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.


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.


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.

Top 5 Highlights South West Coast Path

I have now returned from my walk along a section of the South West Coast Path (Penzance to Falmouth), and luckily for me I have also managed to safely return my 7-year old daughter.

Top 5 Highlights

  1. Spending some real time with my daughter, without the usual interruptions of work / school / TV, etc.
  2. Being outdoors all week and enjoying the space and freedom of the Cornwall coast
  3. Being closer to nature – spotting seals playing near some rocks, enjoying some amazing wild flower displays around The Lizard, watching fishermen returning their hauls of lobster, plus some closer encounters with numerous herds of cows grazing the land and some Shetland Ponies up high on a cliff…the ponies were definitely the highlight for Kiera
  4. Amazing local seafood all of the way, with some great places to stop for food at nearly every village that we passed through…Kiera has decided that she likes fish and chips now, but only if they’re freshly caught that day, and not if they come from a packet in the supermarket
  5. Discovering some new places along the Cornish coast that I would like to return to and spend some more time with my family, e.g. Kynance Cove (great rock pools and caves), Marazion (St Michael’s Mount and lovely village), Porthleven (fishing harbour and some smart restaurants), Gweek (seal sanctuary), Swanpool Beach…where we finished this week and had the best ice-cream!

More details of this trip are available on my site: round the world with my family

Logistical support provided by Mr Tim Whitaker: near water walking holidays




South West Coast Path

There is one other adventure lined up before the big one next year, which is for me and my eldest daughter to walk a section of the South West Coast Path (SWCP) – from Penzance to Falmouth. The walking starts on Sunday, covering 60 miles over a week, which I have tried to judge to make sure that my daughter doesn’t decide to go on strike halfway through.

It is absolutely teeming down with rain today. Luckily we’re just at home, making final preparations before we set off for Penzance on the train tomorrow.

At least there is no sign of the tropical heat wave that was forecast for the end of July, so we should be walking in more normal “English” conditions, i.e. drizzle interspersed with medium rain, with occasional heavy showers timed for whenever you hope to stop for a picnic.

I have tried to instigate a new approach to packing, in preparation for our big trip next year, but this has only been partially successful. I blame the fact that for next week we are going to have the luxury of luggage transfers between each overnight stop, so the pressure isn’t really on to minimize our stuff.

Looking forward to the train journey tomorrow, as a few weeks ago I somehow managed to book seats in the first class carriage for less than the price of the standard seats. This seems to be possible every so often, although I don’t understand why. To be honest the only real difference in first class is that you get slightly wider seats, which I presume is related to the availability of free snacks, thus requiring that little extra wiggle room for your first class regulars.

The train journey is also very scenic, with the line built practically on the beach between Exmouth and Dawlish Warren, and so it ought to be a pleasant 4 hour journey down from Bristol, before the walking starts in earnest on Sunday.

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