Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Midnight, 26th June

No reason at all to post this as a blog entry, except that it's a lovely (if grainy) picture.  The moon is full (very nearly), the sea is calm and the sky clear.

This is from near Gairloch, looking out towards Port Henderson with Longa Island in view.  If you squint you can just about see Skye in the distance.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Honiton Premier (our Tripadvisor review)

We stayed here for three days while visiting friends and family and doing a bit of sightseeing. For us, this was the very best Premier Inn of the network (and we’ve stayed in a lot!) The welcome was terrific and very helpful, the room was spotless and perfectly made up – and remained so throughout, the airconditioning was excellent as was the soundproofing. The room was quite large, too. And to cap it all, the breakfasts were superbly cooked to order and served by Jack and the restaurant team. This was just a “all the ducks in a row” experience – the manager and team have simply got everything right here.

Surprisingly we heard no noise from outside or inside the hotel – perhaps the guests are quieter here, maybe it’s just well-built or perhaps it’s just a general shared respect for other people that the hotel engenders.

The hotel was trialling a “smart TV” system, where the TV could be controlled via your phone to display pictures from the day, get the guide and so on. It also allowed BBC iPlayer, Youtube and other apps to operate direct on the TV. It had the usual direct USB and HDMI connections too, of course. We hope that they extend the trial to all the hotels as they can – we found it really good.

The location is handy for the A30 and close to Honiton itself, which is lovely. The hotel has an M&S food outlet next door and there’s a big Tesco nearby as well.

We really enjoyed our stay at this Premier and would highly recommend it. We will certainly be back.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Beer! In Devon.

Down in Devon, down in Devon,
There's a village by the sea.
It's a little piece of heaven
And the angels call it Beer.

In many ways, this part of our post-retirement odyssey is the “biggest deal”.  That’s not to say that London or the Gairloch muirburning  are trivial, it’s just that this trip was LONG overdue (about 50 years, really) and it’s a long way away.  If you’ve read the last entry, you’ll know that we stayed at Honiton – itself a lovely little place – in a Premier Inn that was one of the best we’ve ever stayed in.  We’ll pop the tripadvisor review up if you’re interested.  But it was Beer that brought us to this part of the country.

A little background might be helpful to give context.  The family (Lois’ side) has been associated with Beer for a very long time.  We have a photo of her here as a baby, and she visited family here at about 13 too.  That was the last time she’d been (hence the 50 year overdue comment above) and she’d lost touch with that chunk of the family.  As you know, one of the aims of this odyssey is to get back in touch with family – so here we are.

A little about the area, then – it’s hung its hat on the Jurassic Coast peg.  There are lots of references to it, and with good reason.  There are loads of fossils to be found here.  No, it’s not a retirement village – far from it – it’s geological fossils I mean.   It’s a world heritage site, no less, so is alongside the Great Barrier Reef in that respect.  It has “proper” history.  Wikipedia says “The Jurassic Coast ... stretches from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset.  The site spans 185 million years of geological history, coastal erosion having exposed an almost continuous sequence of rock formation covering the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. At different times, this area has been desert, shallow tropical sea and marsh, and the fossilised remains of the various creatures that lived here have been preserved in the rocks.”  OK, we have to point of that 185 million years is a drop in the ocean compared with the 580 million years of the Lewisian Gneiss we experienced on Lewis and Harris, but for this end of Britain it’s not too shabby.  The QI fact you might remember is that Mary Anning, who supposedly inspired the song, came from here:

All day, all night, Marianne
Down by the sea side siftin' sand
Even little children love Marianne
Down by the seaside siftin' sand.

She started the fossil-hunting industry and, perhaps, inspired the new interest in this coast.   As an aside, two points - first, there isn't a lot of sand round here - it's mostly pebbles, and I prefer the Trini Lopez version to the Harry Belafonte one.  

But I digress.

Beer, then, makes a lot of the pun that's available.  There’s plenty of plays on the word in the pubs there.  Let’s not hold that against the place which, in reality, is rather more grown up than that.  In any case, it’s only recently been called Beer – it used to be called Bera, Bearham, Byr, Ber and, remarkably, Brereworde.  I’d have stuck with the last!  Whatever it’s called it’s an absolutely delightful little fishing village.  They even still fish there – unlike many of the“pretty fishing villages” in the rest of the country that haven’t seen a fishing boat in years.  And you can buy fresh fish, which they still refer to as “wetfish” at the harbour.  There’s even a place where you can hire a deckchair – a proper wood and canvas one – for a pound a half day.  And buy an ice cream to eat in it too.  Or a cream tea, or a crab salad.  It’s just lovely.  

Mind you, the notice erected by the harbour authority tells you more about what you shouldn’t do than what you could, but it still manages to be welcoming. Ish.

The place Lois worked by some 50 years ago, then called “The White Rabbit”, is now
“Ducky’s”.  It’s pretty much the same building, notwithstanding some repairs after year after year of storm damage.  The people who run it now didn’t remember her, but they’d only taken it over 25 years ago! 

