Our Post Lockdown Devon and Cornwall Road Trip
Finally – after an interminable amount of time in lockdown and the doldrums of the day to day grind we are off headed to Devon and Cornwall for 10 days!
After a very last minute, and quite unlike us, rush to pack the van and get on the road we left Bristol and hit the M5 south headed for Devon and Cornwall at about half five.
Expecting apocalyptic queues, we tentatively joined the motorway. However, the traffic Gods must have been looking down kindly on us, as while busy, we motored south relatively unhindered and were treated to the sun slowly sinking behind the hills to our right in an array of golden hues, both beautiful and brightly poking us in the eyes like a learner devil who has yet to perfect his (or her) craft of all out evil.
Tired and battered by 5 or so months of work and no social life, followed by a week of meeting friends and family in beer gardens across the country, we turned off the M5, followed the rolling Devonshire A roads for a while before joining meandering single track B roads up steep banked corners, praying we didn’t meet any large farm traffic, towards Westdown Farm Wild Camping site nestled just north of Dartmoor.
We arrived incident free just as the sun was throwing all its glory over the countryside. But this was where the good luck ended. We swung onto the grass and immediately sank, wheels spinning pathetically in the soft ground.
We later found out that we had inadvertently driven over the only corner of the field that was riddled with mole tunnels and as such was very soft! Never mind, we fired off a text to the site owner who re-assured us they would be down in the morning to rescue.
We turned the bedding round to sleep upside down as we were on a wonk that Willy would be proud (pathetic attempt at word play on Willy Wonker but it’s late and I’m tired- sorry).
Plonking the lasagne we made a few days prior, into our new Omnia Oven, lit a fire and let the evening pass until the stars began to take over the night sky.
Wrapped up in big coats we ate our lasagne as the temperature dropped to the low single digits and made a swift entry to bed absolutely wiped out.
No photos today – tired and its late!
The next day started bright and fresh, frost melting on the long grass as the coffee peculator gurgled happily away making the morning brew oblivious to our sadly wonky and stuck plight.
Once again we fired up the Omnia to turn our croissant dough into fresh baked breakfast delight and enjoyed coffee, croissants and a warming feeling from the sun on our faces.
Hiking Wistmans Wood
Already we were feeling more refreshed and relaxed than we has done for months.
Normally we like to be up and out early to make the most of the day. But having decided to take a more relaxed approach this week as we knew we were going to get worn out very quickly after months of sitting around doing nothing.
So, we were pleased when the campsite owner turned up at 10:30 with a tow rope and 4×4 to help us – just as we’d finished up having a very chilled out morning of fresh air, sunshine, coffee and bread.
The owner was super lovely and had us rescued in no time at all, we bid goodbye to a fellow camper we’d met in an impressive 90’s Hymer who after a couple of weeks was heading home.
After many trips to Dartmoor we’d always failed to tread the ancient tracks down to the gnarled woodland of Wistmans Wood so we made our way round the edge of the Moors before turning to dive deep into it’s heartland.
We managed to park up in the last spot at Two Bridges. It was a pleasant and easy trek to the Woodland across the Moor. We had to keep an eye on Una as moorland ponies, sheep and cattle could appear out of the reeds and gorse at any moment and she would need to be recalled and leashed until we were safely passed.
After a couple of miles, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air we came to the edge of the woodlands. Far smaller than we anticipated but just as magical and wizened as we’d imagined the woods clung to the edge of the hillside above a stream dappled in the morning light.
The forest floor made up of tumbling, moss covered boulders, hidden below a thick copse of twisted and mangled trees casting an ominous shadow over them, you get the feeling that ghouls and witches could easily be hiding within, waiting to lure in an unsuspecting walker on a cold and wintery night.
We skirted the treeline above the forest and cleared it, looking for a ford in the river to cross and make the return journey. A few poor calls and sodden feet later, having sunk in hidden boggy enclaves we managed to cross the river and head back towards the van.
The return journey took us along a high path above the river on the valley floor below and next to a very delightful stream which Una spent the entire journey joyously splashing about in.
We passed through a tall and grandiose pine forest which smelt amazing (pine needles, like the car freshener but real and not that gross synthetic smell).
The final leg took us through a farm filled with sheep and newborn lambs before we stopped off for the best fish finger roll (proper fish fillets, in beer batter and homemade roll) and a pint to recharge in the beer garden at Two Bridges Hotel.
