Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Down Farm Devon

Often the weather is better in South Devon than in the rest of England. It gets more sun and less rain. In May the bluebells are a lovely contrast to the yellow gorse. Sandy beaches appear as the tide ebbs.

The hedge rimmed fields are a green patchwork quilt. Farm country rolls through hills terminating in steep cliffs by the sea. Cattle stand at most unusual angles unperturbed, unlike my ten-year-old daughter. When one cow mooed very loudly at her, she put her hands on her hips and faced the moo-sayer, “Are you disrespecting me on account of my lactose intolerance?” She watches a lot of Catherine Tate on You Tube.

Devon is stunningly beautiful but takes nerves of steel to navigate. The centuries old hedgerows are a maze with cars and tractors speeding through them. You can rarely see over the dense hedges or around the bend. Most lanes are only wide enough for one vehicle. The rule of the road is the closest (or downhill) driver backs up to the nearest pullover space to let the other pass. At least the hedgerows are abloom with wildflowers – you get to see/smell them really close up!

You can spot the local Devonian who zooms mid-lane at top speed, one hand on the wheel and the other hand brandishing a lit cigarette. The “grockles” (those from away) inch along in their SUV’s cringing into the nearest hedgerow. You need a GPS or my map genius son to find your way, but even he couldn’t help much. Many lanes are unmarked. My husband dove back into his childhood memories and did not lead us astray.

Henry’s grandfather sold the family farm to his other grandfather in a tiny town called Kingston. It’s basically an old church and a fine pub, The Dolphin Inn. Kingston hasn’t changed much in appearance, only in ownership. Sadly, much of coastal Devon has become second homes for Londoners, but there are still plenty of working farms.

Henry spent his toddler years at Robin’s Farm (above) when his father was at sea with the Royal Navy. Even when his parents settled in Oxfordshire, they came back for all vacations that they weren’t sailing. Once the children grew up, my grandparents-in-law sold the stone farmhouse and moved into thatched Robin’s Cottage (the yellow house on the left.) It was there that I first came to visit (almost 2 decades ago) and fell in love with Devon. Henry’s grandparents welcomed me into the family without hesitation.

When my grandfather-in-law passed away, his wife moved to Plymouth to be near one of their three daughters. It was there that the extended family gathered to celebrate Hester’s 98th birthday. My gran-in-law always amazes me. I hope I’ll age that well. It’s always a delight to see her. Even the weather was better than predicted for the three day weekend.

My family stayed at Down Farm in the middle of nowhere. But isn’t it a gorgeous nowhere? It is a working farm run by the Foss family for 140 years. The farmhouse is the oldest inhabited dwelling in the parish, dating back to 1392. Despite its longevity, even the locals couldn’t tell you where it is.

Down Farm is only visible from air or sea and looks over an estuary with fine sand. The closest big town is Kingsbridge. More sheep than people out here.

Originally there wasn’t even a sign on the road until Judy Foss started the B&B nine years ago. She comes from a farming family too. Amusingly enough for us Mainers, Judy said she vacations at Moosehead Lake! That’s another favorite vacation spot of ours. Both Judy and her husband, Richard, were very warm and friendly. We felt like houseguests.

Judy serves a full English breakfast (fried egg, tomato, mushroom, potatoes, bacon, sausage and toast) in the original 14th century dining room. The sitting room and extra bedrooms were a later addition – 1542! The bedrooms are obviously small but each has its own shower. From the windows you can see the ocean and hear the farm animals: sheep, cattle, chicken, and geese. The spring lambs licked my daughter’s hand, much to her delight.

“This is way better than a petting zoo,” my daughter said before writing 10(!) pages in her journal. She and her brother never once asked to turn on the TV.

We all fell in love with Patch, the border collie puppy. She’s in training to be a sheep dog – it takes 2 years. Patch was so friendly that she had to be chained up or else she wriggled through gates to follow us.

You wouldn’t want a puppy on our cliff walk. The view couldn’t be finer (see opening photo) but check out this sign:

They weren’t joking. That’s Henry hugging the rocky face with our daughter encouraging him. Two hundred feet below them are sharp rocks and crashing waves.

Oh, to see, hear and smell the sea again! I had missed it so much. The rocky coast and wildflowers reminded me of Maine.

At the end of our walk, we were rewarded with a panoramic view from Start Point lighthouse . . .

. . . and one more funny sign:

Judy Foss recommended a great place for dinner in Beesands. The Cricket Inn is by a pebble beach overlooking the Start Point lighthouse. At night the pub glows like a beacon.

Best of all, I got 24 points for being the first to spot the cricket players pub sign. Henry’s family invented this road trip game: you get points according to the number of legs on the pub sign. So zero points for the King’s Arms (if only he had legs too!) and 8 points for the Fox and Hound. Lucky me to spot a whole cricket team – that’s 11 players and 1 sub, totaling 24 legs. Oh, and the fresh diver scallops and local Otter Ale were divine.

