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Holidaying in a Devon lighthouse was a hit for all the family
11:12am Thursday 7th June 2012 in NewsXtra
It’s not every day that you can take the boat to the pub… with your dog, writes Jim Levack.
It’s also extremely unusual for my lot to settle calmly down after tea, healthily exhausted by the fresh sea air.
But then this short break was anything but normal.
Miles from civilisation perched on a peninsular on the rugged southernmost tip of Devon with just a single lane track for the last mile – I was glad we’d arrived in daylight.
But even if we’d left it any later, our destination would have been pretty unmissable. After all its three quick beams of light have been saving sailors from shipwreck since 1836.
“After the drive you won’t want to be heading out again tonight, so I’ll lock you in,” said the Start Point lighthouse tour guide as the last beams of sunlight dipped beneath the horizon out at sea.
Now that might have concerned this reviewer at one time, but there’s something strangely – yet logically - reassuring about living in a lighthouse.
Lying in bed that night I looked up at the sky as the constant beams sent their lifesaving message miles out to the sea, and drifted off to the sound of the wind buffeting this most resilient of buildings.
The welcome hamper of wine, chocs and various Devon delicacies helped us settle in straight away and the wonderful isolation meant nothing could touch us here.
Next morning and the view was breathtaking as we scanned the sea with binoculars to watch the seals and occasional dolphins cavorting along the bay.
Well that was the hope – the fact that we saw nothing more than some huge sea birds and fishermen maintaining centuries old traditions did not diminish our exhilaration.
Once the security gate was reopened at 10am – this is secure land owned by Trinity House and the whole thing runs electronically from Essex - we reluctantly left the lighthouse for a scout around.
A short hop to Portlemouth in a river ferry crossing and we were in Salcombe, home to an array of ‘sailing sorts’ shops and more importantly, some lovely boozers.
Back home I wouldn’t dream of taking Lucy, our adored Spaniel-Lurcher cross, to the pub. In south Devon it’s frowned upon not to.
Two pints of Tribute Cornish ale in front of a roaring log fire and I was ‘in the zone’, too comfortable to even think of the return boat trip, however brief.
Start Point is perfectly located to visit the nearby towns of Totnes – good for its shops - and Dartmouth and is visible from the superb award-winning Blackpool Sands beach.
But it’s the lighthouse’s dark, brooding history and the constant threat of the fog horn going off, that makes it such a mystical, magical place to stay.
We’d been dreading the decibel-busting warning, but the ear protectors in our welcome hamper hinted at the adventure of it all to the extent that we were almost disappointed when we left without hearing it.
There’s something about the south Devon coastline and its crystal clean air that turns me into an energetic walker.
We took a half hour stroll along the coastal path to nearby Hallsands, a ghost village built into the cliffs controversially washed away during storms in 1917.
The families that lived there had complained to the Plymouth dockyard builders that shingle from their beach should not be removed – then it was too late.
There are plenty of hidden nuggets like this throughout the area, but one far less out of sight is a café restaurant that I’ve been visiting with my wife for the last 20 years.
No visit to the South Hams is complete without a trip to Alf Resco’s, the Dartmouth caff renowned for its superbreakfasts… the cinnamon toast is a must.
Lucy was welcomed with the promise of a free sausage and whatever the weather, the welcome is always warm in this part of the south coast.
Nowhere moreso than the Pigs Nose Inn in East Prawle, on the southern tip of Devon – a typical village pub serving huge portions in a olde worlde atmosphere more befitting of a slightly offbeat film set.
But wherever we went, Start Point lighthouse was our anchor and for a bloke used to the big city, always a strangely reassuring sight.
Come wind, come rain, come sleet or sea mist, this place was warm, cosy and a haven completely remote from the outside world – in fact a destination perfect for a short break with plenty of memories and something completely out of the ordinary thrown in.
Factbox: Rural Retreats (www.ruralretreats.co.uk / 01386 701177), the UK’s luxury self-catering specialist has over 350 properties ranging from romantic cottages for two to castles for 24, as well as unique properties like windmills and lighthouses, available from as little as two nights. Rural Retreats is offering seven nights in Landward Cottage, Start Point Lighthouse in Devon from £811.