Croyde 2018

Croyde, in North Devon, is one of my favourite places in the world! Ten years ago I visited for surfing trips with my mates, and fell in love with the village and beach. I have been back every year since. This year we visited again for a family holiday, with Owen and my parents. Owen has visited Croyde before, but Mum and Dad haven’t, so I was looking forward to showing them around our usual haunts.

Two years ago Jen and I drove down in the MR2, with minimal luggage, however this year the BMW was stuffed full of luggage, and a bike on the roof. I am going to need a bigger car! Traffic on the M5 wasn’t great, but Owen was a good boy, so the journey wasn’t too arduous. We met Mum and Dad at the holiday cottage, unpacked and formed a plan to head to Squires fish and chip shop in Braunton for dinner. The first of our regular haunts! After the long drive I didn’t feel like being crammed into the BMW again, so chose to ride over on my bike. I took the back roads to Braunton. It was a big climb out of Croyde, but the views down over Saunton Sands were worth it. The descent down to Braunton was fast. I was on the road, so without any tricky corners or rocks to negotiate I only had to slow down for a couple of cars coming the other way and made good time. I arrived in Braunton before the rest of the family, within twenty seconds of the time Google Maps had predicted it to take! I’m sure the fish and chips tasted even better than usual after riding over to get them! (I did wimp out for the return journey and got a lift back in the car – I didn’t fancy the narrow lanes in the dark).

We started our first full day in Croyde with a walk into the village, although Owen really wanted to go to the beach! Mum and Dad walked over to Saunton Sands, and Jen and I took Owen to the beach. He was in his element playing in the sand, digging and looking for shells! In the afternoon we walked up to Sandleigh tea room. Owen had fun exploring the garden and chatting to the scarecrow, whilst we enjoyed a lovely cream tea. Mum and Dad walked to Baggy Point, whilst Jen, Owen and I went back to the beach. As the tide was out we could clamber across the rocks from Sandleigh, rather than walking back along the road. At first Owen seemed a bit unsure, but he loved splashing through the rock pools and looking for creatures. However, he was even more excited to get back on the beach to dig some holes! In the evening he came up to me, gave me a huge hug and said “I love you Daddy” – the first time we’ve heard him say that. He is such a little charmer!

The weather forecast for Sunday was for rain, but we managed to get to the beach for an hour before the rain started. Owen did more digging and I flew my old Flexifoil Stacker kite. Owen had been captivated by someone flying a kite the previous week, so I thought he may be interested, but it was a bit too powerful for Owen to have a go with. The rain started just as we were walking home; we made it back without getting too wet, and spent the rest of the morning chilling out at the house. Whilst Owen had his nap, Jen and I escaped into the village on our own for a quiet cup of tea and a piece of cake! As we got back, Mum and Owen were heading out to the playground, so we joined them. It was good to get Owen out of the house and running around a bit. He also got to see the beach tractor – I don’t think it can get any more exciting for Owen than a tractor on the beach! We finished the day with Sunday lunch at the Manor House Inn, another Croyde tradition for Jen and I. The only problem was that due to it being a rainy Sunday the carvery had been hit hard. The roast beef, that I had been particularly looking forward to, had all gone. At least it gave me an excuse to try something else from the menu – the steak and ale pie was a good substitute! I thought it was funny that most of the other tables were also families with children and grandparents.

As I hadn’t managed to get out on my bike on Sunday, I got out on the Monday morning instead, before meeting Jen for breakfast at Blue Groove – our favourite cafe. I have already posted about my ride, so won’t fill a holiday post with bike talk. When we got back Owen wasn’t too keen on going for his nap. The weather wasn’t great either, so Jen and I took him out for a drive to Ilfracombe. Owen was looking forward to seeing boats and trains, even though I had explained that there wasn’t a railway there. We parked at the harbour, so saw the boats, then at the end of the harbour we saw a little road train! We had to go on it, even if it was just for a little tour of the town, most of which we’d seen from the car on the drive in. Owen was very happy with his train ride and it gave Jen and I the chance to scope out ice cream shops. Joey’s looked the best, so we put that theory to the test. My Bakewell tart ice cream was nice, however Owen ending up wearing most of his bright green mint chocolate chip ice cream. To work off our ice creams we took a walk around the Capstone Parade, a traffic free promenade around the Capstone, a small hill between the town and the sea. It was good to let Owen have a run around without needing to worry about traffic. I also got to do some photography, I was particularly pleased with the photo above, looking past St Nicolas Chapel and the harbour entrance. By the time we got back to Croyde the weather had improved, so we went straight back out to the beach with my Mum. Owen enjoyed more digging and filling his bucket with water from the rock pools. It really was great having the beach a five minute walk from where we were staying meaning that we could just pop down to the beach after whatever we were doing during the day. After dinner, I went back to the beach to try and do some golden hour/sunset photography, however the light was rubbish. I should have listened to my Dad, who had declined to join me – as he thought the light would be rubbish!

