Thursday, December 24, 2009


Blog-posts are like buses, you wait ages then two come along at once! Today we went for our traditional Christmas Eve walk. We travelled to the village of Abbotsham, just outside Bideford, and were going to walk down to Greencliff, but we ran out of time and opted for a walk around the fields surrounding the village instead. There was lots of ice around and the kids had fun trying to slide in their wellies. We found a puddle covered in ice at one point, and a pretty bridge over a stream where we stopped and played Pooh Sticks. It was very pleasant and refreshing.

There's a nice pub in the village for those of you wanting a bit more than fresh air in the way of refreshment, but we jumped back in the car and headed for Pizza Hut in Barnstaple. Greencliff will have to wait for another day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lets Go

Well its been a while, but here I am, blogging again. Barnstaple's newly revamped bowling centre has finally opened so we went along to see what it was like. The bowling seems to have got more expensive. I paid £28 for one game for five of us. We did manage to stretch it out to last an hour, but even so, it's no wonder the place was nearly empty. The only new thing on the bowling front was the fact that you could choose which person to have bumpers up for, that meant me, husband and daughter no 1 got rubbish scores with no bumpers up and the other two did great!

After the bowling it was upstairs to the new ice rink. As you can see it wasn't busy at all. Only four of us went on and this cost £22. You get nearly an hour on the ice, which is synthetic. It is apparently the first of its kind in Europe. It was pretty good for plastic I thought. I've never been able to skate on plastic like I can on real ice, and I could do this. In fact it was quite satisfying wizzing past the teenagers as they crashed to the ground. Disappoiting for daughter no. 2 though as she was expecting to be as good at this as all the other times she's been and she couldn't do it at all. So, difficult to tell if we will go again, but I hope so.

Monday, October 26, 2009


If you live in or are visiting North Devon and Barnstaple just isn't enough for you anymore (and who can blame you - there's no way Wilkinsons makes up for the loss of Woolworths) then a trip to Exeter might be just what you need. The new shopping centre at Princesshay is great. There's a massive Next, loads of other clothes shops, a Hotel Chocolat, and more shoe shops than you could hope to see in one life time. I know this because yesterday I went in every single one of them.

It's bit of a drive from North Devon, about an hours travelling. I drive down to Tiverton and from there cut through on the country lanes towards Credition as it seems shorter than going all the way down the duel carriageway and on the M5. Plus its much easier to get to the city centre car parks that way.

It was lovely and sunny when my eldest daughter and I arrived and we set about shopping straight away. Now I feel I have gone sadly wrong in raising her as she is not a great lover of shopping and has no interest in shoes whatsoever. However, the converse trainers she lives in will not see her through the winter weather on her walk to college everyday so I insisted she have something waterproof. After hours of walking she eventually talked me into buying another pair of converse trainers with a plastic coating! I am not convinced but she'll live and learn.

Princesshay also holds one of my favourite restaurants - Nandos. Unfortunatley yesterday the wait for a table was about 30 minutes so we resorted to MacDonalds instead.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Big Sheep

It was about this time last year that I reported on the Big Sheep at Halloween and I have mentioned the Big Sheep in another previous post when we have come down just to use the Ewetopia soft play area of an evening, but we have just spent our first full day at the Big Sheep for a long time and there have been a few changes.

My advice to potential first time visitors at The Big Sheep is to arrive by 10.30 and make sure you see the shows. None of them are more than about 20 mins, and all are quite entertaining, with one exeption. Don't bother with the Beer Show. They lure you in with the promise of free beer, and in actual fact you get nothing in the show and can get free beer just by visiting the brewery whether you have been to the show or not. It's little samples of the beer they make, which is quite nice and you can have as many as you want! Of the other shows, my children like the sheep show, and in particular, feeding the sheep at the end, and the duck show. My husband made the mistake of giving my youngest daughter the camera and now we have nearly two hundred photos of Indian Running ducks being chased round a field by a sheepdog.

There are lots of new outdoor things to do, most of which is free. We liked the jumping pillows (think bouncy castle without the walls) and the little peddlecarts. The chair-o-plane you can go on as many times as your stomach allows, but its only open at certain times. Things you have to pay for include pony rides and a combat area. We didn't do either of these but running round shooting people with laser guns looked fun.

