A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

A Quick-ish Review: Brixham (Devon)

Speedy Summary

Wikipedia says:

Brixham is a small fishing town and civil parish in the district of Torbay in the county of Devon, in the south-west of England. Brixham is at the southern end of Torbay, across the bay from Torquay, and fishing and tourism are the major industries. At the time of the 2011 census it had a population of 16,693.

I say:

A lovely working harbour located on the English Riviera, Brixham serves both the historic local fishing trade and the busy tourist season. This creates a unique Devonshire window into the lives of those working a thriving traditional trade, without overkilling it on tourist shops and greasy spoon joints. If you have time try out some of the freshly caught fish, if not grab or a coffee from one of the numerous independent shops. Just be aware of the sea gulls.

Top Sights

Top of the agenda when visiting Brixham has to be a stroll around the harbour. One of the older parts of the town, the historic working marina has remained largely unchanged.

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If you want to be suitably impressed by more modern-day aquatics, the boating club marina is located a via a 10 minute walk around the promenade. The spectacle of hundreds of boats lined up neatly along numerous jetties will keep even the most obsessive of boat fans happy.

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And if you’re looking for the authentic Brixham experience, then a sampling of the local cuisine is a must. Freshly caught fish pass through the market sellers of Brixham in their millions every day, with buyers coming from across the country to source the best produce for their eateries. However local restaurants will often pass good deals secured by fewer road miles and differing clientele to their customers, which means you can secure fresh, high quality, fish at a vastly cheaper price. The most popular dish for passing tourists is the classic fish and chips combination, a meal that can be obtained from any number of dining or take away establishments.

If fish isn’t you bag there are also several bakeries in the town selling traditional pasties and rolls, alongside a couple of small supermarkets. Want the marine experience without the price tag? Grab a pasty and sit on one of the many promenade benches for an alfresco lunch with a view.

With all things food and coastal related just be sure to watch out for pesky gulls. While they are not as troublesome as in other destinations, locals and other tourists will not thank you for encouraging them. If finishing an outdoor meal do the right thing and remain seated until the waiter clears the table or take your rubbish with you. Seagulls will not think twice about swooping in on your leftovers (trust me, I’ve seen it).

 

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You don’t necessarily need a formal backdrop to have a pleasant dining experience. Close up shot from a public bench.

 

Recent regeneration in the town centre has seen a vastly increased improvement in the number and quality of coffee shops, including the prominent Old Market House. Located next to the old covered fish market, the coffee shop-come bar-come classy eatery is now the site for a many a people watcher.

The harbour and town is also home to many shops from stylish interiors, to typical tourist souvenirs to high street favourites including Boots, Costa and Tesco. Something for everyone.

 

What Else is There?

Check out the well kept little volunteer-created gardens along the promenade which cleverly make use of the rock face and what was a redundant open space.

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You can also board the Golden Hind Museum Ship, a full size replica of the famous galleon sailed by Elizabethan explorer Sir Francis Drake. More information on the attraction can be found here.

Head up the road a little further (towards the Berry Head Hotel) and you’ll stumble upon the self proclaimed ‘hidden gem’ of this South Devon town, the Shoalstone Pool. A free-to-use outdoor salt water swimming pool, it stands as a Victorian creation and one of only a few remaining UK examples. A must for anyone wanting to prove their ability to brave the elements and thus their Britishness. More information can be found here.

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Three Word Conclusion

Lots to see.

A Quick-ish Review: Canonteign Falls, Dartmoor

Speedy Summary

The website says:

A hidden gem: Situated within Dartmoor National Park in the heart of Devon’s Teign Valley, natural and manmade waterfalls tumble down ancient rock formations to meet the tranquil lakes below, offering some of the most spectacular waterfall and woodland scenery in Devon.

I say:

A very tall waterfall, featuring a lot of climbing and (on occasion) some surreal looking wooden men. Nice views at the top as long as you don’t freak Mumma Bennett out by leaning over the edge. Plenty of old school Victorian folly lols. Not suitable for wheelchair users or those suffering with aquaphobia.

 

Top Sights

I like a sign me, especially if it’s one that covers the three important bases: 1) why am I here? 2) What are the things to keep me here? And 3) where can I go if the excitement of points one and two get to be too much.

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The estate is comprised of multiple lakes and two waterfalls; one natural, one man made and although the park is named Canonteign Falls, the star feature is the 70m drop Lady Exmouth waterfall which was built in 1890. The result is a very pretty cultivated area of land that would otherwise have been overlooked.

