advantages of wearing hearing aids is that you can remove them to turn down the volume on the world!
We have train rover tickets that allow unlimited travel in Cornwall and Devon on any 3 days out of 7. Today we are using these tickets to go to Barnstaple.
Barnstaple turns out to be a very pleasant town and we enjoyed a relaxed time there.
Getting there from Torquay (which is increasingly seeming like a good place to get away from) is easy enough. You take the Leeds train to Exeter and change there to the two-carriage rail bus that shuttles between Exeter and Barnstaple.
A short walk from the station, across the big bridge over the river Taw, takes you into town which is an intriguing mixture wide roads and winding alleys. In one of these, Maiden Walk, we found lunch. By chance we saw a notice with an arrow pointing to the Owl Vegan Cafe. We found a small, friendly establishment with plenty of choice in food and drink – all veggie of course. The atmosphere was informal but efficient. I think if I lived in Barnstaple I would be a regular customer.
We explored the town and walked along the river, spending some time sitting on a bench within sight of the bridge, enjoying the sun and the calm atmosphere.
Our pleasure was no doubt enhanced by a lack of the sort of frustration yesterday’s attempts at travel had brought.
We took the 17:06 train to Exeter St Davids and just missed a connection so we had to wait an hour for the next one. We eased the passage of time with coffee and a naughty muffin.
It was here that I saw something I had not seen before. A pair of crows – I took them to be mother and child – were foraging for food on the railway line. Though capable of feeding itself, the youngster periodically begged the adult for food by spreading and shaking his wings. It needs a video rather than a photo to show the effect. I was intrigued and will watch out for other examples.
The train stopped at Torr station so we got out there for a change and walked down through Torr itself and then to the sea, looking for somewhere to have dinner. We ended up at the Pier Point cafe restaurant on the sea front.
We agreed that the Barnstaple trip was a good day out and the best of the tour so far. It helped dim memories of the frustrations of the day before.
A word on names
Travellers often say “Devon and Cornwall” in one breath as if they are one big conglomeration or at most two twins. Apart from some superficial similarities (beautiful seaside views and rolling green countryside), they are very different.
A major point of difference is language. While Cornish survived into modern times and is now thriving again, having found, like Welsh, a new national pride, the ancient language of Devon is long dead and forgotten. Whereas names in Cornwall can often be understood through the Cornish language, those in Devon are not so easy to understand.
Devon names record traces of all the peoples who have settled in the region – ancient British, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Normans – and deciphering them needs expertise and patience. Fortunately, others have done this work for us and we can enjoy the fruits of their labours.
Here are a few to be going on with:
Devon One of the tribes occupying Britain when the Romans arrived was the Dumnonii, whose territory included what are now Devon and Cornwall. This tribal name, via Old English Defnas, eventually mutated into Devon.
Torquay In Old English, tor was a rocky hill. This explains the name of Torre, once probably a village in its own right but now a part of Torquay. The main town itself, earlier known as Torrekay, is the “quay beside the rocky hill”.
Paignton This is one of those names that I find especially resonant because they refer to individuals who lived long ago and made a mark for themselves but of whom all traces, but for a name, have since disappeared. It seems there was once a Saxon farmer called Paega who, with associates or family, worked a farm (tun) hereabouts. This became known as something like Paega-inga-tun, “the farm of Paega (and his people)”, and thence Paignton.
Brixham This is another of those allusive personal names. A man called Brioc once had a farmstead or enclosure (ham) here, so the place became known as Briocsham and, later, Brixham.
Tuesday, June 24th 2008
I went down to breakfast without my dolbies today and must say this improved things considerably. I assume the conversation was as loud as ever but I had managed to turn down the volume, at least for myself.
Today’s expedition was based on the Round Robin tour. This is quite expensive (about £17 for an adult) but if properly organized, quite a worthwhile outing. I say “if properly organized” for a reason.
The tour works in two flavours, “bus first” or “train first”. Also, the tour can start from Torquay or Paignton. We decided to travel to Paignton by bus and to start from there.
The first leg of the journey takes you by steam train to Kingswear. From there, you cross by ferry to Dartmouth. There you board a river boat and travel up the Dart to Totnes. From Totnes an open-top bus takes you back to Paignton. In theory, you can spend time in both Dartmouth and Totnes but that time is relatively short in Dartmouth. For us it was zero, as I shall explain.
