Becks and I are sharing blogging duties on this road trip. You can read about our adventures on day 1, Cornwall to West Sussex here – http://www.happyrambling.com/this-is-england-blog I’ve also included a copy of it below!
This is England – Day 1 – Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire, Isle of Wight
Written by Rebecca Morgans
We bundled into the rickety lift, pulled the metal lattice door across and waited for it to bump us up to the second floor, but not before one of the coven of witches had peered into Camilla’s soul. Not unusual companions, I suppose, to find at the charmingly confused Camelot Castle Hotel, with its splendid round table posed in front of the picture window overlooking the sea, and it’s garish, psychedelic glittery pink wall hanging with decoupage butterflies. This castle hotel looked grand in its pictures and certainly has modest aspirations to be so, but with its pebble dash façade, garden gnomes in the lobby and pictures of the owner with various celebrity guests; it’s quintessential English kitsch. Quite a delight, with gorgeous views from our room in which we drank smuggled prosecco and prepared ourselves for this epic road trip.
“Cornwall, peopled mainly by Celts, but with an infusion of English blood, stands and always has stood apart from the rest of England, much, but in a less degree, as has Wales.” Sabine Baring-Gould
There’s no smoke without fire, so let’s just agree Merlin was real! He was Welsh, of course, but we won’t get into the whole English v Welsh v Cornish v Celts debacle here. Tintagel Castle, or rather the sparse ruins thereof, where the legendary King Arthur hung out with his knights and old Merlin, is a pleasant walk from the village along a brook, past some exceptional dry-stone walling and down towards the sea and Merlin’s Cave. It is through this sea tunnel that the waves brought baby Arthur to the shore, from where Merlin carried him to safety. At least that’s how it happened in Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. We just admired it from above as the last section of steps down to the cove were closed due to storm damage.
There aren’t many among our local friends who don’t have childhood memories of holidays in Cornwall. Mine are numerous, and all involved a frame tent, which took my parents hours to erect, and rain was a common feature.
Rain or not, I adore Cornwall! Mostly, I am in love with the history of pirates and smugglers, and its countless idyllic coves and beaches. But there is so much more: ancient villages, outstanding gardens (lost and found), tin mines and theatres, and pasties and cheese … and more cultural stuff that I can’t think of now because I’m too sleepy. But while we’d have loved to stay longer and do it all, we’re on a pretty tight schedule, so what better place to start our trip than with the beginnings of English folklore and legend.
“The longer one stays here the more does the spirit of the moor sink into one’s soul, its vastness, and also its grim charm. When you are once out upon its bosom you have left all traces of modern England behind you, but on the other hand you are conscious everywhere of the homes and the work of prehistoric people.” Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Devon was the last county to stop executing witches – the last proclaimed witch bought it in 1685. Good to know. Also good to know … it’s Devon, not Devonshire. It used to be Devonshire, but it’s not now! Devon is rugged, brooding, raw and down to earth. Two beautiful coastlines, more roads than anywhere else in England and two expansive moors conjuring images of baying hounds … Devon is atmospheric and enchanting.
A lot of world changing stuff began in Devon: Drake’s first voyage, the launching of the Mayflower, Darwin’s HMS Beagle set off for the Galapagos. Lots of ships set sail anyway. But more importantly, at least to us in that moment, Devon has cream tea. Clotted cream had been on my mind for some time and stopping for cream tea was the perfect end to the soul soothing walk we’d just had through Lydford Gorge to Devil’s Cauldron on the edge of Dartmoor.
Arriving just before they opened meant we had the gorge, the trees, the stream and the birds to ourselves. We took time to sit by the stream and watch the fish and listen to the birds, before approaching the few but steep and unguarded steps to the cauldron itself to stand under the mist.