When Lois saw it, she recognised it immediately and we had a very agreeable cup of tea there.  Probably using the same crockery which was lovely and quaint.
The village itself – and it really is a village at 1300 people, not like the village of Loughton which is more of a large town really – has all the makings of a thriving, community-led place.  It has a couple of nice pubs, some restaurants and not too much tat, which is refreshing.  One irony we saw was a shop selling buckets and spades for the beach – which given that it’s a pebble beach would be tough to use.  We wonder how many people buy them on the way down to the beach and try to return them later; they could use them elsewhere in Devon, I suppose.  But that was the only oddness we saw, everything else was just “nice”.  A particularly interesting sight is the stream that runs by the main street to the sea.  It runs in a stone gulley most of the way, crossing under the street through gullies from time to time.  It runs the length of Fore Street and alongside Sea Hill, then disappears underground.  Pooh sticks would be amazing here!

We had a lovely time here, not least the catching up with cousins over copious amounts of tea (thank you Carol) and cake (thank you Susan), being regaled with stories of derring-do (building and then crossing the Atlantic in a catamaran), the building of a full-size stone circle (I kid you not), stories filling the gaps in our history (not all wholly accurate, but I still stand by my completely inaccurate story of a relative losing a leg in the SOE!) and so on.  It was one of those afternoons that one didn’t want to stop – but it’s always nice to leave these things wanting more, isn’t it!

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Budleigh Salteron

We'd heard of this place - who hasn't?  It's a name, to us, full of romance and intrigue.  We hadn't intended to visit during our odyssey, but as soon as we saw it on the roadsigns, we had to have a look.  

We found out that the name comes from the salt that it used to extract from the sea, using big salt pans.  We still have no idea where the Budleigh bit comes from.

According to their own blurb, "Budleigh Salterton was made famous by a painting by Sir John Everett Millais. His picture ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’ was painted from the Octagon, situated in Fore Street. The ancient wall featured in the background of the painting still stands today!"  Being culturally inept, we'd never even heard of John Everett Millais or his picture ‘The Boyhood of Raleigh’, but we had heard of Budleigh Salterton.

Anyway, we came here, stopped for a photo or two, and moved on - slightly disappointed.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Bradley Stoke. Or - how the hell do people drive down here???

Well, what can one say about our visit to Bradley Stoke.  To be honest, not a massive amount ... Wikipedia says that it’s ”...Europe's largest new town built with private investment” and that it “...is bordered by three motorways on three sides -the M5 Motorway to the north, the M4 Motorway to the east and the M32 Motorway to the south ... The town is predominantly residential with some retail and commercial areas.”  So there you have it.  But there’s a bit more to it than that – the road names give something away – it’s rammed with hi-tech aerospace stuff – Concorde, Airbus, that sort of thing ... that’s what they do here.  Despite its initials (surely someone thought of that???) there no bullshit about the place.  It’s clearly a place that is making a significant contribution to something.  We weren’t here for that, though; we were here to visit family as part of our odyssey, on our way further south-west.  

Our first reaction to the place was that it’s a nice little dormitory town kind of place.  We were here at the weekend, so there were people around mowing their lawns and chatting over their fences.  It’s clearly a newish area – it was started in 1987, so nothing’s very old.  But it was clearly built in that era when the planners knew that private space was important so the houses have garages and gardens.  It felt nice and clearly there was something of a community spirit at weekends anyway – we saw it.  We also heard that there isn’t much community during the week, but we can’t comment first-hand on that.  It’s certainly better that other new towns we’ve seen and experienced.  

What we would say is that it has a really interesting-looking Community festival annually ... and there aren’t many new towns that have those.

But really what we wanted to talk about in this blog entry was the driving and associated things.  Now, we are northerners (now).  We admit freely that we don’t do much driving south of York nowadays (none at all if we can help it) so we were prepared for the aggression on the road, even on a Sunday when we went down the A1, M18, M1, A42 and M5.  Pushy is a word, too.  “Indicators” isn’t a word, however, that gets much use, and that stuff one learns about Mirror-Signal-Manoeuvre is translated down here as Manoeuvre-Signal-Mirror.  Same abbreviation, I suppose and at least the signal bit gets in there somewhere.  So many close calls!  But the other thing that’s worth commenting about is the service areas on the motorways.  Twice we either failed to find the entrance or the exit !  Leeming Bar (used to be a service area, but it’s now been downgraded to a “Rest Area”) has a sign off the motorway, but then no more.  We could see it but never found it!  Nary a sign to be seen.  We wondered how much trade they get!  The other one was Gloucester Services where they let you in OK, but then signpost you away from the motorway when you try to get back!  Hotel California, maybe. 

One more mention of MSAs, and that’s Bridgwater Services ... which has a multi-storey car park!  Never seen one of those in an MSA before!

That got us down to Devon.  Honiton, to be precise.  More shortly.