Picture the scene: circa 1987, a warm but rainy English summer day. It's school holidays and the car is laden as we drive the five hours to our family holiday destination: Devon. My brother has shotgunned the front passenger seat next to Dad, while Mum and I relax side by side in the back.
Devon was the location of many childhood family holidays. The four of us would stay in quaint farmhouse B&Bs and do day trips, visiting typically English seaside villages or exploring the nearby moors. I'm sure the sun didn't always shine, but in my memories the days were golden.
Now, fast forward 25 years and Mum and I are sitting side by side again, en route to Devon once more. It's a grey, rainy day on the road - some things never change - but this time we're cocooned in the comfort of our luxury coach, travelling with guided holiday specialists Trafalgar.
I'd imagined myself about 30 years too young for a trip like this, but with only a fleeting visit back to Britain and a plan to spend as much time with Mum as possible, a six-day "comfortable"-paced itinerary visiting the "best of Devon and Cornwall" seemed like a great idea. Apparently I'm in good company - mother-daughter duos are a growing market for Trafalgar.
After a few days in a buzzing pre-Olympics London, Mum and I join our fellow passengers - a mix of Australians, Canadians, French and Kiwis - at Trafalgar's South Bank-based reception centre and hit the motorway for six days of accelerated sightseeing.
From the impressive intrigue of prehistoric Stonehenge, to Britain's tallest spire at Salisbury Cathedral, to the nautical history of Plymouth, our group treks on and off our coach for visits, photo stops, meal breaks and overnight hotel stays. Steve, our travel director, is a history buff, and says he is fascinated by the complicated past of Britain. Between destinations, he spins tales of kings and queens, religion and republicanism, battles and beheadings, and I find I'm learning more about my home country's history than I ever did at school.
The countryside rolling past our window gets more and more beautiful the further we get from London. Green hills roll into yellow fields, thatched roofs sit prettily on frosted cupcake-coloured cottages and we pass signs for places with deliciously English names, like Higher Wrangway, Bishop's Lydeard and Middle Wallop.
Plymouth, on the other hand, isn't a particularly pretty city, and on our visit it's even less appealing, with bucketing rain and a low, cold fog. Yet it's a city with a rich maritime history, so it's only fitting we get out on the water for a harbour cruise.
The boat leaves near the historically important Mayflower steps, where in 1620 the Pilgrim Fathers sailed for the New World to establish the second English settlement in America, and is also the place where the "Tory", the pioneer ship in the colonisation of New Zealand, departed in 1839.
The fog makes it hard to see back to the shore, but apparently we pass places like the Royal Citadel, Drake's Island and Plymouth Hoe - where legend has it in 1588 Sir Francis Drake finished his game of bowls before sailing his fleet to meet the Spanish Armada.
Back at the hotel later that day, I take advantage of a much-needed early night, while some passengers more than twice my age head to the bar and stay up late watching the band, no doubt muttering under their breath about the youth of today.
In the quaint seaside village of Clovelly, the weather can't dampen the urge to photograph the irresistibly picturesque cobbled streets and whitewashed cottages. Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho! and Water Babies, lived in the village as a child and returned as an adult to write his novels. Steve's most interesting fact of the day: Westward Ho! is the inspiration behind the nearby village of the same name - the only place in the British Isles to have an exclamation mark as part of its name. But aside from Kingsley, Clovelly has found fame of its own, for its steep main street leading down to the sea, its quaint whitewashed cottages and the donkeys which for centuries were used as the main form of transport up and down the 120-metre sloping hill. The donkeys have retired but there is still no motorised transport in Clovelly - goods are brought in and rubbish is taken out by sledges pulled by hand. The entire village has been privately owned by one family and its descendants since 1738 and is managed by the Clovelly Estate Company. All maintenance is done using traditional materials and it's a treat to visit somewhere seemingly untouched by time.
Crossing the Devonshire border into Somerset, we visit another site where time seems to stand still. Glastonbury is world famous for its mud-soaked music festivals, but it's also home to an ancient abbey, where it's believed King Arthur and Guinevere were once buried. Historical records show there has been an abbey on this site since 600AD. Destroyed by fire then rebuilt in 1184, the abbey stood strong until 1539, when King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries and began to demolish the buildings. Today, only parts of the original buildings remain intact, jutting from the green lawns like ghostly relics in the 14 hectares of grounds. Some of the ruins date back to the eighth century - a fact which causes those of us who live in the "New World" to stop and gaze in wonder. Treading the old stone steps it's impossible not to think about the footsteps which have walked here over many thousands of years and, yet again, history comes to life.
With a British-style stiff upper lip, we don't let the weather get us down. In fact, the rain and mist prove the perfect accompaniment to one of our evening optional excursions, visiting the wild, rugged isolation of Dartmoor - a place which has evidence of human habitation dating back 4000 years. Stopping in the village of Princetown to pick up local guide Peter, we make our way to the remote Dartmoor Inn, a cosy, low-beamed, thatched roof pub, which is apparently haunted by three different ghosts.
We tuck into a traditional English pub meal and get to know our fellow passengers. Although the age of the other guests is undeniably on the senior side of the spectrum, chatting to some of them over dinner it's clear we all have one thing in common: a love of travel. After sharing stories of our own, we huddle round the inn's blazing log fire while Peter captivates us with tales of highwaymen and ghostly figures roaming the moors. He talks of the tradition of storytelling and how fireside tales have been passed down through the generations, keeping the rich British history alive. We are spellbound, the brooding weather outside providing easy inspiration for our imaginations. Driving back through the fog, I watch the rain on the window and once more reminisce about previous holidays, making a mental note to keep my family history alive, too.
Stephanie Holmes flew to England with assistance from Cathay Pacific, and travelled around Devon and Cornwall courtesy of guided holiday specialist Trafalgar.
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