EUROPE 2018- PART 2
Updated: May 30, 2022
EUROPE TRIP | March 28th-May 12th 2018
London, England \ Porlock to Boscastle, England \ Boscastle to St. Ives, England \ St. Ives to Par, England \ Par to Lyme Regis \ Lyme Regis, England \ Lyme Regis, England- Day 2 \ Lyme Regis to West Bay, England \ West Bay to Abbotsbury, England \ Abbotsbury to Dorchester \ Dorchester, England \ Dorchester, England - Day 2 \ Dorchester to London \ April in London
April 16-17, 2018
Today, CK is staying in the hotel to do battle with her version of “The Virus”. She’s freshly topped up with supplies of sustenance and tissues so I leave her to sleep the day away, hopefully. I’m out and on the loose in London all day. Tomorrow we hit the road for Porlock. FYI, in 2010, Porlock had the most elderly population in Britain, with over 40% being of pensionable age. We’ll be piling on. But today isn’t Porlock. Today is still London and there’s some bucket list punching to be done.
The goals are firmly in mind but the Underground will be avoided, at least for now. Google says it’s only a 35 minute walk to get there so, by hoof it is. From Tavistock Square down Southhampton Row and King’s Way down to the Thames, cross the bridge and there it is, the London Eye. This is a gigantic Ferris Wheel contraption with gondola cars built to carry a crowd in each one. There could easily be an enormous queue, in which case the entire notion will be scrapped for Plan B. But the line-up is negligible. A quick deciphering of the automatic ticket dispenser, then a shuffle along in a short queue, only to be bag searched and frisked again.
They are even frisking the baby carriages. Feeling so much safer now I board one of the pods with 8 or so assorted strangers and go for a 30 minute spin. It really is an excellent view. And probably is not worth the money: 27 pound, $32.50 US, or $1.08 per minute. And then they have the cheek to ask me to pay more for pictures they snag of me on two different occasions. Apparently Coca-Cola Corporation is responsible. It is an impressive machine, a wonder of engineering, and definitely a bucket list item. But that’s it. Once is plenty.
The next target is the Royal Observatory which is a neighbor to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Museum is second priority if there’s time. First, the route needs finding. London is a serious maze and without some kind of guide system or several maps or a local for hand holding, there’s no chance for a rube like me. Luckily Google still has 68% battery life. The smarter-than-me phone says that it’s a two hour stroll from the London Eye to Greenwich. I think not. So, the blue dots on my screen point toward Waterloo Station, the next place to find an Underground carriage going that direction.
Waterloo Station is a sprawling hub of trains both surface and subterranean. To the country mouse from Lopez Island the cacophony of signs and direction arrows is bewildering. There must be an Underground entrance but it isn’t on the street, this time it is inside the station. But there’s more time to waste figuring out an infernal change machine. I need 30p to get into the men’s loo but all I have are the pound coins. The machine has no explanation or instructions on it. No doubt air pollution and spittle from intensely focused cursing has dissolved the lettering straight off the thing over the past 20 odd years. My strategy is to stand there like a dope and watch others use the machine, thereby learning its secrets. Clever me, I suss it, and I’m in to do my business in good order before ye olde bladder gives out. With renewed vigor lively progress is made toward the Underground. An escalator carries me steeply down a bushel of meters. Off that and around a bend there is a moving floor 300 feet long. At the end, another escalator carries down to another depth. Ears are starting to pop. Now a series of tunnels winds this way and that for dozens of meters. Another escalator upward now. And a set of stairs down. There are other people in here with me or I’d be worried that this route was a cruel hoax.
Eventually the platform is before me but the subway map on the wall doesn’t show the stop that should be there. WTF, thinks I. So I look at the same map on the opposite wall and there it appears. It must be in my head. They couldn’t have made that kind of mistake, right? So, catching the train now with a quick double check to confirm that it’s the right one. Canary Wharf is the stop. The train halts at places named Mudchute, Canada Water, Abbey Road, Pudding Mill Lane. So much to explore, so little time. I’m off at the Canary Wharf stop but find myself in another large building with no clear signs for direction. Google tells me to go across Jubilee Park which I can see outside, then take a left and …. bang, straight into a building. This is a most modern part of London, the steel and glass skyscraper part and it’s very different from Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury. I approach this building with caution, checking the phone map repeatedly to make sure but it insists that I walk through the building before turning to the right again. “You can see a lot just by looking”, a tactic used frequently by yours truly. It works again as I observe others breezing right through the door.
People are treating it like a public space even though it looks like the forbidden territory of some Illuminati world domination conspirators. I walk through it, past an ordinary coffee stand, and out the other side, voila. The map is happy with my move and it’s off to solve the next puzzle: how to catch the next rail service to Greenwich. The map guides me to another place that doesn’t make sense until I realize that what I’m looking for is above me. There must be an escalator and, poof, there it is. Things are working out. My train rolls up and I’m off to Greenwich which will be anticlimactic after having conquered the public transit here.
Greenwich seems like a small satellite town reluctantly in London’s gravitational field, unable to reach escape velocity. It has it’s own vibe. The Cutty Sark, the famous old Clipper Ship, is set up as a museum. I didn’t come to see it but I walk through the gate peeking at as much as I can without paying the 10 pounds. Then onward to the Royal Observatory on foot.
It’s a lovely walk through Greenwich Park up to the Observatory stuck on top of a mound that was once the site of Greenwich Castle which was demolished so the Observatory could take its place. This is where the 17th century wizards of astronomical things tried to catalog the movements of planets, moons of Jupiter, eclipses, and star positions in order to solve the puzzle of longitudinal navigation at sea. Things weren’t going so well until they began to use timepieces to do it. Then they made progress. As a consequence of all of this they established what eventually became known as the Prime Meridian, 0 degrees, the point from which longitudinal measurements begin. To one side is west, to the other is east. So, this is a bit of a pilgrimage. I get my selfie and go to inspect the lovely old building and its ghosts.
There’s some time to spare so a quick stroll down to the National Maritime Museum is next. I know what I want to see there, as well. Lord Nelson’s breeches, stockings, and coat with the bullet hole through the top shoulder. There are some other interesting things there as well but that’s what was on the menu.
Back to Greenwich where I spied a pub that begged to be visited: The Gipsy Moth. I get a pint. Yes it’s a fine pub.
The trip back to the hotel is much easier than the route to Greenwich. CK is still not feeling well. I run out to get her some soup and some juice.
Today is travel day. But first we go to Heathrow to meet Barbara, CK’s BFF, who is joining us for the next leg of the trip. She comes in on Icelandic Air and we’re off to collect a rental car. Our goal is Porlock in Cornwall, about 3 hours drive from Heathrow. Somehow, this process takes all day. We manage fairly well, considering. Barbara does the driving while Tim and CK conspire to navigate. We only make a couple of bobbles but they are quickly corrected. We’re spending one night in a B&B here, then on to another town tomorrow. We’ll figure out what to explore in the morning. But tonight it’s a pub meal at The Ship Inn and hopefully a solid sleep. We’re plum out of London, now, and into the world of fresh grass, sheep, mud, and country pubs where dogs are welcome. Now the walking sticks will start coming out of the bag.
