112: Holsworthy & Libbear Barton (100th post!)

OS explorer map 112, Launceston & Holsworthy: Roadford Lake – I own this map, and had visited it before starting this blog. Visited again for this post 26th February 2020. This is the second of three posts about my trip to Devon and Cornwall for my then-employer techspert.io‘s team retreat.

Google Maps location links: Libbear Barton, Holsworthy, Launceston, Black Torrington, Lewtrenchard.

Blog note

Also, a celebratory blog note: this is my 100th post! Woop woop! I’m also posting this on New Year’s Day 2022, which feels significant. Unfortunately, despite having now had this blog for over four years – my first post was on 11th December 2017 – I’ve only ever done a single post about reaching a milestone: namely my first “year in review” post from late 2018, musing over having been writing the blog for one year. This is because I’ve been behind on posts since mid-2019, and indeed still am, having at present 26 map areas that I’ve visited but haven’t yet posted about. So I never posted about the next 3 years of blogging, nor about when I passed the milestone of having visited 50% of the map areas, and thus being halfway to this blog’s goal!

Fortunately, though, these couple of years of lockdowns and so on have been good for catching up on my backlog: of those 26, all but 7 are already mostly or fully written up. and just waiting for me to complete some previous one before I post it, since I like to post in order. So hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m up to date again and can do some sort of retrospective! Maybe at the end of year 5?

Main post

My previous post told the the dramatic tale of how my then-employer’s company retreat, we changed our venue at the last minute from Italy to Devon due to an early outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, plus the somewhat less dramatic tale of me spending four hours in Exeter’s Tesco Extra buying groceries to take to our new location. After that supermarket marathon, I and the one colleague travelling with me proceeded to the retreat venue, arriving there (and in this map area) in the mid-afternoon. We were shown around by the owner, and were just finishing up putting away the huge amount of shopping when everyone else started arriving.

Libbear Barton, our retreat venue. The main house is hidden behind the row of cottages in this photo.

That venue was Libbear Barton, a collection of houses and on a farm site in a rural area of Devon; surrounded by some fairly large grounds including a little lake and some woods. It was very nice! As well as several smaller cottages, there was a single larger old house, which itself accommodated about half of our party of 23, and its various lounges served as our main living space. We were at Libbear Barton for three nights – I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account, and instead will just ramble on about various bits of the trip.

On a short walk in the woods on the estate

It was, of course, a work trip, so a good amount of the time was spent in work sessions, which took place in a separate building that had a small catering-style kitchen, plus a single large room that, for us, was filled with a long table and lots of chairs. As well as various presentations and workshops, this was also the venue for some memorable fun activities, including silly party games such as a cup-stacking match that got exceedingly competitive; plus a nice session in which we each wrote down some of our favourite work memories on little post-its and stuck them on the wall. One read “Amrit setting fire to tea towels” – I assure you, this only happened once to a singular tea towel, and was an accident! [1]

Our full retreat crew

Since, unlike on our previous retreat (which I talked about in my previous post), I was no longer the only person on my team, the responsibilities for running the retreat were split – my job while we were at this retreat was doing the catering. I used the same work room for serving our lunches and dinners during the trip. Lunches were all cold buffets, consisting of wraps, bread, various fillings, salady bits, dips, pots of cold pastas and so on. I took a similar approach to breakfasts, though I did these in the dining room of the main house.

People looking very industrious in one of our work sessions!

As for dinners, we also self-catered our first one of those: in-keeping with the planned Italian destination of the retreat, was pizzas – I’d bought pizza bases and sauce, and let people top their own pizzas before baking them. Fortunately Exeter’s Tesco Extra had just enough pizza bases available, which I’m glad of; it went down well!

Our second dinner was had out in a pub in the nearby village of Black Torrington, while dinner number 3 was a Chinese takeaway. Collecting this took me to Holsworthy, the nearest town. The town seemed nice enough: I went there a couple of other times too, mainly to get more alcohol from the Waitrose since the team repeatedly exceeded my estimates of how much they’d drink! The Chinese was… fine, though it was definitely of the “pork balls and special fried rice” variety of Chinese. The vegetarian options weren’t great, with there being no tofu and only a smal vegetable selection; but still, mushroom curry, mixed veg, spring rolls and rice isn’t too bad a dinner.

A not-particularly-flattering picture of Holsworthy. I assure you, it was prettier than this!

Aside from work, there were of course various fun activities. There were board games, karaoke one evening, and some active games in the swimming pool, though I didn’t participate in that myself! The last full afternoon of the retreat was reserved entirely for fun, and we split off into a few groups. I took a group out for a walk that afternoon – but that was in a separate map area, so you’ll have to await my next post. The evening before that walk, while everyone else was off being loud, I spent a nice hour or so with one of my fellow quieter colleagues, sitting with maps to plan the walk, and generally chatting.

