Monday 30 May 2016

We're back in Banwell, Somerset

We stayed at Cottage Farm, a pretty Caravan Club CL in
Limestone Link sign 
Banwell, Somerset, for one night last year and have returned here now for several nights as it is a lovely spot in its own right, but also handy for popping up to Bristol. It's possible that we might not be able to stay here again in the future though. Due to retirement, the Stimsons are selling up and moving on. So if any readers are interested in buying a CL campsite with house, workshops and a seven acre smallholding in North Somerset, the details are on estate agent's David James' website!

We didn't get much chance to explore locally last year so have already rectified that with a nine mile walk on Friday. Dave plotted the route by tracing footpaths on our Ordnance Survey map and printed out the relevant section. Isn't technology wonderful! We parked up in a small layby just past Banwell Garden Centre on the A371 which was handy for a footpath heading across fields towards Winscombe and Sandford cemetery. There seemed to be more little signs indicating the Butcombe Brewery Mendip Pub Trail than any other route, but we never actually saw a pub!

After strolling through Sandford, we kept heading East on a
Wild garlic carpet 
woodlandy footpath towards the ski centre and beyond towards Dinghurst. Much of the walk was through woodland of one kind or another. It varied from being cool against the mugginess of the day to be very close and stuffy, and did mean that we didn't get much in the way of long views. We did love seeing and smelling wild garlic flowers everywhere. Torbay area might be distinguished by blue bells at this time of year. North Somerset is carpeted with wild garlic. Our walk was a sort-of figure of eight with the second loop being on part of the Limestone Link route around Dolebury Warren. This 36 mile route joins the limestone of the Cotswolds to that of the Mendip Hills. We followed it for about forty minutes below Dolebury Warren before turning almost back on ourselves and climbing to return back above Dolebury. This ancient site is looked after by the National Trust and Avon Wildlife Trust and one of the highlights for us was walling across the hill and ditch remains of an Iron Age fort. It was apparently built about 500BC and, although it is not as extensive or well delineated as Maiden Castle, it still felt pretty amazing to be there.

After a complete loop of Dolebury Warren, our return
Lime kilns at Sandford Award Land 
footpath took us to Sandford Batch around the other side of Lyncombe Hill to our outward journey. It turns out that Sandford has quite a history too. In 1799, an Act of Parliament awarded land with a quarry to the Ecclesiastical Parish of Winscombe which provided stone to build and repair public roads and properties. The quarry area is now preserved as Sandford Award Land and includes these late eighteenth century Lime Kilns (like the one at Dornafield), remains of an 1860s forge furnace and the old railway track route. We were both pretty exhausted by the time we reached this point so didn't spend as much time exploring as we could have done. The area boasts a great network of footpaths though so we could easily make it a starting location for future walks. Instead, this time, we headed back to the layby and our car, pausing only in the middle of a field to unfurl our waterproofs as a sudden heavy shower tried to drench us!

Sunday 29 May 2016

An afternoon in Ashburton, Dartmoor

The small town of Ashburton lies on the southern edge of
Ashburton Methodist Church 
Dartmoor, close to our Lemonford campsite. A desire to buy smoked tofu (to make this risotto) led Dave to discover its The Ark healthfood shop and we used that as an excuse to go and visit. The ancient Stannary town, so designated because of its role in quality checking and weighing of locally mined tin, has a history going back many centuries with archaeological finds dating back to 3000 BC having been found here although the earliest evidence of a settlement 'only' dates back to around 500 BC. Ashburton still contains a good selection of historic buildings and an interesting photographic archive is located at the Museum.

Ashburton no longer relies on the tin industry for its economy and now is more a mecca for arts and foodie types. As well as visiting the aforementioned Ark, we enjoyed browsing in The Fish Deli which is an upmarket fishmonger specialising in Moroccan cuisine ingredients and stocking gorgeously patterned cookware and tableware.

This driftwood horsehead sculpture in a window drew our
Heather Jansch sculpture 
attention to Heather Jansch's gallery which unfortunately was closed. Heather makes superbly realistic life-size sculptures of Arabian horses which are then cast in bronze. Her work has been sold worldwide and there are photographs of many of her works on her website.