Owen was in a funny mood on Tuesday morning, the weather wasn’t great either, so we had a quiet morning. We popped in to Braunton to do some shopping, then I took Owen to the playground. After lunch Mum and Dad walked to Mortehoe. Jen, Owen and I drove there in the car to meet them. Then we all walked down to Morte Point. The walk was about a mile, but as it was over footpaths/parkland we couldn’t take Owen’s pushchair -this would be his first hiking experience! He did better than I expected, I only ended up carrying him for about two thirds of the way. When we got towards the headland the wind was incredibly strong – the back end of Storm Helene was battering the UK. Mum, Jen and Owen held back and looked for seals in the sea, whilst Dad and I continued to the end of the point. It was probably a good job that Owen didn’t go all the way down with us, as Dad and I were getting blown about by the wind and struggling to stay upright – Owen would not have stood a chance of staying on his feet! After all that effort we went to Bllly Budd’s for dinner. The plan had been to get pizzas, but none of us ended up ordering one. I had a massive bowl of nachos with pulled pork, which I struggled to finish! Owen seemed to enjoy his fish fingers, but playing on the playground was his favourite part of the meal. I was impressed that he’d learned to climb up a rope net to get on the slide – he is getting very good at climbing!

Wednesday the 19th September was mine and Jen’s third wedding anniversary – time has shot by! Owen woke himself up coughing before 5:00 – I thought it was going to be an early start, but by the time I got back upstairs with the Calpol, he had fallen back asleep and didn’t wake up until 8:00! Thanks for the anniversary treat Owen! My Mum had offered to look after Owen all day, so Jen and I could have a day out – Jen wanted to visit Dunster Castle, so that’s what we did! I’m not normally a fan of stately homes, but fortunately Dunster Castle is a bit different! The sun was out when we arrived, so we had a walk round the gardens, taking a selfie on the Lover’s Bridge. Then we visited the working water mill, which was milling flour. It was great to be able to not only see the mill working, but be able to clamber around both inside and outside the building to get a closer look at the whole system – from the channels taking water from the stream and over the wheels, to the gearing inside powering a variety of machines, in addition to the milling stones. Naturally we couldn’t leave without buying a bag of the flour we had seen being milled. After the mill we visited the tea room and had my favourite holiday lunch – a Cornish pasty followed by a cream tea! As the weather was now turning, we decided to head inside and check out the castle. First stop wast the crypt, to learn about the life of the servants in Victorian times, and the resident bats. We had hoped to do the Victorian kitchen tour, but it was fully booked – if you’re planning on visiting Dunster Castle, make sure you call at the castle reception and book on as early as possible! Instead we did the self guided tour of the castle, which focussed mostly on its heyday, around 100 years ago. I particularly liked the dining room and adjoining blue 1950’s kitchen with views over the Bristol channel to Wales. When I heard that you could try billiards, I instantly thought of a photo opportunity with Jen looking down the cue and was pretty happy that I was able to pull it off, especially given I am still learning my Fuji camera. It seemed like we had missed the worst of the weather, as back in Croyde Owen and my parents didn’t even make it to the beach – they had to turn round as the wind from Storm Ali was whipping sand into Owen’s face. They went to the playground instead, ironically it was too windy to fly the new kite that Dad had bought Owen. In the evening Jen and I went back to Blue Groove for an anniversary dinner, just the two of us. Both of us had our usual dishes, chilli beef burrito and moules frites.

