Brandy Custard (and mince pies)

Christmas gift inspiration from a surprisingly successful shop along Totnes High Street.

I loathe Christmas shopping and this year to add to the insanity we of course have Huey in tow, ( I know, bah humbug). To clarify though it’s not the madding crowds I hate, or even the parting with money. What kills me about Christmas shopping is trying to get a gift that wont be discarded the moment boxing day arrives; something original, something the recipient will unwrap and say ‘wow, thanks I really love that!’.

Take my Dad for example. Here’s a man who basically buys anything he needs and wants for nothing else.  If your gift to him is used / loved even once, even for one moment, that’s more than success.

My mum on the other hand, well I could fall through a shop door and stand up with something she’ll love; chocolates, scented candles, pet shaped draught excluders… The problem buying for her is originality, that new gift shop you’ve seen, she’s been there and scrutinised it all long before your arrival!

christmas hamper
Christmas gift hamper, Wild Fig Cafe, Totnes (NOT available in Torquay).

Our new home town of Torquay is pitiful for shopping, so we are pinning our hopes on neighbouring Totnes. The town is littered with independently owned stores and we arrive with fingers optimistically crossed.

In Totnes it’s pissing down with rain and fifteen minutes after arrival we’re still sat in the car park watching the rain. We’ve a lot to do so bravely I volunteer to go to a warm pub for a brandy and some peace and quiet head out into the rain to shop alone.

I head straight for Inspired Buys with a Dad present in mind and after a little warming up achieve great success; two gifts that I believe will be greeted with something more than indifference! I’m feeling the Christmas cheer…

christmas wreat on cottage
Happy Christmas from Totnes

The rain has now nearly stopped and I’m soon joined by Bec’s and Huey in the buggy, which turns out to be the only buggy in town. Every other baby is being carried in a recycled, fair-trade, vegan sling and I get the feeling we could be strung up (with hemp rope) for bringing this plastic obscenity into town.

Totnes has a reputation that’s somewhere between Hipster and Hippy. I could poke fun (I do a bit to be fair), but there’s a genuine community here and the lentil loving population are responsible for the amazing food to be had here.

Lamb Road Gardens Totnes
Tinsel decorated Community Gardens, Lamb Road, Totnes.

Our first food stop is at Hill House Cafe which provides a warm welcome, buggy and all. They’ve put up a lovely Christmas tree which nearly sends Huey over the edge with excitement, (shiny twinkly ball-balls), so he has to have a close-contact tour in a vain attempt to placate him. Distracted with food we get Huey in his high chair to join us for lunch; Homity pie Mum, Turkey stuffing and Cranberry Baguette, Dad. Both excellent.

Bah humbug? Maybe not. We’re well fed, we’ve got gifts and we’ve not been strung up for buggy ownership.


Closed Until May

An afternoon walk from Brixham Breakwater taking in Shoalstone Sea Water Lido.

Having grown up in Cheltenham, a town with it’s own fantastic outdoor pool I feel I already have a connection to the place we’re visiting today. We are off to visit Shoalstone Lido a surprisingly little known attraction in Brixham.

brixham rowing boats harbour
in awe of these oars

This visit’s been a bit spur of the moment thing so there’s been none of the usual background research; cafe check, google explore for free parking etc. Bec’s navigation instructions are, ‘I know it’s not on the one side of Brixham’ so off we go, (to the other side). Pulling into Brixham we head for the Breakwater side of town and, low and behold, there’s the signs for the Lido. Having done no research everything we encounter will be a surprise, good or bad and straight away I’m pleased to see a rather cool looking independent bistro / cafe right on the beach at the Breakwater.

Huey, transitioning from 3 to 2 sleeps a day is firmly in the land of nod so he is yet to see the cafe or the incredibly clear sea water. Whilst he stays in car-seat slumber I get a ticket for the car park (sigh), then go and explore.

The Breakwater I presume is the long wall dividing the up the harbour into man-made and natural. The man-made side houses the RNLI lifeboat here and plethora of boats, both leisure and working. The latter for me is what makes up much of Brixham’s charm, it’s picturesque but it remains a proper working fishing harbour.

