The only thing to do when you turn 25 is mask the fact that you are half way to 50 with copious amounts of chocolate cake, cider and champagne. This is a well-known fact of course so with the thought in mind that facts are good I proceeded to do just that for 5 whole days. It was marvellous and now not only am I feeling old but I am certainly feeling a few thousand grams worse off. I imagine you are picturing me waking up and replacing the healthy goodness of a bowl of all bran with a large enough slice of cake, this was not the case. It remained a civilised affair and we drank at reasonable hours (surprising really as normally I find the excuse “It’s 5 O’clock somewhere in the world” somewhat legitimate when all I fancy is a cold one at 10am on a weekday!)
It was a case of early bed times and days filled with countryside shenanigans, sophisticated yet not over the top. What I am failing to tell you is that the early bed times were usually because we had finished off the bottle of port and only had the wine stored in the back of the cupboard to drink which didn’t smell nor taste too good. And yes, although our day time activities were kept to a mature nature (paint a pot and river swimming) we always ensured that we would either finish near a pub or at home after we swung via the shop to replenish the booze cupboard. I may be getting older (25, eish) but I did not let that stop me from enjoying some of the good life.
The sunshine didn’t help in the death by indulgence either. There is nothing greater than sipping on a Strongbow whilst soaking up the sun rays and catching up on all gossip. Thankfully I was not drinking alone, the good thing about the company that I was in is that binge drinking is encouraged and alcohol was always on the shopping list. Plus it had been a few years since we had last gathered so the catching up was entertaining and we even planned a women only adventure down Africa. Not a bad way to spend a few days down in The Shire (Devon specifically), in fact so good that I have booked a bus ticket back down and this time will be staying for 2 weeks. Unfortunately afore-mentioned company wont be there but I have no doubt that I can indulge and enjoy for two weeks whilst looking after the house, dog, cat and garden! 25 after all you know, I figure I am somewhat responsible?!
All joking aside, Devon is a really great part of England. My time down in The Shire goes way way back to school days, (I went to boarding school in Somerset and used to escape to this exact same place when the going got rough) but as I age the quintessence of Devon becomes more apparent. It’s a sophisticated county with much to do, I only ever thought of it as country bumpkin territory where old folks used to walk around saying “alraight me luver” instead of the more usual “Good Morning” or “Hello”. It still holds a little of this, I couldn’t help but laugh when a sweet old man cracked one out whilst I was mooching in a charity shop but it does have a lot to offer in terms of age appropriate activities.
For a start the Moor is always a good place to explore the county and see the panoramic vistas of the typical English countryside. River Dart offers a few spectacular woodland walkways as well as “countryside beaches”. Not the normal sea-sand combo we are used to but pebbly and grassy areas where you are more than welcome to set up camp and enjoy the summer. Anyone crazy enough to brave the cold waters can go for a dip whilst the others watch from the side and laugh at the hysterical effings and blindings about the freeeezzzzzzing cold temperatures. If you are not quite frozen from the core an ice cream truck is always strategically parked in close proximity. When we headed down we took nothing but towels and cameras but the impressive pop up tent and wind breaker villages that we saw was definitely the essence of British Countryside and country bumpkins at their best.
Too cold for ice cream and need warming up with a larger? Not a problem, quaint country pubs are never too far away and the winding lanes always make for beautiful driving scenery. We ended up at a really sweet pub (possibly even my favourite) called The Rugglestone Inn. Picture a classic English cottage and cover it with creepers and plonk a few farm-yard animals in the garden and you have the Rugglestone. It is beyond adorable and the food is delicious. Cider was pretty good too; a local home-made brew if you like, not for the faint hearted as it is genuine Shire Cider. There are so many other pubs in this area, I could literally write a book about them (obviously having to revisit many – in the name of research) but I can guarantee they all have their own character and they are each filled with the best of their locals. For anyone coming in to the UK who has never been, put “Visit a genuine English pub” on your bucket list. It is well worth it for more than one reason.