The train was due to depart at 10:30 but it was late leaving. This was the first mistake made by the organizers. Because of demand, instead of sending the train off on time, thy added two extra carriages and waited for more people to join. This affected the next part of the tour and led to what I think was dangerous overcrowding at the ferry.
When we arrived at Kingswear, we found ourselves in a long and dense queue for the ferry. The queue wound along the station platform and down the ramp to the landing stage. It turned out that the normal ferry was out of commission and had to be replaced by smaller craft. Several were needed and took some time to load. There queue moved only slowly and people became impatient. On the ramp, there was no way out except to push through the crowd behind you. If someone had been taken ill or there had been some accident at this stage, I think that because of the crush there could have been grave consequences.
The organization was poor and no attempt was made to mitigate the effects of the delay.
When our ferry reached the landing stage at Dartmouth, because of the delay we had to queue straightaway for the river boat and found the same overcrowding there as well. People disembarking, including people in wheelchairs, had difficulty making their way through the waiting crowd and I think that here, too, there was the danger of an incident. Organization was very casual and confined to checking tickets.
The river boat was crowded too but the trip was pleasant. An able commentary was given by a crew member who knew the river and its wild life well.
By the time we reached Totnes, however, I was looking forward to disembarking. There were several buses we could catch back to Paignton so we could afford to take our time and visit the town.
Totnes strikes me as a pleasant town. We spent a while there and may visit it again another time. We walked up Fore Street, which is on a fairly steep hill and leads to an interesting town gate, and visited the museum which occupies an Elizabethan house that was built by a wealthy merchant. In addition to displaying items of interest from all time periods, the museum attempts to give some idea of the life and times of the merchant and the town of the day.
We took the 4:20 open-top bus back to Paignton and from there the number 12 service bus back to Torquay. We were feeling a bit tired and my lunch had disagreed with me so we disembarked at the stop nearest the hotel and returned for a rest.
Tigger watched a DVD about the Devon countryside while I dozed. I awoke feeling a lot better, so at about 7pm we went out, prospecting for dinner. We tried the Ocean Drive, a bar restaurant not far from the hotel. It has an extraordinary decor with posters, pictures, and all kinds of objects, including life-size human figures, all relevant to the American film industry.
We wandered down to the see front and sat on a bench near the tethered balloon and watched the bats,darting about in the dusk, hunting insects. Then we took the now familiar number 12 bus back to the hotel.
Kingswear Despite the spelling, this name refers to a weir and the name is easily understood as “the King’s weir”.
Dartmouth This name is easily deciphered as meaning “mouth of the Dart”. But what of the Dart river itself? The name apparently means “where oak trees grow”, so perhaps the river once ran through oak woods.
Totnes Another example of a personal name being applied to a town or district. Totta was the man who contributed his name and the second part comes from Old English næs, meaning a mound. This would be the mound of volcanic rock on which the castle stands. “Totta’s mound” is now the modern town of Totnes.
Wednesday, June 25th 2008
We are off to Exmouth today. After breakfast we set off on foot for the station. Torquay, mess that it is, plays havoc with Tigger’s “inner pigeon”, her marvelous ability to find her way around even in strange cities.
Our plan was to enter the station through the street door on the side opposite the main entrance, as this leads directly to platform 2, from where our train would depart. After a few flutterings, Tigger’s inner pigeon eventually succeeded and we caught the 10:10 Newcastle train, intending to change at Exeter rather than waiting until 10:30 for the direct train.
All went according to plan and we arrived at Exmouth at about midday, where we were welcomed by this gull family happily nesting above the station exit, unconcerned by the movement of people beneath them.
There was a gusty windy blowing and the sky was cloudy with the sun shining through from time to time. A typical British summer.
We started with a pub lunch and then walked west along the sea front. There was plenty of activity on the water – mainly kite surfers – but the sandy beaches were almost empty. We decided to spread a rug and sit on the beach for a while. Unfortunately, the gusty wind blew the fine sand all over us so we moved on.
A little further along the seafront we found a cafe installed in an old railway carriage. We entered and ordered a cream tea, the first of our trip!
After this Tigger prevailed upon me to play Crazy Golf. We were sensible enough not to keep score!
We were some way from town and the station so we waited for the road train. This first took us to the western end of the seafront then headed back to town.