It was vacation but work too. I’m thinking that one of the characters in my English novel will hale from a Devonshire farm. With a title of Not Cricket (renamed A Match for Eve), the book should have a scene at The Cricket Inn. A harrowing cliff walk could provide some drama. I like to write about what I know and love.

There's an old Devonian expression, "dreckly," that means either 2 minutes, 2 hours or even 2 years. It's going to happen, but who knows when. As we left Down Farm, I promised Judy that we'd be back dreckly.


Anonymous said...

I really liked staying at the Bed And Breakfast and Patch was really cute! ♡ There was a T.V???? Where?! I'm almost finished with my 11th page in my journal! :-) I also really liked the lambs! Remember, you got another 48 points for spotting The Racing Horse Track!!
~Your Daughter :-) ☀☁☂☃♧♡

John Kelly said...

Where's the rain? Where's the contraflow traffic and the tailbacks? Where are the barely edible Little Chef sarnies? It looks like you had an idyllic bank holiday weekend: border collies and in-room showers. I'm jealous.

tina said...

Looks kind of like Maine for sure. I do miss the smell of the ocean the most.

Anonymous said...

As a newcomer to this blog, thank you Sarah for those awesome pictures of Devon! Although I do not blame your husband for clinging to the side as that drop looks scary. You and your children must be very brave.

Sarah Laurence said...

Daughter, as they say in the pantomimes, “Behind you!” You were too engrossed in your journal to notice the TV in the sitting room. 11 pages = awesome!

John, how right you are about British bank holiday weekends. We avoided traffic by leaving Saturday morning and staying off the motorways. The A303 passes some nice scenery, including Stonehenge, which we admired stuck in rainy traffic on Monday evening.

Tina, my son informs me that England almost fits like a jigsaw puzzle into North America.

Cliff, you would know.

Bee said...

I had to laugh at John Kelly's comment . . . because your "view" of Devon (your pictures! so gorgeous!) is so beautiful that the English Tourist Board should hire you on the spot!

Finding those out-of-the-way bits of England is what all tourists (and locals) long for, but rarely achieve. All of the beautiful private homes and gardens around here are down private lanes . . . and you do have to be INVITED to take a peek into that world.

I think that you were very fortunate to marry into a family whose heritage included these beauty spots! (My husband's family comes from the Croydon area!)

Another beautiful post -- that makes me long for "England," even though I already live here!

tina said...

Of course it does, so maybe that is why it looks like some of North America? Maine specifically in this area?

Alyson | New England Living said...

What a beautiful post! It was great to hear about such a lovely spot. And what great pictures!

walk2write said...

Your holiday looks superb! I can't wait to get back to Florida this weekend, see my grandson, sample some fresh seafood, and walk along the beach. You have made my mouth water for scallops! Your gran-in-law looks a bit mischievous. Who knows, it's probably the secret to long life.

Peter said...

Nice blog, you obviously love the area. I have a good friend who's family owned a farm until recently only a stone's throw away from the farm that you mention.

One important issue however: 'Car Cricket' (where you win points for legs on pub signs) is an old game that we used to play with my three sisters and brother when we were kids 35 years ago. It was a game for the days before motorways. Sorry not so new...

Sarah Laurence said...

Sorry all, I’m more than a bit behind on responding to your comments. I was on a novel writing spree in the spring.

Bee, John and I are two sides of the same coin. I’m missing England now that I’m back home. There are so many special places.

Tina, Maine fits nicely into England in my life for sure.

Alyson, thank you.

W2W, your slice of Florida sounds so nice. My gran-in-law has indeed lived a long and happy life and is still going. Perhaps we should bottle the Devon air.

Welcome to my blog, Peter, and thanks for correcting my error. My husband is always making up fun games so I incorrectly assumed this was another of his. I checked and he confirmed that he is but a player, not the inventor, of car cricket. We always choose the back roads over the motorway to Devon – nice view of Stonehenge too.

Gretel said...

Sat here with a big lump in my throat and wet eyes...Devon is my home county and oh, how your pictures make me yearn for it...we plan to move down in the next year, until then I will piggy back on lovely pictures and memories such as these.

Sarah Laurence said...

PG, I feel a lump in my throat too looking back at this post. How lucky you are to call Devon your home county! Even after 2 decades of visiting, I can’t get enough. Sorry to delay publishing your lovely comment, but I have to be careful with old posts due to spammers.

Barefoot said...

Glad thee be enjoyin they stay in England.
Must just say: Dreckley is a word from the CORNISH Language - Appropriated by Devonians but without a language of their own! The best description i've heard as to its meaning is: similar in meaning to the Spanish word Manana - but with less of a sense of urgency!

Wishing thee Abundance and Smiles

Sarah Laurence said...

Barefoot, welcome to my blog and thanks for the derivation of dreckley.

Jane D said...

Just seen this when doing a search for Robins Farm. My parents moved there when they retired in the early 1980s, and were there for around 10 years before needing to be in a town and moving to Bath. I loved it there