• A restful weekend in a log cabin - trying not to think about politics

    12th July 2017 | News | Claire
  • There was no wifi, he said, just the sound of birdsong and sheep. 

    It sounded tempting.

    It came with (very reasonable) conditions attached. I would get a free weekend in the log cabin in North Devon, in return for a review on his new website (and this blog). 

    All talk of politics, he announced, was Banned!

    This was a mixed blessing. Politics is sort of my raison d’etre and I couldn’t imagine a whole weekend without it being mentioned.

    On the other hand, Alistair (who is almost as passionate about politics as I am) and I pretty much never agree and although we are too fond of each other to argue, we can get quite exasperated with each other!

    I asked what I needed to bring.

    Just yourself and a change of clothes for Saturday evening, he replied.

    This sounded great, but female intuition told me to double check on this. A few texts later and my list also included a duvet, pillow, sheet, cutlery, crockery and camping stove…

    I managed to arrive an hour late but Alistair was waiting to guide me where to park and walk me around to his new log cabin on his new slate path.  I was amused and touched by his enthusiasm for his new project.

    The log cabin, which arrived in one piece at the farm on a lorry, overlooks the most restful of isolated farmland views. Panoramic rolling hills dotted with sheep and cattle interspersed with woodland in the valley below. All I could hear was the Jacob sheep in the adjacent field … and birdsong.

    The lane to the farm is half a mile long off the Launceston – Holsworthy road, so there was no traffic noise.

    The cabin itself – a welcome alternative to a tent – consisted of two rooms, including a little kitchen, four seater dining table, double bed and pull out double sofa bed.  There was a microwave, little fridge and electric hob.  There was a separate shower room with basin and toilet.

    Double patio doors open onto a decking area with chairs and a little table, and lead to the amazing views.  Very pleasant to sit out and read a book with a cup of tea/glass of wine.

    At the time of my stay last weekend, Alistair was planning a fire pit, a small wall mounted TV and full connection to the electrics and hot water, in anticipation of officially launching bookings within the next week or so.

    After I had settled myself in Alistair popped back for a catch up on family news.  Amusing anecdotes were exchanged. My aunt and uncle also stopped by for a chat.  It was so nice to be away and catching up with family!

    The no politics rule was broken quite soon. Topics ranged from the general election result, the DUP, austerity, Theresa May and the LibDems and Labour Party.  We didn’t agree….

    I slept really well. I was expecting it to be completely dark as it was a cloudy (but very humid) night but the moon and stars kept emerging and re-emerging and at about 3am it was so hot with just one window open that I pushed the double doors open wide.

    The silence was palpable. No cars, no church clock chiming every 15 minutes, just the odd bleat from the nearby flock of sheep.  I found I woke with a jump in the morning thinking it was late and rushed to get my watch, only to find it was 7am. 

    Not wishing to damage the prized new decking with a burn mark from a camping stove, I got advice about where to put it before cooking my breakfast, gazing at the view (and the sheep). Lost in my own private reflections and possible future plans.

    I had already decided I was going to head off to the woodland in the valley. I got directions from my aunt who suggested that I might like to turn my walk into a circular one and go via Ashwater.

    She pointed me in the direction and explained the route.  I nodded and hoped I would manage to make it back without being chased by bullocks.

    I have had a visceral fear of bullocks ever since I was chased by an entire herd of them into a river when I was 16. I ended up swimming across it and walking two miles home with dripping hair, clothes and bits of river weed stuck to me. 

    Even now, my legs go to jelly each time I have to walk past bullocks.  The way they stare and collectively take a few steps towards me has me legging it for the gate that I entered, at top speed. Every time.

    This bovine affliction is embarrassing for someone who likes to think of herself as a Country Girl who is at one with nature.  The Kirks have always teased me for being a “townie” so I was determined not to give in to my fears this time (or at least not reveal them)!

    My aunt sensibly advised me not to enter any fields of cows and calves unless I was carrying a stout stick. I knew of course, about not walking between a cow and its calf. But anyway she reassured me, the field she pointed to with the cows and calves was not on the public right of way, so there should be no need to cross it…

    On my way out of the farmyard I bumped into my uncle who was minding his two small grandsons who were playing hide and seek among the hay bales, while their parents, Dan (Alistair’s younger brother) and Emma were tending the sheep. They live in a converted barn in the same farm complex.

    After a brief catch up with Dan and Emma, I set off down the hill and into the sudden searing heat. I passed a pretty lake and stomped up through a field of sheep. By the time I got to the top of the hill I was boiling.

    The views of the rolling hills and valleys were amazing. The heavy silence was almost unnerving. I saw rabbits, butterflies, damselflies and many species of bird. After about 45 minutes of walking I climbed over a gate onto a country lane into Ashwater.

    I realised I had forgotten my stick.

    I followed the road and decided to opt for a bit of cool and more peace in the church. As I passed into the porch I saw the little red head of a swallow, poking out of its nest above the door. So sweet!

