Unlike the last couple of years, we weren’t going to Centre Parcs this year. Much as we enjoyed it, it was time for a change. We decided the look for somewhere in Devon that we could take the bike to.
After some internet searching, Jo found a place called Hallsanney Cottages. It seemed just right. It is about half a mile from the Tarka Trail, which is an old railway line, now cycle path and had a king size bed for us. It ticked a lot of other boxes as well including free Wi-Fi; I know we’re on holiday, but it’s useful for weather checks and checking out places to go.
We did a lot of the packing last night, so the plan was to get up early, load the car and get away at about 7am. We didn’t do too bad, getting away at 7:45. The car seems to get more full every time we go, but it all fitted.
We were going to stop off at Stonehenge on the way, so I packed my 18-70 zoom as well as the Bigma (50-500). The RAC travel planner estimated 1 hour 50 minutes to Stonehenge, which would be about 9am when it opened. Allowing for a bit of traffic delay, that would work out fine. We were looking out for services for a break after we came off of the M3 and pulled into the first one. It only had a small carpark and that was full to overflowing with people trying to reverse back out. We eventually got out of there and stopped at the next one for a quick break; much better. We made good progress until almost at Stonehenge, then the last 2 miles took a hour of crawling. That said we got there about 11am, so not bad time after all.
It is surprising when you first see Stonehenge, just how close the road is to it. The Heel stone is only about 6 foot from the road. The car park was busy, both being full and with people milling about everywhere. The entrance to Stonehenge is very small and could really do with a makeover. You queue down a slope and then it opens out into a small area where there are tables for the cafe on the left. The cafe is on the far right, so if you get a drink, you would have to get across the queue to get to the tables. There is one entrance kiosk for paying visitors and another that was in use for the coach trips and English Heritage members. In the same area are the exit turnstiles, so it is pretty busy in that area. Once you have paid, you are straight onto the audio tour kiosk, where you can collect a free audio tour device, again this area is fairly narrow and rammed with people from both entrance kiosks trying to get the audio device. The exit from the gift shop is here as well, you can certainly say everything is compact. Past the audio tour kiosk, you turn the corner to your right and are then met by groups of people trying to make their mind up if they are going in the gift shop entrance. Past that you only have to follow the tide avoiding the people returning from Stonehenge. Once under the road, you come up a slope and finally it is less constricting. We left the path and went up onto the grass on the right to start with, mainly to get out of the crowd for a few moments. At this point, you can actually stop to look at the stones themselves. We worked our way up the outside until we were nearly at the back and then came back to join the path that went closer to the stones. I had to smile when I heard an American lady saying “I thought it would be larger than this”, and had to resist answering her with “would you want to be moving these stones let alone larger stones.”
After about an hour or so we had worked our way round taking photos as we went. We then braved the gift shop experience. Too small, too many people, too hot; got the tee-shirt. Eventually we got back to the car and navigated our way through aimlessly wandering people to get back on the road. When we got back on the A303, we started looking out for a local pub for lunch. Jo spotted a side that said next left turn for The Black Dog Inn in Chilmark, so we took it. It was a lot further from the main road than we thought, probably a couple of miles, but well worth it. Jo had the whitebait, I had liver and bacon, A had chicken nuggets and P had a cheese baguette and chips. When we left they gave us directions back to the main road without us having to return the same way we came.
We arrived at Hallsanney about 16:45 and found the place really easily. The instructions were to park the car under the canopy at the back of the main building outside the cottage, but we had to take the bikes off the roof first as the front edge of the roof was too low for most of the bikes. We were met shortly after arrival and told that we could store our bikes in the sheds around the back of the cottage if we wanted. In the kitchen was a tray with home made scones and a vase of sweet peas. There was a handwritten note welcoming us and inviting us to enjoy a cream tea, the scones on the table and clotted cream and home made jam in the fridge.
First impressions of the Coachman’s Cottage were very good. The rooms are a good size and well equipped. There is a large entrance hall which has a work surface over a washing machine and freezer on the left as you come in. Just behind the door on the right is a large safe, just decorative I guess. Next to the safe is a large three door wooden wardrobe, one of the doors contains spare bedding and the double section contains such wonders as shrimping nets, tennis rackets and balls and even buckets for the beach. A couple of chairs are next to the wardrobe. In the other corner there is the stairs to upstairs and the door to the master bedroom. Under the stairs are storage bags for recycled plastic, glass and paper.
The master bedroom is huge, there is a two seater sofa inside the door on the right and a smallish wardrobe ahead as you come in. If you turn left towards the front of the cottage, the king size bed is ahead, against the right hand wall. At the end of the bed in the opposite wall is the door to the on-suite, which is actually a wet room containing a shower, toilet and basin. Past them is a chest of drawers on the bed side and in an alcove on the other side a rocking chair. Finishing off, the end wall contains a large window / french doors providing plenty of light to the room. This description hasn’t done the size justice, there has to be 5-6 feet between the wardrobe and bed and the same between the bed and the chest of drawers.
Up the fairly steep stairs, you come onto a small landing. Straight ahead is an airing cupboard and a good sized bedroom with bath/shower, toilet and basin. Turning left takes you into the kitchen diner which has a table that seats six, a wooden cupboard with three drawers and three door sections, an under worktop fridge, electric cooker and a double sink. On the wooden cupboard is a microwave. Wall cupboards in the corner and over the fridge contain a large selection of crockery and glasses, more than enough. I’ve probably missed some thing out here, oh yes, kettle, toaster, bread bin, shelf with saucepans. On top of the microwave was a folder containing information about operating the central heating, the TV, where to eat out, where the supermarkets are, things to do, history of Hallsannery and assorted other information.
Straight through the kitchen you come to the living room. This is another good sized room containing two double sofas and a chair. There is a wood burning stove in the corner and a telly with DVD player and Freeview box the other side of the window. To the other side of the telly is a door that leads to a set of stairs down to a courtyard area with a patio table and chairs. The other side of the courtyard is the sheds where we are keeping the bikes. Under the telly are a few games varying from Balderdash to chess. On some standing shelves behind the door are just about every leaflet from anything to do in the surrounding area as well as Ordnance Survey maps of the area.
Back across the landing are the two other bedrooms, there is a single and a double. The double has a false balcony with railing and french doors opening out onto a view across the valley.
Once we had moved all the baggage into the cottage we went out shopping for groceries that we would need for the week. We probably could have shopped more locally, but we headed out to Sainsbury’s anyway. On the way down the drive a green woodpecker flew across the road ahead of us.