In 2016 we ran a number of My Perfect Day competitions to celebrate the release of three new titles in our Slow Travel series. Read the winning entries here!
My Perfect Day in East Devon & the Jurassic Coast
The prize for the My Perfect Day in East Devon & the Jurassic Coast was a two night break for two at Cuckoo Down Farm, a family-run farm offering luxury accommodation in both yurts and safari tents.
The Watering Holes of East Devon by Joanna Griffin
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?’
My Perfect Day in the Peak District
The prize for the My Perfect Day in the Peak District was a two night break for two at Wheeldon Trees Farm, a collection of nine holiday cottages, that offers a peacful haven in the middle of the Peak District.
by Thidara Udomritkul
I dash across from Edale Train Station to Pennypot café. Searching for the nearest cover I can find, I shelter away from a graphite sky and the impending sense of a rain storm. With a sigh of relief, I wrap my hands around the comforting warmth of a mug of tea. I hear the sizzle and spit of frying bacon, the sharp and delectable aroma filling the café and invoking an appetite previously diminished by a long train journey from London.
It’s a weekend escape from city life. With creased brown boots, frayed laces and a map to hand, I feel a bubble of enthusiasm grow. I can’t wait for a long walk and the pure sense of freedom I get from the Peak District.
Avoiding the rainstorm, we amble together through Edale Village. We take in the historic collection of Herdmen’s booths whilst scrolling past the infamous Old Nag’s Head – the start of the Pennine Way. Upon reaching Edale Youth Hostel, I find myself surrounded by spring green hills, bastions of gritstone and the shadow of Mam Tor looming above us.
Our plan is a full day’s walk to Kinder Scout, the highest point of the Peak District. From Edale, the trail leads us through patchworks of farmland. We follow the gentle murmur of the River Noe before ascending up the rocky climb of Grindsbrook Clough.
There is no longer a distinct track as I find myself atop a featureless plateau. I catch my breath as a band of grey cloud descends upon us. The weather distorts any sense of direction whilst intensifying the feeling that we have reached one of the most desolate upland plateaus in Peak District. We pull out a compass and follow a bearing, trudging our way through peat bogs and empty riverbeds. I know we are lost and I feel our morale trickling away like an emptying hourglass.
With the difficult weather conditions, we decide to abandon our search for Kinder Scout. Seated upon a rock with a crusty baguette in hand, I glance across the valley. I suddenly envision trekking down the hill to descend straight into Edale. We pull out our map, the steep contour lines criss-crossing our intended shortcut like lines of disapproval. I feel the gentle stir of excitement at the prospect of an improvised adventure.
We descend off the main track. I circumvent past hidden grass hollows and trickling pools of rain trails until we suddenly reach a surprise crash site of twisted metal. I approach the site in curiosity. The aircraft pieces were left as a memorial for Richard Spear, a Wing Commander who was killed flying into Kinder Scout in 1945.
We trek back to Edale in awe of our discovery before retiring to the Youth Hostel for the evening. It was a day where trekking in Dark Peak rang true to its name - a mysterious crash-site, a moody skyline and getting lost atop a windswept plateau. A day that can be described as imperfectly perfect.
My Perfect Day in Shropshire
The prize for the My Perfect Day in the Peak District was a two night break for two at Hopton House Bed & Breakfast, a relaxed and friendly rural retreat with a touch of luxury, offering three individually designed rooms.
by Karen Maxwell
Shivering on the grass verge with the other shy kids and class misfits, I longed to return to the warmth of the coach, but instead obediently followed the popular gang who strode boldly ahead – all windcheaters, wellies and witty banter.
Our destination was Carding Mill Valley and we carefully picked our way down to a small, shallow stream that meandered along the valley floor. Here, we scattered along the rock-strewn banks and began our riverbed studies. I soon discovered that measuring rocks with frozen fingers is no mean feat and fumbled with the wet pencil, slippery ruler and fluttering sheets of paper, as they wafted precariously in the mischievous wind.
Overcome with frustration, I grumbled under my breath, “You idiot…why didn’t you drop Geography?”
“I’ve got no idea!”
Startled, I turned towards the amused voice and stared straight into a pair of warm brown eyes.
“I didn’t mean you… I meant me,” I stammered.
He was crouching right beside me, our shoulders almost touching. Thankfully, he was smiling widely. “I know. I’m just kidding,” he teased. “But you do look like your could do with some help…?”
Smiling shyly back, I nodded and tried to hide my confusion. After all, he was part of the popular gang and I was…well, just a no-body really. He’d soon realise his mistake and move on. Instead, he kindly took the fluttering papers from my hands and chattered softly as we completed our study notes together.
Apart from a whispered ‘thank you’, I don’t really remember what else I managed to mumble. What I do remember is raising my gaze to watch him stroll back to his friends, framed by dappled olive and gold grasses swathed in auburn heather. For the first time, I saw the richly carpeted valley slopes and the striking splendour of Shropshire.
I turned and absorbed the full panorama; the valley’s rawness and its rugged, beauty. I heard the eerie caws of a raven soaring high above; and felt the rush of gurgling water as it pushed happily onwards to join the River Severn.
When we hopped back on the coach, laughter and song filled the air, along with the aroma of ham butties and cheese and onion crisps. Our final stop was Ironbridge and the day became brighter still. Sunlight and shadows danced on the distant peeks, whilst rays of late afternoon sunlight pierced the thinning clouds, adding a renewed depth and warmth to the village and its rich, red-brickwork. Ahead, the grand old bridge glinted like a silver lifeline as it stretched assertively over dark green waters – solid, self-assured and promising to stand firm for centuries to come.
That field trip thirty-five or so years ago proved a pivotal moment in my life. On that perfect day in Shropshire I realised that I was someone. And, thanks to a 15 year-old boy, an ancient landscape and a 200 year-old bridge, I learned that compassion, beauty and strength can be found almost anywhere. Just have faith and look.