Devon Daze

I should probably point out in advance that if you are expecting more outraged political discourse, this post isn’t it. This post harks back to the time when all I used to write about was travel, life in general and photography. I digress….

This year we wanted to head to somewhere new on holiday. Money has been tighter this year, so we knew that a holiday overseas might get pricy. Equally, as a colleague said to me, we didn’t much fancy heading to a place that voted to leave the EU: it feels like giving money to vandals.

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We settled on heading for south Devon, to a district where the people had voted to remain and the local MP had switched from leave to remain part way through the campaign. There were actually a few places we could have gone, but we decided to go to Totnes, a kind of mini Brighton on the river Dart. My attention to detail failed me in booking the flat because I hadn’t checked if it had a washing machine. This happy accident led me to spending a little bit of time in the local laundrette pictured above but also led to us booking the most amazing flat for our holiday that we would have otherwise discounted. That’s my story at least, and I’m sticking to it…

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Totnes isn’t a huge place, but somehow the tiny medieval roads contribute to making it feel larger than it really is. It’s a place that values local economic diversity, with a local currency to keep money circulating in the local area in local businesses. That vibe is evident throughout, with lots of shops run by local people, good local restaurants and a slightly more relaxed view of life.

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L1009815-Edit.jpg The town itself is of ancient origin, and boasts ruins of a Norman castle in its midst. The town sits over a hill and runs all the way down to the River Dart and over the river to Bridgetown. The town itself is beautiful, in an organic kind of way, and particularly so when you are drinking a cold beer by the side of the river.

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The River Dart draws you in and we were looking forward to a trip down it via boat. Below Totnes, towards Dartmouth, the river estuary is actually a ria, or flooded valley, which means it is wider and deeper than you might expect. One of the attractions of the river dart are the river boats including paddle steamers you can take from Totnes all the way to Dartmouth.

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The local Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company runs a trip called the “Round Robin”, a trip by river boat from Totnes to Dartmouth, a ferry from Dartmouth to Kingswear on the other side of the river, then a steam train from Kingswear all the way up to Paignton, then a bus back to Totnes. Of course we jumped at this opportunity given our son hadn’t stopped bouncing at the prospect of mulitiple forms of vintage transport.

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In the context of the Round Robin, I should point out that The river journey is lovely, Dartmouth is a pretty port/historic town/is fascinating and has lots to see and eat, Kingswear is mostly about the railway station for the casual visitor and Paignton is very much an unreformed “kiss me quick/scream if you want to go faster” seaside resort, with a funfair next to the beach.

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Based on your party there may be more for you in Dartmouth or Paignton, so you may wish to adjust your journey times accordingly. On a sunny day, the train journey has amazing views of the coast and all of the beaches flow past pleasingly in a cloud of smoke. The bus journey back to Totnes was open topped, which was kind of fun although low branches in the trees had me ducking… 😀

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Another place to visit that was far more interesting than I expected was Paignton Zoo. I will confess I’m often not a fan of smaller zoos. This one though impressed with its size, standards and layout. Lots of thought invested in how the animals lives could be improved and how people experienced the animals.

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We went on a whim, having been badgered by our son with a leaflet he found in our holiday flat. The crocodiles, orangutans, and other animals were amazing to watch and we really enjoyed our day there. My 80-400mm lens had a workout mounted on my Nikon D810.

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Funnily enough, the Dartmouth to Paignton railway isn’t the only old branch line in Devon. Departing from Totnes, the South Devon railway runs along the River Dart to Buckfastleigh. The route has fantastic views of the river and at the end there’s a museum, the railway depot, a picnic spot and some other entertainments for the kids.

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At the Totnes end of the line the station is next to the local rare breeds farm, which provides lots of access to see and feed the animals, which young children will enjoy (our son was particularly taken with the owls and guinea pigs).

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No seaside holiday is complete without beach visits. Our first trip, to Blackpool sands was fun but the beach is fine pebbles and there were complaints about the lack of sandcastle making possibilities.

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Our next beach visit was to Broadsands Beach, between Paignton and Brixham. The beach at Broadsands is sandy and there are swimming and water sports facilities along with hundreds of beach huts. Adding to the atmosphere is the Kingswear to Paignton railway which runs behind the beach over a viaduct. We pitched up our beach shelter, lazed about and enjoyed the views and the sea.

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The final days of our trip allowed for a visit to Berry-Pomeroy castle. This had been the seat of the Pomeroy and then the Seymour family, falling into ruin when the family fell out of favour in the intrigues of the Tudor court. The building represents an attempt to rebuild an earlier 15th century castle into a Tudor Mansion. It had been demolished by its owners in the 17th century, but enough remains to indicate quite how grand this building was at its height. It is definitely worth a visit, but can I warn people the access road is a little narrow and there is limited parking at the site.

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Dartmouth Castle sits on the hills above Dartmouth and was built to defend Dartmouth harbour. It’s actually an artillery fort, not the seat of a landed family, which was in use (on and off) from the 14th century through to world war 2. As such, it has seen a variety of different fortifications built and replaced. It’s believed to be one of the first fortifications built to house cannon in England.

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 Inside there are a variety of different artillery pieces and armaments displayed along with mechanisms used to deploy a chain to block the river dart, running across to another fort on the Kingswear side. When we visited there was a display about pirates that kept our son entertained.

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Slapton sands is a long pebble beach backed by a long, thin freshwater lake and nature reserve. It’s uncannily beautiful, particularly in the setting sun. It’s also the site of a disasterous rehearsal for the allied invasion of Europe, Operation Tiger, where confusion and disorganisation combined with enemy action to claim the lives of many US service personnel. A number of memorials are sited nearby, one of which is a Sherman Tank retrieved in a rusted condition from the water years later and sited near the village of Torcross. It brings to mind the sacrifice of all those involved in the D-Day invasions and their preparations.

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Finally, on our way home, we drove across Dartmoor to visit Castle Drogo, a mansion built by the entrepreneur Julius Drewe based on designs from the architect Edwin Lutyens between 1911 and 1930 overlooking the Teign Gorge. I should warn visitors that it’s in the middle of a 5 year restoration project to make it watertight, so it’s very much a building site. All the same it’s a fascinating location to visit. The National Trust has used the building works to arrange some displays of art alongside the usual history and features of the house and I must admit I really enjoyed the visit. The castle is famous for the water damage, which began almost from the time it was constructed, how this has impacted the castle is obvious and sensibly the story of the house has been woven around that rather than ignoring it. I took my A7RII with me for this trip because the high ISO performance it offers indoors is peerless.

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All in all a fun holiday with plenty to do, see and eat! In terms of photography I seemed to make lots of use of my M240 on this trip. I think perhaps because it isn’t as in your face as a D810 and I often prefer the results to my A7RII.

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The final camera which had a lot of use was my X-Pro2, which allows you to carry a full set of primes and zooms without destroying you shoulder! In terms of lenses I fell back in love with my Leica Summilux 50mm ASPH, produced some amazing pictures with my D810 and Nikon 80-400mm lens (which is hugely underrated for the wrong reasons) and produced some great pictures with my X-Pro2 and 16-55mm f2.8 lens.

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