Category Archives: Sophie loves Devon

Birthday fun with Thomas and Friends

It was Leigh’s birthday over the bank holiday weekend, and in true super-Dad style he declared that there was nothing he would rather do than go to the Day Out with Thomas at the South Devon Railway. Not only would this involve some serious steam train action, but all the trains were promised to be dressed up as characters from Arthur’s favourite books. And the ticket would give us access to the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm (which we’d visited before and loved) and the Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary in Buckfastleigh (which I’ve wanted to explore for years).

We were all really excited about it, and looking forward to spending some quality time together as a family in the midst of Finals revision and election campaigning. Our day was very nearly scuppered when we had a massive leak after our morning shower (all sorted now, I won’t go into it…) but fortunately we decided to power through and make the most of the adventures that lay ahead.


Arthur ran ahead as we approached the station, desperate to get to the source of the steam he could see through the trees. And when we got to the platform, the very first train he saw was his namesake! (At least I think it was the Arthur train – it certainly looked an awful lot like him) It was enough for our Arthur to be immediately entranced by the magic of it all. And ok, us too…

IMG_0947 IMG_0931 IMG_0929

The Arthur train was getting ready to leave, but as we’d just arrived we decided we’d pop over to the Rare Breeds Farm first to say hello to the animals. Arthur recognised the owl he’d met on the train platform before the season had properly started, and with his keeper’s encouragement went in for a very cute cuddle.

IMG_0932 IMG_0948

After that there were goats to be stroked, a tractor to be driven and a cow to be milked – though it wasn’t long before Arthur’s attention wandered back to the trains.

IMG_0933 IMG_0935 IMG_0949 IMG_0936

There was still a bit of time until the next train was due, so we took a look at the model railway. Arthur was fascinated by it, though it was all we could do to stop him from clambering up for a closer look!



Then finally it was time to board a train and head for Buckfastleigh. We picked up a couple of books to add to Arthur’s Thomas collection at the stall on the platform, and he spent the journey reading those and waving at people out of the window.

IMG_0951 IMG_0952 IMG_0953


There was lots going on at Buckfastleigh: several more engines to admire, including Thomas himself, train tracks to play with and even a fairground ride!

IMG_0964 IMG_0954 IMG_0959 IMG_0937


There were the otters and butterflies too, and they were amazing! The butterflies flying around the hothouse were pretty magical, but it was the cocoons that really stood out for me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – from a distance the racks they were on looked like they were exhibiting an exotic range of jewellery, but as you got closer their real purpose became clear.

IMG_0955 IMG_0956

Arthur didn’t quite understand what he was seeing. There was one slightly hairy moment when he reached out to touch and almost dislodged a whole row of chrysalises, but fortunately we got to him just in time!


The otters were super cute, and looked like they were having lots of fun, which is always nice to see.

IMG_0939 IMG_0957

After that it was almost time to begin the journey home, but not before sneaking in a ride on a vintage routemaster. It was almost enough to make me miss London! Though of course they don’t quite make them like that any more…


That was enough to finish Arthur off. He was asleep before the end of our ten minute round trip, and stayed fast asleep until we were on the train back to Totnes.

IMG_0962 IMG_0963 IMG_0941

We said goodbye to Thomas for him though, and I have no doubt his dreams were full of wonderful things. There was certainly enough from our day out to keep him going for weeks!



Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


Five signs that spring has (almost) sprung

Alongside everything I have been doing this week – creeping ever closer to a completed third draft of my novel, keeping up with Arthur’s ever-expanding social calendar, and supporting Leigh through another wave of deadlines – there has been the faint bubble of anticipation. The sense that, after weeks and months of the dark and the cold of winter, spring might finally, actually, be just around the corner.


Arthur and I were at my parents’ place last weekend. Although they’re less than an hour away, and still on the sea (well, the estuary anyway), the environment there feels very different. They are surrounded by countryside, and there is no escaping the shifting seasons. So it was there I noticed spring first. It took me almost by surprise, but it has not disappeared since we returned to Brixham.


Arthur has learnt the words for primrose, snowdrop and daffodil this week. He sought out the little patches of colour as we traversed the woodland, and I couldn’t help but notice the shoots beginning to seep from winter branches. Back home we saw that our own daffodils had finally burst out from their buds, trumpeting the promise of warmer, lighter days to anyone who cared to listen.



For the past few months my parents’ chickens have refused to lay. The flock was expanded at the end of last year, and ever since their nest has remained empty. In the past few weeks they have seemed to call an end to their strike. Looking at the beautiful eggs they are now producing in abundance it seemed way too coincidental to have nothing to do with the coming of spring: and on doing a little research I discovered that sure enough, the longer days have much to do with the chickens’ willingness to release their eggs into the world.

