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We decided to go on this trip on Friday, October 30, 1998. We were sitting in front of the fire with a bottle of wine and Christine was lamenting that this would only be the second November since 1983 that we did not walk the moors of England and sit in front of a pub fire. We had just returned from Italy two weeks before so we had not planned on taking another holiday so soon. I asked her how much she would pay to go and she said $1,000 for two tickets. I knew we couldn't get them at that price on such short notice but we called British Airways anyway. We were quoted a price of $1,150 for two tickets and we could leave Monday night. Christine flinched and we took it. We also made arrangements to get a small car through BA and they said the tickets and car voucher would be ready at the airport. It used to be that you had to plan months ahead to get what was called an APEX (Advanced Purchase Excursion) Fare. I believe that you can now get these fares with only a 7-10 advance purchase. We were very happy with our tickets that only cost $575 each and that included all the taxes.
The next day, Saturday, we called a few places in England so we could stay at some of our favorite spots in the West Country. They all had rooms for the days we wanted and everything was set. We asked our neighbor to watch the cat and we were ready. If you're flexible, you can go quite easily. I hope we can still do this when we retire. Things were really going smooth, we even got a complimentary pass to the Executive Club lounge at O'Hare Airport. The other half does live better, it was very comfy waiting for the call to board.
We landed at Heathrow at 10:45 AM and drove directly to Chagford, Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor. We had called and booked a room at the Heylands B&B; unfortunately it has since been sold and is no longer a B&B. Chagford is a nice small town with four pubs and several small hotels and a few B&Bs. It's located on the eastern edge of Dartmoor in a valley by the Teign River. There are many walks around Chagford through the valleys and up into the Moor. In Chagford we took pictures of one of the ironmongers store (Bowden & Son); the Post Office; The Three Crowns Hotel ;the Ring O'Bells Pub; and the Buller's Arms Pub.
We were invited to have tea with the owners, Geoff and Esme, by the fire. Most B&Bs have coffee and tea making facilities in the room but frequently you will be invited to have a cup of tea when you arrive at a B&B in the afternoon. After tea we walked into town. Chagford is small but there are two very good ironmonger stores in town, they are both well worth a visit as they both seem to stock everything. We purchased some wax for Christine's wax jacket and put it on the jacket when we returned the B&B. We stopped at the home of some friends (Alec and Peg) in Chagford to let them know we were in town and arranged to go to the Ring O'Bells pub with them for dinner. We met Alec in 1987 while walking near the Rushford Bridge, near Chagford. He was out walking his dog and we started talking and before long he invited us back to his place for morning coffee. The English are very friendly but usually you have to make the first move. In this case Alec made the first move but this is not typical of the English.
There are plenty of pubs in the Dartmoor area and we have a hard time deciding which one to go to. Many of the country pubs are great places to go for a drink and dinner. We look for pubs that have good, reasonably priced food and ambiance, character and a log fire is a real plus. Many pubs in England seem to have gone what we call "upscale". They focus on serving good food in a quiet atmosphere. We look for these places. When you order an English Bitter (beer) you ask for a pint; if you want a half-pint, just say you want "a half", don't say "half-pint" as the bartender will only hear the word "pint". The drinks are served in glasses (either "straight up" - no handle or with a handle) depending on what type of glass the brewery supplied to the pub. It used to be said that women always ordered a half-pint but she could have as many as she wanted but that seems to have changed and you will see women drinking pints now.
We decided to go to the Drews Arms in Drewsteignton, a small village a few minutes drive from Chagford. The Drews Arms used to be owned by Aunt Mable who was the oldest publican in England for many years. She died a few years ago and the new owners have retained the charm but made the restaurant a little better. We preferred to eat in the pub (same food) and found a nice table by a fire in one of the rooms off the bar area. When we enter a pub, we first look for a place to sit and I go to the bar to order the drinks. Make sure you say hello to the bartender. Normally, you pay for your drinks immediately but we have noticed a trend in some of the "upscale" pubs where they will ask if you are ordering food and offer to "run a tab". This used to be unusual but is becoming more common. I pick up the drinks and a couple of bar menus and return to Christine at our seats. We try and get there early if we know that seating by the fire is limited. Few pubs take reservations so it's first come, first seated. Once you have a seat in a pub, you can sit for as long as you want. There is usually a chalkboard in every pub where the specials of the day are posted. You may have to get up to read it. If you see a special you really want you may want to order it as they are limited and frequently we have waited too long only to watch as they erase our planned choice before we order. At most pubs, you order the food at the bar and pay unless you are running a tab. The concept of paying as you go is foreign to most Americans and causes some problems especially when you want to order some dessert or sweet as they're called in the UK. You just order and pay. Many times the server may ask if you want to order a sweet or coffee when they clear the table. In those cases, they may bring the sweet and/or coffee and expect you to pay later. Tipping in a pub is rare but I have done it when the server has gone out of the way to provide extra service. You may also find, if you have invited a local to dinner, that your guest will offer to pay for the drinks, this is very common. You should so offer if you are invited to be someone's guest for dinner.
