It’s over 20 years since we were last in Devon. In the eighties and nineties we would drive down several times a year from London for long weekends, it was a place that we really enjoyed visiting with it’s unspoilt countryside, endless historic villages and numerous bays and beaches.
On this visit we were interested to see whether it was as we remembered it being and how much it had changed, but, when you sit in one of the local pubs that happens to have been there since the thirteenth century you come to realise that 20 years in the life of Devon is a very short time. After this visit we are pleased to say that Devon has not changed too much and it is still one of the most beautiful parts of England.
Meeting one of the locals
One of the first things that we did on our arrival in Devon was to visit the tourist information office in Bovey Tracey. As we entered the elderly lady who was sat at the desk asked “Where are you from?”, we replied “Australia”. “oh” she said “have you come for the free map”, we said no, “oh well” she replied “Australians usually come in here for free things!”
As we chatted with her she continued “You don’t sound Australian”, we explained that we were originally from the UK and had emigrated there twenty years ago “oh, whatever made you do that?” We explained that it was for work, we asked her “have you been to Australia?” she was quick to reply “over my dead body, I’ve haven’t left Devon for the last 30 years, here you go, don’t forget your free map.”
Trusted House Sitters
Our first UK pet sit is for three weeks near the small town of Ashburton. Here the animals do come in two by two, we have two dogs, two pigs and two chickens to take care of and a very nice farm house on three acres.
Coco and Cara are two rescue Springer Spaniels who are 10 and 13 years old respectively. They are both ball obsessed and both have the ability to play as much as any younger dog would. Apparently, the vet even said that Coco has a ball shaped mouth!
As with all of our pet sits to date, looking after Coco and Cara has been an absolute pleasure. We still find it strange how dogs take to us as their new owners, or are we just their new best mates? They never appear to miss their real owners who are away and just love hanging around with us, we become part of their new pack.
A morning in the life of a pet sitter
Our days starts with Coco waking us about 6.30am, he whines a little outside our bedroom door. As we open the door he barks with excitement and leads us down stairs. Cara can’t always manage the stairs due to her arthritis and so she tends to wait downstairs for us.
We then put on our wellies and commence our morning commute. This leads out of the garden gate and along the narrow country lane to the buttercup filled field that they love to play in.
We don’t play ball in the mornings, so as not to exhaust them, but Coco has to have something to play with, so he goes on a stick hunt. Each day he picks up a different stick and looks for us to throw it for him. Cara, on the other hand, is much more excited to be out running and sniffing around the field. Her head is always buried in a bush or hedge and her tail wags with joy as she takes in the fragrances of the plants and hedges. She’s also very good and discovering balls that have been lost on previous excursions!
As we head to the pen where the pigs live we can hear their grunts in anticipation of their breakfast. The pigs don’t have names, our owners said that they prefer not to name their food! Unfortunately the pigs are really looking forward to Christmas completely unaware of their destiny!
We decided to name them ourselves and called them Fenando and Chiquitita, even though they are both girls. We also called the chickens Agnetha and Frida, there’s a bit of a theme here if you hadn’t noticed.
After feeding the pigs and topping up their water bucket, we then release the chickens from their shed and top up their food tray and water bowl and collect any eggs. This is then followed by taking Cara and Coco for a walk through the forested area of the field.
Top tip. When trying to retrieve the ball from the bushes don’t push your nose in too far otherwise you may end up with more than you expected.
As we head back to the cottage Cara gets so excited and races ahead to the field gate, which we keep locked due to any passing vehicles. We then walk back down the lane to the cottage where they both get very excited to be fed their breakfast.
It’s such a beautiful way to start our day. With the farm house door open we make our own coffees and breakfast and catch up on our emails, news and social media, radio 2 is playing in the background and there are newspapers to read.
One of the best things about being back in England is the depth of the media, whether it’s television, radio or newspapers, the quality is so much higher than what is available elsewhere.
The hungry Pigs
Fernando and Chiquitita are the first pigs that we have looked after, so are a totally new experience for us. We discovered that when feeding them it’s important to try not to become part of their meal! They think nothing of taking a chunk out of your leg, as Lloyd found out as he stepped into their pen, he was about to pour their food into their trough when suddenly Fernando decided that Lloyd’s left thigh looked pretty tasty and took a bite. “He just bloody bit me!” shouted Lloyd.
The problem is that during the day they move the furniture around! When we arrive to feed them, twice a day, the feeding trough can be tipped upside down and anywhere in their pen, wherever they have dragged it. We then have to step into the pen to turn the trough the right way up and put it in a place convenient to tip the feed into. The water bucket also gets tipped upside down and moved around by the pigs.
The house is very centrally located and is surrounded by narrow country lanes and fields of barley. After being in Australia it’s really nice to be able to walk through a field with long grass with the dogs and not have to consider the possibility of meeting a snake!
Ashburton is our local village. It has a really good selection of independent stores and cafes, if you’re looking for Poundland, Iceland or WHSmiths you’ll be disappointed. Instead there’s the excellent Fish Deli with a superb range of fish, dips, olives etc., and Ella the Artisan Baker, which only opens from Wed-Sat and closes on those days when they sell, which is usually by lunch time, their bread, pastries and cakes are all made in the store. There’s a really good wine store, Jaded Palates, and several cafes including The Old Library and another one that makes the best coffee we’ve had so far in the UK, Rust and The Wolf.
