Thursday, 29 August 2013

Feasting, Friends and Fabulous Frocks: Adventures in the South West

After trips to both the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Wight, I couldn't possibly be in need of another holiday... or could I? Well dear readers, it turns out I'm very spoilt indeed, as Pip and I have just returned from our trip down to the West Country for the Bank Holiday weekend.

And my, what a trip it was. I feel I may soon be imposing a strict exercise regime upon myself, as I scoffed a delicious plethora of foods (and in such vast quantities!) Pip and I have both returned laden with books and records, and I also picked up some sewing bits and bobs to be incorporated into The Constellation Quilt, and three pretty Sixties frocks bought for me by my lovely boyfriend (I told you I was spoilt).

I took plenty of pictures, and shall now regale you with my pick of the best places to eat, shop, and soak up the atmosphere in Totnes, Bristol, and Bath.

We arrived in Totnes, Devon, on Friday morning and headed straight to Dartington, my old home and place of study. Due to a dispute with the Dartington Trust, Dartington College of Arts no longer exists, and was amalgamated into University College Falmouth in 2010 (and thus I spent the second and third years of my degree in Falmouth... but it was never quite the same as dear old Darty!)

Predictably, I found that a lot had changed since my time there, though some things were the same; wandering minstrels were playing in the gardens, and made a lovely accompaniment  to our lunch at The White Hart, the pub to which my tutors occasionally deigned to take their students (well, until the wasps scared us inside!)

The White Hart itself, however, was almost unrecognisable; a curvy spaceship style neon bar was installed, there was now only one kind of cider on tap (sort it out, White Hart!), and the restaurant now served what purported to be "British tapas".

Dubious though this sounded, our tapas transpired to be absolutely scrumptious. I opted for masala chicken and a lemon, chilli and crab pasta, both of which came to the table topped with ominously nouveau cuisine bubbling substances. The crab pasta in particular was mouth-watering... I could eat it all over again.

Being veggie, Pip's healthy choices put me to shame. He had a trio of peppers filled with giant couscous, and a leafy bean salad.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the gardens of Dartington Hall. When I studied there, my coursemates and I would walk through these gardens every day to our lectures or the library... such an idyllic time.

I'd stocked up on Polaroid film ahead of the trip, and demanded a snap of my favourite Dartington tree and I (we share a very special connection as my final project of first year occurred inside its trunk). Unfortunately we didn't realise the flash had been left on, and I came out looking very ghostly indeed; quite appropriate, as during the entire day we spent at Dartington I was quite convinced the place was haunted with ghosts of art students past...

From the gardens (which you really must visit if you ever get the chance, they're so inspiring) we wandered up to take a look at my old halls, Foxhole, passing my beloved local cornfield on the way.

Unexpectedly, one of the doors to the halls was left ajar, and so we crept inside and I got a chance to show Pip the inside of the building where I'd studied, slept, and drank far too much all those years ago (alright, only three or four, but it seems much longer!)

 This was the most emotional aspect of the trip. Though there were summer school students staying in some of the rooms, Foxhole was eerily deserted. Hedges were overgrown, and the buildings, dilapidated when I was there, were yet more run down.

The pink walls of the buildings facing the courtyard, once red, pink in my time, had faded to blush.

I couldn't spend too much time there, it was too unnerving; it was never that quiet when I lived there.

Safely outside and away from the Dartington ghouls, I did what I've done on every holiday recently, and collected a pine cone to add to the shrine in my bedroom. This one was rather wonky, even a bit drunk (how fitting that I collected it from Dartington!)

After a quick nap back at the hotel (I know, we're amateurs), Pip and I ventured into Totnes and caught dinner at Rumour, a fantastic little wine bar where you can build your own pizza. And that is precisely what we did! Mine consisted of spinach, sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and goat's cheese. As you can see, neither of our pizzas lasted very long...

After a refreshing round of passion fruit fool (heavenly) for me and peanut butter chocolate ice cream and raspberry sorbet for Pip, we headed back to our hotel, The Seven Stars, for a night cap. Champagne cocktails were on offer in one of the bars, but being as neither of us drink champagne or have an extensive budget, we opted for the more moderately priced cocktails in the bar facing the street, below our bedroom window. Considering the look of horror on the bartender's face when we asked for cocktails, they weren't bad (though my sloe gin fizz certainly wasn't a sloe gin fizz). Very respectable whisky sours.

We'd devoted the whole of the next day to exploring Totnes and shopping. Number one on our list was Revival, which, three years later, is still my favourite vintage boutique of all time. You could almost miss the shop; it looks like it's collapsing in on itself, and its name can barely be made out amongst the plants trailing from baskets above.

But peek inside the windows and you get a glimpse of the treasures within...

Revival is stocked with everything from tissue paper thin 1920s evening gowns to 1980s ugly jumpers (two aesthetics I appreciate almost equally). Thanks to Pip, I came out with a green atomic print wiggle dress which wouldn't have looked out of place on Joan Holloway, an adorable Peter Pan collared mod number, and a romantic ditzy print sundress decorated with floral hearts and embroidery.

After nipping into a succession of fabric shops (incredibly well stocked, and almost everything is incredibly covetable), second hand book shops, and Drift, the friendliest record shop I've ever walked into (even if the records themselves are a touch on the obscure side; but hey, this is Totnes!), we were hankering after a good veggie lunch.

After a bit of aimless wandering, Pip spotted a sign advertising the Fat Lemons cafe, and as he so rightly observed, any cafe which advertises itself in Chiller font has got to be good. I'd always wanted to try the Fat Lemons, but any time I'd ventured near it in first year it seemed to be closed. This time, however, we were in luck. After a bit of dithering over where we were least likely to be beleaguered by wasps (seriously, they were terrible in Totnes), we ordered a pot of chai tea and seated ourselves upstairs among the bright and (appropriately) yellow surroundings.