The weather was rubbish for our last full day in Croyde, after Storm Helene and Storm Ali rained on us we had Storm Bronagh. I’m not sure what we did to deserve three named storms on our holiday week! Dad and I braved the rain and walked to Blue Groove for breakfast and that was it for the morning! The weather hadn’t improved much after lunch, and Owen was in a funny mood, so we decided that there was only one thing for it – soft play. Jen found Quince Honey Farm in South Molton, which sounded more interesting than normal soft play and would give Owen a chance to nap on the drive there. At the honey farm we learned about bees, their hives and tried some different types of honey. When we got to the soft play area we were the only ones there! This meant I didn’t feel too guilty about taking Owen on the big slides etc. Once again he got to show off his climbing skills and graduated from sitting on my lap on the slides to racing me down! We had saved The Thatch for our final evening in Croyde and all had a good meal, making up for the miserable day. Owen was on top form, eating most of his dinner and charming the staff.

Packing the car back up seemed to be quicker than in Coventry and we were on the road fairly early. Even more unusually the traffic past Bristol was fine! There was a bit of traffic on the M5 as we got back to the Midlands, but we were still home by early afternoon. As we were driving back Jen and I reflected on our week and both felt that Croyde had somehow lost its sparkle, it could have been down to the weather, familiarity, staying at the other end of the village to normal, the seeds sown by watching a programme on TV about how Croyde is being ruined by holiday lets earlier in the summer or simply that our needs are different now that we have to think about more than where we are going to go for dinner! We still had a great time, but the chat in the car was more about where are we going to go on holiday next year, rather than what are we going to do when we visit Croyde next year. I’m sure we will be back though, as it is such a special place to us, but maybe next time it will be a romantic weekend away just the two of us…

Pre-breakfast Ride in Croyde

I’m currently on holiday in Croyde, North Devon, with my family, but I also brought my hardtail along, hoping to fit in a ride or two. On Friday I rode to Braunton for fish and chips, but that was just a road ride, and I really wanted to hit the trails! On my trip last year I bought a cycle map from Croyde Cycle, and had identified a suitable loop.

When I got onto the first bridleway out of Croyde, I had underestimated just how rocky it would be. It was also steep. Steep enough that I had to push my bike up it, which gave me plenty of time to worry about riding back down it at the end of the ride. The trail was similar to what I was riding around Ladybower – but I was on my Four there, with a dropper post, grippier tyres and much better brakes. Eventually I got to the top of the ridge that separates Croyde and Saunton Sands – time for the climb to pay off! The trail down the Saunton Sands side wasn’t as steep or rocky, but it was a lot narrower, a really good piece of single track. There were a few rock slabs at the bottom, which I got to inspect closely after choosing the wrong line. Fortunately it was at low speed. I then followed the bridleway/coast path behind Braunton Burrows. The first section had a “Beware of the bulls sign”, fortunately without any bulls. The next section was through the golf course, with signs warning about golfers – there were none. Then the final section was behind the Royal Marines training area. You guessed it, there were warning signs, but no Marines. It felt a bit like all of the “Bear” warning signs when Jen and I went to Yosemite on our honeymoon road trip!

Where the trail joined the “American Road”, I turned back towards Braunton, taking the byway across the “Great field”. The byway was only just about wide enough for a cauliflower picking tractor, so when two of them were approaching me I had to stop and wait for them to pass. From Braunton I followed the cycle route out of town, which eventually turned into a steep, rutted, muddy climb. I could probably have coped with any of those separately, but the combination meant that I felt safer pushing up. The climb did yield another rocky technical descent though, which gave me confidence for the return down the first bridleway I’d ridden out of Croyde. From the bottom of the descent it was a climb back up to the top of the ridge between Croyde and Saunton Sands, fortunately this was a gentle incline on the road, so I was able to maintain a decent speed. The narrow road, with grass growing in the middle reminded me of the roads in Normandy, where my Mum grew up.

The ride along the ridge had great views out to both sides, although the light was better on the Saunton Sands side. This is where the panorama at the top of this post is from. For the ride back down the steep, rocky trail to Croyde I dropped my seat as much as I could – only about an inch (no dropper post on the hardtail), hoping it would help with the descent. The trail wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had feared – yes it was steep and technical, and I was slow, but I stayed on the bike and was pleased with how I tackled it. Hopefully all the practice I have been doing is paying off!

