Author: Phillip F.
Date of Trip: June 2010
We awaken to the sound of a bull (too many cows to choose from) and the bleating of sleepy sheep. The sun has risen and it’s time for more poetry: Hawkeshead, Hill Top at Near Sawry (home of Beatrix Potter), Far Sawry (obviously near Near Sawry), Lake Windermere ferry (car) to Windermere, Fell Foot Park, Haverthwaite, Brantwood, Coniston and it is time to make a decision.
We have been spending too much time having fun and not enough time driving (only 1500 miles so far) and we are behind schedule for all the planned sights. Enough of the northern sights! The south is beckoning and the M6 is close at hand. One last stately home — Levens Hall at Kendal, a magnificent Elizabethan house famous for the world’s oldest topiary garden. We give ourselves 3 to 3.5 hours to reach Stratford on Avon and set off down the M6. Making good time travelling slowly at 80 mph in the left lane (the right lane is reserved for the faster cars and motor bikes that pass as if we were in reverse), our goal seems well in sight. Nearly half way and only 1.5 hours driving. What do those flashing signs mean? And those messages? “Long delays between exits 19 and 17”. Hang on! There is about 10 miles between each exit and we are heading toward those exit points. What’s that on the radio? “M6 southbound take a diversion prior to exit 19”. Where is that map? What is the alternative? Ah! — no worries, leave the M6 at exit 20 and continue south along the A50. Boy, that was close! How clever are we. Oh, Oh — looks like everyone else had the same idea. I’ll turn left here and continue down the A34. Why is this traffic still so slow? How did we get back onto the A50? Let’s just stay in queue — at least we will be following everyone else. This is ridiculous — it has taken 2 hours to travel 20 miles. What’s that on the radio? “The M6 has cleared and the congestion has moved to the A50 and other minor highways!”. We are nearly back to the M6, we will keep going. We are back on and it is moving ok. What are these flashing lights? I’ve had enough of this. We are off at the next exit and taking the first accommodation we see. Why are there no accommodation places on this road? There must be one in this town. I am sick of going in circles. Look!! There’s one. It looks a bit old but it says VACANCY. What do you mean she told you there were no vacancies. It’s 8.00 pm and there are no cars in her car park!! Look, there is a 2 star hotel. It looks like that 6 star hotel in Dubai! We will take it. It’s not bad after all, even if I had to pay upfront. Now let’s get some dinner — the reception man said there was an American style Italian restaurant 100 yards up the road. Look!!! Isn’t that a new Travelodge hotel over there?
Back to the M6 for the final leg towards the Cotswolds. The exit from the freeway system was the same that led to Stratford on Avon. Another diversion so as we “have been there, done that”, however upon looking at our DBH map we notice that Warwick castle is nearby and a diversion of the diversion is needed. We should have realised that Warwick Castle was a mistake when we approached the car park. The direction sign pointed away from the castle that was some distance away. The parking spaces for cars was adjacent to the parking space for buses which was already full at 10.30 am. There were attendants directing traffic and the car park was run by a parking company which only informed you of the £4 fee after you had entered through the one way gate. After finally walking 10 minutes to reach the entry to the Castle I noticed a pedestrian entry point from the adjacent township’s street which had plenty of 2 hour free parking. Whilst we did not have to pay the £24 per person entry fee (thanks to the DBH card) it was becoming blatantly obvious that this was not going to be the usual castle experience. There were Ben & Gerry ice cream vending machines, ATM’s and a variety of stalls selling various paraphernalia and that was all before going through the front gate (over the drawbridge). So we entered the castle and bingo — this was Disneyland in a castle! We threaded our way through the kids and managed to see the smallish display of State Rooms and the Grand Hall. A climb up the tower and we were done. We passed on the bird show, the dungeon show, the Princesses room (on advice of an attendant saying we were too old) and various other attractions that were delaying the main game (going to the Cotswolds).
Did we bypass Stratford upon Avon (even after the receptionist’s advice from the last hotel was ‘it’s ok but for the effort of going through the traffic just to see Shakespeare’s birthplace — well I could not recommend it”)? Of course not! We battled the traffic, found a twenty minute parking spot within walking distance (it was in a pedestrian mall of the shopping centre), then after the Shakespeare’s gift shop lady told us the entry point was not through the gift shop but 100 yards down the road at the end of the long snaky line of people we decided a photo of the exterior of the house was all we really wanted and we promptly departed finally en route for the Cotswolds. Broadway was our first stop. The main street of this elegant well preserved village of stone houses, smart shops and cosy pubs was a superb introduction of what lay ahead for us. Next up was Chipping Campden. The most fabulous thatched roofs can be seen in this un-commercialised village and the 100 mile (160 kilometre) Cotswold Way walking trail to Bath commences here. Chipping Campden was just down the by-way and as we stopped for some more snaps of a beautifully thatched roof house with antique pieces sitting on each window sill a pair of young travellers glided silently past on their bicycles with happy faces. Moreton-in-Marsh is a lively Cotswold centre, but it was late in the day (refer 1st paragraph) and it was time to look for our next digs. A short drive out of town was the quaint hamlet of Broadwell. It had just one B & B that had a beautifully kept garden and our luck was in. We were shown to the “long room” which had a commanding view over the rolling lawns and garden and the elderly hostess was spotted back amongst her plots of colour. A visit to the local pub, the only commercial property in the hamlet, provided the usual good parochial tucker. As the night progressed we returned to the comfort of our long room. Slumber was soon upon us as the chirping of the birds faded into the drowsiness.
