This was our third stay in Totnes, but our first in an Autumn. My concerns were that it'd be wet and dark and cold, and that the novelty would have worn off as we'd been to the same cottage twice before.
Well, it was wet. It was fine and clear for the first weekend, but after that it rained quite a bit. I wouldn't say we were cold, though - in fact, the cottage has a wood-burning stove as well as central heating and it was never a problem.
On arrival, I felt really happy: the cottage is quiet but you get these moments where the geese fly overhead, honking, and you can see the sun rise from the kitchen window, and it was just the season for the historic protected walnut tree next door to be dropping its fruit into our garden. So being there* didn't feel boring or repetitive, but I must say that some of our activities were a bit samey to our last visits, for good or ill.
There were novelties: Jane Foster's blog (she now lives in Totnes, having moved down from Brighton) had alerted me to the fact that there's a new park in the town centre, which, when we finally found it (having been puzzled by a very small playground, also new, on the way, which simply wouldn't have deserved Jane's description of "a wonderful park" and "a real secret haven") was just beautiful**. I say "we" found it - on the Tuesday we met up with The Boy's mucker Phil Reeve and his family, and they showed us the way.
Meeting up with the Reeves was another very welcome change: they have a son who is a few years older than Item, but who seemed quite happy to run about with her, and didn't look *too* disgusted when he wrote his name in the gravel and Item wrote "Item loves" in front of it :)
Phil was very good value, too, turning up in what is apparently his habitual wear, of a suit he's had made to his own rather adventurous specifications, and popping out to buy a selection of "buns" for us all to munch on.
Another new thing we did was to visit the shops at Dartington, where there's a drop-in clay session for kids, as well as several small shop units artfully designed to winkle money out of relaxed visitors. And a Cranks veggie restaurant.
Item loved the clay session. It is run by a woman called Jane, who was brilliant at talking to kids, explaining, and letting them get on with things. She let Item have a go on the potter's wheel (and said she was a natural and very good at taking instruction - you could see Item glow)-
- and she also took imprints of our shoes' soles, as she's building up a collection that she uses for stamps and mark-making on the clay.
We saw a demonstration of glass-making too, which impressed Item. It was run by two casual-looking teenage women, incongruously.
Everything else we did was rather predictable:
- We went to the Rare Breeds farm, twice in the space of two days, partly because it's lovely, and Item really enjoys feeding goats and stroking owls and petting guinea pigs, and partly because on the first visit we found out it was 'apple day' the next day, with demos of apple juice making, etc.
- My parents came over with my brother on the Sunday, and we had lunch at the same restaurant we always do; then we went over to Exeter on the Monday and, er, had lunch at the same cafe we always do.
It absolutely tipped down with rain: my boots and Item's leaked (we bought her some new ones at Clark's) and it was a strange but pleasant solution to exchange cold wet for warm water by going swimming in the big pool. On the way back to the station, we discovered a free bookshop. Anyone is welcome to take three books, and a donation is encouraged. I got this.
The train back from Exeter was delayed by an hour due to an obstruction on the track and when we did get on, we had to go very slowly because, rather thrillingly, it's the portion of line that goes right by the sea at Dawlish, and the waves were hitting the windows.
- I went wild in the shops of Totnes, mainly Seasalt, where I bought this mac (reduced from that price) and an update on the fleece we bought Item last year.
It was really sad to see how many shops have closed down since we were last there, though, one with a sad sign about how they can't pay the mortgage any more. If only we'd been there at Easter, I bet Item would have kept them afloat: it was her favourite craft shop, and of course this year I have my sewing machine so I would have been an eager shopper too...
- We crammed in far too much in one day in Torquay. We went to Living Coasts, where we've been before, but which is excellent because you get to see penguins sauntering across the path in front of you. My high point this time was the seals which you could see through a glass all as they dived down. There were ribbons provided for you to wave around, and the seals followed them with their noses.
Then we took the bus to Kent's Cavern, a cave formation where I had been as a kid. It's where I learned how to remember the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite, and they are still explaining that with the same spiel [stalactites cling *tight* to the ceiling, while stalagmites *might* reach the ceiling one day] so I reckon it hasn't changed much.
Our guide was a young man named Elliot and at the end, he said if anyone had any questions he'd answer them. Item said to us afterwards, "I know a question I could ask Elliot... what's his phone number!" I think she took a bit of a shine to him.
She was really scared at the beginning, mainly because there was a big safety talk and a warning about the lights going off and how you mustn't wander off, but she soon cheered up and especially enjoyed volunteering to blow the candle out so we could all experience pitch blackness.
Guess who else was scared? Me.
After Kent's Cavern, we really should have gone home, but Babbacombe model village is just up the road and it seemed a shame not to visit. Yes, we've all been before, but in the interim Item had read the Borrowers...
We zoomed round, and got the bus back to Torquay station, only to discover that Item had lost the penguin finger puppet she'd spent her holiday money on at Living Coasts. The the train was again delayed for an hour, this time because of vandalism, apparently. We had all the ingredients for a meltdown, and not just from Item. That was a bit of a low point.
- Blue the next door neighbour's Persian cat was still there, which was happy news for Item. He didn't make an appearance for the first 24 hours, and then we couldn't get rid of him (I have to say he was much more 'beggy' than I remember him, and we aren't meant to feed him).
In fact, we were lucky to be there at all I think, as it turned out the cottage's owners sold it this year - furniture and all - but fortunately, the new owners are also running it as a holiday cottage. I was a bit gobsmacked to learn it had gone for over 320K - I thought Totnes was cheaper than here, but then again, it is a historic cottage, as it's been built into the ramparts of the old castle.
I managed to read the whole first volume (books 1 and 2) of Haruki Murakami's new book, 1Q84 - 623 pages of it. I'm really enjoying it, though I'm glad I read it before thinking it'd be a suitable gift for my mum, as it's quite spicy. On my arrival back home there was a missed parcel delivery card, and that was book 3 - perfect timing. I'm not far from finishing that now and I'm going to really miss this world.
So, that was pretty much our week. And as for it being boring to go back to the same place... well, I came home and booked the same cottage for March, so it can't be all that bad.
We didn't manage to get down to Dartmouth, yet again - it is a very difficult place to get to if you don't have a car, and don't want to spend a whole day travelling on special tourist steam trains. boats and vintage buses, it seems - so that is one thing we can look forward to.
* On the other hand, feeling mindful of being there was, for some reason, quite tricky. I kept feeling like I wasn't, quite, there. In the moment. Whatevs.
** Talking of Jane Foster, on the very first day we got there, we wandered into Oxfam only to find two of these beauties. I had to buy them - they felt like the quintessential Totnes charity shop find. Well, for people who have written for baby blogs for five years they are, anyway.