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.