Even I, who so loves spring, have to admit that October in Devon is a lovely time of the year in a truly beautiful county in England.
This morning, feeling the need to stretch our legs, we drove to Ilsham on the outskirts of Torquay, parked the car and walked the length of Ilsham Valley.
Looking at the valley, above, it looks rather plain and boring, doesn’t it? Just an expanse of grass with woods to the left and trees bordering the road on the right (and then, out of the photo on the right, rather nice houses.) But if, instead, you walk along the footpath by the road, the trees really do look lovely not only at this time of the year, but at any time of the year.
Surprisingly, every so often I would see some wild flowers still in bloom, flowers more associated with spring and summer than autumn …
I have fond memories of when I was at my private primary school, c1955-1957, going to Ilsham Valley for our weekly sports’ session. We older girls (i.e. aged between the ages of 12 and 14) were permitted to walk there in our lunch hour and be ready for rounders when the younger ones joined us, walking in ‘crocodile’ fashion from our school about a mile and a half away. I remember on those days my friends and I would take packed lunches and eat them sitting on the grass, and even now I can see in my minds’ eye my picnic box, a tin box with a cream-coloured enamel lid, one that had started life in a picnic hamper. This was in the days before plastic Tupperware boxes. I would have cucumber sandwiches made with white sliced bread, and my mother would also pop in some little meat patties from the bakery which was opposite my parents’ newsagent’s shop. These were similar to a pasty, but smaller, circular, and very tasty. To drink there would be a bottle of Corona limeade. Who, I wonder, remembers Corona, with the rubber stopper on a hinged fastener? Just the smell of limeade can instantly transport me back sixty years.
After our walk we returned to our car and were making our way home along Torquay sea front, the weather becoming increasingly dark with rain clouds gathering, when I suggested we popped into a seafront hotel for a cup of coffee. We hadn’t been in this hotel for many years and although it occupies one of the very best sites in the whole of Torbay, sadly, the hotel is, shall we say, just a little ‘tired’. Really, this was just a recce to see whether we thought it worth stopping for lunch there in the future.
Sadly, we were disappointed. Indeed, when we entered the foyer my immediate reaction was that we really should go home, but there we were at the reception desk. Three members of staff were in the reception office, and they could clearly see us standing there, but no one spoke. Eventually my husband asked if they served coffee and one of them just about turned his head (the woman closest to us just carried on with whatever she was doing, clearly guests were the least of her concerns) and motioned to the lounge and told us someone would come along and take our order. Not a good start. Indeed, a bad start.
So we sat there, in the lounge, and waited. Then we could see someone who looked like he might be a waiter in a corner of the lounge – I didn’t have my distance glasses on but I think he might’ve been fiddling with a light switch close to the floor, or arranging some magazines on a low table, it was difficult to see. So he sauntered over and said we needed to order at the bar. So I said, “But where is the bar?” and be pointed and said, “Over there, I’ll be with you in a moment …”
So I went to the bar and ordered two Americanos with hot milk. “Hot milk did you say?” I repeated my order and he said he’d bring them over to us shortly. I went back to where my husband was now sitting in the corner of the lounge and really, the whole place looked so depressing. At a guess it would’ve been last decorated in the early 1980s, even the late 1970s, heavy draped curtains and plush sofas, but they were all grubby, very worn and in rows, or lined up around the walls, as if in one of the very worst old folks’ homes. The coffee tables were clearly from the 1960s and not fashionably Retro!
The coffee arrived and with very nice shortbread biscuits. I have to say there was nothing wrong with the coffee or the biscuits, but my goodness, the place is so depressing. It is one in the Best Western chain of hotels and husband remarked, sotto voce, that if this is a ‘best’ one, he dreads to think what the ‘worst’ is like.
This hotel could be so beautiful! Even giving the lounge a thorough spring clean and the pine ceiling (yes orange pine, as in the 1960s!) a coat of paint, and rearranging the furniture and adding some flowers, it would improve it 100%. And making sure that the staff on the reception desk actually welcomed people into their establishment. Sadly, this is what can happen in a chain, no one seemed to care whether we were there or not.
However, even on a dull day, the views are lovely. Sadly the windows were very dirty (yes, I know the hotel is right by the sea and the salt I the air makes them look grubby, but we’ve been in other sea front hotels where the windows haven’t been quite as grimy).
How lovely this view would be on a summer’s day, a hotel with access to the beach, what more could you ask for? But we were so glad we’ve not ordered lunch; the last thing we wanted to do was spend more than the time it took to drink our coffee in these surroundings.
Once home I re-heated a veggie curry which I’d made yesterday. Our 2nd freezer (in the garage) is now up and running and yesterday I did some cooking. Not as much as I’d planned, but I made a beef casserole (below) and a veggie curry, sufficient for two meals for two of us.
Above, the beef casserole yesterday, starting it off on the hob after which it had an hour and 20 minutes in the oven, 160C (fan assisted oven.) Ingredients: lean braising steak, onions, mushrooms, red pepper, celery, parsley, beef and veggie Oxo cubes (as stock with about 1 pint of boiling water) a splash of Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, a splash of Port, and a little paprika.
The veggie curry was so tasty today after our walk …
What a shame curry looks a disgusting mess! But it was very good – I use Bart’s medium curry powder, ground coriander, cardamom pods (I crack these open and remove the seeds from the husks, discarding the husks of course), onions, courgettes, red pepper, celery, white turnips, aubergine (egg plant), sultanas, raisins, veggie Oxo, a splash or sweet chilli sauce, a dollop of pineapple chutney, tomato puree, and stock (made with the veggie Oxo). I use Basmati wholegrain rice to go with it.
After lunch (and it was a late lunch after our walk, coffee in the hotel, etc) I watched Escape to the Country. This time it was showing properties in Northumberland and half way through the programme, Jules Hudson visited Chillingham Castle (below) which looked just my kind of place (but not one I’d wish to heat or maintain!)
But I could just imagine sitting by that wonderful fireplace (if it had a fire in the grate) in one of the easy chairs, with a lovely book to read and tea and cake to hand …
Instead, I had my own tea and macarons ….
When we arrived home, I found a new (new to me, I mean) book on the doorstep, one I had ordered on Follies …
The rain then began in earnest and I was so thankful that I had a warm, cosy home to sit in and just admire it from afar, as it coursed down the windowpanes …
Shortly, I will watch a DVD, just the thing for a wet, October evening. The lamps are now switched on, I will make a fresh pot of tea, and perhaps husband will join me and together we will watch …
Until next time.