Having tried living in Sussex (Brighton, then Beeding) for a short while last year, my dear friend Harriet decided she needed to be somewhere more rural and departed for the rugged and windswept South Devon coast. She bagged a job at the Field Studies Centre in Slapton, and now resides on site, just a stone's throw from Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve (it's the biggest lake on the South coast, you know) and the nearby sparse shingle beach and rocky shore.
Now I love the countryside, but I could never possibly live somewhere so remote (unless of course I had a little pied-à-terre in Town as well). I've always loved Sussex for its pleasing balance between the bucolic and the urban and have grown to take for granted having certain amenities on tap. Knowing this about me, Harriet has always been at pains to stress the abundance of activities on offer in her new adopted home territory in an attempt to coax me away from my cosy townie existence for a visit.
Last weekend I finally succummed and went to see what all the fuss was about. I've been to Devon many times before - on childhood holidays and camping with Ant in the early days before we could afford jaunts to California and the like - but never to this particular area. As we were driving down the A303 on Friday night in the howling wind and rain, we began to wish we'd arranged something sooner and come in the summer months like any sane person would.
Opening the curtains to reveal a stunning panoramic sea view from our cosy B&B the next morning, we watched a lone dog walker struggling against the elements and resigned ourselves to a weekend of indoor activities. The first thing Harriet did when we arrived in Slapton was to take us down to the beach. In the rain. And the wind. Oh and did I mention the rain? Luckily I had my wellies and waterproof with me, but this didn't stop me from getting wet knees when the waves crashed up more energetically than anticipated. After a "walk" that basically involved us staggering about getting soaked for five minutes, we decide to cut our losses and head for civilisation.
The nearest 'happening' place to Slapton is Totnes, which is a lot like Lewes, only slightly less haughty. Inland, the weather was less severe and a few patches of blue sky had even started appearing. I was right at home amongst the endless hippy shops and lush organic delis, but my ultimate shopping nirvana materialised when I followed a glimpse of sequins spied through a dark doorway into a vintage clothing and costumery cavern the like of which I have only ever dreamed of before. I could easily have spent several hours and many hundreds of pounds indulging my fancy dress habit, but there was a carpe to diem and lunch to be had.
You can't go to Devon without having at least one cream tea and so when we found ourselves in Dartmouth later that day, we made it a priority to find one. We also took the opportunity to stock up on local cider and ale, some of which we drank by the pretty riverside right there and then, as day sloped into evening. Back in Slapton, Harry's boyfriend Ben cooked us up a hearty pie, made with hand-gathered chestnuts. When the booze supply started thinning out we walked around the corner to the pub for a scoop or two before closing and found ourselves surrounded by a bizarre mix of rowdy university students and chatty locals.
Thankfully I was not at all hungover the next day, because Harriet had optimistically booked us onto a guided geology walk at 10am. I haven't been on an organised walk since the days of Girl Guides night hikes but clearly they are popular in those parts, because we weren't the only group assembling in the car park in Prawle. Our enthusiastic steward was flagging down anyone in hiking boots, asking them "are you here for the AONB walk?" to which one grumpy lady disdainfully replied "no, I hike alone". She didn't know what she was missing, because not only was it a stunning tour of a truly dramatic bit of coastline, but I actually learned a lot about rocks along the way.
It had been a packed weekend of activities as promised, and I was sad to have to go home again so soon. I'm looking forward to going back in the spring when I'm assured there will be even more natural delights to see, perhaps even a seal or two. If you are passing down that way any time soon, I can highly recommend Frogwell B&B in Strete, who were friendly and accommodating and entirely free from chintz. And if you happen to be sinking a pint at the Tower pub in Slapton, say hello to Harry from me - because she's bound to be in there.
* * * * * * *
Unfortunately my camera was stolen just after we got back, complete with all the film I'd shot over the weekend. So the above photo of Slapton Ley comes courtesy of me'n thedogs' on Flickr / CC BY 2.0