I’m afraid you may need to be sitting down to read this post, because I’m about to shatter an illusionn, and take a ridiculously large number of words to do so. It occurred to me that I may just perhaps have given the impression that in Devon in June it does not rain.
This is of course entirely and uncontrovertibly accurate. In never rains in Devon after Easter and before September. Well not in the bit of Devon I come from. Should you find yourself feeling inexplicably damp during that period you will be reassured to know that it is simply the effects of heat haze.
Trust me, it is truly still summer, still warm, and still perfect weather for getting out and about and doing a little exploring. If your toes have turned blue under the effect of the haze simply pop on a pair of wooly socks, wool being an excellent choice in both the heat and the cool due to its natural wicking properties (and that’s about the only true fact in the whole paragraph) and go to the beach anyway.
Now that we’ve got that cleared up, should you decide that you might want to give the beach a miss, and to finally finish my postcards home from our Devon holiday, I have a few ideas of rather fun things to do with little tiny people when beset by the damp.
Heading south of Barnstable
You’d be forgiven for being a little confused if my first suggestion is to go to Dartington, what with that being in South Devon and all, but if you head to Torrington, put all of your faith in the little brown tourist signs and duly head down what looks like a tiny residential street with a small industrial estate at one end you’ll find the manufacturing home of Dartington Glass.
The grockle shops may cater mainly to aficionados of beige and elasticated waists, but the scones in the cafe are excellent, and the factory tour is what you’ve really come to see (and as a side note if you sign up to the newsletter on their website you get a discount voucher for the factory tour).
Dartington blow all of their glass by hand; everything from tumblers to really complicated and beautiful vases and it’s utterly mesmerising to watch.
It’s not just the skill of the glass blowers, and they move molten glass around like they’re just knocking up a batch of toffee, but the speed; we sat for ages watching the team produce sets of tall glasses, consistent and at a vast rate of knots.
And after Dartington it seemed only fitting to go and find a few memories of my childhood holidays up at Appledore. It really hasn’t changed at all; the same little windy streets with pretty coloured houses and tiled pavements,
and the anchor at the end of the harbour, just as it was when it was my sister and I perching on it as teenagers.
Well that is apart from the absence of the most amazing sausage shop; they used to make curled up Cumberland sausages the size of a large dinner plate and just about every flavour under the sun; and this was back in the day, long before exciting sausage flavours became a thing.
But all was not lost on the foodie front; John’s of Appledore combines deli, sandwich shop and Post Office in a way that makes complete sense to me (where I grew up a Post Office was never just a Post Office) and baffled the rest of the family.
And as well as stamps they also sold some truly amazing pork pies, a quiche of the month (courgette and Cornish gouda), a wonderful individual treacle tart and some gigantic meringues to make up a picnic lunch.
It was so good even the sun came out to celebrate.
Heading north of Putsborough
Well obviously there is pretty much the entire rest of the country; on a really clear day you can see a bit of Wales which rather brings home just how close it is. On a not so clear day there’s Ilfracombe.
It’s notorious for Damien Hurst’s mermaid at the entrance to the harbour; and she certainly makes a striking figure, gazing out to sea from the centre of a green bowl of headland and town behind her. I think when you see the setting you can see why it was chosen; on paper a small town in North Devon isn’t exactly the most obvious spot for a major work of modern art, especially a town that doesn’t really seem to have a distinct town centre, or any sort of sea front; the natural consequence of facing into the teeth of every atlantic storm clearly being to hide from them behind the nearest available hills.
But art appreciation, even of giant green ladies named Verity, is still going to be short-lived on a day when the spray is being thrown up over the harbour wall, and the Lundy Island ferry arrives in a series of stomach churning pitches and rolls and so we took shelter in the Aquarium.
From the outside it looks absolutely tiny. Like garden shed kind of tiny. It is bigger than it looks, although still not massive, and if you’re expecting multicoloured corals and the cast of Finding Nemo you might be disappointed. What it does have is a series of tanks telling the story of the local area, from the source an Exmoor stream, all the way down to the Ilfracombe harbour and out to Lundy.
It’s the harbour exhibit that’s the star of the show; some really sizeable fish including a shoal of rays that lay utterly invisible hiding in the sand, only showing themselves with a little shimmy when the snacks came out.
The other real treat at Ilfracome is the Tunnels. I mentioned that Ilfracombe is rather neatly tucked away behind the cliffs and while I’m sure it was definitely the right decision every winter, it does make it rather more difficult to get to the beach for a dip in the summer. And by more difficult we mean pretty much impossible; these are some impressive cliffs.
So naturally they borrowed some miners from Wales and hollowed out a series of tunnels connecting the town to two beaches, one for gentlemen and one for the ladies, complete with bathing pool and facilities for bathing huts to get you too and from said pool.
As beaches go, neither are terribly impressive, but the tunnels are quite incredible, and we loved the little snippets of their history, from the etiquette guide for young ladies to the newspaper reports of the shock and horror caused by mischievous young gentlemen who swam around from their beach and not only peeked upon the fairer sex at their bathing (gasp!) but had the audacity to dive into the ladies’ pool (swoon and apply smelling salts!).
On a nicer day it would be fun to have a bathe, but even the intrepid pair that took the plunge while we were there didn’t last very long and we didn’t even fancy dipping a toe.
And an honourable mention should go to a place a little less steeped in history and a little more covered in paint. To be frank we discovered Paint n Spin because we needed change for the car park, but I knew the second I saw it that Kitty would love it.
Imagine a potter’s wheel sat in a sink and topped with the metal bars from your grill pan. Then put a piece of card on the wheel, set it spinning and drizzle paint and glitter down through the grill.
Kitty was in seventh heaven; she had paint, she had more colours of glitter than she could possibly count and she was quite determined to use them all. Her finished picture is wildly colourful, trails glitter behind it and was her highlight of the whole day.
And Elma, tiny but determined, took one look at her sister’s painting and made the kind of mewling sound that combined with a most indignant expression could only mean that she was going to insist on having a go herself. We didn’t take much persuading; it was the kind of set up that H and I could happily have played with all day, and so Elma too has a swirly painting picture for the wall; albeit one that has slightly more parental influence in the colour choices, and slightly less glitter than Kitty’s!
And after the rain
Because the one thing that I can say with some degree of confidence, is that the weather never really stays the same for very long; and after the rain, comes the sunset:
Beautiful, beautiful sunsets, including one very special one where we saw the green flash, for the first time ever for me; a bright Granny Smith apple green flicker on the horizon as the sun finally said its goodbyes.