We probably won't have room for a life-sized bronze horse in our new flat, so we decided to browse a couple of Ashburton's antique and artisan furniture shops instead. If we had the right budget, we could have filled every room with fabulous items! Fortunately, as the flat isn't actually ours yet so we couldn't start moving items in even if we wanted too, we managed to keep our credit cards in our pockets!

Ashburton is also dotted with tea shops, cafes and restaurants for mid-stroll refreshments and I was very tempted upon reading a poster in the Cafe Green Ginger's window. They have a Pudding Club on the 2nd Friday of every month. What a shame we'll be in Sussex by the time the next 2nd Friday rolls around!

Saturday 28 May 2016

Ted Hughes poetry at Stover Country Park and tea at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen

I spotted the name Ted Hughes on the Stover Country Park
sign board as we drove past on the way to Trago Mills a week or so ago. Loving his book The Iron Man as a child, I was keen to discover the advertised Poetry Trail within the Park as well as the Park itself.

Stover Country Park is now owned and managed by Devon County Council, but its history goes back several centuries. Young orphan James Templer ran away to sea to make his fortune - and actually succeeded! Returning in 1765, he purchased an 80,000 acre estate on the edge of Dartmoor and had Stover House (which is now an independent school) built for him and its extensive grounds landscaped. Much of the original grounds is what now forms the 114 acres of the Park. Run as a local nature reserve, it comprises woodland, grassland, heathland, lake and marsh which provide differing habitats for both resident wildlife and visitors. The 14 acre lake is one of the main features. In the early 1900s it was a popular skating spot in winter.  This no longer happens though and, now, the lake is so important for dragonflies that it was designated a site of Special Scientific Interest in 2002. We spotted varied types of dragonfly including vivid blue ones and bright scarlet ones!

The Ted Hughes Poetry Trail was created in 2006. The large
River through Stover Country Park 
wooden book sculpture pictured above lists the sixteen poems that can be found by following a loop walk through the Park. The whole walk is about two miles, but this can be shortened if wanted. Selected poems are displayed on tall wooden columns and my favourites were The Kingfisher and Work And Play. Ironically, the column for poem number thirteen, an extract from The Iron Man (a story about a giant), is actually being slowly destroyed by the tiniest of creatures. There must be an ants' nest nearby and we watched them eating away at the wood!

I think our favourite facilities at the park is a short section of woodland aerial walkway along which we walked up to five metres above ground. We were delighted by a very tame squirrel which posed for photographs, then when we got to the farthest side of the walkway a loitering wildlife photographer told us he had seen a Great Spotted Woodpecker coming to a conveniently hung bird feeder. We waited briefly and it returned, twice, in a flurry of black, white and red. It was taking food from the feeder and then stashing it in bark cracks for later. Unfortunately the many squirrels knew this and, apparently, often nicked the food soon after it was hidden! From the walkway we also saw a Jay and a Nuthatch.

After our couple of hours at Stover Country Park (£1.50 for
Former coach house that is now the
Devon Guild of Craftsmen 
2 hours parking!), we drove to Bovey Tracy and the fantastic Devon Guild of Craftsmen gallery and shop. It turns out there is a lot of work by Devon craftswomen too! We started out in the Terrace Cafe from which I can highly recommend the Chocolate Date, Almond And Olive Slice and I was quite envious of Dave's beautifully light Carrot Cake too. The Terrace Cafe is upstairs with great views across to Dartmoor from its outside, err, terrace!

Back downstairs again, we admired an exhibition of prints by Devon wood engraver Hilary Paynter. She had taken aging bikers as her subjects for one humorous range of prints, and there were more sobering images illustrating dementia and a dwindling class photograph.

The Guild's shop is a dangerous place! Crafts range from
pottery and leatherworking to glassware and millinery. There is furniture, tableware, clothing, jewellery, art and sculpture, and so beautifully laid out that it is hard to come away empty handed. I nearly managed, but did buy Just A Card. The Devon Guild of Craftsmen is certainly somewhere I could return to again and again and the Guild was even advertising for cafe staff. How perfect would that job be?! It's probably a good thing that our new Torquay base isn't exactly commutable. All my wages would go on cake and precious things!