We had a look around the main shopping area, including this market, and then walked to the station where we were lucky enough to get a train almost immediately.
Exmouth is a pleasant little town, quiet compared with other seaside resorts. It would probably not be the first choice of families with young children but that could be said to be a point in its favour!
As we had to change trains at Exeter, we took some time to visit the town. Here are just three pictures from that brief visit.
We took the train at Dawlish. The station is built right on the edge of the sea with views along the coast. Dawlish has a river running through it called Dawlish Water. In the centre of town, the river and the ground either side have been turned into a park. It is inhabited by a startling array of water fowl as well as the usual pigeons and gulls. I believe the black swans of Dawlish, introduced in 1906, are now quite famous and are used in the town logo.
There is also an enclosure with a small pond containing still other species. I don’t like to see creatures in cages but it was a chance to marvel at some we don’t often see.
Enquiring of friendly residents, we were directed up the hill to an Indian restaurant whose vegetable thali proved sufficient to our needs.
We returned to the station with its charming views over an evening seascape. The train left us at Torre and from there we walked back to the hotel. We had enjoyed a good and satisfying day out.
Exmouth From Exe + mutha, the name of the river and the Old English word for “mouth”.
Exeter This comes from Exe + ceaster, the Old English word designating a Roman (fortified) settlement. In time, the name became abbreviated to modern “Exeter”.
Dawlish An earlier spelling was Deawlisc, interpreted as Celtic words meaning “devil water”.
Thursday, June 26th 2008
After breakfast, we walked down to the seafront and took the by now familiar number 12 bus to Paignton. Tigger, avid collector of books and DVDs on local life and history, wanted to visit the railway shop. We then continued to Kingswear.
There was much the same crush for the ferry as we had experienced on Tuesday but it turned out that we could also go across to Dartmouth on the car ferry for £1 each. Not many people seemed to know this so there only a few us us each way and the crossing is comparatively quick.
Dartmouth is my favourite town so far this trip. We spent several hours there, exploring, having lunch at Brown’s, looking in the shops and taking photos of the town and sea. Here is a selection.
And, of course, I couldn’t resist showing these two.
In the afternoon we crossed back to Kingswear and walked up the hill to the bus stop. There was quite a queue, increased by school children, but two buses came along together so we had no trouble getting aboard.
We changed buses at Paignton and again at Torquay. There is a museum of the Victorian era called Bygones. Tigger is planning to visit it on Saturday before we take the train home. As it is not in the main part of Torquay but at St Marychurch, this calls for careful planning. So this evening, we took the bus there to check out locations of bus stops etc.
St Marychurch is a clifftop village and there doesn’t seem to be much there apart from the museum, so we caught the bus back to Torquay and returned to our hotel for a rest and a cup of tea prior to setting out later for dinner.
We chose Paignton as our location for supper. We eventually settled on the pub restaurant called the Flagship. Bad choice: this was the worst meal of the stay so far. Overpriced mediocre food and slow service.
The faithful number 12 took us back to Torquay and our comfortable room.
Friday, June 27th 2008
The sky was overcast with leaden clouds threatening rain. This was not too worrying because we were using our third and last train day by travelling to Plymouth where we wanted to visit the National Maritime Aquarium and we reckoned there would be plenty of things to do indoors if the weather turned wet.
From Plymouth station we walked down Armada Way to the town centre. As you might imagine, there are many references to Sir Francis Drake and his legendary – if not mythical – game of bowls while waiting for the Spanish Armada to come within striking distance.
Plymouth suffered badly during WWII. Many buildings were destroyed and lives lost. Much of the centre was laid waste. Plymouth is proud of the determination with which it rose again from the ruins and all credit must be given to the townsfolk. I have to say, however, that much of this building is ugly. How anyone could have deliberately planned these bleak concrete structures and decorations devoid of artistic merit is beyond me.
Arriving at Plymouth Hoe fortunately mitigates the depressing mood somewhat. Sea views and greenery entertain the eye and the lighthouse and the citadel add interest.
There is a putting green with a cafe attached where we had a cream tea in lieu of lunch. Tigger was amused by a small boy who kept stealing the flag from on of the greens and riding it like a hobby horse.
After this we set off to find the Aquarium but were distracted from our purpose at the last minute. This distraction came in the form of a rather splendid 4-seater tuk tuk. With this vehicle, Steve Ingleby takes people on a tour of the historic and noteworthy parts of Plymouth.
