Over the last month my drive to work has come to resemble a trip through the bayou, trees poking out of the water and bushes gasping for air as they cling to the brackish surface. On a sunny day, and only if you were feeling particularly favourable, you might be put in mind instead of the Florida Keys.
The news channels have finally started noticing that it has been, shall we say, a bit soggy down here in the Westcountry. The fact that an equivocation of politicians descended upon the area recently has, perhaps, helped to raise the profile of the floods and dragged a few bedraggled presenters out into the gales (and that is, undoubtedly, the most family-friendly collective noun for a group of politicians that Google presented to me; it doesn’t take long to find some less savoury alternatives).
But this can be a double-edged sword, as nothing entertains more than bad news. Listening to some reports, you could be mistaken for thinking that Somerset had gone the way of Atlantis and that anything south of Exeter had become detached and was floating westwards across the Atlantic. And this can have a damaging impact on the whole area. More so than the flooding itself.
This was brought home to us when chatting to a landlord this weekend in Morthoe in North Devon. Mrs Running Buffet and I had spent the afternoon walking along the spectacular coastline of North Devon and had ended up in his pub. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and we sat in front of his fire, drinking a couple of pints of Cotleigh Tawny bitter. Commenting on the good weather, he was unequivocal about the fact that businesses like his, and villages like Morthoe, were suffering from the bad press that the wet weather had brought to the whole of the South West. His pub, like most of the South West, has not been closed down by the bad weather. The South West is still very much open for business.
The ever-excellent Devon Hour twitter account, which hosts a weekly virtual get-together for Devon tweeters and regularly promotes Devon-based businesses big and small, recently managed to get the #openforbusiness hashtag trending on twitter. The message for the rest of the UK is that the South West is still here, it hasn’t been washed away and it is ready and waiting for visitors.
Of course, there are still problems down here. You will struggle to get far on the trains, as part of the line is currently sagging into the sea, and many people have been terribly affected by the flooding and the power cuts. But that is also why it is really important that people continue to visit the South West, continue to support the local economy and continue to spend their money in Devon. And this is exactly what Mrs RB and I were doing this weekend in Morthoe.
Not that it was a hardship, of course. And that’s the point. Having a great weekend in Devon is first and foremost a lot of fun. The benefit to the local economy is a happy by-product.
Our weekend started on a wet and windy Friday evening, as we drove northwards to Morthoe, which clings to the coastline just north of Woolacombe. After dumping our bags at the B&B, we headed up the road to the Chichester Arms and had a great meal: westcountry venison burgers and a pint of Exmoor Dark from nearby Somerset.
That night was, admittedly, very windy and we were buffeted by the gales ripping into the North Devon coast. But the next morning dawned calmer and sunny. We were staying in the beach house of Victoria House B&B, which has a spectacular location overlooking the rocky coastline. The bed was good, but the breakfast was absolutely brilliant. You place your order the night before and are welcomed in the morning with your choice of fantastic food. Saturday morning saw us sitting down to fresh fruit and yoghurt, huge bowls of porridge, pancakes and eggs benedict. Freshly cooked, very filling and incredibly tasty.
Fortified by that mammoth breakfast we set out into the sunshine for our walk, stretching our legs around the beautiful coastline, arriving back in Morthoe later in the afternoon for a pint in the Ship Aground. As the sun set out at sea, we shared a glass of champagne staring out at the view.
(I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here; the champagne came free when we spent a certain amount on online grocery shopping. Yes, we are the kind of people who do their grocery shopping online. No, we’re not the kind of people that would have champagne if it wasn’t a freebie.)
That evening, back in the Chichester Arms once more, Mrs RB enjoyed a steak cooked so perfectly that she wanted to go and hug the chef. He was seen, shortly thereafter, running as fast as he could down the hill out of the village.
I could go on. I haven’t mentioned the fantastic views from the decking of the B&B, the good coffee and fresh cookies in our room, the warm bread served with breakfast, the ice creams on the beach. But you get the idea. Devon is still open for business and you can have a fantastic time down here.
When I started the Devon A-Z challenge, it just seemed like a good idea to focus on local producers. Now, only a few months later, it has never seemed more important to support and shout about the great people selling great products in the area where we live. So whether you decide to make your way southwards to the Westcountry, or whether you simply decide to support the local businesses around where you live, with so many areas up and down the country having been affected by storms, flooding, snow and bad weather, I have no doubt that your contribution will be helping those communities survive and recover.