Colossal consequences of crab sandwiches

St James Tea Rooms, Ilfracombe | Robert Zarywacz @

A crab sandwich from this tea garden triggered our move to Ilfracombe 20 years ago.

The chance offer of a week’s holiday for my aunt and mum had brought me back to North Devon, after I offered to drive them down to Fremington with our spaniel, Felix. I stayed over a day which we spent in Ilfracombe – where years before we had enjoyed a magical fortnight’s family holiday – enjoying an ice cream sitting on the harbour wall and hunting down a crab sandwich for mum.

On the following morning, as I walked with Felix round the lanes overlooking the Taw estuary before driving home, I thought how wonderful it would be to live here. I repeated this to Mrs Z on my return to Windsor and instead of the “don’t be crazy” response I expected, she said: “yes”. Happily, it worked out well for all, especially Felix, who would adore running in the shallow waves along Woolacombe beach.

Our reasons for moving westward were to get as far away as possible from airports, motorways and roads, and escape the madness of the South East. Our priorities included a high street where we could walk to shops, no background road or aircraft noise pollution, and a grounded community where people took time to speak to each other. 

From a business point of view, I relied purely on faith. I had already been running my business from home for eight years at a time when most people did not believe it possible and decided that location would not be be such a big issue in the future. Ilfracombe did not yet have ADSL connectivity, but the exchange was enabled just before we moved and an ADSL line was installed on the first day in our new home. I trusted I would find people and clients I would want to work with and who wanted to work with me. And so it worked out.

Over 20 years, we have walked a lot, worked a lot, met and lost wonderful friends as well as family and pets, experienced joys and sorrows, good health and bad, success and failure, gardened, trod the boards, studied, laughed and cried, and savoured peace and tranquility, storms and sunsets.

Early in my corporate career, when asked where I saw myself in the future, not once did I say “here”, even though it had been a vague dream to live here since I was nine. I remember, when researching an internal job vacancy while at British Airways, struggling to keep my eyelids open as boredom induced by a manager describing the role weighed them down, which convinced me that my future lay outside the corporate world. (After the application deadline, they called me to say they couldn’t find an application from me, intimating that the job would have been mine – a narrow escape!) However, even I had not envisaged being able to paddle in the sea on the beach with dogs at 7am on a summer Monday morning before starting the working week (or struggling round a storm-battered cliff walk in winter gloom).

While this chosen route has often been tough – what I see as right for me is rarely the easy way – I would make the same choices again.

I didn’t know what I was doing back then and after 20 years don’t believe I know what I’m doing now, but I do know that I know very little about anything.

While not sure any advice I can offer can be useful, I would say:

Don’t underestimate either the consequences of a crab sandwich or those little ideas that pop into your mind and urge you to do what you believe is right.

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