We travelled home on Monday with a collection of them, almost too lovely to eat.

I am pleased to report that they were delicious.



One thing that spring can be guaranteed to bring is crazy weather, and this week has most definitely not disappointed on that front. On Tuesday, we were woken up by a hailstorm at three am – it was so insanely loud I thought for a while it might dislodge the slate on the roof. A few hours later, we woke again to pink skies reflecting off the sheen of an almost perfectly still bay, the only sound being the squark of seagulls and the distant drone of fishing boats heading out to sea.


A text came through from a friend as I was getting Arthur organised to head out to his drama class, saying that we should make the most of the glorious day. Just as I was sending my agreement, the rain rolled in. Yet by the time we were ready to leave it was beautiful once again. Dark clouds gathered before the day was done.

The weather this week has most definitely been unpredictable, but not entirely unpleasant.



In the moments when the sun has come out, there has been no denying this week that it is starting to get warmer. There have been points when I’ve almost been able to taste those delicious summer days, children laughing as they play for hours in the great outdoors, parents watching over them whilst basking in the rays themselves,

We had music today at Lupton House, followed by the precious coffee and catch-up I’ve come to so look forward to. Afterwards us mums stood and chatted as the children played, tentatively exclaiming our delight at the warmth which filled the air.



This is perhaps the least tangible of the signs that spring is on its way, but it’s no less important for that. I cope with winter better than I used to, but still during the past few weeks I’ve felt a little like I’ve been wading through treacle just to manage the tasks which make up the day to day.

But this week that sense of drudgery has been replaced with hope, with the anticipation of spring rolling into summer, of leaving the house without a coat and returning in the evening whilst it is still light.

I suppose deep down I love the seasons, all of them, for the contrasts they bring. But I cannot deny that I have my favourites, and spring is most certainly one of them.

My word of the week this week is spring.

The Reading Residence
Mums' Days

Adventures on the South Devon Railway

Last weekend we finally took a trip on the South Devon Railway. I’m not sure why we haven’t done it before actually, what with Arthur’s general train obsession, but we’re a bit spoilt for choice down here when it comes to steam trains. We’ve been on the Kingswear-Paignton line lots, but having had a peek at the goings on at Totnes station when we visited the Rare  Breeds Farm we were definitely keen to come back for a proper visit.


The excitement started building even before we got to the station – Arthur heard a train whistle in the background and suddenly realised where we were going. Once he saw the train tracks he really couldn’t contain himself, bouncing up and down in the sling as the train came in.


We found ourselves a compartment – naturally gloriously vintage – and settled down for the journey to Buckfastleigh. It wasn’t only Arthur who was excited – there’s something so magical about being transported by steam, and the beautiful countryside views just added to that.


It was brilliant to spend some quality time as a family. Leigh’s been working super hard recently, and Arthur really misses his Daddy when he’s not around. I do, too.


As we pulled into Buckfastleigh station, it was clear there was going to be lots to explore there. There were so many different types of trains – Arthur was in his element trying to match them all up with his favourites from Thomas the Tank Engine.



He loved the little museum too: pretending to be an engine driver, and finding some actual Thomas trains to play with.




There was even a fantastic garden model railway, being tended my some older railway enthusiasts. I think Arthur would have happily watched the trains going round until it had got dark if we’d let him.



But we did have to get back, so we made our way to the platform to find a train big enough to carry us.


The light was beginning to fade as we journeyed back along the river, but somehow that only made the whole scene more beautiful.

image imageimage

When we arrived back at Totnes there was one more treat in store. The Rare Breeds Farm is currently closed for the season, but an owl had come out to say hello to people at the station. He was incredibly tame and friendly. Arthur was able to stroke him and give him a cuddle, and when he waved goodbye the owl flapped his wings in return.




Suffice to say when we headed back to the car it was with one very happy little boy. All in all it was a fantastic family afternoon – we can’t wait until our next trip on this very special railway.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Glamour and romance at Glazebrook House

Last weekend Leigh and I did something we have not done for a very long time: we spent a night away, just the two of us – in the wonderfully glamorous surrounds of Glazebrook House.

It’s actually the first time in two years I’ve spent more than a few hours away from Arthur – and the first time Leigh has entrusted him to anyone other than me. We have both enthusiastically embraced attachment parenting, and despite encouragement from various directions have really not wanted to leave him overnight. But as he’s got older, and we have seen him grow into an increasingly confident, self-assured little boy, the prospect started to seem a little less scary.


