There were two distant points in childhood days, one on the north Devon coast, the other on the southern edge of Dartmoor. Now, they wouldn’t be considered distant at all, no further than one would drive from the Irish Midlands to attend a rugby match in Dublin or Limerick, they would be distances covered in an hour, or a little more. In those younger years, they were journeys to different worlds, places that seemed a far remove from our sleepy village in the heart of the Somerset Levels.
In North Devon, Westward Ho! was some seventy-three miles from our house. There is still no motorway connection to North Devon, but the travel time is no more than an hour and a half. In the 1970s, it might take an entire afternoon. The Bedford van would be loaded with everything required for our sojourn and the journey to the campsite would begin. Loaded, the fuel economy was barely more than twenty miles to the gallon and the top speed around forty miles an hour, not that there were many occasions when top speed might be attained. Petrol would need to be bought and a departure at two o’clock could mean an arrival close to five. Seventy-three miles was no easy undertaking.
To the southern edge of Dartmoor lay the town of Ashburton, home to a favoured aunt and uncle. Their willingness to take an asthmatic little boy on holiday with them when he was seven years old had earned them a special place in his heart and going to their home was always a special day. Work installing natural gas into domestic homes had carried them from Somerset into Devon and the sixty-six mile journey was much faster than the holiday travel; it was made by car and on faster roads.
Ashburton intrigued. On the main road to Plymouth, there were two junctions for Ashburton: Ashburton East and Ashburton West, the road signs gave it an air of importance. The address at which they lived remains fresh in the memory, Mill Meadow; it was resonant of Windmill Road, the address from which we had come.
Visits were always happy, conversation flowed, stories were told. There was a big lunch on arrival, afternoon spent with them, and once tea had been eaten, it was time for the journey back. There was always a sense of sadness as Devon was left behind again.
Oddly, in all those journeys to Ashburton, we never went to Ashburton, once Mill Meadow was reached, there was no further journeying. Perhaps it is a very fine town, perhaps the signs pointing to East and West invested it with an appropriate aura. Perhaps, one day, Ashburton will be reached.