A Treat in January

Instow Holiday Diary January 2019
Saturday 5th January:
Walked along the Tarka Trail from Instow. This stretch is along a disused railway line, so I liked it because it was easy walking; Husband complained that we were walking along a tarmac path; Kia was just happy to be walking anywhere. The trail crossed bridges, wound near the coast, and went through cuttings of ferns and grasses. It was peaceful and pleasant, and although we had to be aware of the occasional bike that whizzed past, it was very pleasant.

At one point we passed a couple of big old boats, which appeared to be inhabited. I’m not sure what living on a boat would be like – very like camping I imagine. No idea what they do for water or sewage, as the river wouldn’t be any use for either. Instow is on the estuary, where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet the sea (well, they actually meet the sea at Appledore, which is the other side of the river, but you can see the waves on the horizon from Instow.

We turned around when we arrived in Bideford. We checked the ferry to Lundy Island, but it only runs March – October. I didn’t buy a fridge magnet, as they all looked a bit naff.

Walked back to Instow and had coffee at John’s Cafe, which is the best cafe in the whole world (except that it has rather uncomfortable seats, and is a little pricey). Kia lay under the table while we had coffee, and then waited outside while Husband bought some juice. They didn’t have any orange juice (too posh) and the apple juice was all proper, locally produced apple juice, which was rather bewildering for Husband, as he had to choose which variety of apply he wanted. He chose cox’s apple juice, which is pretty horrid unless you like cox apples (which I don’t).

When we got back to the cottage, I checked my clever iPhone app, to see how far we’d walked (it felt like a long way). It was 10.6km, so perhaps not so very far. We had ham sandwiches for lunch (which didn’t fit very well with my sort of vague decision to eat only vegetarian food in January), with apple juice (see above) and ginger biscuits I’d brought from home (left over from Christmas, but still nice).

At 3:30pm, we had afternoon tea at Watersmeet Hotel near Woolacombe. This was a Christmas gift from Husband, and as a great lover of cakes and sandwiches, I was rather looking forward to it. I had been given a voucher, showing a dining room, but we were taken to a lounge area for the tea. (It turns out Husband had made the voucher himself, and downloaded photos from the hotel’s website, but tea is not served in the dining area!) The hotel is on the cliff edge, looking down into a bay, and we sat and watched waves crashing over the rocks.

We spent a few minutes taking selfies, as you do—most with my thumb in one corner, and then the tea arrived. There was loads, enough for four people, so we could’ve shared one. It was all so pretty, with cakes on the top tier, a huge scone in the middle, and sandwiches at the bottom. Everything was delicious, and I wrapped up the scone to eat later, and then ate most of the rest. (Not the Battenberg cake though, as I’m not keen on that.) It was all very lovely.

I hope you have some treats this week.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thank you for reading.


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I have always written a diary on holiday, so last Christmas, I decided to find all my old diaries and blogs, and make a book for my children. However, several other people also asked for a copy, so I have written a public version – it’s available on Amazon and has been described as “The Durrells meet Bill Bryson”!

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Instow, Devon, continued

3rd Day

Went for an early walk along beach. Dog happy. Then I went to church, walking up to the little white hall I found yesterday. I’m not sure how old it was, but it wasn’t modern. Nor was it huge – it was pretty full, and I think there were 18 of us. It’s always a bit scary going to a new church – will anyone speak to you, or will people just stare and make you feel uncomfortable…This church was fine. People looked up and smiled when I arrived, which is always a good sign, and the Vicar came out from wherever he was hiding, just to say hello and ask where I was from. He was a retired policeman, and worked part-time, covering a couple of little churches. The service was nice, very traditional, with an easy, friendly atmosphere. You felt like everyone knew each other well, and it was nice to sit at the back and absorb it all. (Apart from the singing – you wouldn’t want to absorb that – despite the best efforts of the man on the keyboard, it was somewhat rough…)

We had a quick lunch in John’s Cafe (best cafe in the world). Then we drove to Abbotsham, which is sort of attached to Westward Ho. We parked near the cliff, on the edge of a caravan park, and set off for a walk.

