Sunday, 1 August 2021

I have been to … Tiverton … yet again!

With so-called staycations all the rage thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sue and I were having problems finding somewhere to go for a short break during the warm weather when a suitable ‘slot’ became available at Castle Lodge, Tiverton Castle, Devon. One email later, and a four-night, short break was booked!

Monday 26th July: Getting there

We had enjoyed excellent weather right up until we booked our break … but thereafter, the weather changed. It became cooler, and we had rain … sometimes lots of rain! Parts of London suffered flooding over the weekend, and transport links in some areas were affected. Sue and I expected that our journey to Tiverton would take longer than the four hours predicted by Google Maps … and we were right.

Sue and I set off at 11.10am, having waited for the initial Monday rush to calm down. Our drive down the A2 to the interchange with the M25 at Dartford was uneventful, but when the M26 joined the M25 near the Sevenoaks turnoff, things began to deteriorate. The variable speed limit system was in operation, and we were unable to drive at much more than 40mph for most of the drive to Junction 12, where we turned off to join the M3. It usually takes us seventy-five minutes from our house to Junction 12, but on this occasion, it took over two hours.

We stopped for a lunch break at 2.30pm, and then began our journey along the A303, which is often referred to as ‘Britain’s road to the sun,’. In our case, it was a rather slow road. There were queues of traffic at almost every roundabout and where the dual carriage ways reverted to single lane roads … and passing Stonehenge took us ages.

Any thoughts that that the worst was behind us were soon dispelled. The further we drove west, the darker the skies became, and just before we reached RNAS Yeovilton, we were hit by a horrendous hail and rainstorm. Visibility was reduced to a matter of a few feet, and I was only able to drive at about 10mph. The roads turned to rivers in a matter of minutes, and the hail was hitting the car so hard that at one point I thought that the windscreen would crack!

Luckily, the storm seemed to pass almost as soon as it had arrived, and by the time we turned off the A303 in the direction of Taunton and the M25, the was no sign of rain or that it had rained. We finally reached Tiverton Castle a few minutes before 6.00pm. Sue and I unloaded the car, unpacked our bags, and finally managed to relax and have a drink before going out into the town to find somewhere to eat. As it was Monday, several places were closed, and in the end, we ate in a nearby Italian restaurant (Branzino) that we had used on previous visits.

We returned to Castle Lodge just before 9.30pm, feeling full and tired. Sue and I watched TV for a time, but by 11.00pm we were both beginning to doze off and decided to go to bed. We both fell asleep almost as soon as we got into bed, and not even the sound of the nearby church clock chiming every quarter hour work us up!

Tuesday 27th July: Tiverton and Barnstaple

After a very sound night's sleep, Sue and I woke up at about 7.30am. As it had been raining quite heavily overnight, we did not rush to get ready to go out. Sue and I ate a light breakfast and spent a couple of hours reading and using our iPads. Mrs Gordon - who runs the castle with her husband - paid us a visit at 10.00am to check that everything was all right, and after a chat with her, Sue and I set off to walk into town.

We decided to pay a visit to the factory show at Heathcoat Fabrics. We walked down St Peter's Street to Bridge Street, across the bridge over the River Exe, and then up West Exe North to the entrance to Heathcoat Fabrics.

During our time in the factory shop, Sue managed to buy some very nice fabric at a 50% discount. Unfortunately, it had begun to rain whilst we were in there, and we hurried back across the bridge as quickly as we could. From there we went up the very steep Angel Hill to Fore Street. We paid a quick visit to Boots the Chemist to get out of the rain, and then into another couple of shops. By this time the rain had stopped, and we made our way back home via the Pannier Market.

Sue and I had a cup of tea whilst we pondered what to do for the rest of the day. A quick check of the local weather forecasts showed that the north coast of Devon was expected to have better weather than the south coast, and just before 1.00pm we set off for Barnstaple.

Despite having to pass through a torrential rainstorm about halfway to Barnstaple, the drive took us about forty-five minutes, and at 1.45pm we parked in the multi-storey car park that forms part of the Green Lanes Shopping Centre. Sue and I went for a long, slow walk along High Street, indulging in some retail therapy as we did. We ate lunch in the Tarko Lounge, a café/restaurant that is situated at one of the entrances to the Green Lanes Shopping Centre. The food was better than we had expected, and we both left feeling rather full.

We passed through another rainstorm on the way home, although this was somewhat less intense than the earlier one. Sue and I stopped off at the Tiverton branch of Marks & Spencer to buy a snack meal for the evening, and by 5.00pm we were back in Castle Lodge having afternoon tea.

By early evening, the weather had improved, and Sue and I went for a walk around the centre of Tiverton. It was virtually empty, and almost everything except the fast-food outlets and restaurants was closed. The exception was the small, local cinema - the Tivoli - which we had never noticed before as its entrance is down a short alleyway between two shops in Fore Street.

