Postcard from...Devon!

It’s no secret that I love Exmoor.  But this autumn I fancied a change.  I adore staying in Exford, but I’ve been so often (twice this year), that there are no surprises.  The delicious menu rarely changes and I could almost plan my diet before I arrive.

This October I decided to embrace the sea and so looked for somewhere new to enjoy, along the coast.

My first choice would have been lovely in the summer, but the owner warned me that it was unlikely the restaurant would be open because it is usually a quiet month.

The Exford hotel is usually busy because it’s a base for the hunting and fishing fraternity.  I’m not used to a quiet hotel, even in the darker months.

A friend suggested renting a cottage.  But I can stay on my own for less money at home.  No, for a few nights at least, I need to embrace the rest of the world and become sociable and more importantly, eavesdrop on some restaurant chat.

And so it is that I found a lovely hotel in Lynmouth.  It’s perched on the edge of the village, literally.  The only sound is the gushing river as it rushes past my bedroom.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  What of my journey, I hear you shout!

The footbridge would be closed during the night of the storm -
and sustained some damage.
During my last visit to the area I had discovered a new tea room with courtyard at Dunster and it was to here that I would take a mid-journey break.

Some of you will know that I’ve spent the past few weeks working for an author who writes for Mills and Boon.  I suppose it was her fault that I spied Simon Masters, senior partner of the local solicitors becoming agitated whilst he ate his grilled teacake.  His crisp shirt covered his firm, but welcoming, chest.  I’ve more to learn about these M & B heroes.  Mr Masters eventually left the establishment hand in hand with Jeremy.  Yes, times have changed but not my imagination.

I’ve visited Lynmouth in the past – most recently with my good friend and Exmoor resident Celia Andrew.  If you’d like to see the photos from that trip, click here.  Suffice to say we had a great time, despite the rain.

But back to now.  The tide did what tides do and began to turn.  Boats that were static on my arrival soon began to bob around and once or twice, at dinner, waves crashed up before me.  In my room I was mesmerised by the movement and the sounds.  It wasn’t just me who was affected.  A group on a nearby table had described how they had spent an evening just watching the sea. 

Despite this being a smaller hotel, the fellow guests were as entertaining as I could have hoped for.  In a space of just a few hours they covered toy boys, gay relationships, early retirement, late retirement and bedrooms painted all in black.  The floor show that accompanied this narration came courtesy of two guests from the hotel on the far side of the quay.  Suffice to say that it would have boosted the sales of any wannabe M & B writer.

My first full day was spent mainly watching the sea - it’s hard to escape it.  Men, and a few women, were hurtling themselves above waves, attempting to glide towards the shore.  Some made it, most didn’t.

Many of the surfers seemed to spend their time running either to or from the sea.  I could possibly do that.  Wearing just my wet suit (or are they dry suits?), I could race along with a strange tippy toe stride, looking like a surf babe.  Or not.  You decide.

As the light began to fade it was time for ‘Tide Watch’.  Better than any reality TV show, this was performed live outside my window.   I wanted to spot the moment the river admitted defeat and became the sea. 

It raced along its bed, crashing over the rocks and boulders, but I knew that within an hour or two it would be sea before me.

I caught that first wave that breached the harbour – it trickled in with a hidden force.  It’s easy, when you witness that change in tide, to appreciate why walkers can suddenly be caught out on a tidal stretch of sand.

An hour or so later, during dinner, I witnessed what I hoped I would see.  Although I’d noticed sandbags along the quayside, it hadn’t occurred to me that these weren’t the norm.

Even the morning after the storm, waves continued to crash
over the defences.
As waves crashed over the windows of the restaurant, the waiter asked if any of the diners were owners of a Peugeot – it was about to float away. 

Across the harbour towards the quay the waves crashed over all the defences.  Foolhardy spectators soon beat a retreat.

“Don’t worry,” said one diner. “Remember how in all disaster movies like the Towering Inferno, some people do survive.”

“And what about the Perfect Storm?” I couldn’t resist adding.  There’s nothing like panic to feed a good appetite.

From my bedroom I tried to take some photos.  None were great, but they did capture the moment. 

Patrons of the Rising Sun stood upon the raised path, spectators to the mirror image of my scene.

It was the stuff of nightmares and the stuff of my dreams!

The next morning, as a precaution, the road that runs along the seafront was closed and a BBC team were busy filming.  I think my piece was cut.

As much as I love the freedom of travelling solo, I never want to be the woman who ‘disappears during waddle back from tearoom’.  So, as I strolled back from the Flood Disaster Memorial Display I was pleased to happen upon the number 300 bus, about to depart for Minehead.

To many, Minehead holds little charm – they fail to see beyond Butlin’s and the burger bars.  The old part of town, towards the North Hill holds a village atmosphere, complete with tiny cottages and cobbled lanes.
The quay at Minehead
A welcome brew was taken on the quay – in between shots of rainbows which had become this visit’s sheep.  In fact most of my photos seem to be of either rainbows or waves – but that’s the coast for you.

Back at the hotel and the BBC were still in town.  The hotel’s owner was being interviewed, although it was a little late in the day for that – surely we weren’t to expect more floods…?  But it was a quiet night, the ballast of a Belgium chocolate sponge in my belly kept me firmly moored. 

As sad as I was to finish my short break, there was still something to look forward to.  I was to divert my route to Bridport and meet up with Liz Brownlee.  Liz has recently had published an anthology of her poetry.  Click here to read more about it.  Liz grew up in the area and had returned to visit a school and give a brief talk, with poems, to children.

Liz, Lola and me!

Liz and her OH were joined by the famous Medical Alert Dog, Lola – click to read about Lola's charity.  Later in the year an anthology of flash fiction and poetry by a group of writers (including me!) is being published and some of the proceeds will be donated to Lola’s charity.

I have no idea what that sheep is doing!