April 18, 2018
We wake in Porlock, a sleepy village of 1,440 of whom 600 or so are of retirement age. We’re adding to that number only temporarily. Our stay here is only for one night as we plan to work our way down the north Cornish Coast by car until we find ourselves in Lyme-Regis by the weekend. We arrive yesterday afternoon after several hours of navigation in our rental car out of London, Barbara doing the pilot duty since she owns experience driving on the left side. The Sea View B&B is quaint, well used, and a confined space that we’ve become familiar with somehow.
Jill is our landlady, a cheerful person who seems pleased to see us. She turns out to be a darn good breakfast cook as we find out next day. She leads us to our room…at the top of the stairs. With rare exception this is the room we always draw at these British B&B joints. It happens too often just to be chance. But what is the deciding factor? For now it will simply be an ongoing mystery until sufficient data is gathered to form a working theory.
Our Tuesday evening meal is in the Ship Inn, a friendly, quiet pub and a safe place for dogs to bring their owners if they are well behaved. Barbara orders game stew, CK has Sea Bass, and I order a Bream. CK is happy with her fish. Mine is overcooked and swimming in all manner of cooking oil and butter until there’s little fish left to taste. “What’s your point?”, CK sniffs as she enviously eyes my puddles of butter. Barbara’s stew has a lovely sauce but the venison is roasted, boiled, and rendered far beyond its tolerance. Succulence fled the scene long ago. Nevertheless, this food sustains us until breakfast next morning at the Sea View which Jill delivers to perfection.
The breakfast really is done well. Somebody in Porlock can cook! But more about our room at the top of the stairs. Luggage must be wrangled up two flights, obviously. The door is made for a Hobbit and I must duck or grouse. Inside, we see that the ceiling follows the roof line. 70% of it is crowded in at an angle. There’s scarcely a place I can stand up fully. The sink leaks from the fittings but a well aimed twist of the wrist makes it narrowly functional. The bathroom light is 4 feet away from the door. One of us must move to a different part of the room if the other moves toward the bathroom. No complaints, though. This is our 4th trip to the UK and we’ve seen more than one place like this. The worst was in Winchcombe. You’ll have to scroll way back in my page to find the tale of that one. We get some sleep and a wash up in the morning, that’s all we can ask.
Porlock is a picturesque village and it has a church. CK must go inside. It is a rule. We walk around the town and pretty much see it all in 20 minutes. Back to the car and down the road to what they call the Porlock Weir. This turns out to be a kind of elaborate fish trap used in decades past. Now it is for tourists to stroll around, have a lunch in a pub, or an ice cream or buy a kite. We take a short walk on the trail above the beach and give our regards to a gang of sheep who come galloping toward us in hope that we might be bringing them a bale of fresh hay. They are disappointed but take it well. Back to the car for a drive down to Boscastle, our next sleep. Along the way we stop to visit one of the few old manor houses in this area belonging to the National Trust. This was the estate of the Chichester family in the mid 19th century. Things went south when the Lord of the Manor fell ill with brucellosis, died and left a widow with unmanageable debts. In 1949, the last Chichester gave the place up to the Trust.
Rumbling down the narrow roads, our black VW extra mini van is piloted by CK for a while. This is her rookie attempt at driving on the left hand side. Barbara is there next to her coaching and chirping support. I’m in the back being verrrry quiet unless I am spoken to. The question I’m asked most frequently is, “How close was that rock wall?”. My answer is sometimes alarming. With CK at the wheel our progress instantly drops to half the speed limit and a number of cars stack up behind us containing drivers who are devising new and creative ways of bemoaning their fate. She isn’t insensitive to this and pulls into the lay-bys when she can, letting them pass. Barbara takes over in about an hour and our progress resumes at a normal pace.
Eventually we find Boscastle, another charming village on the Cornish coast. We find our hotel and our room, again at the top of the stairs but this time with an additional, multi-yard winding path through a rabbit warren of hallways to reach it. There is room to walk around each other, I have headroom, this time, but there is no desk and only one chair. We cannot figure out how to turn on the bedside lamps. There is nothing that looks like a switch anywhere. Touching them doesn’t work. I even tried clapping. Nothing. We’re too tired to go downstairs to ask them.
The local pub is the Cobweb. We go in for a pint before dinner. It’s a good pub and well worn by locals and tourists. Decor is the usual pub stuff except for hundreds of old jugs and bottles stuck to the ceiling beams. Our evening meal is at the Riverside Inn which is also our hotel. We aren’t in the mood for big food so we have a bit of bread and soup. A nice way to end the day. Our weather all day has been brilliant sun and a steady breeze of 10-15 mph. The forecast says we’ll get the same through Friday, but on Saturday it begins to get dirty and looks to stay that way for a while.
We’ll figure out what to do with the day tomorrow at breakfast. The main goal is to drive to St Ives, our next sleep.
BOSCASTLE TO ST. IVES, ENGLAND
April 19, 2018
The day starts in Boscastle. Our sleep is accompanied by the sound of rushing water. The local river is directly beneath our window. On the hillside across from us is a grassy patch that extends under the trees sprouting hundreds of islands of yellow narcissus in ridiculous peak beauty and unmolested by deer, miraculously. A mallard hen is busy patrolling the river below warding off potential rivals for her space. Her quacking is epic. She’s at it all morning. Our breakfast is included with the room and we take full advantage since we aren’t sure where lunch will present itself later on. We plan to investigate the Tintagel Castle site as well as another manor house of the ancient 1%ers calling itself Trerice. But first, a thorough assessment of Boscastle is to be done.
This is a village very much attached to the sea and to a river that divides the settlement straight down the center until it empties into the small harbor. It seems custom made for tourists to marvel at its charm. We learn that several buildings are reconstructions since the catastrophic flood of 2004 when a rain storm produced such copious pulses of water down the river that it swept several houses away as well as a car park from up river. Many cars were swept out to sea never to be seen again. Amazingly, nobody was hurt. By chance I visited a small cabin filled with paintings done by the shopkeeper’s wife. One of the paintings show a building I had seen earlier on top of a bluff overlooking the sea. I am curious about it and the fellow proceeds to explain. The building is actually a folly, a reproduction of a once useful structure built up and down the coast to shelter lookouts called Huers. These men would scan the sea from their post on the lookout for schools of sardines called Pilchards in these parts. When the schools came into view the Huers would run back to the harbor to alert the fisherman to get moving. And this is where the term “Hue and Cry” originates. And so, what do you say to that except, “Thank you. I’m so much smarter now!”
Of course, everyone is selling things here but we cannot. There’s stuff like Whartleberry and Chuckleberry Jam. We simply have no room in our cases. This will be true everywhere we go and go we must. Onward to the Tintagel Castle which is only about 5 miles down the road. This is a National Heritage site which means that our National Trust membership is useless at the ticket counter. Drat. Even though people have been living in these parts since late Roman times the only ruins here date from the 13th-15th century. These dates make it a bit difficult to uphold the veracity of the popular legend that King Arthur was concieved here when Uther Pendragon, in disguise, got it on with another nobleman’s wife in a one-night stand. That’s one of the stories. The other most notable is the story of Tristan and Iseult, star crossed lovers whose courtship takes place here. The walled garden of their ultra-romantic date nights still exists as a ruin. We hike across the site, climbing bunches of stairs, and inspecting dark age house foundations. Back at the souvenir shop a fellow is handing out free sips of Mead flavored with chili peppers. Nice, but alas… no room in the luggage for a bottle of that, either.