    I then headed down the hill back towards the woodland.  I still wasn’t used to the silence. It was equally wonderful and isolating.

    At the bottom of the hill I saw the woodland. Safe in the knowledge I wasn’t trespassing, I hopped over the gate into what was essentially a nature reserve. Lots of wetland on either side of the path, absolutely alive with insects, beautiful butterflies and bees. I saw meadow browns mainly and a few silver washed fritillaries, which are so pretty.

    I was a bit non-plussed about how to get in to the woodland which was starting to reveal itself as more of a thicket than a copse. I climbed the next gate and skipped across a stream. 

    I found a clearing, lay down and gazed up at the canopy of beech leaves … and immediately fell asleep. …

    Sometime later I woke feeling somewhat happier and ate my nectarine and poured myself a coffee. There I sat and actually managed to contemplate my life for about three hours! Kept company by a pair of wrens, dozens of hoverflies and the odd jay.  Other than that it was pretty quiet in there. A typical hot July day in a wood I guess.

    I finally fought my way out and left after a brief visit to a really magnificent oak tree.

    Now to find my way back… I walked up to Henford and assumed I would pick up the public right of way back to the farm. I duly located it and stomped down the hill, crossed a stream over a bridge and headed up a ridiculously steep field until I reached a gate… 

    I stopped and peered in. On the other side of the gate (on the public right of way) were about a dozen bullocks.  To be honest they didn’t look very scary. They looked quite docile, but my heart started to pound.

    They were in the middle of the field and the exit gate was directly opposite. I would have to walk within a few feet of them unless I stuck to the hedge all the way around the field but that was no protection if I got chased, I thought.

    My legs turned to jelly.

    I climbed the gate and sent a text to Alistair: “Brown bullocks in field, will they chase me?” (I added a smiley face to prove I wasn’t scared).

    By the time he rang me I had already fled from bullock nomansland searching for an alternative route. I tracked the hedge alongside the field which contained The Cows and Calves. They spotted me and the entire field galloped towards the hedge and trotted alongside it tossing their heads and rolling their eyes.  This was seriously unnerving!

    I told Alistair airily that I was fine and just looking for an alternative route and that the cows in the next field seemed very interested in me … but then a sudden appalling thought struck me.  “Oh my god, those cows can’t get into this field can they?” I exclaimed, my voice edged with panic.

    “Ok I am coming to get you on the quad bike,” he said.

    I didn’t argue.

    A few minutes later I was dashing to the quad bike aiming to reach it before the brown (admittedly now decidedly peaceful looking) bullocks got to me.


    As we drove back I helpfully offered to open and close the gates.

    The first gate I closed had to be shut properly by Alistair.

    Further embarrassment for Country Girl.

    I told him about my walk and the lovely woodland…

    ….”That wasn’t our woodland,” he confirmed cheerfully.

    I went into the farmhouse and had tea with the family who wanted to know where on earth I had been all day. I had missed a visit from another aunt and uncle who had brought homemade cake!

    Then my uncle unwisely raised The Banned Subject. 

    During tea we discussed austerity, the NHS, benefits, benefit fraud, foodbanks and the sanctions system …

    Then it was time to get ready for going out to Holsworthy for the annual fair and tribute bands to Queen and Take That.

    It was a great fun evening and we met up with Alistair’s friends, his partner, Margaret, and his two sisters and their families who I think the world of. It was a sultry evening and we could have been in the south of France. The bands were fab.

    Holsworthy market square was thronging with people all in an upbeat mood, drinking and socialising.  A lovely summer memory.

    Alistair and Margaret, apparently envious of my camping stove and my marvellous breakfast that morning asked if they could join me for breakfast the following morning, which I thought was a very nice idea.

    Before we left the square the Banned Subject was raised several times but the music was so loud it was difficult to discuss in any great detail.

    This was probably just as well!

    But before we left Holsworthy we spoke briefly to a man who said he didn’t do politics before making several political observations.  I was unable to resist a few of my own in response, largely about building regs relaxation, the triple pensions lock, the winter fuel allowance and the dementia tax.

    Admittedly, it was probably a bit intense for a slightly drunken discussion at midnight and it was quickly clear that my views had not been well received.

    I was quickly ushered into the nearest pub by a worried looking Alistair and Margaret…

    I slept really well that night and the following morning had a lovely leisurely cooked breakfast with Alistair and Margaret on my decking.

    Also on the menu were The Banned Subjects of:  The state of the LibDems, Brexit, pensions, environmental and marine protections, tuition fees and zero hours contracts….

    There may have been a modicum of agreement!

    If you fancy getting away from it all for a few days, with just some sheep and birdsong for company (and a slightly eccentric and amusing host) I can thoroughly recommend Larkworthy Farm Glamping Holiday Cabins at http://www.devon-glamping.co.uk