At the Drew Arms, Christine had a potato, leek and cheese casserole and I had a fish pie with masked potatoes on top. Most dinners in the UK come with a side of vegetables, but if not, you can order a side of vegetables with your meal at a reasonable cost. Just ask what comes with it when you order. Specify if you want a salad as an appetizer (starter in the UK) or you will get it with your meal. After a good dinner we returned to the Heylands B&B and bed. We always try and stay up as late as possible our first day in Europe, no naps. By the next morning, we were fine, no jet lag. Christine walked up to Nattadon Hill before breakfast, I slept in. We have a lite breakfast when we travel and always make sure we tell our hosts the night before so they don't prepare too much. A normal English breakfast is juice, coffee or tea, cereal, toast, one fried egg (sunnyside up), one sausage, one large piece of fried bacon (not crisp), and maybe a couple of fried tomatoes and/or mushrooms. Some places also have fresh fruit or a fruit salad and some places have a fish called kippers. Christine just wants coffee and toast and I want two fried eggs, toast and coffee, no meat.
The weather was normal, rain with sunny spells, cool except when it was windy and then it was cold. We walked around Windecombe for a few hours and then drove to South Zeal and had lunch at the Oxenham Arms. An old pub and hotel since 1477. Very quaint and good food. Then, back to Chagford and some shopping before joining Geoff and Esme for tea by the fire. We invited Geoff and Esme to join us for dinner as we were going to The Cleave Pub in Lustleigh, which we knew was one of their favorites. Over the years, Geoff and Esme have been the source of many good pubs for lunch and dinner.
Geoff offered to drive. You will find few people in England that want to drive with Americans behind the wheel. I had a great cauliflower and cheese bake and Christine had roast pork. We got there early and got a nice table in the room with the fire. On Thursday we walked up to Cranbrook Castle, not much, but the views were spectacular and the wind felt good. We then drove to Bovey Tracy to shop at some antique shops and stopped for lunch at the Old Cottage Tea Shop. We've found that tea shops are nice places to eat lunch. We were introduced to a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich and this became the lunch of choice for the rest of the trip. Leaving Bovey Tracy, were drove to Ashburton to look for Hemby Castle ruins but never found it. We checked out the Prince Hall Hotel, nice but evening meal is required and that gets expensive after a few days. We drove along the B3212 road that runs east and west through Dartmoor dividing it in half. We stopped at the Two Bridges Hotel. This is a nice place to stop for tea, plenty of fires and plenty of corners and places to sit and relax. We've stayed here before, it's right out on the moor.
Later, we met our friends Alec and Peg for dinner at the Ring O'Bells pub in Chagford. This is another "upscale" pub. The owner, Judith Pool, has made many fine changes over the years. It's a great place to stop for a drink, nice fire, and good food. It's quiet and friendly and you won't find loud music and fruit machines here. We walked back to Alec and Peg's house and just sat around and talked for a few hours. Friday we went into town to the Jubilee Hall to the Jumble Sale (a sort of fles market) and later drove over to Tavistock for the Pannier Market . On the way back we stopped on the moor for a walk and ended up fording the same stream twice. While walking along we were buzzed by a military jet that tipped his wings to us. We stood out on the moor as I had a bright red jacket on. The fighters use the moors to practice low level flying. Christine took my picture up on the Tor and I took hers.
Back at the Heylands we were alone. Most B&Bs will give you a key to the front door in case you return and no one is home. We made tea in our room and carried it down to one of the sitting rooms. We were tired so we just walked into town and had dinner at the Ring O'Bells again. We sat by the fire and struck up a conversation with some people from London who were visiting the man's mother who lived nearby. They had a place near BoveyTracy and invited us to stop in on Saturday but we were heading north to Exmoor in the morning.
Saturday morning Christine walked up to Nattadon Hill again and I slept in. After breakfast we said goodbye and headed north to Exmoor. The drive through the eastern edge of Exmoor is beautiful in November, the leaves are just starting to fall and the road winds through several valleys. November is pheasant hunting season and the places we stopped at had no rooms available. In Dunster we stopped at the Gables Guesthouse and they had one room in the back left, we took it. It was quiet with a good shower, one of those electric showers that never runs out of hot water. The place was charming and the lady who ran the place asked us if we wanted to move to a room in the front for the second night as one was available. We had slept so well that we said no.
Dunster is a nice old town with a great castle on the hill. The church has an old wooden screen that the bishop had erected to separate the townspeople from the monks because they kept fighting in the church, good Christians?