Ashburton is not far from the Devon coast and is also on the edge of the enormous national park of Dartmoor. While we were in the area we were lucky enough to be there during blue bell season, the fields of Dartmoor were a sea of blue flowers. This is a favourite spot with walkers but is an easy place to get lost, so there are lots of organised guided walks.
Driving through Devon
Devon has endless narrow hedged lanes that are one vehicle wide and criss cross the county. We drove over 20 miles along these lanes on one drive that we took. Looking at Google Maps as we drove along these lanes they are listed as “unknown road”. The fun part is when another vehicle comes in the opposite direction, this means one of the vehicles has to reverse to the nearest passing point, which tend to be every few hundred metres, to allow the other vehicle to pass by.
We noticed during our stay that lots of locals have their weekly shop delivered by Tesco, Sainsbury’s or one of the other big supermarkets. We would often meet up with one of these delivery vans along these narrow lanes.
It was late autumn when we left Australia a few days before arriving in England and we were wearing our shorts and T shirts. It’s late spring here in the UK and the locals are wearing their shorts and T shirts, however, it was still quite cool for us and it was it was jeans and sweaters all round and sometimes jackets. They say that you can tell it’s summer in the UK as the rain is warm, but actually, since we have been here it’s been very dry and we’ve had lots of blue sky days.
The east coast of Devon has an area that is know as The English Riviera and includes some of the finest beaches in the UK.
Meeting Robbie Robinson
While we were walking through the coastal town of Brixham we were stopped by an old guy who handed us a leaflet about the Brixham War Museum. He told us some of the story and as he pointed to the front of the brochure he said “That’s me on the cover there.”
We continued to chat with him and just before we moved on Lloyd asked “So which of these is you?” pointing to the photograph on the cover of the brochure. The old guy looked quite shocked and replied “I’m not that old! That’s me there” and he pointed to the writers name on the brochure.
Brixham is still a fishing village today and it’s a great place to visit to eat fish and chips or any other fresh seafood. It’s a picturesque town with multi-coloured little cottages that overlook the busy fishing harbour.
Here’s some of the places and things that we visited in Devon that we liked:
The low carb, low fat diet! instead of farm gate to plate it’s more welly to belly down here. We have eaten some very nice food here though. You can’t visit Devon and Cornwall without an afternoon tea or a Cornish pastie.
Totnes is one of our favourite local towns, here someone has written on the town sign “twinned with Narnia”. It’s definitely got an alternative vibe with a good selection of vegan and vegetarian eateries and stores. It’s a very cute town with lots of historic buildings.
There is also has the Chapel House Studios, a really good fitness centre, where yoga, pilates and other classes are held and where we overheard a post class chat between three women that included one saying “I think I’ve got the wrong bra of for that class.”
The National Trust
We joined the National Trust after reading an article in House Sitting Magazine. We joined at Bradley, which is one of the local old manors. It has to be the best investment that we have made since arriving in England! With hundreds of stately homes, parks and sites to visit we have already recouped two thirds of the annual cost whilst being in Devon alone!
Other National Trust sites that we visited in Devon were Coleton Fishacre, Compton Castle, Overbeck’s and Greenway.
Torquay is the birth place of Agatha Christie, the crime writer and creator of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Greenway is the home where Agatha and her family would spend their summers overlooking the River Dart. Here she wrote “Dead Man’s Folly” which was made into a TV Movie in 2013 which was filmed at the house.
Another summer home is Coleton Fishacre built in 1926 for the D’Oyly Carte family. They created the opera company of the same name and built several theatres in London including the Savoy and they owned hotels including the Savoy and Claridges.
There are huge gardens at the house which are maintained to a really high standard by the National Trust.
The gardens lead down to the Devon coast. Visitors sit here overlooking the English Channel munching on their picnics and drinking tea from their flasks.
The town of Dartmouth sits on the coast of Devon and on the River Dart estuary. it’s a very smart town and home to the Britannia Royal Navy college. It was our favourite town of all of those that we visited in Devon.
Cinema in a barn
Dartington Estate has a cinema housed in an old barn. Here we saw the excellent Rocketman movie about Elton John’s life. An old lady who was sat near us nearly choked on her choc ice in shock while watching, it’s certainly not all “Candle In The Wind”, he’s lived quite a full life, perhaps she should have gone to Russia to see the edited version.
Ye Olde Pubs
Devon has an amazing selection of pubs, we felt cheated when we had a drink in one only to find it was only from the 18th century, the usual places that we visited were a good 500 years older than this.
My parents joined us for a week during this pet sit, they rented a small cottage in a town nearby. One of the most memorable parts of the trip was a visit to the Cary Arms, an inn that hovers above Babbacombe Bay. The drive up and down to the pub is quite an adventure, it’s a very windy and very steep drive, especially in an under powered 4WD car!
The pubs in Devon are very generous to our four legged friends, providing sustenance for them and welcoming them inside. The landlords also provide the local humour with their various signs.
Returning to England for most of the summer of 2019 will be the longest that we have spent here since we emigrated to Australia 20 years ago. So far, it feels like we’ve been on a long holiday overseas and finally returned home.
Devon has become our favourite location in the UK, it has so much to offer, we will miss it, but we definitely plan to return. We will also miss our walks and time with Coco and Cara.