So that’s it! September’s decision is confirmed. There’ll be no drive to Portsmouth next Sunday afternoon to board the Bilbao Ferry. For the first time since 1995, it’s going to be an English winter at home. And it will probably come as a relief to my daughters. I know they were fearful about sitting on a plane to spend Christmas with me in Spain.
As something of a consolation, after talking with the girls, we made a ‘spur of the moment’ decision for the three of us to take a week’s holiday. The venue we chose was a rented three-bedroomed mobile home on a site in Devon. As our Friday departure day approached, we looked with horror at the weather forecast for our week away. It promised nothing but high winds and heavy rain. In desperation, one of my girls made a phone call. The outcome was that the site management was more than happy for us to delay our arrival until the following week. So last minute packing was put on hold.
Our destination was to be the Devon seaside village named after Charles Kingsley’s novel, Westward Ho!, set in nearby Bideford. Westward Ho! was also our first distant destination when we started caravanning in 1965. In August of ‘66 we set off for Devon with our one year old daughter and spent eleven days in our Musketeer at Surf Bay Caravan Park. The site is still there but now entirely devoted to mobile homes. Interestingly, my hand-written log from that year records that our eleven nights cost us a total of £3. 6 shillings.
On Friday our journey to North Devon, with a lunch stop at Amesbury took us just over 4 hours to complete. We collected our key and took possession. Whilst the girls went off to the local Asda to stock up for the weekend, I took a look around the van. I was suitably impressed. A big lounge with comfortable seating for at least six, an enclosed deck beyond the patio doors, and a well equipped kitchen with a floor to ceiling fridge and freezer. In an adjoining cupboard was a Morco combi-boiler providing hot water and heating for a radiator in every room.
Down the corridor were two toilet rooms, one fitted with a walk-in shower. Of the three bedrooms, one was a double whilst the other two contained two single beds – and as I later discovered, more suitable for children/young teens rather than (large) adults.
We spent our days walking and cycling. The area is blessed with the South-west Coastal Path which stretches from Minehead down to Padstow and also the Tarka Trail which covers a 180 mile figure-of-eight route. Part of the Trail is built on the long-gone Barnstaple to Okehampton railway line. So on some days I dropped off the girls at a chosen coordinate on the route and picked them up at a different point a couple of hours later. On other days, we drove to a suitable parking spot, unloaded the bikes and cycled for several miles before returning to the car.
This is the broad beach at Westward Ho! A wide sandy beach is backed by a wide ridge of flat stones which have built up over the years. Smaller stones at one end. Larger boulders at the other. Behind the pebble ridge is a flat area of protected grassland known as The Burrows.
On Sunday I drove to a coordinate close to the Coastal Path and left the girls to walk. I drove the four miles to Hartland Point where we later met up. The area is all cliffs and rugged seashore. The Island on the horizon is Lundy.
On their walk, daughter, Jen took this short video of a waterfall
In Victorian times there used to be a thriving seaport here. Close to the Hotel I found this old picture.
This is the same view in modern times
On Tuesday we parked at the old railway station at Torrington. We cycled one way for two miles. This is the River Torridge from an old railway bridge.
And this is daughter, Angela
Whilst this is her Dad.
We found several seats had been adorned with family figure carved from old railway sleepers. The cycle track still follows the route through the railway tunnels.
After we returned, we cycled the other way for three miles or so. This is the river in the other direction.
All together we did eleven miles.
Today we parked in Bideford close to the disused railway station then cycled along the railway track to the seaside village of Instow. This is the disused railway station there.
When Westward Ho became popular in Victorian times, a sea pool was excavated in the rocks. The water is changed at every high tide.
One of the girls was brave enough to don a wet-suit and take a swim.
On Thursday we parked in Barnstaple and unloaded our bikes. We found the old railway track and cycled along the river bank towards Braunton.
This was the view from our lunch stop.
On our last day, we needed to return the keys by 10am, so we loaded our luggage into the car, then cycled from the site, along country roads to Appledore. Half a mile across the estuary is the village of Instow where we went earlier in the week. After enjoying a coffee overlooking the river, we cycled the four miles back to Westward Ho!, loaded the bikes and set off for home.
Here’s a short video of the River at Appledore.
I think we may return to Westward Ho! at some point.