The first thing you see is a house. A superb house. It’s huge, facing right out to sea, and is very beautiful. Unfortunately it appears to be falling down the cliff and is now derelict. I walked all round it, looking for a place to break in, but the security was pretty tight. Shame. I would like to die in a house like that. When the medics announce that my end is near, I hope my relatives will break in and rescue me from the beige, airless, machine-filled world of the hospital, and dump me in a derelict house on a cliff edge. Preferably with a stash of morphine, so nothing hurts. Then I can die looking at the sky and listening to sea-gulls and waves. But Husband said this was a morbid thing to say when looking at an old house, and hurried me away along the cliff.

The cliff walk is pretty perfect. There is grass, and gorse, and waves crashing against rocks. Next to us were fields with lambs in. At one point, there was a great mound of pebbles, right up to the cliff path, and we could scramble down onto the rocks and peer into rock pools. Husband was happy, explaining how fresh water channels had formed deep grooves in the rock. The dog was happy, charging up and down the path. I was happy, listening to the sea (and Husband, of course).

A long walk in Devon makes you hungry for a cream tea, so we decided to go to Clovelly, which we visited years ago when the children were small. The car-park is at the top of the village, and you have to pay to enter the village, because it’s all owned by the big estate. But as we were out of season, it was all free, and empty. I have never seen Clovelly empty before, usually it’s teeming with tourists. The village clings to the cliff, and has a cobbled street that meanders down to the harbour. The cobble stones make for pretty tough walking, so don’t wear heels. Or bring a pushchair (I can tell you, from previous experience, a pushchair is a very bad idea).

We walked down to the harbour, and The Red Lion pub was open. There was a fire burning in the snug, and they had cream teas. The tea was a bit ‘packaged’, but actually the scones were soft, and it is not the worst tea I’ve had. Sitting in the window seat, looking out to sea, it was timeless.

Then came the long slog back up the slippery cobble stones to the car park.

When I got back to the cottage, I checked my clever phone app to see how far we’d walked that day. I was sure it was further than the previous day (which was 16 km). I was surprised to see it was only 12km. Then I noticed I had climbed 52 staircases. Clearly the app can’t differentiate, and up and down is a staircase, even when it’s along a cliff edge.

Tomorrow we’re going home, but plan to drive back via Hankerton, where my granny lived as a girl.

Thank you for reading.
Take care.
Anne x


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Instow 2018 – Earthquakes and Sand

Drove to Instow House. Same as when we left it, including the copy of Hidden Faces which I’d left on the bookshelf.
Ate dinner at Instow Arms, which clever Husband had booked before we left home. We ate early (7pm) but it was packed. I had creamy garlic mushrooms, which arrived in a bowl, like soup, and was delicious, followed by fish pie. Also delicious, but after a while I felt overly full of cream. Not a good choice by me.
Walked on beach with Kia, who went completely bananas. She reverts to puppy on beaches, stopping regularly to dig holes.
Watched tv, went to bed.

Day Two

Woke up to sound of seagulls and waves. Went to make tea and let dog into garden. Quite a lot of beach now seemed to be in kitchen.
Drove to Saunton Sands. Husband suggested another walk to beach across dunes, but as I had left my bullet-proof vest and crash helmet at home (see blog from Jan 17 https://anneethompson.com/2017/01/30/a-walk-on-the-wild-side/ ) I declined. Drove safely to carpark, not shot at once, and no sign of tanks or machine guns. Which is what most people might expect. (See Jan 17 blog. I still have not completely recovered…) Brilliant walk on miles of sand, beautiful sunshine, sky reflected on wet beach. Perfect.
Saw a Mermaid’s Purse, and commented to Husband that Son hadn’t believed it held shark’s eggs on a recent beach trip. Found myself having the exact same argument/discussion with Husband, who insisted it was clearly made from plant matter, and was therefore a type of seaweed. Told him to Google it. He did. Turns out I was right (obviously, or I wouldn’t be telling you this!) Heard those rare words : “Gosh, you were right. I was wrong.” Pretended I couldn’t hear, so he had to say it twice (might never have it said again, tis a rare event indeed…)
Walked for about 90 minutes. Returned to car, and found a Yorkie bar I stashed there months ago. Double perfect.
Drove along coast to Croyde. Husband told me that it’s where Kevin Hallam used to go for his family holidays. I don’t know who Kevin Hallam is, so was not terribly interested. Was then told about Kevin’s family, Warhammer, English degree at Oxford, and that he drove into Husband’s Beetle when they were 17. But the countryside was pretty, so I let him talk (for quite a long time actually. If you know Kevin, do say Hi from me).

