As I gazed down on Oddicombe beach, Torquay, I was transported back to 1967, the famed ‘summer of love’ – more like the summer of A-levels for boyfriend Steve and me. Then, we had been snapped by a local beach photographer. We both had long hair, and I was wearing short shorts, a sleeveless top and a big, wide-brimmed straw hat with white daisies adorning it. Oh yes, we looked the part! I’ve never been back to Torquay since then and my husband, Joe, hasn’t visited the area, so it was time for a Devon road trip down memory lane.
As we turned into Ramslade Caravan & Motorhome Club Site, the sun was shining in a clear sky – but we’d seen the forecast and the wonderful weather was not likely to last.
We set off next day to Brixham and parked in a long-stay car park near the sea (according to the council website, the only one with a height barrier is Brixham Central Car Park). It was then a stroll to the fishing harbour, full of trawlers.
Brixham is a hilly town, with pastel-painted houses overlooking the harbour. This reminded me of a photo I took years ago, of an artist painting the scene on the jetty. Now the artists all seem to have their own studio.
Neither were there any guitarists with a harmonica balanced on a bent coat-hanger – aspiring Donovans or Dylans. But the full-size replica of Sir Francis Drake’s Tudor galleon, the Golden Hind, was still there.
Further on, we came across the statue of the Prince of Orange, later William III, who landed in Brixham with his army in 1688, during the Glorious Revolution.
We continued towards the marina and found a more recent sculpture, which I really liked. ‘Man and Boy’, life-size figures of two men at a ship’s wheel, honours the fishing heritage of the region.
Walking on the moors
Making the most of the fine weather, next day we set off for Dartmoor. The landscape changed from wooded valleys and fields to heather and ferns, then moor, with the dramatic granite tors Dartmoor is famous for. Pausing for photos, we detoured to Dartmeet, where the rivers East and West Dart, er, meet. There’s a car park, and grassy banks by the river, with rock pools and a little clapper bridge.
It’s a great place for a picnic when the weather is good. Our tip is to stop in the car park, go to the Badgers Holt café and restaurant, grab a coffee and walk to the river. We decided to stop for lunch here.
Later we drove eastwards across Dartmoor, and to my delight, saw Dartmoor ponies by the road. We stopped at Widecombe in the Moor, a pretty village with a traditional green.
The imposing village church, St Pancras, was built by the wages of the local tin miners. Known as the Cathedral of the Moor, it can be seen for many miles around.
Next to the church is the characterful Church House, throughs to have begun as a brewery, later becoming an almshouse, the village school and now a meeting place.
The village is famous for Widecombe Fair, held in September, which used to take place on the green, but has been relocated to a nearby field.
Our friends, Helen and Roy, were due to join us for the remainder of our stay at Ramslade. Meanwhile, in the morning, we walked to Stoke Gabriel – the nearest village to the site – along quiet lanes. Down by the harbour, there’s a café/restaurant, where we drank tea and watched yachts skim across the water.
Mansions and a castle
There are lots of National Trust properties within a short drive of the site, making it worth joining the NT if you’re holidaying in the area.
Helen and Roy did just that at the first house we visited, Coleton Fisharcre. Originally home to Rupert D’Oyley Carte (of opera fame) and his wife, Lady Dorothy, this fine Arts and Crafts mansion, built in 1926, is furnished in the Art Deco style. We toured the gardens first, pleasantly surprised at the wealth of colour on display.
The grounds run down the valley to Pudcombe Cove, where the family used to go sailing. But we took the path through the trees to the ‘stunning view’ we’d been told to look out for, at which point the rain came down and it was obliterated by mist. We retreated to the café!
Next day we drove to the edge of Dartmoor, to Castle Drogo the last castle to be built in the UK. Designed by Edwin Lutyens for self-made millionaire Julius Drewer, it was constructed between 1911 and 1930.
Lutyens had originally wanted to construct a mansion, not a castle, here, and the result was smaller than the first designs. The NT has owned the property since 1974 and began major restoration work in 2013. Lutyens might well have had a point, because the castle’s interior feels more like a family home, despite its impressive size and décor.
I spent quite a few holidays with my parents, aunts and uncles at Torquay, so I was keen to revisit this fine seaside resort. My memories are of sunny days spent swimming in the sea at Torre Abbey Sands, with the beautiful backdrop of the palm-fringed promenade (hence the name for the area – the English Riviera).
Admittedly, it wasn’t quite the same at the time of our visit, in late September – Torquay itself was relatively quiet, compared with bustling Brixham. We sipped our coffee and tea at the harbour, watching boats enter and leave. Later we lunched at the Bistro in the Princess Theatre, where I’d been to variety shows with my parents.
Time for a cream tea
In the afternoon, we drove over to Cockington, a pretty little village where many properties are thatched, including the forge, which has been in the same place for 500 years.
We walked to Cockington Country Park, where we found Cockington Court, home to the Mallock family from 1654 to 1932 and now a craft centre. The nearby church, said to have been on this site since 1069, has a wonderful rood screen.
Back in the village, Helen and I spotted an enticing café selling Devon cream teas. Roy and Joe didn’t take much persuading! We all enjoyed a traditional spread, with delicious scones, jam, cream and a pot of tea.
Then we made our way to Babbacombe Down, to see Oddicombe Beach – for me, this meant more memories. I had visited here with Steve, but also earlier with my parents, when we used to go to the Babbacombe Theatre.
Next day, we drove to Greenway, Agatha Christie’s holiday home. You can travel here by steam train from Paignton or Kingswear, or ferry from Dartmouth.
Greenway, a gorgeous Georgian house set in woodland with beautiful views of the Dart, houses a collection of more than 11,000 objects – silverware, china, books and other artefacts. Christie’s husband was an archaeologist and they both went on digs in Iraq.