“Here in the valley, the world seems to be constructed upon a smaller and more delicate scale; the fields are mere paddocks, so reduced that from this height their hedgerows appear a network of dark green threads overspreading the paler green of the grass. The atmosphere below is languorous, and is so tinged with azure that what artists call the middle distance partakes of that hue, whilst the horizon beyond is of deepest ultramarine.” Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles
Home to a giant chalk willy (attached to the properly known as Cern Giant), Dumbledore (properly known as Durdledoor) and the Jurassic Coast; Dorset heaves with rolling hills, castles, cathedrals and stunning coastline rich in fossils should you want to go hunting.
Lyme Regis is an old favourite of both of ours, so that’s where we chose. We both get pretty excited about dinosaury things, and Mary Anning was a Lyme native so in solidarity of the sisterhood we visited the museum to learn more about her work. She was (and still is) shockingly under-recognised for her discoveries in paleontology.
After dipping our feet in the English channel and dodging the (far too) many shirtless, sunburnt bank holiday weekend day trippers, we got a bit obsessed (OK, it was mostly me) about the need for a sandwich from the highly acclaimed Lyme Bay Sandwich Company. (Sandwiches were invented in Dorset by the Earl of Sandwich!) So, in true English fashion we queued for about half an hour for what turned out to be a massive disappointment. But hey. We had this idea that we’d eat a regional food in each county. If Day 1 is anything to go by this is not a sustainable goal! We’ll explode. And that won’t be pretty.
Lyme is quite hilly so the rather hurried stroll back up to the car – partly because we were behind schedule, partly because we had to get out of the throngs of people – was more exercise than we’d anticipated.
“My favourite part of spring without a doubt is when the beech trees in the New Forest break into bud … when the leaves first break out they are an incredible shade of green, and translucent … I have never seen the intensity of that green colour anywhere else in the world – it is beautiful and very special.” Chris Packham
Tiredness and an immense gormlessness hit during the 2 hour drive from Lyme to Portsmouth. Inevitably, we’ll be spending a fair amount of time in the car on this trip, but it’s about the journey as much as the destinations. Today we meandered through parts of England’s countryside that I have always loved: across Dartmoor, Blackdown Hills, Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, New Forest National Park and, for a final leg to our overnight stop, South Downs National Park. Open expanses with views over rolling hills in all shades of green dotted with copses, sheep and cows. Rapeseed fields blazing yellow across the landscape, poppy fields in early stages of emerging casting hints of red, small winding roads snaking through dappled forest; this lush, wonderful countryside that is home has kept the happy sighs and exclamations of beauty coming frequently during those hours in the car ticking off the miles from county to county.
While playing with wild ponies in the new forest would have been amazing, the logistical need to get across to the Isle of Wight took us to Portsmouth, with its exceptional harbour … home, in 2012, to the sea based element of the Olympic Games. Had we more time, we would have visited the Mary Rose, that most spectacular Tudor war ship. Cam and I both remember watching the news when she was raised in 1982. The exhibit now is mind blowing. I could stand and look at that ghost ship for hours.
Instead, we enjoyed a gawp at HMS Warrior, and a pint of Old Thumper in The Ship Ansen, before heading for the harbour pier.
Isle of Wight
“… Come to the Isle of Wight
Where, far from the noise of smoke and town,
I watch the twilight falling brown
All around a careless-ordered garden.
Close to the ridge of a noble down.” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Measuring just 23 miles by 13 miles, Isle of Wight is the second smallest county in the country (Rutland being the smallest). It has a charming old English seaside feel to it, with a stuck in the 80s vibe. I’d say we covered a fair percentage of that total mileage, having walked about a mile each way from the ferry terminal to the sea front of Ryde. That’s 15% of the width of the county covered already. It was such a beautiful evening, we could have just kept going around the coast path, past the yachts at Cowes and on towards the needles. Another time! From this trip we’ll gather places we’d like to revisit and spend more time in, but for now, following a fun fast cat crossing that blew the cobwebs away (last time Cam crossed the Solent, she swam it!), we enjoyed a perfect fish and chip supper on the sea wall, before hopping on the last fast cat back to Portsmouth. And not one single seagull tried to steal a chip!
5 counties down, 43 more to go!