Mum and I enjoyed our now annual Devonian holiday over the August Bank Holiday and it was wonderful. Whisper it quietly but the weather was terrific also which made the holiday.
Having heard friends and colleagues carry on - with good reason - about the motorway traffic, we decided to make a day of it and took the M4 as far as the Bath turn-off before going cross country via Chew Magna en route to Lynton. Yes, it was a bizarre way but had its logic, honestly: I dislike driving at the best of times and this route, in avoiding the M5 for most of the way, afforded a comparatively easy way via Bristol Airport and the A38 which I am more familiar with. Nonetheless, I was grateful to the Sat Nav (and Mum). Chew Magna was one of three places we visited with a lovely cricket ground.
The journey down, other than a slightly fraught time at Bridgwater having ended up on the M5 by mistake obeying the Sat Nav too much, was actually fine and the coast road to Lynton was idyllic. We stopped in the delightful town of Dunster and enjoyed a picnic overlooking its castle. (A lay-by mobile van selling food had caught our attention earlier with its wonderful name, Breakfast at Timothy's. Maybe the food was as good?)
Mum had said that she wanted to take on the notorious Porlock Hill but, in the usual Roberts tradition of not being entirely sure where we were or where we were going, I found myself still in the hot seat with no way back. It turned out to be a breeze and I gleefully added my third successful ascent of this 1 in 4 terror. Prematurely. I'd conquered the wrong hill... I thought it was a little easier than the other two occasions.
As it happened, we ended upon it by mistake and so I did soon afterwards add to the previous two successes. The only cause for concern was the fairly sharp turn half way up but, with nothing unbearably slow in front of us, we made it without breaking into too much sweat or shouts of "floor it, man."
A stop and short walk along the dramatic, heather and sheep-dominated road provided wonderful views. Well, I say sheep but they could have been goats as we have not always known the difference, I am ashamed to say. My late father used to therefore hedge his bets and refer to them as shoats or geep.
We reached Lynmouth via the less severe Countisbury Hill - we were going down - before a somewhat lengthy ride to Lynton via Watersmeet which took us by surprise. It turned out that we had missed the shorter, if more nerve-wracking, hill which came the next day and again by mistake.
We stayed at The Denes and the owners, John and Susan Tuck, were delightful. Their house is in a quieter position with parking yet convenient and, on arrival, we were treated to tea and cake. The rooms were excellent also and a terrific breakfast was served every morning. It was a lovely place to stay.
With its position so close to the Valley of the Rocks, we enjoyed a short walk to this most picturesque area and a further walk along the coastal path. This part of Devon really does have the most splendid, rugged scenery and it was my first visit for almost forty-five years even though, for a couple of years, we lived close by near Barnstaple. I am guessing that, with my parents working and me at school, there was not always that much time to conquer the distinctly narrow Devonian roads of this area.
The Valley of the Rocks is home to surely one of the quaintest and most beautiful cricket grounds and used by Lynton and Lynmouth. With its magnificent rock and sea views, I feel that even I could be coaxed out of retirement for a game here. Alas, there was no game on for us to even watch.
We were a tad concerned about a goat - yes, it was a goat, we felt confident - apparently marooned on a rock. They are hardy animals and I am sure it would have been fine. We heard a story that there are only goats in this area now and that the sheep had to be moved after the less polite goats headbutted some into the sea...
Restaurants are not especially plentiful in this quaint and old-fashioned town and Devonshire folk here to eat a little bit earlier. We were possibly quite fortunate to find a table in The Crown but I must say that the fish was amongst the best I have ever had. It was worth the wait as the pub was busy that night.
On the Sunday, we went the short distance by car to Lee Abbey, a retreat with the most breathtaking views of the coast. Its location is idyllic and we enjoyed an hour there walking around its fairly extensive grounds.
One of the famous alumni of my old school, Blundell's, was Richard Doddridge Blackmore, author of Lorna Doone. ( I should point out that Blackmore attended the Old Blundell's School in Tiverton just down the road from its current site which opened in 1882). I have been to Exmoor before but never really seen as much of this wonderful area as I might have so Sunday was spent seeing much more and learning more about Lorna Doone.
We had an interesting ride to Tarr Steps, a clapper bridge which has had refurbishment works recently after high waters damaged the bridge. It is an idyllic area and lots of adults, children and pets had descended upon this, I imagine, busy area and one of Exmoor's top sights.
The beautiful Exmoor countryside near Dunster