Having taken some exercise, Sue and I returned to Castle Lodge and ate the food we had bought earlier today and spent the rest of the evening watching TV and reading.

Wednesday 28th July: Taunton

Sue and I had arranged to meet two old friends for lunch in Taunton, so we spent the morning in Castle Lodge and the gardens of the castle. Our friends had moved to Somerset earlier in the year, and we had seen them during our last visit to Tiverton. This time we wanted to choose a venue roughly halfway between their home in Somerset and Tiverton, and after some deliberation we chose a restaurant (Brazz) in Taunton.

The restaurant forms part of the Castle Hotel which, as the name implies, is close to Taunton Castle. We had hope to park our car in the hotel's car park, but it was full and, in the end, we parked in the multi-storey car park that served the Orchard Shopping Centre. This was less than five minutes walk from the restaurant, and we met our friends in the hotel's bar at 1.15pm.

The lunch was very enjoyable, and we did not leave the restaurant until nearly 4.00pm. After saying our goodbyes, we parted company, and Sue and I were back in Tiverton before 5.00pm, even though we stopped off on the way back to do some food shopping in a local supermarket.

We spent the rest of the evening in Castle Lodge, reading, resting, and watching TV. Sue and I did contemplate taking a walk at about 8.00pm, but it began to rain, and by the time it had stopped, neither of us felt like going anywhere.

Thursday 29th July: Tiverton and Exmouth

For some reason, neither of us had a very good night's sleep, and we were both awake at 6.00am. Sue and I did think about getting up, but in the end we both went back to sleep, and eventually we did not get up until 8.00am.

The sun was shining and other than a little dampness in shaded areas, there was no sign that it had rained on the previous evening. We had a rather leisurely start to the day, and after breakfast we set off to pay a second visit to Heathcoat Fabrics. Sue bought some more discounted dressmaking material, and we enjoyed a leisurely walk back through the town.

Just before midday, we set off to visit Exmouth on Devon's south coast. The journey took just under fifty minutes, and after searching for some time a parking space on the seafront, we were able to park just opposite the Pavilion, Exmouth's community leisure and entertainment centre. The Pavilion has a café, and we ate a fish and chip lunch there before going for a walk along the Esplanade.

Sue and I enjoyed several holidays in Exmouth twenty years ago, and we decided whilst we were in the town, we would see if we could find the house we used to rent. After a false start, we soon found Rolle Road, which led to Salterton Road. We knew that the house had been situated on a road between Salterton Road and the sea, and we deduced that it was on Portland Avenue. Almost as soon as we turned right into Portland Avenue, we saw the house about two hundred yards down the road and on the right. It looked almost unchanged, unlike quite a few of the other houses of the street, many of which looked as if they had been converted into flats.

Having satisfied our curiosity, we drove back to Castle Lodge via the small village of Withleigh. We had seen an advert for a garden centre in Withleigh, but despite using our satnav, we were unable to find it. We arrived back at Tiverton Castle just as the gardens - which had been open to the public during the afternoon - were closing. Sue and I had a chat with one of the gardeners before going into Castle Lodge for some afternoon tea and cake.

We spent the rest of the day reading, resting, watching TV, and doing some preliminary packing for our return home next day. Sue and I decided that as we were both still feeling rather full from our lunch, we would have a couple of sandwiches for our evening meal.

Friday 30th July: Going home

If we thought that getting to Tiverton had taken us a long time, then the journey home proved that it hadn't!

We were pretty well ready to leave Castle Lodge at 9.30am, but as our host - Mrs Gordon - who runs Tiverton Castle with her husband (he inherited from his uncle in 1985) wanted to have a chat before we left, we finally began our journey just before 10.00am. As I needed to fill the car's petrol tank before we set off for home, we went to the nearby branch of Morrisons for breakfast and to visit the petrol station. The service in both was slow, and we did not leave Tiverton until 10.50am.

We took the A361 from Tiverton to Junction 27 on the M5, and then drove towards Bristol. At Junction 25 we left the motorway and set off along the A358 toward the A303. Almost as soon as we had begun to drive along the A358, the satnav warned us of a holdup just ahead, and recommended that we use an alternative route to get to the A303. This took us up the A378 to Langport and then onto the A372 via the wonderfully named Huish Episcopi to join the A303 at Podimore.

Once we had negotiated our way onto the A303 (the roundabout was jammed solid due to sheer weight of traffic) we made reasonably fast progress until the dual carriageway went down to single lane. Every time that this happened as we drove along the A303, there was a traffic jam, just as there was at every major junction. Traffic was particularly slow along the stretch of the road going past Stonehenge, but things improved as we reached Andover ... just in time for the edge of Storm Evert cause torrential rain to fall, thus slowing down driving conditions.