Stow-on-the-Wold has eight roads that meet around this market town that is crammed with antique shops, delicatessens and smart hotels — one of which is the King’s Arms, where Charles 1 spent a night in 1645 during the Civil War. The next 2 villages were Upper Slaughter and Lower Slaughter. Their names alone draw you to them with fascination. The road signs point the way to The Slaughters until the final sign on the last fork points to Upper on the high road and Lower on low road. Did we break into song — ‘you take the high road and I’ll take the low road?’ Of course not! We weren’t in Ireland. Despite their names, I must say that these two small villages were so tranquil and pretty, with their streams meandering slowly around their environs, that one’s soul was uplifted to a higher plain. Reluctantly moving on we arrived in Bibury — a larger hamlet than the Slaughters (as depicted by more trout in its stream). As we ambled across an old wooden foot bridge an old grey haired lady smiled and struck up a conversation. She told us how she had been born here 83 years ago, and how the house she lived in was at the end of Arlington Row, and how the family whose children she looks after had given her the house as a wedding present, and how her husband had died many years earlier, and how he had constantly rung the council on a weekly basis to have a disused field converted to a playground for the village’s children, and how since after the British Heritage Society had obtained it she had continued his quest (to no avail) and how…., and how…., We finally got away from the old dear, but I was most alert (from watching the Miss Marple movies) to not being seduced into having a cup of tea back in her little cottage. Along a narrow country lane an old farm vehicle pulls over to allow us to pass. We are on our way to the Chedworth Roman Villa and the next vehicle we encounter is a bus which must reverse a way to allow us to divert into a short side clearing on the right to clear its path. We arrive at the site just as the couple in the old farm vehicle do as well. They inform us that they have come from a local farm of which the farm house in which they live is 1000 years old! Despite living there for 13 years they say they have never visited this roman villa, however they regularly find bits of roman artefacts on their land. Upon entering the villa (using our DBH card) we are amazed at the preservation of this 2000 year old complex. One can see the mosaic tiled floors of the steam rooms and the stone pillars that raised the floor of the living rooms to enable under floor heating (smart Romans!). The church in Northleach — St Peter and St Paul, dates from around 1300. It’s entry porch has carved corbels depicting images of angels and a cat playing the fiddle, whilst the entire floor of the church is strewn with well preserved inlaid memorial stones; and brasses showing merchants with sheep, woolpacks and children. Last town in the Cotswolds we visit is Cirencester. It is just on the outskirts of the region and apart from the huge church — John the Baptist, there is nothing else of interest (to us). We grab a couple of take away coffees from the coffee shop opposite the church and head down the A129 for our spiritual journey to the regions of Bath, Somerset and Wiltshire. The first town in this new region will be Lacock — a National Trust village meticulously preserved with its stone and half timbered houses. As time was approaching the hour of closing for National Trust sights, we began looking out for our next place to rest for the evening. This was our regular ritual and to give us plenty of opportunity our attention turned from passing points of interest to passing advertising signage for accommodation. One would imagine that 20 miles and several small villages would provide a plethora of choice. As our destination approached we had sighted not one place to stay. The directions to Lacock led us to the National Trust car park. We noted a few stragglers coming from a path that led into the village and returning to their cars in the car park to depart the attraction. To us it was obvious this was an entire village that closed when the staff from the gift shop went home. We voted to continue driving in the direction of our itinerary in the hope we would find a place to stay not too far for us to back track in the morning. Only 1 mile along we spy a sign — right turn down the lane after the old church, 2nd drive on the left! We pass the church, can’t find the 2nd lane on the left, return to read the sign again, right down the lane after the church, can’t work out the 2nd drive, ask a lady if she knows about the B & B and she replies “Yes, that’s here, but we have no vacancies!!” Onward we went — Bowden Hill, Sandy Lane, past our next attraction Bowood House, Derry Hill, Calne (surely there is something here in this larger town), Cherhill, Beckhampton, (What! Is my middle name Murphy?), Avebury (our next attraction after Bowood) — yes!! Vacancy! — drive to rear street of property and 4th drive on the left. Why does the back sign say No Vacancy when the front says the opposite? I cannot continue otherwise we will have driven past all the attractions without having seen one! The nearest ‘large’ town is Marlborough (at least it has large print on the map) so we will go there. Fire up the computer and look up Trip Advisor for accommodation in Marlborough! (please). What do you mean Marlborough is not listed? We are here now! This pub will do. What a joke! They wanted £100 and that was without breakfast. I’ve driven up and down every street — we really don’t need breakfast anyhow. Wait! There’s another hotel we missed. Tell them we don’t need breakfast and we will take it (whatever it may be).
