Monday, 29 May 2017

A morning at the South Devon Railway - Buckfastleigh

We already rode on the steam railway from Paignton to Kingswear earlier this year and yesterday we visited another one, the South Devon Railway which runs from Buckfastleigh to Totnes. The Buckfastleigh end is less than a half hour walk from our current campsite and we had thought about getting the train to Totnes. The £15 return trip ticket price (£14 for Dave) put us off though so we just visited the restored station instead. Including exploring the museum, gardens and Riverwalk took us a good couple of hours so we wer glad we hadn't rushed straight onto the train and away!

South Devon Railway was hosting a special 1960s themed weekend, part of which was their Buckstock Festival. We didn't have tickets for that, of course, but could hear a live band pumping out hits of the era and got to admire a couple of vintage buses and a trio of mod scooters parked out the front. Two displayed Torbay Mods Scooter Club stickers and the three looked fab as they zoomed past us later in the day.


If you visit Buckfastleigh station, make sure to take a walk around the little museum which has a wealth of artefacts relating to the line's history. We were lucky to get into conversation with the man operating an incredibly detailed model of Ashburton station as it was in the early 1930s. We learned about how busy the route had been with goods trains as well as passenger trains, and the thriving industries that no longer exist. Other exhibits include signage, paintings, photographs and small engines. There were free range eggs for sale there too! We didn't buy eggs, but did take advantage of the homemade cake and pie stall nearby!

One of the Moor Otters 
Crossing over the footbridge gives a great overview of the station, almost making it feel like a model itself! Just on the other side at the moment is a distinctive gold-coloured sculpture of an otter which is being displayed as part of The Moor Otters fundraising campaign. Auratus by Paul Bursnall is one of 100 decorated otters that are being displayed around Dartmoor gateway towns and in other surprise locations. Anyone spotting at least twenty of them can enter a competition to win prizes including cream teas, meals and hotel stays. Further details are on the Moor Otters website. Afterwards the otters will be auctioned to raise funds for vital Dartmoor conservation work.

We found bigger model trains on the garden railway loop, one puffing steam gave us a whistle as it passed by. I spotted another sculpture of a large dragonfly as we made our way back and headed towards the Riverwalk which is a lovely tranquil space on the edge of South Devon Railway's land. We thought we would be able to return to the road and walk home from here, but unfortunately the Riverwalk peters out into private access gardens so we had to retrace our steps - we did get double the tranquillity though.



Sunday, 28 May 2017

Walking Dartmoor from Shipley Bridge

As my Literary Flits bookreview of Walk! Dartmoor published itself yesterday, Dave and I were just setting out on the last of its suggested routes, Number 40: Avon Dam and Red Lake Quarry. We began by parking at Shipley Bridge where there is a small car park (£1 donation towards upkeep) just south of the Avon Reservoir. We got lucky with a space as it was already pretty full and indeed by the time we returned cars were parked out on the road and verges as well.

The route is very easy to begin with. It is a narrow tarmac road which goes up to the striking sight of Avon Dam. We passed lots of people on this first section including families with young children because, while the scenery of green trees and babbling brook is beautiful, it is also perfectly surfaced for pushchairs! I was disappointed to also see evidence of irresponsible dog owners. Two had bagged their dog's poo and then left the bags lying around for 'someone else' to clear away and, despite several signs requsting dogs be kept on leads during lambing and nesting season, two-thirds of the dogs I saw were running loose.

A track forks uphill before the dam and immediately becomes less well-used as it is not surfaced. It leads alongside the reservoir and allowed us the first of numerous gorgeous views across the valley. The dam itself is rather a shock! In the midst of natural greenery there is suddenly an enormous wall. Built in the 1950s, its purpose is to provide drinking water to towns situated in the lowlands. We wondered if it is used to create hydroelectric power too, but apparently not.

