In my experience New Years Eve sucks. It’s frustrating, expensive and depressing and I never have a very good time. This year I pretty much decided to stay in and watch a movie and was perfectly happy with that but then we got invited to spend a couple of days with friends in South Devon and suddenly it all sounded much more appealing.
We left London at 7am on Sunday and headed down the bizarrely empty M4 and M5. The roads were wet and it rained most of the way, we held out no hope whatsoever of clement weather but we didn’t really care as fresh air, a log fire, good food and an absorbing book is about where one’s expectations should sit in the week after Christmas.
On the way we stopped at the Dartington Hall estate, where Richard’s grew up, and had a mooch around the uncompromisingly Modernist High Cross House, one of Britian’s most celebrated ‘machines for living’. It was built for the headmaster of the experimental school that was housed in the estate. After lunch we made our way down the coast.
Our friends are fortunate enough to own a holiday home in East Portlemouth, a hilltop hamlet situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty right across the estuary from Salcombe (we were corrected whilst there that although it’s called an estuary it’s actually a ria, as it is just a tidal inlet with no river flowing through it).
The Salcombe area is probably my favourite bit of the British coastline. The sea is azur, the cliffs green and rocky, there are lots of sheltered sandy coves reachable only by boats and the thickets of dark trees clinging to the cliffs are punctuated by beautiful Victorian villas precariously balanced on the rocky outcrops.
We arrived mid afternoon and after a few cups of tea went for a walk along the beach in the twilight. The rain had stopped but it was dark, moody and atmospheric. It was really quite beautiful in the fading, stormy daylight.
We arose on New Year’s Eve to rain. Rain, rain, rain. We ventured out and caught the little ferry across to Salcombe, had a wander around the town, ate a doorstep bacon sandwich and caught the ferry back home to settle down in front of the fire.
I was delighted to find that our friends’ house was strewn with old paperbacks of Agatha Christie books. Reading a Christie book should be mandatory for anyone visiting the South Devon coast. The perfect length for a two day break, these bite size mysteries are frozen in time and it’s much easier to ignore all the posh Jack Wills and Scuba wearing lot when you can so easily transport yourself back to 1930s Devon, to a glittering world of cocktails at Burgh Island, satin gowns and jazz, Art Deco beach houses, turquoise seas and the odd murderous cliff top rendezvous. I promise that it really will enhance your enjoyment of the area and if you are ever fortunate enough to stay at the wonderful Burgh Island hotel you simply must read Five Little Pigs whilst you are there.
In the evening we stayed in and had dinner. It was so much fun, the kids are all at the age that they are genuinely fun to be around and adult time isn’t compromised, in fact the kids make the adult time more fun. We played charades and that game where you have to each tell part of a story. Ours involved an elf called Ralph who was on a there-and-back-again adventure to Paris to buy parsnips for his Christmas dinner. I’d be lying if I said my contribution wasn’t heavily influenced by this brilliant video which we all watch incessantly. It has done more for my French vocabulary than all my years of schooling (thanks Erin!).
At midnight we all headed outside, kids included, and watched the fireworks over Salcombe.
We woke up on New Years Day to the clear skies that have been so absent lately. We bundled up and headed down to the beach to soak up the sunshine. We played Stuck in the Mud, which was more fun than it sounds, blew off the cobwebs and after a delicious brunch we headed back home to London.
All in all it was pretty much a perfect end to 2012.