Well, landlord Andy was true to his word and we were chauffered the few miles to Umberleigh station in his Subaru, with him cursing the (probably tourist) driver in getting doing a mere 40mph on this 60-limit road. Mind you I'm not sure if I'd have been much better, this is Devon and bends do have a habit of sharpening unexpectedly.
Umberleigh is a request stop. Yep, you put your hand out to tell the train to stop. It's on time and a couple of locals flag it down, saving us the bother. An hour's train ride into Topsham for just over £7 (with Railcard) - can't be bad. It's a pleasant journey too, although I miss all the wildlife whilst Liz recites her spots: hare, heron, egret.
It's raining in Topsham, raining hard. Fortunately it's only 5 minutes walk to the Bridge Inn. What a wonderful throw-back of a pub. In the same family for 125 years and pretty much unchanged. No pumps of course, there's a typed menu of the half-dozen beers they have and the barmaid disappears into the cellar before returning with foaming mugs. Mugs it is too, dimpled glasses with handles are the default.
The decor is ancient. There's some threadbare, translucent, nay, transparent Union Flag bunting hanging above our heads. "That's from the coronation" our barmaid informs us. "No, not the Queen, the King, Edward", "No, not the one who abdicated, the proper one who got crowned". Hmm, by my reckoning this bunting dates to 1902!
It's quiet so host offers us a tour of the malting room, the pub's community room for events, weddings, music etc. We're led behind the bar, through the beer cellar, past another small room and on into the malting. Looking at the height and the obvious evidence of a previous floor just above head height, the name is not a misnomer. The pub really did used to produce its own malt. Now, it is an eclectic meeting room with comfy seating sourced over the last century or so
The pub is sufficiently famous that back in 1998 the Queen herself visited. I love the story that the Queen purportedly said to Caroline (the landlady) "Thank you for inviting me to your wonderful home, you must come and see mine". And so Caroline was invited to Buckingham Palace. And then in 2008 they offered the Royals a case of a special beer brewed to celebrate 111 years of the pub within the family; not only was the offer accepted but Caroline found herself in the Palace invitee list once again.
Sadly the pub keeps to its 1912 opening hours and closes at 2 so we must wend our way into town. The rain hasn't abated - so there goes our proposed walk along the harbour and onto the RSVP reserve. We're cold and wet so stop at The Globe, a large hotel with a good, warming fire, but non-description St. Austell beer. Still we warm ourselves by the fire over a slow pint.
It's still slashing it down. What else is there to do but find another pub. This time The Exeter Arms. What a welcome, the landlord insists we taste all 4 beers on handpump and then comes and chats about the really interesting St Austell special small batch brews (one of which I'm drinking). During the course of conversation we mention we started the day at The Portsmouth Arms and, it turns out he and Andy are old friends so we have best wishes to pass on.
It's still raining but now it's train time. At the station in plenty of time - to find our train is cancelled. This might be serious. Portsmouth Arms is not only a request station but most trains aren't scheduled to stop there even when requested. Hence us needing the lift to Umberleigh this morning. This cancelled train is our last train home! Phone the help line. No problem, a taxi will take us home, we need to stand by the station main entrance. Bu**er that for a game of soldiers, it's still slashing down. Well wait under the shelter and watch out.
30 minutes pass, no taxi. On the blower again. Was told taxi came, didn't see us and went away again. But no problem, the next train in 30 minutes time passes Portsmouth Arms station (they all do on this line) and despite not being scheduled to stop would do so just for us! To be honest, I'd expected this sensible solution rather than a taxi when I rang previously.
We were still a little apprehensive but, lo and behold, it halted at Portsmouth Arms just for the 2 of us and we got a cheery wave from both guard and driver. The cancellation was annoying but we can't fault GWR's service.
So, wet and bedraggled, but armed with greetings and tales of an adventure we returned to the Portsmouth Arms (pub not station, this time) and slowly warmed up. A lot of beer today, but nothing else to do. In fact conversation back on the train was very much geared to whether we should cut the holiday short and return home to the warm and dry. Shelling out good money on a campsite just to spend dreary days in freezing rain and hail just doesn't seem a good use of our meagre funds.
No, one last throw of the dice, if we can get in campsite at Plymouth we'll have a few days there. At least there's museums, shops and a gin distillery!