We continued alongside the reservoir until it narrowed back to a stream and the ground became very boggy. Faced with a stone wall and gates, we knew we had to go straight ahead, but couldn't get to the gate for the bog. It later turned out that had we kept tight to the stream bank on our left we could have kept dry and hopped over a stile cunningly disguised in a fence section. Instead we aimed right where a brook tumbles down the hill, eventually managing to ford this a hundred yards or so uphill.

Clapper bridge 
Back on the right route again, our next obstacle was that stream. It does have a ford located just as it bends to the right, however there must have been significant rain on Dartmoor as it was fast flowing so we took the clapper bridge option instead. This bridge is about 300 yards upstream from the ford - the path leads directly to it.

So brook and stream forded and boots still pretty much dry, we sallied forth up an old mining track - a gert. I could see the silhouettes of Petre's cross and another stone marker up on the hill directly ahead of us although our path curved to the right and then back around to circumvent the steep end of a small valley. Unfortunately just as we got near the crest this happened:


It's quite unnerving to be walking on a clear day one minute and to find yourself inside a cloud the next! Our route had a short out-and-back detour to Red Lake Quarry which we had already decided not to take, however right at this point we were struggling to see anything more than about ten yards away! Fortunately, with a combination of Ordnance Survey map, guide book and compass we located Petre's Cross.

Petre's Cross 
Unfortunately, on continuing we then found ourselves approaching what appeared to be a huge stone submarine, looming out of the mist! This is actually the Eastern White Barrow or Whittabarrow, a Bronze Age cairn which was enlarged at a later date into the landmark it is today. We didn't know that at the time of course. I googled it later. At the time we just knew that our guide book didn't mention any submarines, stone or otherwise, so we were going the wrong way. Oops!

Eastern White Barrow 
We weren't far off where we should have been. We had set out from Petre's Cross on too easterly a path, so now struck off south to find the disused tramway that we should have been following. In hindsight this was pointless as, even if we had crossed the tramway (and we might have done) it looks remarkably similar to any other track across Dartmoor so we were unlikely to have recognised its true history. We ended up on a compromise route that progressed, I think, in various degrees of parallel-ness to our guide book's suggestions.

Black Tor 
The mist began to clear as we crossed Brent Moor and we got to appreciate the dramatic rocks of Black Tor close up and were relieved to spot the tarmac track to Avon Dam way below - down a steep ridge and across the river! Fortunately descending the Shipley Bridge side of Black Tor was relatively simple and, again, had we been further over we would have been following another disused tramway. Dartmoor is riddled with them!

We were never very lost and Dave was always confident of the direction in which we needed to head, if not the exact don't-they-all-look-similar track we needed to follow. It was easy to imagine though how people could get easily turned around and end up marching out into the middle of the moors, not realising their mistake until too late. The experience was a tad scary for a while!

Small boyfriend on a big moor 

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Our visit to sunny Salcombe

Shell doorway 
We decided to pay a visit to the South Hams town of Salcombe yesterday, our reasoning being that it would probably be less manic on the Friday of a Bank Holiday weekend than it would be on the Saturday. We began at the Park And Walk car park which, like at Sidmouth, is at the top of the hill. Salcombe's costs £3 for a day (or £3.03 if you don't have the right change and pay by mobile). It's then an pretty 15 minute walk into the waterside centre (allow 20 minutes to get back!). We both loved the pictured doorway, liberally adorned with seashells, which is just past the town museum.

Salcombe has a wealth of independent shops and businesses, many of which cater to more affluent residents and visitors. We noticed that a significant proportion of the houses hereabouts are holiday lets and I liked this advertising tricycle. I suspect it does not get ridden up the hill out of town at the end of each day!


We regretted not having pre-booked a tour at Salcombe's gin distillery, but did make a point of sampling Salcombe-made ice-cream and sorbet - both excellent. At the Tonic Gallery, we were both impressed by Greg Ramsden's paintings. He has an incredibly ability to capture light and to see the beauty in boatyard scenes. There are two wood sculptures currently at the gallery too, one which, resembling a wing, is particularly beautiful, but I forgot to note down the artists' names.