We’re off in our black VW chariot again. This time we are commanding Google to guide us to Trerice, a manor house with origins in the 16th century. It has some other ties to the TV drama Poldark but I’m totally unclear as to what they are. It turns out that 25% of the house is old. The rest of it has been progressively repaired, updated, and/or remodeled throughout the centuries. The most modern part of it dates from the 1950’s. It is a museum managed by the National Trust but a display of Elizabethan armor is pretty much the oldest thing they’ve got. The garden is the most interesting bit for Barbara and I but it is scarcely active this early in the season. We do lunch in their cafe. It’s OK but there is no ice cream. How on Earth does a place like this not have ice cream?
Onward, this time we’re heading toward St. Ives, our next sleep. Google points us in a direction we have grave doubts about. It demands that we head down a hedge-rowed lane wide enough only for us. This is a journey of 60 miles. Each of us is silently calculating how long it will take us to do that on a road like this. After a few minutes of polite debate and a 3 point U turn we decide to obey the Oracle and go. For the next hour or so it is Mr. Toad’s wild ride through narrow country lanes used mostly by farmers and tiny villages unaccustomed to slack-jawed tourists. CK and I are team-navigating. She is using the car’s built-in nav system while I’m using the smarter-than-me phone. Between them we find the intersections, roundabouts, merges, and turns well enough to get us to St. Ives.
Here is where we meet Barbara’s lovely friends, Alistair and Rosie. They live here. They kindly invite us for G&T. After a nice chat they guide us to our hotel, Queens, in the old town. Then it’s off to a favorite restaurant where they play Beatles for hours and we chat the evening away until we’re nearly thrown out.
It’s been a terrific day with excellent weather and good company.
April 20, 2018
The gulls beyond the window in our room at the top of the stairs at the Queens Hotel are circling, screeching, impatient for their breakfast. Not only is our room at the top of the stairs, it is at the end of the hallway at the top of the stairs. Stair count: 50. It is our special luck as my friend, the very good Sir Pepper K., will say. This room is overly hot with headroom pinched-in matching the roof line, being at the top of the building, you see, but it is large enough that we don’t have to fall over each other to move around. The bath is roomy and the plumbing is praise worthy. But other mysteries confound. Why is there no desk space? Setting up the writing machine involves pulling out the top dresser drawer and stuffing it with a pillow in order to support the lap top. This way there is room to sit in a wooden chair with knees under the drawer in order to have the keyboard in a reasonable position for typing. This isn’t the first time these improvisations have been necessary. At 6 am, there are only last minute edits to make before posting. By 6:30, yours truly is out on the streets of St. Ives hunting for coffee.
The hotel doesn’t have any functioning services before 8:30. Outside, nobody but the street cleaning crew is functioning either. Asking a city employee if anything is open for coffee at this hour results in directions to the Yellow Canary, a coffee shop 20 meters away. With thanks and a quick walk up to the door and… it’s shut. This becomes time to stroll around town while nobody but the garbage collectors are about. By 7:15 the Yellow Canary is open well enough to provide some coffee while photo edits are completed. At 8:30 it is time to go back to the hotel, meet CK, and get our included breakfast. It is all the usual food except for the sausage which turns out to be the best in the UK so far. It’s the new benchmark.
Soon we’re off again in the black VW. The plan for today is to visit Mount St. Michael which is 9 miles or so from St. Ives. We’re there in a twinkling, parked, and gazing out at this island in the bay with a castle perched on its top. At this moment the tide is in. The causeway is only available for 4 hours between tides so we must pay 2 pounds each to hop a boat over. It’s a National Trust site, so our cards get us in without the hefty fee. We’ve seen several of these kinds of castles. There is a perceptible pattern in how they are set up and presented. After the pay gate there is usually a cafe and gift shop. In the castle the visitor is guided along by ropes from one room to another. Often there is an official minder or watcher, guard perhaps, in some rooms to warn folks and toddlers from grabbing certain objects or touching paintings. Sometimes they are well informed and answer questions except for the silly ones, my specialty. This one is no different. The special effect is that this amazing pile of masonry is perched aloft on such a solitary rock above the sea.
We learn that people have been using this location since 3,000 BC. Phoenicians came here to trade for tin as long ago as 400 BC. Romans used it too. In the 11th century the monks of the Abbey of Mt-St-Michel in Normandy conducted their business here for 300 years. Busy place. During the War of the Roses, a garrison of 80 men held off a besieging army of 6,000 for 26 days. Today we can walk around, gaze at the view, and admire the excellent rock garden beneath the southwest wall of the keep. It soon becomes lunchtime and the cafe offers a Cornish Pasty which is washed down with a Cornish Lager. I’m getting the hang of this. In the meantime the tide has gone out enough for us to walk the causeway back to the mainland.
It is late in the afternoon by the time we arrive at our next destination. It is the Eden Project. This is an environmental experimentation project using gigantic greenhouses called BioSpheres. Getting here involves more Mr Toad’s Wild Ride down narrow farmer’s lanes and spinning through roundabouts. After a couple of wrong-ish turns and unintended visits to out-of-the-way villages we safely arrive. Strolling up to the ticket booth we are stopped in our tracks. A quick calculation informs us that admission for the three of us will be approximately $115 US. Closing time is 1.5 hours away. We decline and it isn’t a difficult decision. Too bad. This looks like a fascinating thing to investigate. Google it for more info.
By near evening we arrive in Par, Cornwall. We are at the Royal Inn. We enter through the bar which has a rather evil smell. This fades as we follow the fellow over to the hotel reception area. Our room is NOT at the top of the stairs this time! Instead, our window gazes upon the parking lot. But we have a desk! And the bathroom has heat! And the beds are correct! Bad news: the pub is attached to the hotel and live music plays tonight until 12. Oy….
Tomorrow we plan some sightseeing in the morning hours but by noon we must surrender the car at the Exeter Airport. Then it is a taxi to Lyme-Regis to begin another phase of senior citizen adventure, this time on foot. Every so often we are reminded that this is a very good time of year to be doing this kind of tour. In the summer these cramped towns, narrow roads, and beaches are completely jammed with escapees from the big cities as well as travelers from around the world. We would not want to be here then. The author Bill Bryson says that any 30 minute journey becomes 2 hours in peak season. We believe it.
April 21, 2018
We begin the day in Par, Cornwall, at the Royal Inn. Our room is not at the top of the stairs only because this is a single story structure. Part of this building contains the pub. Luckily the Friday night live music show is sufficiently muffled by doors and walls; peace is maintained in this wing.
This is the last day of our waterbug dash across Cornish Country with the aid of a rental car. We must be at the Exeter Airport Hertz office sometime this afternoon for the turn-in. Meanwhile, Barbara and CK have hatched a plan that will brilliantly fill the day. First stop is Buckland Abbey just outside of Plymouth. Then, time permitting, they have their eye on a brief walk out on Dartmoor just to say we did.
Buckland Abbey was originally built by a Cistercian monastic order in the 12th century. In the 16th century Henry VIII chased out the monks and sold the buildings and property to his friend Sir Richard Grenville the Elder who converted the abbey church into a house. In 1545, Richard Grenville the Younger became the owner when Elder died at sea. In 1580, Francis Drake, soon to become Sir F.D., returned from raiding the Spaniards in the New World with millions in treasure. Elizabeth I was suitably impressed and rewarded him with a good share of the loot among other things. Sir F.D. took a very small amount of it and purchased Buckland Abbey from Sir Richard the Younger in 1581.