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Walking from Lemonford campsite to Rora Wood and Liverton

One aspect of our current campsite, Lemonford, that most
Vintage tractor at Liverton 
attracted us to it is its proximity to Dartmoor and, therefore, potentially good walks. We set out on one a couple of days ago which Dave had plotted from our new Ordnance Survey Landranger map 191. Starting from Lemonford and walking in to Bickington, we crossed over the River Lemon and took the second left, passing under the A38. We then passed a turning to Yeo Farm, instead taking the bridleway towards Goodstone Woods. I wondered if Yeo Farm was a contributor to Yeo Valley, but couldn't find any connections mentioned online. There is a beautifully picturesque Bed and Breakfast called Owls Rattle on the junction. (They're not taking bookings right now though)

At a fork, we took the right-hand footpath towards
I never get bored of bluebell woods 
Ramshorn Down. There was a little uncertainty leaving the first field. It turns out that through the leaning metal gate is the correct route! The narrow wooded path follows a pretty little stream for quite a way, emerging at Coombe Farm where a protective collie dog didn't allow us much thinking time. We should have gone straight ahead uphill, but actually took the right fork along a rough road away from the farm. It didn't really matter as we then rejoined our footpath by turning left at the tarmaced road and completing a triangle. Our track to Ramshorn Down, after a short distance on the right, climbed up onto open moorland with stunning panoramic views in almost 360 degrees. We spotted Lemonford below us and looked over to Haytor where we previously walked a couple of weeks ago.

View to Haytor (you'll need to squint to see it though!) 
Descending towards Rora House, we passed either several little or one huge equestrian establishment. There are numerous tyre jumps by the sides of tracks too. The three-way junction where we turned down to the House only has signs pointing in the other two directions, but it is marked as a right of way from the other end. Rora House is an elegant pinkish coloured building, unfortunately obscured by scaffolding at the moment, and is a religious retreat for 'Regions Overseas, Regions Around'. I think the house must have been named first!

Liverton hamlet, on the far side of Rora Wood, is picture
Song thrush egg (?)
postcard pretty, although a possible scrap metal merchant on the outskirts spoils the effect. I think the vintage tractor pictured above was his though. We ate our picnic lunch perched on a road bridge just before the village, and then followed the road through as the farthest point of our circular walk. Returning around the other side of Rora Wood, we climbed steadily uphill along forestry tracks and paths. There are lots of options here and the Wood seems popular with dog walkers. I am not sure of our exact route, but we ended up coming back to the three-way junction and retracing our steps to Ramshorn Down, now with those expansive views in the other direction. There are two tracks marked on the map to cross the Down. We had come up from the Coombe Farm direction and so headed back along the other track. This entailed climbing over a stile prior to a short but very steep downhill section after crossing the road. I didn't like this bit at all, but had we done the route the other way round we would have had a very steep uphill and Dave certainly wouldn't have liked that!

We returned along the same woodland path as we had taken on the way out. There are a couple of places where unofficial small diversions around fallen trees or muddy patches make the path vague for a while. Our whole route was about six miles and we were delighted with the range of environments we saw. Were we staying here longer, we would certainly do more walking from Lemonford as it is a great base location. The little roads are very quiet and there are plenty of small villages and hamlets to discover as well as Dartmoor itself.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Moving onto Lemonford campsite and visiting Trago Mills

After two weeks each at the Devon campsites Widend and
A Dornafield rabbit 
Dornafield, we are now settled in at Lemonford, near Bickington, for a week and a day before we head into Somerset. We were a little sad to say goodbye to our new Dornafield friend who you can see checking out our stuff in this photo. This not-so-little wild rabbit was so relaxed around people that it wandered into our awning several times!

Lemonford was less than a half hour drive from Dornafield and getting to the campsite doesn't involve any single track roads which was nice with the caravan on tow. I am always a little nervous of those kinds of road! A seasonal deal means that we are now paying £100 per week including electric here instead of the £99 at Dornafield. Lemonford is nowhere near as immaculately groomed, but the upside of that is that it seems much quieter. There is continuous background traffic noise, but I can tune that out. Our pitch is hardstanding in a grassy area with trees and the water and waste water are only a short walk away. There is a bit of a step up to both so I now know not to let the waste master get too heavy!