And that’s it, really! It was a nice few days, and I remember it fondly – not least because, given that the pandemic really hotted up soon afterwards, it was the last time I spent time with such a big group of people even until now, nearly 2 years later. I also left my job with techspert a few months after the retreat, so this was the last time I saw many members of that team in person. I’m very glad we were able to go ahead, despite the last-minute change of plans!

The sillier version of our group photo!

Previous visits

I’ve been to this map area once before, on a trip to Cornwall and Devon with the Dearest Progenitors in June 2016. We spent some time in Cornwall first, staying in Mousehole and visiting Penzance, Tintagel and a few other places, before making our way gradually back eastwards over a few days, staying at a couple of places in Devon. The first of these places was Lewtrenchard Manor, a country house hotel in this map area.

Lewtrenchard Manor

I have to say, Lewtrenchard was a really pretty building. On the outside, I think it’s just one of my favourite country houses: I love the symmetry there is to it, and the grey stone. On the inside, in the restaurant there was some amazing wood panelling with a row of little portraits near the top, and the upstairs landing had some really interesting ceiling plasterwork.

Regular readers may have noticed that, when I’m travelling alone or with friends, I nearly always stay at self-catering holiday cottages; whereas when I’m with my parents, sometimes it’s a cottage, but it’s also fairly often a hotel. In my childhood I was really excited by fancy hotels: my parents went to them, taking me, fairly regularly; and indeed I was often the main driver of picking a particular one for us to go to. Since then, I’ve become much more of a holiday cottage person: I much prefer the independence and quiet, and being able to cook most of the time rather than having to go out for every meal. And of course, cottages being far cheaper is ver relevant, given that nowadays I have to pay for my own holidays! That said though, I still appreciate a fancy hotel, especially for things like the architecture and furnishings, so I’m happy that I still get to go to them occasionally with my parents!

The most notable thing I remember about our stay at Lewtrenchard is that we went clay pigeon shooting! If I recall correctly, I turned out to be surprisingly good at it, given that I’d never done it before – or indeed picked up a gun before. It was… fine, but I wasn’t particularly excited by it, so I doubt I’ll seek it out again. It also just feels a bit icky holding a gun, though of course there’s nothing wrong with it given that all I’m shooting at is clay discs!

I believe we also visited Launceston and had a poke around the castle, though I don’t remember much of it.

[1] When I first started working at techspert, our offices were in a large thatched building in the Cambridgeshire village of Lode. The building had been various things, such as a school and village hall, but had been converted to be a single fancy house, which we then ended up renting as offices. I’m not surprised they didn’t find any residential tenants, since I expect that most people who could afford the rent would be buying instead of renting in the first place. Though arguably I wish this were otherwise: I think renting as opposed to buying is very underrated in this country.

This meant we had quite an unconventional office space: there were bedrooms upstairs, which some employees or interns lived in for a while – I really wouldn’t like living at work myself, but they didn’t seem to mind. There was also big garden that we’d sit in at lunch on sunny days, and even use for the occasional meeting. The garden backed onto open fields, and we’d often see little birds, squirrels, and even deer out of the windows while working, which was really lovely!

Making use of the Lode fire pit!

There was also a very large and well-equipped kitchen for an office, so sometimes people would cook for lunch. It was while I was using the oven to cook some veggie fish fingers for a fish finger sandwich one lunchtime that I used a tea towel to handle the oven tray, put it down on the (inactive) hob. A few minutes later, eating my sandwich, I unwisely leant against the hob and was surprised when someone informed me there was a fire behind me! It turned out I’d pressed one of the, uh, hob knobs with my bottom, resulting in the tea-towel catching fire. Fortunately it was rapidly resolved by picking it up by the non-burning end and dousing it in the sink, but it was brought up in conversation several times afterwards!

There was also one other notable fire-related incident at those offices. There were occasional wor parties, and I usually attended (even if I usually left earlier than most). On one of these occasions, it was decided that we should make use of the garden’s fire pit to get rid of the huge amount of old cardboard that had been building up in one of the garages. This went reasonably well, until someone realised that we also had the Christmas tree from a few months back to dispose of. It turns out that several months-old dried out Christmas trees are extremely flammable, in that the second it was tossed onto the fire by a pyromaniac colleague, it erupted into flames some thirty feet high! There was some fear it was going to set fire to the trees reasonably nearby, but fortunately it quietened down without incident.

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