To Dunster, in Somerset, for a few nights R&R.
The first thing to say is that this was our first proper stay away, with the boys not needing to be baby sat, since 1993.
Our first port of call was the seaside resort of Minehead. Without wishing to be too offensive, here is a great example of faded seaside glamour. You are never going to get golden beaches or the palms of Torquay in Somerset but to say the place is a disappointment is a colossal understatement. The streets are clean enough but what’s in them shows the way the town is going. Typical seaside tat prevails as you would expect, but so does a high variety of charity shops. Move further away from the sea – and even on the Promenade you are far enough away on a normal day – and it’s Pound Shops, Money shops, betting shops and your ever present Wetherspoons.
It is hard not to be patronising about the place or the people who were there but I would be lying if I said the visitors were any more affluent than the town. Everyone seemed to be shuffling along, up and down the main road, quite possibly looking for something to do. There was, for me, a feeling of almost overwhelming sadness. No one seemed to be smiling.
At the far end of the Prom stand the pavilions of Butlins, visible for miles around, and I suspect with our Britain’s favourite organised holiday resort Minehead might well be a ghost town.
Inland to Dunster, a medieval village with a large castle at its centre and the near wilderness of Exmoor a mile or so away, the contrast could not be greater. All craft and souvenir ships, mid to upmarket eateries and barely an accent other than middle England. Unlike Minehead, which seemed to groan under the weight of the penny arcades, Dunster boomed amid the art shops and the £20 bottles of wine. And you could park for nothing too.
Without drawing too many conclusions, it appeared you could see two types of Britain here. The dated, cheap and cheerless tired resort and the bustling upmarket village. The latter might as well have held up a sign that said ‘No riff raff’, but I suppose if it did they wouldn’t have let me in either! Downside: only one ‘proper’ pub and that had all of two seats for drinking and around half a dozen (empty) seats for eating.
We walked a small part of Exmoor which was gorgeous, populated with ponies, would you believe. Mercifully, the ground was largely dry and the weather unfeasibly warm so it wasn’t a messy walk.
Trips to Lynmouth (beautiful), Lynton (not so beautiful), Porlock (move along: nothing to see here) and Combe Martin (is there ANYTHING of interest here? We didn’t find it if there was) all followed. The most exciting part was, for me, driving up and down the enormous inclines outside Lynton and Porlock that my grandad always told me about but never took me to! One in four, he used to say, which these days means 25%.
A drive back via Watchet which has a pretty working harbour and nothing else unless you fancy spending £25 on a woman with psychic powers who, I suspect, you tell you things about yourself that you already know. Oh, and the West Somerset Railway passes through and the visit of a 2-8-0 steam engine made my day.
So that was Somerset. Very nice. Lots more we didn’t see, possibly at the expense of some of the places referred to here which are actually in Devon. We’d do it again but my feeling is that it’s not a coast that’s on the way up.