At the end of the ride I met Jen for breakfast at Blue Groove, our favourite place to eat in Croyde. I had one of their “Hogfather” breakfasts, which went down very well after an unexpectedly challenging ride!

Top Five from 2017

At the start of each year the photography forum on PistonHeads.com encourages users to share their top five photos from the previous year. It is a good opportunity to revisit my photos and share some that may not otherwise have made it into a blog post.

Here are my top five from 2017:

Owen looked so cute in the Woody outfit, it was when he was just starting to crawl and he thought the game was to crawl towards me and grab the camera.

When we were in Croyde I had a free morning where I was able to sneak out for some photography. This panorama was taken from the spot where I proposed to Jen, and is my favourite view anywhere. Click through to Flickr to see a larger version.

This was taken on the front camera of my iPhone, so won’t win any best photograph awards, but I love having a photo capturing all three generations. I know Owen likes it too, as my parents have a print of it in their house and he always points at it, exclaiming “Daddy” and “Papa” – he hasn’t learned to say grandpa yet, so calls my dad Papa.

Taken with my GoPro on holiday in Cyprus, I love the colours on the underwater part.

I just happened to have my camera in my hand when Gill brought Jen’s birthday cake into the room, so was really pleased that I managed to capture this.

I have also posted my top five from 2012 and top five from 2016.

Parental Leave: Week 6

Fmily Holiday SelfieOur week started with a bit of a panic, Jen left for work and the power steering failed on her car. Fortunately I had decided to drive the MR2 this week and had already moved the car seat over, so she was able to take the BMW. As my friend Richard pointed out on Facebook – there always seems to be something wrong with one of our cars! It must have just been dodgy Italian electrics, as the car was fine when I tested it later in the day. Owen and I enjoyed being back out in the MR2, he had been really sleepy during his breakfast, so I bundled him straight into the MR2 to drive to my Mum and Dad’s house. Being in the MR2 perked him up and I had lots of smiles and giggles from the passenger seat, until he eventually drifted off to sleep. We had a lovely time with my Mum and Dad, Owen seems to have learned some new skills too – waving and drinking from his cup without any help!

On Tuesday Owen had some more firsts – I needed to do some more DIY, so Jen’s Mum came to look after Owen. They went for a walk to the park, where Owen enjoyed the playground, incuding trying the slide for the first time, then they came home on the bus – Owen’s first bus trip! When he got back Owen seemed content watching me paint – finding it funny when I was up the ladder waving down at him.

This is sounding a lot like my parental leave is just handing Owen over to grandparents to be looked after, whilst I crack on with something else – which isn’t the case. I guess the routine stuff, like battling with him eat his breakfast, changing nappies and playing peekaboo just seem normal to me now, so tend not to mention them. It isn’t all bad, as Owen does love hanging out with both his Grandma and Nanny. He always has huge smiles for them when they walk in the door and I’m sure he’s on his best behaviour when they are in charge!

Wednesday was a Daddy and Owen day, we mostly hung out at home, our only trip out was to the supermarket, taking the long way home, as it was a nice day and we were in the MR2. I still find it funny how small the MR2 looks, parked next to all the SUVs and people carriers in the parent and child spaces. On Thursday we were out in the MR2 again, to go swimming – this week we even made it on time! Owen did a lot of splashing when we got into the pool, he splashed himself, the other babies and parents, the teacher, but mostly he splashed me. After his initial excitement, he didn’t seem to enjoy the lesson as much as usual. I think that he was tired, as he didn’t have a pre-swim nap – probably why we made it to the lesson on time. He went straight to sleep when we got home, allowing me to get some jobs done, then have an uninterupted lunch with Jen! In the afternoon Jen took Owen to buggy workout, leaving me free to get out on my bike. With all the veranda painting it felt like I hadn’t had a proper ride in ages, so it was good to be out again, even if I had to do some more painting when I got home.

Whilst I was painting Jen took a phonecall that would slightly change our plans for the rest of the week – our holiday rental in Croyde would be ready for us on the Friday, rather than the Saturday. Naturally we jumped at the opportunity to have an extra night in our favourite place. Friday morning was spent packing, whilst waiting for the health visitor to come for Owen’s twelve month development check – of course Owen fell asleep just before she arrived and had to be woken up to be measure and weighed. He apears to be doing fine though, he is above the 75th centile for weight and 90th centile for length, when corrected for being born 6 weeks early. We had a few final errands to run before we could hit the road – Owen even cooperated and fell asleep in the car for the exact amount of time it took me to remove the bike carriers.

