Hiking, picnics and boat trips

This Easter weekend has been lovely. A combination of beautiful weather, fantastic sea views and having the whole of my dad’s side of the family together for three nights.

For years now, my auntie has gone to great lengths to arrange family get-togethers every couple of years. These have become more complex to sort as the family has gradually expanded in number and geographical location. This year, in view of my uncle’s 75th birthday and the fact he has now finally (almost fully) retired, she managed to magically sort all 24 of us to be together for the long Easter weekend in Devon, which is now home to exactly half of us. She booked the beautiful Berry Head Hotel in Brixham for the majority of the family, whilst my parents and I stayed with my brother and sister-in-law in their house a mile or so away from the hotel.

On Good Friday, before the extended family came together for dinner, my family had a visit from some German friends of ours, who were staying in Newquay for the week and who had travelled to Brixham to spend the day with us. The 14 of us headed out of Brixham on the ferry to nearby Paignton, then started the 6 or so mile walk back. It was warm and sunny and the walk took in beautiful views, woodland, beaches, and, perhaps most importantly, ice creams for the children. We followed part of the South West Coast Path, which consists of 630 miles of very steep climbs and descents, mixed in with some much easier walking and fantastic beaches. Eventually we arrived back, tired and aching and ready for a good dinner!

My brother and sister-in-law own a brilliant cafe, the Guardhouse, within the old Napoleonic fort on the top of Berry Head, about 10 minutes walk from the hotel. This seemed the perfect place for us all to congregate for the Friday and Saturday evenings – big enough for us to be comfortable without being on top of each other; private so we weren’t in anyone else’s way (or earshot!); and safe for 8 children and a dog to wander and play without getting up to too much mischief.

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Friday evening was spent with the 24 of us, Patches the dog, plus our 10 German friends, in the cafe, chatting, catching up, drinking delicious wine and eating fish, chips and grilled fresh scallops. It was so nice to just be able to relax and enjoy ourselves, without any worries. The food was delicious and you can’t beat fresh seafood when you’re so close to the sea – caught, sold, cooked and eaten on the same day, only a few miles from where the boat came in!

Saturday morning dawned, again sunny and bright, and the group split into two parties after breakfast – the hiking contingent and the picnic/beach-goers. Eight of us went for the hike, with Patches leading the way and covering at least double the distance of the rest of us. We left the cars at Coleton Fishacre National Trust car park and walked down through the beautiful gardens to the coastal path. We were expecting the walk to be about 6 miles, but it seems that didn’t take into account all the ups and downs. We passed some beautiful bays and were greeted with continuous amazing views. It made me think, again, how I would really quite like to live down in Devon eventually, and how lucky we are to live somewhere so stunning. After walking for a good few hours, we arrived at the beach where we were meeting the others, including all eight children, and the picnic. The picnic was delicious, with hand made slabs of sausage roll from a local bakery, gluten- and dairy-free carrot cake to satisfy the various dietary requirements of the group, and lots of fruit. Eventually though, it was time to face what looked like an enormous climb out of the beach to continue on the coastal path to the Guardhouse cafe. It seemed to take forever, but the walk did become much easier for the last mile or two, and finally we arrived, to be greeted by my brother, drinks, and very-well deserved ice cream! My Fitbit said the walk was 15.5km, and that I had climbed 175 floors – so not quite the 6 miles we had been expecting! Despite the difficulty and length of the walk, it was really enjoyable and I had a great day!

That evening we again all congregated at the Guardhouse, for an easy meal of jacket potatoes, various cheeses, fresh wild garlic pesto and hams. This was served with salad and followed by strawberries and homemade puddings, made by my dad that morning. Of course, everything was washed down by more wine provided by my uncle, from the Wine Society – Albariño and Chardonnay, with Chateu-Neuf-du-Pape for the red drinkers. After all the fresh air and exercise of the day, and much seaside excitement for the youngest generation, it was time for an early night.

Easter Sunday dawned sunny and bright, and early. We had a private boat charter arranged to take us on a 2 hour trip around Berry Head and the local Torbay coastline, with a local wildlife expert. No-one had expected the boat to be quite so big – a double decker, open top variety (you can tell I am in no way a boat expert!!). The guide was really interesting – he knew everything there was to know about the birds, marine life and coast. We saw fulmars, peregrine falcons, seals, cormorants, even two stand-up paddle-boarders who looked totally at home about a mile off-shore – one even had a backpack as though he was on his way to work!

Back in the harbour, the children (both young and old!) spent a very happy couple of hours in the sunshine, dangling over the harbour walls, with plastic spools, nets full of pieces of bacon and a bucket of water. No-one had ever gone crabbing before, and it was unbelievably popular. We weren’t very good at it, but eventually the crabs started biting, and holding on for long enough to be hauled up and into the bucket. It was a real competition to see who could get the most – funnily enough, the only vegetarian of the group was the winner, by about a mile. After we’d caught about 20 little friends, we decided to have a crab race on the beach to see which could get to the sea the quickest. This didn’t go quite to plan, as the majority just sat where the bucket had been upturned and continued to sit there for quite some time, before eventually, and very slowly, crawling to the sea, a few centimetres at a time! The day was rounded off by an Easter egg hunt in the hotel grounds, cream teas in the sunshine and eventually a delicious dinner in the local Shoals restaurant above Brixham’s lido. The food was delicious – fresh, very locally-caught seafood and fish, with hot crispy chips. We had the place to ourselves and it was lovely to spend our last evening together in Devon together.

All in all, the weekend was a brilliant, sunny, happy catch up with all the family. Hopefully the next one won’t be another 2 years away!

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