I arrived in Devon at midday on Saturday, after a long (but very scenic) train journey from Paddington. I'd come for our annual trip, when various members of my family meet up on the West Country coast. (See previous blog entries here and here!) We always stay in the same little town, Ilfracombe, and have been staying in the same ice cream pink house on the town's harbour for a few years now. It's always a blissful time, because I get to spend a few days not thinking about very much, apart from what to have for lunch perhaps, or which hill to climb next. It's a lovely, precious time, spent in the same way every year - catching up with siblings, cousins and aunts, reading, walking and basking in the joys of the English seaside in summer.
The view of the harbour from my bedroom window. Waking up to the sound of seagulls screeching and boats bobbing around in the shallow water is just wonderful. My favourite way to wake up.
Saturday lunchtime involved crab sandwiches and ginger beer. For dinner we headed over to the place Damien Hirst owns on the harbour. The artist lives nearby, so has a few connections with the town - shops and restaurants and so on. The Quay is very lovely and elegant - all white walls and crisp tablecloths - with a huge, arched window overlooking the glistening sea, which makes you feel as if you're dining on a galleon, I always think. We all woke up, not to the sound of seagulls on Sunday morning, but heavy rain. It carried on pouring for the rest of the day unfortunately, so I spent some time indoors, drawing and thinking. I made supper for everyone later on and afterwards we sat outside the front of the house, wrapped in blankets and telling stories by candlelight.
On Monday the weather seemed to be improving, so we took off to Lynmouth, a coastal village we like to visit every year. To reach Lynmouth's charming neighbour Lynton (which lies at the top of a gorge some 500 feet above), you take the Victorian water powered cliff railway up the hillside. We walked through Lynton and over to the Valley of the Rocks - a magical place of rock, stone and sea. The poet Robert Southey was a visitor in August 1799 and described the place as 'covered with huge stones... the very bones and skeletons of the earth; rock reeling upon rock, stone piled upon stone, a huge terrific mass'.
We stumbled upon a very funny hotel en route back to Lynton. Following ivy-covered signs for a 'country house' and 'fern garden', we descended down a long path and came across the Villa Spaldi, which hugs the cliffside high above the sea. We were the only ones around, which was pretty eerie, but there was something thoroughly intriguing about the place. I peeked through the hotel's dusty windows and saw fires lit, obelisks and urns littering mantelpieces, threadbare carpets and hundreds of old books lining the walls. All very Edwardian I suppose. The smell of woodsmoke hung heavy in the air. It felt very much as if we'd travelled back in time and were visiting an old professor for tea. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe sprang to mind. We scoffed scones with cream and jam on the hotel's terrace and disappeared before the rain set in again.
I bought this old Union Jack in a junk shop in Lynton for twelve English pounds, which I took to hanging from the kitchen window. I love an old flag. When I get a London studio, I'll hang this one above my desk, I reckon.
Tuesday was spent in and around Ilfracombe - visiting the lighthouse (also a tiny chapel), messing around on the harbour beach, eating fish and chips and ice cream. And then, before I knew it, I found myself back on a train with a packed lunch and a heavy heart, sad to be leaving so soon. Alas. Until next year, Devon!