Back on the streets, we walked right out to the end of town passing a private quay and a row of old boatyard workshops several of which it was good to see are still utilised by boatbuilders. Others are now studios for other creative businesses including Will Bees Bespoke which makes gorgeous classic bags and purses. I was sorely tempted here!

Strolling back to the other end of the waterfront I was taken with the sign above the old public water fountain. Dire consequences are threatened to anyone caught using it to wash fish!

Salcombe has a lot of food sling establishments ranging from bakeries and delicatessens to luxurious seafront restaurants and it took us a while to make up our minds what we wanted to eat and where. Eventually we settled on The Fortescue Inn, a lovely olde worlde pub. I can highly recommend the fish finger sandwiches and Dave enjoyed his locally-smoked salmon sandwiches too.

Looking back over to Salcombe 
We toyed with the idea of taking an hour long estuary cruise, but the wide sandy beaches on the opposite shore looked too inviting so, instead of that, we crossed over on the pedestrian ferry (£1.60 per person each way). The beaches are privately owned, but open to the public and were popular with sunbathers on Friday. A few small children braved the water and I took my shoes off to wander in the surf, but wouldn't have wanted to swim. The water is still cold! We managed to get quite a way up to and through rocks before the water became too deep to continue. In the time it took us to decide whether we should continue, we nearly got ourselves cut off! The tide comes in quickly up the sand although a rock scramble was still an option.

I did like Salcombe as a place to visit. It is a very pretty little town with lots of charm and plenty to do for a day trip or long weekend. I am not sure I would be so keen to actually live there though. It was busy enough on Friday. I can imagine it being so crowded as to be uncomfortable through the summer months and getting in or out by road would be a nightmare!




Friday, 26 May 2017

Our first Trailer Tent experience at Buckfastleigh

Our Raclet Solena 
Do you remember that photo I posted a few weeks ago of the little orange trailer we took possession of on my birthday? Well it's now pitched up on a beautiful Camping And Caravanning Club CS site, The Crib, just outside Buckfastleigh. We are booked in here for four nights to get the hang of camping in a Raclet Solena and so far everything has gone pretty well! It's beautifully green here and, although traffic noise from the main road is pretty constant, it's not too intrusive and we can't see the cars for trees. Our nearest neighbours for the first night were bees and a trio of chickens! We can walk into Buckfastleigh and might go to see the steam railway there on Sunday.

Bee hives and a chicken house 
Obviously we expected that actually getting the tent set up for the first time would be considerably slower for us than it had been for the demo guy at Highbridge Caravans and it certainly was! Raclet Solenas like flat ground and the field at The Crib is sloping so we needed to borrow a plank to level it out! Once we got that sorted though, the rest was fairly straightforward and even hammering in all the awning pegs is much easier with Devon earth than it was with Spanish. I'm very happy with our Solena! The bed, with our mattress topper, is comfortable and there is a surprising amount of room in the folded-out trailer, even before we doubled the space with the awning. I love the large circular windows. They have three layers so can be dark canvas, mesh netting, clear plastic, and combinations of all three. You can see the view from the bedroom window at the end of this post. The trailer floor has a little carpet which looks much more practical than the ones that used to be in our Bailey caravan. There is also a zip-in groundsheet for the awning, but as this field is lush grass we decided not to use it here.

Our new 'toys' are great too! I'm sitting in my HiGear Delaware chair to type this post. It's good as a leisure or dining chair and I love the sturdy flip-up side table. We got one each to go with our folding Quest table. I like the efficient small gas jets on our Kampa Cucina double hob and it sits neatly on our old Outwell cupboard. Also Outwell, but a new acquisition, is our 24 litre EcoCool coolbox. It can run off mains or 12v and has a low power eco setting that actually works well. Apparently it can also be set to provide warmth - keeping cooked food hot - but we haven't tried that yet. Finally we've got our own little portable flushing toilet too! There is a shed bathroom onsite at The Crib, but the portable toilet is ideal  for the middle of the night.