Lynton and Lynmouth Cricket Club at The Valley of the Rocks

The lonesome goat along the Lynton coastal path

The Lynton coastal path

The Lynton and Lynmouth funicular

Lee Abbey

Tarr Steps near Dulverton

Lorna Doone country, Exmoor

Bridgetown Cricket Club

One of Devon's most photographed villages. Bickleigh, near Tiverton

Old Blundell's School, Tiverton where R.D. Blackmore was a pupil

The horse-drawn Tivertonian wends its way along the peaceful Grand Western Canal

Legend has it that Bickleigh Bridge was the inspiration for Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water

Sunset over Valley of the Rocks, Lynton

From there, we went to Malmsmead, close to Doone Valley after another interesting ride through some narrow Devonian (and Somerset) lanes. This again is a picture postcard view with a bridge, stream, shop and pub. The road out is easier than the one in and we marvelled at how caravans made it to a nearby campsite.
The road back took us to Lynmouth where we planned to stop but the main car park was full. Concentrating on avoiding the many visitors, I was pleased to see a sign offering alternate car parks but very likely missed the important word of where they were. In Lynton. Following the sign, I very quickly realised that I had inadvertently led us on to another notorious 1 in 4 hill. Our car did fine but a cyclist held us up badly and I must admit to being too frightened to stop and move into first gear so crawled past the bike in second gear and missed the second and more intimidating part of the hill which involved a 180 degree turn half way up. I didn't initially realise that I had missed it, continued up and bragged that it was another breeze conquering a further West Country hill only to realise that it required a little more effort. Actually, it was the ideal way of getting up it as I could come down to the bend and have a far easier ride up the second part of the hill.
We returned to Lynmouth afterwards and had a pleasant walk down. The town's fete was taking place and someone was presented with a T-shirt inscribed Tosser of the Day for an attempt at the coconut shy (and hit the target as far as I could make out. I'd have been miffed in the same circumstances to receive such a prize!)
The devastating floods of 1952 have a museum which attest to the savagery that the water caused. Further floods more recently show how this lovely area has suffered.
We were pleased to return to Lynton by the novel funicular. It is popular and there was quite a wait for the three or four minute journey to the top. I managed to crust myself getting in but, in general, there is ample room once inside.
We had thoroughly enjoyed our short stay in Lynton and watched the sunset over the Valley of the Rocks which was a treat. After another good breakfast set us on our way, we took the long way home to avoid the M5. We stopped at Bridgetown near Dulverton to admire their beautiful cricket ground. Lord's may have a ridge but it's not a patch on Bridgetown (in Somerset not Barbados).
Hoping - in vain, I suspect - that Mum won't read this I was delighted to return to Bickleigh near Tiverton and find that she enjoyed it so much that we will return next May. I have spent many a happy weekend there overlooking the bridge which, legend has it, was the inspiration behind Simon and Garfunkel's Bridge over Troubled Water. It really is the most delightful setting and the weather certainly made it even better. I am delighted, we have now booked and, when I told a colleague, he remarked that he felt as if he knew the place as well as I do having seen so many photos of the famous bridge. Apparently, there's a resident ghost in one of the hotels, I believe, but when Mum reads this, I remain convinced that it's in the other hotel...
We went on to Old Blundell's. It is part of the National Trust but, whilst not being able to go inside, we had a look inside from outside. The school is in impressive condition and I have read that Blackmore based the sword fight in Lorna Doone on the lawns of Old Blundell's. I also had friends who had a flat at the back of the school.
We enjoyed a half-hour walk along a section of the Grand Western Canal. Our inability to find a parking space at the Tiverton part meant going further along, after a visit to the current Blundell's, and enjoying a slightly quieter part of this beautiful canal. It brought back many happy memories. A horse-drawn barge is a delightful way of seeing the beauty of the canal and, whilst we did not take it, the horse and barge came along as we were having our walk.
We had a nice lunch at The Globe Inn in Sampford Peverell, which is just a mile or so from the M5 and a place I knew after leaving Blundell's. I would like to stress the word after... It is a popular pub with good food and accommodation and is in a decent position for discovering the area.
The return journey back didn't go as well as the one down. Mum wanted to see Glastonbury Tor which was fine but, for whatever reason, the Sat Nav gave us some bizarre directions. Glastonbury is not my normal way home from Tiverton so I was hoping for some clearer guidance but gave up when the Sat Nav told me to take the second left when even I could see several signs to the town showing it to be the first. I managed also to miss Wells Cathedral too and, with further odd directions in trying to find Bristol Airport, we were a frazzled duo after seeing far more of Bristol than we had intended or indeed wanted. Yes, it was another memorable Roberts moment and Sampford Peverell to our home which, on a good day, might take 1 hour 37 minutes according to Google Maps actually took us 4 hours...
It was, though, a wonderful short break and we are looking forward to next May when we return.