Torbay’s Bounty

Torquay

Torquay Marina at the city front http://www.torquay.com

Most folk of my generation will only know of Torquay from that British sitcom, Fawlty Towers.  Otherwise, few outside of UK would likely be familiar with this little town on Torbay, which is also known as the English Riviera.

My husband’s family moved to Torquay way back in the 70s because of the sea. My father-in-law was an avid sailor and fisherman, and would sail from Devon through the English Channel and along the French Coast, right down to the Bay of Biscay and on to the Azores. In fact, many sailing champions hail from Devon, including recent Olympian Ben Ainslie.

Torbay has stunning coastlines, and a visit there would not be complete without a trip to one of its many beaches. The names are quaint too; Meadfoot, Anstey’s Cove, Babbacombe and Maidencombe, Berry Head. The list goes on. A few of these beaches are pretty remote, and on our recent visit, we visited Long Quarry, which is only approachable via a tiny footpath with an 80 degree incline. Nope, getting there is not for the faint-hearted.

The tiny red dot you see in the pic is a tent. Yes, that's how far down it is to Long Quarry

The tiny red dot you see in the pic is a tent. Yes, that’s how far down it is to Long Quarry

Clambering down the path requires goat-like dexterity

Clambering down the path requires goat-like dexterity

But once below, you’re treated to glorious vistas of sea and cliff. Apart from a few hardcore fishermen who were there for the night, there was no one else there.

Granite meets sea at Long Quarry

Granite meets sea at Long Quarry

Evening at Long Quarry

Evening at Long Quarry

Other than offering great walks, the Devon sea is also a very rich sea for the gastronomically-inclined.  English folk, I’m sad to say, have no idea, but as Chinese, we eat almost anything that moves, and dinner can be served, straight from the Torbay beaches to the table.

During our trip, my Brother-in-law, Tim, decided that he wanted to try out a new mussels recipe. The tide was perfect, very low, so off we went to Paignton Beach.

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Cousins looking for little shrimp and crabs

Cousins looking for little shrimp and crabs

While the girls played among the rock pools, the adults got down to business, trying a spot of fishing and picking mussels.

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Picking mussels is hard work. These have grown au naturale and they are encrusted with seaweed and barnacles. A good knife is needed to clean the mussels up before soaking and cooking.

 

From sea to table in a matter of hours

From sea to table in a matter of hours

Just to give you an idea of the number of mussels we collected

Just to give you an idea of the number of mussels we collected

If you’re looking for a natural life, things don’t get better than this. The mussels were amazing. Plump, fresh and divine in white wine and chilli. I had three helpings.

Bon Appetit.

View of Thatcher's Rock from Meadfoot Beach

View of Thatcher’s Rock from Meadfoot Beach

 

Dartmoor

 

Panoramic shot of Dartmoor

I love the British moors. Wild, windswept, rugged, yet stunningly beautiful, they’ve been the settings for countless novels, from the passionate (think Wuthering Heights) to the mildly terrifying (The Hound of the Baskervilles), and no wonder. There is something  inexplicably ancient and mysterious about the remote moors –   apparently it’s one of the darkest places in the UK at night and perfect for stargazers. It is also a rite of passage for legions of schoolkids to hike through the moors as a means of toughening up, and even SAS troops use parts of it for their exercises and for grueling training hikes.

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Miles and miles of moorland. And that sky….

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The wild ponies of Dartmoor. Here, two young foal lie unperturbed by my presence barely 3 metres away

In the moors, the sheep, goats and ponies run free

We try to visit Dartmoor every time we go to Torquay. When the children were younger, we would stick to the child friendly spots like Dartmeet, a picnic area by the River Dart that has plenty of rocks for clambering and minnow fishing.

Dartmeet, Devon

Now that they are older, we go hiking. This time, we decided to try one of the walks around Haytor. Dartmoor is known for its Tors, rock outcrops that are found on hilltops and summits, and Haytor is its most famous.

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My boy on top of Haytor

Not surprisingly, Haytor is a popular spot for novice rock climbers and trekkers. The view from the top is breathtaking.