Upon finishing our food we were duly chased away by an angry gaggle of geese which we suspect the owners might have employed to free up tables after customers have paid.
If you want to know more about Wistmans Wood check out our comprehensive guide
We had originally planned to carry on and explore Spitchwick today but decided we were already beginning to flag so made haste back to the campsite, figuring to explore tomorrow instead.
Smores, Campfires and Chilly Bones
After enjoying the last of the truly welcome April sun back at the campsite we had bbq chicken wings and cheese pittas cooked over the campfire and once again were treated to a bright night moon and impressive stars, where we attempted to make smores but ended up melting chocolate which happily dripped straight into the fire.
A family of 3 turned up in the early evening and bravely began to setup their tent despite forecast overnight temperature of 2 – 3 degrees Celsius.
The following morning they were gone, a fellow camper informed us they had given up and gone home at about 3am. Poor sods must have been frozen! But full marks for effort!
Splashing at Spitchwick
After a pleasant and uneventful morning comprised of yet more sunshine and a burnt croissant-ridge monkey experiment we packed up camp and set off for Spitchwick – Dartmouth and the South Devon Beaches will have to wait for next time.
A hair raising drive over the top of Dartmoor culminated in a steep and hairpinned filled descent down to the carpark at Spitchwick, which was full except for one very rocky space.
A minute or two of heated debate followed, which basically amounted to me repeatedly demanding that Lyd get out and guide me in centimeter by centimeter and her refusing, stating that we will not get in that damn space.
During this debate (or argument if you prefer) a car left a different space and we happily squeezed ourselves in. Deciding to check out the river before lugging the SUP board down there we wandered down and explored a few miles of the river.
Plenty of little rocky nooks revealed themselves as we wandered along, each offering a little private beach onto the gently flowing river Dart. Interspersed with this was larger areas of greenery where families and groups of friends busied themselves barbecuing, playing ball, sunbathing and generally making merry.
Una was beside herself at the smell of all the sizzling fires and gourmet sandwiches so unfortunately she spent most of the time on lead. We decided that the river was too shallow, too often to bother hauling the SUP board down, so we spent a happy hour or so throwing sticks for Una to swim after and sitting around in the sun – making merry with everyone else.
All in all, a very nice afternoon. For a full rundown on what to expect at Spitchwick check this out
A wild campsite
Before we knew it we were on the coastal road heading over the Tamar bridge and into Cornwall. Upon arrival at Bush Farm Wild Camping we knew we were onto something really special and unique.
A vast campsite set out over nine or ten massive fields, some amongst orchards, some nestled against the river and some high above the valley floor commanding impressive views out over the countryside. Barely a soul was to be seen, pretty much a huge field per visitor.
A word of caution though, access through the site is very rocky, very narrow, very steep and very dusty – at times it felt more like a 4×4 experience than a campsite. Larger vans and those who worry about dinks and chips might want to avoid.
For the rest of us, and anyone in a tent, charge on down that rocky track and find your spot. We parked up by the babbling brook, hung the hammock up over the river bank, and yeah – you guessed it – lit a campfire on our own private rocky river beach.
We whiled away the remainder of the afternoon drinking and reading in the hammock with the river burbling away behind us, watching Una in her element sprinting around the vast and empty fields.
Dinner was garlic and chilli prawns, butter and chive new potatoes, long stem broccoli and juicy baby tomatoes all cooked on the ridge monkey – we felt very posh despite our mud encrusted finger nails and burnt skin after months of house arrest had reduced it to vampire levels of pale.
Eventually as the fire grew small and temperature once again dropped, we retired, exhausted to bed. We were finally beginning to grow used to spending time in the van again, less elbows and heads were being smacked on corners, Una had only been stepped on once or twice today, and we rarely knew what time of day it was.
Three days in and already we were well and truly back in the swing of things – only this time taking things a little slower than normal.
Lunch in Looe
Monday dawned and an easy, relaxed morning of yet more sunshine, coffee drunk in the hammock and splashing in the river with Una unfolded itself.
By the time early afternoon had announced itself we made the off road 4×4 experience drive back out of the campsite and headed for the Cornish coastal village of Looe.
A pleasant drive of tumbling A roads and tight back country lanes brought us into the centre of Looe and an excellent, massive, and temporarily free car park.
