Hotel Review: The Crown at Exford

Exmoor - Crown Hotel

Although husband and I have enjoyed several city breaks over the decades we have been together, by far our favourite holiday is one where we can go for long walks each day in beautiful countryside. Exmoor is a destination we return to again and again. As we hadn’t been for a few years – for reasons anyone can guess – this was our choice when we were looking for an August break.

The Crown in Exford is a family run hotel that sits on a junction at the heart of the village. A small park is across the road. The River Exe runs to its left. From Exford there are footpaths and bridleways leading to many other pretty villages. These follow riverbanks, cross woodland, fields, and climb up onto the surrounding moorland. Exmoor is hilly but any effort expended will be rewarded with stunning views. These include a stretch of coastline with Wales visible across the Bristol Channel.

Exmoor - moorland viewWe had asked for a larger room with a king sized bed and were allocated one looking out to the front of the hotel. The ensuite had a large bath that was much appreciated after each long day’s walking. The hospitality tray was well stocked with essentials, including biscuits. We were told on arrival that housekeeping would only be provided on request. This suited us well as we feel no need to have fresh towels each day and take care not to make too much mess in the clean and carefully prepared room anyway. When we ran low on teabags and milk this was quickly replenished.

Exmoor - hotel bedroom bed  Exmoor - hotel bedroom seats

An important aspect of our holidays is the food. We do like to eat well when away. The Crown offers what it describes as casual dining. Although the atmosphere in the various eating areas was relaxed and convivial, the dishes prepared were impressively fine – freshly prepared, beautifully presented and cooked to perfection.

Exmoor - tasty fish dinner  Exmoor - pudding in lounge

On the first evening we chose to eat at a table in the hotel vestibule. On subsequent evenings we ate in the public bar. This attracts many locals for drinks and chat, providing a lively atmosphere and a window into life in this beautiful but remote location.

Exmoor - drinks outside pub

Exmoor - superfood salad  Exmoor - pudding in pub

Breakfasts were served in what had previously been the residents’ restaurant. These were made to order and served plated. A good range of options were available, including: fruit juice, tea or coffee, fresh fruit, cereals, porridge, various egg dishes, toast, a full English fry up. I was particularly taken by what was described as a superfood breakfast – smoked salmon or bacon, avocado and poached egg served on sour dough and sprinkled with seeds. This was both delicious and filling without being too heavy.

Exmoor - hotel breakfast room  Exmoor - superfood breakfast

Adjacent to the breakfast room was a small gift shop stocking an interesting range of locally sourced products. This complemented the various artworks and sculptures that adorned walls and window ledges around the hotel – with price tags for those who might consider purchasing.

Exmoor - hotel gift shop  Exmoor - hotel animal sculptures

Although we were lucky with the weather and were able to be out and about each day, had the weather been less pleasant we could have relaxed in the hotel lounge. Games and reading material were provided here. For colder days, a log burner would keep the area cosy.

Exmoor - hotel lounge

When relaxing in our room we were often distracted by the sound of horses being ridden through the village. Drivers of tractors and 4x4s would pause to talk to those sitting at the bar’s outside tables. Exford is obviously a friendly place where residents know each other and take an interest. As visitors we were welcomed, provided with efficient and friendly service, and thoroughly enjoyed our stay.

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Random Musings: Wanders in Wales

There won’t be the usual number of book reviews on my blog in the second half of this month as I have several trips away from home planned. This weekend I am heading north, to Appleby for some walking and then on to Edinburgh to clear elder son’s uni accommodation for the summer. Earlier this week I was on an unexpected short break. Husband is between contracts and my head has been all over the place so I was grateful when he whisked me away to Wales. I was kept so busy, in the best possible way, that I didn’t find time to read even a single page of the books I had brought. Thus I am behind on my reading but feeling much more settled in myself.

Wales was quite the adventure. Wall to wall sunshine meant we could plan long walks involving many ascents – exercise is my way of finding balance when life proves wobbly. Here are just a few of the more memorable moments from the trip, along with some pictures from what turned out to be rather special accommodation.

Day 1

After a challenging climb to a summit – worth it for the views – we set off for our hotel. We do not own a Sat Nav so use Google Maps for real time directions. Reasons unknown, the app decided we were not staying in a hotel but rather on a working farm, accessed by the sort of narrow tracks where you can only hope you don’t meet another vehicle. We were travelling in my husbands shiny two-seater which he enjoyed driving along the many winding Welsh roads. It is not so much fun when sent off piste. When we eventually drove past the farm entrance, Google advised a 3-point turn before the track became footpath. We spotted a gate and hoped for sufficient traction from the packed mud entrance.

