We had a very busy day. Through Dark Lane into open countryside, always a nice start to our travels.
We'd spotted a sign the day before that read 'Branscombe Picturesque Village' and thought we should have a look, so we mapped out a circular route. Branscombe was indeed picturesque, strung out along a narrow, winding lane with lovely views, taking forever to reach the sea.
I bought some stamps in the tiny post office, and the postmistress and I chatted, exchanging gruesome stories of having lost a thumbnail at some point in our lives. So surprising what information you'll willingly share with strangers!
The narrow ribbon of road went up and down
But the sea hove into view at last, There was the telltale mega-carpark that warns of hordes of visitors in the summer, but we only spotted 3 or 4 people.
Perhaps the number of bathing huts was a sign too.
The pub had a green growth of grass or moss on its thatched roof.
The beach was empty...
...although this hadn't been the case two years ago, when a container ship ran aground. Huge crowds swooped down to salvage what they could from the floating wreckage and damaged cargo, and the council has not been slow to turn the remains of the incident into a tourist attraction.
We moved on, passing some attractive homes on our way. Could I live here? No. Summer must be torment for residents because of the traffic and congested lanes.
And on to Beer.
Beer was empty too, although its car park and pub showed that this wasn't always the case.
We decided to walk up to the viewpoint.
The cliffs here are white
This is smugglers' territory
So beautiful. There's more to Beer than meets the eye: Phil Curtis reports from his home village that: Rock samples from the cliffs were onboard an unmanned spacecraft launched by the European Space Agency from Baikonur in Kazakhstan. The samples contain photosynthetic organisms and are attached to the heat shield. The craft is due to return on September 26th, 2009 when the samples will then be taken for analysis. They are part of an experiment to determine whether microscopic life can be transported through space in rocks.
Then inland, to Axminster, famed for its carpets. An old market town, somewhat marred by the traffic that winds through it, but having a comfortable, well-established feel to it. Would a bypass save it, or would the town die in isolation?
There was a parish church that seemed to have a large chicken as a weather vane - not that I could see it properly or indeed, take a decent photo of it, but it whiled away the ten minutes it took for Rose to guide some poor woman out of a very tight spot where her car had been boxed in by another, in a tiny cramped space bounded by stone walls, next to the chicken church. A 54-point turn with much revving of the engine did the trick, but we noticed that her car was covered in scrapes and dints, suggesting that perhaps this wasn't the first time she had been in this pickle, and that perhaps she had boxed herself in.
We hadn't realised that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage shop and cafe (the Canteen - I ask you!) was here, but as it was, we stopped for a cup of tea and the best sausage sandwich I have had in ages - nicely browned organic chipolatas in a big floury bun, with a choice of 'brown or red sauce' that tasted very home made. Shame about the blaring radio that interfered with customers' chatting. Rose bought some freshly-made boudin noir for David, and we could have bought other delights, had it not been for the stingy weight restrictions on our flights home.
Thus fortified, we talked to two different estate agents, a very cheering and positive experience, and armed with brochures, pootled off to Membury, a little village some four miles away to investigate two properties - just peeking from outside, of course, not a proper viewing. Interesting; affordable.
And with lovely views.
And some curious residents wanting to know why we were there.
Lastly, another visit to Sidmouth. I needed to see it again, and to talk to some estate agents. Was Sidmouth a realistic choice for me?
We walked about, looked at the Cultural Centre and its camellia in full bloom...
...peeped down a very pretty Regency terrace. One house had a Sold sign on it: the very cheery, encouraging young woman in the estate agent's office later told us it had sold for £400k. Ouch!
We wandered through the little streets. These dwellings were built in 1929
But the pub was slightly older - built in 1350.
We had afternoon tea, and we shopped. I can't tell you anything about my shopping, because of the Christmas presents secret, but I can show you my mad, jolly, new felt slippers with their appliqued flowers. Impossible to be a serious or a miserable person in slippers like these!
After a while, I noticed that Rose was plodding silently behind me. Poor love, she had been such a conscientious companion, cooking, organising, driving, managing the sat-nav, which last night she had finally quelled into sonar silence. In addition, she had kept in close contact with her family, ever willing to support and assist them, even at a distance, and she was worn out.
It was time to go back to the barn, have dinner, pack, and test those sofas for some serious lolling. The next day there would only be time to return the car, check in, and fly home. It had been a long and full day. We had covered a lot of ground, collected a heap of property details, spoken to estate agents and to sheep, walked on beaches and up hills, and gained a great deal for me to think about.