A u3a exploration of a new area of the UK is an ideal way to break the bonds of Covid and start to gain back that travel confidence lost in lockdown. Thanks to Ianthe Cox’s initiative and hard work, over 20 of us set off for Torquay via Grade I-listed Athelhampton Manor near Dorchester, one of the finest 15th century manor houses in the UK. The rain held off for long enough for us to enjoy the listed gardens as well as the house, with its great hall and ghosts who didn’t appear!
Our hotel, the three-star Livermead Cliff, was right on the sea front. No luxury, but comfortable and clean, with friendly staff, very good food and a great view.
The next day started with a journey to Exeter and a guided walk round the cathedral area, with free time to go round the cathedral individually — well worth the extra £6 entry fee. The afternoon visit to the National Trust’s Knightshayes Court was slightly disappointing as the upstairs was closed, but the gardens were again well worth seeing, in spite of the rain. (Note: The tour allowed flexibility, and we opted instead to do our own thing and take the local bus to Brixham, with its pretty fishing harbour, interesting history and excellent fish and chips.)
Day 3 was Dartmouth day. The low cloud lifted as we reached the town, and we had time to have coffee and shop, or visit the church with its magnificent rood screen and pulpit. Then an attractive ferry ride up the Dart to Greenway, the holiday home of Agatha Christie, a real home of great warmth and much contents, as the family have given the house to the National Trust together with all the different collections made by various generations, including archaeology, silver, tunbridgeware, books and china. Lovely walks and views too, and a chance to hear a recording of Agatha herself.
We spent the morning of day 4 at Powderham Castle, on the banks of the river Exe. It dates back to 1391, and is still the family home of the Courtney family. The enthusiasm of the guides, and the sun shining on the rose garden and deer park welcomed us in and provided a dramatic backdrop for the wedding marquee being erected. After a scenic coastal drive back to Torquay we were free to wander round the marina or visit the Torre Abbey Museum with its eclectic collections, modern art exhibition and well labelled monastic ruins.
Finally, our return journey was broken by a visit to Sherborne Castle, built by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594 and owned by the Wingfield Digby family. I couldn’t help contrasting the warmth and family feel of Powderham with the commercial feel of this castle, although it was filled with wonderful contents and surrounded by a beautiful park and lake.
A big thank you to our driver, Des, and tour manager, Sue. She lightened the load on Ianthe who we hope was able to relax more than usual. Our biggest thanks must go to Ianthe, who took on the task of setting up this very enjoyable and educational tour. Undeterred, she is organising another tour in October, this time to the Peak District. If you would enjoy a few days visiting interesting places, with four-star accommodation this time, at reasonable cost, with congenial companions, and all planning taken care of, I am sure you would enjoy it. I am certainly signing up again!