So we're all set for a superb Bank Holiday Weekend and have fingers crossed that the glorious weather lasts until Monday.

The view from the bedroom!

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Upcoming live music gigs I'm looking forward to

Since my last gigs post we heard truly amazing music from Rebecca Loebe and Luke Jackson at Starcross, and from Charlie Dore (with choir!) at Kingskerswell. Don't forget Rachel Ries is performing as Her Crooked Heart in Devon This Saturday (the 27th of May). We will be venturing to Kingsbridge to see her. It's essentially a house concert. Contact wheelwrightmark@gmail.com for more details and to reserve your seat!

June 2nd is our next live music gig and this one will definitely be fab as it is Carrie Elkin, a musician we've known for years, together with her husband, Danny Schmidt, whom we have known even longer. Carrie is touring Europe to promote her new album, The Penny Collector, and we will catch her at The Bellows at The Wheelwright Inn which is in Colyford, East Devon. Carrie has an amazing voice and I am keen to hear her new songs. Tickets for this gig are available directly from the venue.

We have a slightly longer gap before two back-to-back gigs in the east of the country. First we are booked to see Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin at Billericay Library - of all places! Gigs in unusual venues seems to be becoming 'a thing' and this Devon folk duo have five (I think) library gigs coming up across Essex. The Billericay date of The Libraries Tour is in the 16th of June and tickets are available through We Got Tickets. Other dates in the same week are at Maldon, Rayleigh, Harwich and Loughton and those four town name links take you to their respective We Got Tickets pages.

Back to Americana music and I don't know much about Jonathan Byrd, but Dave is keen to see him and that is a good enough recommendation for me! But if you want a second opinion, Rich Warren of WFMT in the Chicago Tribune says that Jonathan is “one of the top 50 songwriters of the last 50 years". The UK tour is from the 12th until the 23rd of June and we are going to the Eye gig on June the 17th at a Community Arts Centre venue called The Bank. Tickets for this gig are available directly from the venue and if you struggled to make the checkout work before, it has now been fixed!



So that's our live entertainment for May and June so far. Let me know if you're coming to any of these too and in the meantime, have a scroll through these South West gig listings from WeGotTickets and see if anything else catches your eye!



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Monday, 22 May 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

First off, has everyone eligible registered to vote? Remember you have only got until 11:59pm TONIGHT and I shall throw a right hissy fit if any of my blog readers don't vote!

Register To Vote Here!


Already done?
Great, let's look at another quintet of discounts and voucher codes starting with a tempting offer from book DVD and music sellers Speedyhen. Speedyhen already offer free UK delivery on all their products and often have discounted prices too. Now they are adding to their generosity with £5 off spends of £25 or more for new customers. The offer doesn't apply to ebooks, but is valid for everything else and lasts until the 30th of June. Simply use code NEWCUSTOMER17 at checkout.

If the changeable weather keeps catching you out at the moment, Weird Fish have the answer to staying warm. They are offering 30% off a selection of their fleeces and I particularly like this Bina style one in faded jade reduced from £35 to £24.50. All the 30% off fleeces are shown on This Page for Women and on This Page for Men so there's no checkout code to remember, and the promotion lasts until the end of May. Weird Fish also offer FREE Standard UK delivery on all orders, FREE International Shipping on orders over £100, FREE UK 90 days Returns and Exchanges and Next Day UK delivery for just £2.99.

Summer is coming (honestly!) so now is a great time to take advantage of early season offers at Go Outdoors. Their 20% off Big Brand Event finishes tomorrow (23rd May). Go Outdoors has got a superb range of everything you will need for a camping staycation or a festival weekend. We got lots of gear for our trailer tent recently! It is worth remembering that even more stock is often available online than in store and UK delivery is free with spends of over £50. Having a Go Outdoors discount card unlocks great discounts, plus Camping And Caravanning Club members are entitled to an extra 10% off the card price (although not in conjunction with other offers).