We joined the M3 near Basingstoke, but by the time we reached Fleet Services at just after 4.00pm, we were in desperate need to stop and restore our comforts. Finding somewhere to park was not easy, but eventually we did. Sue and I ate the sandwiches we had bought earlier in the day in Morrisons, visited the toilets, and had a quick drink. We then set off along the M3 towards London, and we made good progress until we were about two miles from Junction 2 where the M3 joins the M25. We sat in the queue to get off the M3 and onto the M25 for over thirty minutes, and once on the M25 it was soon apparent that we were not going to have a swift journey round the south of London.

Various traffic warnings began to come through, and before we had reached Junction 10, where the M25 intersects with the A3, we were notified that several accidents ahead of us were likely to cause delays of at least ninety minutes, and drivers were recommended to find alternative routes. Following this advice, we turned off onto the A3, and drove along it as far as Raynes Park, and thence along the A298 to Colliers Wood.

From Colliers Wood, the A24 took us towards central London, and at Clapham we joined the A205 South Circular. At Dulwich we took a diversion through Sydenham and Bell Green and re-joined the South Circular at Catford. The traffic was not as heavy as we had expected, and we finally arrived home just after 7.20pm ... about eight and a half hours after we had left Tiverton!

Needless to say, we were both exhausted by our journey home, and after unpacking and having something to eat, we had an early night. Sue and I also decided that whenever we return to the West Country, we have to find an alternative route to the A303!

For those of you who were expecting to see lots of photographs illustrating our short break, I must apologise for not providing any. In truth, I forgot my camera, and I do not find taking photographs with my iPhone very easy. (I seem to get my fingers in front to the lens!) Sorry ... but I'll try to make up for it next time.


  1. I'm very envious of you both getting away for a break... less jealous of the storms and traffic jams though!

    1. Alastair,

      We both feel that we have ‘paid’ for our break with the time and trouble that we spent on the way to and from Tiverton! As to the weather … we’ll when it wasn’t raining, it was quite pleasant.

      All the best,


  2. You were indeed unlucky with the weather Bob, but a week earlier and frankly it was too hot to be outside for much of the day. The recent weather reminded us of hols to cornwall when the kids were young, when we seemed to get more rain and cool than sunshine and warmth. After a couple of bad years we gave up and holidayed abroad for guaranteed warmth!

    1. Steve J.,

      When it wasn’t raining, the weather was quite pleasant, and the fact that the weather in the north of the county tended to be different from the south meant that we could avoid the worst of the bad weather by carefully choosing where we went … hence a day in Barbstapleand another in Exmouth p.

      There’s not a lot to do in Cornwall when it rains, and I suspect that if we hadn’t been restricted by COVID-19, a lot more of us would have gone aboard this year to get away from the variable weather.

      All the best,


  3. Hi Bob,
    It is a bit of a problem leaving your camera at home- I do miss your photographs from your journeys. Glad you could meet up with friends -so important after a long period of restrictions. Hope you can get back to your FLW Project soon and get everything underway. Stay well there in London. Best Wishes. KEV.

    1. Kev Robertson (Kev),

      I know loads of people who use their smart phones to take all their photographs, but I find it much easier to use a proper camera.

      One of our friends recently spent time in hospital because he had problems with a stomach ulcer. They then discovered that he might have a kidney problem that may require an operation.The news had rather knocked him back quite a bit, and our visit was the first opportunity for him to socialise … and seeing us seemed to help raise his spirits.

      I managed to paint the socks, hooves, and manes on my FLW/PW horses this morning, and I hope to do some more work on them tomorrow.

      Keep safe and keep well,


  4. Using A roads isn't the best route to take normally. Yes, they are the shortest route but are generally heavy with traffic. Try the M4 next time. Two and a half hours from Milton Keynes to Tiverton.
    The A303 is renowned for heavy traffic down to Devon and Cornwall

    1. Khusru,

      We have tried using the M4, but getting to it is always difficult. We have to go round the M25 and past the M3 junction to get to the M4, and the section of the motorway between the M3 and M4 is always slow moving, I have tried going around the north of London, but that means I have to use the Dartford Crossing or Blackwell Tunnel, both of which are prone to major holdups. I have even tried going through central London, but that means that I have to pay the Congestion Charge and deal with heavy traffic and all the holdups usually associated with the central area.

      There is no quick way to get from South-East London to the West Country … and the news that protestors have stopped the building of a dual carriageway tunnel past Stonehenge isn’t going to help things to improve.

      All the best,


    2. Been caught many a time on the A303, especially that section near Stonehenge. Passed that way the Thursday before last and decided to enjoy the view whilst traffic slowed almost to a standstill. We’re lucky being on the SW side of London so don’t arrive on the M3 very often already delayed.

      Have you tried getting to the M4 via the A322 and A329? It’s a way of avoiding that slow section of the M25.

    3. Nundanket,

      Thanks for the suggestion. I have used the A322 and A329 to get to Reading and the Berkshire Masonic Centre, but not to get across from the M3 to the M4. It certainly makes sense to use that route to avoid the stretch of the M25 between the M3 and M4 junctions.

      All the best,



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