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We are taking a break from today's long drive for some cream tea. We spotted a sign on the A39 north into the park and took a turn down a narrow drive to what looks like a stately home with an open garden and a woman serving cream teas. We are sitting on a large paved area in front of the house, looking downhill over a croquet lawn on to gardens tumbling into the small valley below. Birds are chirping and sheep are bleating in fields just hidden from view by the trees around us.
This rural pleasantness was just interrupted as I write by a fighter jet hurtling low over the valley, followed by the roar of its engines, apparently trailing by several hundred metres due to the slower propagation of the sound. By now our tea has arrived and it's time to enjoy.
We rose leisurely this morning since the pub only served breakfast from 09:00.
Continuing: We packed the car before heading into the pub for breakfast. The cereal selection was slightly disappointing, but we scored some individual serve packets of muesli that was pretty good. The juice came in colour coded plastic bottles - orange for orange juice, green for apple and red for what tasted like raspberry - it was a deep red colour anyway, like a clear red wine.
We waited for an interminable time for the owner to come and take out order for cooked breakfast. He apologised, saying he was working extra for someone who hadn't shown up yet.
The woman at the breakfast table next to us got into a bit of a conversation with us and asked us where we were going today. When we said Bath, she looked shocked and said, "Oh, that's a very long way!" I expressed some surprise and wondered if we had overestimated our ability to get there in one day. The woman then said, "Yes, it's about two hours drive away!" We laughed at this and said we were from Australia - we were used to five hour drives to get to the next town! She said, "Gosh, in five hours here, you'd end up in Scotland."
Our eggs and toast, plus bacon, sausage, mushrooms, and tomato for me, arrived soon thereafter. We ate hungrily then went back to our room to brush our teeth and pack the last items before checking out. The guy was about to let us go when we handed back the key, only to be surprised when we said we hadn't paid yet.
After paying, we hit the road again, taking the road east along the coast to Boscastle and beyond. Boscastle was partly destroyed by massive floods in 2004, but reconstruction looked well underway, and it seemed to be a nice place to stop and explore - except we needed to make good time today to reach Bath.
We continued along the A39, turning off to stretch our legs at the tiny village of Clovelly, which is completely owned by one family and run as a restricted-access tourist attraction. We paid £5.90 each to enter through the thoroughly modern gift shop and cafe building, which gave us access to a steeply sloped path that led down the hill to the top of the village.
The village itself was laid out along a very steep cobbled street - steep enough to incorporate a shallow step every metre or so to reduce the slope to a bearable degree. This precarious path was lined with picture-perfect cottages with immaculate and stunning flower gardens, a few pubs and inns, and the inevitable souvenir shops. Together though, the scene was extremely picturesque. Dozens of other tourists struggled down or up the street around us as we worked our way down the slope to sea level and the harbour, sheltered by an arcing wall of stone. Again, the tide was out and many boats were high and dry on the fist-sized pebbles of the pebbly beach that stretched along the shore.
We rested in the shade a bit. Once again we have defied the might of the British Met Office and produced a warm, sunny day out of a forecast of cold, grey, wet, and miserable. I clambered over the loose pebbles in the harbour to get some shots of the brightly painted fishing boats, then we did a circuit of the wall enclosing them - walking out on the upper level overlooking the sea and returning via stairs and the lower level facing into the dry harbour.
There were food outlets aplenty, but we had bought some fresh strawberries and pears at Tintagel before leaving, and had just polished off a significant number of the red berries in the car before arriving at Clovelly, so we didn't buy anything else. We returned up the steep slope to the visitor centre and rested there in the cool for a few minutes while M. browsed the gifts and souvenirs, before we returned to the car to continue our journey.
From Clovelly, we drove inland a bit, passing through the town of Barnstaple, where we stopped for petrol for the first time. The Mercedes was either terribly fuel efficient or had an enormous fuel tank, as we'd travelled almost 400 miles and the tank was still a quarter full. We discovered it was the latter, as it took over 50 litres to fill the tank, at a cost of over £50 - almost four times what it costs to fill the tank of our own car at home. We also bought some brown bread rolls and mini-Babybel cheeses for a quick and easy lunch to eat in the car. M. got her Vegemite tube out of the luggage and made us rolls to eat as we drove.
After Barnstaple, the road took us back to the coast, to the village of Lynton, nestled in a steep valley overlooking the sea. It looked to be another charming fishing village, but we had no time to explore and settled for a couple of photos from a car park on the stream which flowed down the valley. Out of Lynton, the road skirted the north Devon coast within Exmoor National Park, giving us some impressive views of the rugged coastline and the sea beyond, which was veiled with mist in the increasingly cloudy weather. We stopped a couple of times for quick photos, but pressed on.