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And the views from the top are stunning:

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Here’s an India scale to show the enormity of view-to-human at the top of the waterfall:

 

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Looking for a bit of hands on History? Well look no further than a merry little climb of the original 90 rock steps constructed by the Victorian creators over a hundred years ago. Just be aware that they will kill either your soul or your knee joints, just a little.

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In short, it’s a rather nice Victorian folly (something created for no purpose other than to show off to your mates and say “oh how romantic!”) Lady Ex also used unemployed miners to create the Fall, so in many ways she was a real life Ross Poldark/goody two-shoes.

 

What Else is There?

As well as the tumbling cascades of water, Canonteign Falls also has a couple of other quaint features. For one it makes a real point of reaching out to far-right groups who have been feeling left out since Brexit. It is nice to see a tourist attraction throwing them a bone.

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There are also these funny little wooden people dotted about the site. A fair bit of thought has gone into these and their positioning, this one being a personal fave:

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A couple of others are a little more amusing to any grown up kids. E.g. there is the sad/possible suicidal figure about to jump into the mini waterfall with her wilted roses.

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And lets spare a thought for Hobo Harry…

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The guy has it tough (especially when people come along and take his booze)

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If wooden men aren’t your boat then there’s a great children’s play area full of lots of outdoor climbing frames. Not that India and I stuck to the rules, we had a go on all the cool stuff. It makes for a great thirty minutes, even if Mumma Bennett does cut off your  head in every seesaw shot.

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Reminds me of something…

 

There’s also a Victorian fern garden. I unfortunately took no photos of this so use this clip art image and your imagination.

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Three Word Conclusion

Dramatic and pretty

 

 

Come Sit With Me

Come sit with me. Come sit here in the caffeine filled haze we call paradise. The legal high that our fathers and their fathers before have relished, for here we are one. The mothers, the students, the disapproving men with broadsheets in hand, everyone has a home here.

Let me pass you this extra I have acquired. Do you take milk? The sugar is over there. The chair next to me is a little worn and mismatched, but that is the norm. Brush off the crumbs of the previous tenant and join me in weekend conversation.

The background music will lull you into a false pretence of your own class and status. The type of music you recognise but do not know. They are the backing beats that serve as melodic distraction from the mess surrounding us. I have heard in booksheleved corners that it improves the taste, what do you think?

See that man behind my left shoulder? I know him to be a regular. The frustrated writer who huffs and sighs over work that will never make it to print. Chomping on cheap nuts and downing brown goo in paper cups, for he cannot afford the china. He is a freeloader of the establishment, clinging desperately to an image that cannot be sustained. I remember when he used to sip on only the finest quality beans and nibble on pastries with young women, but those days are gone. We have all changed since those days.

My friend, you look a little troubled. Don’t be. In this world we are all addicts of our own making. I only seek to show you the truth that lurks in the steam. Save your pity for Africa, it is a wasted emotion in this Latino supplied space. I see you have finished your drink. Would you like another? It would be my honour. They serve only the finest cheap substances here, it is why we never leave.

I am so happy you came to sit with me my partner. Now stress no more and relax, the fresh coffee will be here soon.

 

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An ‘Educational’ Delay at Swindon Train Station

The weather forecast for today was predicted to be a hot and sunny affair. The weathermen and women of the UK were even daring to utter the warnings of potential sunburn. They needn’t have made such rash suggestions, it only took five words; “temperatures in the high teens”. Suddenly all of Britain snapped into action, if you didn’t have plans for Sunday 9th April then you were either a weird person or a fool. Not wanting to be labelled ‘weird’ (got my street cred to maintain and all) I decided to spend my day off in the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Now, owing to awkward road routes and lack of a car (the latter being more of an issue than the former) I decided to take the train. Via Swindon’s train routes the earliest one can get into Cardiff is 10:53 which in my opinion is too late to begin with, but hey I’m not the train God or a fat CEO man so one has to put up and shut up with these things. This morning I rushed about to get everything done to a strict time schedule to enable me to be out of the door and at the station in time for the first train of the day, the 09:51 to Swansea (via Cardiff Central). Having powerwalked from home to station on a warm morning I arrived at Swindon train station, hot and sweaty, to see this:

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You can probably imagine how I felt right then. Delayed trains, story of my ruddy life.

After a lot of face scrunching (that I imagine resembled something like this…)

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…I resided myself to the truth that I would be waiting at this station for forty plus minutes longer than planned and made myself somewhat at home in my new surroundings. Surroundings that I’d seen a lot of over the years as a commuter (but to be honest didn’t really care about but now I was forcibly making myself care about to pass the time).

During my delay I learnt some interesting things about Swindon’s train station. Actually, I lie, they’re not that interesting.

