Last February we teamed up with Bradt Travel Guides to launch a writing competition highlighting the beauty of East Devon. Entrants were asked to describe, in no more than 500 words, their own perfect 24 hours in the region. Joanna Griffin from Gloucester won a short-break holiday at Cuckoodown Farm near Ottery St Mary staying in one of their luxury yurts, and runners-up each received a copy of Bradt Travel’s Slow Travel East Devon & The Jurassic Coast by local writer Hilary Bradt. This month we are fortunate to publish Joanna’s winning entry below.
Total immersion. It’s a rule.
That’s fine by me. The midsummer sun is high and already the day is warm. We’re hot from the mile-long walk upstream to the bend in the River Otter at Fluxton Weir.
A brief breeze ruffles the leaves of the old willows lining the bank of the deep natural pool above the weir. Their long branches dip into the water as if they too are longing for a swim. I ease myself into the water, which, even on a day like this feels cool on my skin. Total immersion I remember and I submerge myself as my friends do the same. I feel the familiar combination of elation and slight fish-related anxiety, common amongst wild swimmers. A few of us swim upriver between the banks of willow and meadowsweet, whilst the others swing from the rope hanging above the pool.
We dry off in the sun in the field above the river before driving south to the pretty village of Colaton Raleigh, where Woodsys award-winning cider is produced and sold from the Woods Village Shop. Resisting this and the draw of the Otter Inn, we turn towards the church of St John the Baptist, dating back to the twelfth century, and from there we take a footpath back to the river where we find a small beach. The sun is now high but it is cooler here; the pool is deep and sheltered by ivy and fern-clad cliffs and we spend another happy hour or so of total immersion. I think to myself that we could simply have drifted down to here all the way from Fluxton Weir.
We drive towards the coast to Otterton Mill, Devon’s oldest working watermill, recorded in the Domesday book of 1068, where twice every month the power of the Otter is still used to mill the flour for their bakery. We’ve also heard about its other accolade—its second place in the Sunday Times top 20 places in Britain for afternoon tea—and we decide to stop.
Later in the afternoon, replete with scones and clotted cream, we move west to Bystock pools nature reserve. This time we don’t swim, but we walk along the boardwalks overlooking the lily ponds watching the hairy dragonflies and small red damselflies flit between the lilies. It is too early for the glow worms and the nightjars which, later on, will bring the summer night to life.
Early in the evening we drive back to Sidmouth to find a watering hole of a different kind, where we’ll raise our glasses to a perfect day. But as we reach the town the tide is low, exposing the golden sands of Jacob’s Ladder and allowing easy access to the sea. The sun won’t set for another two hours so there’s time for just one more thing.
‘Anyone for a swim?’