The little shop-reception has basic groceries and a couple
Out pitch at Lemonford 
of shelves of books to swap. They also sell local pink Ordnance Survey maps at a very good price of £6.99 so we got number 191 (Okehampton and North Dartmoor) to go with our existing number 202 (Torbay and South Dartmoor). It is possible to walk onto Dartmoor straight from Lemonford and we did one such route today which I will blog about soon. Other facilities include a laundry area with communal drying lines and sanitary buildings which are a bit dated, but clean and with a good sized shower cubicle that stays warm because it is effectively its own little room. Lots of the pitches here seem to be set up for the season, but with their caravans unoccupied so we have much of it to ourselves which seems ghost towny. Perhaps that will change over the weekend?

As well being very near to Dartmoor, Lemonford is also
A Trago Mills tower 
within easy driving distance of the locally famous Trago Mills - huge retail and entertainment complex which we had heard about from our friends Chris and Marta. We popped along for a visit after pitching up on Wednesday afternoon and found it to be a rather surreal experience! I was reminded of the huge Roy's of Wroxham department store(s) we saw last, but Trago Mills is even weirder! Most of the buildings are topped with these white towers, even the Co-op, and the items on sale range from motorbikes to furniture to food to musical instruments. Having not really intended to buy anything, we came away with two pillows, a box of DVD-Rs, a DVD of The Crucible and a banoffee cake. There are concession shops too which sell jewellery, goth fashions, fudge and sweets, swing sets and goodness knows what else, plus a large area of recreational attractions including radio controlled boats, a ride-on train, a model railway and amusement arcades. I couldn't quite believe the extent of the attractions crammed into the park! And I am not sure I would ever want to go back there - even though the cake was pretty good!

Thursday 19 May 2016

We visit Cockington Court country park and craft centre

We met up with our artist friend Marta yesterday
ROC Creative wedding dress displayed at
Cockington Court 
afternoon. She is on a flying visit to the UK and suggested that we might like to spend some time together at Cockington Court. We had seen the Torbay attraction advertised, but hadn't yet got around to visiting so were happy to take up her idea. As it was a sunny afternoon we decided to walk in from the outskirts of Torquay, parking up near to the station and following a very pretty open woodland path into the Court grounds. Our alternative, which I had already checked via a Twitter conversation, was to park onsite. This is reasonably priced at £1 per hour up to three hours and £4.50 for over three hours (exact change needed for the machines). Cockington Court has been extensively renovated, part paid for by the European Development Fund, but still retains a real air of history and reminded of Alfriston - a historic village near to where we used to live in Sussex.

We started our visit with a drink at The Drum Inn which
The Drum Inn, Cockington 
was built in 1936 and sports a blue plaque outside because it was designed by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. The coffee is pretty good and Marta was pleased they had St Austell Brewery's Proper Job beer on tap.

Outside we could see picturesque thatched cottages and a water wheel being repaired as we walked by. The number of ice cream shops and tea rooms gave us an idea of just how busy Cockington Court must get in the height of summer, but it was pleasantly tranquil on a weekday May afternoon. There are over twenty artisan studios whose windows we peered into. I loved the gorgeous colours at OurGlass glassblowers workspace and was tempted by the four-tiered chocolate-covered cakes at Cockington Chocolate Company - almost worth getting married for, except I wouldn't want to share!

Cockington Court house 

Leaving the studios behind, we crossed the windy cricket
Stairwell window 
pitch towards Cockington Court house itself. Apparently a thriving Saxon community in 1066, Cockington was seized and passed to a conquering Norman family, the FitzMartins, who promptly changed their name to deCockington. The family remained until 1375 when they sold the estate to Sir John Cary. A Chief Baron of Exchequer, his family owned the estate continuously, despite beheadings and forced exiles, until they were ruined by the civil war. Exeter goldsmith Roger Mallock bought Cockington Court in 1654 and also, later, Torquay's Torre Abbey. The beautiful stained glass window here features stylised 'M' letters which I presume were for Mallock. William Of Orange was met on British shores at the quay by a Rawlyn Mallock in 1688 and this third family continued to live here until 1933.