Sun is shining, sky is blue. Ah! This will be a great day. We don’t need to see Bowood House, we’ve seen so many. We can back track to Avebury and beat the buses. And as for Lacock — well we are near there again after Devizes so we can circle around again. Avebury was great. We beat the buses, got a free car parking spot, walked in the fields where the stone circles were, snapped away happily, and departed all before the National Trust gift shop opened. Just down the road from Avebury was Silbury Hill — Europe’s largest man-made ancient monument. In Devizes we took a close look at the Longboats used for canal touring. Not much else in Devizes and a short drive from the centre was Caen Hill Locks — an extraordinary succession of 29 canal locks. Fascinating! From Devizes we returned to visit Lacock. This time around we were under no time pressure and we calmly followed the signs toward the National Trust car park. Where did this street come from? Look!! It leads right into Lacock. OMG! There is plenty of free parking amidst all these heritage homes, shops, church, priory, gardens and dare I say B & B’s. Plenty of them and oh so cute and inviting. Oh well, I wanted to see Marlborough anyway as I used to smoke Marlborough cigarettes 35 years ago before I gave up 34 years ago. Bradford-on-Avon is an engaging town that rises up from the river Avon. We parked our car just near the 17th century Norman Bridge and began a meandering walk through the historic town and up the hill for a potential vista point. We climbed some steps, some very steep paths, and walked up and along some roadways. We passed some seriously old buildings along the way and eventually we reached a vantage point that afforded us some fabulous views of the township below and well beyond into the lush surrounding hills. The houses around us were carved into the steep slopes and had dainty English gardens on small terraces between their houses and the public footways we were travelling on. At the end of one of these footways was perched the smallest church — St Mary’s, which seated a dozen people. The view beyond the pulpit and through the lightly stained glass was simply amazing. Descending the slope via a different route took us down some long and winding tree canopy encased paths with well worn stone steps covered partly in varieties of lichen. The hens in an adjacent yard were clucking as we headed toward the railway line which had to be crossed to reach the little footbridge that gave access to a small swimming hole where we could hear the squeals of delight of some local children enjoying the heat of this English summer. Just beyond this small tributary of the Avon river was the 14th Century Tithe Barn — a massive structure and one of the oldest in England that was used to store food owed to the Church by the people. The approach to Bath via Claverton Down gives one an instant appreciation of this congenial city with its golden hued terraces around a vast natural amphitheatre. Whilst it was only 4.30 pm, and the city had many B & B’s, we could not contemplate another episode of the night before, so we set about the task of securing our accommodation for the evening. Thankfully, Trip Advisor had 158 good locations to choose from and 5 minutes later we were happily carting our ‘evening suitcases’ up a flight of stairs toward some plump down filled pillows.
Another beautiful morning presented itself upon our awakening and after a sumptuous breakfast we set out for a walking tour of the city. A visit to the Roman Baths is an absolute must. The presentation of this iconic monument is superb as is the explanation of the life and times of various populaces enjoying (or in the case of the slaves — not enjoying) this bathing complex. Bath Abbey with its grand tall facade overlooks the small piazza in which it is situated. Inside one is confronted with a magnificent vaulted ceiling and a stain glass window that shows 56 scenes from the life of Jesus. After our fill of the sights of Bath we head toward the local office of Alamo Car Hire to rectify the problem of the non-working air conditioner. To date, this had not really been a problem, however as the mercury was now rising the heat of the day was now becoming a problem over and above the heat of an occasional argument of as whether we should have turned right or left, taken the first or second exit of the roundabout, or whether it even mattered if we missed out on a particular attraction. The next 3 points of interest on our itinerary was a debating point of necessity, especially since they would be bringing us closer to the 4th point of interest — Glastonbury. Whilst this medieval city is awash with legend and religious symbolism, the fact that the Glastonbury Festival had just begun was a strong reason for avoiding not only this city but also the surrounding environs unless one was inclined to enjoy heaving throngs of flesh covered in 60’s garb and breathing the air thick with a smoke that helps one enjoy and appreciate such heaving throngs. Instead of west we turn east toward England’s grandest and best preserved stone circle — Stonehenge. Certainly a better attraction to get stoned at than Glastonbury! (apologies to Gail). This BC (pre AD) monument is dwarfed by the expanse of Salisbury Plain. Built in stages between 3000 BC and 1600 BC it is a marvel to behold and certainly worth enduring the crowds to be amongst such history. More unique stone homes and wonderful winding ways brought us to the site of Old Sarum, however time had beaten us once again and the site was closed. A short drive to Salisbury — one of Britain’s great cathedral cities, and we locate a peaceful B & B with a ground floor room so as we can re-organize our ‘evening suitcases’ with summer clothing and return our winter clothing to our larger cases. Tomorrow we will return to Old Sarum before heading off to Hardy country and the Jurassic Coast.
