North Devon Cottages – a little homework

North Devon cottages give you a wonderful base from which to explore both the coast and the countryside of North Devon. I find doing a little preparation is a great way to get the best out of a holiday. I like to have one or two books on the go that give me a taste of the area I’m going to stay in. I love being able to get a feel for the landscape before I get there and to match the fictional landscape to what is really there.

Devon is the setting for a couple of classic works of fiction, Lorna Doone and Tarka the Otter. Both are typical Sunday afternoon serial material and offer good plots, bags of atmosphere and a story the whole family can enjoy.

Lorna Doone

Lorna Doone is a character in a well known book that became a much loved film. (For many Americans she is synonymous with shortbread bisuits but that’s another story!) The book, subtitled A Romance of Exmoor is a novel by Richard Doddridge Blackmore. It is a romance based on a group of historical characters and set in the late 17th century in Devon and Somerset. The hero John Ridd’s father, a respectable farmer, was murdered in cold blood by one of the notorious Doone clan, a once noble family, now outlaws, in the isolated Doone Valley. Battling his desire for revenge, John grows up to take good care of his mother and two sisters and become a farmer like his father.  One day he meets a girl, Lorna, and falls hopelessly in love. Tragically she seems to be not only the granddaughter of Sir Ensor Doone but destined to marry the evil heir of the Doone Valley, Carver Doone. Carver will let nothing get in the way of his marriage to Lorna, which he plans to force upon her once Sir Ensor dies and he comes into his inheritance.

Lorna Doone Country

The bridge at Oare

The Exmoor countryside becomes almost another character in the book and some of the descriptions make the Moor sound a very bleak, yet hauntingly beautiful place. There are lots of walks available that are based on the story and it is fairly easy to find the real life models for many places mentioned in the book. At the heart of Loona Doone Country is Malmsmead, where visitors can find Lorna Doone Farm, and nearby Oare House and Oare Church, where R D Blackmore’s grandfather was once rector.

Tarka the Otter

Tarka the Otter is another well loved story set in the Devon countryside. Tarka was written by Henry Williamson and first published in 1927. It starts with Tarka as  a cub growing up in a den with his mother and siblings. As a cub, he learns how to clean himself, swim, and catch fish. When his home is attacked by hunters, he and his family must abandon it to flee from danger. Joining up with another group of otters, the family continue to travel. At some point he loses his family and his mother forgets she even had a cub named Tarka. From then on he must fend for himself.

It is a fairly realistic imagining of the life of an otter from his earliest time as a cub to the end of his life. It is not a book for the squeamish and some of the descriptions of animal behaviour are quite vivid. However it gives an amazingly realistic, althought sometimes harsh, picture of the life of the Devon countryside.

The Tarka Trail

Tarka lives his life and has his adventures in a much more realistic depiction of North Devon than Lorna Doone. The area where the book is set is well documented and there is even a Tarka Trail which you can use to help you explore.

The Tarka Trail is a series of interconnected footpaths and cyclepaths. It is a figure-of-eight route and covers some 180 miles of path. The route covers a wide variety of landscapes including: wooded river valleys, rugged moorland, coastal cliffs and sandy bays. Walking varies between easy and strenuous, depending on the location, but, in general, it is comprehensively waymarked. You can also explore the Tarka Trail by bike and cycle hire is available if you haven’t brought bikes from home.

Preparing for your holiday builds the excitement

If you are preparing for a holiday in a North Devon cottage you could do worse than add both of these to your family reading list. Children will enjoy both these books and be fascinated by finding the real places described in them. A bit of preparation like this before a holiday can provide a good theme for days out and give that feeling of being on a quest which children often find enjoyable.

Another way to prepare is to find videos of both these stories and here are a couple to get you started.

The first is a trailer for the film of Tarka the Otter (available on DVD) and will give you a taste of the sort of countryside you will be exploring form your cottage.

The second is set on Exmoor itself and is a trailer for the 1960s film of Lorna Doone. I couldn’t resist showing you it but I fear it may give a rather strange impression of Lorna Doone’s setting. Do you think they’d ever been to the UK? :-)

A quick look round youtube also leads to the whole of the more recent BBC classic serial of the story with Amelia Warner and Richard Coyle  but I’m not about to link to that here :-) as the BBC may well insist it is taken down. You can however buy the series on DVD. Lorna Doone [DVD]

I think that doing a bit of preparation when you are getting ready for a holiday helps to build excitement and will add to your chances of a really good holiday in your North Devon cottage.

Creative Commons License image credit: nicksarebi

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