Cockington might no longer be a place for making history,
Cockington church 
but echoes of its past are everywhere - even the church has real battlements! Nowadays, the emphasis is s on art and creativity and we were lucky to catch a ROC Creative art exhibition in the Kitchen Gallery. Entitled Memories, its publicity poster indicated it should have finished in April so I don't know for how much longer it will continue, but the work was still on show as of the 17th of May and included the gorgeous wedding dress illustrated in the first photo at the top of this post. ROC Creative is an inclusive arts-led project supporting people with learning difficulties. The Wedding Dress was originally created as part of an exhibition to commemorate 200 years of Singer (of sewing machine fame). Artists were given plain white cotton cloth and asked to create a garment that evoked a significant personal memory. ROC Creative's dress is transfer printed with photographs important to the members and staff who wanted to take part.

As Cockington Court was closing for the day as we left the Kitchen Gallery, we started back through the village and along the pretty path. Our entertainment wasn't quite finished though because Dave expertly crossed the stream and back balancing on a sloping fallen tree!

A circus career beckons? 

Monday 16 May 2016

Views From Bridges part two - walking Dartmoor from Lustleigh

For the second part of my Views From Bridges post pairing
The old Clam Bridge viewed from the new 
I am turning away from the superb National Theatre production and, instead, talking about actual bridges over which we crossed during our second Dartmoor walk of this season. We chose Number 18: Lustleigh And Becky Falls in our brilliant new Walk Dartmoor book. This walk takes in several pretty villages and hamlets as well as woodland paths and babbling brooks so it was a complete change of scene from our first walk last week.

Beginning by trying to find somewhere to park in the
Lustleigh sheep! 
gorgeous village of Lustleigh - we got lucky with a spot by the church - we were a little disappointed to see that the recommended tea rooms are closed down at the moment. Apparently the owners are retiring so the business is up for sale (and with the same estate agent, Bettesworths, as is selling a furniture shop we had wanted to visit in Newton Abbot). As it turned out, we weren't back in time to indulge in Afternoon Tea anyway! I liked these painted sheep by the church although I am not sure what the reason for their decoration was.

Setting off through a wonderful orchard which is now
Lustleigh May Queens' chair 
recreational space for the village, we passed by the May Queens' throne. The stone chair was designed by Doug Cooper and carved from local Blackingstone Quarry granite by Warren Pappas. It sits is atop a large boulder engraved with the names of all Lustleigh's May Queens from Vivienne Jenkin in 1968 to Abigail Carroll in 2015 and apparently a previous rock has names going back to 1905. The chair was still decorated with this year's May Day flowers, only slightly wilted, so I expect this year's queen, Talia Sullivan, will be immortalised there soon too.

The woodlands around this part of Dartmoor are beautiful,
Woodland near Lustleigh 
especially at this time of year when they are carpeted with bluebells. We saw both blue and white bluebells as we descended from Lustleigh and also pretty two-toned pink purslane flowers. This walk took in a variety of woodland areas with different trees dominating. Some were more open like the picture here, others very overgrown or, like Becky Falls Park, strewn with mossy boulders. The signposting is generally very good so we could often dispense with our book and Ordnance Survey map between waypoints. It was beautifully peaceful with just distant birdsong often the only sounds and we hardly saw any other walkers. We did step aside for two mad mountainbikers and Dave got a comment on his last-year-birthday-present t-shirt:

Our book had mentioned the authors 'gingerly crossing' the
The new bridge 
River Bovey at Clam Bridge and Dave had wondered whether this might be a bridge too far for my vertigo. The old bridge is pictured in the first photo at the top of this post and I think I would have been ok, if nervous. However that slender crossing is now closed and barricaded at each end for safety reasons. We learned that some locals aren't very happy about this even though there is now a new £35,000 bridge right alongside, because it doesn't have the historical significance (or adventure factor) of the original.

