I wrote this in 10 minutes flat in the bath on Tuesday evening. It’s raw, certainly, but it’s from the heart. The theme of my week, it would seem! So here it is – my ode to a family holiday in Devon.
Finding Utopia by pigletinapoke
Finding a holiday that suits a diverse range of ages is not easy. That pleases the whole family? NEVER easy. Combining both and retaining sanity and equilibrium? The Utopian dream!
Except. Nestled on Devon’s Southern-most tip lies the estuary-etched town of Salcombe. We journeyed West in April 2011 to this aesthetic gem in search of UK holiday Nirvana and, by Golly!, I think we found it.
The family age span stretches from the youngest (codename: The Prawn) at 10 years old to Uncky Mike (codename: Beg Pardon?) enjoying his seventh decade of holidays. Throw in one sulkily hormonal teenager, a City-stressed mum and Goldie-elders who’ve seen it all and want nothing but the best; phew! Frankly, you’re asking for trouble. It should have been Holiday Hell. Chaos at the very least. But it wasn’t.
Our journey took about 5 hours door to door, and was an integral part of the trip. We reminisced as a family the days when we would race each other in our lovingly nurtured VW campervans along the higgledy-piggledy A303, hoping desperately to arrive without breaking down and preferably in daylight. On the same day we had left. Today’s modern family equivalent of convoying Land Rovers was not quite as atmospheric but, thanks to the inclusion of car to car walkie-talkies which made all of us sound like heavy-breathing pervs, was nonetheless fun. Our usual hare-and-tortoise race ensued. Having marvelled at Stonehenge from afar, we paused for the obligatory rest-stop in the village of Mere, to re-convene and devour mildly warm, hopelessly crushed packed lunches.
Arriving en masse in Salcombe always brings a surfeit of emotions. The children squeal eagerly out of car windows as we round the bend and discover the view, straining to check a) the sun is shining, b) the water is as blue as they remembered (it is – South Sands beach having earned its Blue Flag this year) and c) is the surf up?
Us parentals are more restrained. I cheesily slip Morcheeba’s “The Sea” onto the stereo and its lilting melody accompanies us as we marvel at the stunning tree-lined cliffs, the almost Mediterranean beauty of homes and gardens drifting staccato-like down the hillside to the water. On a practical level, our eyes seek to check that all the stores necessary to a week in the town with varied loved ones and potential rain (we are still in England after all!) are still there; that Cranch’s sweet shop and Catch! Italian restaurant have not moved with their owners to Malaga in the intervening winter period since our last visit; and that a McDonald’s restaurant has had neither the effrontery nor planning permission to be erected on the marina.
The “Goldies” check the hill gradient up from the colourful hanging baskets of the Victoria Inn to our accommodation in lofty Cliff Road: assessing the best route on foot to do everything they want while only negotiating the hill once, perhaps twice, during their stay!
Accommodation has always been excellent. Coast & Country, based in Island Street, are our kind of holiday lettings agency, and have never disappointed to date. There are other options: the Salcombe Harbour Hotel boasts a central location, a health and fitness spa and pool with amazing views, while the contemporary South Sands Hotel has picked up multiple awards for its design and benefits from an impressive wine cellar and gourmet menus.
Given the tribe of us, however, we went the self-catering holiday let route. We pick up the keys and mount an assault on our accommodation. The view from our balcony is, corny I know, picture-postcard perfect. Some jiggery-pokery ensues over which child gets the upper bunk (youngest apparently, as he snores and she can kick him from underneath to shut him up), who gets the en-suite and where multiple wetsuits, wellies and boogie boards may be stored, until finally we’re in. And…..relax! This we do, with a well-earned glass of vino watching the sunset pinken our deck and listening to the seagulls wheeling overhead.
So what’s so special about Salcombe? Well, it has everything a family can want. Truly. There are two beaches within walking distance of the town, both sandy and safe for children with intriguing rock structures to climb and tidal rockpools to explore. In rougher weather, the resulting surf at North Sands gets quite knicker-grippingly exciting, and there are no rocks buried beneath the waves to injure young bohemians at play. Overlooking that beach is a fine establishment called The Winking Prawn – that of Cajun barbecue fame; server of fabulous Prawnetto ice-cream from its own pink van and excellent Sunday breakfast buffets. The Goldies chill out with lattes and lemon drizzle cake whilst watching the rest improve their board skills. Or not! There’s copious affordable parking to spend the day there if you wish, and even a tennis court to work off the extra calories inadvertently swallowed.
Then there’s the town itself. A proper town. With real shops that you can actually buy things in. Not just a selection of tea shops and a faux hand-crimped pasty parlour. The arty quarter around Island Street is home to various unique galleries, including the Bang Wallop! photographic studio whose work will not only amaze, but whose lovely people will immortalise a moment in your own family’s history – on a theme if you wish – to be ready at home when you return from your hols. There’s the amazing Salcombe Coffee Company whose bacon sandwiches and house-blend lattes bring a tear to the eye. And the fabulous Bibi and Mac over whose designer labels I defy you not to drool.