Old Sarum, whilst being just another ruin, has its own unique features which makes going to see worthwhile. One tends to think they are ‘castled’ or ‘churched’ out, however there is always enough of a difference in most attractions to ensure your interest does not wane (too much). Old Sarum is perched atop a large hill and the scenery is spectacular. The castle itself was made from local rock which has a high degree of flint in it and contrasts dramatically with the stone.
The drive down to the County of Dorset is relatively uneventful and in a short time the past looms large as the fossil rich Jurassic Coast nears. First port (no pun intended) of call is Wareham, located on the river Frome and close to the sea. It was important as a port in Saxon times but now is a preserved and pretty little backwater with much of its Saxon structure, including medieval frescoes, intact. On the road to Swanage we pass through the village of Corfe. There is the Corfe Castle here, a ruin of a once mighty Norman bastion, the silhouette of which dominates the skyline behind the tiny village. We bypass the castle’s or should I say, National Trust’s pay car park which is 1/4 mile from the site and find a free village car park outside the castle entrance. From here we drive into Swanage — a quintessential Victorian resort with a seaside promenade. A drive to the top of the hill adjacent to the resort town and a short walk along a public path amidst a field of grazing horses brings us to a vantage point that overlooks the town, seaside and distant coastlines. Working our way back for Weymouth we detour to Worth Matravers — basically a dairy farm, a couple of houses and a pub with a generous view overlooking the English Channel. One quick drink to quench our thirst on this warm day (28 degrees) and we are heading back to the road from which we detoured. The return direction presents another magical view of Corfe and Corfe Castle in a different and distant aspect. We pass quickly back through Corfe and decide a short cut through the British Militaries gunnery range is in order to pay a short visit to Lulworth Cove. Luckily the army is not using the range this day so the road through their fields is open (cars only). The road winds up the Purbeck Hills atop which is a vista point that gives 360 degree views across countryside to the north, east and west; and the vast English Channel to the south. Arriving at Lulworth Cove we stroll around the small and few parochial shops, observe some prehistoric fossilized rocks and take a short walk down to the nearly circular cove with its small vessels moored whose occupants are mostly enjoying the southern English sun.
The end of day draws near as we approach Weymouth. A drive up a couple of streets adjacent to the waterfront parade bears results with a cute B & B within walking distance of the action but far enough so as to avoid the bustle of the seaside activities. Dinner is eaten at the highly recommended ‘Floods Seafood’ restaurant whose inside tables are all booked however we elect to eat outside — which it appeared the locals shun but we found to be more than adequate as it was a warm evening and you could smell the salt air from the mariner’s water just 6 metres away.
Seagulls are squawking and the sky is a cloudless blue. It’s going to be another fine, warm day (beautiful one day, perfect the next). Another home cooked sumptuous breakfast and it’s time to explore more countryside. Our host gives us some local knowledge of where we should go and we set off with a slightly modified itinerary. Having already sight seen Weymouth the evening before, we set off for the adjoining township of Portland — an island connected by what appears to be a long narrow tract of sandy land that has a road leading across it. As we are driving across we marvel at how this section of sandy land forks back along the coast as far as the eye can see to form what looks like an inner and outer sea. We pull off the road into a car park area where the road sign had indicated “Chesil Beach”. This was at a point just a small way across the causeway and at a point where the inner sea (Fleet Lagoon) began. The long sandy dune that divided the 2 seas was about 10 metres high and we set off to climb up it to reach a vantage point that would enable us to view this scenery with most clarity. Then, the strangest thing happened. As we approached the golden coloured sandy dune the form of the sand ‘changed’ before our eyes and what we thought was an expanse of sand was in fact an expanse of pebbles — the size of marbles, from tors to tom thumbs. It was the most amazing scene to behold! 27 kilometres of pebbly dune that rose out of the sea — one side flanked by a body of water up to 100 metres across and the other by the English channel so clear and crystal blue that you could nearly see the fish swimming along.
The Isle of Portland has a wild coastline and is where Henry 8th had one of his finest castles which was built with fine white Portland stone. After a whirlwind tour of the castle, we have a look where Sunseeker build their premier craft. Then a short drive to the highest vantage point for a dose of scenic tonic and then we head along the coast, parallel with the pebble strand.
Lots of great coastal scenery pass and we arrive in Abbotsbury. Lots of almost blond stone block buildings and a 15th Century tithe barn, which is the only remaining building of a 15th Century Benedictine Abbey, which now houses a children’s farm.