Once over the bridge, we continued on to the famous waterfall at Becky Falls. Our route followed a public footpath through the privately owned land and we did catch sight of the brook tumbling, but in order to get good views of the waterfall you need to buy a ticket to the park. Having been so impressed with High Force and Low Force last year we aren't sure yet if we will splash out on Becky Falls too.

Finally, steep climbs up from Hisley Bridge towards Hisley
itself gave us long views out over Lustleigh Cleave and Trendlebere Down. The bridge is an old stone packhorse bridge and has a lovely sense of timelessness to it.

We took quite a bit longer than our book suggested for this walk - 3 1/2 hours as opposed to their 2 1/2. We are putting this down to a combination of too much time spent pointing at things and taking photographs, and to being a tad out of condition for the uphill bits! It's an excellent walk though and we were very happy to have been guided along this route past sights that we probably wouldn't otherwise have found. We finished up with a spot of good luck too: we just got into the village shop as the church clock was striking six so were able to buy ourselves each a delicious and well-earned ice cream before they closed up for the day.

Sunday 15 May 2016

Views From Bridges part one - @NTlive Young Vic cinema screening

The first of a pair of tenuously linked posts today! I want to
talk about the superb National Theatre live production we saw at Dartington Hall's Barn Cinema on Thursday evening and our Dartmoor woodlands walk on Friday afternoon both of which incorporate views from bridges.

A View From The Bridge, the Arthur Miller play, was reimagined by Dutch director Ivo Van Hove for a Young Vic revival last year. I think we must have been travelling too far from a venue when NTlive first screened their broadcast so I was delighted to be within reach of several venues for Thursday evening's encore. We chose to patronise Dartington Hall's Barn Cinema which is beautiful. Finding it was a little tricky as we seemed to be driving through the Estate for a very long time, but once there there is plenty of car parking for just £1. The Barn is just that and I loved the thick wooden beams and whitewashed stone walls. Comfortable-enough tiered seating is thoughtfully offset so all seats have a clear view and, although the screen is smaller than we expected so we thought we might be too far back, this turned out not to be the case.

Ivo Van Hove chose to stage his almost propless production in a stark boxing ring style set. This meant we could focus entirely on the dialogue without distraction. The narrator-lawyer-referee Alfieri (Michael Gould) provides a bridge between the audience and the characters as we watch longshoreman Eddie Carbone's (Mark Strong) domestic life crash around him. Eddie and his wife Beatrice (Nicola Walker) agree to host two illegal Italian immigrants, Beatrice's cousins, in their home and one, Rudolfo (Luke Norris) begins a relationship with Eddie's sheltered niece, Catherine (Phoebe Fox). It's a very powerful story of jealousy and rivalry which is still incredibly relevant despite having been first staged some sixty years ago. I left feeling distinctly steamrollered by the emotional impact of the play. All the actors are perfect throughout especially Mark Strong and Nicola Walker. I liked the understated accents and was impressed with the pacing especially in a scene which resembled a communal meal - tough to know without props! - where the stilted conversation created unbearable tension.

Having not seen any other versions of A View From The Bridge, I can't compare this one, but I just feel so lucky to be able to experience theatre of this sublime quality from a tiny cinema in Devon. Dave and I have been talking about A View From The Bridge on and off since it finished two days ago and I believe this is the most discussed NTlive play we have seen. NTlive and similar broadcasting ventures are a fantastic innovation which I hope continue for years to come as we certainly wouldn't get to see such memorable productions without them!

Wednesday 11 May 2016

We are back walking on Dartmoor again

Another advantage of our current Dornafield campsite
Ponies on Dartmoor 
over Widend is its proximity to Dartmoor where we enjoyed walking back in September and had looked forward to venturing again. The drive to a convenient car park at Cold East Cross took about twenty-five minutes and that includes going far slower than the locals would along one section of single track road. I am not sure if starting to live around here will mean we learn to drive faster on the rural lanes or discover as many routes as possible which avoid them!