On top of that, I think we both have begun to yearn for a little more romance in our lives, the space to focus on our relationship and remember just how much we enjoy each other’s company. For Leigh’s ‘homemade’ Christmas present I gave him the promise of twelve dates – the opportunity once a month to do something special, just the two of us.

Now admittedly not every date is going to take place at a swanky hotel (sorry Leigh). Last month we went to the cinema, but Valentine’s day seemed like the perfect opportunity to ramp things up a little – especially as it’s also the five year anniversary of our first date in just a couple of weeks. And having come across Glazebrook House when my soon-to-be sister-in-law invited me to a wedding fayre there, I was already looking for an excuse to go back.


It’s not that far from us – just on the edge of Dartmoor – but stepping into the lobby actually feels like entering a member’s club in London or New York rather than a country hotel. We were surprised to discover it’s only been open a year – it feels like it’s been there forever, though at the same time it is unmistakably current. The design is quirky and eclectic, from the drums hanging in the stairwell to the rocking horse framed by vintage street signs on the landing.



Our room was utterly gorgeous too, with its insanely comfortable chesterfield-style bed, the industrial low-hanging chandeliers and the stunning and funky aircraft-engine mirrors.



All in all it was the perfect setting to get away from it all, and we certainly made the most of our freedom. I’d been longing to go somewhere I could get away with wearing the turquoise sequinned dress I’d optimistically picked up in Portobello Road last year, and this was just the place.


Leigh donned his wedding suit, and we headed to the bar for a pre-dinner drink. I happily could have stayed there all night actually – hanging out in bars is one of the things I really miss about London (and pre-baby) life.


We were excited by what dinner would offer though – and aware that our stamina was no doubt not what it once was – so soon headed through to the restaurant.



The food did not disappoint. Melt in the mouth chicken parfait, lobster cocktail and luscious turbot. Most importantly for me though the chef assured us that absolutely everything was nut free – right down to the chocolatey dessert. I’d mentioned my allergy when we booked and they’d clearly taken it very seriously.

Which left us to focus on enjoying our meal and each other’s company – and possibly a few too many glasses of wine…

We were both a little worse for wear the next morning, but I was determined not to kill the glamorous vibe and donned my new favourite jumpsuit for breakfast. By this point we’d almost convinced ourselves we were actually on holiday, and felt a million miles away from the stresses of everyday life.


We were however beginning to feel the absence of a certain little person, and after eggs royale and lots of coffee it was time to go and see what he’d been up to.


Arthur had, of course, had a wonderful time with my parents, as my mum’s photos show. In fact I think he probably enjoyed himself just as much as we had what with the train tracks and stone throwing and walking the dog, though he was still very pleased to see us when we turned up.

All in all a very successful night away. I think it will definitely be less than two years before we have another, though we may not be able to count on quite so much glamour the next time…



Mums' Days

A breath of fresh air and friendship


We haven’t got out enough so far this year. There have been plenty of reasons why: the weather’s been pretty pants, sniffly colds have never been very far away, and on top of that there is of course the small matter of a novel that needs editing…

So when this week we had friends to visit and the sun came out to greet them we breathed a sigh of relief and headed out into the fresh air.


There’s nothing quite like hanging out with old friends to rejuvenate the soul. Emily and I were partners in crime when we were sixteen, and I feel so lucky to still have her in my life twenty years later.

She is about to embark on an uber exciting house-building project with her family, so they began their stay at my folks’ place to get some inspiration from the major renovation they’ve just completed. Whilst we were there we made the most of the beautiful countryside: feeding the chickens, seeking out snowdrops, and exploring the deep dark woods.



Arthur spent a while at one particular tree, scratching away with a stick. I asked what he was doing and he said ‘writing’ (silly). When I asked what he was writing he said ‘the story of mummy and daddy’. Nothing like the great outdoors for a bit of inspiration.


After twenty four hours in the beautiful South Hams we headed back to Brixham. There had been much talk of penguins, so there was nothing for it really but to head for Living Coasts. We finally got to try out the new year-round ferry, and spent a day in beautiful sunshine in Torquay.




We had a bit of a stroll (and the obligatory fish and chips) and then headed to our awesome coastal zoo. The toddlers were in their element here, and it was so lovely to watch them explore and bond.





On their last day we stayed closer to home. It was properly freezing, but we made it to Breakwater beach for some bracing pebble throwing.



Though our friends were only here for three days, I feel like we’ve crammed at least a month’s worth of adventures into that time. And on top of that I’ve been reminded how lucky we are to live where we do: we will most definitely be getting out more in February, whatever else the world throws at us.


My word of the week this week is friendship.

