9 September 2012

Good morning on a lovely autumnal September morning – the sky is clear, the sun is shining, the dew is heavy and the forecast is favourable for a fine day. If only summer in the UK was as nice as this.

Stoke CottageWe are back from our short sojourn in South Devon. You will recall that we were invited to join Nick, Lucy and Annabelle for a few days at a cottage they had rented near Noss Mayo and delightful it was, too. The cottage was lovely, right on the South Devon Coastal Path with a view over Stoke Beach, and very comfortable and well-equipped – yes, it had satellite television and decent broadband.

Not only was the company outstanding (and Annabelle, of course, provided boundless high-quality entertainment) but the weather verged on the outstanding. We had one day which was somewhat overcast but the rest of the week was sunny and warm – the locals complimented us on our decision to visit now that summer had arrived.

Molly on the Coastal PathEven Molly enjoyed herself and settled in well in the new environment. Not surprisingly, the walks along the Coastal Path were her favourite part of the vacation although the beach certainly provided some interesting smells. Trouble was, as she went around sniffing and chewing most everything to investigate its potential edibility, sand got everywhere and taking a drink from the sea was not to be recommended. In addition, there were some open steps leading down to the beach which, while they caused no difficulties going down, created some consternation on the way back up – best to stick to the high ground, in her view.

With some reservations, I was persuaded by Nick and Penelope to take our bikes and I have to say, I’m glad we did. My only hesitation was whether we would find suitable opportunities for bike riding; most of you will know that Devon (a) is very hilly and (b) has extraordinarily narrow roads. I certainly don’t mind the occasional hill when riding but too many and it becomes simply too much like hard work. Similarly, if one meets any traffic on the narrow Devon roads one would likely need to dismount and climb into the hedgerow to allow the traffic to pass – not my idea of a great cycle.

So, Nick and I decided to ride the Coastal Path from the cottage to Noss Mayo (about five and half miles) and then take a chance on the narrow roads back to the cottage, and it was glorious. The path was a bit rough in places and a quagmire in others but the views were pretty decent and the local livestock moderately co-operative. And, although the route back to the cottage from Noss Mayo was along very narrow and very steep roads, we encountered only one vehicle so had to dive into the hedgerow only the one time. A good outing.

On Wednesday, Ms Playchute and I ventured out to Overbecks, a National Trust property in a splendid location overlooking  the Salcombe Estuary. The house itself is a large although not terribly attractive Edwardian building but the gardens and setting are pretty decent. It served as a convalescent home during the first World War and is named for its last owner, Otto Christop Joseph Gerhardt Ludwig Overbeck, who bequeathed it to the National Trust on his death in 1937 on the condition that it be used as “a public park and museum and a Hostel for Youth” and not as a brothel as so many in the surrounding area had become, apparently. Overbeck made a significant fortune as the inventor of the Overbeck Rejuvenator, a device which provided small, harmless levels of electric current which were applied to affected areas on the body by means of intricately-shaped electrodes.

He also attempted to establish an underlying “theory of electric health”, which he advocated in his text A New Electronic Theory of Life (1925). In this book, Overbeck linked all manner of ailments with an imbalance of electricity. Restoring the natural balance of the electric body, Overbeck argued, could overcome all illness apart from those caused by germs or deformity.

On Thursday we all trekked across to the Dartmoor Zoo just north of Plymouth to treat Annabelle to some close encounters with an array of interesting wildlife. This is the zoo on which the film We Bought a Zoo is based. Penny and I saw the film on an airplane this past Spring and, if you are looking for a bit of light entertainment, it’s not too bad. The zoo, however, is pretty miserable and one dreads to think what it was like before it was rescued by Benjamin Mee. Everything seemed sadly run-down and, frankly, dirty and dilapidated. I have to confess, I am not a great fan of zoos in general but I accept that they have an important role to play in some aspects of animal conservation. I also appreciate that it’s expensive running a zoo but, given that they must be attracting thousands and thousands of additional visitors on the back of the film (and admission was certainly not cheap), we were all surprised at how poorly maintained everything seemed. The animals did appear to be in good health and I am sure they are well cared for but it’s always somewhat discouraging to see these magnificent animals confined in such relatively limited space. Still, Annabelle enjoyed seeing them and was delighted to hear a lion’s roar which she took great delight in mimicking for much of the afternoon.

After our safari, Nick and Lucy took Annabelle back to the cottage for a nap while Penelope and I made our way to the Ship Inn in Noss Mayo for a spot of lunch. This has an excellent reputation (it is rated first out of the two places to eat in Noss Mayo) and we were not disappointed. The staff were friendly and very helpful, the service was very good and the food was excellent. The weather was lovely so we sat out on the terrace in the sunshine overlooking the estuary. Seeing scallops on the menu is always a good sign, in my view, and these were served on risotto with a basil and chili sauce – an excellent starter with just a subtle bit of bite from the chili. Penelope, unfortunately, is not a fan of shellfish of any description but she is a huge fan of goat’s cheese. Fortunately, there was a goat’s cheese in filo pastry starter which was similarly delightful, according to her excellent assessment. After considerable debate, I settled on the 8 oz steak burger (with bacon and cheese, of course) along with a mountain of chips (fries to those of you in the States) while Ms Playchute decided on the homemade steak and kidney pie. Often, the “homemade” part of the description means that they have brought the pie out of the freezer and plunked it in the microwave; this, however, was decidedly home-made and excellent, as was the burger. We left feeling abundantly sated having enjoyed a delightful meal in lovely surroundings.

And so our summer holiday came to an all-too-early conclusion – we could happily have stayed at least another week. Still, it was a lovely break and we are very appreciative of Nick and Lucy’s tolerance and willingness to put up with us (well, to put up with me really – Ms Playchute is always a delight to have around).

Finally, a short and somewhat amusing account of how to tell when a Government minister is lying to you from the Guardian. I thought you just watched their lips and, if they were moving, he/she was lying.

Love to you all,

Greg