Cold Cross East is more of an off-road space than an official
Rocks at Logan Stone 
car park, but there is room for a good dozen vehicles. As we parked up we met a Swiss man unloading his folding bicycle. He wanted to cycle to Widecombe and Dave was able to point him in the right direction. Our walk was planned to be a loop of about seven miles and we had our Ordnance Survey map at the ready. We set off practically due north alongside the road for a few minutes until we found a path heading north east directly towards Logan Stone and Rippon Tor. The ponies in the first photo were near Logan Stone and one was a pretty young foal although I am not sure if you can see it in the photo. It was surprisingly windy at the top of Rippon Tor and I needed to brace myself in order to enjoy the 360 degree views. There was some haziness, but generally good visibility for a long way.

Descending from Rippon Tor, we curved easterly to be
Beltane tree below Haytor 
parallel to the road, crossing over to climb up to Haytor. As one of the most popular Dartmoor landmarks, Haytor was busy compared to the rest of our walk, but probably quiet compared to its summertime crowds. I was feeling out of condition, but did at least manage to overtake a woman walking up with a stick who must have been well into her eighties! Having got to Haytor we descended in the direction of the Information Centre, our eyes having been caught by the bright colours in this tree. They turned out to be single and small bunches of cut flowers which I surmised were left from recent Beltane celebrations. Avoiding the pop-up cafe and a Wildlife Trusts stall, I wandered into the Information Centre to see if they had any good Dartmoor walking books and was pleased to be able to thumb through a dozen different offerings. We eventually decided upon Walk Dartmoor by Kate and Alan Hobbs which looks to have a good selection of forty walks in the four to eleven mile range and includes information about the history that we are otherwise missing out on. I also picked up a Dartmoor Essential Nature Guide so we can start (hopefully) being more specific about the local wildlife instead of just saying bird, butterfly, flower, etc. I think I already found some pretty pink lousewort flowers, although they could have been very early bog pimpernel - we were stood in a bog at the time!

We did struggle to find our path away from Haytor
Our new books 
intending to head southeast towards Lewthorn Cross, turning southwest just before the woods and ending up at Bag Tor. As it was, we don't think we actually saw Bag Tor, but did eventually find our track towards Bagtor Ho - just before where someone had slapped a gate and a Private notice across it. 'Oh bother' we might have said! So instead of finishing our loop by continuing down southwest past Mountsland to the road and then northeast to our Cold East Cross start point, we had to retrace our steps a little before cutting off-piste and steeply uphill towards Saddle Tor and then walking alongside the roads round the northwestern side of Rippon Tor. Dark grey clouds were beginning to threaten which is why we stuck to the road - not wanting to be drenched and lost - although in the end it stayed dry anyway. A consolation for our lost path was instead being able to walk through an old field system with interesting arrangements of stones indicating the former boundaries and watching a large bird of prey hovering relatively close by. A smallish buzzard?

And when we got back to Cold East Cross, there was the Swiss cyclist packing his bike away!

Sunday 8 May 2016

We're impressed with our new campsite, Dornafield

After two weeks at Widend we fancied a change of scene,
but weren't able to stray too far from Torquay so Dave got his researcher hat on and found us the lovely Caravan Club affiliated campsite of Dornafield which is just outside Newton Abbot. It's a pretty big site with mostly large hardstanding pitches and the whole place is absolutely immaculate! We got one of the friendliest welcomes ever from the staff at Reception and when they say Reception and the well-stocked shop are open from nine until five, they actually mean it. A seasonal deal of £99 a week for pitch with electric hookup means this site is cheaper per day than some CL and CS sites we have used and there are extensive facilities. We have water tap, waste water drain and a bin on our pitch. A full range of recycling bins are nearby and it's not too far to the chemical toilet - some pitches have their own chemical toilet outlet too! Wifi is provided site-wide, but at quite a price so I am glad we already have our Osprey.

The sanitary blocks have won a well-deserved Loo Of The
Living Willow Den 
Year award, the showers are good and in warm rooms, and there are even little herb gardens near the washing-up sinks in case campers suddenly realise they need fresh mint. A games room has table tennis, pool and darts, and there is an outdoor tennis court. The pictured Living Willow Den is part of a brilliant adventure playground complex for children and, to keep me happy, there are bookswap shelves in the Information Room. Like all larger campsites, Dornafield does get quite noisy. We noticed that especially this weekend with vehicles passing by almost constantly, an industrial-sized ride-on lawnmower and mini tractor working away, and several yapping dogs, but it's a bit quieter now on Sunday afternoon so we can hear birdsong and the sheep in the neighbouring field. There are rabbits and squirrels here too, plus we have seen a buzzard soaring overhead. Apparently the buzzards preferred Dornafield before there were so many caravans - they can't dive for rabbits now.