I decided on spanakopita with tabbouleh, and Pip had  bean kofta with hummus. Both our meals came with a moreish sprouting salad and pitta bread.

I think I lucked out on the main event of the meal, however; my tabbouleh was light and zingy just as it should be, and my spanakopita was crunchy and flakey on the outside, moist on the inside. Pip assured me that his kofta was lovely, but the hummus lacked a certain something (my guess is garlic).

After our lunch we did a spot more people watching and dithering over fabric fripperies (that would be me), and then it was time to catch our train.

I'd brought Big Teeth along with me in an attempt to finish off the buttonholes, and couldn't resist having a quick stitch.

After a Magic Roll, a Bristolian Greek-inspired wrap version of a Subway, only several hundred times better, we set off to my old housemate Mark's flat, where we would be staying for two nights (first, of course, picking up a couple of bottles of wine as all good house guests should). Mark and I then proceeded to bore Pip and Mark's boyfriend Jake senseless reminiscing about Dartington and bemoaning all that had changed. What Pip and I hadn't realised was that the boys already had a very well stocked alcohol cupboard, and the four of us proceeded to spend the evening getting drunk and giggling over Adventure Time (mine and Pip's weakness) and Portlandia (which was scarily reminiscent of Dartington students).

After a gentle Sunday morning start (owing to our sore heads) we headed to Start The Bus, where, Pip assured us, a mean Sunday roast was to be had.

Regrettably, this was not the case. No veggie option meant, well, no option for Pip or Jake. But all was not lost; Start The Bus now offered diner style American classics, with more than a hint of a soul food influence. And if there's one thing I love, it's soul food, specifically: fried chicken. 

Foolishly I also ordered onion rings, and a basket of these arrived, as well as my bucket of chicken and chips. I enjoyed every last painful mouthful, and remain undefeated by fried foodstuffs.

Groaning under the weight of our late lunch, we set off to pick up our friend and fellow Dartington Writer Natt and her housemates for a drink. This was a good chance to take in some of the famed Bristolian graffiti. I particularly liked this hipster wolf; he looked as if he was about to spring to life and leap off the side of the tower block.

As my good friend Hannah observed to me yesterday, Bristol is full of foxes. And if there's one thing I love more than soul food or narwhals, it's possibly foxes. We found an interesting street art and zine shop that was selling adorable fox bonnets; here I am modelling one (and one of my new dresses):

Truly, I had found my brethren.

Natt took us to a quirky little cafe at the bottom of her road called The Arts House; it did a lovely glass full of elderflower cordial and floating summer berries. Unfortunately, Pip and I left just before the others were invited to a free face painting workshop; the resulting photographs were mightily impressive. We'd run off to visit our friend Ros and her boyfriend Toby in their new flat, and were treated to stew, and, er, Nineties boyband videos...

Early next morning we left for Bath, where I was convinced all my Jane Austen fantasies were about to come true. But I was brutally rebuffed when we discovered that it was the Pump Room, and not the Assembly Rooms, where one could take afternoon tea in the true Austen style.

While we were at the Assembly Rooms, however, we decided to take a gander at the Fashion Museum (I felt very sorry for Pip by this point).

The current exhibition was of Laura Ashley's famous Seventies frocks. Unfortunately, "famous Seventies frocks" conjures up one thing in my mind; unbearably ugly. Here are a few of the dresses I felt more favourably towards:

Plus some I didn't:

And an exceedingly cute ragdoll made entirely of Laura Ashley fabrics:

Had this been the extent of what the Museum had to offer, I might have been disappointed. However, a more exciting exhibit lay just around the corner; Fifty Fabulous Frocks! Dresses from across the ages, in every conceivable fabric, colour, and pattern.

This champagne bottle dress was a 1910s or 1920s homemade fancy dress costume

I fell in love with this early Twentieth Century dress; it looks so current

Now if only Disney branded garments were this adorable now, I might actually wear them!

This dress was an absolute vision and none of my photographs did it justice

So stately

I believe this coat was 1940s; doesn't it have a 70s vibe?

I was bowled over by the elegance of the 1930s dress on the left, and the unbelievably miniscule corset!

This Twenties number was divine; oh to swish those skirts!

As well as gawping at all the gorgeous dresses, I got to try my hand at designing one myself; it came out looking remarkably like my GCSE Textiles project (with exactly the same colour scheme!)

The next corridor revealed yet more drop-dead-gorgeous dresses; I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Only a candy shop in which no candy would be sold to me. Ever.

Isn't this Betty Draper worthy? It also reminds me of Trudy Campbell's bedwear collection

The flapper dress on the right was perhaps my favourite in the Museum; so many tassels...

This was the look Spring/Summer 2013; Pip quipped: "I didn't know the look for Spring/Summer 2013 was Kate Elisabeth Rolison"
 After we left the Museum we marched, suitcases in tow, down to the Pump Room for our afternoon tea. There'd been a run on vegetarian sandwiches, and so we were lucky enough to be offered a slice of Victoria sponge as an appetiser... well, how could we refuse? It was the lightest Victoria sponge I have ever eaten, and crammed full of cherries. This was followed by delectable finger sandwiches, Devonshire (only the best) cream tea, and petit fours including a raspberry macaroon and passion fruit tartlet, all washed down with a pot of English breakfast tea. As you might have gathered, it was a dream.

We spent our last few hours in Bath wandering around the Crescent, before taking a quick nap on the green in the centre of the Circus. All that walking and eating had worn us out (it's a hard life)!

As we were preparing to leave, Pip turned to me and said "I don't want to go home"; the mark of a good holiday if ever I heard one.

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