HENRY FITZHERBERT and family travel to the West Country for a relaxing holiday in a thatched cottage
IF ONLY all holidays with the children could be this easy: throw everything into the back of the car, switch on the sat-nav and arrive without a missed turning a few hours later outside our temporary rural bolthole, a delightful 350-year-old thatched cottage in Galmpton, Devon.
Reached via a narrow country lane with steep-sided hedgerows, Galmpton village consists of a scattering of cottages along with a smattering of sheep in the opposite valley. It is the perfect location for exploring the South Hams, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
For pallid urbanites and stressed-out parents it's heaven, an oasis of calm with fabulous beaches, miles of cliff-top walks and first-class local food all on the doorstep.
An excited five-year-old Charlie and Tom, three, tumbled out of the car and up the slate path to Primrose Cottage, a Grade II-listed semi-detached abode. We entered via a stable door overhung by thatch into a dining area with wooden beams and low ceilings, leading to a cosy sitting room.
Charlie and Tom darted up the oak staircase and bagged the biggest room, a brightly decorated twin overlooking the valley, leaving mum and dad a very snug, doll's house-like double bedroom.
With a galley kitchen and small bathroom, it's no cavernous farmhouse but the three-bedroom cottage is ideal for a young family and a good deal more comfortable than hotel accommodation, not to mention private.
The only person we saw in the village in five days was a cheery gardener, George, who came to mow the sloping lawn. He also extolled the virtues of the local microclimate that results in unseasonably warm weather and clear skies.
As with all cottages let through holiday company Rural Retreats, there was a generous hamper of provisions awaiting us, including biscuits, jams, cheese and wine.
With blue skies more akin to late summer than early winter, there was only one thing to do: head to the beach at Hope Cove, an idyllic former fishing village on the South West Coast Path only half-a-mile down the road.
Divided into Inner and Outer Hope, its higher reaches command cliff-top views towards Burgh Island, while two sheltered bays have glorious sandy beaches.
With hidden caves and rocky outcrops, the main beach, overlooked by the hub of the village, is reminiscent of a Famous Five novel, assuming a tingling air of mystery and excitement as darkness sets in (were those smugglers in the shadows? ).
We retreated into the warmth of The Hope And Anchor pub, one of three dining options in the village (alongside restaurant Harbour Lights and the Beachcomber café) for a terrific supper in a familyfriendly environment: upstairs a clean, bright dining area populated predominantly by families, downstairs a more traditional pub atmosphere with log fire, low ceilings and weathered locals.
My fillet of sea bass on a crab and avocado mash with pink peppercorn and dill sauce was first-class, while the boys devoured their fish and chips. Afterwards I took advantage of the free wi-fi, very handy when we couldn't get a phone signal in our cottage.
Clear skies greeted us the following day when we took in the views with a blustery two-mile walk from Hope Cove to Thurlestone Sands, two beaches backed by rolling farmland and a sprawling golf course.
The village is quintessentially English with an abundance of thatched pink and cream-washed cottages and a 13th-century church.
Back home we saw out the evening with a game of Pictionary from the treasure chest full of board games in the sitting room.
Our run of good weather continued and the following day we visited the seaside town of Salcombe, a 15-minute drive away, with lovely sandy beaches, watersports, cobbled alleys and a profusion of tea rooms.
Charlie and Tom were transfixed by the "sea tractor" which operates from South Sands beach, chugging into the water in the absence of a pier, to allow people to board a ferry to Whitestrand in the centre of Salcombe.
When the weather finally broke we went into the nearby market town of Kingsbridge for a swim in Quayside Leisure Centre which has a huge pool for adults and a smaller one for young children.
By the time we loaded up the car and said goodbye to Primrose Cottage we were so relaxed our four days felt like two weeks. GETTING THERE: Rural Retreats (01386 701 177/ ruralretreats.co.uk) offers three nights at Primrose Cottage from £345 (sleeps four), self-catering. Devon Tourist Board: 01548 843 927/visitdevon.co.uk