Just over a week ago I got up very early indeed for a Saturday (an hour before our usual alarm) to get the train to Cardiff for Rae's hen night. Theme: teenage goths. Oh my we were a strange looking bunch really but we had a really good time. Cider and cheese in the stone circle in the park, assorted pubs, dinner and cocktails at Chiquitos and dancing half the night away at the local rock club (which sadly is no longer held in a converted chapel!). I had a really good time, and met some really nice people, and look forward to seeing them again at the wedding.
The next day everyone was up and off by 11am, which rather surprised me. Especially as I had train tickets booked for much later in the day! But I had a nice pub lunch with Rae instead, before meeting up with Mike and heading down to Exeter and a taxi out to the Lord Haldon Country Hotel, which as the name suggests is out in the middle of nowhere :) A very *hilly* nowhere, just outside the village of Dunchideock. It was very clear that our original plan to hire bikes for the week might need a bit of adjusting. We grabbed some food in the hotel bar, excellent puddings in particular, and had a short walk down and back up the house's original driveway: unmetalled and now rather broken and uneven in places.
On Monday we went for a walk up to Haldon Belvedere, a tower on the hill above the hotel, built back when it was just the east wing of the mansion on the Haldon estate. From the top of the tower you can supposedly see out across four counties, but sadly it's only open to visitors on Sundays. Still, there were pretty astounding views from the base of the tower. Sadly I only managed to take 3 photos before I ran out of battery! The perils of not checking whether your camera is charged before going on holiday. We continued down the other side of the hill to a village called Doddiscombleigh and a pub called the Nobody Inn, where we read for a while in their sunny garden and had lunch before continuing in a squareish walk taking in some country lanes and footpaths across farmland and back to Dunchideock, where less than half a mile from home we took a wrong turn and added another mile and a half to the route, finding ourselves back on the wrong side of the Belvedere and having to go over the top again. 10 miles in total! The hotel's courtyard restaurant turned out to do very nice food, a step up from the bar meals, though we didn't have room for dessert.
With aching legs on Tuesday we went off and found the local bus stop, where 5 times a day you can get a bus into Exeter, and even come back again provided you don't want to stay as late as 6pm. We bought a new camera, but of course the battery it came with was flat, but since mine takes AAs (even if it eats them very quickly) we still managed to get some pics of the Cathedral, before taking a train down to Dawlish for a day at the seaside. The tide was coming in when we arrived, but we did get to paddle on the beach and skim some stones across the sand (the sea was too full of waves) while we ate 99s and watched the trains coming through the tunnels under the headlands. Then it seemed a good idea for some reason to do some more walking along the coast path, which alternated between very steep and not actually on the coast, but was still fun. A cream tea, a couple of quid in 2ps in an arcade, and a shared paper of fish and chips later and we got the train back to Exeter and a taxi home again: much cheaper to book one than get one from the rank at the station!
Wednesday was supposed to be a lazy day, to let our poor legs recover, but we had a new camera to play with, so we took some pictures in the garden and then decided it would really be a shame not to head back up to the Belvedere and get some more pictures up there, so we took a now familiar route back up the hill, then we headed into the forest for a change. We saw a deer so dark it was almost black, but failed to get a photo, saw several people up in the trees as the forest has a Go Ape adventure thingy, walked along what were intended to be cycle paths, and got to the forest lodge *just* before the cafe closed for a well earned cake. Our walk home again took in the old driveway from the other end, with some nice views of the hotel and belvedere again.
Thursday we hit the bus again into town, even though it was drizzling, and after seeking out the remains of the castle (not much beyond a very ancient gatehouse) we rented a couple of kayaks and headed out for a little adventure along the canal which parallels the river Exe. I think it's intended that you can head through the locks and do the whole length of the canal, but not knowing how we turned round at the first and headed back upstream again, through an unexpected downpour before the sun came out again. We'd paid for 4 hours but didn't mind cutting it down to 2, as we were getting a bit tired by then, and it was probably just as well. I wasn't in the least pink at that point, and spent the rest of the day in the shade, but by bedtime my shins in particular were a proper lobster pink and I was feeling pretty sheepish, as well as a bit sore. Just goes to show you should always take your sun block with you even when going out all day, even if it's raining when you set off!
We'd hoped to get up to Dartmoor on Friday, but a frustrating time in Tourist Information had revealed that the train to Okehampton only runs on Sundays, that most of the bus routes that cross the moor only run once a week, and that although there's a new scenic hopper service from Bovey Tracey (a small town just outside the national park) it only runs on Saturdays. Which is a bit of a bummer when that's when you were intending to go home, and your hotel can't extend your stay. But we decided it was just too sad to come so close and not see it at all (except from afar) so we booked a Saturday night at a hotel in town and decided to make Friday a proper lazy day. We didn't make it any further from the hotel than a wander round the garden and carpark, and spent lots of time knitting and reading and just generally chilling out.
Saturday morning was a bit mad, with an early alarm and a rushed breakfast, a taxi into town to check in at the other hotel and drop off our bags in our room before dashing off to the bus station for the 8:30am bus to Bovey Tracey. It was worth it though, because it meant we could get on the first loop of the scenic bus, giving us more time in Dartmoor. First stop was Haytor rocks, which looked rather impressive but was *covered* in people, so we stayed on to the next stop at Widecombe-in-the-Moor. It had been looking pretty cloudy on the tops, but it brightened up here, and we headed out as intrepid explorers up onto Hamel Down, which was glorious. Walking along the ridge up to the high point of 532 metres was just lovely, with incredible views to either side, including all the way back to the Belvedere! The weather was closing in behind us though, and by the time we reached the rather interesting stone enclosure at Grimspound it had caught us up and out came the waterproofs and I really began to wish I wasn't wearing jeans. We headed off east back down hill and had lunch in the shelter of a rather windswept hawthorn tree, before heading through tiny bridleways to Hayne Down, where Mike took some excellent pictures of the rocks called Bowerman's Nose before we headed down the last steep slope to Manaton and picked up the bus again. It was the penultimate loop, and we'd originally intended to get off again at Becky Falls and then get the last bus back, but our legs were tired and we decided discretion was the better part of valour, getting back to Bovey Tracey with just time for a swift half in the pub before the bus back to Exeter and our hotel.
Home again by train on Sunday, and you definitely begin to wish they were cheaper. Mike, having spent the preceding Saturday in Bath managed on two off-peak returns, but despite cheap advance fares on the way out I ended up spending far more than him, with an £83 single home again. And I had to simply throw away the advance ticket which I'd originally bought to get home from Cardiff to Shelford. With reasonably expensive hotels and a lot of eating out (and at hotel prices!) we probably spend far more than we would have on a cheap package tour to the med.
But we had a wonderful time, and to be honest I actually enjoy the train journeys too. A fabulous holiday, and a day off today to recover from the travelling, and somehow I'm not looking forward to going back to work tomorrow, or to surgery next week for that matter, but boy do I feel fit after all that exercise :)