Monday, 7 May 2012

Bank Holiday Weekend - and Bideford to Barnstaple

Frank and I arrived in Bideford late on Friday afternoon. It had been a longer day than anticipated, and the baths were very welcome.

Susan with Brian and Jill Rowson - a full set of companions
Susan had travelled down by train to Tiverton, where she picked up the car. She called from the road, stuck in traffic just outside Tiverton. Roadworks – at the beginning of a bank holiday weekend! It5 may just have been emergency work made necessary by all the recent rain, but somehow I suspect it was just brainlessness. Or am I being too cynical?

It was a pleasant relaxed evening at home with the Rowsons, with an excellent dinner and then a post-prandial in front of a warm fire, welcome despite the fact that this is May.

Frank left for home early the following morning, leaving Susan and myself to spend the weekend with Brian and Jill. And a wonderful weekend it was.

It seems astonishing that I had not seen Brian and Jill for years and years when everyone was working and bringing up families. Distance, of course – Devon isn’t an easy weekend destination; other people to see, other things to do; travelling on work. The excuses are obvious, but it’s still a surprise that so many years have gone by. We had never met any of their three sons, now all grown up and away from home; they have never met Katie (apart, perhaps, at my 60th). We have seen them more often in recent years at Clare College get-togethers or at Brierley events, and had visited them in Bideford on our way to Cornwall three or four years ago, but we hadn’t ever had an extended visit.

Yet it was easy to relax straight back into an incredibly comfortable relationship. Everyone got on well with everyone, and there was plenty to talk about. I only hope it presages further opportunities to catch up.

Their house is a wonderful Georgian family home, now without the family. Once all alone on Orchard Hill, its surrounding area has been encroached is Bideford has grown. They rattle in it, of course, and the question of what to do is beginning to exercise them. Move closer to London, the family and friends? Build in the garden? Somehow I don’t think they will resolve the question very quickly. Orchard Hill House may be impractical now, but it would be a huge wrench to leave it.

On Saturday we walked back along the quayside, explored Bideford’s town centre, and went to the local gallery and museum. It felt rather run down: there are some of the multiples that standardise every high street, but there ared also a lot of charity shops and buildings in need of some serious love and affection. The Pannier Market is very attractive, but now largely given over to llittle craft stalls rather than everyday necessities. A pity: it’s basically an attractive town. Perhaps it doesn’t help that it’s built on the side of a hill so not as pedestrian-friendly as most places.

The view across the Torridge to Appledore
The museum is good. There’s not really any obvious attempt to tell “the Bideford Story”, as it were; it’s more reasonably self-contained snippets of local interest and importance: stuff about the local railways: some wonderful models of men-of-war made by French prisoners-of-war incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison during the Napoleonic wars; the manufacture of local slipper ware; a local coin hoard from the time of the civil war. It would have rewarded a longr visit, but perhaps its better to leave something for the future.

That evening we took Brian and Jill to The Quay in Appledore, which we hadn’t visited before. On a previous trip we had been for a long walk on the Westward Ho peninsular, but hadn’t realised there was so much more around the Taw/Torridge estuary. Appledore is very pretty, and the restaurant was excellent – a cheerful room upstairs and a bar below; fish the speciality.

The weather forecast for Monday was appalling, and when I suggested that we might all walk to Barnstaple on Sunday everyone agreed. So this stage of the Great Walk turned into a (lengthy!) Sunday stroll, largely in good conditions. It’s all on the Tarka Trail which is on the disused railway between Barnstaple and Bideford, and absolutely level, metalled, and open to cyclists as well as walkers (with or without dogs). It’s surprising how variable the scenery can be. Urban to start, along the riverside; then open fields; Devon’s oldest cricket club behind a series of weekend shacks; saltings; an area of woodland. It finally opens up to saltmarsh and the riverside again as one reaches Barnstaple, where we caught a bus back to Bideford.

A day off - Rosemoor Gardens
The Sunday (rainy as threatened) saw us take a trip to the RHA garden at Rosemoor, a couple of miles South of Torrington. A lovely position, and beautifully laid out, but where were the May flowers? Was it just because it’s been such a miserable Spring, or does the RHA approach mean that there are exemplars of everything but no great displays?

The it was a pub for drinks and a snack; and afternoon with the papers, an excellent late lunch or early dinner, and we took our leave to drive to Barnstaple – through absolute deluges of rain, just to confirm the forecast.

Sunday (walking day) - sunny intervals early; cloud increasing until there were actually one or two drops of rain as we reached the bus stop in Barnstaple. 8-13C. 19.38km. 20m ascent, 20m descent. Easy, almost entirely on Tarka’s Way – clean tarmac surface; hardly any mud on my new  boots, being broken in for later.


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