The estuary at Budleigh Salterton, where the river Otter winds through salt marshes to the sea, is the most peaceful place I know. It’s not peaceful in the sense of silent: there are gulls, geese and curlews, the high call of sandpipers and the roar of waves breaking on the other side of the shingle ridge. But the water here has a mercury stillness, so that surfacing fish make ripples and the cliff above is mirrored. What a cliff it is: glowing terracotta sandstone, the orange deepened by the green turf above, and standing tall on its ridge – rather oddly and exotically – a row of Scots pines.
If you follow the path upriver you may see a kingfisher flash between the reeds. At Otterton, the watermill still grinds the flour for excellent scones served in the courtyard, and upriver again is Coleridge’s home village, Ottery St Mary. But if you follow the river to the sea you’ll find the spot from which a skilfully aimed pebble can be thrown at sunset across the eddying water to land on a red ridge in the cliff-face opposite.
This is the far point of Budleigh’s promenade and it’s time to stroll into town. The early Victorian houses are painted in nautical black or white rather than holiday pastels; the brass door knockers are always shiny. Past The Crusty Rolle and the The Cosy Teapot are the drapers and dress shops where yellow film keeps the sun off the window displays. The average age of residents must be somewhere in the later 70s, it’s true, but older people have excellent taste in seasides and I’m glad to join them when I can. There are younger people arriving in any case; Earl’s Coffee (opened in 2016) stylishly fulfils any need for wifi and a good americano.
The old things have endured through the 25 years since I first knew this town. Whenever I’ve bought an ice-cream from The Creamery (30 flavours to choose from) and taken it out to one of the prime benches along the front, I’ve noticed that the other seats are occupied by people watching the view together with a rare degree of pure contentment.