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Road Trip

Devon, the "English Riviera"

Lawrence Kesteloot (Sunday, January 20, 2002)

We've had good luck just setting off in a random direction without much planning. In July we decided to see Devon because people had said good things about it, so we drove south one Saturday morning. We first went to Dartmouth. (In the U.S. you forget that names like "Dartmouth" mean that it's a town at the mouth of the river Dart.) It's got a castle and beaches but we didn't see much else.

A friend had told us about Burgh Island, a tiny island off the southern coast where Agatha Christie wrote a few of her novels, so we headed for that. Roads in England aren't wide to start with, and in Devon for some reason they're narrow to the point that cars can't even pass each other. Occasionally the road widens enough to let two cars cross each other, so you better think ahead or one of you has to back up half a mile.

At low tide a strip of sand connects the island to the mainland. We got overconfident with the tide (don't do that) and got caught. The island has a beautiful Art Deco hotel and (of course) a pub. We hiked to the top of the island for a view of the ocean. By nightfall the tide had completely covered the strip of sand, so we took the sea tractor back to shore.

We drove on to Plymouth (at the mouth of the river Ply) and stayed the night. Plymouth is where the Mayflower sailed off (the Mayflower Steps is a monument at that location with quotes from the voyage log), and Napoleon was brought there after being captured. There's a great "old town" where we had the best Italian food we ate all year (better than in Italy!). Our hotel room had a great view of the bay and we set up the camera to take a time-lapse movie while we went to breakfast. (I'll upload the movie when I can figure out how to make it into an MPEG.)

We had read about Totnes, a small town in Devon that had a castle worth visiting. Well, the castle was okay (it was built by the Normans in the 11th Century and basically consists of a round wall at the top of a hill) but the town was adorable. We had been instructed to have Devon Cream Tea, which we did. It's regular tea, really, but it's served with clotted cream, which looks like butter but tastes like cream. You put clotted cream and jam on scones, which are like dry muffins.

A friend had told us to visit a tiny village in the middle of Devon (we don't remember the name, something like "Buck on the Moor"). We got there after a long search (it's truly tiny, there are no signs that point to it) and found nothing but a tourist shop. Apparently it's nice to walk around the "village", but we instead hiked to the top of the highest hill around (Bishop's Beacon), where some guy long ago decided to carve the ten commandments (and other quotations from the Bible) into two large stones that looked like something Moses might have used.

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