We played in Ewetopia for a while, stayed for the sheep race, then came home. I would have loved to show you a photo of the sheep, racing down from the fields to the finish line with thier knitted riders on thier back, but my camera battery had died by then. We placed bets, but none of us won.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Why couldn't it have been like this over the school holidays? The weather waits til everyone is stuck back inside a classroom and then turns sunny. It was just right today at Landacre, although we could have done without the chilly breeze.

I have reported on Landacre in a previous blog, when we picked a windy day for a BBQ but this little picnic spot on Exmoor is about five miles outside the village of North Molton. There is nothing here but a picturesque stone bridge over the river, but it certainly draws in the crowds. I met two seperate families I knew and then just after we'd finished eating my Dad turned up with one of his mates on their bikes.

After we'd eaten my husband went off with my oldest daughter to teach her how to use the posh camera he has. The rest of us just enjoyed the sunshine, plugged earphones in or read a book. We paddled in the water, but it was very icy. Other people were braver than us and had waded in with fishing nets or were boating up and down. Eventually though it was time to come home and face the sad inevitability that winter will soon be on its way.

Monday, August 31, 2009

West Down

We went for our traditional end of summer holidays jaunt today. I have to go back to work tomorrow even if the kids don't. We were looking forward to a nice picnic/BBQ out on Exmoor, next to a river we could have a paddle in, etc. But the weather had other ideas. So we went for a walk across the hills over West Down, a tiny village just outside of Braunton, off the A361 - not to be confused with East Down (which my friend and I nearly did - good job our husbands were driving!)

We were trying out my new guide book 'Pub Walks on Exmoor' and have come to the conclusion that its a rubbish book. Everywhere was very muddy. My friends tried the North Molton walk the other day and discovered the same thing. Now I know the book cannot be held responsible for the weather, but I am sure there are places with pubs on Exmoor which are not quite so muddy. Also, it's instructions are not very easy to follow and the map looks like it could have been drawn by a three year old. It's not nearly as straightforward as the Jarrold books. And I am not just saying this because we got lost before we even left the village! A tip for anyone trying the walk with the same book we had: when it says path by the church it actually means path by the little chapple on the other side of the road to the church.

Still we all had some good healthy fresh air and exercise. And walking across the middle of a field with a big brown bull staring you down is probably one of those childhood not-to-be-missed experiences every child should have.

We made it back to the pub in time to order lunch. The meal was very nice, and the chips were gorgeous - just what you need after being so healthy!

Friday, August 28, 2009


We had a family meal here last night, to celebrate daughter no.1's exam results. It's the first time we've taken the children but me and my husband have been here lots before. It's got a great selection of pasta dishes and they always have lovely specials too. There is no children's menu but all the adult meals come in small people sizes too. It's always crowded so if you're thinking of giving it a try I advise booking. One of my favourite restaurants and cheaper than Prezzo.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tractor and Trailer Rides

Run by the National Trust out of Mortehoe Heritage Centre every Tuesday and Wednesday in the Summer seasons, these tractor rides last about an hour and are a fun way to see some stunning scenery off the beaten track. The ride we took today was down some very narrow, leafy lanes and had the odd pedestrian throwing themselves into the hedges to avoid being squat by the tractor, although it was travelling at a sedentary pace. We went down to the Bull Point lighthouse, where people without huge blisters on thier heels were given the option to walk down past the lighthouse. I rested my blisters (from yesterday) and took the tractor back to the road, where it picked up the others. At the back of the trailer a guide told us local tit-bits of information - my only complaint was that he was a bit quiet, so if you're interested in hearing what he has to say as well as taking in the views, sit near the back of the trailer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Castle Hill Gardens

Castle Hill Gardens is located in Filleigh, in between Barnstaple and South Molton off the A361. This weekend they are hosting the English National Sheep Dog Trials and Devon Country Fayre. The house is owned by the Fortescue family and they open the gardens to the public from March to September each year. There are pretty gardens to walk through and a riverside walk. We had a quick look at the gardens today at the end of our visit round the other events, then it started pelting down with rain so we decided to forego the Hockings ice cream (that's how bad it was) and come home.

The Sheep Dog Trials were interesing. It was like watching "Babe" without the pig. But the kids weren't impressed. They liked the dog agility event in the main arena. Then they liked the bits that involved me spend huge amounts of money: the swingboats, archery, and buying homemade fudge from the food tent.

