Just before I left Exeter for Milan, I had a glorious free day. It was right after exams had finished and was the only day I had left down in Devon that was free from meetings or work.
All year, I had been talking about going down to Topsham or Exmouth with some friends. Originally the plan was to build our fitness up and run down there (ha, so optimistic), have cream tea and then get the train back.
Seeing as nobody was quite ready to run a marathon, we decided to go on our bikes instead.
And wow, there really are few better ways to spend a breezy summer day than cycling in the sunshine with some of your favourite people.
We cut through Exeter and onto the canal where we joined the cycle route that goes past the Double Locks pub and on to Topsham. There, we settled down into a little cafe and had cheese toasties and scones.
I was particularly happy to have finally made it to Topsham.
In a rather infamous little incident last September, Michele and I decided to walk to Topsham. Actually no, let me rephrase that - he decided to walk to Topsham. I had suggested getting the train there as it was a long enough walk to the station as it was and it was already getting on a bit.
But no, he insisted we walk and so, swayed by the temptation of scones and pints in the fading sun at the end of our trek, I agreed to walk there too.
Except it turns out that in Devon, you can't trust the footpath signs to provide adequate information to get you to your destination, the treacherous bastards. If a sign says "Topsham via ferry" it will fail to inform you that the ferry crosses an estuary (rather than a canal as it does in Exeter) and so you are likely to fall prey to tidal fluctuations.
Let me tell you, it is not a good feeling to have walked for about four hours (we took the long route) only to find that you can't cross the river because it isn't actually a river, it's a great big shiny mud flat that would suck the shoes off your feet before you could shout "but the scones!"
As such, this visit was something of a milestone for me.
The only thing on my mind at that moment was scones and scones I did eat. Everyone else had either a toastie or a piece of cake - not I! I think I ended up eating at least four full-size meals that day but after a 9 hour bike ride I feel I deserved it! (Ok fine, only about 5 hours was bike, the rest was sitting and eating.)
At this point we bid goodbye to Lizzie who sped off back to Exeter for an appointment and carried on our way.
We managed to get slightly lost as Vicky decided to start racing. Vicky and I have a famously competitive friendship and so we both sped past the cycle route sign and got a little bit lost in the rather tiny town. On the other hand, it brought us to this point where the town falls away and the estuary begins to look a little bit more like the sea so the detour was worth it.
Once we were safely back on the cycle route, we disappeared into the middle of the countryside.
There were so many beautiful little villages and stunning coastal paths that I absolutely forgot to take photos of because I was too busy riding along feeling the wind on my face and sun on my neck, gazing about and deciding that actually, maybe Devon wasn't so bad after all (I have a very love hate relationship with the South West).
I must admit though, that once we reached Exmouth it was more hate than love for me.
We arrived and cycled along the seafront which was a series of hotels and a Hungry Horse. Where were the cute cafes and the kitsch little gift shops selling seaside pin up memorabilia and the antique shops and the chippies?
"Is this it?" I asked.
The girls looked around, at the endless stretches of sand and the stunning view across to Teignmouth.
"Is this it??" I asked again, incredulous.
"No but really, is this it? Is this.. it?"
I wasn't trying to be a diva, I was just so confused. Everyone always talks about Exmouth as if it's the best seaside resort in the UK and I have to say, I expected a lot more. So much so that I couldn't stop myself from repeating the question, dumbstruck.
I refused to believe that it was simply a beach with some chain hotels on the front and so looked on Tripadvisor for clues. But that was pretty much it.
Now, it doesn't help that during my short stay in the town we were shouted at by a grumpy old woman because we were standing with our bikes on the pedestrian side of the promenade pavement, forcing her to move 2cm to the left and walk on the completely empty cycle path (we said we were sorry but she wasn't having any of it!) and then told off by a policeman for cycling the wrong way down a completely empty one-way street in my desperate quest to find something to do or see in the town (my conclusion was it just goes to show how miserable the residents are if they have nothing better to do than complain about minor injustices such as these!)
In short, I was not charmed at all and spent the rest of our visit googling "why is Exmouth so shit" (you couldn't call me bitter at all...) and pointedly standing on the beach just so that I had "done everything Exmouth has to offer."
Sorry guys. I promise next time I will be a more gracious cycle buddy!
To be fair, it was a very beautiful view across the sea and the beaches really are lovely. Unfortunately for my cycle companions, I practically grew up on the beach with Botany Bay in Margate as my local spot just 10 minutes walk down the road so I wasn't massively impressed by Exmouth beach. And with Margate's slow regeneration (i.e, the cute cafes and the kitsch little gift shops selling seaside pin up memorabilia and the antique shops and the chippies I was looking for - plus an art gallery and a retro theme park!), it was going to take a little bit more to impress me (this site puts Margate above Brighton on their list of seaside resorts!)
Which is why we stopped for ice cream!
Oh my goodness look at all those flavours!
Now, gelato it was not, but it still made me very happy. I had the sharp black cherry and kirsch sandwiched between chocolate orange - so so delicious!
And it definitely shut me up whining for ten minutes at least.
Leaving us all free to appreciate the views.
(The other girls didn't actually technically visit the beach. Cycled all that way for nothing!)
The weather began to get a little cooler so we brought coats and hoodies out of back packs and huddled in a pub garden eating bowl after bowl of cheesy chips.
As the sun went down over the landscape and the colours of the sky and water began to jump out just that little bit more, the beauty of the view finally dawned on me.
I'm not sure I'll bother going back but in the end, it was an absolute stunner of an afternoon.
We hopped back on our bikes and disappeared into the fading light, back towards Exeter.
All in all, an incredible day with some fantastic people.
Has anybody else been to Exmouth? Did you love it or hate it? (I'm sorry if I've offended any die-hard Exmouth-lovers, feel free to slate Margate too!)