The Reading Residence

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


Meeting Merlin


Last weekend we took Arthur to meet my parents’ new dog.

It was the first time Leigh and I had met him too, but Arthur was seriously excited. He loves the idea of dogs, but he hasn’t actually got up close to very many. So as soon as we started to talk about Grampa and Mimi’s new dog his interest was piqued.

The thing is that to all intents and purposes Merlin is a toddler too. When we arrived he pretty much knocked Arthur off his feet, whilst simultaneously giving him kisses all over. Arthur thought this was hilarious, and whilst I’m very glad he wasn’t scared I was more than a little nervous…


Despite (or maybe because of) the somewhat boisterous introduction, Arthur was pining for Merlin the minute we separated them. Merlin soon came back to play too, and as we grown-ups busied ourselves with lunch they were busy chatting and bonding through the glass door.


Once lunch was out of the way, we took the two toddlers out to play. We started out with Arthur in the sling and Merlin on the lead, but gradually gave them a bit more freedom. There was a particularly lovely moment up in the woods. Both boy and puppy needed constant reminding not to be too over-enthusiastic in their investigation of each other, but still they clearly relished each others’ company.




I have a be a feeling that Arthur and Merlin are going to be very good friends. I can’t quite get my head around owning a dog for various reasons, but with this beautiful creature not far away for woodland walks and beach fun we should have the best of both worlds.
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Signing out for Christmas


The Christmas spirit has definitely been been hotting up in our house this week. After a gorgeous winter wedding in Ireland last weekend, I’ve come back to a whirlwind of last-minute card writing and continued present making and general festive preparations.

We made it to see Santa on Wednesday, having been invited to the opening of the incredible grotto at The Edge in Brixham. Arthur is beginning to be aware of this mysterious man who he refers to as ‘Christmas time’, and knows that he has something to do with reindeer and presents. But he was very sceptical when I explained over our early dinner that we would be going to meet the man himself.

The Edge was a warm and welcoming bustle of mince pies and mulled wine when we arrived, and when it was our turn to go through we were all a little serious about what we would find. I don’t want to give too much away to those of you who are planning a visit (and if you’re anywhere near Brixham, I very much recommend you do), but the grotto involved trains, hardworking elves and a very impressive Christmas tree – and that was even before being taken through to Santa’s inner chamber.

Though Arthur had been excited, his nerves overcame him when he actually saw that red coat and white beard. He tried to scramble out of the door at one point, but managed to settle enough to come and cosy up on Santa’s sleigh and get his present. And though he didn’t say a word whilst we were in there, it was all he could talk about from the moment he left until he finally gave into sleep.

We’re going to have a very special family Christmas this year I think, and not just because Arthur is so much more conscious this year that something special is happening.

Leigh’s family are coming to stay with my parents in Devon next week, as well as my youngest brother and his fiancee who are over from New York and our Grampa, visiting from Wales. Then over new year my other two brothers are coming to stay with their partners. And in between of course we have Arthur’s second birthday.

There is still an awful lot to be done, but it is going to be so lovely to see everyone and to get to spend time with Leigh as well: he’s finally finished the toughest term yet in his medical school adventure, so whilst he still has a bit of work to do before January he will mainly be enjoying a well-earned break.

And I think I need a bit of a break from the blog too. This time last year it was nothing more than a twinkle in my eye. Now, 250 posts later, it has become a wonderful outlet for ideas and creativity, and a precious record of Arthur as he grows. It has at times been a little all-consuming too, so downing tools over the Christmas period seems like a very sensible idea.

Besides, I have a new novel to work on. The ideas are all there, but I could do with a bit of headspace to formulate them into something a bit more cohesive so I can make a start on the first draft in January.

I’ll be back on the blog then too, with festive tales and crafting delights to share. In the meantime I have no doubt I’ll still be popping in to twitter and instagram from time to time. But for now, have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year. See you in 2015!


My word of the week is ‘Christmas’ and I am also liking up with Sara at Mum turned Mom for her prompt of the same.


The Reading Residence


A halloween trail and a pumpkin parade

With the weather being so unseasonably warm recently, we’ve had a brilliantly outdoorsy halloween.


It began on Thursday with a visit to Occombe Farm’s Bewitched Trail. It was aimed at 4-12 year olds, so Arthur and his friend were a little young to really make the most of it – but they still had a great time running around in the woods whilst us mums chatted and ‘helped’ them fill in the quiz sheet!


Arthur had his Gruffalo outfit on (I suspect he’d wear it permanently given half the chance) so the woodland setting was just perfect. He loved exploring around all the trees – I only noticed when I looked at the pictures that this one had a particularly spooky face on it…


There were some conveniently placed tree stumps too so he could take a rest from all the running around.


