Another Christmas in Devon – 2022.

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There’s no way that it will ever replace the joy of spending three winter months in Spain, but since Covid arrived and put an end to travel abroad, I’ve taken to renting a house for Christmas week so that the family could be together. Of course, foreign travel restrictions are now lifted, but old age has finally caught up with me, which discourages me from travelling too far from home.

Consequently, on the morning of 23rd December saw my daughter and me on the M25 setting out on our journey to Devon. The first stop was at Solstice Services on the A303 – 80 miles into our journey. Overnight rain, continuing into the morning, had ensured that the Chertsey section of the motorway had standing water on it, bringing traffic to a crawl. Eventually, we reached the M3 where conditions improved, although our arrival time at Soltice was much later than planned. With lunch over, we set out on the slower section of the A303. Single carriageway alternates with sections of dual carriageway for the next 60 miles to the Ilminster roundabout where we joined the A358 for 20 miles down to the coast at Seaton. By the time we arrived, the light was fading but not so much so that we couldn’t see our imposing Art Deco-style home for the next week. This is it.

Over the next hour, other members of the family arrived. My second daughter from Sussex and my grandson, Sam from his university at St. Andrews.

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Christmas Eve was a busy day. There was shopping to do, but that was left to the girls. Fortunately, although Seaton is a tiny town, it has a decent-sized Tesco with a filling station attached. Whilst the girls saw to the shopping, Sam and I drove over to Axminster Railway Station to collect Anna, Sam’s girlfriend who was travelling up from her uni in Cornwall. Later in the day, we took walks – each according to our capabilities. The girls – the mile or so down into town; me – a drive, then 100 yards along the promenade.

The Promenade at Seaton

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A really wet morning! But it didn’t matter too much because it was Christmas Day. Breakfasts were taken over a period of about three hours but by mid-day, we were assembled in the lounge for coffee and an exchange of Christmas gifts.

Christmas morning.

After lunch, the rain stopped which allowed the family to get out for some exercise. As for myself, I was quite happy to stay in. Later in the day, congratulations and thanks were due to the cooks who persevered with a temperamental and unfamiliar Aga cooker to produce a lovely dinner.

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After yesterday’s dismal weather, Boxing Day was quite different. The sunshine brought out the rabbits to race around the garden.

For December, it looked a lovely day, so we prepared a packed lunch and set out in two cars on the short drive to a large car park situated along the shore a short distance from Lyme Regis. But to our surprise, the narrow roads were heaving with traffic. All the car parks were full, and the roads were blocked with slow-moving vehicles looking for somewhere to park. We eventually found a half-full car park but it was half a mile away – and up a 15% gradient hill to the cliff tops.. Daughter, Jen came to the rescue by following me up the hill to the car park, driving me down to the harbour, and then walking down to join the others. Later, she did the same, but in reverse.

Whilst the others walked the length of the promenade, I took an amble along the breakwater.

The harbour at Lyme Regis

The Beach at Lyme Regis

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Another pleasant day – weather-wise. Which was just as well because I’d booked tickets to travel along the Wetlands route on the Seaton Tramway. In 1965 the branch line of the railway was one of those closed down by the infamous Dr Beeching. In 1970 the owner of the tramway that had previously operated in Eastbourne took the opportunity to move his trams to use the disused branch line. They have operated at Seaton for over 50 years. Having bought tickets, the purchaser is able to travel for the entire day. Our arrival coincided with the departure of the 11.20, a tram which was initially built as an open tram, but in 2016 was rebuilt as an enclosed single-decker.

The new terminus building

From the recently built terminus building, the tram sets off for the Riverside Depot which is the original departure station. The line then runs straight with the Wetlands on the left and the River Axe on the right.

We’ve got the tram to ourselves.

After a couple of stops at the Wetlands and at Colyford, after half an hour, we arrived at the terminus at Colyton

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We had arranged to leave each other at this point, so the family set off to walk into the village, whilst I spent some time looking at the station.

The platform and buildings are as they were abandoned in 1965. Part of the building houses the Tram Stop restaurant and another, a shop and toilets. At Colyford station, still in its original position is a Gentleman’s urinal.

To me, as a boy brought up in the 1930-40s, they were a familiar item since they were on almost every railway station in the country. After half an hour or so, I caught the next train back to Seaton. My girls enjoyed the ride so much, they did the ride again in the afternoon.

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We had a wet morning to put in but by lunchtime, the day had brightened. After lunch, the family set out for a walk. I, having heard that yesterday I’d missed an interesting visit to Colyton Church, decided to drive there and have a look at it.

St. Andrews Church at Colyton

Their Nativity Crib in the churchyard

It was only about five miles away, so I was there quickly. It’s a building that has been added to over the centuries but the original building is Norman built on the footprint of an earlier Saxon Church. The tower is Norman but it has an added octagonal lantern built before the Reformation. It is said the design has been copied from the tower of Bruges Town Hall, a building that would have been familiar to the Devon wool merchants of the Middle Ages. At the same time, the two side aisles were added and the magnificent west window was added. In one of the aisles is the Pole Chapel which houses the tomb of Sir John Pole who died in 1635. Hanging in the nave are two huge brass chandeliers, each holding 36 candles.

The chancel at St. Andrews

The West Window. Probably the largest West Windows of all parish churches.

The Pole family monument

A balcony where the entrance is from an outside stairway.

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Today was the day when Anna was returning to Falmouth. Having spent the last three years at Falmouth, Sam decided to travel with her to catch up with old friends. Since I’d decided on a visit to Exeter, it worked well that I took them on the first stage of the journey. Slow city traffic around Exeter ensured that they caught their train with only minutes to spare. After goodbyes, I headed for the Cathedral, but parking was impossible so I headed on down to the Quay. I’ve seen the Quay less busy even at the height of summer, however, I managed to leave the car for a few minutes.

The Georgian Customs House at Exeter Quay. It now houses the museum

Old warehouses at Exeter Quay are now converted into apartments and workshops.

As I had time in hand, I decided to stop off at the Donkey Sanctuary on the way back.

Just a few of the hundred or so donkeys.

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Today was leaving day! And according to our agreement, we needed to be on our way by 10am. So an early start was required to pack, strip beds, load the cars and leave the property as we found it. All achieved in wet weather – although not as bad as the forecast said. With weather and heavy traffic, the 80 miles to Solstice took forever – in fact, a 30mph average. After lunch, conditions improved. The last 80 miles were good. Even including the M25 section we reached home with a 60mph average.

Sunset at Seaton.

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