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Travel & Holidays in later life


Modern en suite B&B available at St Luke's Campus, ExeterEven in peak season, you can always find rooms for a last-minute touring holiday in Devon. 

In late July, I wanted a short touring break to see Dartmoor and south coast locations. Our chosen base was Exeter University, which is deep into the B&B market during student vacation periods. 

For a quick and certain reservation, Exeter University's Holiday Booking Office can offer a wide range of standard, 'enhanced' and en-suite accommodation any time between early July and late September.


There is plentiful supply of single rooms, but some twin doubles are available. Otherwise, couples are allocated neighbouring rooms. All en suite rooms have TV and biscuits, tea-bags and instant coffee. The full English cooked breakfast is served cafeteria style, and can be light or heavy as you want.


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Holiday Booking Office, University of Exeter, The Old Library, Prince of Wales Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 4PT. Tel: 01392- 215566. Website: Email:
B&B prices range around £19.95 a night for standard single rooms with shared bathroom and £29.95 for accommodation with en suite bathrooms.

Twin doubles are about  £29.95 and £45.95. Car parking is free. There's also a range of self-catering accommodation available by phoning 01392-215566.  

Dartmoor National Park Authority, Parke, Haytor Road, Bovey Tracey, Devon TQ13 9JQ. Tel: 01822-890414.

Order the free "Dartmoor Visitor" 

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My target was to take another look at Dartmoor, which we visited last year in unfriendly conditions of lashing rain and a howling wind that could turn an umbrella inside out in seconds. 

Visitors trek up the final slopes to Hay TorThis time the weather was more friendly for tourism, and dozens of visitors were trekking up Hay Tor to the top of the famous granite outcrop. 

We drove out via Bovey Tracey, the Gateway to the Moors, and past the offices of Dartmoor National Park Authority. At the cattle grid entrance to the National Park territory, a warning notice said: "Animals on the road. Take Moor care."

Along the steep, narrow route to Hay Tor, the fine weather had brought out two-way queues of cars that caused chaos when a wide motor-coach tried to edge past. 

Any car that didn't take moor care when pulling close into the roadside would be scarred by the granite stone walls.

Elsewhere on Dartmoor, narrow up-and-down twisting roads can include a steep gradient leading to a hairpinned saddle bridge. 

The County operates a colour sign-posting system to indicate which routes are suitable for varying classes of vehicle. There's no excuse for an underpowered car and caravan to jam up a sharp-bended hill.

The National Park Authority produces an excellent free information newspaper "Dartmoor Visitor" that includes a colour-coded road map. The events calendar also features themed guided walks.

Most of Dartmoor, except for hideous china clay workings around Lee Moor, and firing-ranges in the north-western area, has kept its natural character. 
Ponies and black-faced sheep graze by the roadside. Teams of youngsters, and more solitary hikers, clamber up the tors to enjoy spectacular views. 

There are 600 miles of footpaths in Dartmoor National Park, and free access to 180 square miles of open moorland. 

Most car-tourists will pass through Princetown and get an outside view of the famous prison. An award-winning Visitor Centre covers the full story of the National Park, while a separate Prison Museum - open Tuesday to Saturday - gives insight into the history of life inside.

You can see The Quarry where prisoners used to work. Just imagine when the mists came down, and the prison bell rang to give warning of an escape. That's when the local people would bolt their doors and make sure their guns were loaded. 

It's pure "Hound of the Baskerville" territory. For other fictional crime, near Hay Tor is the Moorland Hotel where the 26-year-old Agatha Christie retreated to write her first novel, in which Hercule Poirot solved "The Mysterious Affair at Styles". 

This high moorland region is well forested with deep valleys around the edges, and there's a wide range of sightseeing interest. 

There are plentiful prehistoric remains and evidence of medieval settlements, farmsteads and tin mining. Birdlovers can spot snipe, skylark, meadow pipit and stonechat. 

Market towns and villages can all offer much more than Devon cream teas. Widecome is world famed for the annual Fair which takes place on the second Tuesday of September. 
Buckfast Abbey church built by 20th-century monks
Moretonhampstead is a thriving arts and crafts centre based on resident craftsmen and potters. Buckland-in-the-Moor is a picture postcard village with thatched cottages that make ideal decoration for chocolate boxes. 

At Buckfastleigh, Buckfast Abbey was founded almost 1000 years ago, but is notable for its rebuilding last century. The modern stained glass is unique in style.

We found that Exeter University had wide appeal for a good cross-section of visitors to Devon, well located to easily reach all the famed holiday spots. Typically, throughout the week at St Luke's campus was a coach hired by the Gloucestershire Youth Jazz Orchestra. 

A popular waterfront location at The Quay beside the River Exe, formed when Exeter was a flourishing river port They were playing at a different seaside resort every day - at Weston-Super-Mare on the way down; then Dawlish, Sidmouth, Torquay, Dawlish Warren, Teignmouth and Brixham. It illustrated how Exeter is a good base for easy access to any of the highlights of south Devon. 

Altogether, Exeter makes an ideal touring centre, both for groups and for individual holidaymakers. And there are always rooms available in high summer or around Easter for an impulsive weekend or short break.

Check out these alternative West Country destinations

BATH - weekend in Jane Austen territory

CORNWALL - choosing low season

CORNWALL - NORTH for beaches, cliffs & legends

DAWLISH - Pioneer railway age resort

EXETER/EXMOUTH - Tour base for South Devon

ILFRACOMBE & NORTH DEVON - The Heritage coast

LYNTON & LYNMOUTH - Devon's Siamese-twin resorts

SIDMOUTH - Devon's Regency gem

SOMERSET - Choosing a farm cottage for a walking holiday


Books to read - click on the links below

The Rough Guide to Devon and Cornwall  - Robert Andrews - Packed with accommodation recommendations, especially in the lower-cost sector.

South Devon and Dartmoor Walks  - Brian Conduit - Explores the hills and valleys of South Devon.

Dartmoor (Jarrold Short Walks Guides) - A rival guide for walkers, concentrating entirely on Dartmoor.

Dartmoor (Explorer Maps) - The ideal map to follow, especially for walkers, published by the Ordnance Survey.



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