Normal prices for entry into the gardens is £4 for adults and FREE for children under 14!! So probably worth going on a sunny day with a picnic. On a sunny day you also won't have to worry about driving your car through a quagmire to get out. I was a bit worried when the wheels slid from under me that they might have to get a tractor to pull me out.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Croyde Beach

Hello, again! It's been a while since I blogged, we've been a bit busy, and the weather's been a bit rubbish. Today we took advantage of the unusually sunny weather and went for a picnic at Croyde. We usually go to the car park before you get to the village but today decided to enter the beach from the other side, so we drove through Croyde, took the turning to Baggy Point and parked in the National Trust car park. If you've got National Trust membership it is free to park, but you do need to show your card as well as the car sticker. After that its a short walk across the road to a tiny slipway, then a scramble across the rock pools to get to a sand spot. It was very crowded today as you can see from the picture. Croyde beach has life guards, unlike Saunton round the corner, but both beaches were busy today.

We had out picnic first, before we got to sandy, then my husband took the girls into the rock pools with a bucket where they caught some tiny shrimp, crabs and various creatures in shells. Daughter no.1 was very brave and only cried a bit when all 16-and-a-bit stone of her Dad stood on her fingers. None of them wanted to go down to the sea because the tide was out and it was miles away. So we were only there for a couple of hours. The free car park was a good move, the one opposite Ruda is £5 and it doesn't matter how long you stay.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dunster Castle

I dragged everyone out today despite everyone being grumpy and tired due to lack of sleep after daughter no.2s sleepover last night. (Why do they call them that?) We came here to Dunster Castle, which strictly speaking is in Somerset not North Devon, but if you're in the neighbourhood...

It took us an hour to get here, but the scenery is lovely on the way. It's a National Trust property so we got in free with our card, just before it runs out. The reason for coming today was that they were having a Teddy Bear's Picnic with a special event for very brave teddies. When we arrived we were the only ones picnicing, but other soon joined us. After lunch our teddies were feeling brave so we took them over to the zip wire and got them harnessed up. If you look carefully at the photograph you can just see the blue rope coming from the castle roof down the green below. All three of my daughters sent their teddies to the roof and one by one they came zooming down the zip wire. My nearly-sixteen year old wanted to leave her teddy in the car, but when she wasn't looking he sneaked into the picnic box. Daughter no.2 (she with lack of sleep) got very worried when her teddy wasn't quite heavy enough to make it down and needed a helping hand. All three teddies were awarded certificate for bravery.

After that excitement we calmed things down a bit with a wander round the castle and grounds. (Mr Lion was so exhausted he had to go for a lie down back inside the picnic box.) The inside is typical National Trust, lots of roped off rooms, portraits and things you can look at but not touch. We did that fairly quickly, then we looked at the gardens, nice in the sunshine, explored the crypt where there are supposed to be ghosts, and looked at the batcam to see some cute bats stretching their wings.

It was an OK visit, not sure I would have liked it without the teddy bears, plus, they have no cafe.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Combe Martin Wildlife and Dinosaur Park

We haven't been here for years, largly because its quite expensive, (£12.50 adult, £7.50 children) but I decided that it was about time we went again, and a nice sunny day is the best time to go. It wasn't very packed today - the man at the gate reckoned that was because it was beach weather, but I think the football on the telly had something to do with it as well.

It's really good park, but plan to go all day to make sure you see everything and do all there is to do, and also to get your money's worth. Another good tip if you're driving there is to aim to park in Car Park 1 or 6. The whole park is built on the side of a very steep hill, and if you're taking a picnic and leaving it in the car til lunch time to get to any other car park will be like hiking Mount Everest. I made the mistake of parking in Car Park 3, so believe me, I speak from experience - out-of-breath-back-of-my-legs-killing-me experience!

So what is there in the park? Well the wildlife part of the park has various monkeys, racoons, otters, lions (the newest addition, and not fully ready yet), wallabies, and penguins. The best two animal attractions though are the sea lions, see below, and the wolves. The sea lion show runs twice in the day and is great; fully educational and not just animal exploitation. The lady explains all of the sea lion's behaviour and the reasons behind why they do what they do. The wolf talk is only on once and is definately not to be missed as is it given by Shaun Ellis, the Wolfman of Channel 5 documentary fame. He is completely brilliant, and the wolves are fascinating. The highlight for my children was when he brought out two wolf pups at the end of the talk, and everyone got the opportunity to stroke them.

