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A very English holiday in Devon (Not even the English summer could ruin our fun!)

Jeremy Gates enjoys the delights of Devon during a very English summer and discovers the beauty of the English Riviera despite one of the wettest summers on record...

It was the first time I had ever sat in an outdoor hot tub, supported by a raft of bubbles, and listened to a chorus of happy moos from cows munching their breakfast across the other side of the valley. As the sunlight slowly pierced the morning mists in Devon's South Hams district, I could see some animals craftily using a back leg to prop themselves up on the hillside. I was taking a break in the west country and

After a swim in the largest indoor pool I have ever had entirely to myself, I strolled back to my barn-style holiday home for breakfast. On my huge TV screen, business reports flashed in from London, New York and Tokyo. I knew self-catering holidays in Britain had gone up in the world. But I hadn't realised just how luxurious they had become until the sat- nav drew us to the near-deserted village of East Allington, and then down a single track road for a mile as we searched for a sign in high hedges on either side.

Flear's complex of nine cottages and three lodges sit in the centre of a 45-acre estate in the middle of nowhere. After dark, you need a torch to wander from your front door. The facilities are so good, however, that guests have to sign in visitors who drop in for the day. Beside the pool is a large indoor play area, including trampoline, climbing frames, wendy house and indoor footy. For older children and creaky dads, an outdoor play area lower down the hillside includes a hard tennis court, three holes of pitch and putt, and space beside a babbling country stream where you can kick a ball around until the sun goes down. Proper golfers get a 25% discount on 18-hole or nine hole golf courses at nearby Dartmouth Golf & Country Club.

The holiday, like so many days this year, was mostly showery but we did get a little sunshine on the first day and so our first stop was the beach, barely five miles away, admittably we negotiated muddy country lanes to access it though! Blackpool Sands, a wide, open beach flanked by high trees on steep, wooded cliffs, must look terrific under a hot sun. This is also a handy spot to join the South West Coastal Path, great for walkers. My son took his time to enthuse about a yomp along Start Bay and beyond a hamlet of whitewashed homes called Torcross, where the fish and chip shop is firmly endorsed by locals and visitors alike.

Nearly as famous is Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve almost alongside, where the marshes, reed beds and woodland provide a natural

6 Life Begins

magnet for numerous species of birds, mammals, butterflies and moths. Beyond there, we were buffeted by coastal breezes along Slapton Sands, beneath the Stars and Stripes which mark a massacre here in 1944 when German E-boats attacked US infantry divisions rehearsing for the Normandy landings, more than 600 men were lost in the darkness.

Some days, the weather didn't lend itself to walking so easily, so what could be better than a visit to Totnes, beloved among elderly hippies and anybody else determined to escape modern Britain? Did Mary Portas pass this way when she tried to find a future for Britain's high streets? Totnes embraces visitors, its shops stuffed with fine local foods, including delicious breads and cheeses made locally, and gleaming fresh fruit and veg. There's mountains of cheap clothing in the market square, bookshops flogging nearly new titles in untidy heaps for a pound or two, and lectures on fighting globalisation or becoming a vegan. For lunch, the granary bread sandwich in The Brioche was so crammed with crayfish, rocket and parmesan that my wife and I had to share it. It helps, of course, that Totnes was probably designed by John of Gaunt rather than Tesco, on a gradient which gets steeper after you pass beneath the splendid medieval arch. The higher you climb, beyond the Norman castle, the wackier the shops and shopkeepers become.

Next day, the drizzle was a little harder but we were now on our way to Dawlish where we'd decided to escape the weather by booking into the delightful Langstone Hotel. The grey and rainy day soon became a distant memory as we relaxed in the luxury heated indoor swimming pool and my wife

made use of the beauty therapies available. I The archway in Totnes, Devon. Picture: Ben Birchall/PA Photos

hadn't realised that this hotel also ran special weekend breaks including dancing and golf breaks and so made a mental note to self to return without the kids for a well-earned dancing break in the autumn.

Being on the coast, Dawlish makes the ideal base for a beach holiday which we thankfully visited after a break in the weather the next day and although not sun-bathing weather, we were still able to have a pleasant stroll along the clean sands in the warm sun and stop at the very welcoming Smugglers Inn for a well earned pint of ‘Legend’ brewed by local brewer Dartmoor Brewery.

The town of Dawlish dates back to Saxon times and is even mentioned several times in Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility novel. It made an ideal

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