Day 2

After the previous day’s navigation debacle we set off on foot from our hotel. Following a footpath through numerous fields we encountered a ruin that husband paused to photograph. I noticed a group of mixed cattle eyeing us. I am very afraid of cattle – the bane of many walks. A few of the youngsters started to move in our direction. Others followed. The whole herd then started to stampede towards the open gate that separated their field from ours. Now moving swiftly we passed through the gate into the next field on our route. The herd paused, watching, and then continued at speed along the boundary. I had no idea if they knew of a way through but it was clear they wished to reach us. I covered three fields of steep ascent at an impressive rate.

On reaching the boundary of farmland and moor we spotted the monument marking the start of the trail we planned to walk. There was a sign on the other side of the gate informing us that this area is an artillery training ground and entry is strictly forbidden without permission. The sign informed us that military debris, if touched, may explode and kill you. We heard firing in the distance.

While I balanced the dangers in my head – trampled by cattle if we turned back or risk of death by exploding military debris if we continued – husband contemplated different words on the sign: ‘without permission’. He phoned the MOD. Having given our location and proposed route we were assured the live firing was not in our area and we could safely proceed. We walked a pleasant, scenic trail along moorland ridge to the soundtrack of bleating sheep and exploding shells.

Day 3

After the previous day’s encounter with cattle we planned a route that took us up onto the moor via tracks and hedged in footpaths, returning via tracks and quiet lanes. The moor, however, proved more challenging to navigate. Each marker we aimed for – a trig point, lake, stream to descend by – was criss-crossed by sheep tracks rather than obvious paths. Being moorland, sections were boggy and impassable.

We took several wrong turns and had to climb up to find the correct direction. Wiltshire, where I normally walk, did not provide the training for these repeated ascents. When we eventually found our way off the moor it was with a grand sense of achievement – just what my head needed.

R&R

I mentioned our special accommodation. Husband found Lake Country House Hotel via a last minute offer on Secret Escapes. After a day’s walking it was lovely to relax with a stroll through the extensive grounds abutting river and woodland before a cooling swim in the pool. Refreshing drinks were imbibed followed by dinners as good as we’ve eaten anywhere. It is a place we hope to return to one day.

 

We were in a Lodge Suite, located in a separate building beside the main hotel. Our room was enormous – far bigger than we needed given the fine weather. Little touches such as fresh fruit, shortbread rounds and a good variety of teas were appreciated.

   

 

There were also books for those who forget to pack any. I wished I had thought to bring some titles I have finished with to add to this collection.

Memorable adventures require moments of crisis to add interest to recollections. I could have done without the encounter with stampeding cattle but the rest of our trip was a blast; thankfully not literally.

If interested in further photos (I know, but someone may), check out my Instagram here: neverimitate.

Sun, sea and sand

It was lovely to get away for a few days this week, to enjoy a change of scenery and some down time with my boys. It was also lovely to come home afterwards for a rest. Holidays are fun but exhausting, does that make me sound ungrateful? I am not, I enjoyed our time away immensely. Now though I need to catch up on sleep and on thinking time.

Whilst away I did not manage to read or write, what I got instead was activity and conversation. We made the most of spending time together without our usual distractions. I need to mentally process all of this as I resume the rhythm of my everyday life. My batteries have been successfully recharged, it is now time to move forward.

Booking a few days on the coast in February was always going to be risky weather wise. After the storms and floods of recent weeks I did wonder how we would cope if we were confined to our hotel by the elements. In the event we were lucky and spent much of our time away walking and enjoying the long, sandy beaches and promenades in glorious sunshine.

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The south coast of England is a popular place for retirees as well as holidaymakers. As I do not like crowds I tend to avoid the more built up areas. On one of our walks this week we ended up in Bournemouth and I was reminded why. It was my husband who accurately noted that the irritations of walking through noisy, crowded streets filled with slow moving pedestrians left us feeling more drained than the five mile walk to get there. We were happy to return to the tranquility of the peninsula where our hotel was located.

My daughter had chosen to stay at home so I had my three boys for company. They made good use of the hotel facilities with my elder son joining my husband in the gym while my younger son braved the cold to swim outside despite the wind and evening rain.

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It was accepted that I wished to relax at times, even though I could not find sufficient time to write coherently. I have come home with a notebook filled with words which I hope I will be able to use in subsequent posts. I have so many plans and ideas swirling around in my head. I feel mentally replenished.