Then there's the dinosaur part of the park. There is a dinosaur domain walk through the woods, but the best bit is the animatronic dinosaurs in the enclosure near the main entrance. They wake up on the hour every hour, move, roar, and - this was the best bit - spit! The sight of screaming children jumping when the water hit them was almost as funny as that of the wailing two year olds who thought the dinosaurs were real!
And as if all this wasn't enough there are two attractions which are completely unrelated to either dinosaurs or wildlife. There is the 'Light Show', which is themed around a trip into outer space and begins with the opening to 'War of the Worlds'. If you've ever done Disney, don't bother with this, its not remotely scary or even interesting. My youngest daughter said, 'It's like a disco, only not as good.' Underneath the 'Light Show' is 'The Tomb of the Pharoahs'. This the children found more scary, although the anticipation and their imaginations had more to do with this than anything.
Finally, there is the Earthquake train ride. This you have to pay £1 each for, which I found a bit of a rip off. There are other rides and mini-golf which you also have to pay for which can be avoided, but the train ride is one of their big things and ought to be as free as the rest of the park. It lasts about two minutes and takes you to a model American West mining town where 7000 gallons of water hurtle down to drench the not at all unsuspecting train passengers. Again, the kids loved it! Water on a hot sunny day and you're onto a winner.

Saturday, May 02, 2009


Just had a lovely meal here. We took the kids and met some friends. Its a tad expensive, but if you're looking for lovely Italian food in a nice atmosphere this could be the place for you. They were very good with the children too, a kids meal with ice cream was only £4.50, and there was so much of it my middle daughter couldn't finish it and thats not like her when eating spagetti bolognaise.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Rock Park Playground

OK, so it might have actually been here for about a year now, but it's still new. And its the first time we've been here. Like what seemed like hundreds of other people we took advantage of the sunshine, and the fact that daughter no.3 can ride a bike now, and went out to play today. This playground is much bigger that I thought it was going to be with loads of things to do, unfortunately they are mostly aimed at the younger children so my 11 year old got quite bored. However, after encouraging her to try out a few things, and after an ice cream, she got quite into it and raced around with my youngest having fun. I'm sure, had the zip-wire not been broken, she'd have not wanted to leave. It's a good park, one of Barnstaple's best now, but still doesn't match Bideford Park simply because it doesn't have a pool.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Tarka Inn

It was a lovely day yesterday so I decided we better make the most of the weather and go out. This was at the expense of my husband mending my daughters broken bed, but I decided that one more night on the mattress on the floor wasn't going to kill her!
My youngest daughter has finally learned to ride a bike so we all went out on the Tarka Trail (see Tarka Trail post for further details). This time we went on the other side of the river towards Braunton. I didn't think we'd make it as far as we did but she kept going. We went to the Tarka Inn. It was taken over about three years ago now and used to be quite child-friendly but has now gone up-market. They don't like children and they don't seem to like cyclists either. So we bought a drink and sat outside with it, but didn't get an ice-cream or a chocolate bar because they don't sell them. They could make a killing in this location but don't seem interested. It wasn't nearly as busy as it used to be.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Barnstaple River Front

Barnstaple has been looking really nice in the sunshine this last week. On Friday I had occassion to walk 28 children down to the river front to sketch the old bridge and it was lovely sitting and looking at the scenery. If you're in Barnstaple and have time for a leisurely walk then this is the place. The cycle path and walkway runs from Rock Park, under the old bridge, known as the Long Bridge, and then right round to the Civic Centre (not a picturesque building at all), and you get a lovely view of the new downstream bridge. Does this have an official name? I'm not sure.
Oh, and in between the two bridges is a rather nice little cafe called, of course, The River Front cafe.

Barnstaple is still good for shopping, for anyone who was wondering. Since I haven't posted about Barnstaple since 2006 I thought I would offer that titbit of information. We lost Woolies and Adams, but so far that it. New shops keep appearing, in particular a large amount of underwear shops! I wonder what that says about the people of North Devon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

North Devon Karting

North Devon Karting Centre can be found on the Pottington Industrial Estate as you leave Barnstaple heading for Braunton; it's just before the dual carriageway. I've never been before, but my husband took my littlest one before Christmas and she was keen to go again so we all went over for an hour this afternoon. I just watched (well someone had to take some photo's - plus I got an excellent video of daughter no.2 crashing!!)

