The nicest thing about the Westcountry is Dartmoor, obviously.
I once overheard a couple of older ladies chatting together on the local community bus, as you do. One said…
“I’ve just been to Dartmoor, it was lovely” She paused for a beat before adding “still, you don’t like Dartmoor, do you”.
It wasn’t a question between the two of them, the first was nearly stating what must have been an acknowledged fact. I could tell this was the case because her companion replied
“No, but I love the sea, and you don’t like the sea”.
I’ve never quite recovered from hearing these two assertions, such is the absurdity.
Now, I’ve no business listening in to conversations and should know better (certainly at my age) but this exchange always struck me as odd, down to the fact that one can, in all practicality, love BOTH ”the sea”, and Dartmoor. Being that Dartmoor is one of the larger areas of wilderness in England, and possibly the furthest from civilisation that many of us will ever reach in our lifetimes, it seems a shame to pull the plug on it. Equally, but unequally, “The Sea”, in this case a blanket statement referring to, presumably, all coastline and ALL OF THE WATER that one can shake a stick at. I know this because that stick was being shaken right there on the community bus.
It’s a terrible decision, and one thankfully you may never have to take (outside of a little intellectual experiment posed on a blogpost): which could you live without, the moors, or the sea?
For most of us Westcountry folks this question is irrelevant, of course we (generally) enjoy the varied landscape of Wessex, Dumnonia and Corwellum, the Westcountry. Devon alone has the most coastline of any county in England and Dartmoor is our foremost wilderness area. We enjoy enjoy lots of space and the Westcountry has the lowest population density of any area in the UK, which sounds brilliant (at least for a holiday).
What we can lack down here in this ancient part of the world is things city folks take for granted: decent broadband internet, mobile phone signal, 24 hour garages and so on… Not that any of us take much for granted, after this last year. But as we “unlock” and the wheels begin to roll down the Devon Expressway to St Ives or Torquay, or to Dartmoor or Exmoor, you may be out of practice being a holiday maker.
The old ladies had an aversion to landscapes, but I personally have an aversion to shopping – too many shoe shops as a kid, too many occasions hanging off mum’s arm as she chatted in the street with friends for what seemed like forever. I’m terrible at buying shoes even now. But worry not. Whether you want to show support from Somerset, Drink a dram from Dartmoor, or lob some love from Land’s End, there is a Westcountry gift that you can order online and have sent back home without even having to carry it yourself.
Living south of the Bristol Channel one develops a canny whit regarding logistics, most of these items stand a fair chance of arriving home before you do – particularly if you order them early in your stay. You may even get to watch the unwrapping when you finally arrive home yourself. At any rate, it’s a reduced contact transaction so you’ll only be bringing home the stuff you actually want. All this can be done at leisure too, which is great especially as shopping isn’t as enjoyable as Dartmoor or even, heaven forbid, “the sea”.
So, butter your scones and smear the proper half in cream (whichever that is) and tuck in to a Westcountry selection as pretty as a pasty, all available wherever you are from the finest online retailers in the South West.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered for holiday gifts to remind you of your stay. More importantly, a gift from holiday tells your loved ones that while you were away you thought of them. That’s what a present means, and that’s the reason they can be so important to the receiver. It’s a token. It says
“you mean a lot to me, whilst I was away I spent time thinking of you”
You simply must take in some of the outstanding fish and seafood that the Westcountry has to offer – Devon has the most coastline of any county in England, and the Westcountry has a plethora of fishing towns and villages.
If you visit during the Pirate Festival in Brixham, or maybe you had the best scallops of you life in Beamers restaurant overlooking the harbour, you might have found the return back to normal life (and fish fingers) hard.
The Pirate Festival is cancelled this year, sadly, but that needn’t stop you acting up in the kitchen.
Whilst the sensible option would be to haul yourself to a cooking school – a far better option is to provide other people with the life skills needed to satisfy both of you.
One of Dartmoor Sheepskins’ extended family has gone to Manna From Devon cooking school twice, once to learn about fish cookery, and the other time to learn bread making. Weight was gained in a most happy way by all associated with the venture, and it will be repeated again. Money well spent.
Manna From Devon run courses slightly further up country, as well as in Devon (although coming from the Westcountry everywhere tends to be northwards) – check their courses here.