We had stayed in Dunster so we could easily drive to Monksilver and eat at the Notley Arms. This pub has great food, several log fires, two cats and is our favorite pub in England. We arrived early and Alistair greeted us; it's nice to be recognized so far from home. Christine ordered some leek and potato soup, smoked mackerel, and garlic bread. These were three starters (appetizers) but together, they were enough for a meal and that left room for a fruit crumble for dessert.
On Sunday we slept in and then drove to Lynmouth after breakfast stopping in Minehead to get some British Pounds from the ATM. We use ATMs exclusively when we travel and only carry a few traveler's checks for an emergency. We've only had one problem and that was in Greece in September 1999. A hurricane in the States knocked out our bank's ATM network and we were forced to use our VISA card for cash advances. We could have used our cash or our emergency traveler's checks but we had just started a three week trip and didn't know how long the network would be down. Our bank did reimburse us the telephone and VISA cash advance charges($10 per use plus interest.) You just have to be prepared for anything. I recommend carrying some emergency cash and some traveler's checks in American Dollars (if you can get them without any charges), carry one or two credit cards and make sure you know your PIN, and rely on the ATM card for all your foreign cash needs. I used to avoid even considering the use of a credit card advance but if you need to eat. I don't recommend the new debit cards that you can use just like a credit card except a deduction is made directly from your account. These cards also act as a cash card to withdraw cash from your account at an ATM or cash point machine. The banks say you have the same protection with a debit card that you have with a credit card but the difference is that the bank already has your money if you dispute a debit card purchase and they don't if you used a real credit card.
Arriving in Lynmouth, we walked to Watersmeet where the East Lyn and Hoar Oak rivers meet. It's a quiet, peaceful place about 2 miles from Lynmouth. Later, we stopped at the Culbone Inn for lunch. This is one of the few places we know of in the area where you can order a normal lunch on Sunday. Most places seems to have these big Sunday Roasts. In addition, I like the Muiligatauny Soup, hot and spicy. The owner has a good sense of humor it's good to see he was still there. After lunch we drove back west to Lynton and drove to the valley of the Rocks. There is a toll road along the coast (50 pence, honor system) that we like to drive.
We drove east towards Salisbury. We always stay in Salisbury on the way home. It's only 88 miles from London and you can drive it in about 1.5 hours, plenty of time to meet a flight at Heathrow. We got to Salisbury, checked in our B&B and walked the one mile along the River Avon into town to visit the Market. Tuesday and Saturday is Market Day in Salisbury and it's worth a visit. We took some pictures of the Market: the butcher's stall; the flower stall; the fruit vendor; and a view of the market. Then we walked to the Cathedral, and on to the Old Mill in Harnham via the Town Path. It was foggy. At night we walked to the No Smoking Pub on New Street, the New Inn and then walked into the Cathedral Close for a last look at Salisbury Cathedral.
While in Salisbury we took several day trips, one to Corfe Castle on the south coast and one to Old Wardour Castle near Shaftesbury. Corfe Castle ruins overlook the town of Corfe Castle and I imagine the town would be a nice place to visit. Several nice hotels and pubs. There is a steam train that runs here during the summer and the rest of the year you can take a train Wareham and a short bus on to Corfe Castle. Corfe Castle is worth a visit. Many of the towers were blown over by the parliamentarians, Cromwell's troops during the Civil War but there is still a lot of the castle left and the views are spectacular.
Old Wardour castle was a short trip from the A30 road on very narrow roads, probably too small for the tours. This was an excellent castle to bring children as you could walk around and most of the walls were intact so it was easy to see what it must have looked like before the English Civil War. There are plenty of stairs and passages to explore. There was small fee and the man who took our money had probably not seen people for weeks, he was determined to tell us everything about the castle. It seems that the Lord of the Castle went off to fight on the side of King Charles I during the English Civil war and while he was gone Cromwell's troops took the castle. The Lady of the Castle tried to hold them off but could not. When the Lord returned he laid siege and decided to blow a hole in the side of the castle with gunpowder. He was unfamiliar with the power of the gunpowder and blew up one third of the castle. The remaining two thirds is worth a visit. Afterwards, we stopped in Shaftesbury for tea. We drove up to Oxford for the day and took a walking tour from the Tourist Office. It was very interesting but we were not really thrilled with Oxford. The colleges were nice and we were able to see a lot but Oxford is a big city, we prefer small towns. This was the first walking tour we had taken and it was worth it. We'll have to try them more often. We took these two pictures in the college where Lawrence of Arabia attended his undergraduate years, Picture-1 and Picture-2 were taken in the college dining room.
We stocked up on Cheese the morning of our departure, drove to Heathrow very refreshed and flew home.
This travelogue is short because the original was lost, computer crash.