It's expensive at £4 per go-kart, and with each ride only lasting 6 minutes, so they only got two rides each. But they all loved it. Despite the crash and the two man rescue all three of my kids were keen to do the second race. Daughter no.1 wants to come back with her friends (I told her she needs to get a job!) The nice thing was that little ones can ride with an adult and they have seperate races for more powerful cars, so big people don't have to race with the slower little people. If you can afford it, it's worth a couple of hours to visit. Next time I might even have a go.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


I don't know why I thought this was a good idea. I think when I get old I'll be one of those old women who want to be driven out somewhere to sit and look at a view with a nice cup of tea. Cos that's what we did today. The blue skies came out and I thought, 'Oooh! Picnic!' So I stuffed some food in a box and we all headed for Exmoor. I think I forgot that it's still February.
Exmoor is lovely, even on a windy day. I love looking at all the trees with their coverings of green moss, and then reaching the wide open moorland and being able to see for miles. We drove out to Simonsbath and then turned towards Lynton on a little B road. There are lots of places to pull over and park the car. When we got out though we discovered that the ground was still wet, even though it hasn't rained for ages, and the wind was quite chilly - so we all piled back into the car and ate our sandwiches there. I insisted on leaving the doors open so we at least felt like we were eating outside.
Then followed a heated discussion on whether the coastline we could see across the water was Wales or Hartland Point. Eventually my husband had to concede defeat - it was Wales. Anyway - I can thoroughly recommend Exmoor for picnics, just don't go in February.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Marwood Hill Gardens

This is a privately owned garden open to the public most of the year. It's in the village of Marwood just outside of Barnstaple following a windy country lane that takes you right up into the surrounding hills and offers a fantastic view of the town. Children under 12 are free and adult admission costs £4.50.

We've never been before but saw a piece in the North Devon Journal that said it was designated snowdrop Sunday today so we went out to see the snowdrops. They were beautiful, as was the rest of the 20 acre garden. This didn't stop my littlest one moaning when we had to walk up a steep hill and then decided to walk back the circular route rather than the way we came. Still the promise of a drink in the Tea rooms soon brought her out of that. Unfortuntely the Tea rooms had no chocolate, and whilst I could console myself with a large slice of bakewell tart, the children chose to put up with just a drink.

After this it was off for a wander round another one of the three lakes to see some more snowdrops, and then we headed for home. It was a lovely garden, and I couldn't help wondering how beautiful it must have looked in the snow.

(For photos of Barnstaple in the snow follow the link to North Devon Photo Journal opposite.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Bucks Mills

I haven't been here since I was a small girl. And I don't think its changed a bit. I had an image in my mind of narrow green country lanes where the trees blotted out the sky above, and of standing on bridges watching streams bubble underneath, and it was just like that today.

Bucks Mills is just off the A39 between Bideford and Clovelly. A mile drive takes you to a free car park and from here there are a number of footpaths you can take either into the surrounding woods or through or around the village. We walked through the village today, which is actually a road open only to residents, so occassionally we had to make way for a car. The village is very picture-postcard pretty and the road follows the path of the fast-flowing stream which once powered the mill.

At the end of the village is a steep path down the side of the cliff to the beach. Although my middle daughter pointed out in no uncertain terms that this was not what she called a beach. It's mostly pebbles.

Nevertheless they had fun filling their pockets with small stones and then throwing them into the sea. The stream that winds through the village crashes spectacularly down the side of the cliff just a short way along the beach, drawing people to it. There were quite a few visitors today which surprised me. After the toil back up the cliff path we headed for home, stopping at my sister-in-laws for a cup of tea, and found them on their way to Bucks Mills for a walk too!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Putsborough Beach

This is a beach I've heard of but never actually been to, so today seemed like as good a day as any. Until I stepped out the car that is! It was freezing!

Putsborough is found just round the corner from Croyde about a mile down a single track country lane. The view as you pull into the drive that leads to the car park is stunning. I should imagine on a clear day it would be jaw-dropping. My jaw very nearly did drop when I had to pay for the car park, and now I understand why we don't come here. Its £3 to park in winter and £6 in the summer - more expensive than Croyde or Saunton.

From the car park a steep path leads down to the beach, with the tall cliffs that are the back of Baggy Point to your left and views of Woolacombe far off to your right. The children were particularly keen to clamber over the rocks and were only momentarily distracted by the ice patches all over the sand. In an attempt to keep my toes warm for just a bit longer I made them march up and down the sand for a while. We stopped to play football (with tiny Bratz ball) until my husband moaned that people kept kicking the ball past him and he had to keep running off after it - then we gave in to the inevitable and let them play on the rocks. This lasted for as long as it took my youngest one to put her foot in a pool of icy cold water (so not very long then). After that we all headed off to the cafe in the photo for hot chocolates.