Following the advice of our previous night’s host we continue on in the direction of Lyme Regis. Just beyond Abbotsbury we pause at a road wayside and look back to admire from the other end of the pebble dune, its unearthly expanse backed by the Fleet Lagoon. Further on we turn left to West Bexington to see if the beach there was still pebble. Sure enough it was, however there was no more lagoon and the water only gradually deepened allowing for swimming activities (in wetsuits mainly). This was in stark contrast to the outer sea side of the pebble dune where the only activity was fishing and sun bathing. Anyone entering the water may have found it somewhat difficult getting out as the slope going from the shore was about 30 degrees or steeper! Arriving at Lyme Regis (where The French Lieutenants Women was filmed) we were pleased we had taking our host’s advice at it was a lovely spot to walk by the seaside with floral gardens along part of the foreshore and some ice cream stalls that were selling the locally produced premier, double cream, handmade ice cream — of which we just had to experience. Yum!!
We returned to our original itinerary by travelling east again to the town of Dorchester. A quick drive around the town was all that was needed and we headed for Sherborne to the north. We thought we may make the Old Castle (ruins), New Castle (built for Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594, and the Sherborne Abbey — a fine example of Perpendicular architecture. Arriving a little after 5.00 pm we were too late for all and we pondered as to whether we pull up stakes and see them in the morning or drive on to the start of our next drive — the South Cornwall Coast. With so much more to see and so little time to see it, we didn’t have to ponder for too long. Castles, ruins, abbeys — seen them, done that! We fastened our seatbelts and headed for the M5. We thought we may make Launceston by 7.00 pm where we could stop and continue on the next morning for St Ives in Cornwall. Apart from a wrong turn off the M5 at Exeter, we were making good time. However, good was not good enough and Okehampton was selected as the alternative. Little were we to know but this town on the edge of Dartmoor Forest was buzzing with activity (some sort of Solstice celebrations that were continuing on well past the day) as were all the surrounding towns and villages we were darting to and fro from. (Maybe that’s why it is called Dartmoor!). By 8.30 pm I had had enough and I headed back to the A30 for Launceston. This time it was us passing all those slow travellers in the left lane as I gunned the little Ford Escort down the highway. (I changed the Meriva at Bath re the air conditioner — remember?). At 9.00 pm we are driving around in circles looking for anything that had VACANCY in their window. We had just about given up and were wondering how comfortable a Ford Escort could be when a wrong turn down a one way street produce a miracle and less than 10 minutes later, after checking in to the B & B which probably had the only bed left for a hundred miles, we were happily eating our dinner what used to be the house where Lieutenant Philip Gidley King was born. He accompanied Cook on the First Fleet and was 3rd Governor of NSW. Small world isn’t it?
The Launceston Castle is a ruin from the Norman era and once controlled the route into Cornwall. It is perched atop a high hill in the middle of Launceston and gives a fantastic view.
Finishing our drive to St Ives we approach the seaside town via Carbis Bay. The views as you wind down the hill toward the rail line are fabulous with aqua water shimmering against the broad golden sands. St Ives, once a busy pilchard fishing port, is now a busy tourist port with a strong artisan flavour. Its narrow cobbled streets have the most wonderful galleries and the town now houses the New Tate Gallery. Driving along the Cornwall Coast we stop at Zennor where in the 12th Century St Senara church a pew from that era depicts a mermaid which lured a chorister to his death by her singing, or maybe it was just an old fishwife’s tale to discourage outsiders from venturing down to the cove where local smugglers had their haunt. Ruined stacks and engine houses flash by as we negotiate the narrow roads and just beyond the Geevor Tin Mine we turn past some standing stones and burial mounds to make our way to Cape Cornwall — a windswept headland topped by a slender chimney stack which evokes a true end-of-the-world feeling. In fact Land’s End which is only slightly further to the west has lost that feeling due to its commercialisation of the site — a shopping centre of all things! Minack Theatre features an amphitheatre hewn out of the cliffs above it with the sea as a backdrop. Unfortunately, it has to be on our ‘next trip to Cornwall’ list as it was just closing as we arrived. The views from the top of the cliff were still open however and the view down to the Porthcurno cove were all encompassing as were the cliffs that surrounded the little sandy beach. Mousehole (pronounced mouzzel) was reached by narrow hedged flanked tracks and upon entering the village the drive down and through the even narrower streets was a feat that could only be done in small cars and bicycles. (Definitely glad I didn’t get that Roller!). As cute as this village was, it was quite busy and to try to find accommodation for the night would have been futile so we headed for Penzance (of the pirate variety) and with a bit more of a panic finally found the street of B & B’s and restfully laid our weary eyes.
