Gorgeous Start To Family Holiday – South Devon

We had a very lively start to our family summer holiday, largely due to the less than summer-like weather, meaning that our usual plan of staking out a good spot on the beach wasn’t really an option.

There are plenty of other things to do in South Devon apart from building sand castles, and so we made the most of our few days here to explore some areas that we haven’t previously visited.

Newton Abbot

A wet start to our holiday induced some initial head scratching, as we tried to decide what to do.

My sister lives in Newton Abbot, so we headed over to visit their new house and even newer dog. We then followed what appeared to be a very well trodden path into Trago Mills, seemingly along with the all the other tourists from within a 30-mile radius, similarly perplexed by the weather.

It is quite hard to describe Trago Mills, as I have never seen anything like it before. It begins as a shop, but one that specialises in everything, from toys to bathroom suites, on to camping equipment and fishing gear. You would never really need to visit any other shop in your life if you had a local Trago Mills.

However, this is only half the story, as not content with monopolising all local shopping options, the shop eventually gives way to an outdoor theme park, with a small zoo thrown in for good measure. The kids had a great time playing with their cousins and inducing the grown-ups to join them on go-karts and boat rides. I don’t really need too much inducing for anything go-kart related, but it’s nice to pretend that you’re only helping out.

We finished the day with a lovely pizza in Newton Abbot, before arriving back at our hotel just in time for the children’s entertainment.

One of the reasons that we like staying at The Langstone Cliff Hotel in Dawlish Warren, is that every evening during the summer holidays they host an hour of entertainment for the kids. Tonight was a magician, with real life animal tricks, which the kids thought was incredible. I also thought it was incredible, as Anja and I were able to enjoy a drink at the bar in absolute peace.

Dartmoor

We have enjoyed spending some time with my parents during our stay in Devon, who we managed to rope into joining us on a horse ride across Dartmoor.

Before we got to the horses, we managed to squeeze in a visit to the Dartmoor prison museum, where the kids were able to learn a bit of history before we let them have fun.

I learned that Dartmoor prison was built to house French prisoners of war during the early 1800’s, when Britain and France were often in conflict, culminating in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Today the prison no longer holds captives of war, but it is still home for several hundred people, who seem to largely spend their days making garden ornaments for sale in the museum.

The kids seemed more interested in the various weapons on display, crafted by prisoners over the years to aid escape attempts or injure fellow inmates. Hopefully the kids weren’t trying to size up their own escape options.

After lunch at the Two Bridges hotel, we headed to Shilstone Rocks Riding Centre for a one-hour experiment on horseback. It would be a massive understatement to say that we are novice horse riders, as the closest I have previously been to a horse is at the races, while the kids only have a few donkey rides on the beach under their belts.

So it was with a fair degree of trepidation that we announced our arrival for a trek across the moor. Clearly the owners of the riding centre had their own concerns about our competence, as we weren’t allowed to go near a pair of riding boots until I had signed forms for all the family that re-iterated our lack of expertise, and willingness to assume all legal responsibility for any mishaps that might befall us.

Having waived all future rights to compensation, we were introduced to our horses. The animals seemed bigger in real life than they appear on television or when viewed in a field from the safety of a passing car on the motorway.

Kiera has been pleading for her own horse for some time, so she put on a brave face, but she was clearly a little nervous once sitting high on the saddle of her new best friend.

Alexandra, whilst being the youngest member of our family at only just 4 and three-quarters years old, is also by far the boldest, and she practically leapt onto her mount and started galloping.

My horse was a little surly from the off, no doubt sensing my absolute ignorance, but eventually we were all on board and so commenced our amble out of the yard. We were capably led by two fine instructors, one leading the kids out front and one bringing up the rear, making sure that none of us escaped.

I probably haven’t concentrated so hard for a full hour since my last set of school exams, but it was nice to introduce the kids to a new experience and survive unscathed. I think that even my Dad enjoyed the ride, having initially expressed some surprise at having been volunteered to join us.

We stopped off in Teignmouth for fish and chips on the way home, which rounded off an action packed day very nicely.

Dartmouth

Anja was somewhat disturbed today that, despite being on holiday, we needed to set an alarm to make sure that we were on the road by 7.30am in order to reach Dartmouth canoe centre for the start of our kayaking trip at 9.30am.

Kiera and I dabbled with some canoeing during our recent week on the South West Coast Path, so I decided that the family might enjoy a half-day kayaking trip down the River Dart.

I found a local company called Sea Kayak Devon that were willing to accommodate our young crew in two double kayaks. We were met at the canoe centre by our guide for the morning, Tom, who set about getting us all suitably clothed in kayaking apparel.

Tom was excellent with the kids all day and very knowledgeable about the area we were kayaking along the River Dart. We enjoyed a gentle paddle upstream, pausing to spot some of the local wildlife, including a large flock of herons.

We were then treated to a real life “Bear Grylls” experience, as we pulled our kayaks onto a small, isolated stretch of river bank, where Tom had the kids collecting fire wood for our own small beach bonfire. Luckily we had some marshmallows to toast, which are a luxury only rarely found in the wild, but which tasted amazing in the morning drizzle.

Four hours in a small boat was enough for the kids today, but I would love to go on a longer kayaking trip at some point. The boats were a great way to see this area at a gentle pace and in utter tranquility. It felt like we were alone on the river at some points today, even though Dartmouth was alive with people getting ready for their annual regatta at the end of August.

This was a great way to end our short stay in Devon, and we’re now off to St Ives in Cornwall for the next week.

I am looking forward to spending some time in St Ives as I don’t know this town well, but also it is not far from some of the places that Kiera and I visited on our recent walk along the South West Coast Path from Penzance to Falmouth. I would like to re-visit some of the places we saw on this trip with Anja and Alexandra for company, and with the benefit of four wheels for transport.

Author: Daniel Keating

I have just convinved my family to take a year away to travel the world...might have been a bit hasty with this one and currently somewhere between incredibly excited and massively afraid!

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