Every half term of my childhood we’d back up the car, head home and escape from the bubble of life on the inside of a school, even if only for a week. We’d go to the beach, explore up on the moor, spend rainy days reading a never ending stack of favourites, and almost always go to Hembry Woods to tramp along the river bank, and then more often than not end up in the pub up the road for hot soup and a chance to warm up by their fire. The leaves would be all the colours of green and gold and fiercely burnt orange, and when the wind blew they would scatter around us like confetti. the mud underfoot was dark and soft, decades of leaf mould producing a very satisfying squelch, and down in the valley the river would call our names in the roar of the rapids.
It hasn’t changed. You still have to turn off from the main path to get there, down a little track, just wide enough for one at a time, over a fallen tree still wrapped in ivy vines and then down the final slope to see the river there before you.
The Dart, a lot smaller than down in the harbour , but ferocious through the rapids that carve islands into the centre of the stream. When I was little I could imagine all sorts of secret adventures happening on those islands, and in the summer when the river was lower we could paddle and rock hop out to them, wading through cool peaty water, clear enough to see all the way down to our toes.
In the autumn they’re definitely more for looking at from afar, unless you travel by canoe, but being back in the woods was the highlight of my half term, and a definitely highlight of the month as we headed south to spend the final weekend of half term with my Dad. The children were fascinated by the river; the sea is their familiar friend, and they’ve seen the harbour and big tidal estuaries, but this little moorland stream was something completely new. They hurled sticks into the water and watched them get jumbled up in the rapids, and tried to stir the flotillas of beech leaves that amass in the calms, gently swirling, oblivious to the tumult behind them.
We saw a golden retriever swimming after a stick, and for all that they’re not that keen on dogs, we waited to see her come safely ashore, prize between her teeth. On sandy beaches they dipped the toes of their boots, and starred down into the water as it shelved steeply away, or hung over the edge of the bank to count the fish, no bigger than a little finger, that darted across the shallows, brown against the white stone on the riverbed below.
Elma planted acorns along the path, heaping them under sandy soil and planting a feather or a twig in the top of each one to mark where the new tree will be.
And then we climbed a tree.
And I think these might be my favourite Me and Mine photos yet. It seems to sum up so many things that we value as a family and that John and I try to build into our days; being together, being outside in nature, and doing something ever so slightly crazy.
So often so much of our months are characterised by the complete opposite, by being apart because of work and school, by being inside because I’ve not yet convinced anyone that I could be productive working outside in the churchyard near my office, and by the everyday ordinary, rather than the adventures, it made for a truly wonderful weekend to dive right in, to recreate a memory of my own and pass the tradition on.
But my last photo this month comes from a more recent tradition. When I was a child the cafe was entirely washed away by a storm one winter; I can remember going down the next day and dancing hopscotch on the tiles that had been enclosed by roof and walls. When I was a teenager I worked on the counter and watched people squeeze in to the picnic benches to eat their pasties. Now, breakfast at the cafe on the beach is more of a tradition than fish and chips at the pub, and it’s completely delicious so we wouldn’t be without it for the world.
Me and Mine, in October: