Friday, December 6, 2013

Day 32: Devon

I awoke to an empty room and the trilling of my phone alarm. I gathered together my meagre things, ate a simple breakfast and waited downstairs, chatting to the landlady. Then I waited outside in the chilly morning air - Jon was ten minutes late. But when he turned up, he came bearing gifts. He and his parents gave me my first birthday presents and cards of the year - handmade bookmarks and books on Devon.

We first headed to Babbacombe Downs where Jon gleefully parked across four spots before we traversed down a valley to the seaside. The water was a stunning light turquoise which Jon was unused to. A couple followed us down to sip at their coffees while admiring the same view. 

Down, down, Babbacombe Downs!

Jon drove us to Kents Cavern via Gleneagles (where Monty Python stayed to film Flying Circus and where a hotel owner inspired John Cleese to create Fawlty Towers). After paying and displaying, we discovered that there were no cave tours for an hour. We decided to try the tea place recommended by Jon’s mother - Angels. I was finally able to have real tea for the first time in weeks (I chose lapsang souchong). 


I scoffed my scones (they had genuine Devon clotted cream) while Jon sipped idly at his Pepsi and laughed at my inability to spread the cream - it became more like artistic drizzling, I’ll admit. I hurried him on because by then (10:20) we only had ten minutes to make it to the cave tour - we made it!

There was a corny light show at the entrance of Kents Cavern, complete with a recorded narrator that sounded like it was from the 1990s. The guide returned for us when the light show finished and led us past a hyena den, informing us that the caves were formed at the bottom of an ocean a staggering amount of time ago. The guide showed us stalagmites and stalactites that take hundreds of millions of years to grow into connected columns that resemble phalluses.

We viewed a “face” (a naturally formed feature) that may have been worshipped by Romans as coins and tokens from that era were found placed before it. A growing lump on one rock was explained as a favourite of Beatrix Potter’s - a wishing stone which I palmed twice, wishing to contribute to Australian literary culture.

The face of a titan?

We entered an ancient bear’s den where the guide plunged us into true darkness - how did our ancestors ever live here 500 000 years ago? 

The guide lit dry moss in sea shells (I had noticed an odd burning smell before he revealed these implements) which was apparently a good way to ward off hyenas while providing a source of lighting and cooking without creating an overwhelming amount of smoke.

Later, I ascended past the exhibits in the cave and, after I bought more than was wise from the gift shop, Jon conveyed me to Daddyhole which had a marvellous view of Paignton (and its pier). 

I then discovered an unattended table full of £1 books which was almost too tempting to pull myself away from. Luckily the spectacular views were the greater temptation.

We then stopped briefly at Torquay Pier to snap pics of yachts (it’s a sad rundown cement pier where Jon had sailed during his tenure in Scouts) then made our way to Cockington. Jon parked in an area that said “Restricted Zone - no parking Good Friday to September” but he insisted that everyone parked there.

We walked beneath an arch onto a lovely pathway that led us past vibrant flowers, historic buildings (eg. the restored gamekeeper’s cottage - burned down in 1990), a still and serene pond, an odd topless tree, a large house and then a pleasant little village. 

Here we hired a horse and carriage (white with brown spots - the horse, that is!). The woman took us up the road and grumbled about people parking where they shouldn’t - that would be us! There was a silver car parked behind Jon with a youth inside texting on his phone.

The woman paused by his car and her horse spitefully dropped a load of shit beside the car door. We clattered off, laughing at the priceless expression on the youth’s face but mindful not to reveal our own guilt to our 'driver'. Under the arch we went, past the same topless tree before being carted past giddy packs of children who cried, “Horsie!! Hello horsie!” 

They waved - not at us, of course! The horse caused a lot of excitement.

We were deposited at the large house then made our way back to the illegally parked car. No ticket, no fines and no horrified youths in silver cars awaited us.

Tourist traps but oh so fun.

We bypassed a Sainsbury’s before pulling up at Newton Abbot train station. Jon and I chatted for a while before his parking limit expired. I trundled across to platform 3, hoping Jon gave my hastily written note of thanks to his parents (whom I never met!).

I took up two seats on the train, reading one of my birthday presents, before I switched to the iPod. I made it to London Paddington just in time for a 30p toilet stop. I’m not a fan of train toilets.

I arrived at the hotel to find my brother in bed after his day trip to the Isle of Wight. We ate at a quaint “French” place in Southwark. “Home” to relax and sleep!

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