This was a well located estate for Sir Francis as he would only have to take a short stroll to a viewpoint near his home to inspect the goings on in the port of Plymouth. Drake lived there 15 years until his death in the Caribbean during an ill-considered attempt to conquer Panama. In 1948 it was bequeathed to the National Trust after having been in the possession of Drake’s brother’s descendants for all that time.
I’m particularly interested in this place after having read a good bit about Drake’s voyage to the Pacific and around the world. There are several of his old relics here, bits of armor, his drum, the earliest portrait of him, a painting of his brother’s daughter wearing a jeweled pendant given to Sir F. by Elizabeth I after he defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588.
It is kind of spooky to be walking around in his house. The Great Hall has been preserved in a state mostly faithful to its 16th century style when Drake lived there. Terrific stuff. In 1883 a bronze statue of Drake was erected in Tavistock but only recently the plaster model of this statue was discovered and restored. It is now displayed at Buckland.
Another surprise came in 2014. The caretakers at Buckland needed a painting to put on one of the dining hall walls. The Trust has a lot of old paintings in storage so the art mavens picked one out and sent it over. After displaying it for a time, an expert happened to see it and suggested that it be cleaned and researched more carefully. They did and it turns out to be an authentic Rembrandt self-portrait, previously unknown to the art world. And there it is, hanging on the wall after a thorough cleaning. It is worth a cool $45 million US if it were to be sold, which it won’t be. If that were to happen it would disappear into China or Saudi Arabia never to be seen again. We’re extra lucky to see it at all since it is soon scheduled for an extended world tour and won’t be back until late 2019.
This place has an enormous ancient barn, a terrific space for oversized art installations. They stage them here regularly. This time there’s something called a Cosmic Egg. It’s nearly 15 feet tall made of mirror pieces. The artist says a tiny speck of light on an edge of one of the mirrors represents our universe. Ok! I’ll buy into that. Tours of estates are often sleep inducing experiences but not this one. I’m all eyes. What a great day. We spend so much time here that we have to scotch our walk on Dartmoor. Save it for next time!
Onward to the airport to dump the Black VW Touristmobile. We grab a cab from there down to Lyme Regis where we will stay for 3 nights ahead of our walking tour.
April 22, 2018
In Cornwall we would often hear “Right you are, my darling (my love, my sweetheart)…”. And the “my darling” would come out with particular emphasis when we were being told where to go, what to do, or what the kitchen was sadly out of at the moment. But we don’t hear that any more because we aren’t in Cornwall. We are in Dorset.
Lyme Regis is a sea-side town on the extreme western edge of Dorset. It is part of what gets promoted around here as the Jurassic Coast on the strength of the fossils commonly washed out of the local bluffs by the sea. Barbara and I were having a chuckle noting that if it weren’t for Steven Spielberg and Pixar most folks wouldn’t know what ‘Jurassic’ referred to.
Anyhow, many of these fossils are sold in shops as souvenirs. Of course, the large important ones are dealt with by professionals. Mary Anning patrolled these beaches in the first half of the 19th century. She uncovered two complete plesiosaur skeletons and the first ichthyosaur skeleton. Her discoveries led to important changes in scientific consideration about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. We noticed that she was featured in an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London a few days ago. “She sells seashells by the sea shore.”, is a school kid’s tongue twister devised with her in mind.
Christine and Barbara sign up for a ‘fossil walk’, a guided tour focusing on this topic. I pass on the opportunity thinking that better progress can be made on my end by attending to some laundry. They may have become smarter but I got cleaner. When they returned they spent some time cleaning the beach mud off their boots. Uh huh. This is an afternoon event so we have a free morning. We spend it walking around the edge of town.
The idea is to walk up to some high ground above town and admire an expansive view of the coastline and the English Channel and get some exercise. We can only manage one of the two. The entire morning is smothered by a moderately dense fog reducing visibility to about 1/4 mile. We’re following our own interpretation of a map, as well, so there are frequent stops while we debate route. CK spots a church. Thankfully there are services at this hour or we’d have to inspect it. There is plenty of mud to dodge too. Our walking sticks are getting their first good workout. We manage to navigate the way pretty well with only a few chunky bits clinging to our trousers. The path back to town ends strategically at a cafe and wine bar which cleverly gives one to think that a happy discovery has been made. It captures us and we order lunch.
Once food is consumed, I’m back to the inn while CK and Barbara are out having their fossil walk. Later tonight it will be dinner out but not in any kind of fancy joint. It will be something like fish and chips with beer. We have to be nimble, though. It is Sunday and they roll up the sidewalks around here.
Tomorrow we are planning to walk to a nearby village and grab a bus back for our last evening in Lyme Regis.
LYME REGIS, ENGLAND- Day 2
April 23, 2018
We arrive in Lyme Regis on a Saturday afternoon. Today is Monday. Our UK walking tour begins this morning with a kind of odd one-way walk along the coastal trail toward the west in a section called the Undercliffs. We are doing 6.5 miles from Lyme Regis to Axmouth village and from there taking a bus back to our room at the Albany Inn, a very tidy B&B with few things to criticize but there are some. Such as, there is no heat in the bath/shower room despite the tall, shiny hot water towel rack beaming away in tantalizing chromium glory. Cold as a stone. Inquiry reveals that it is part of the pre-remodeled ‘old house’ and its antiquated systems. It only heats up when sufficient hot water is drawn from the tank to trip its burners which cycles water through it and therefore through to our towel rack.
So, we would have to turn on the hot water in our bathroom and waste it for 30 minutes to get any effect. And since our room is at the top of the stairs, the water has further to flow diminishing the heated water that may or may not come to our towel rack. And, there is no desk in the room. There couldn’t be because there is no space for one. But seriously, this is a nice place and clearly they’ve worked very hard to make it so. Breakfast is prompt and very good with everything a hungry walker could want. Speaking of which…
After breakfast we hit the dusty trail in full dress gear: day pack, gaiters, and collapsible walking stave fully extended. We have no idea what we are in for. The next 6+ miles is on a trail that parallels the coast between Lyme Regis and Axmouth near Seaton. It is a track cut over ancient landslides that have peeled away from the headland over the ages leaving sheer cliffs as evidence. This makes the terrain remarkably rough.
The trail twists this way, then that way, up hill, down hill from one gully to the next. The way is often so steep that wooden stairs are installed to allow folks to climb. If they weren’t, the slopes would be impossibly greasy. And it is full of muck holes. A lot of folks use this trail and the boot traffic (plus weather) has turned many sections of it into hopeless pits that only a hog could love. But we persist. We find a way to dodge all of the wallows. We’re also lucky that we have dry, cool weather. This trail has all the potential of being really miserable in rain. And we really only get one breathtaking view in one very specific spot. The rest of the vistas are of the English Channel through twiggy branches.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t enjoying the day. When we aren’t dodging muddy disaster or struggling up brutal stair climbs we’re enjoying a concert of birdsong and carpets of flowers. Most of the flowers belong to a certain wild onion or garlic that loves this part of the world. And it is delicious. It could easily be used as a substitute for chives with a faint garlic note. We enjoy three kinds of orchids, daffodils, narcissus, something called a Chalky Milk Weed, lots of wild horseradish, primroses, and different ferns, tons of ivy among other things.