The house at Dornafield has been in existence since 1238
Dornafield lime kiln 
and is still a beautiful building developed around an ancient Devon Longhouse. It's name derives from both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon roots and is believed to translate as 'place of combat' with the natural amphitheatre shape providing a site for warriors to practice in years gone by and a sheltered campsite now. Dornafield's history includes assault with cannonfire during the English Civil War. The owners supported the King which was unusual around here and attracted Fairfax's army. There is a n old lime kiln, last used in 1938, and its accompanying quarry too. The quarry now houses a small kitchen which offers takeaway fish and chips two evenings a week. We had seen lime kilns at Dartington, but with no clue as to what they were. Now we know!

We will be staying here for two weeks and are looking forward to exploring. We have already had our first Dartmoor walk as well as a visit to Newton Abbot and a walk along narrow sunken lanes into nearby Ipplepen.

Our pitch at Dornafield 

Wednesday 4 May 2016

A birthday lunch at Cranks vegetarian restaurant, Dartington

Thank you so much for all your birthday presents, phone
Willow tunnel at Dartington 

calls, messages and emails yesterday! It's official - I'm forty-one :-( Eeek!

As mentioned in my previous post about the unusual shops there, we did return to Dartington for my birthday lunch. Cranks restaurants started in London in the 1960s and Dave remembers them being the first real vegetarian eateries. Dartington is now the only one left of the chain as the general popularity of vegetarian food meant too much competition for the London branches and apparently it is not truly independent anymore, but part of the Nando's grocery group. Cranks still serves excellent food though!

I had Aubergine Charlotte which was lots of tangy feta
Aubergine Charlotte at Cranks 
cheese and juicy mushrooms in a delicious aubergine wrapping. Dave had the seasonal tart which was spinach and mushroom. Both were served with Cranks Salad - actually portions of four different salads - so the whole meal was filling and good value at about £11 each including a drink - I can recommend the Vanilla Steamer. Service is cafeteria style so we could actually see the various options before ordering and the place was nicely busy - buzzing, but not uncomfortably packed. I would definitely go there again.

Parking at Dartington is 50p for an hour or £1 for four hours (and contrary to the car park sign, you can now get a parking refund at Cranks subject to a spend of over £10) so we thought we would make the most of it by walking some of the Sustrans off-road path towards Totnes. The path goes through woodland carpeted with bluebells, primroses and wild garlic flowers. We also saw a patch of kingcups - essentially giant buttercups. Interesting fauna was limited to a single yellow wagtail and a tiny brown and cream warbler-type bird that will probably be forever unidentified.

I was impressed to see a working waterwheel on the side of an architect's offices, then at the edge of the Dartington Estate we found the above pictured  willow tunnel over a boardwalk leading to an observation space. There wasn't actually much yet to observe, though signs of work underway for a nature conservation area. I thought boardwalk markings for would lead us to information, but they turn out to be the company that made the boardwalk!

Further along the River Dart, I was very excited to discover
Looking across the River Dart 
the Totnes Hydropower Scheme. Completed in December and now, I think, just in the final landscaping phase, this project utilises a pair of Archimedes Screws - just like we saw at Cragside last year - to create enough hydroelectric power for a school and nearly 300 homes. How fantastic is that?! The power house building also incorporates a fish ladder to enable and encourage salmon and sea trout, and will have a canoe launch and natural recreational areas. I was so amazed to see this technology we had previously admired working in its historical setting actually being put to use here for the future. Well done Totnes!

A final note on a completely different subject: Dave has just renewed his Kaspersky anti-virus software and, as a thank you and a promotional thing, Kaspersky have a special offer for any new customers he recommends. Please Use This Link to buy your new software at up to 50% off the usual price. You will also receive a £5 Amazon voucher and Dave will get a £10 Amazon voucher. Woo hoo!