I also feel physically over fed. The food was delicious and plentiful, there seemed little point in not indulging while I had the opportunity. My husband and elder son were particularly appreciative of the various chefs’ skills and I will review our restaurant experiences in other posts. Suffice to say here that these were highlights of the trip.

How different this was to previous experiences of eating out when my children were younger. I wonder if my own lack of imagination and skill in the kitchen at home has resulted in a family who can value variety of taste and presentation when it is offered. Even my younger son was willing to try new dishes on this trip. Our evening’s out were enjoyed by all.

We returned home to a daughter who had made good use of having a house to herself. Friends had been round, food of choice cooked, but she had not forgotten to care for our hens or carry out the other few tasks I had left for her. I missed her company but am happy to see her cope responsibly with independence.

I now have a weekend to get the house in order, deal with laundry and indulge my own needs. We also have the third season of Game of Thrones to finish. If we have time this evening then we will watch the final two episodes. I have been warned about the Red Wedding already.

Changing seasons

I was cold in bed last night for the first time in several months. Today I have donned a favourite, comfy, shapeless hoodie in an attempt to stay warm. It is raining outside so I am not inclined to venture out on my planned walk. Instead I have been catching up on housework and entertaining myself scrolling through my dashboard on Tumblr. That site is a time machine; I log on and the hours vanish.

There are so many things that I could and probably should do, but none of them are urgent or appealing. I will allow myself some down time; a chance to rest and snuggle after an active few days. Summer is ending and I must look out my warmer clothes; swap sandals for boots and add layers when I venture outside. I enjoy the changing seasons, the shift in outlook and expectation.

The long, sunny summer allowed me to open up the house for fresh air to circulate through windows and doorways. Home life merged between inside and out as we enjoyed meals on our patio and played games in the garden. Long, light evenings allowed family time and relaxation to gravitate around airy, outdoor living.

Now the evenings are drawing in and the temperature has dropped. Windows are closed and curtains drawn against the encroaching dark at an ever earlier hour each day. Evening entertainment revolves around screens and books and music. We become more solitary in our thoughts and pursuits, even when sharing the same space.

Yet I enjoy this time of year. There is change and hope and growth. Soon I will have a multitude of ripe apples and blackberries to make into cakes and crumbles; I will swap eggs from my hens for the fresh, home grown vegetables that my talented friends can coax out of their little plots of earth. We will feast on this bounty and walk off the energy given through woodland that is wondrous to behold with it’s kaleidoscope of colour.

I feel blessed to live where I do. I am surrounded by beautiful countryside and friendly people. However socially awkward I have become I am still accepted and greeted by those around me. I need only walk a short way to escape the trepidation that I feel when I venture out; to be surrounded by fields or woodland; to experience the beauty of a fabulous view.

After the long, summer break my family are settling back into a new academic year and I can spread my wings and wander at will through whatever challenges I have set myself. Or, as today, I can snuggle up with my thoughts and live my own life as I please, at least until evening when my duties return.

I will read my books, watch new films and allow my thoughts to wander. How dull must be the lives of those who do not create fictional worlds in their heads and then live out the lives of their characters. As I walk through the real and imaginary paths that I explore each day I am filling out the lives of so many who do not exist. As I create and develop my characters it feels as though I am getting to know new friends, even though the real me is never introduced to their worlds.

There are so many things that I want to do and see and be; most are within my grasp and close to home, all demand time and commitment. As I apply myself to making them happen (as only I can) I will do my best to make the most of this season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. I will also allow myself time to snuggle, although perhaps not too often.

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“Follow no path, make your own.”

Walking through my phobias

I have woken up to another bright, sunny day that would make my little corner of the world look beautifully spring like if it were not for the hard frost that has turned outside surfaces a glittery white. If the bitterly cold wind continues to blow then we will not be venturing far today.

Yesterday I went shopping; a most unusual activity for me. I favour browsing the internet and ordering with a click to dealing with slow moving, random strangers as I traipse around numerous shops in the hope of finding what I wish to buy. However, yesterday the male section of my family decided to visit a museum in a town containing a branch of the shop Blue Banana which my daughter would like to entirely empty of stock in her size if she could afford to. She doesn’t need me to accompany her but didn’t object when I suggested doing so. We had a very enjoyable morning together during which she bought lots and I bought nothing. Teenagers seem to need so much.