By the time we get to Axmouth we feel like survivors. It takes us about 6 hours to walk 6+ miles, less that 1 mph. Still, arrival at the Ship Inn pub is timely. CK orders some veggie soup just before they stop serving. I down a half pint of Guinness before we bolt out of the door 5 minutes before the bus arrives. We have to catch it or wait another hour.
Back in Lyme Regis there’s a bit of clean up before tucking into some pasta at an Italian joint. We drain a bottle of Sangiovese too. Another superb day.
Tomorrow we have a 10 mile track to navigate and a lot more climbing. I’m worried about the weather which could be dirty and wet. We’ll see.
April 24, 2018
We wake up in Lyme Regis with another day of walking ahead. Our hosts, Toby and Nikki, bring us our made-to-order breakfast as we open up the guide book and spread the maps for a thorough examination. Today we have a 10 mile walk to West Bay. It begins with an interpretation of the weather forecast. My phone app strongly suggests that rain will overtake us about noon. Barbara has a different set of data that leaves the percentage of rain at only 10 all day. So, in addition to an extended day on foot we’ll be having the Battle of the Weather Apps. We pack our gear expecting the worst and hoping for the best. The route has us hugging the coastline walking east except for a diversion that loops us through the village of Charmouth due to slides that took out some of the old path a few years ago.
We trudge along nicely with CK regularly consulting our guide book for detailed directions. About 11 am, the English Channel decides to do what it does best. It envelopes us in a windy mist. Visibility drops to 1/8 mile or so. This makes our guidebook more important. We aren’t able to see signposts across a field, for instance. The good news: no rain yet and the wind is at our back. At various stages we must halt for a serious navigational discussion since we are probably looking at several boot tracks angling off in three directions before disappearing into a white-out. May the gorse be with us. Other folks are walking here as well, so we take advantage asking directions.
Mostly we get it right and their answers only confirm what we’ve decided. Then there’s the tall, dark stranger who materializes out of the mist. He’s alone, standing in a sheep meadow in street shoes and slacks and no jacket on a clammy day at least half a mile from the nearest car park. He’s helpful and guides us in the right direction to Eype Mouth but we leave with an unsolved mystery. What is he doing there? We’ll never know so we make things up. This is how mystery novels are hatched, right?
We arrive at Sea Town, a village along the route, after a series of hill climbs. The mist is getting denser and the wind stronger. Still no rain, hooray. We dive into the pub but it is full to bursting with about 20 people in a very snug two-room establishment. Every table is occupied. It is very humid with the smell of beer, food, sweaty walkers, and wet dogs of which there are four. We stay for a bite but it takes a while. We don’t get going again for 45 minutes. We still have 3.5 miles to walk until we reach West Bay, our next sleep.
As we head up the next hill, both fog and wind gather focus and bear down on us with renewed enthusiasm. As we ascend into the mist the landscape takes on the qualities of a hallucination as things seem to appear and disappear suddenly. We learn to expect random wind gusts to whip our walking sticks out of our grip or stagger us backward as the wind swirls sometimes behind us, other times against us. This is very different from yesterday’s walk. Instead of jungle-like forest with birdsong and carpets of flowers, we have windswept bluffs, grassy fog-bound meadows, and ghostly patches of blooming gorse and blackthorn.
Arriving in West Bay, we’re all ready to finish walking. The West Bay Inn has rooms above its pub and restaurant. Ours is spacious, an oddity in our experience. It has a desk. It is at the top of the stairs. No, there is no damned heat. The radiators, including the one in the bathroom, are colder than a ticket-taker’s smile at Lord Combover’s Inauguration. We’re a little mystified. It didn’t rain on us but if it had we wouldn’t be able to dry out. Hrmm. Oh, and by the way, Barbara is the winner of the Battle of the Weather Apps. We are pushed and shoved by the wind but dry, no rain! By sundown we’re in our rooms after a fair meal in the pub downstairs but luck is fading on the weather front. Rain is starting. This doesn’t seem promising for tomorrow’s walk.
April 25, 2018
We begin in the West Bay Inn in, you guessed it, West Bay. Our room is spacious with a bay window. The bathroom is cavernous by any standard. But there’s not a breath of heat from any source. They give us a halogen space heater that labors an hour to dry the paltry moisture from my boots. It fails. The pistol style hair dryer pinned to the wall offers the superior BTU output. It is a puzzlement. Nice duvees, though, and the bed is comfy. Breakfast is the usual B&B fare around these parts. My soft poached eggs are properly handled and so is the coffee, so I’m chuffed about it (I’m picking up the lingo! Chuffed means pleased) even if the beans came out of a can and the toast from a plastic bag at the super.
We have another 10 miles of marching to make our next stop at Abbotsbury. The weather forecast looks only a little better than it did yesterday. We pack our foul weather gear, gloves, scarves, and a determined attitude. Out the door and instantly climb 200 feet up to the clifftop above the beach. The breakfast is doing flips down there by the time we reach level terrain but the planet flattens out nicely and becomes a lovely stroll on a bright, breezy day. Once in a while we turn around to gaze down the coast to admire how far we’ve walked already. Lyme Regis is still visible in the distance but is becoming an unrecognizable blob. As we progress along this coastline we’re beginning to understand a portion of the culture here. It is holiday vacation land.
Dropping down from our grassy cliff top there is an expansive beach of what they call shingle, actually ocean scoured rounded pebbles, very ball-bearing like. Just at the edge of this are dozens and dozens of manufactured homes, fairly new ones. Wherever there is a break in the cliff face and a beach appears, these habitations pop up like rectangular metal mushrooms all set neatly beside each other in regimental order. This is April so everything is empty. Only the odd walker and his dog, plus some barking mad travelers from the US are on the beach. But imagine what this place is like in the summer? Nope. Nope. Nope.
The map promises an encounter with a village called Burton Bradstock. But first, the guidebook puts us on a vast beach of solid shingle. To tread on this stuff is like breaking through a thin frozen crust of snow, sinking two inches with each step. Laborious stuff. There is a mile of this before reaching the village. A search for better ground to walk on is a fail. This is the toughest mile of the day. On a hot day this would have melted us. Instead, the breeze is serving up a welcome blow-dry from behind. We may be working hard but we’re comfy doing it. There is refreshment ahead. The Hive Beach Cafe is right off the beach. It looks nice enough. Perhaps a bit too nice. The first thing facing the front door is a well stocked bar and bright young faces behind it. The young man asks if he may help. Being mostly thirsty my choice is a ginger beer. He rolls his eyes a bit and politely informs me that they don’t happen to be very busy right now so they might serve me the ginger beer, maybe. Then he shoos me outside to sit and wait for him to wait upon me. After 5 more minutes he appears without the drink and asks us if we’d like to order. By then we are packing up to go. We dismiss him and hike on. The tall dark stranger was yesterday’s mystery. This one is the prize winner for today.
Now departing the beach to climb a ridge. A small wrong turn to be negotiated and some seriously deep cow prints to dodge but soon it is a ridge top with a solid carpet of short grass underfoot and commanding views in all directions. It’s an easy walk from here down through the sheep pastures to Abbotsbury. All day over our shoulders black rain squalls are threatening from the west. The rain obliterates the view behind us on numerous occasions. These squalls roll up on our six just before moving on to the northeast, spitting drops as they go. But we’re dry. We stay just ahead of the rain all day. Brilliant. It really was a great day and a superb route except for that mile of beach pebbles. Wow.
