Ladies and gentlemen, this is where the fun really starts.
I do hope you have come upon this page by way of the introduction I spent two weeks constructing and which represented the first entries on this brand new website which I have started in spite of a serious case of technical incompetence. Here it is. After those twin disasters I took this rather drastic step as I have had two commercial travel sites (Virtual Tourist and Travbuddy) closed down on me in just over a year and I do not want to achieve a terrible hat-trick so I am going it alone.
The site is predominantly travel themed and this represents my first actual travel blog referring to a wonderful trip I took to Lundy Island and other parts of Devon in the beautiful Southwest of England back in 2013. I have several reasons for choosing this as my start point and I shall explain my thinking here.
Primarily, Lundy is a simply stunning place and perhaps not so well known to potential visitors, especially from outside the UK. Secondly, at ten days my trip was not too long and I have managed to save a lot of my content from Virtual Tourist which was not always the case so it will speed up the writing process as I have already done the hard work. As I continue to investigate the arcane black art that constitutes web design I am going to attempt to place this at the dates it happened which will hopefully avoid an essentially sequential blog jumping about as I gradually add content on my various travels when time permits. Wish me luck and here goes.
I mentioned the Virtual Tourist website which I adored as it was simply the best website on the net in terms of content, certainly in terms of quality rather than quantity and I do hope the likes of TripAdvisor, Google et al take note. Indeed, it was the former that bought over VT purely for the purposes of shutting it down as I suppose they were embarrassed by it as well they might have been.
What really singled out VT for me and many others was the phenomenal community spirit which was also evident to a lesser extent on TravBuddy although my impressions of the latter were somewhat short-lived. I made many dear friends on VT all over the world, friendships that continue to this day. I met many staffers including not one but two CEOs and even briefly the man who had founded the site back in the last millennium.
All these thousands of online relationships led to “VT meets” in various countries around the globe, some of which I was lucky enough to attend and it is one of these that instigated this whole escapade. It is testament to the enduring nature of the community spirit of VT that the annual Euromeet continues long after the demise of the site itself and although I cannot attend the 2018 version in Iceland, preparations are already being made for a 2019 get-together which I do hope to get to.
VT member Malcolm aka Easymalc had arranged a meeting in July in his home town of Torquay and I knew that my friend Lesley aka roam and Natalie aka nhcram, who I only knew online, would also be in attendance. A plan was beginning to form as I had a standing invitation from a very particular VT friend called John Gayton aka johngayton (unsurprisingly if somewhat unimaginatively) to go and visit him on the small island of Lundy where he was then resident. I had only been to Devon briefly a couple of times before and I thought that the meet and trip to Lundy with perhaps a day or two tacked on the end somewhere would make for a decent little trip and so it was to prove. Let’s get on the road, or rail as it is in this case.
The journey from my home in London involved an uneventful and comfortable enough albeit expensive journey with Great Western from London Paddington to Torquay. Whilst there is nothing to write about the journey, it does afford me an opportunity to impart a little tip aimed primarily if not specifically at overseas visitors. As mentioned above, website design is an arcane science to me but it is as a picnic compared to trying to fathom the workings of the British rail fare system which is incomprehensible to any but the acolytes involved directly in it. Since privatisation some years ago, the various mostly foreign owned franchises have a deal whereby they are allowed to annually increase fares by well over the rate of inflation, charge up to 95% of a return fare for a single and have left us with the highest rail fares in Europe and possibly the world.
This is the tip and it really can save you a lot of money. Book as far ahead as you can and book for specific services if possible, particularly off-peak if your schedule allows. There are considerable savings to be made this way as walk-up fares are nothing short of an obscene national disgrace. Even booking before 1800 the day before travel will often attract a discount. Advance booking can be particularly advantageous on the cross-Channel Eurostar service which opens 90 days in advance of travel if I remember rightly. One quick example should serve to indicate how convoluted the system is. I once managed to travel on a train from Edinburgh to Durham in first class cheaper than I could have done in economy on the same train. If anyone can explain the logic of that to me, I’ll plait sawdust!