If you need a more portable item, Manna do a very tasty Cast Iron Skillet which they send by courier for the price of a few drops of rum. Ideal, being that ordering a round of drinks is now much more complicated.
Fruits from the trees, as John would say. These stave baskets are made to order, so contact John early if you have a deadline (deadlines are, as you may have noticed, less stringent in the Westcountry). Made from ash, elm and larch, John will choose the tree and the treatment of the wood from start to furnish – and of course each will be a unique item. Not only do these handcrafted baskets look stunning and reference all that coppiced outdoor goodness, but they are also killer functional hold-alls to boot.
Bag for life? Not you! Contact John via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The most important ingredient in beer, indeed the largest ingredient in beer, is water. The River Dart is born afresh every moment of every day and kicks out 40 cubic metres of water each second. That water has got to come from somewhere. The highest point on Dartmoor is Yes Tor on the High Willhays (Google Maps). It scores the highest point in Southern England too, and, like much of Dartmoor, it catches the Atlantic wind, with all its oceanic weather. The rains wash the rocks and wildlife, just as they have done since before English was a language.
Dartmoor is, appropriately, the crib from which the baby Dart cries.
Flowing south east from its inception, born of moorland spring and surface stream (or, according to Wikipedia: Kit Rock and Lower White Tor) guided over and under shallow soil by ancient eddy, and growing to carve the dart valley – The mouth of the Dart, or Dartmouth, as the locals call it, is a natural deep water harbour with a gargantuan history of maritime usage. The Royal Navy train officers at Dartmouth, but you don’t have to have been at sea all day on exercises to enjoy a good pint. Indeed, you don’t even have to visit Devon to order from dartmoorbrewery.co.uk.
At Dittisham the water is over 1.5 kilometres wide.
Jail Ale is their most notorious inmate, and with good reason. Strong and rich and delightfully simple company, it’s a hearty session beer that will bring back the lessons you learnt from that old inglenook pub in which you spent the most wonderful evening getting drunk (the one that made you swear 4.8% was too strong for a session beer). They ship this delicious elixir for free to mainland UK as long as you order at least 16 of them (not hard to do), so you can get these posted home from £32.
Props to Dartmoor Brewery here for their use of the word “morish” without resorting to moor-based punnery. Good work deserves recognition.
It wouldn’t be right to put ourselves at number one. For the number two spot on our little list is a Cottage Cream sheepskin from Dartmoor – partly because the sheep will have lived outside without a fence in sight, partly because the chrome tan that is applied to the skin is washable.
You don’t get to choose where it’s used if given as a gift, of course. We recommend taking your sheepskin camping and on picnics and all sorts – in fact, we actively encourage people to use and abuse our sheepskins. Take them anywhere you want to add comfort. This certainly needn’t be restricted to indoors, however, but being that it isn’t your decision it’s nice to know both house-proud and boat-house types will be made happy.
Worthy of mention is sheepskin’s green credentials and we sell a steadily growing number to environmentally aware customers who, like us, would prefer more sheepskins were used, instead of being thrown away after we have eaten the sheep. Indeed, fewer than 1 in 200 sheepskins are tanned in the UK, even though we eat millions of sheep.
Dartmoor Sheepskins (Shannon and I) ship Cottage Creams all over the world (we specialise in shipping across America) and you can choose from a variety of tracking options depending on where you want your fleece to land.
Pro tip: we send out a monthly email, and give the customary discount on your first order, as well as first dibs on the best sheepskin in store each month.
Art is subjective, so do check for preference first. However, if it’s for me then just go ahead and order from Maria, who, in my opinion, is painting Dartmoor with more soul than a photo could ever achieve.
The whole of the South West is here, from scratchy seas in “Roar of the elements”, to the evening moors in “I stand alone”. Maria has the smell, the wind and even the temperature of the places she paints, all laid out for the viewer to experience at home, special places depicted especially well.
“I stood and listened” feels particularly South West in nature, and “Close to the sky” could have been captured from so many Westcountry locations it truly warms my own heart. All subjective, of course, but a painting could be the ideal gift to bring a little Westcountry goodness home with you. Contact Maria on her own website (and have a care that you don’t get lost in her dramatic images).
Wherever you end up in this beautiful part of the world, know that you are always near the sea, and near to Dartmoor. Whatever you take home to remind you of your visit, we hope you make memories that will last a lifetime. Why not check out these Five Devon Beaches That Only The Locals Know About.