Being about to leave Devon, M. expressed a desire for another cream tea before we did so. I drove with an eye out for signs and before too long came across a sign advertising cream teas, pointing down a narrow side road. Following it, we ended up at Heddon Hall Gardens, where I began writing today's diary entry. The place was in the middle of nowhere, but apparently attracted a considerable number of visitors to pay £4 apiece to tour the gardens, as there were four or five other cars there while we were there, and a few other people having tea and wandering around. M. had coffee and I chose a blueberry and apple herbal tea. The scones were freshly made that morning, but not still warm from the oven. With the jam and cream they were delicious.
Once done, we left the gardens and hit the road for the final haul into Bath. We took non-motorway routes, cutting across Somerset via Bridgewater and Churchill until we reached the outskirts of Bath. We wanted to stay outside Bath to avoid having to deal with its inner streets and avail ourselves of the Park & Ride service tomorrow as we had done in Salisbury. The plan was to reach the junction town of Chilworth and then look for the first available B&B or pub with accommodation.
Unfortunately, we didn't pass anything promising apart from two farm B&Bs which we turned into to investigate and found that they both had no vacancies. With road running out and Bath proper rapidly approaching, we decided to turn down some minor roads to look at some of the small villages in the countryside. We investigated a couple, but they appeared to be just houses with no sign of a pub anywhere. A sign pointed to another farmhouse B&B along a narrow laneway wedged between hedges, but driving on further revealed a "No Vacancy" sign. By this time we'd been turned around a few times and had no idea where we were going. All we knew was that we were within a region bounded by the nearest major roads.
Following the lane and hoping it didn't end at a farm, we eventually reached a crossroad with a signpost. With reference to our map, we determined the direction to one more village, but that showed no pub either. Knowing where we were now, we took a lane back to the A39 and turned towards the large town of Keynsham. As we followed the B road into town, buildings began to appear. The very first one had a sign saying, "Claridges Bed & Breakfast - Vacancies". So we pulled in to a property with a large house on what looks to be a horse farm.
A pleasant lady showed us the available room, which was huge and beautifully furnished, with a modern bathroom almost as large as our entire living room at home. The wide windows opened out to a view over stone stables, although we didn't see any actual horses. We took the room for two nights at £80 a night. The lady took our breakfast order and we asked if there was a good place for dinner nearby. She gave us directions to The Wheatsheaf, which turned out to be a pub on the A39 that we'd turned into earlier looking for a room (they offered none), and that we'd driven past again in the opposite direction on our way to Keynsham. Only she told us a back lane way to get there, which started simple, but ended up as a confusing maze of turns, dips, and "wriggly bits". Having experienced how easy it was to get lost out there, we opted to take the main roads, despite the lady telling us that it would take a couple of minutes longer to get there.
We got a table at The Wheatsheaf, looking out a window on to the narrow country lane that intersected the A39 just outside. The lady at our B&B had said that the fried cod was good, so I chose that. They didn't have anything vegetarian on the menu at all, but when we asked if they could throw something together for M., the woman at the bar said, "I'll ask the chef," and turned to an older woman sitting at the bar, chatting to a man there. The older woman said sure, she could cook up something vegetarian and began suggesting some options - an omelette, tagliatelle with goat's cheese... M. chose the pasta and we returned to our table to await the meal. The chef continued chatting to the guy at the bar for a minute before excusing herself: "I've got to go make these folks dinner!"
The cod arrived first, on a massive oval plate, a huge piece that looked basically like an entire fish minus the head, coated in beer batter and golden fried. The plate was topped off with a mound of chips, a mound of peas, and a salad consisting of coleslaw on a bed of lettuce and tomato, with diced capsicums in three colours on top. Then M.'s pasta arrived and we realised why the young guy serving as waiter didn't bring both meals out together - he wouldn't have been able to lift them both! The tagliatelle was in a deep round bowl, covered with a sauce of tomato, caramelised onion, mushrooms, and capsicums - again in three colours - topped with three huge round slices of goat's cheese, each a good centimetre thick and ten centimetres in diameter.
Both our meals were delicious. I tried some of M.'s pasta and it was especially good - probably one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had. The only problem was they were so big we ended up stuffed to the gills and still had some of our meals left on the plates. So I had to skip dessert, which was a shame since one item on the dessert blackboard was the intriguing "chocolate lumpy bumpy".
Dinner done, we returned to our B&B to take care of showering and toothbrushing, etc. before bed.
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