Then of course, there’s water – all-pervading, enticing and immediately accessible. You have to get in it or on it at some point – it’s compulsive. Salcombe is even more picturesque when viewed from the water. You can hire boats to potter about in, ribs to rampage a little further afield, join a mackerel fishing party going out to catch the big one, and there’s even regular ferries to the opposite Mill Bay beach with its clifftop walks (National Trust but worth the £5 parking fee if you drive there) and, tide permitting, up to the nearby town of Kingsbridge which boasts great Indian food, a beauty spa, yoga centre, the wonderful Crabshell Inn and a cinema amongst its manifold attractions.
For those who want to get in the car – the Goldies did sometimes go off on little jaunts – there is the pretty town of Dartmouth approx. 10 miles east, the wild beauty of Dartmoor approx. 12 miles north and historic Plymouth Ho! and its environs a mere 20 miles West.
So – is Salcombe for everyone? If your penchant is for a Kiss Me Quick hat, penny arcade, nightclub or jet-ski then, no. You won’t find them here. But if you seek quality time with your family spent against the ever-changing backdrop of the estuary; a convenient location nestled amongst the trees at the mouth of the river; a temperate climate thanks to its southerly position; views to die for out to sea; and warm, friendly locals to make your stay even more pleasant – look no further. Salcombe’s your man. Did we all argue? You bet. About what to do next and whether we should go home at all. Ever. So take it from me – go, take the whole family and who knows? Maybe, like us, you’ll never want to leave.
Around 3.00pm on any given afternoon, I am usually at the mercy of cravings for a creamy latte. Some people smoke – me, I take on liquids. This necessitates stopping work, wandering the 100 yards or so to the nearest barista where I tickle him under his milky little armpits until he delivers what I require. I then walk back to my office, sit down and….well, basically contemplate my future for 10 minutes. It’s an indulgence, I know, and those of you out there with proper jobs and toddlers under foot are probably screaming at the screen right now. But I like to do it, and everyone is advised to reduce stress. It’s this or crystal meth.
I am a blessings-counter in my day to day life as it is, and believe I have been extremely lucky to have what I have: the kids, the husband, the job, the lifestyle etc. It is not discontentment that prompts these thoughts. Rather a naïve belief that, having got this far, what’s stopping me continuing in pursuit of an ideal? We all have to have goals, don’t we? Or have I been indoctrinated into the “performance review” mould of work for too long?
In my defence, the boss knows about it and woe betide him if he interrupts during this afternoon hiatus. It started after I once read a book called “The Secret” which encouraged me to try “cosmic ordering” – thinking positively about the things you really want and then they will come to you. So far, fingers crossed/touching wood/good morning Mr Magpie *spit* *spit* it’s been spookily true on a few counts. Not last week’s Euromillions, obviously, but then one must not be cosmically greedy – it negates all the positives apparently.
So in pictorial terms, if I could keep all the good things I already have, but given free rein and endless money/time/good karma just “swap” a few bits around, how would I cosmically order things to start living the – modest, not greedy – future that I desire?
Number One: This is the current view from my office.
And as views of London go, its not bad. Lots of light and space. I even get to see Queeny’s chopper going over from time to time back to her bungalow over by the park. Here, however, is the office view that I would like:
This is Salcombe, or as I prefer to call it, Nirvana. The ultimate goal – sad to some who aspire to Caribbean islands etc. But my own private dream town. It’s got sailing, surfing, beaches, gig rowing, shops, restaurants, a decent coffee shop and is only 20 miles from a major town for shoe shopping and handbags. I’ve been going there for a few years now and never yet heard anyone burp in public. Heaven.
Number Two: This is the home I live in now:
And its lovely – we are very lucky. Country location, friendly locals and perfect for us and the kids. It wasn’t always like this, mind. Not sure what the “rear elevation” motto is on the pic – except I know it’s from some old estate agent details from a time when things were not as financially rosy as they could otherwise have been and we had to put the family homestead up for sale. We didn’t sell it in the end, needless to say. And in truth I always said I would never leave it – I love it – but there is a house I have seen in the right location (with the view above) and try as I might I can’t get it out of my head:
Six bedrooms and a basement. Sleeping quarters for us grown-ups, one each for the kids, one spare to kick the snoring nightmare that is my husband into when it becomes unbearable, one for guests (which in a location like this I am expecting many of) and a writing room (see below – there is a theme developing here)
Number Three: Here is what I do for a living now:
But I have better hair, I think. And here, with a lot more time and space, is what I would like to do to earn a crust:
Number Four: This is my current body image (That’s not a real beard, before you ask, being facially hirsute is not one of my issues – yet):
and here’s the figure I aspire to (if only the LighterLife people would stop pfaffing around with Pauline Quirke and return my call):
Number Five: Oh, and I’d like lots more of these types of things, purchased if necessary (well, I am 44), but ssshhhhh don’t tell the husband:
Ah well, coffee’s finished now. Back to the real world. All I know is I need a lot more dosh and time and less lattes to get it all done! Onwards and upwards! There’s a cosmos to order about!
What is your perfect world? What motivates you to keep on going in the face of distraction and routine? Would love to know how others navel-gaze from time to time.
Photo Credits: Some to Google, the others are my own.