We set off at 17:30, half an hour later than planned, mostly due to Owen being fussy about eating his dinner. Jen drove the first stint through the Friday rush hour traffic on the M42 to Glocester services, where we stopped for dinner/milk and a crawl round the play area. I took over for a long second stint all the way to Croyde, by this time the traffic had cleared and we made good progress. The downside to the late arrival was missing the view across Croyde Bay when driving round Down End Point, one of my favourite views anywhere in the world. We could just about tell that the tide was in, but couldn’t see much else. We found our chalet, complete with cot already set up for Owen, so all we had to do was transfer him from his car seat to the cot. It didn’t quite go to plan though, Owen woke up, and was keen to explore his new surroundings. He slept well when he drifted back off to sleep, and had a bit of a lie in.

The fun really started when he’d had his morning milk and realised that he had the full run of the chalet – heated laminate floors and no stairs must be perfect for crawling around, as Owen looked to be enjoying himself immensly. He then found the springy door stoppers, hours of noisy fun for a little boy! Due to getting to Croyde a day early, and our early morning wake up call, Jen decided to do Parkrun in Barnstaple. It was a lovely morning, so Owen and I expolored the park whilst Jen ran. The plan had been to stop off for breakfast in Braunton on the way home, but Owen fell asleep in the car on the way, so we carried on back to Croyde and went to Blue Groove instead. This was no hardship as it is one of our favourite places to eat anywhere  in the world. We spent the afternoon walking around Croyde and seeing what had changed since our last visit, then chilling at the chalet during nap time. We visited Squires fish and chip shop in Braunton, another of our favourite haunts, for dinner and Owen had his first taste of fish and chips. He didn’t quite get the concept, as he only seemed to want the chips.

Sunday started with another lie in (we now class 7:00 as a lie in), but as this was forecast to be the last sunny day of our trip we wanted to make the most of it. We started off with a walk to the National Trust tea room at Sandleigh, which after extensive testing Jen and I have declared to do the best cream tea Devon. Pete and Gill (Owen’s Nanny and Granddad) joined us for the walk, and we had a lovely morning. After Owen’s lunch we took him down to the beach – this was his first chance to play in the sand, as last time he was only a few months old! Rather than taking the pushchair to the beach we used the baby carrier, which hadn’t been used since last summer, when Owen was a lot smaller. He went on my back and seemed to enjoy the walk down to the beach. We set up a tent to shelter us all from the wind and sun. Owen was happy to stay in the tent to start with, so I took a stroll to the sea, and by the time I got back (it was long way due to it being low tide) he had ventured out and was fearlessly crawling over the sand. I built some sandcastles, but Owen was destroying them quicker than I could build them, maybe my Dad is correct in thinking that Owen wants to become a demolition engineer…

Owen seemed to enjoy the beach and did really well with not eating sand until just as we were packed up and about to leave, when he somehow ended up with a big face full of sand and cried most of the walk back – I’ve never had such a noisy rucksack! After desanding ourselves we all went for Sunday lunch at the Manor House Inn, followed by an ice cream from the little ice cream shop, introducing Owen to more of our Croyde traditions. After Owen had gone to sleep I went back out with my camera, planning to take a photo of the sunset, however it wasn’t to be, the sun dipped below the horizon, but there wasn’t even the faintest glow of orange in the sky. It was still good to get out with my camera, as I haven’t had much of a chance to do landscape photography recently.

We have got more of the same planned for next week, although the weather forecast doesn’t look as nice. Whatever we get up to it is nice to spend a decent amount of time together as a family and hopefully Owen will benefit from it.

Croyde Day 3: Cornwall

Day three started off with a pre-breakfast walk to the beach, the crowds (and waves) from the weekend had gone and the beach was really peaceful. A great start to the morning.