The trail was perfectly integrated into the natural environment, and whilst the toddlers couldn’t manage all of the challenges they were delighted to come across a little mouse hiding in a fallen trunk!

IMG_0506 2

Arthur managed to hold onto his own mouse for almost all of his adventure, though there were points where the excitement got the better of him and poor mouse was left lying in the leaves…


Even the Gruffalo ran out of steam eventually, snuggling up in the sling for the rest of the trail.


On halloween itself we went exploring a little bit closer to home, heading up to the Guardhouse Cafe on Berry Head. They had all sorts of family friendly activities on offer, including a ghost hunt in the Napoleonic fort which I wish we’d managed to take part in. We ended up though focusing on the pumpkin parade – Arthur wasn’t really aware of halloween pumpkins last year, but this year he was fascinated by them – and just a little bit scared.

By the time we wandered up it was already beginning to get dark. Our local woods were feeling very creepy, but it was still incredibly warm and clear giving us some stunning views when we reached the headland.


We headed straight for the cafe, where parents and children were hard at work carving a spectacular array of pumpkins. Leigh and I settled down with a very welcome glass of wine and with only half an hour before the parade – and despite Arthur’s interventions – Leigh managed a very respectable effort of his own.



As soon as he was done it was torches at the ready to head out into the night. There was something very magical about walking out towards Berry Head itself in the dark, a weaving line of glowing lights with the hushed chatter blending with the wind and the lapping of the waves far below. These sounds were punctuated with Arthur’s little voice calling out ‘what is this? What is this?’ as he took in the latest bizarre experience we were exposing him to!



We formed a circle when we got to the end – not too close to the cliffs – and our guide regaled us with a ghost story before we turned and made our way back in the dark towards the cafe.

There it was time for the judging of the fancy dress and pumpkin competition. Arthur was again dressed as a little Gruffalo, backed up by our own efforts as the fox, snake and owl to complete the story (more on that in another post). The other children were wearing some really amazing costumes – there was a general spirit of gothic spookiness going on – but I think Arthur’s cuteness factor gave him the cutting edge because he was judged the winner.



It was a lovely end to a brilliant couple of hours of halloween fun. The party was continuing with a suitably spooky dinner but we thought we’d better get our little Gruffalo home. It was a good thing we left when we did because the woods really were pitch dark by the time we made our way back though them… But you’ll be glad to hear we all made it back in one piece!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Trains, goats and autumn leaves

This weekend, we managed to tick something else off our South Devon bucket list. We’ve been past the Rare Breeds Farm in Totnes countless times on the train to London, the vintage-style platform of the South Devon Railway looking like a gateway to another world. Having finally made it there on foot I can confirm that those first impressions really are quite accurate.

From the first steps beyond the station car park into the woodland path you feel like you’re onto something special, a sensation made even stronger once the bridge across the river comes into view.


I think Arthur could happily have stayed right there, watching the mainline trains speed past mere metres away, but little did he know the other treats in store.


To get to the farm you have to walk along the steam railway platform. Everything is beautifully maintained, and we were lucky enough to arrive just as a special service was pulling in. Arthur was captivated by the comings and goings, eagerly ‘choo choo’ing as Leigh explained the mechanics of the steam engine to him. Once again we could have ended our trip right there and they both would have been very happy.




We managed to tear ourselves away, and headed over the tracks to the little farm itself. After picking up some feed in the cafe we went through the gates – and immediately came face to face with a row of owls.


I’m not sure Arthur believed they were real at first, but then we found a very little owl called Flitwick just waiting to be stroked.


After a gentle stroke of Flitwick’s feathers we continued further on, coming across some very lively red squirrels. I’m not sure Arthur knew quite what to make of them!


And then we found the goats. I don’t think Arthur’s met goats before, and these ones were very friendly. One of my favourite moments of the afternoon was him giggling ‘Fingers! Fingers!’ as they greeted him enthusiastically through the fence. He even had a go at feeding them, and when we ventured inside was quick to make himself at home.




There were some beautiful sheep too, though Arthur was happy to let Daddy take the lead on feeding those.


After meeting all the larger animals we came across the guinea pigs, and Arthur sat himself down for a little cuddle. He thought it was a ‘baby dog’ at first, and got very confused when we said it was a sort of pig…



All in all it is a very special place, and we will most definitely be back. It’s just a shame we discovered it so late in the season! Though that did give us the excuse for a bit of frolicking in the autumn leaves – the perfect end to a perfect afternoon.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

 photo 93142f35-6d39-479f-b3de-d94dbca68162_zps58499252.jpg