Before we get to today’s destination we decide to get lunch and nodding approvingly Bec’s agrees on a visit to the very handy Breakwater Bistro. I will write another post about this place, however I will say it was a very nice experience; fab views, nice staff and good food. Huey charmed everyone within smiles-reach, including staff even after he’d littered the floor with food.

The walk from the Breakwater to the pool takes us first along the S. W Coast then not really seeing how, along Berry Head Road bringing us into the back of the Lido and its car park. Berry Head is fascinating; a mix of lovely (some dilapidated) architecture, rock pools and again incredibly clear sea. A number of large detached Victorian villas here have balconies that both notice have an american feel (later I read these were used as U.S army hospitals in the second world war). Today and I suspect a good deal of the time its deeply peaceful too…

Finally the Lido comes into view. The Lido is much as I’d expected; concrete formed walls, some in blue spreading out wide into the sea. Being closed we have the place to ourselves and wander about taking it all in, incredulous to the fact that only a few years ago it had fallen into disrepair with no future guarantees. It’s in good shape now and I smile trying to imagine it here with the sun gleaming off the sea water inside and the shouts of swimmers and people playing.

Heading back the route takes us along the coast. Here the lovely dark rock juts into the sea creating more natural rock pools and a steep headland that sinks deep into the sea. Running down this are a set of man-made stairs and I’m just thinking what a fab place this will make for a sea swim when to swimmers adorned with high viz tow floats come into view. Laughing in the face of cooling November seas, both swimmers are also ‘skins’, no wetsuits for these guys.

Despite my envy of the wild swimmers it’s been a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. May 2017 is in my diary for the re-opening of the pool and I can’t wait to bring the gang back!

Shoalstone Lido Brixham

For link to the pool and its history please see below…

Free parking!!!

Despite my initial dissapointment at having to pay for parking we later found a few spots in this town that is notoriously not made for the motor car. If you head for the postcode TQ59AG you can find a few spots along Berry Head Road.


Day Pass

Middle aged Dad gets fitted for a swimming wetsuit.

For weeks, probably months I’ve had ‘buy swimming wetsuit’, on my to do list. Finally, following some local research I find where to get it and book a day without the gang to get one.

route 2 bike shop topsham devon
route 2 Bike Shop Topsham

I’m on my way to Route 2 in Topsham when my consumer excitement is replaced by something new…guilt. What’s this?? Alone in the car I realise I’m off to spend time by myself, money on myself. I wont be buying the gang lunch, the experience of the day wont be shared and the whole trip suddenly feels like a selfish indulgence. I try and convince myself that this sudden grey day (on the back of weeks of sun), is adversely affecting my mood, but it’s not working…I’m hoping this is not an unfamiliar feeling to new Dad’s. We have I guess lived in each others pockets for a long time now and everything we’ve done has been geared to Huey’s arrival.

Soon enough though I’m pulling in to Topsham and my mood is replaced by the more familiar emotion ‘moody muttering’ as I look for a free parking spot, that I don’t find. Nevermind. I’m here at a pay and display right opposite Route 2, it’s early and they’re open.

I could have bought a well priced swimming suit from wiggle and had it delivered to the door, but my curiosity to check out this cycling cafe has got the better of me. It’s got a mixed identity this place; part cafe, part bike shop and seemingly supplier to the open water swim crowd too. I like it, (I love bikes, swimming and pastries so no surprise there). It stands proud on the corner of Monmouth Hill and has been painted in a rather fetching blue and white colour scheme.

The bike shop to my knowledge is owned and operated by a lady called Liz. When I meet her she is up to her neck in bike maintenance and very busy, but stops what she’s doing to get me my suit. The size i try on is a small / medium which sounded perfect on the phone but turns out to be so tight it nearly induces a panic attack. I go for the next size up which to me seems perfect, though Liz feels I will need to cut a little length off the arms and legs. Again no surprise here, when your my height and build basically nothing fits without some element of customizing.

So my tip for the day! If your in the market for a wetsuit of any kind my advice is to visit the retailer and try it on. Returning basically everything I buy online has become a bit of a running bad joke with me, I’m glad I didn’t make the same mistake with this.

blue seventy swimming tri wetsuit
swim specific wetsuit by Blue Seventy

Ifyourin South Devon and want to hire a bike, eat pastries, try on a wetsuit you can do it here at this cool place….route 2 Topsham Bike Shop