With a rainfall in parts of up to 2000mm and a reputation for some of the UK’s worst summer traffic, it’s somewhat curious that Paul and I decided Devon would be a good place to go for our first UK break.
However, with beautiful sunny weather, glorious countryside, fantastic company and yes, a few gardens thrown in, even the ten and a half hour journey wasn’t enough to dampen our spirits.
The truth is, I’d been ogling over pictures of the RHS Rosemoor garden for some years and having learnt of the holiday lets located within the garden itself, it was pretty high up on my places to visit. More on Rosemoor later.
Our first stop was actually in Wiltshire – about half way between London and Rosemoor – where we had scones and proper, proper clotted cream at Stourhead. This National Trust medieval property, at the source of the River Stour, was purchased by Good Henry Hoare in 1717 for the princely sum of £14,000. ‘Good’, because the Hoare family included so many Henrys that adjectives such as ‘magnificent’, ‘naughty’ and of course ‘good’ are necessary clarifications.
It was Magnificent Henry (I sadly failed to learn much about Naughty Henry) that started work on the garden in 1744, with his architect – yet another Henry – Henry Flitcroft. The Palladian panorama is very Capability Brown-esque, although Brown himself was working at Stowe House at the time and was in no way involved. By damming the river but keeping the natural valley shape an incredibly serene landscape has been created, with quite beautiful stone focal points adding another layer of beauty. It is one of those views where absolutely nothing jars; everything is in keeping.
Heading on into Devon, I was very excited to make our way to the coast. Aside from a day trip to Brighton and a couple of flights over water, I hadn’t ‘seen the sea’ since our departure from Sydney way back in March. There is definitely something very special about coastal walking trails and the South West Coast Path blew all the cobwebs away and filled our lungs with fresh sea air.
There were such very English views with patchwork fields and quaint wooden signs, yet we couldn’t help but make comparisons with Tasmania. Both places distinctly rural, full of patient, friendly people and stunning natural coastal scenery, but each with their own unique character.
The next part of our trip was very special indeed. The lovely Jessica and Mike from rustyduck.net arrived at our apartment in Rosemoor and whisked us off through winding country lanes to their spectacular property nearby. I’d seen so much of this beautiful home and garden on Jessica’s blog and we’d swapped many messages but seeing it in real life was something else again. How wonderful the internet can be to connect like-minded people in this way. After a cup of tea we all went out to dinner at what must be one of the best foodie places in the county, to share more gardening (Jessica and I) and non-gardening (Paul and Mike) stories.
The following day Paul and I drove down to Dartmoor National Park for more walking; this time across the moors. I’d seen pictures of mist and wind and desolate views but we were blessed with sunshine and calm…
…although there were a few hints that it wasn’t always like this.
We walked amongst cows and ponies, sheep and goats, all farmed but sharing such large ‘commons’ as to appear wild. Paul remembered his decidedly muddy winter military training on these moors. And I reminded him how lucky he was to only have one person ordering him around these days, especially as he was generally only frogmarched through the very best world-class gardens, carefully timed to be at their seasonal best, no less.
That evening, we were delighted to convince Jessica and Mike to leave their house renovations behind as we made the trip to the north Devon coastal village of Clovelly. With my close friend, Jo, having lived in Sydney’s Clovelly for many, many years, I was particularly intrigued to see Devon’s original version.
Incredibly, England’s Clovelly is still entirely privately owned, having been associated with just three families since the 13th century. It has a notorious history of smuggling, was the home of the novelist, priest and university professor, Charles Kingsley, in the 1830s and was even painted by JMW Turner. Its fishing industry has now turned more towards tourism and with some 51 listed buildings, it is no surprise that it draws the crowds in.
Looking back at the village from the harbour wall, the steepness of the rocky cleft is quite mind-blowing. Indeed the 120m drop from the top of the main street to the pier is too steep to allow wheeled traffic and sledge deliveries are used not as a tourist attraction but out of necessity. I was very glad I had left my heels at home (again!) as I carefully negotiated the steep cobbles.
The next day, we sadly had to make our way back to London, but awaking to the sound of rain did make it that little bit easier. There’s so much more we’d have liked to have seen, but at least being just ten and a half hours away, we do stand some chance of making it back there again in the not too distant future. In the meantime, a very big thank you to Jessica and Mike for all the wonderful recommendations and for making our trip to Devon so very incredibly special.