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Phil's Travels - Dawlish, England (07.20)


Phil's Travels - Dawlish, England (07.20)

End of the school year equals what do with one's little ones. Solution? Take little one to grandparents for 10 days.

My wonderful wife, my delightful daughter and I caught a late morning train from Paddington. The concourse was busier than midweek (when I bought the tickets), but still quieter than in normal times. At the time of booking, the clerk said no seat reservations possible as trains are so quiet. He was right. Our train was no more than 20% full. We secured a table for four and an empty carriage until one minute before departure when a group of very chatty teenage girls settled into a bank of two tables just behind us. What promised to have been a quiet journey become an audio-lecture on teenage issues and angst (including which waxing is the best and what boys are most handsome).

We had a sneaky McDonalds on the train, bought at a very quiet outlet in Paddington (note: very limited menu at the moment), and enjoyed a very comfortable (if vociferous) and time-accurate journey to the West Country. We changed in Exeter and arrived in Dawlish dead on time. Note: not all passengers wear masks, so make sure you maintain distance.

In Dawlish, we settled into grandparents' house (we were the first visitors of any sort in over four months) and popped out for an afternoon stroll in the town. Clearly people had taken government advice to heart and were out in force in Dawlish. There were stay-cationers everywhere. On the pavements, in the cafes and shops, playing crazy golf, lounging in the park, and wandering along the seafront. We stayed just long enough to see the new seawall works, intended to defend this famous stretch of railway track from the nefarious Channel. The line from Dawlish Warren to Coryton Cove must be the most expensive on the entire UK National Rail network. These latest efforts were costing around £30m (by my rough calculation, equivalent to circa £40,000 per metre).

At the time of our inspection of the works, the contractors were busy on the beach with diggers as the tide went out (see photo below). Were they going for the most impressive sandcastle of the summer award? We asked a bloke in high-viz and he said he did not know because he was only there to test the tracks. This worried me a little, but he reassured that the tracks were fit and well. Turns out the digging on the beach was to expose the wall below the high tide mark in order to spray some additional concrete onto the structure (some sort of concrete foam concoction that sets quickly). Given the planetary volume of concrete already in place, I guess one can never have enough concrete. Anyway, the new wall should ensure that my father will no longer feel tempted to fall 10 feet face first into a retreating tide.

Phil's Travels - Dawlish, England (07.20)

That night we had a barbeque and watched the local bird life shift change. First, the sea gulls wheeled about for an hour. Once they had settled down, the skies were clear for the jackdaws to do their wheeling (not quite a murmuration as there were too few) before diving into their favourite tree to roost. And finally, the swifts wheeled the most elegantly of all and disappeared as night settled in. From our window, in the dark, the normally inky black sea horizon was lit up with a multitude of moored boats of all shapes and sizes, including a tanker and massive cruise ship. Covid-19 has created many a strange sight.

Following morning we were woken by the rare, big and noisy Black-backed Gulls on the neighbour's roof. They were back again to make more Black-backed Gulls. They clearly love that house. After breakfast we drove to Dawlish Warren to play some crazy golf and drive the go-karts before the crowds arrived. The plan worked quite well. We found parking and got on the attractions with no trouble and few people around. However, at going home time, the place was much busier and a quick look along the Warren's beach showed high density sun worshipping. We left them to it and headed home for an al fresco lunch (after a long wait to exit, owing to sheer weight of sun worshipper vehicles seeking space to park prior to worshipping). Difficult to tell if all these folk frequenting Dawlish and stuffing its campsites were Devonians or Grockles, but suffice to say that prior to this weekend the town and Warren had been devoid of visitors. All one needs is a pinch of government let-up, a dash of sun and a soupcon of school hols, and, hey presto, some long awaited economic activity at the seaside is born.

After lunch, my wonderful wife and I caught the trains back to London. The Tin-Train to Exeter was quiet, but not as quiet as the Intercity to London. We walked home from the station, along Paddington Basin (very, very busy with drinkers and eaters on the terraces) and so ended our farthest journey in over four months.

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