We are at a B&B that conducts a tea & cake shop during the day. Our room at the top of the stairs features the familiar attic-like pinched in ceiling that causes me to walk about bent in half. Poor CK already thumped her noggin on the plasterboard. She’s ok. No, there is no heat in the bathroom and no shower either. There is a tub but one must perform an extreme hunch over to avoid banging one’s head on the angled ceiling. That said, it has many charming and idiosyncratic features of an ancient building. The landlords are super friendly. As I tap out the blog in their tea room (there’s no space in the room at the top of the stairs for the lap top) the good fellow offers to make me a pot of tea.
Outstanding. Tomorrow we may indulge in Plan B for cowardly reasons.
April 26, 2018
The sun finds us in Abbotsbury, Dorset in the Abbotsbury Tea Rooms. There are more tea and cake shops per square foot in this village than any other such place. From one street corner near our B&B I can see 4 of them. Around the corner and up some side streets there must be more. Not even Starbuck’s location patterns are this dense except for once upon a time on Robson Street in Vancouver I found an intersection that had a Starbucks on each corner. Now there’s only one. But Abbotsbury is Tea Room Central. The one we’re staying in promises coffee at 8 and breakfast at 8:30. This is typical B&B behavior with minor exceptions but the hours are too late for my morning habits. Preferably, coffee should be ready by 5:30 or 6 at the latest. The only way that happens is to fire up the electric kettle in the room and open a packet of freeze dried coffee crystals into a tiny cup. Yuck. I grumble about it but, in this case, the coffee at our B&B is worth the wait. It is very good. The rest of breakfast is excellent too.
The sausages served here are in a solid 2nd place to those from Queens in St. Ives. More about the room: it is cramped and there is a bathtub instead of a shower. The tub is crammed into the lower edge of the ceiling /roof line, so one really has to be a bit of an acrobat the squeeze in and out of the thing. And the hot water tap in the sink has only two settings: 100% on or 100% off. The out-of-control hot water wants to shoot over the side of the sink onto my stocking feet and the floor. Tricky business. For marks, B+ for the friendly landlords, nice breakfast, clean rooms, and comfy beds. Demerits for reckless endangerment of the cranium, bizarre plumbing, and egregious absence of bathroom heat.
Our walk project for the day is discussed with a broader range of options than we’ve considered up to now. The guidebook describes the next 10 miles as routine until it goes off-script and directs us across a long stretch of territory where there are no sign posts or direction markers. Not only that but we’re told that some routes may be overgrown with Himalayan Blackberries and we may need to hack through them. We take a hopeful look at Plan B. This involves taking a bus from Abbotsbury to Dorchester and there finding a walk out to another National Trust site, the house Thomas Hardy (novelist and poet, 1840-1928, “Far From the Madding Crowd”, “The Return of the Native” among others) was born in and lived until the age of 34.
By the time the toast and tea arrive on the table we’ve all agreed that the bus to Dorchester and the Plan B walk have won out. CK and Barbara accurately determine the arrival of our bus and we’re off on a double decked local that appears far too large for the road particularly when a huge lorry approaches in the opposite lane. The pilots of both vehicles slow to a crawl, press toward the hedgerows, and barely squeak past each other at a creeping pace while the plants scrape the paint. Then it’s off again at a gallop.
We survive the bus and find our hotel in Dorchester but it isn’t really a hotel. It’s a boutique-hotel-sized-B&B and they won’t let us in until 4. We want to consult our walking map to the Hardy cabin again and a table is required. This calls for another tea and cake so we find an unlikely cake shop calling itself “The Horse With the Red Umbrella”, which is the title of the final performance on this spot when it was last used as a theater in the 19th century. We are having Elevenses! My coffee cake is obscenely large. The walking route is 4.5 miles which we repeat on the return trip. We wanted to get this pilgrimage to Hardy’s cottage in. It was originally scheduled for Friday and that day looks like serious rain so we had to move that walk up to Thursday (today) and skip the 10 mile walk from Abbotsbury to Dorchester.
Route sussed, we break out our sticks and hike to the edge of town where we stroll beside the river Frome for 2 1/2 miles. We flush out ducks as we go. There’s an field with an ancient and abandoned irrigation system. A bridge crossing the Frome displays a sign that clearly threatens us with transportation for life if we dare to damage it. Up ahead the beech trees are just leafing out over a kind of parked-out forest near Hardy’s cabin. The light is a lovely dappled green.
At Hardy’s Cabin we find ourselves in the company of enthusiastic volunteers who know intimate details about Thomas Hardy and are quite willing to chat us up in full information sharing mode. I’m sooo much smarter about T. Hardy now. We learn about his wife who he met at Boscastle (we were there a few days ago…small world, eh). We understand that although he was a fierce critic of the British class system he longed to climb that ladder a bit himself. He was not a fan of the industrial revolution. He’s quite a God of Literature here in the UK. After his death they decided to pluck out his heart and bury it in Stinsford, Dorset. They reduced his bones to ashes and buried them in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. I guess this is how the Brits deal with their heroes; they cut them up and spread them around. Somehow kinda doubt that this would have met with his approval.
We are briefly confused about the way back to Dorchester on foot but get it sorted in time to make it to the Blue Raddle Pub by opening time, 6:30 pm. As the lock turns and the door opens, an empty street soon becomes busy with folks appearing as if by magic and all of them are walking toward the pub. Within a minute of flinging the door open, 20 customers have marched in to demand their food and drink. There is very faint background music in here and soon the place is full of voices in conversation. It sounds like a proper pub! Getting a pint is slow business and so is the food order. My pint is nearly gone by the time food arrives. And it is excellent. We may have to come back tomorrow to investigate another dish.
We are in Dorchester for 3 nights. Tomorrow will definitely rain so it may be a fine chance to drink a bit of whisky. We’ll have extra time to plot the last leg of the walking tour on Saturday.
April 27, 2018
This is day #2 of our stay in Dorchester. Yesterday we excursioned (is that a word?) out to Thomas Hardy’s Cottage for a bit of a literary pilgrimage. Today we have a much more malleable agenda. We’re having breakfast B&B style in a very light and airy glassed-in conservatory while the rain beats against the panes. CK and Barbara order the usual but I’m asking the poor fellow to substitute sausages for pork loin bacon on my eggs bennie. He rolls his eyes but says, “Can do.” And he does! It arrives in perfect order, a split sausage on an English Muffin topped with a poached egg and sauce X 2. Yes. That’s it, precisely. I may order that again since we’ll be here for two more breakfasts. Perhaps this will initiate a new menu item: Eggs Dorchester!
Our guidebooks and local maps are spread over the available table space. The discussion is brief. The Roman Walk is first. This is a short route highlighted by brass markers in the sidewalk that takes us around the original perimeter of the Roman City of Durnovaria, established in 70 AD after a running battle with the local tribes that lasted 40 odd years. The tour takes us to some original city wall sections but the highlight is an old Roman Town House that was uncovered in 1937. They uncovered some of the foundations and bits of floor mosaics and other things, such as the graves of infants. Odd, the things that survive the passage of so much time. It is a cold and raw day, so we are bundled in our warmest gear fully equipped with umbrellas. This proves insufficient when CK and Barbara turn a corner onto a busy street. They don’t see the rain puddle gathering near the curb, nor the oncoming auto. They get a serious soaking, see photo. I escape the worst since I choose that moment to follow behind. Lucky me.