Travel advice dispensed now and so back to Torquay, the heart of the “English Riviera” with a very equable climate and yet it is typical of a phenomenon experienced so many seaside resorts that flourished in the 18th to late 20th centuries. For various socio-economic reasons which I do not intend to rehearse here they are dying on their feet and it shows.
I had been to Torquay once some years before whilst walking a portion of the South West coast Path, one of a chain of long distance paths in the UK which I love when I had walked up to a B&B and subsequently found out I was the only paying guest as the rest were there courtesy of the DSS ( our welfare system). I like to talk to people and I have to say that the breakfast conversation was certainly edifying. Whilst walking the town that evening, aggressive begging was rife and the signs of drug abuse all too evident. I am quite tuned in to reading situations and I did find it a bit edgy then. I have to say that on the visit I am writing about here the situation had improved greatly and it appears that the authorities have expended considerable resources although much of it seems to be merely cosmetic and there was still a certain frisson to walking about there in the evening.
The station was clean, tidy and pretty much deserted so I took off along a route I had memorised as I still had a mobile ‘phone in those days that was genuinely that – a ‘phone and not a computer you can stick in your pocket. How I wish I still had it. It was not far and I was doing well until I encountered the inevitable obstacle in the form of the Ocean Drive Restaurant and Steakhouse which looked externally like one of the 1930’s architecturally styled (not that I am any sort of architect) “roadhouses” which are still common in many parts of the country.
I have to say that I really was not expecting what I walked into as the exterior of this establishment in a well-to-do residential area gave no clue. It was a full-on American diner with a marked Hollywood theme and packed to the rafters with film memorabilia and artefacts which must have been worth a small fortune. I suspect it was aiming for an evening dining trade and a little research shows that now it does not open until 1800 in the evening which supports this view. It was just about empty although a quick couple of pints, a chat with the friendly barmaid and a look at the many fascinating decorations passed a while. I did really want to get signed into my digs to ditch my kit of rollalong suitcase and guitar and go for a proper exploration so I limited myself and took off to the Charnwood B&B which I found easily enough.
I was greeted warmly at the door by Christine, the very friendly lady who runs the place and after the usual formalities I was shown to my room. It was small (a single) but spotless and the bed was comfy, as required. It had tea and coffee making facilities and TV as well as a washbasin as it was not en-suite. The toilet and bathroom were adjacent on the landing and I am not bothered about not having en-suite. The room was at the front of the premises although road noise was not an issue as Bampfylde Road was not at all busy at night.
My requirements for a bed and breakfast place are fairly modest, merely a clean room with a comfortable bed and enough warm water for a shower. I merely use a room as a place to sleep as I am busy doing other things when I am travelling. I am not even that bothered about the breakfast as it is a meal I rarely take. The Charnwood supplied everything I required.
I shall not go into further details as a little research shows that it is permanently closed now as is the adjacent Glenroy Guesthouse which only goes to prove my earlier point about the parlous state of the tourist economy in traditional resorts.
A quick hours power nap, much needed at my age, and I was off to explore the delights of Torquay as I was not due to meet my friends until the evening which was still a couple of hours off. A pleasant, gentle stroll along the front and round the harbour was just what was needed to work up an appetite before I repaired to the nearby and excellent Offshore Bar where fond re-unions were had and new friendships formed.
I could have happily stayed there all evening but Malc had promised us a treat and so we took off for the short and leisurely walk through one of the older parts of town to the wonderful Hole in the Wall pub. which claims to be the oldest in town having been around since c. 1540 although there is some debate as to the veracity of this claim. Whatever it’s provenance, it proved to be a beauty.
I have mentioned many times on various sites about the great value of local knowledge when choosing a place to eat which applies whether I am in Durham or Dumaguete, Bangkok or Bangor and it was therefore with high expectations that we went to the Hole in the Wall. Malcolm is a Torquay resident so should know best and the fact that it was also warmly endorsed by John Gayton, a well-seasoned (pun absolutely intended) professional chef merely added to the sense of anticipation.