I learnt that the station has an old building on the other platform for London trains. Old but not that special:

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I also learnt that the station parking is a right royal rip off:

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This part of the station meanwhile is completely overgrown with weeds. My train fare may be going on rail replacement works and cleaning staff, but would it kill someone to buy a couple of bottles of Weedol?

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And what, I repeat, what, is going on here in the ladies’ loos?

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That is no visual trick – there is a randomly empty cubicle space. It made me think of all the things one could do in such a space, but then I realised where I was and decided to not linger more than I needed to. Clearly three toilets are more than enough for female passengers, “if we give them four they will start a revolution! No, we must contain the masses and ensure that the British culture of queuing continues to live on.”

(There’s also this sad sign:)
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After walking up and down the same platform multiple times I had funnily enough run out of things to photo. I Googled the history of the weird clock outside on the forecourt.

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I learnt that its official title is (I think) the ‘Golden Jubilee Clock’ – very inspiring. Call me cray but I think it was commissioned in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Gold Jubilee celebrations. Don’t quote me on that though, I could be completely off the mark on that one.

It also used to live in the town centre…

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…before being relegated moved to the train station. How very, very, very, very interesting. Thank you Great Western Railways and your overrunning engineering works for giving me the time to find that out.

By this point I was borderline ripping my eyes out. “HOW MUCH LONGER MUST I WAIT?!” Was the repeating monologue running through my head. The feeling was mutual among all passengers up and down the platform, the tutting was almost audible. Finally, thirty seven minutes later than planned the delayed 09:51 to Swansea showed up. I smugly hopped on my train, leaving behind other delayed passengers. “Heh, enjoy your thirty four minute delay suckers!” I thought.

Upon arrival in Cardiff over an hour later I quickly dashed across the city to one thing I did know, and know it very well. After all that I needed decent coffee and I needed it asap. Cue my ultimate most favourite coffee shop, Barker Street Tea Rooms:

 

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Hmm, what to demolish first…
Sat there with my caffiterie and book a thought crossed my mind. “Wait, how long was I delayed by again?” I picked out my train ticket and compared the departure time with the accurate information on my mobile train tracker. With a beaming smile I discovered I had been delayed by thirty three minutes. Thirty was all that was required to submit a ticket refund claim.

Suddenly the time spent at Swindon train station a couple of hours beforehand didn’t seem like such a big a deal. I reflected on my experience and decided to write a blog post about it. I took a sip on my overpriced but delightfully luxurious coffee and lifted my cup ever so slightly in the air. “Thank you Network Rail,” I thought, “this one’s on you.”

 

UPDATE: I have since discovered that GWR doesn’t offer compensation unless the delay is a minimum of 60 minutes! What is this tomfoolery?! I’m a very unhappy bunny!

When The World Came Together at Oxford Station

Standing in the terminal of Oxford railway station I’m familiarised by a classic mix of passenger. The cyclist awkwardly pushing her bike through the ticket barriers, a toddler being led by the impatient mother, the Asian tourist with overflowing bags in hand. Watching the tides of people pour in and out of the confined space it reminds me that at any given moment the order of society, including this station, sits on the brink of collapse and chaos. All it takes is one broken signal and everything will grind to a halt.

If you thought the term ‘diversity’ could only be applied to whole streets and towns then you may need to think again. For contained in these four walls of peeling white paint, tapped across the utilitarian stained floors there speaks a more fascinating image of a fast-paced melting pot. An environment where, for the most fleeting of seconds, East bumps into West, North connects with South, rich mingles with poor. At this train station everyone is unified in the same gripes and grumbles. A delayed train, an out of order toilet, another drunk passenger, they are all received with the same unimpressed reaction.

Waiting for an old friend to arrive from London I am left to wandering thoughts which flow as seamlessly as the passengers coming in and out of the terminal. In this sea of faces and voices which type of passenger am I? Someone awkwardly shuffles behind me to get to the ticket booth I inadvertently block. Does my insistence at lingering beyond my welcome make me the tourist? Men in suits glance my way for a short period before I realise they are staring at the LED light boards above my head. If they are London bound they will need to go to platform one. Does my in-depth knowledge of platform order make me more a commuter? Next to the screaming child and passive aggressive guards it’s hard to think much beyond the bigger question “why am I here still?” It is just at this very point that my friend greets me with a cheery welcome, snapping me out of trance.

Leaving behind the dim and crowded terminal and entering the light exterior my friend’s first thoughts mark a very different take on modern life. “What an awful building!” he says, gesturing to the bricks behind. All thoughts of passengers and trains disappear as I’m faced with a more pressing question from my companion, “now, where on Earth are we headed to Miss Bennett?”

If only life and cityscapes were as easy to interpret as the passengers at train terminals.