Homewares and gift shop Museum Selection has a sitewide sale on at the moment with many items reduced to half price. I love their historically inspired pieces, especially the art nouveau and art deco styled trinkets and accessories. The pictured ceramic Babbacombe Marmalade Cats are made just a couple of miles from my home in a continuation of the long tradition of Devon pottery in Torbay. At the moment you can buy one for £9.99, reduced from £19.99, or a pair for £17.99.

And finally an offer which isn't available just yet but will be valid over the Whitsun Bank Holiday Weekend from the 25th until the 29th of May. Get 20% off Absolutely Everything at Twinings! Shop hundreds of amazing teas and infusions from around the world, plus treat yourself to stylish gifts, teaware, accessories and more or stock up your present drawer for the rest of the year! Use the code WEEKEND20 at checkout.


Sunday, 21 May 2017

Sunflower Seed Milk and Cookies recipes

Sunflower Seed Milk and Flour 
After another superb Kingskerswell gig last night, I am having a quiet cookery day today. We saw Charlie Dore at Kingskerswell Church where she was backed by the Totnes Pop-Up Choir. I love Charlie's music anyway, but the choir made it all the more magical! Take a look at CharlieDore.com for the rest of her tour dates and WorldUnlimited.co.uk for more great live music in South Devon.

Back to the kitchen! I'm cutting down of our dairy intake, partly for personal health reasons and partly for environmental reasons, which got me into trying various nut milks to make our breakfast porridge. Interestingly, in blind taste tests (because I didn't tell him!) Dave actually preferred non-dairy milks and my favourite was almond, but I wasn't so keen on the price. Having seen a few bloggers extolling the pros of homemade nut and seed milks, I decided to give it a go. NestAndGlow.com is a particularly good resource and I eventually settled on their Sunflower Seed Milk as being the best suited to us.

Milk Ingredients
140g sunflower seeds
Water for soaking

4-5 dates (optional)
700ml water

I put the sunflower seeds into a bowl with enough water to well cover them and leave them to soak all day (or overnight). I then drain the seeds, discarding the soaking water.
I put the soaked seeds into a high sided saucepan together with 700ml of fresh water and a few dates for sweetness. The dates are optional, but we both have a sweet tooth here! I use my handheld blender to liquidise the seeds and dates which usually takes a couple of minutes. Of course, if you have a food processor you could use this instead.
When all ingredients are blended I hang a jelly bag over a largish bowl and pour the seed-water mixture through it, squeezing at the end to make sure as little liquid as possible is retained with the seed pulp. This is pretty good exercise for hand strength!
The liquid is the finished milk which I decant into a fridge jug ready for the morning's porridge. It does separate as it stands, but a quick stir-up with a long spoon brings it back together again.

Oat And Date Cookies 
Cookie Ingredients
160g chopped dates
Hot water
1 ripe-ish banana
2 tbsp peanut butter
70g oats
175g sunflower seed pulp

In a great instance of Waste Not Want Not synchronicity it turns out that the leftover sunflower seed pulp from milk-making is a perfect flour substitute in Oat And Date Cookies. Any excuse for cookie baking!

I start to make these by soaking 160g of chopped dates in hot water for 5-10 minutes to soften them. I also set the oven to preheat to 180c although I need to look into whether these cookies would also bake in the slow cooker as I think this would be more economical and energy efficient.

I mash the banana into a large mixing bowl and mix in the peanut butter. I then drain the dates discarding the water and stirring the fruit into the banana mix.

I add the oats and seed pulp and mix everything well together with a wooden spoon. Once there is a sort of dough I use my hands to form it into small balls, lightly flatten them nd place them onto a baking tray. This size batch makes 16-18 cookies. I have found if I flatten them and then place them on a baking tray, they bake without sticking so the tray doesn't need additional greasing or flouring. If I press the cookies onto the tray to flatten them, they do stick!

I bake the cookies on a high oven shelf at 180c for about 15 minutes or until they start to brown on top. I remove the tray from the oven and let them stand for about 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Delicious with an afternoon cuppa or as an on-the-go snack!