Our trek was not ambitious, about 7km. However, the route involved lots of vertical ascents and descents through steep paths and rocks. It’s definitely a good idea to have a good pair of hiking boots and a reasonable level of fitness. I was huffing through some of the 70 degree ascents towards the end.

down...

down…

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…and up

Clambering onto one of the many tors

Clambering onto one of the many tors

Being the intrepid city slickers, my son, ever the impatient one, suggested that we take a short cut off the beaten path to get to our designated lunch stop more quickly.

Big mistake.

We were stuck for half an hour navigating through a bog that was thick with thorny gorse, furze, blackberry and other evil looking bushes. Thankfully, we got back onto our route to the little picnic spot that we were looking for – Becka Brook.

Megan cools her toes after the boggy trek to Becka Brook

Megan cools her toes and has a sandwich after the boggy trek to Becka Brook

The prefect setting for hyperactive boys

The prefect setting for hyperactive boys

There is hardly a soul here, and apart from a butterfly watching couple who soon departed,  we had the brook and glen to ourselves. Someone had also tied a rope to a tree and my kids had great fun swinging across the brook.

You can see why my kids love this place

You can see why my kids love this place

We had an idyllic picnic before heading back up an old disused quarry. Total hike time, 3 hours, including our pit stop at Becka Brook.  A perfectly satisfying day.

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Making our way back, uphill. It was uncharacteristically hot that day

Making our way back, uphill. It was uncharacteristically hot that day

Devon Days

The front garden at grandma's in Torquay

The front garden at grandma’s in Torquay

Knowledge is best gained from experience , and I am blessed that my children get to experience life in very different environments. Once every couple of years, we exchange our city slicker lifestyles in Singapore for a few short weeks with the in-laws in the English West country.

My in-laws settled in the UK over 50 years ago and have been living in Torquay for the last 40. While firmly Chinese (they make their own Char siew, roast duck, fish balls and pau), they’re also very British. MIL Anne is an avid soccer fan, tea drinker and a maniacal gardener. Here’s a preview of just some of the gorgeous blooms in their garden:

Grandma Anne's Garden

A lovely gazebo in the neighbour’s yard gives grandma’s garden a special perspective

Giant Purple Poppies

Giant Purple Poppies

Giant poppies that give off poppy seeds in late summer for cakes and cooking

Giant poppies that give off poppy seeds in late summer for cakes and cooking

Just some of the blooms in grandma’s garden

Wild strawberries and lavender from the garden

Wild strawberries and lavender from the garden

Apart from a large front and back garden, they also have a massive allotment at the back of their house. Dating from the first world war, the concept of allotments  was to provide plots of land for returning soldiers to grow crops and find means of subsistence. The practice continues today and Anne rents her 1/5 acre plot for about £35 a year. It comes with free water for watering the plants.

 

The allotment aka mini farm at the back of the house

The allotment aka mini farm at the back of the house

Organic Goodness: Cos lettuce, broad beans, raspberries, gooseberries, chinese vegetables, herbs and more in my MIL's allotment

Organic Goodness: Cos lettuce, sugar bons, broad beans, raspberries, gooseberries, chinese vegetables, herbs and more in my MIL’s allotment

My MIL is 76 but she is out at her allotment everyday. She hoes, turns the soil, weeds, and plants everything by herself. She also makes her own fertiliser out of wild comfrey and nettle, as well as ash from cutting back her plants and burning them every year.  She also has a large compost bin in the allotment that freaks me to no end because of the family of small adders that live there.

So whenever our family goes over, we turn into farmers, helping grandma with the weeding, planting and pruning. The kids also engage in a healthy dose of DIY as there are always things to be fixed in a household of ageing people. B&Q, the British DIY megastore, becomes our new hangout.

Father and son refurbishing and tiling the old garden table to better weather the elements

Father and son refurbishing and tiling the old garden table to better weather the elements

Megan giving the gnomes that papa had as a kid a new lease of life with pots of tester paint from B&Q

Megan giving the gnomes that papa had as a kid a new lease of life with pots of tester paint from B&Q

When the work is done, Sean engages in his favourite country pastime, shooting targets with grandpa’s old air rifle.

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So when people ask me if I’m going on a holiday, I tell them technically, not really. We won’t be engaging in a frenzied schedule rushing from one tourist attraction to another. We will be going native and working hard at grandma’s, in a very different, and refreshing environment.