After leaving Penzance we headed directly for St Michaels Mount’. This islet looming out of the sea near Marazion is dramatically topped by a 12th Century castle. At low tide it can be reached on foot across a causeway first used by pilgrims in the middle ages. At high tide there are small ferries that will take you across or back for a small fee. Continuing along the coastline we head for The Lizard Peninsula. The tip of this windswept peninsula is England’s most southerly point (another End) and it is here you can see The Last House in England. Also there is England’s most powerful lighthouse which is visible for 34 kilometres. It is the reason that some small craft shops sell little lighthouses made from Lizard Serpentine which is in abundant supply from the cliff faces. Why is it that when you travel there is an irresistible urge to buy every piece of memorabilia you come across? There is no such urge to buy a boomerang or opal pendant when walking down Swanston Street! A little further around the peninsula and tucked below the cliffs is the tiny seaside hamlet of Cadgwith — famous for holding the record of most pilchards caught by local fishermen in one day. (1.3 million). From here we had intended to carry on up the eastern coast of Cornwall but it would be more of the same and by now we are looking for newer, better and more exciting. The west coast of Cornwall seems to fit the bill and we divert to the A30 once again to blaze a trail to Port Isaac — of Doc Martin fame. Along the way we take a detour across the Bodmin Moor to the small town of Minions. Apart from stopping to see Jamaica Inn at Bolventor — the inspiration for Daphne Du Maurier’s novel of the same name, it turns out to be a waste of time and effort. 30 minutes later we arrive in Port Isaac. If we had thought we had seen it all, well this little village was just oozing in personality. We slowly threaded our way through the narrow streets and lanes looking for a B&B. Down one side past the harbour and up the other side. There is no opportunity to turn around and we find ourselves driving out the other end. We drive through Minor Ruan then through Major Ruan (a few more buildings than Minor) and along the single lane hedged roadway. By the time we reached an intersection of these narrow laneways which would allow a reversal of direction, we were a couple of miles out so instead of going back we thought we would do a wide circle and start again from the beginning. Along the way we stumbled across a farm B & B — (sheep and cattle) which had a small very old stone farm shed that had been converted to a self contained 2 bedroom unit with all the mod cons. The farmer’s wife could not make breakfast as she was leaving for work early the next day so she offered us the unit for £50 without breakfast. We hastily agreed and on the way to dinner back in Port Isaac we stopped off at The Co-Operative food store for the ingredients that would make us our breakfast in the fully self contained unit.
After a leisurely self made breakfast, we departed the little farm house heading in the direction of Delabole. It is here, at the Delabole Slate Company, that one can see the largest man made hole in Britain. The site has been continuously quarried for more than 600 years and it is no surprise that all the surrounding town’s buildings are built with slate. Slate roofs, slate fences, slate paths, slate housing bricks — the versatility of this stone is simply amazing.
At Bude, a popular seaside resort, we park the car and walk to the cliff tops where, aside from the sweeping views of the rugged coastline, there is a curious octagonal tower which has the direction of each side of the octagon carved into it (south, south-east etc). It was a Victorian coast guard’s hut built in Grecian style. From this vantage point you can see twin sandy beaches — one of which was ‘women’s only’ during Victorian times. Tintagel’s 13th century castle (ruin) is reputedly the birthplace of King Arthur. More interesting however is the 14th century Old Post Office and the 12th century church of St Materiana which sits on the rugged cliff top bordering the township to the west. Leaving Cornwall we make our way to the Hartland Peninsula in North Devon. At Stoke we visit St Nectan’s — a 14th century church known as ‘the cathedral’ because it has a 128 foot high tower. Nearby we visit the 16th century Hartland Abbey — now a stately private home. Its rooms are majestic with many original features still intact. Whilst we are now totally ‘heritaged’ out, this converted abbey was certainly worth the visit.
It is only a short distance to Clovelly which sits on the Western side of Bideford Bay. It is a unique traffic free village with cobble stone streets lined with flower-strewn cottages that tumble down a 400 foot cleft in the cliff face. Being an old 14th century fishing village there is the familiar stone walled harbour lined with fresh fish outlets where one can buy fish that are still wriggling to be free.
We were too late for the Dartington Crystal Tour (and chance to purchase a bargain piece) in Great Torrington so we head (quickly) further up our travel route to find a B & B in the vicinity of the town of Bideford. Nothing suitable here (couldn’t be bothered driving in circles) so we head for Westward-Ho! — a neighbouring seaside resort named after Charles Kingsley’s novel of Elizabethan seafarers. We find a recently updated B & B in a house built in the 1800’s that overlooks the long sandy beach and pebble ridge. After organizing our room, we head for the promenade to find a suitable eating establishment and in a little while have chosen an old fashioned restaurant serving (mainly locals) the hot roast carvery for only £8.95 — yum!
If we thought things couldn’t get any better, then we were mistaken. After leaving Westward-Ho! we drove beachside to the next little village of Appledore. We parked and began walking the tiny streets and alleyways which were lined with colour-washed Georgian cottages with bow windows. All the little cottages had names (as most English homes do) which best described what they had been or what the owner thought was most appropriate. There was the ‘gingerbread house’ with a window full of gingerbread men; ‘bird cottage’ with figurines and displays of birds; ‘tunnel house’ which had a tunnel entrance as a front door. We came across one little cottage which had a gallery in the front room of the resident artist. He specialised in water coloured drawings of the village and its environs. They were very detailed and finely depicted — so much so that despite all previous resistance to galleries, gift shops and other such tourist traps, this time the enthrallment of the moment totally bound us and we departed most chuffed with 3 works. They will soon be on display in our Rye gallery. A drive by of the 13th century, 24 arch Long Bridge in Bideford and we were on our way for North Devon and all its dramatic coastal beauty.