Shopping in Totnes
The ancient market town of Totnes is one place I had not visited before. We parked by the River Dart and walked into town, up the hill and under the East Gate Arch, which was once the entrance to the medieval town. We loved the many unusual shops to be found here, such as the Devon Harp Centre, Not Made in China (which turned out to be an antique dealer) and Time Travellers Shop.
Walking down the narrow alleys, known as ginnels, we eventually came to Totnes Castle, built just after the Norman Conquest. The fine 15th-century church, of Devon sandstone, dominates the High Street, and behind it is the Guildhall, built in 1553. We loved Totnes and there’s plenty more to see and do here.
Another town on my list to revisit was Salcombe. It’s surprising the facts that stick – I remembered the main street here was Fore Street, perhaps because I lived on a different Fore Street then.
Salcombe has some quirky shops – not on the scale of Totnes – and vistas across Kingsbridge Estuary that are simply stunning. Looking for a snack we stopped at the Salcombe Pasty Shop and sat outside to admire the view.
Then it was off to another superb NT property, Overbeck’s. Here, the main attraction is the garden; with its sheltered aspect, it supports many sub-tropical and exotic plants. And the views are utterly beautiful.
The original owner, Otto Overbeck, was a research chemist, linguist, artist and inventor. He devised an ‘electrical rejuvenator’, which he claimed could defy the ageing process. This sold worldwide and enabled him to purchase the house and gardens.
Our time together nearing an end, we enjoyed a farewell meal at the King William IV – good pub grub, with steak-and-ale pie for Roy and I, liver for Joe and bubble-and-squeak for Helen.
Next day, we left for Exmoor House Caravan & Motorhome Club Site, near Dulverton, just inside the Somerset border. We had a lot planned, but the weather had other ideas. We did explore the village, which is a short walk from the campsite. There are also plenty of independent shops and restaurants here, and a handy garage, too.
One building in the centre caught my eye: built in 1760, it was originally the market house and was later converted to the town hall. A porch and external double staircase were added in 1930.
A better day dawned the following morning, so we seized the opportunity to drive north to the coast at Porlock Weir, where there’s a little harbour packed with leisure craft. This is a pretty, quirky village, where we stopped at The Ship Inn for coffee. Porlock Weir is an outdoorsy place, offering sailing, walking, cycling and fishing.
We then drove to Lynmouth. I remember going there when memories of the great flood, in 1952, were still very real.
In the flood, 34 local people died and 420 were displaced – many properties were destroyed. But the village was rebuilt and the river diverted.
We came across an intriguing sculpture there, called ‘The Walker’, and Joe couldn’t resist taking a photo of me with my new pal! We soon found a pleasant little café where we stopped for lunch and again chose pasties – they’re quite addictive.
Later, we took the water-powered funicular to Lynton; I knew this would fascinate Joe, as a former engineer. The cliff railway opened in 1890 and has been in continuous use ever since.
Next, we drove through Lynton to the Valley of the Rocks, where I can remember my father driving. It’s amazing, with weirdly shaped hills and cliffs descending to the sea.
Driving through the valley, we came to the toll road – not for the faint-hearted, or for those in anything other than a smaller camper! It’s narrow and not one-way, as we discovered when we met others approaching from the opposite direction.
I saw glimpses of pretty coves, but we both had our eyes on the road, and were glad to emerge onto a wider section.
Our final day, and we decided to spend the time at Dunster, visiting its castle and gardens – and yes, it’s another NT property!
After a warm welcome, we were recommended to take a walk through the River Garden and over Lover’s Bridge to the Water Mill.
This is a working mill, recently restored, and is a rare example of a double overshot mill with two waterwheels. Volunteers were filling bags with flour, which were for sale. Artifacts such as handcarts and threshers are on display upstairs.
Set on a hill, Dunster Castle is a former motte and bailey structure, now a fine country house. There’s been a castle here for more than 1000 years, starting as a Saxon stronghold and then occupied by the Normans in 1086.
Subsequently, it was the home of the Luttrell family for about 600 years, before being given over to the NT in 1976, complete with contents.
Another guide recommended visiting Dunster Church to view its rood screen, which was really magnificent. We strolled around the village, too, and I vividly remember the Yarn Market here.
But my most notable recollection of visiting this area takes me aback to 1969, when my parents, fiancé Steve and I were staying at the Lee Bay Hotel, and watching the moon landing on TV. Now that really was a memorable event!
When to go
We planned our trip for mid-September to early October. It was quieter, but most campsites and attractions were still open. Avoid high summer if you don’t like the crowds.
Where we stayed
Ramslade C&MC Site
- Stoke Road, Stoke Gabriel, Totnes, TQ9 6QB
- 01803 782 575
- Open 13 March to 2 November 2021
- Charges £23-£30.80
This large campsite has 153 pitches and is divided into two areas, each with its own toilet block, one of which was closed at the time of our visit.
Cleanliness is up to the standard you would expect from a Club site.
There’s a playing field for the children, and the bus stop is just outside the site entrance.
We chose the campsite for its easy access to the places we wanted to visit, such as Torquay, Brixham and Totnes. Do follow the Club’s directions to the site, because there are narrow roads in the vicinity.
Exmoor House C&MC Site
- Kemps Way, Dulverton, TA22 9HL
- 01398 323 268
- Open March to January
- Price £21.70-£32.40
Exmoor House is in a quiet corner of Dulverton, by the River Barle. There are 66 pitches and the facilities are of a high standard.
It’s an easy walk into Dulverton to stock up on provisions. It’s not far to the coast and Exmoor is right on the doorstep.
Find out more
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Salcombe has some quirky shops and vistas across Kingsbridge Estuary that are simply stunning