Approaching the premises it really did look old, living up to it’s billing. Unfortunately, this great age and location would, I suggest, make it difficult if not impossible for mobility impaired travellers. I do like to mix practical advice with my blogging as I feel it is important so please bear with me. The only thing that ever so slightly marred the appearance of the beautiful old building was the presence in the leaded window of a “Certificate of Excellence from a reviled website that has been successfully prosecuted for lying and who I believe employ literally thousands of people purely to send out these worthless stickers / certificates and so on. Think logically here. This image was taken less than halfway through July 2013 yet they had been awarded for that year. What happens if the place gets sold in August, employs a rubbish chef and bar manager and the place goes to the dogs as can easily happen in the hospitality trade? They still have their sticker for the rest of the year and will probably still get one the next. It might not seem like much but people are now programmed, and I use the word advisedly, to believe that site despite all evidence that they should not.
OK, rant over and I have to say it deserved recognition from much better than the sticker kings of the internet.
Once inside, it was as “olde worlde” as the exterior suggested but it was genuinely so, not the faux exposed beams etc. you get in so many places. It was a proper gem of an old English pub, a concept dear to my heart. We started by purchasing a round of drinks from the excellently stocked bar. I am a cider drinker myself but I noticed there was an excellent selection of beers on offer and I was surprised to see a Shepherd Neame brew from Kent this far West. Should you want to go local for your tipple, there were plenty of West Country options as well.
Suitably equipped, we were shown to our table in the small raised dining area by a friendly member of staff (as were they all). The service throughout was very good despite it being a Friday night in high season and therefore fairly busy. Malcolm had booked a table, recommend especially on summer weekends, as the establishment is rightly very popular.
I eat little so skipped a starter and perused the menu for a main course. Now I realise that I should probably have gone for the fish, which is sourced from nearby Brixham and I am sure it would have been excellent. I generally try to eat what the local speciality is, fish at the seaside, venison in Scotland etc. The menu here is unashamedly “pub grub” and there is nothing wrong with that. About the most exotic thing on the menu appeared to be chef’s home made chicken curry, offered either medium or hot. Soup, melon and pate featured as starters and you could follow with burgers, steaks, chicken, pie of the day, fish, seafoood or any number of pub standards. There are also daily changing specials on the blackboards.
These were all very tempting but as so often my downfall (if it can be called that) was the fact that they had duck on the menu. I absolutely adore duck and if I see it on a bill of fayre it would take something else fairly exciting there to tempt me away. In this case it was oven roasted duck breast offered with a plum and cherry brandy sauce. That was the decision made then.
The mains were served in an amount of time that was not excessive but indicated that the meals had been freshly prepared. What I am about to say is in no way a complaint but I like all my meat under-cooked, preferring my steak blue for example. I like my duck fairly pink and the breast was just a touch over for my liking. I should stress that it was not over-cooked, it was perfectly tender and indeed very succulent and as I had not specified how I wanted it cooked no blame attaches to the chef. I have no doubt (s)he could have done it under for me had I requested it. The sauce was beautifully balanced and complemented the meat perfectly.
We were served chefs choice of “communal” vegetables which were excellently done. It is so common to eat vegetables that have been boiled into submission but these were delightful, the potatoes deserving special mention. Yes, I know, it is the humble potato but so often cooks get them wrong and coming from Northern Ireland where we grow the best in the world (I shall accept no argument on this) I know what I am talking about – a rarity!
I wanted to leave a little room for another pint or two so I skipped dessert, although I noticed there was a decent selection.
Being VT members with the exception of Natalie’s charming husband who had been dragged along, numerous photos were taken of which I include one or two here. After the shutter frenzy, everyone was agreed that it had been a fine meal. Good food in a delightful old pub with excellent company at the end of a gloriously sunny day on the South Devon coast, what more could a man want? Not much and so it was off to bed for a well earned rest.
In the next instalment, I go for a cruise on a Second World War rescue vessel and revisit a beautiful town I had not been in for nearly 30 years so stay tuned.