I managed to get back down to Devon last weekend for a visit – the first time since Christmas, as my Easter trip was scuppered by a freelance work job running over time. But it was worth the wait, as I managed to see some old friends, get to a gig (the mighty Jimbob), arrange a gig, see my dad and also enjoy some wonderful countryside in stunning weather.
It all started in Exeter late afternoon on a gloriously sunny Thursday. How they can charge you £80 (months in advance too) to sit in a sweaty, un-airconditioned box for three hours is beyond me, but once off the train things improved dramatically.
Exeter is a nice compact city not too dissimilar (where it’s nice) to Cambridge or Oxford, but with more crappy bits (and way more chavs). I wandered into the centre from St David’s station and popped into The Works (which is still selling some great board games at stupidly low prices), but it didn’t have anything worth getting on the shelves.
After a pint and a final bit of work for the day in The Ship (a nice old pub right in the centre but strangely bereft of idiots), I headed to Pizza Express to line my stomach for the evening’s entertainment (this is the view from the restaurant).
Soon after I met up with Mark and Steve back at The Ship before heading off to The Cavern, one of the UK’s most famous and enduring toilet venues but one I somehow hadn’t managed to visit before. Unfortunately it’s underground and air conditioning is for softies, so despite being half full it was still a sweat box. This meant I had to resort to beer to try and fight off the worst of the conditions (such a trooper).
It’s a nice venue though – plenty of areas where you can chat without pissing people off, a decent stage and a sensible rectangular shape in front of it to mooch around in. The toilets are as grim as you’d expect from an underground venue, but otherwise all was well.
The wonderful Chris T-T was on the merch stand, taking a break from touring his own stuff to lig along with Jimbob and, as he put it, “not have to go near a bloody stage” for a few weeks. Chris has played several of our charity gigs (Ciarafest) and had promised to introduce me to Jimbob so I could pitch the idea to him. But first, the gig.
We blathered through the support act catching up (not near the stage, obviously), but the man himself was well worth the entrance fee. I won’t go on about the gig too much, but it was really good fun (as I’m sure you can tell from my fantastic action shot – it’s worth spending all that money on a BlackBerry Bold 9790 just for the camera…).
Jimbob had been catching up with his sister and was clearly in a good mood, while the crowd was in good spirits too. He read some excerpts from his new book (Driving Jarvis Ham) and played a nice selection of both Carter USM and his more recent songs, keeping the crowd laughing along throughout. Highlights for me were probably ‘Johnny Cash’ and ‘Is Wrestling Fixed?’ I’ll probably end up getting the book too.
After the show Mr T-T did his thing and Jimbob agreed (in theory at least) to do the gig – result! Now to get the bugger organised… All in all a cracking night, which was made all the better by a lift home (cheers Mark).
Friday was a holiday day for me (woohoo!) and with a surprising lack of hangover my father and I headed for the countryside on another beautiful Devon day. Our first stop was the quaint little village of Widecombe in the Moor, a touristy little postage stamp in Dartmoor.
It really is just two pubs, a couple of tourist tat shops and a cafe or two but it’s lovely with it – just the kind of village you’d expect to find deep into the English countryside, except more friendly to us townies. After some nosh we headed out to find a tor to climb (it’s what you do, apparently) and preceded to get blissfully lost on ridiculously narrow country lanes.
For the uneducated, a ‘tor’ is a pile of bedrock on top of a hill (don’t worry – that’s the end of the complicated geological explanations). We did find one in the end, which wasn’t overly spectacular, but we climbed it anyway.
But what was even better than rocks on hills were the animals just wandering about the place, as they do in the New Forest.
This is proper open countryside, so you can expect to have to wait for all manner of cows, sheep and Dartmoor ponies to get out of the road before you get from A to B (via god knows where in between). But as we had no plans, so were in no rush, it was all the more lovely.
After another half hour or so of tiny country lanes we managed to find a B road (the luxury!) and found we were only about half a mile from Postbridge, (home to the postbridge, pictured below). We parked up by the bridge and stretched our legs for a while, taking in a last gasp of the moor before the trip home. There really is nothing quite like the sound of a trickling stream, birds singing in the sky and the promise of a pub lunch on the horizon to warm the heart.
It’s a ridiculously picturesque spot spoilt only by the busy road (well, busy by these standards – a car every few minutes of so). But we were pretty puffed after our heroic tor climbing escapades, so we got back in the car and headed for dinner. That is, after we had gotten around the “bear”, as the young American girl near us called this beast (I can only guess it was a Newfoundland).
It was great though – she didn’t say it in a scared, but instead measured way as she wandered towards it and gave it a stroke. They’re a hardy bunch, those Americans – she was probably used to wrestling them at home.
We ate at The Boathouse at Dawlish Warren, a bog standard pub grub pub that does everything right. It’s really big but never feels it, as it is well laid out; and you pay for your food when you order it, so you don’t have to hang around hoping to catch someone’s eye when you just want to leave. The food is pretty good too, but it’s very standard stuff.
Saturday was far more sedate, as we pottered around the house in the morning as I did all those chores you have to do for an elderly parent. OK, that’s a lie – I have to do all the things that involve plugs, but that’s it. At anything else practical he is completely my better. So while he gardened and drilled and was manly, I plugged in the DVD player, set up his new router and transferred his pictures from his camera to his laptop.
In the afternoon we meandered down the cliff path into Dawlish for a bit of a mooch around, heading to The Smugglers Inn for some food in the evening. It’s step up from The Boathouse in terms of quality, while the views of the sea behind rolling hills are truly fantastic – a picture no Bold 9790 could snap (I didn’t even bother trying – it was embarrassing).
Sitting out there waiting for our table seemed a fitting epitaph to a lovely weekend – especially as it’s either that or describe a seven hour journey home on sweltering trains with a sweaty bum. Let’s leave it at that then.