Braunton Burrows is the largest area of sand dunes in England. After carefully negotiating with a drake protecting his swan and 5 goslings (we wouldn’t run him over if he would stop pecking our car) we came to the end of the country lane where parking was provided to enable continuation on foot into this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Despite being home to 500 species of wild flowers, 33 of butterflies and varieties of kestrels, skylarks and curlews, I found it somewhat strange that the area is still used 10 times a year for army training. Beyond Braunton Burrows the scenery and beaches dazzled exponentially. Reaching Woolacombe Sand we could easily understand why this 3 mile beach is regularly voted one of the world’s best. At the northern end overlooking Morte Stone (where in 1852 five ships were lost) is Morte Point. Just a couple of grassy slopes back is Mortehoe — an ancient village mentioned in the Domesday Book. The 13th century St Mary’s church houses 6 bells dating from 1275 and also has many graves of the sailors that were ship wrecked on Morte Stone. The beauty continued — Ilfracombe then Combe Martin — seaside towns/villages with differentiating points of interest that makes stopping to soak it all in, mandatory.
Despite travelling only a relatively short distance, time had once again passed unnoticed. With the adjacent (by vertical separation) towns of Lynton and Lynmouth in mind, we put our blinkers on and set off in their direction. AT the fork in the road we ask ourselves ‘Do we take the high road to Lynton or the low road to Lynmouth?” A slow bus in front of us turns down the low road so the choice suddenly becomes easy. We quickly find a cute B & B and after settling in the host gives us some suggestions for some walks in the area. As we were not driving in circles looking for accommodation we thought it would be a good idea to follow her advice. Well! The zenith of all our sightseeing and viewing came to pass. This cliff top walk past the ‘Valley of the Rocks’ and on to ‘Castle Rock’ (about a 1 mile section of the 1000 mile Coastal Path) was an experience to die for (which you would if you lost your footing along the path of the steep slope with no safety barriers). Time stood still as we returned to town along a narrow country lane wedged at the base of the other side of the ‘Valley of the Rocks’ and another steep fern covered mountain where wild Exmoor ponies and feral goats could be seen grazing. After a hearty 3 course home-cooked style meal at the Butter Churn restaurant which is run by some local farmers, we rolled (last course was Roly Poly with custard) back to the B & B for the evening. This meal, as delicious as it was, set us back the princely sum of £10 each and that included drinks!!
After what is our best yet breakfast feast — home made granola, then fruit covered pancakes with maple syrup and creme fraiche, we leave Lynton for the lower village of Lynmouth. Whilst ambling along the riverside shops Gail utters a panicked OMG!, OMG!! It is as if some mysterious force has taken hold of her and an unknown fate is awaiting. “I have just been reviewing my photos on my camera” she blurts “and the last photo should not have been uploaded to Facebook”. Continuing in a panicked tone “quick, get the laptop out! We have to delete the image before anyone sees” Unfortunately, the broadband device does not work in the valley of this village and we hastily return to our car to drive back to the B & B at the top of the hill whose wireless broadband we had been using. Up the hill we chug as 1st gear is the only selection that will enable this little 1.6 litre motor to conquer a 1 in 4 slope. “Faster, faster” is the cry as another hairpin bend is skilfully negotiated. At last, the destination is in sight. “Pull in behind the red car” is the demand. “Not that red car! THAT red car!!” Dutifully obeying (with a hidden smirk) the motor is turned off. “You go in!” is the cry. With no time to argue and with just a hint of resistance, the last plea is withdrawn and Gail disappears behind the front gate of the house. A couple of minutes later a voice cries out “It doesn’t connect, You need to help!” 30 more seconds and we are happily bidding farewell to our hosts (whom must have been thinking how odd these Australian travellers were) again and we descend the hill once more to follow the river to where it meets another upstream at Watersmeet. The 2 rivers come together on a pretty plateau where one may picnic, or just relax and enjoy the gentle rushing of the waters or the singing of the birds. From here we continue through the woods via the winding, confining, tall hedge lined by-ways. We are trying to locate the diminutive grey stone church in Oare’s quite valley which overlooks the crystal clear waters of the Oare river. This is the setting in R D Blackmore’s famous story — Lorna Doone, for the heroine’s wedding to John Ridd. After some time we spot a couple having a picnic beside a bubbling brook which gurgles under a little stone bridge. We ask “Are we going the right way to the Oare church?”