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A Typical October Day

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.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. What a shame about that hotel – maybe you could email your comments to their head office, not in a complaining way but rather in the spirit of trying to be helpful. Of course, they may not really care.

    It’s been pouring with rain all day here and it’s so dark and dismal. I hope tomorrow is better, I feel as though the sky is resting right on top of my head.

    Your batch cooking looks delicious.

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Alison. Yes, you are right. I could email the head office, but really, the problem lies I think with the changing face of the tourist industry in the UK. This hotel was possibly built when people took more seaside holidays in the UK, the traditional bucket-and-spade holiday for which our coastline here in Devon was famous for. These very large hotels are now difficult to fill and therefore the money isn’t there for refurbishments, sadly. But even so, the staff could help matters by being more welcoming. I have looked at Trip Advisor and a few people have said that the place needs a bit of refurbishment but most find the place acceptable. Maybe they are catering for a different milieu, perhaps I’m just expecting a bit too much? But if I were the manager I’d certainly expect my staff to be just a little more attentive. Maybe it’s hard getting staff these days, too, especially out of season. Whatever, it’s not a place in which we would wish to stay, sadly.
      I enjoy batch cooking once I’m in the mood!
      Off now to watch that DVD with egg sandwiches for our supper, followed by lovely fresh pears (what I call the half-hour pear because, like bananas, they are only fit to eat for about half and hour in their lives!)

  2. I think best west take mostly coach party bookings, tinsel and turkey weekends etc, all done to a budget.

  3. Very pretty walk, though. We had a rare beautiful spring day yesterday. I say rare, but I mean rare for this year. But I love seasons, and it is fascinating to ‘watch’ the seasons changing in your part of the world.

    • Margaret Powling

      It wasn’t a long walk, Ratnamurti – if we had continued walking past the valley and up into Wellswood, a village area of Torquay, we would’ve come to Kents Cavern, which are pre-historic caves where sabre-toothed tigers teeth have been found, and early man sought shelter. Not been inside since our children were little, though. Perhaps one day we will go with our grandson!

  4. I enjoyed hearing about your day Margaret.
    How beautiful and green everything looks in England, lovely to see your photos.
    I like your batch cooking also.
    How sad about the hotel, when a little change of attitude and freshen up would make a difference.
    Yes, I remember Corona pop. As a child the Corona man delivered to our house once a week. When I think back it was quite extravagant as we were a “careful household ” and had little money to spare. My brother and I looked forward to the delivery, I think we had two or three bottles a week.
    Those rubber stoppers must have kept the carbonation intact as I never remember the bottle going flat. Or maybe memory glosses over that fact.
    We took it in turns to choose flavours, I recall once trying dandelion and burdock which no one liked.
    There is something nice about the Autumn evenings I always think, being cosy and warm in your home.
    Best wishes.
    Pam in Texas, xx

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Pam. I also liked dandelion and burdock flavour, too, also ice cream soda.
      Yes, some small changes in the hotel would make big differences. I think guests can overlook the tired furniture and décor if the staff are welcoming, friendly and polite. The chap who served our coffee was fine, but the reception staff left much to be desired.
      Autumn is a lovely season, but my favourite is still spring.

  5. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    You are so right Margaret, the Autumn is a beautiful season, I like every season as they all have something beautiful to offer, I just don’t like the icy cold as it makes my arthritis worse.
    How awful your visit to the hotel was, I have been to places like this where the staff clearly don’t want to be there and are not very professional, makes one feel very uncomfortable indeed. So that one will be crossed off your list then? Chillingham Castle looks good, I do like a day out at a grand house or castle. I have some port to use up which was bought with cheese last year so I think I will do a casserole like yours. I made your vegetable curry a few weeks back and also made extra for the freezer, it was very good, thankyou for your recipe.

    • Margaret Powling

      I don’t like to point out the pitfalls of a local establishment, they need all the trade they can get, but really, Marlene, this hotel left much to be desired. One couple came in and were clearly ordering a lunch (to be eaten in the bar area) but nowhere did we see a lunch menu on display nor were we offered one (not that we’d have wanted on in such a place, but it would’ve been nice to have been offered a lunch menu nonetheless.) There were so many failings, even the signposting to the loo was inadequate.
      Glad you enjoyed the veggie curry. I love veggie curry, you can make it from almost any get but I go easy with the parsnip as that tends to take over and it’s also rather sweet. But aubergine and courgette, celery, white turnip, peppers, also adding pineapple and apple, makes for a very tasty veggie curry.

  6. Shame about the rude / uninterested staff. When I see people acting so uninterested in potential guests or customers I often wonder why they are working in hospitality. By this I’m not being disrespectful to wait staff when you are in a cafe, for example, and the poor staff are run off their feet due to a full venue, but rather when you approach a reception desk and aren’t greeted or even acknowledged.

    The photos of your walk look lovely. Again, I feel as if I’ve had another nice outing and am really getting to know the Devon countryside without even needing a passport 😉

    What is ‘crocodile’ fashion ? I haven’t heard that expression before.

    • Margaret Powling

      First of all, children walking in ‘crocoldile’ fashion is what we, in this country, have always called it when children walk in pairs, holding hands more often than not, each pair behind the other, so that they form a long line of pairs of children. As they walk, through the streets or pathways, they form a curving line, something like a crocodile. We were told at school, when we all went out somewhere to “line up and form a ‘crocodile'”.
      It is very sad, I think, Lara, that a hotel in such an enviable position on the sea front in one of the lovliest bays in the country has such slip-shod standards. It would seem that there has been little to no investment in this building, unless it’s in hidden costs that we can’t see (roof, re-wiring, new kitchen equipment) but it costs nothing for staff to be polite and welcoming, rather than totally disinterested. The hotel we usually go to for coffee or a sandwich is also a 3* but my goodness, the difference is enormous – welcoming staff, bright and clean, even though it’s not bang up to date, and a lovely atmosphere. Yesterday it was like, as I say, going into a rather down-at-heel old folks’ home. As we left the main entrance we could smell stale cooking smells emanating from the kitchens, too, something else which shouldn’t happen.
      So glad you enjoyed your mini-tour of Ilsham Valley yesterday. It is very close to the area known as Wellswood, where there is a rather nice collection of shops including the charity shop where I sometimes take photos of the beautifully-arranged window displays.

