Notes from a foreign county

Are you considering a visit to Devon this bank holiday weekend? Well, it’s a great place – if I could convince my employer to open an office in the south-west I’d move there tomorrow. But if it’s your first visit then there are one or two things you should know.

Notes for the visitor

  1. In South Devon, every day is “speak like a pirate” day.
  2. Though it may seem a strange and incomprehensible language, “Janner” is actually English. Your correspondent has been married to a Devonshire lass for well over a decade, and yet still has trouble understanding her extended family – particularly when they’ve had a few to drink. If in doubt: just nod and smile.
  3. Don’t try to imitate the accent, even if you once owned a Wurzels LP. When you are revealed as a fraud you will be covered in barbeque sauce and thrown to the badgers.
  4. Devon is very proud of its regional delicacies, to whit: pasties and clotted cream. Under no circumstances should you attempt to ingratiate yourself by telling everyone that you know you like pasties because you once had a Ginster’s. Nor should you tell them that where you come from the cream is poured, not sliced.
  5. Make sure you know the difference between a Cornish pasty and a Devonshire pasty. In fact: never get Devon confused with Cornwall. Ever. This rule applies both sides of the border.
  6. If, in conversation, you are asked where you come from, it’s fairly safe to reply “just past Bristol” – even if you’re actually from Scotland. Bristol is north enough.
  7. Beware the mysterious charms of quaint fudge shops, lest they make you destitute and in need of serious dentistry! Locals never buy the fudge they sell. That’s what idiot tourists are for. Locals are perfectly happy to make and sell the fudge, though, because it’s the most efficient way to take large amounts of money from tourists in a very small space of time without wearing a mask and waving a gun. Though they would never admit it, they are surprised the trade is still legal.
  8. “Doc Martin” is a documentary.
  9. Beware the land of excess, gluttony and harlotry that is Paignton. Unless you like excess, gluttony and harlotry, of course, in which case you’ll have a smashing time. If you think that hats that say “damn seagulls” on them are high humour, then you’ll fit right in. It’s like Vegas, only with less Elvis impersonators and more donkeys.
  10. Avoid Trago Mills. It’s as if Poundland and Wilkinson’s decided it would be a good idea to set up a theme park.

Notes for the driver

The A38 near Plymouth can get quite congested.

  1. When driving in unknown locations in the past, you may be used to navigating along the lines of “well, I know my destination is roughly X miles in that direction, so if I head that way I’ll see the signs eventually”. That doesn’t work in Devon. Try that madness and you’ll be lost forever. There are entire communities in Devon populated by descendents of those who only went looking for Mothecombe Beach for an ice-cream on bank holiday monday, got hopelessly lost, and decided to stay and breed instead.
  2. Don’t watch horror movie “The Hills Have Eyes” or that episode of Torchwood before setting out. The notion of an entire village of insane cannibals isolated from modern society may seem laughable from the comfort of your own living room, but it becomes all too possible after a few miles of wrong-turns in the South Hams.
  3. If you’re driving on a road that has suddenly gotten quite thin, don’t think to yourself “I’m sure it’ll widen out again in a few yards”. You’re going to feel very silly around the next corner when you see that tractor.
  4. How roads are classed in Devon differs from the rest of the UK. In Devon, the definition for A-road is “one where we occasionally trim the verges”. A B-road is “one we can get a tractor down”.
  5. Devonshire Geography may be rather more hilly than your children are used to. When filling them full of ice-cream, allow some time before driving – about twenty years.
  6. On the whole, locals like tourists because they bring lots of money with them and spend it on expensive fudge and Beryl Cook postcards. But that doesn’t mean they have to tolerate you driving your bloody camper van down the A379 at 20mph in rush-hour traffic. It doesn’t matter that you’ve just come back from Totnes having boosted the local economy by 75 quid on a Dreamcatcher and a pot of locally-made jam.

If you manage all that, I shall look forward to seeing you next bank holiday weekend. Assuming, of course, that the above does not completely alienate me from my wife’s family.

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