We spent an hour or two wandering the narrow streets lined by tall, higgeldy piggeldy town houses, peering through window displays and eating fish and chips on the front – unfortunately the beach has a dog ban in place so Una didn’t get to tear up the sea and sand, but we stopped for a quick drink on a roof top bar terrace before making our way back to the van.
Narrowly Avoiding Disaster
Google announced on our return journey that the A38 was closed due to an accident and we would be taking a short detour on some minor roads – no problem we’ll follow the advice, we don’t much fancy sitting in a queue for the next 4 hours.
Well, it seemed that the whole of Cornwall had been diverted onto a labyrinth of tiny B roads, so infrequently trodden that grass grew in the centre a foot high. After an agonisingly slow and perilous journey, we were just 2 miles from our destination.
When suddenly cars were doing 25 point turns, and subsequently squeezing back past us, by far the largest vehicle on the road. It turned out that up ahead an agriculture lorry was blocking one exit and a queue of cars in the other direction were refusing to reverse – resulting in the ultimate stalemate.
Eventually we found a suitable driveway to do a U-Turn, took fate into our own hands and ignored the satnav. Picking our way gingerly down ever smaller roads, speaking to locals who helpfully advised us that we were too big for these roads we at last made it back to the campsite – only an hour later than planned – but it felt more like six.
A few quickly drunk beers later and the whole ordeal was behind us. But a stark reminder that Cornwall was not the place to take unknown back roads in a large vehicle.
Despite experience flying down Welsh back roads standing us in good stead – these roads are just far busier – and had this been the height of the tourist season we felt we might have been in real trouble!
Rivers & Lakes
Feeling pretty blue about leaving the most rugged, free and wild campsite we’ve ever stumbled across we packed up the van, bade goodbye to our tent friend downstream and headed out.
Targets set on Golitha falls just on the edge of Bodmin moor we trundled onwards. The falls, serviced by a large carpark, free on our day of visit as the café was shut, were a short stroll along a rooted, rocky and quite lovely path, dappled with light through the trees overhead and the sound of the river rushing by rocks and steep banks.
Una and many other dogs were having an absolute whale of a time despite the short length we had a nice leg stretch here before heading further up onto the Moors to The Cheesewring and Gold Diggings Quarry.
My (Simon) knee which often gives me grief was really starting to cause me issues now after several days of ignoring the warning signs, and so despite rafts of anti-inflammatory gel we opted for a short walk to check out the swimming spot at Gold Diggings Quarry and not to bother doing a full loop up to The Cheesewring.
The quarry was a perfectly sheltered pool of absolutely clear water. Gutted that we had forgotten our swimming gear, and a few too many people about to consider skinny dipping we let Una swim for a while chasing sticks before making our way back to the van.
A quick pint in the newly expanded beer garden, shared by sheep, lambs and large piles of poo was very welcome before we headed back to the southern end of the moors to find our next campsite.
A small, well kept and cosy affair met us – complete with donkeys Basil and (another one whose name I have since forgotten).
After yet another sunkissed evening (yes – our luck with the weather is getting out of hand), I (Simon) then attempted to cook up a meal of pork, apple and onion sausages, red cabbage, new potatoes and broccoli. This was the worst meal we have ever eaten in the van. The sausages were burnt, everything else was raw, but it was already gone 9pm we so we ate it, complained about it and hit the sheets as once again we are absolutely wiped out.
Long days of fresh air, activity, sun and too much to drink in 50% of our cases was catching up with us.
Arguments on Hilltops
Wednesday arrived in the form of yet another beautiful morning and we set off for a walk up Rough Tor & Brown Willy on the Eastern edge of Bodmin moor.
Skirting the edge of the moor on the main road we turned up onto the smaller, tighter roads approaching the carpark – a free offering from the National Trust.
Upon arrival we had about six drops of rain and so decided to have a coffee in the van before heading out in case in got heavier. However, after about 20 minutes it was clear blue skies, albeit very windy, so we took our chance and headed upwards towards to first Tor.
After a short 30 minutes stroll past cattle, horses and a few sheep dotted around the barren landscape we arrive at Little Tor. A small argument ensued as I (Simon) wanted to carry on over to Brown Willy but Lyd was having none of it after seeing the valley far below which we would need to cross (twice).
So stroppily I agreed to call it a day at little Tor (secretly my knee was already giving me grief but I was not about to let on about this). We took a few photos and admired the view until the wind got the better of us and we descended back down to the van.