  7. It just goes to show Margaret that even if a venue isn’t a swanky as others the attitude of the staff can make a huge difference to your visit, would you have noticed quite how much the hotel looked worn if you were greeted by cheery smiles and a genuine wish to please.
    Autumn is a beautiful month, although we have low cloud and rain here today, but there is still the stunning colours in the trees and hedgerows, all too soon they are gone and we are left with bare branches.
    The additional freezer purchase may have to go on hold for a while as our washing machine is playing up, we had an error code displayed saying the door wasn’t shut properly and it stopped working. My beloved checked it out on the internet and ordered a small part which, now fitted, seems to have temporarily helped but it can’t spin at the highest rpm so doubt it is long for this world! I have had it 11 years so it doesn’t owe me anything but it’s an expense.

    • Margaret Powling

      You are quite right, Elaine, a welcoming smile goes a long way, doesn’t it?
      It is in autumn particularly that I wish we lived more in the countryside rather than in suburbia. But there again, we know we can’t have everything and we do have a slight sea view, a lot of people would love that. We must have another walk again shortly, perhaps by the River Dart in Totnes, that’s a favourite walk down an area called Longmarsh.
      Eleven years is quite a long time for a washing machine, it’s served you well. Our last one lasted eight years, which I think must be about average. I love our new one, it’s a Whirlpool and it has a sensing device which weighs the load and uses the water and power accordingly (or so I’ve been led to believe.) It is also quieter than the old machine, even on a fast spin. And it takes a 10kg load, so all the bedding plus the bath towels will go into one load. Well done to your beloved on finding out what was wrong, ordering and fitting the part, thereby extending its life.

      • It certainly does and can really make the difference.

        We purchased our current machine from John Lewis and, after 11 years, I am sure the technology has moved on, your Whirlpool sounds ideal and I do like the idea of the machine calculating the load thus using the appropriate amount of water etc.
        We have Wicken Fen near to us which is a National Nature Reserve and Conservation site, made up of wetlands and home to a vast amount of wildlife including wild horses. We often walk there with the dogs who are allowed as long as they are kept on leads, it can be bracing in the winter but worth wrapping up for. I hope you enjoy your next walk.

        • Margaret Powling

          How lovely to live close to Wicken Fen, Elaine. Husband and I both love Norfolk and Suffolk but it’s a long journey now for us from Devon. We always used to stay in Aldeburgh, right on the sea front, with those view of the north sea. I love the landscape that is flatter than Devon (anything would be flatter than Devon!) and the ‘big’ skies of East Anglia.
          So far, so good with my new washing machine.

  8. I loved seeing your autumn walk amidst the lovely trees. Here in southern California, we don’t experience much change in color. Today it’s a glorious, cloudy day, cool with a little midst. (We’re about a 20 minute drive away from the ocean). But, we are preparing for four days of a heat wave that’s expected to arrive tomorrow! Too bad about the hotel you recently visited. It looks like a beautiful setting. I love faded grandeur but not dirty, unkept and poor service. Obviously, someone in charge there is not doing their job to keep the hotel up to standards. Many Best Western hotels here in the US are privately owned and under a franchise agreement with Best Western. Hence, many are poorly ran and not a place where I would want to spend a night. I hope you have a lovely weekend. Pat

    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Pat, lovely to hear from you. My goodness, a heat wave! I know you have had awful fires in California, and I hope they’ve not been anywhere near to where you are.
      Yes, faded grandeur is one thing, grubbiness is quite another. The whole place looked really tired, not just faded grandeur because the quality of the furniture left much to be desired in the first place. I didn’t know you had Best Western hotels in California, I wonder if they’re the same hotel chain? I certainly wouldn’t wish to spend a night in the one we were in, Premier Inns which are pretty basic but clean would be preferable.
      Yes, thank you, we’re having a lovely weekend and I hope you are, too.

  9. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    What a waste of a perfect location . Best Western used to be of a reasonable standard but it sounds as though they have deteriorated. Your vegi curry sounds good. When they are delicious enough, I don’t miss the fact that there’s no chicken or whatever in it.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, veggie curry is just as tasty and as filling as any chicken curry, Eloise, provided the sauce has enough flavour. But sad about the hotel in such a wonderful location, the actual building is quite smart, it just has the appearance of being tired and if not untidy, then not really cared for in the housekeeping department.

  10. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    I hadn’t finished! Must have pressed the wrong button.
    I remember the Corona man came each Saturday morning and we had a bottle each of Cherryade and Limeade. It would have been around 1963-6. They had screw tops by then. I still see a glass of fizzy ‘pop’ as a real treat but I rarely drink it because it’s so bad for us!

    • Margaret Powling

      I often press the wrong key, Eloise, even after all these years of typing! Strangely, I was never fond of Cherryade, but loved Limeade. Yes, it was a treat to have a fizzy drink in those days, long before it came in cans with ring-pulls. But oh, so bad for us! Now I just like a drink of sparkling mineral water occasionally, Badoit or Pellegrino are my favourites (sadly, neither of them English, one French, the other Italian.)

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