During half term, I spent a lovely few days by the sea in Devon with my sister and her family. They have a holiday home in Exmouth, which is a charming, unspoiled seaside town just half an hour away from Devon’s pretty cathedral city of Exeter, from where you can get a fast train to London in as little as two hours. This makes it a very easy trip for me, as I can catch a train in the morning and be by the sea in time for a fish and chip lunch!
Exmouth marks the start of the Jurassic Coast, which snakes around Devon into Dorset, and is famous for its red cliffs within which are nestled a wealth of fossils. Lyme Regis is its most well-known resort, where the marvellous nineteenth century fossil collector Mary Anning found some of the world’s first examples of plesiosaur and ichthyosaur fossils (and Louisa Musgrave takes her tumble off the Cobb in Persuasion!). You can go for wonderful walks along the cliffs where the views out across the sea are beautiful, but in the wind and rain of this trip, it wasn’t quite the right conditions to enjoy it!
Instead, we walked along the seafront, admiring the lovely Victorian villas dotted above the cliffs, and the pretty tropical gardens, while brave souls kite surfed above the choppy waves. We walked along the Exe estuary to the gorgeous, quintessentially English village of Lympstone, which is a delightful huddle of cottages and smart nineteenth century villas, and mooched around Exmouth itself, which isn’t really touristy at all, and still feels like a place where real people live rather than the somewhat manufactured, cutesy feel some seaside resorts in Devon and Cornwall have. There is a fantastic sweet shop that my nephews and I always make a beeline for as soon as we arrive – my favourites are coconut mushrooms – and some cute local cafés where you can get Devon’s speciality – cream teas. We also love eating fancy fish and chips for dinner while looking out across the sea in the harbour front restaurant, Rockfish, and curling up by the fire with a nice glass of something in The Grove pub, while the waves crash outside.
Further afield, it’s a short drive to Exeter, where there’s plenty to do if the weather necessitates indoor activities. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum is an absolute delight – one of those regional Victorian museums that contains a totally random hodge-podge of stuff donated by intrepid nineteenth century travellers to antique lands, it truly has got something for everyone. Some highlights were a giant stuffed giraffe, elephant and a lion shot by the King, an exhibition of Honiton lace, a collection of nineteenth century African tribal dress, an Egyptian mummy in a recreated tomb, and a selection of Jurassic Coast fossils. Even my oldest nephew, who at 13 is interested in little beyond the contents of his phone, was entertained for an hour. If you find yourself in Exeter with some time to spare, I highly recommend the RAMM – and what’s more, it’s completely free! Also in Exeter, we went to see the Cathedral, which is very beautiful, and wandered through some of the older cobbled lanes of shops, as well as going for a delicious pizza down on the newly restored waterfront. Exeter has some wonderful architecture, is surrounded by green open fields, and while filled with plenty of shops, restaurants and attractions, has a refreshingly tranquil feel. It is well worth a visit.
Despite the only fleeting sunshine, a week by the sea did wonders for me. I love breezy walks along the shore and the feel of salt spray on my skin. There’s nothing like getting the London muck out of your lungs and taking life at a slower pace for a few days. I am already looking forward to returning in the summer. And one day, who knows? Maybe it’ll be a permanent move!