Monday, 6 April 2015

Dart Valley Trail, Devon, England

I was a little nervous, I admit, about doing even half of the Dart Valley Trail. The stretch I was aiming for is almost 9 miles, from Dittisham to Totnes – what if I got lost? What if I ran out of steam? And how was I going to get to Dittisham from Totnes anyway?

The answer was: take the Dartmouth Castle down the Dart River to Dartmouth, enjoy the amusing commentary as we went, pootle about Dartmouth for an hour, then catch the Dittisham ferry. Simples.

Dartmouth I'd seen before and it was a bit busy for my tastes, but there are plenty of boat comings and goings to entertain, and the ferry back up the river to Dittisham, which we'd passed on the way down, was a highlight. As we neared the village, the sound of rock 'n' roll came out to greet us. What's this? Fleetwood Mac? Oh yes, followed by a Steve Miller number. A quayside pub was putting on live music for Easter and a band whose members would have been young when the songs were first released was playing.
After a bit of listening, I pushed onwards and upwards. Up being the operative word here, but it's worth it for the glorious views over the Dart.

I actually took two maps with me: one I picked up in the Totnes tourist office for 50p, and another I'd downloaded off the internet. I think the tourist office one (called The Dart Valley Trail: Dittisham to Totnes) was marginally more useful, but being that I was a little worried about the getting lost thing – having found walking maps sometimes give information that's a few years out of date or speaks in a language I don't quite get ("...follow the green lane after the copse..." Yeah, whatever!) – I found it helpful to cross-reference.

So, off I set and, no, I never got lost. In fact, what I've learned is that I panic too soon. A right turn? Where? When? The answer is just keep going and eventually it will reveal itself. A word of warning though: there are a couple of serious uphills on this route, which are fine at the beginning, when you're feeling fresh, but after 5 or 6 miles, a steep ascent which you can't see the top of, because it keeps on going up after every turn, feels like a slog. However, by taking your time, stopping for water breaks (definitely bring water - there are no shops along the way, even when you pass through villages. Actually, having said this, I did pass about three pubs and of course you could stop in any of them to drink and eat...) and being in the moment,  it's all farily easily done. There are also fun rewards, like the stepping stones outside the village of Tuckenhay, that give you a bit of a shortcut.

I'm giving this much detail because, as a solo woman travel of a certain age, even something like this can feel like an adventure - and it is. I definitely felt proud of myself when the man with the dog stopped as I was admiring the view and suggested I take the cycle path as "It's easy to walk on and won't be muddy."

"That's alright," I said. "I don't mind a bit of mud!" and set off down to the riverside track. 

Or when the woman I'm housesitting for said, "You walked all that way? I've never done that!"

Ok, it's not a marathon, but it's beautiful and fun. I say, do it.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Totnes, Devon, England

Even on a grey Good Friday, Totnes is rather jolly. Although it does have a Morrison's, a Co-op and a Superdrug, on the whole, the shops are one-offs, well-informed by the (now-ageing) hippy-ish folk who seem to have landed here some time ago. So there are plenty of men in those fabrc Fez-type hats with bushy ponytails and women of a certain age in layers of purple with sheepskin coats and long, loose hair, but they give the place a more relaxed vibe than some English towns, which can feel as if they're made up of one part retired stockbrokers and their wives and the other part slightly disgruntled townies, who'd probably prefer if you didn't stop and clog up the streets gawping at the buildings they don't even notice, though they're quite happy to take your money, thank you very much
There's a guildhall, which has been here for hundreds and hundreds of years, next to the churchyard that makes for the ubiquitous spot youths lurk to smoke weed which, ever since US states starting making legal, somehow seems to have taken the edge of danger off these skulkers.

There's also a very mooch-aroundable market on Fridays and Saturdays, with plenty of artisan bread and baked goods, organic vegetables, vintage clothing and old tools stalls.

You can park for up to 2 hours in the Morrison's carpark – free if you buy at least £5 worth of stuff from them and, also, free on Bank Holidays, of which Good Friday is one. That's plenty of time to wander up Fore Street, check out the charity-shop rails, buy clasps in the bead shop, postcards in the newsagents, hum and haw over the West Country sheepskin rugs in the market, buy a date slice and wander back again. It's also almost next door to the tourist information office, where you can pick up local walking maps, find out where the Dartmouth ferry leaves from (and when) and plan your stay.

Especially nice are the various narrow alleyways leading off Fore Street, giving glimpses back to a time before cars and the droopy-faced dog helping to hold up a half-timbered house.