Wandering around the south

I love to plan but going away for the weekend without anything planned was one of the best things I’ve done in the past year. Heading out at 5am on Friday morning with overnight bags, a picnic and a desire to head to the south gave us a sense of purpose and adventure. Even if everything was terrible, if it rained for the whole weekend (which it almost did) we could find things to entertain us in museums, castles and country homes, if we couldn’t find anywhere to sleep we could bed down in the car, drive to somewhere that did have places or if worst came to worst we could say “bugger it” and head straight back home. There was a huge sense of freedom with having not planned anything at all and knowing that there was nothing that could go wrong that was unfixable.

It felt different the second we drove away from home. There was no time pressure to get anywhere because there was nowhere that we were supposed to be. We left 40 minutes later than we meant to, but it didn’t matter. We weren’t late because there was nothing to be late for. Usually when we go on holiday or off for a weekend away we’re focussed on getting to our final destination, spending our time thinking or talking about what is going to happen when we get there, or complacent about what is to come because we already know that we’re heading to see so and so and our journey is merely the bit inbetween having done something and doing something else. This time the journey was the holiday, the drive was part of the experience, not simply a means of transport. And so we talked. Not just as a way of filling the time, a distraction from the monotony of driving for the driver or the opportunity to complain about the stupidity of someone’s decision at work. It wasn’t a deep and meaningful conversation. No grand life choices were made in those moments. We just chatted, and laughed. Talked about the silly things and connected over shared moments. I don’t remember what we talked about, there’s no pivotal moment but I felt lighter as we headed away.

By 6am we’d cleared the M25 and were making strong progress along the M3. We chose to head towards Exeter down the A303 (going around, not through) and then onwards to the first place that grabbed us on the map. A flying visit past Stonehenge

“Do you want to stop?”

“It’s a long walk to look at some stones.”

“I haven’t been since I was a child.”

“The stones haven’t changed but they’ve got a shiny new visitor’s center.”

And we carried on our way. We made the choice to head towards Shaldon in Devon as Robin had fond memories of staying there one summer when he was little. After a brief stop for toilet breaks, coffee, bacon sandwiches, a stroll along the harbour front, booking into a little bookshop with a huge dog, writing a postcard to the parents and a hunt for the hidden postbox we were back in the car and heading onwards along the South coast. By now the weather had moved from grey to a state of constant but light drizzle

We headed onwards to a place called Blackpool Sands just along from Dartmouth. We planned to stop off at some deserted beach along the way and take some coastal shots and then have lunch. But the weather had other plans in mind, the light drizzle turning into constant rain by the time we arrived at the beach. And whilst it was deserted there was no way that we eat outside without getting soaked, so we travelled on to Slapton (I honestly believe that the south of our country has the most wonderfully British and comical names, but I acknowledge that I may be biased) where we could sit in the car and eat our packed lunch with a view of the rain and the sea. But Robin refused to simply sit in our seats, instead the back seats were flattened, the boot opened, heater on and a blanket laid out. Our picnic would go ahead no matter the weather!

After such a brillant lunch and our early start you won’t be surprised to hear that we were both soon fast asleep, lulled into slumber by the sounds of the rain and the sea (and the warmth of the heater) only to be woken an hour later by a hideously loud alarm telling us that our battery was now flat.

Luckily we weren’t the only people that had pulled off into the beach’s car park so began attempt number one to start the battery, a very kind 30 something man in a shiny 4×4 with two small kids in the back and his partner in the front, last year he’d bought everything he’d ever need in case he broke down, blankets, flares, jump leads, a triangle, emergency water and he’d never had the chance to use them. He was so excited by the prospect of helping us get started, but for all his desire to help and all his gear he didn’t know how to get to the battery in his car. Attempt number two was a lot more successful, although it’s probably best that I never read a car manual again, not being a driver I had no idea how easy it was to blow up a car and kill yourself or possibly just lose the use of your arms.

Body parts intact and death avoided we decided to wander back to Dartmouth as evening was approaching and we needed to find somewhere to stay for the night. Dartmouth, if you’ve never been is delightful, and as though the town wanted exaggerate the point, the rain stopped and the sun appeared as soon as we parked up and started our hunt for accommodation. Even late in the year there were still a number of tourists wandering along the harbour, and it was easy to see why after a day stuck inside in the rain. The view out to sea in the evening sun was beautiful.

We stayed at the Hill View House B&B for £70, the owner was friendly, the bed comfortable and the breakfast simple but filling. Although to be honest I’m happy just with a cup of coffee first thing in the morning.