. In a broad Somerset accent they reply “Ah! But you have missed the church by a whisker as it is fairly hidden just off the road you have travelled about 2 miles back”. Not ones to be backtracking, we rationalise that we have already seen many akin to our blink and miss church, so we breathe in together and squeeze our little car across the Lilliputian bridge en route for Selworthy. At a vista point, Dunkery Beacon atop Dunkery Hill, the highest point on Exmoor (a stupendous moorland dotted with woods and medieval villages that have roaming wild ponies and horned sheep grazing at leisure), we ask another traveller whether it is better to take the toll road, which avoids the very steep Porlock Hill descent or the public road which we have been travelling. The traffic is light, the toll road fee is £2.50, we are travelling in a hire car and the time to travel is analogous. The car is put into 1st gear and the steep descent begins. “We haven’t seen a weir! (this journey)” we exclaim in unison and another diversion is at hand as a left turn is quickly taken, much to the annoyance of the car travelling close behind. Porlock weir is nothing more than what appears to be a large guillotine without the cut-out for the head that extends between 2 rock walls firmly planted into the mud. The ‘guillotine’ is open and just a few old yachts with their keels firmly entrenched into the mud are beyond the gate.. More interesting however is a chalked signboard announcing the location of the ‘Exmoor Cooking Company’ which specialises in Artesian bakery made on Exmoor with local produce. Past the old customs building, with a faded sign warning of what will befall any wretched smugglers, we trot and a couple of minutes later emerge hungrily with our booty of Coronation Chicken baguettes (lunch) and 4 large Venison and red wine pies that are destined to be consumed in Washfield for dinner at Chris & Marg’s beautiful home (more details later). Returning from our diversion along the entwining lanes we pause in Allerford to watch the ducks and teals paddling in the waters under a double arch stone bridge of which its only purpose is to provide access across the little stream to the single charming stone house on the other side. Arriving in Selworthy, a picture=postcard hamlet of thatched cottages, we marvel at the view over the Vale of Porlock from a memorial timber bench seat located in front of the 14th century Perpendicular church. The meandering paths across the lawns of the thatched cottages are able to be walked freely as this hamlet is another which comes under the umbrella of the National Trust. The day is passing and we move on to our next destination — Dunster. The turreted Norman-style Dunster Castle is inviting us from its hilltop location, and we respond by slipping past the ‘pay and display’ National Trust car park and locating a 2 hour free space 1/4 mile up the hill just outside the entry gate. As proud as Punch, we step up to the ticket box and present our DBH cards for entry. “Yes, all looks in order” smiles the uniformed attendant, “however I am sorry to inform you that the castle is closed on Thursdays!”. ‘At least we didn’t pay for parking and walk a half mile round trip’ we rationalise as we head off for Washford, the town in which Cleeve Abbey is located. This abbey was founded by the Cistercian monks in 1188 and has the most complete set of monastic cloister buildings in England. By now, we are both suffering from the Law of Diminishing Returns and we look at our trusty BIG Road Atlas of Britain, which has guided us throughout this amazing journey, and locate the quickest route to Tiverton — the borough of which houses the village of our friends (and Gail’s brother in law’s cousins) Chris and Marg …(Intentionally deleted). We arrive into the town of Tiverton. “What is the address?” I enquire. “I don’t know!” is the reply. The phone number we have does not answer, so we embark on our next treasure hunt to locate a phone booth with a white pages from which we could gain vital information in our quest for contact. Such a hunt would be easy, we assumed (never assume as it makes an ass out of u and me) because in the remotest locations, along the narrowest lanes, and from the most fatherly points from other humanity, there was always, like a shining beacon, a BT branded public phone booth to be found. Just as was with the case of B & B’s when you needed them most, so it was with the telephone booth. “Ah ha” was the exclamation as the light turned on. “I shall text Erin who will contact Louise (Chris and Marg’s daughter) who will contact us (on the phone with the British sim card that had no credit left) of who’s dilemma would soon be resolved. Sure enough and with a touch of luck, it was arranged that we would rendezvous with Louise outside the high school gates (where we had initially stopped upon entering Tiverton) in 10 minutes. “Drive back to the high school”” was the command said with the authority of a hirer of a cab driver. The only problems were that I was not a cab driver, the BIG road atlas was an atlas and not a street directory, we had been circling in the usual manner of trying to locate the object of such quest, the only means of immediate communications was now exhausted of credit and time was of essence with just 9 minutes and 55 seconds remaining (54, 53, 52, 51, ……….). With all the power, skill and knowledge gained from in excess of 3000 miles (that’s around 5000 kilometres) of driving these British roads, I called upon the driving gods of the land for guidance and with 1 minute to spare, we were patiently waiting for our guide to arrive. We followed Louise from Tiverton to the small rural hamlet of Washfield (in the borough of Tiverton. The setting of Chris & Marg’s acreage was magical with rolling green fields surrounded by fauna filled woods. The jet black 16 hand filly was grazing contentedly alongside the smaller white pony and the mandatory tractors were safely parked in the old stone sheds which were sited just behind the burbling brook which meandered alongside the well maintained vegetable patch. Settling in to our room in the 200 year old locally quarried stone villa we wondered whether the masons of those days had any idea of the masterpieces they were creating. After those Venison pies were delightfully devoured and washed down with a glass (or two) of a locally produced tipple we bid our hosts good night and retired happily knowing that a change of pace was now at hand.
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