Steve reckons that his was the first 4-seater tuk tuk to be introduced into Britain. In case you haven’t met these vehicles before, the picture will give you some idea. They are modified motorcycles originally designed for the rickshaw business. Steve’s has 2 pairs of double seats, protected by a canopy. There are seat-belts and a rug to put over your knees if necessary.
Steve wears a microphone that pipes his commentary to a loudspeaker in the passenger compartment. The commentary was interesting and well researched and delivered with humour. I complimented Steve on committing it all to memory. The only problem was that wind in the microphone sometimes made it hard to follow what he was saying.
After a fascinating tour, the tuk tuk deposited us once more near the aquarium. This visit was the second highlight of the day (or the third if you count the cream tea!).
Like most zoos and aquaria these days, this one does not set out merely entertain (though that is a necessary feature of its work) but seeks to educate the public about sea fauna and environmental issues. In common with other similar institutions, it also plays a role in conservation and rescue work.
There are some small tanks exhibiting single species or small groups but the most breathtaking display is a huge tank that you see from about 5 different viewpoints as you progress through the exhibition.
This contains a wide selection of species occupying the various niches. There is everything from flat fish half buried in the sand to sharks. The first view presents the tank face on as if you are looking at a cinema screen, the difference being that you can go right up to the glass as fish swim past you within a few centimeters.
One of the more striking views is where the front glass rises vertically in front of you and then curves over your head so that you can look up and watch the fish moving about above you.
The museum allows you to take photographs – just as well, for who could resist! – as long as you do not use flash.
By the time we left the aquarium, it had begun to rain and it was necessary to dig out our rain jackets. Most of the shops were now closed so we made our way to the station and took the Penzance train. This took us one stop to Newton Abbot where we changed to a train for Teignmouth (pronounced “tinm’th”).
When we arrived, we found the rain had stopped and but for the gusty wind that has been an annoying feature of the last few days, it was a pleasant evening. Teignmouth seems a quiet little town. Our main task was looking for dinner. There were a few pubs serving food and a handful of restaurants. The first we tried was booked up and then we were lucky enough to find a table at the Coliseum, an Italian restaurant in Regent Street.
We had a very good meal there with friendly service and we would go there again if we were in Teignmouth needing a meal.
Plymouth By now, you will be able to guess that this is simply the mouth (mutha) of the river Plym.
Plymouth Hoe A hoe is a rocky spur of land of which there are many in the region, Plymouth Hoe possibly being the most famous.
Teignmouth Another mutha, this time of the Teign, a word meaning simply “stream” in the local British language. It seems that ancient people were often content to call the nearby river simply “the river” – hence the various occurrences of the name Avon and Afon, both meaning precisely that.
Saturday, June 28th 2008
The Orbisons very kindly offered to transport us and our luggage to the station by car so we were able to leave our cases at the guesthouse and take the familiar path down the hill through the Abbey grounds to the seafront and there take the bus to St Marychurch in order to visit Bygones, the Victorian museum.
We spent a couple of happy hours in there looking at the mock-ups of shops and various tableaux, including the World War I trench. There were many other unexpected items such as old-time slot machines that actually still work (you need to buy old pennies at 20p each) and model railway layouts that spring into life at the press of a switch.
The kernel of the exhibition is a steam locomotive that the creator of the exhibition, a railway enthusiast bought and then had to find a home for. The museum, in an old cinema, was the result.
After the museum visit we took the bus back to the guesthouse (at least for this trip) where we were given coffee and then taken to the station.
What was our verdict on this holiday? We had been to Cornwall many times because we both love it and we thought that this time we ought to end our neglect of Devon and give it a chance to prove itself.
There are certainly good places worth visiting in Devon, lovely countryside, stunning sea views and picturesque towns. The pace of life is more relaxed than in London, encouraging you to take it easy and enjoy the ride.
All in all, we enjoyed our stay. We met some very pleasant and interesting people and animals. (Never forget the animals!) I have some photos that I will treasure.
Even so, I think that the next time we venture down this way we shall base ourselves in Cornwall again. Its magic is – for me at least – irresistible. We shall no doubt make forays into Devon, as we have done before, and revisit some of the places we became acquainted with on this tour.