Lunch at cottage, followed by an earthquake. Nope, this is not an innuendo, we really did have an earthquake. Apparently the epicentre was in Swansea and it measured 4.9. The cottage was unhappy at being shaken, and new cracks appeared. No reaction from dog at all (too exhausted from exciting beach walks).



Drove to Appledore, which is the village we can see across the estuary. It was full of coloured cottages, information signs and windowsills full of tat. Honestly, if you like stuffed parrots, and pots, and suits of armour, and knitted toys, then you will love the windowsills of Appledore. Some wit had decided to make their own signs, so we passed a chip shop (deliveries to Paris, New York and Appledore) the house where Barbie and Ken lived, and the Beaver Pub (where nothing happened in 1782). There was also a dry dock, which Husband found very interesting (it’s a male thing, not worth looking at unless you are male).

I was keen to find a church for Sunday. There were a lot of churches and chapels. I am quite a connoisseur of churches, so perused the notice boards. Rejected the Bethel chapel (not sure they would welcome someone wearing jeans). Rejected the C of E, despite very cool tower, as the service was communion (a minefield for mistakes in a foreign church). Rejected another chapel as being too far up a hill. Decided the Baptist church looked safe, despite the plaques advertising groups which must’ve been in place about 100 years ago. But there was a photo of a band (so jeans would be okay) and they ran an Alpha course – so probably like new people.
However, when driving back to cottage, we passed a tiny church, just round the corner. It had an 11am service (not communion) and they run a mid-week lunch club. Decided I would give it a try. Will let you know…



Thank you for reading.
Take care,

Anne x


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Instow: The Beach for Dog Lovers…


We came for a mini break to Instow, near Bideford in Devon. It is, by far, the most dog friendly place I have ever visited. In fact, if you don’t like dogs, you will find this a difficult village to visit. We loved it.

We hired a cottage (through English Country Cottages) right next to the beach. We looked out, across the estuary, watching as the tide filled the bay and floated the boats, then went out again, leaving them stranded. When the tide was out, the expanse of hard sand was immense. Every dog owner in the world seemed to arrive – I never saw less than 20 dogs on the beach at any time. There were the early morning walkers (who tended to have annoying yappy little dogs) and the midday walkers with children. There were even ‘after dark’ walkers (they tended to have the big dogs).

Husband had brought his gym kit and persuaded me to bring mine. So we could go for runs along the beach. He has recently watched ‘Chariots of Fire’. I fear his image of young men training for the Olympics by running through sea spray was not going to match the reality of a couple over 50 staggering along, trying to avoid tripping on the dog lead. We never went.

Across the bay was Appledore, a pretty Devon village with cottages scattered up a hill. It looked like Toytown from our cottage. Bizarrely, although we could walk to fairly near it when the tide was out, the river was always too big to cross, so without a boat it was unreachable (unless you drove for miles to a bridge, I suppose).

Even the pubs and restaurants were dog-friendly. They also all displayed 5* hygiene ratings (when you feed the public, you start to take note of these things and avoid places with a low star rating.) We ate in a variety of pubs, all within Instow, all very friendly and with excellent menus. If you go in the summer, you probably need to book. We could even take the dog into the cafe on the front, as long as she sat quietly under the table.

Instow has quite a big military presence (as I discovered, if you read yesterday’s blog!) This is due to the US and British military using the Devon coastline to practice for the D-Day landings.