The boys joined us for a warming coffee (tea, hot chocolate) before heading home, and my husband picked up a new walk book. This surprised me somewhat. We used to go walking a lot together; before the children were born this is how we would have spent our holidays. In more recent times he has left it to me to suggest a ramble and decide on the route. As I see no need to drive in order to walk, these outings tend to be in our local area. We live in a beautiful part of the country and I regularly go on long walks from our front door so this is easily done.

My husband is not one to share his thoughts and plans with anyone until he is ready to take action so I am now left to wonder if we will be expected to head out into the unknown armed with the suggestions from his new purchase. I ponder this prospect with a certain amount of trepidation. Don’t get me wrong, I love going on long walks in the countryside and am happy to explore new areas. I also have a lot of experience of my husbands interest in engineering, his navigation skills and of my own inexplicable phobias.

I have a problem with heights. This is not severe enough to claim to suffer from vertigo but, whilst I may enjoy the expansive view from the top of a mountain, I am very uncomfortable with sheer drops. On a holiday to Yorkshire many years ago we followed a long and winding route through the dales that ended up within sight of the village we were staying in but from the top of a rocky escarpment. To navigate this we were required to scramble down on all fours, finding foot and hand holes as we went to prevent a too speedy drop. I was all for backtracking the entire walk to avoid this finale. The look of irritation on my beloved’s face made me do what was required, but it removed all enjoyment from what had been a very pleasant outing. It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

The one holiday abroad that we have taken together was to Madeira where we walked the Levadas. This amazing irrigation system winds through beautiful, mountainous terrain and makes a stunning route for adventurous walkers. The engineering is impressive as the mini canals cling to mountainsides; why did I not figure out beforehand that there would probably be a fair few sheer and terrifying drops on these routes? I just couldn’t make myself do some of them. My husband was probably disgusted with me, but even that couldn’t induce me walk a six inch wide ledge with no fence and a drop of several hundred feet to the side. I shouldn’t have laughed when he fell in the water because he was willing to come between me and a very fierce, possibly wild dog that threatened to attack us as we made our way back to our accommodation. Those walks were not our most successful.

The levada walks also had tunnels that I refused to go in. Have I mentioned my fear of cramped, dark places? I could never go caving but we have done some walks that required me to go underground with only a torch for light. I can usually force myself to go through with these, eyes closed and clinging to my husband’s hand for guidance, but again they ruin a nice walk. When I agreed to cross the scarily high and narrow Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales I was not warned that the chosen route (Chirk to Llangollen) also included tunnels. Canal walks are usually so pleasant but this one lives on in my memory for the fear it induced.

These marvels of nature and feats of engineering could, of course, be avoided if I researched a walk before agreeing to embark on it. What cannot be predicted is whether the simple fields we will regularly traverse will contain cattle. Yes readers, I am also afraid of cattle. If it were only the udderless ones that send my hypothalamus into overdrive I may understand this particular phobia, but even the gently cud chewing, milk producers will have me retracing my steps when given the choice. My husband does not give me that choice.

Beside all of these irrational fears the simple wrong turns or missed paths that often extend our walks through seemingly unnavigable undergrowth (which has, at times, been taller than me) can almost pale into insignificance. Almost. Soggy boots and scratched limbs from wading through seas of mud or fighting through overgrown reeds or bracken on steep hillsides where no path exists; clambering over barbed wire fences or high walls to reach the path we should be on; walking through farmyards guarded by barking dogs that may or may not be chained, to reach a road that will return us to our route; I have trudged along in my husbands wake, grumbling and begging to just go back the way we came on more occasions than I can remember.

Given these experiences, I am not sure whether to be more amazed that he has put up with me for so long or that I still enjoy going on walks with him. We have had some fabulous holidays together though. We have walked the rivers and mountains of the Lake District in Cumbria, the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons in Wales; we have explored the moors and coastlines of Exmoor and Yorkshire, the coastlines of Devon and Cornwall and the forests in Hampshire; we have discovered as many inspiring walks in our home county of Wiltshire as anyone could wish for. We have done this together and, more recently, with our children who thankfully seem to have inherited our enthusiasm for outdoor adventures.

I have yet to look through my husbands new walk book. I guess I could take the initiative and suggest a few of them myself; ones that do not appear to contain scary drops, tunnels or too much low lying farmland en route. The problem with this approach is that it removes the pleasure of being taken out for the day. Just as yesterday’s shopping trip may not have been something that I would choose to do, but was enjoyable as a treat offered up to me, so a walk suggested and chosen by my husband is like a gift. A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as expected and I will continue to try not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; picture taken by Akke M...