From Berlin it was back to England for another home exchange – this time in Torquay. On the way, I stayed a few days with good friends Sally & Colin in Slough, near Heathrow. They met me from the train and we went straight to a lovely English pub to celebrate my 71st birthday. Always fun to be with Sally and Col! (Sally is the Blue Badge London guide I first met on a walking tour with Pauline in 2011)
A couple of days later, I took another train down to Torquay in Devon, on the English Channel. This new home turned out to be rather glamorous … high on a cliff top overlooking the town, the harbour and the sea. Not exactly the French Cote d’Azur, Torquay and the surrounding beaches are still known as the English Riviera. No doubt beautiful (though crowded) in summer time, it still had lots of seaside resort charm … even in February. Especially after cold, grey Berlin.
My home exchangees were cycling enthusiasts so wanted to swap at this time of year for the Tour Down Under in Adelaide. Worked well for all of us. I enjoyed having time in the south of England, exploring Devon and Cornwall, and was able to catch up with Pauline (from Maidenhead) and Phil and Mary (friends from home who were living in Cornwall at the time.)
I also caught up with Agatha Christie again. She’s buried in Cholsey, where I stayed in 2011, but she lived for many years, and wrote many of her books, in Dartmouth just a bit further down the coast. The Grand Hotel in Torquay had an exhibition of her life and works. It’s also decorated in the art nouveau style of Christie’s era.
During Pauline’s visit, on a bitterly cold day, we made a trip down to Dartmouth and took a boat ride up the River Dart – past the Royal Naval College where Mal (my brother) visited a few times while he was at the Royal Naval Engineering College in Plymouth in the 1960s. The town appeared to be another lovely little place to spend some time, but with a feeling of snow in the air we were keen to find a bus and escape the cold. Stopped off at Brixham on the way home and enjoyed hot chips and hot chocolate in the Jolly Roger – or whatever it was called. (A kitschy tourist cafe decorated with skulls, crossbones etc. At least it was warm.)
Pauline and I also enjoyed a visit to Totnes, an interesting market town in Devon with a laid-back, hippy, new age vibe. Described as the “alternative capital of Britain”, Totnes residents are keen environmentalists, live in eco-friendly homes and enjoy arts, crafts and festivals. They even have their own money (the Totnes pound) for use in all the funky shops – though good old conservative sterling pounds are also accepted, of course. I loved it!
When Phil and Mary came up for the day, we visited the Torquay Living Coasts Zoo, then climbed back up the cliff to the house for a late lunch. The Zoo specialised in marine animals and birds … lots of seals, penguins and other sea birds. (* Later … sadly the Zoo didn’t survive Covid … it closed permanently in 2020)
Another good day was had when I took myself down to Cornwall. Took the train down to Penzance, then a bus to the village of Mount’s Bay so that I could visit St Michaels Mount – a tidal island in the bay, linked to the mainland by a granite causeway that can be crossed at low tide. When the tide comes in the crossing can only be navigated by boat or the special army duck vehicle they use for ferrying tourists across. The castle-like home on St Michaels Mount is privately owned and can only be visited at certain times … unfortunately not at the time that I was there.
Mounts Bay is also on the long-distance South West Walk that follows the coast through Cornwall and Devon. Apparently there are lots of cliffs along the way so I don’t think I’ll be tackling this one …..
The last time I was in Cornwall was back in the mid-1960s when friends and I made the trip down from London to visit Lands End. I remember the tiny village of Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) along the coast. Of course I had to revisit while I was so close, but in the middle of winter everything looked very closed and sleepy. I didn’t get as far as the Minack Theatre which is built into the cliff at Polperro, this time – but I do remember it well from long ago. It would be good to return to this part of England in warmer weather to enjoy the beaches, the colourful fishing villages and more of the countryside. Devon is designated another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with its stunning coastline and sweeping moors.
It was a happy couple of weeks in Torquay – short, a bit chilly, but fun to be back in England.