If a pub is not quite up your street (I suggest rethinking this) there are always restaurants around too. Again I am sure there are endless books on these and so much I could tell you but one in particular which is new for me and I think for Devon too is The Riverford Field Kitchen. This is more than just a restaurant, I see it as more of an experience. Without sounding like a food critic or even an expert in cooking this is definitely by far one of the best restaurants I have visited. The idea is simple: fresh organic produce straight from the farm to your plate. How could you go wrong? The truth is you can’t. Get a great chef and cook everything in butter and you are on to a winner. The best thing of all though is keep it simple, Riverford does just that. Their menu changes daily depending on the crops available and you don’t get a choice. Not the best restaurant for someone who likes to choose or even someone a little bit fussy but I am going to suggest going out on a limb and booking a table, you will not regret it, I promise. The restaurant itself is adorable too, an old converted barn where everyone sits on big tables a little bit similar to a school dining room. Dinner is served in the middle of the table and everyone helps themselves. Three courses of mouth-watering, tasty, organic produce that you know has been loved and nurtured from seed to harvest. And the desserts! Hmm…To die for. Again with the help yourself concept you have to go up to the kitchen where the chef will do his best to sell you the desert of the day from a choice of 7 or so. As I am fussy I took a while to decide but settled on a chocolate mousse that out-did any I have had before. The chef was charming too which made the decision even harder (he was suggesting a custard tart to a non custard fan) but I left with a large bowl of chocolate heaven topped up with and an unhealthy serving of cream as well as a candle and a whole restaurant singing happy birthday to me. It was cringe worthy but I was loving every moment. At the end of the evening I made a conscious effort to thank the chef, not only because the food was good but through my wine goggles he was cute too. In his defence he was cute and charming even before the wine and he can cook!!
If you don’t fancy just eating and drinking yourself in to a stupor there are many things to do that don’t involve eating or drinking in and around Devon. Totnes offers a great non food market and a chocolate box (excuse the food related description) town to walk around. Be warned though, you can come away with a whole bunch of nik-naks that you don’t need and enough fudge to induce diabetes. Ok so you don’t have to get the fudge I admit but I was not on the food avoiding tour so I couldn’t resist. China Blue is also a great place to take the kids (although we did see tables of just adults, ours being one of them) where you can paint cups, bowls, jugs and pots until your heart’s content! (I just read on their business card that their slogan is: Shopping heaven since 1997. Really, how could you resist with that?!?!) Being a little creative I loved this and I look forward to taking all my nieces and nephews there too as an excuse to add to my collection. Pot painting paired with a pub lunch and an afternoon stroll on Dartmoor is definitely the ingredients required for a day well spent.
To end with something a little civilised though, may I suggest a visit to the Sharpham Wine and Cheese farm (not sure what the correct terminology is for a vineyard that also produces cheese). A short walk round the vineyard is finished off with a tasting session and if you fancied planting yourself there for an afternoon they have a well stocked bar and a view anyone would enjoy. The ice cream is great too and the garlic and herb cheese goes down nicely with copious amounts of wine. It really is a stunning place and in the summer just beautiful. I will indeed go back but perhaps stay a little longer to really see if the Rhubarb and Custard red wine still tastes as good at the bottom of the bottle. Please note it isn’t officially called Rhubarb and Custard, I can’t remember its actual name or the spiel about why it is unofficially called Rhubarb and Custard, it is good though and the perfect way to end a summer day.
The long and short of if is that Devon has the best of the British countryside on offer and anyone who doesn’t risk heart failure by really getting stuck in to country life is simply bonkers and needs to take some time out to re-evaluate life. I am also going to make a suggestion that this re-evaluation occurs in the warmth of a typical countryside pub with a generous helping of pie and cream all washed down with a pint (no less) of perfectly crisp and lovingly brewed countryside cider. Indulge a little… for you have no idea what you are missing out on.