CK and Barbara decide they need to see a local museum. I decline and sit in the museum’s cafe where I edit photographs and examine the latest scandals of US culture over the internet. I think they cultivated their minds better than I did.
Lunch time arrives more quickly than usual. We’re cold from walking in the rain so food sounds like a good idea. CK picks out a Tea Room set in a 17th century room. The waitress is in the costume of a Nippy, a waitress in any of the restaurants of J. Lyons & Co. Ltd in London from about 1920 to 1950. This is plain black dress with a white head band and a white collar, generally speaking. This is an anachronistic Tea Room to say the least. They play music from the 40’s on their sound system. One of the recordings wafting into the room, other than Vera Lynn, is that of an air raid siren. No kidding. One of the sandwiches they serve is white bread, cheese, and pineapple. We didn’t order it. The room is odd and the experience a little stuffy. The food is unremarkable. Clearly, the specialty here is tea and cake which we didn’t order at all.
CK and Barbara decide to press on to visit a stone circle across town. My choice is to go shopping for some items I’ve run short on. I also get a bit of a nap back in the room. About 3 pm, CK strolls in and declares that the new plan is to invade a local pub called the Convivial Rabbit on recommendation of our host, Thom. Pints are ordered. The ladies produce a book they recently purchased: The London Times Crossword Puzzle Book.
At the bar there are two likely characters who seem willing to chat with anyone. Soon I’m swapping jokes and stories with them. Alex and Peter are my new friends. I should have collected their photos but didn’t. Peter had a career in telecommunications from way back in the 60’s. He was working a telemetry station that tracked the first orbital flight with John Glenn in 1962. He bought me a pint. Alex was a career government worker but now he is a beer critic and publishes his findings regularly. These guys are world travelers too and loads of fun. By the time we depart, I’m 3 pints down the road.
Our time runs out at the Rabbit as mealtime approaches. The ladies have a hankering for Italian so we find a likely joint. It’s good food. We even have more to drink but somehow I’m surviving the intake. It will be an early night. We have a final walk planned tomorrow but I’m not terribly clear what it is. I suspect that I will find out.
DORCHESTER, ENGLAND - Day 2
April 28, 2018
We’re still in Dorchester but this is the last full day. Our room at the top of the stairs has been very good. Each time we climb up we’re a little gassed, but still good. The room is spacious, bathroom adequate. And for brief periods that faintly suggest predictability, the radiators project a bit of heat. This allows us to rinse out some gamey garments and get them dry before we ship out again. I even have space to repair the busted gaiters. Westwood House Hotel. We’re recommending it if you ever happen to stay in Dorchester.
There was rain for most of yesterday so our focus was urban. Today there is better weather and that means ranging further afield. First, it’s breakfast again in our conservatory meal area. These B&B brekkies are a lot more food than normal so we really must get our boots on and take a long walk. Eggs Dorchester for me again, basically my personal modification: Eggs Benedict with sausage substituted for ham. The table is spread with maps and guidebooks but this is only for a last minute check. The decision has already been made. We’re taking transportation to Cerne Abbas and walking back to town. The snag is that there is no bus until 11:30 or so. This will never do. I call a local cab and they will take us for about 5 quid more than the bus. Sold. The cab is tidy, modern, and very quiet. The experience is another Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. These folks drive far too fast on these narrow roads for my comfort. I don’t think I’ll get used to it.
Cerne Abbas is a village that has seen far better days. It was once the site of a very wealthy monastery until Henry the VIII looted it and sold it off. The only bit left standing is a towering entrance gate. This is a story that repeats itself all over England. Seems that we’re regularly inspecting a grassy sward dotted with trees with a plaque standing in it explaining how a very large and impressive church or monastery once stood here. We get the feeling that we’ve come late to the party. About 480 years too late. I don’t blame Henry. Those nasty old abbots and their hoards of loot had to go. Although it is a shame that the grand old buildings were sold for scrap. Wait. Here’s a very nice spring of water that hasn’t been messed with. I’ll take a photo!
We follow a short path that takes us down a rushing stream past the edge of the village to a vantage point were we can view the Cerne Giant, an oversized figure cut into the chalk on the side of a hill. Nobody quite knows its origin. Some experts think he is from pre-Roman times. Others speculate that it was made as a prank in the 16th century. No matter. It has been regarded as a mystic source of fertility for a long time not to mention a tourist attraction. I take a photo but I know it will not turn out well. The best shots of this thing are made in an airplane.
Once the Giant is visited we are consulting the guidebook for our path back to Dorchester, 8 miles away. As we read the text, every sentence contains the phrase ‘muddy track’ or ‘heavily traveled muddy track’. And it’s true. We are confronted with a muckstacle course in the middle of a mudpocalypse. We’re traveling in the lowlands. This is the zone in which dairy cattle operate and they are the messiest critters in the entire barnyard pantheon. We experience them in their glory for about 4 miles. We don’t slop straight through the muck like the locals do. Instead we carefully pick our route hopping from dry bit to dry bit hoping not to cake our boots entirely in the stuff. This makes us slow. In my opinion it’s far preferable to stroll the high kells, downs, and moors. Sheep don’t churn up this kind of impossible goo.
We pass hamlets with names like Nether Cerne, Godmanstone, and Forston. One of them has a church. CK must go inside. A horse spies me as I approach a gate. It trots over to investigate. If I ever open a pub I’ll have to call it “The Curious Mare”. She wants me to scratch her nose. I oblige.
It’s been a fine day, cloudy and cool, just right for walking. Back in Dorchester we splash our faces and repair to the Blue Raddle for pints and a pub meal. One of Barbara’s fave pub activities is to drain a pint while working crossword puzzles. We apply all three of our wits upon a book of London Times puzzles. Considering the mental fog of a 6 hour walk and hand-pulled ale we manage rather well. We congratulate ourselves and drink to our own luck regarding our leg powered tour from Lyme Regis to here. And we have an extra pint. CK orders cottage pie. Mine is Steak and kidney pie. Can’t recall what Barbara ordered. No matter. Tomorrow is a day of hurry-up-and-wait because we’re putting wheels under us again. We grab a train back to London, actually back to the same hotel we stayed in a week ago. We’ll be there for a couple of days before moving on.
April 29, 2018
Today we say farewell to Dorchester but not yet. First there is more food in the conservatory, an excellent breakfast served up by Thom once again. We get to take our time with the meal and lounge around afterward sorting out the luggage and organizing fotos, etc. Our train doesn’t scoop us up until noon.
We’ve had an excellent week of walking from Lyme Regis to Dorchester. We’ve walked through forest, over ancient landslides, through quaint villages, along bulging streams, climbed heart pounding hills, and drifted through fog. We’ve leaned into the wind and walked with it at our backs, had delicious grassy strolls along ridge tops and tedious slogging across beach shingle. We’ve ambled beneath sun dappled, fresh leaf-sprouted trees and tip-toed across black pits of mud and manure. At the end of each day was a pint of ale or a bottle of wine and good food with marvelous company. And we were lucky with weather again. We managed to dodge the foul weather. The one day of rain we had was in Dorchester and our walking plan fit in between the raindrops perfectly. This was our 4th walking tour in the UK. We’ve had excellent weather luck with each one. It’s been kind of impossible but we’ll take it.