The next day we took a quick tour round Dartmouth Castle before heading onwards to Port Isaac for a dinner reservation at Nathan Outlaw’s restaurant. When we started our trip we’d thought that finding somewhere to stay would be simple since we were travelling out of season, but finding a hotel of any sort around Port Isaac proved to be a nightmare and we were faced with a lack of signal and phone reception. But after two hours of searching and calling (may I recommend the Yo Sushi in Plymouth for putting up with us whilst we abused their wifi) we finally had somewhere to stay.

Although our conversation with the lady who answered the phone left us puzzled over whether we actually had a booking.

“A room for two people for the 3rd. Of course we have something. Wait, the 3rd. That’s tonight! I’m sure we have something, come along, we’ll see you later.”

But since that conversation was the closest thing that we had to a room, we thought we’d go with it and see where we ended up. The journey between Plymouth and Port Isaac was, or should have been, delightfully scenic  but the constant rain and rather ordinary (I’m sure they’re lovely) villages and towns had started to wear on us by the time that we reached our hotel for the night.

We arrived at Lanartuh Hotel in the wet afternoon gloom and parked in an empty car park. Inside the front door the hotel was dark, all the lights off, and empty. The sort of space where you find yourself speaking in a whisper so that you don’t disturb the emptiness. We rang the bell and after waiting a short time a little old lady (imagine the housekeeper from an Agatha Christie novel (or imagine how a casting director would cast the housekeeper from an Agatha Christie novel) and you wouldn’t be far off) appeared from a door. She was very sweet and led us up the stairs to our room for the night before leaving us alone to freshen up and head out to dinner.

I’m afraid to say that we were rather judgemental about the hotel. The house was huge with doors that led to wings that you never saw, there were seemingly endless different types of flocked wallpaper and patterned carpets, the sort that you expect to see at your grandparent’s house and everything had a worn and tired feel about it. It felt like we were stepping back in time. We joked at dinner that we might wake in the middle of the night to  a scream and find ourselves transported into a murder mystery where we’re cut off from civilisation and awaiting the police with a dead body, probably in the middle of a storm.

But the hotel ended up being one of our favourite parts of the weekend. Whilst there was nothing modern about the hotel, no wifi, no mobile signal, all the fixtures and fittings were from a previous time. Everything was impeccably kept and clean, we slept like the dead on one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on in a hotel. In the morning sunshine everything that had seemed faded the night before had a certain hand-picked charm about it. When we went down to breakfast we were greeted by a younger woman who took our order and returned with two delightful fry-ups. We packed up and paid feeling full and light of heart and spirit, and only £60 worse off (and completely off the grid since we could only pay in cash and our receipt was addressed to Mr and Mrs Robbins). If you’re ever in the neighbourhood I would recommend staying here instead of any boutique hotel with a sea view. Although don’t worry if you hear a scream in the night, it will just be one of the many, many peacocks that roam the grounds.

Having only seen a small amount of Port Isaac the night before we headed back there to do the coastal walk. As we drove in and saw the coach parties heading off on their Doc Martin walking tour we discovered why it’s so hard to find a hotel around Port Isaac, but aside from the many fans of the show (that we have never seen) that we were mainly able to avoid (they move in packs) we spent an hour and a half walking through the town and up the coastal path on the other side.

(I didn’t talk about it in detail but Restaurant Nathan Outlaw is simply wonderful. The food was a delight from start to finish and everything that I couldn’t eat had been replaced with something that I could. Their gluten-free bread was one of the most delightful and fluffy things I have ever tasted. Their staff were attentive without being annoying and they were naturally knowledgeable. Nothing felt stuffy and the clientele were a mix of locals and tourists that had come because of the well known chef or the star rating. Go, you won’t be disappointed.)

Having sampled the delights of Port Isaac we got back on the road to begin our journey home, but first we had one last thing that we wanted to check off since we were down that way.

We stopped off for a visit to Tintagel since Robin had never been. For me it was like stepping back into a warm childhood memory, unsurprisingly very little had changed from the last time I’d visited and for the first day of our trip the whole day was clear of rain. Without planning a thing we ended up with a beautifully clear day at low tide so that we could even head down into Merlin’s Cave.

The trip gave us both time to pause and reflect. We’re both so busy with work, with  planning a wedding, meeting friends, planning holidays and with the constant rush of living our lives in London that we’d ended up existing together but not really taking the time to listen to each other or take time out just to be with them. Not doing anything. Not planning anything. Just being present together.

This break gave us the space and the quiet to listen to each other again. To connect over shared problems instead of both being wrapped up in our own problems. Our relationship has always been strong but it’s something that you have to work to keep, and taking the time out every now and again to renew that relationship and to realise how much you like the other person is crucial.

Of course since being back we get distracted by other things, we get busy, we watch TV instead of talking or get caught up planning our holiday to Japan next year or lost in the details of our wedding. But it’s all a little bit easier and a little be calmer now, because we’ve reaffirmed that partnership, and even when we have our own problems to deal with we know that we’re in it together.