After a full English breakfast back at The Thatch, we set off to see Jen’s friend in Penryn, near Falmouth. Rather than going straight down the A30 dual carriageway, I decided to take a more scenic route, from Bideford to Tavistock on the A386, then the A390 to Truro. The drive to Penryn ended up taking three and a half hours, a bit longer than I had been expecting – Devon is next door to Cornwall, so it couldn’t be too far! The A386 started off twisty, with tree tunnels to give us a break from the sun, then as we got alongside Dartmoor the road opened out and we got done amazing views. Turning west onto the A390 took us into Cornwall, although none of the Cornish towns were signposted until we crossed the border. I’d only ever been to the Cornish coast, so was pleased to see that the middle of the county was really pretty, with great driving roads too.

After a long, but enjoyable drive, we got to Katy’s house in Penryn. Like our house, it is an ongoing renovation project, but with a much better view! We spent a lovely afternoon catching up, meeting Katy’s six month old son and seeing the sights of Penryn/Falmouth.

We decided to take a slightly more direct route back, straight up the A39, with a detour into Padstow for fish and chips. Rather than joining the queue for Rick Stein’s chip shop, we found a less glamorous place next to the harbour. The food probably wasn’t as good, but there wasn’t a queue and sitting next to a pretty harbour eating fish and chips was perfect.

From Padstow we continued up the A39, with a quick detour into Bude, as neither of us had been there before. Driving up the A39 we experienced the full spectrum of A roads, from fast dual carriageway, to barely enough room for two lanes of traffic, which kept the journey interesting. Nearing Bideford, I had to pull over for Jen to drive as some sun cream had run into my eye and under my contact lens, making my eyes sting. As that wouldn’t have the best way to end what had otherwise been a great day, we stopped of at The Thatch for an ice cold pint of cider.

Mileage so far: 425

Croyde Day 2: More Surfing

The main plan for day two was more surfing! After breakfast we got back into our still damp wetsuits and began the long walk down to the sea. We hit the beach just before low tide, so the waves weren’t quite as good as the previous day, but we still had fun and Jen made good progress.

We spent the afternoon wandering around town and back down to the sea. It was nice spending time walking along the edge of the sea and paddling in rock pools – Croyde beach really is a wonderful place.

After our walk we stopped at Billy Budd’s pub to catch the tennis – well done Andy Murray! We finished the day with a drink at Blue Groove, then dinner at Hobb’s Bistro, possibly the only restaurant in Croyde I hadn’t been to. It was a bit posher than I would normally go for, but the food was good.

Mileage so far: 190

Croyde Day 1: Surfing

Another weekend, another roadtrip! Croyde in North Devon is possibly my favourite place in the world, and this is the fifth year in a row I’ve been there.

The drive down started a bit later than intended, due to a lie in and needing to wait for the post office to open – I had to send some paperwork back to the lease company as the MX-5 goes back in less than 2 months.

Jen drove the first stint, until just before the roadworks on the M5, where I took over. I got really frustrated at the poor driving, you could tell that it was mainly people who drive a few miles to work every day, then once a year head down to the south west, on the road. Every couple of miles there was a car broken down on the hard shoulder (remember your pre journey checks people – oil, coolant, tyres etc) and no one seemed to be using the inside lane of the motorway, they were all bumper to bumper at 60mph on the outside lane – argh! Even with all the numpties on the M5, we made it to Braunton for lunch in four hours, and after a bit of shopping it was only five minutes round the coast to Croyde.

After checking in the first job was to get a white chocolate milkshake from Blue Groove and book our table there for dinner. On the way back Jen bought a wetsuit – then we went for a surf! The waves were small, but clean – perfect for us, as we hadn’t surfed since Costa Rica last year. I surprised myself by catching a really good wave first time out, possibly my best of the day and Jen seemed to make good progress through the afternoon. The only bad bit about surfing, was the long walk to/from the village, barefoot and carrying the boards. Being able to ride a smaller board is certainly an incentive to get better at surfing.

For dinner we went back to Blue Groove, I had beef enchilada followed by Belgian chocolate waffle and Jen had Tuscan pork stew followed by some Spanish almond and cirrus tart, all of which were very tasty. After all the walking/surfing we felt like we’d earned our dinner, but still went for a stroll to burn it off. We took a different route to the beach, checking out all the new houses being built, then sat at the foot of the dunes watching the sun dip behind the horizon. A perfect end to a great day!

Mileage so far: 190