Worth noting is that dogs must be kept on leads during the spring and summer months due to lambing season and ground nesting birds setting up camp amongst the undergrowth. A little annoying for us with a lively dog but I’m sure it’s for good reason.
We stopped on our way back to camp to explore Bodmin using the extra time we had gained from not hiking across to Brown Willy. Bodmin itself didn’t seem to have much to offer, a nice enough high street but nothing to write home about.
Another warm and sunny evening followed so we sat outside, made chicken, bacon and leek bake and enjoyed beers in the sunshine.
I can see the sea
After a relatively early start we headed for the coast – well aware that six days into a ten-day Cornwall trip and we’d barely seen the sea or a beach.
Wadebridge offered up plenty of parking, and it was here we learned that for some reason, COVID related, all Cornish council run carparks are free until mid-May – great news!
With the bikes unloaded we set off for Padstow along the 5 mile section of the Camel trail. The sun beat down overhead, glistening off pockets of sea and perfect little beaches and coves along the way, with the fresh sea breeze keeping us cool.
Una ran the whole way like an absolute boss. Pasties, pints and cream teas were consumed amongst the twisting side streets of this Cornish gem of a town, and we whiled away some time watching the fisherman tending to their boats in the harbour.
Very few ‘beach tat’ shops have sprung up here and it is predominantly independent eateries, bars and pubs, little souvenir and gift shops and a few outdoorsy shops making up the bulk of the businesses on show – which is always good to see.
Five miles back to Wadebridge into the headwind and we were ready to call it a day – long months of lockdown has done nothing for our fitness levels!
However, we did find the energy to very quickly have a sproot around Wadebridge and it seemed like a nice town to spend an afternoon or evening shopping and exploring the local bars and restaurants. A few essentials bought from the local greengrocer and butcher and we were on the road headed for Trebyla Farm campsite.
We arrived and called the owner who arrived on his quad bike, looking windswept and jovial. He didn’t seem to want to know who we were, if we had booked or how long we were staying, waving his hand across the gently sloping field with far reaching sea views and he told us to take our pick of where to park up and enjoy ourselves.
Plonking ourselves at the bottom end of the field to ensure unspoilt sea views we set about doing very little, once again basking in the sun, only this time having to hide from constant, unrelenting wind which kept up for the entirety of the next 3 days.
Still with very little ‘beaching’ done we headed for Widemouth bay – unsure of what to expect as we haven’t seen or read anything about it before.
We pulled up into a large car park, part gravel, part grass and part sand looking out over a fairly deserted, but awesome beach. No dog bans here until later in the summer, free parking until mid-May and a café set us right.
We explored the long sandy beach, sometimes paddling in the shallows, exploring the rockpools with Una or simply sitting and watching the surfers and windsurfers enjoying the waves.
A quick coffee at the café and Simon wanted to swim. Duly undressed down to swim shorts and he’s in! Too cold even for Una today! He lasted about 45 seconds before we were rushed back to the van to towel off and warm up.
Whilst Simon swam, I was set upon by a very excited, and very wet Labrador who insisted on jumping all over me and shaking freezing cold sea water everywhere!
Boscastle, Beer and Carpark laps
A happy morning on the beach completed we headed back to the campsite, just 20 minutes away, to shower, freshen up and head down into Boscastle.
Boscastle was an unexpected treat. A huge carpark and small village set down a very small river valley right on the shore with it’s very own tiny harbour. A fish and chip shop, a sea food shack, a hotel & restaurant, a bakery, a number of pubs and a few small shops perched along the babbling brooks edge.
After wandering down to the harbour, exploring the shops and checking out all the menus in front of pubs and restaurants we settled in for a pint at The Cobweb Inn.
Lyd agreed to drive the van for the first time to get us home so I could have a couple of pints!! Feeling like a teenager with his first fake ID I set about drinking as many pints as I could, as quickly as I could so she couldn’t change her mind!
Too many pints of Tribute to count later and food was in order. A really excellent butterfly chicken burger and stonebaked pizza later and we headed for the van.
A few practice laps of the carpark, reversing trials done and Lyd took us out on the open road! Traversing small coastal roads with ease and before we knew it, we were safely back at the campsite – once more facing the full fury of the wind.
As it was Friday it had filled up a little and people were trying dutifully to peg up their tents despite the weathers best effort to turn them into flying kites.
Saturday was equally as windy. And it must have been windy all night. As everyone who had put up those tall, thin, toilet tents were left with sorrowful porta pots next to destroyed toilet tents by the time we got up.
