Many old hands and some very welcome freshers came together on 3 September to set forth for Devon. We met Ludo, our guide for the week, who proved to be minimalistic in importing information but excellent in shepherding us to where he wanted us to be at set times.
First stop was Killerton; here, besides the impressive house, began the competition for "Garden of the Week". We journeyed on to Torquay where we received a warm and efficient welcome from the staff. Rooms varied from the “2 Windows overlooking the sea” to the “bijou slide into bed sideways” to the “it's probably very nice but I can't tell because of the tree against the window blocking out the light”. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff, and the food throughout the week was excellent.
Next morning saw us in Exeter. The city guides who walked us in small groups were excellent; we learned a lot in a short time. Our cathedral guide, I am led to believe, was also good; sadly, projecting his voice was not among his gifts. However, I found Malvern Priory's own Andrew Millington listed among the cathedral organists plus a memorial to Felicia Jemima, daughter of William, Lord Beauchamp of Powyke who died in Sidmouth in 1813. Our afternoon visit was to Powderham Castle, new to many of us and a real gem brought to life by our lively young guide. The views from its attractive gardens were memorable.
We were among the first visitors to arrive at Buckfast Abbey the next day. The Abbey gave a pristine verging on sterile impression. Everything in the grounds was neatly marshaled. We journeyed on to what may have been for many the highlight of the week. Maybe the challenge of getting there added to its charms: Richard our wonderful driver took us through spaces which seemed to have less than 10 centimeters to spare each side and our hearts went out to car drivers who had to reverse out of our way. Once at Coleton Fishacre, the delightful arts and crafts house stole our hearts, and the garden: first prize of the week? We all felt we could move in there and then (subject to the right number of domestic and garden staff, of course).
I found Dartmouth largely unchanged since I honeymooned near there 53 years ago, and we all fell for its charms. A river trip delivered us on the quay below (and I use that word advisedly) Agatha Christie's holiday home which we enjoyed: how such beautiful scenery could inspire such crimes as she dreamt up is a mystery in itself.
Our last full day took us north to Rosemoor Gardens, the other contender for Garden of the Week. Every plant you could ever think of and more besides was growing and looking healthy in the well-kept beds. We could have spent more time there, but onward we went to Arlington Court, long the home of the Chichester family and now displaying the passions of its last owner, Miss Rosalie Chichester: an air of sadness pervaded. The Carriage Museum interested many, and the garden provided fresh delights.
Saturday saw our eyes turned towards home, but not before we had sampled the quirky delights of A La Ronde. The idea of each window catching the sun in the course of the day was appealing, even if it led to a few obstacle courses to go from one room to another. After that, our party experienced its first split of the week, some opting for Knightshayes while the rest enjoyed a leisurely canal trip on the horse–drawn barge “Tivertonian” in the hooves of the reliable Ross. This prepared us for our journey home, after we had said farewell to Ludo who was traveling on to Italy. We made good time and bade sad farewells as we disembarked.
The whole week had been a delight; as we thanked Clive for his organisation and Richard for his feats at the wheel, we also remembered much laughter, friendship, tending wounds and wasp – swatting which all contributed to a friendly, memorable and happy time.