Our final night in Cornwall done and dusted we made a beeline along the A39 coastal road for Bude. More free parking! Summerleaze beach at Bude is an absolute belter of a beach.
We once again explored left and right. Past the boats sat on the sand in the harbour waiting for high tide, past the groups of surfers warming up by sprinting and doing circuits in their wetsuits, past rockpools filled with curious children and past excited dogs letting loose on the sand.
We watched the surfers out to sea for a while before heading back into town. Unfortunately, Bude doesn’t appear to be very well built for outdoor life that is needed for current COVID restrictions, with many places having no space for outdoor seating. So, many of the bars and cafes were unfortunately not open. We did mange to snaffle ourselves a final Pasty and a cookie though.
Taking the Slow Road
Done earlier than expected we decided to drive homebound on the slower, but scenic route, continuing along the A39 as described in Martin Dooleys Take the Slow Road, England and Wales book.
The road was as described. A wonderful strip of tarmac making its way along the coast, diving down into valleys before snaking back up to the hilltops. The odd glimpse of the sea on our left and fantastic countryside all around. Numerous farm shops and small villages were dotted along the way.
We made a final stop in Devon to check out Appledore just because it looked nice on the map and we had time to kill! The large carpark at the far end of the town, right on the river estuary allows for motorhome overnight parking for the cost of £15.
Without any motorhome facilities this felt a little steep – but progress is progress and it seemed to be popular with vans so what do we know!
The town itself is very small. A few shops and a wide promenade along the estuary and a lovely quaint little market street a few houses back. We took a little pause at the Royal for a final drink and some fish and chips.
It was lovely to once again be surrounded by locals spending their days off in a beer garden, shouting over to each other from different tables and catching up on the goings on of the last few months.
Campfires, gas Fires and sunsets
On our final stretch of the journey and we headed for the M5 and Somerset. We had one last stop over planned at Ebborways farm in the Mendips for no real reason other than we had tried to visit numerous times last year to check it out and had always failed due to lockdowns or other commitments.
Upon arrival we checked in at the farmhouse, and were directed 100m further along the road and to find somewhere we like in one of the three massive fields on offer.
We chose a spot sheltered from the still present, but much weaker, wind and relaxed with a final campfire as the sun slowly sank behind the hill opposite and the moon and stars once again signalled the onset of the night.
Noticeably warmer evenings than even just a week ago really signalled that Spring has well and truly begun to spring and summer is not far off.
Sad times! We always hate going home, we’re never ready to call it a day, particularly after our first true taste of freedom in months.
Deciding to make use of the onsite burger van to avoid any final washing up duties we headed over to get our breakfast and a cup of tea.
Whilst waiting we noticed a lady a bit down the field was having a massive campfire, right by her car… Seemed very odd but each to their own.
But then noticing her struggling and unsuccessfully trying to douse the thing with a bucket of sand we realised that in fact this was not a campfire but an out of control fire started somehow – as yet unknown.
Running down to see if we could help, her cries were ‘gas, it’s gas’ and we realised this was a breakfast gone horribly wrong.
Upon arrival at the scene she had one of those small, single ring, camping cookers with a the single canisters of gas that you plug in. The canister was spluttering gas everywhere and flames were shooting out waist high right by her car.
A swift couple of kicks from my right boot separated the spluttering canister from the device and it seemed to stop leaking gas. Stamping was having no effect on the flames that were taking hold elsewhere so a quick stop, drop and roll using my coat as a fire blanket was required to put an end to the excitement.
We advised the lady as to what might have caused the fire – these units are very dangerous as if the canister is put in incorrectly, they will cause gas to squirt out in an uncontrolled manner and you can still spark the things and cause a scene like this.
However, she was very shaken, and thanked us but said she won’t ever be using once again so it didn’t matter what might have caused it! Fair enough!
Excitement over we collected our breakfast (delicious) and made the beautiful drive up and over the Mendips.
Before we knew it Bristol was in sight on the valley floor below us, then we were driving underneath the suspension bridge and bang – we were home.
Overall an excellent trip, we had an absolute blast and it is so, so good to be able to get out and have adventures again after a very long, very difficult, COVID winter.
Next week we’re off to Exmoor for 4 days so not too long to wait before out next adventure!
So that’s it for out Cornwall Travel Blog – we hope you liked it and don’t forget to comment below with your own experiences of this iconic part of the country.
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