We’re in London for three nights. After a sleepy train ride to Waterloo Station and a luggage drag through the Tube, we’re weary but happy not to have been in an automobile. We get sorted into our hotel near Tavistock Square about 4. A quick phone call results in reservations at Giovanni’s Italian in Covent Garden at 6. The decision is made to walk instead of tube. Going to the Underground is cringe worthy, like shaking hands with 1 million of your closest friends. The walk is only a mile, after all, and a mile to us is scarcely a skip to the corner now. Besides, there’s much more of London to appreciate above ground.
We think we know the way to Piccadilly but some inefficiency sneaks in. We find ourselves slightly off course in a part of Convent Garden called Seven Dials. This was a planned neighborhood set up in the 1690s by a Thomas Neale. He was a speculator who arranged streets and houses in such a way as to get more rent from them. Seven streets radiate out from a central point, a roundabout adorned with a pillar. The Pillar was topped by six sundial faces, the seventh ‘style’ being the column itself. Regarding that, it seems unlikely that a sundial in London would have had any purpose other than wishful fancy. The smoke London produced would have scarcely let the sun cast much of a shadow on anything. Neale’s idea was to attract the well-to-do. It didn’t work out. It became a low rent, slummy place until the 1880’s when businesses moved in and some gentrification took place. Now it sports tony shops and quaint bistros. Monty Python had its studio here for 11 years. Brian Epstein had his offices here as well. We discover a spot there called Neal’s Yard, a ridiculously picturesque urban oasis. As we walk through, the tourists are simply standing there trying to understand why this place exists. I join them.
We find our restaurant after a walk up a very cosy alleyway. We are the first customers so we get all the attention. Pino Ragona is the host. He is also, nominally, the Count of Ragona and he swans around the restaurant appropriately as part of the show. The food is nice. My measure for any Italian joint that puts on aires is the gnocchi. If it passes the test, they can swan about all they like. This one passes with high marks. We finish off 2 bottles of Multipulciano D’Abruzzo over pasta and bread while Pavarotti warbles in the walls. After this we stumble back to the hotel through some unseasonable icy cold air. So many restaurants, so little time.
Tomorrow we have tix to see a special exhibition of Monet and a scheme to get into St Martin’s in the Fields for some world class Baroque fiddle music. We’ll have to be nimble because it is seriously going to rain all day. Oh, and we have it on good authority from our friend Alex in Dorchester that the Princess Louise is a fine pub to plunder. It’s only about 1/4 mile away.
April 30, 2018
We should be all stoked up to get out there and devour it but we’re stuck in low gear, somehow. Our energy reserves aren’t what they should be even after a decent sleep. Speculation per the cause ensues. CK says we’re in “walk withdrawals”. My hypothesis: Train Lag. Three plus hours to go 130 miles by rail is enough to induce a persistent coma. We discount entirely the brazen alcohol consumption last night.
Since Barbara must fly out to the US tomorrow, we’re following her agenda. Breakfast at the Tavistock is a buffet, therefore it is quick. We need to get moving since the tix Barbara scored for us are for the Monet exhibit at the National Gallery when it opens. Into the mix is some authentic London weather. Low 50s, rain, and a breeze to amplify the chill. This is Beltane for pity’s sake, the realistic beginning of summer. The longest day is only 52 days from now. Things need to start getting warmer soon, right? Not today. Luckily water isn’t coming down in sheets so not enough to keep us in the hotel all day.
We wish we could walk down to Trafalgar Square but chicken out. Too wet and windy. Down to the tube we go and pop up out of the ground right at the museum’s front porch. The uniforms search us for dangerous goodies briefly at the door then we waddle downstairs to view 77 Monet paintings with hundreds of other folks in a fairly small space. So many people in there that we must fight for a view of canvas that doesn’t include the back of someone’s head. The focus of this grouping is architecture. Monet often used buildings in his compositions and here we see a lot of that. We’ve all seen many of these paintings in reproduction of some kind but to see them up close and personal-like is different. For me, the colors are more muted, the finish more matte than I expect. This works well for the atmospheric effects he paints using light, mist, fog, smoke, and even pollution.
This takes us up to lunch. We’re quite willing to grab a plastic sandwich and cardboard cup of soup at Pret-a-Manger until we spot the Admiralty Pub almost next door to it. The ladies put the choice to me and guess what? The pub wins. A table opens for us as we clear the door and plop, in we go comfy and hungry. It is a nice place but it is also one of those Fuller chain pubs. The food and ale is average, I’d say, still better than Pret. We don’t have time to lounge around pubbing in any case. Our next deadline is coming up.
St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields is just across the plaza. A piano-violin-cello trio of top class musicians calling themselves Trio Opal is putting on a ‘short’ program for free with a suggested donation of £3.50. The program is Ravel, Piano Trio in A minor and Rachmaninoff, Trio elegiaque No. 1 in G minor. It is not the Baroque fiddle music I expected. I should have skipped food and ordered whisky at the Admiral. This is very challenging stuff both for the musicians and listener. About all I can do is appreciate the difficulty. For me, listening to this kind of composition is like swimming against a current of heavy furniture. I’m probably a Philistine but neither of these works are going on my play list. I imagine that this kind of thing is composed for the benefit of other musicians and they might use it in their competitions. That’s probably wrong but it’s all I’ve got. Applause, no encore, and we’re off.
Next we literally cross the street to the National Portrait Gallery. Barbara has some things she’d like to visit and CK is enthused about it as well. There’s a portrait of Cate Blanchett from 2007 that is quite startling. Some other unusual pieces catch my eye but for the most part it seems that nobody really remembers most of the old burghers, bosses, and princes whose mugs adorn the walls here.
The artist is the person most worthy of remembering, if you ask me. A fellow to my right pleads in broken English clutching a map, “Where is Leonardo? Where is Michelangelo? I cannot find…”. His map is of the city which is puzzling since we are standing on the 3rd floor of the National Portrait Gallery. We suggest that he is in the wrong building and guide him to the National Gallery around the middle of the Square. He is from Venice. It is preposterous that we should be offering anyone directions around here.
The ladies see what they want and we’re off again. The rain is holding back so we decide to chance it and walk to the Tate Britain. A mile or so across some very noisy bits of London. For some reason we are dodging big trucks, fast traffic, and emergency vehicles roaring around, sirens yowling. Perhaps this is just normal London. We carry on as if it is.
At the Tate, Barbara is looking for the Pre-Raphaelite painters and works by J.M.W. Turner. I hope she found her Pre-Raphaelites because I got stuck looking at Turner’s things. They have a good chronology of his work. I’m interested in how his later images become more and more indistinct and atmospheric in terms of form. It looks to me like the last paintings he made predicts the impressionist movement. In his day, of course, the critics didn’t think much of those. They considered them unfinished. I like them best.
For an evening meal we’re taking the suggestion of New Friend Alex, our pal from The Convivial Rabbit back in Dorchester. He says The Princess Louise is worth looking into where we are in the Bloomsbury district. This place has three entrances which confuses us right out the gate. The downstairs bar is surrounded by glassed-in snugs, little rooms that accommodate 6-12 people depending on how friendly they may be. All of these are occupied. We find the stairs up to the second floor where the room is more spacious with tables and chairs. We grab the next to last table. Seconds later a group of five seizes the table next to us and now the bar is officially full. We’re close to the bar so we overhear some details, such as a cook didn’t show up and three servers are out sick. Food is slow to arrive and the unfortunate bar-lady has enlisted one of her habitual customers to help.
Meanwhile, we use the time to introduce ourselves to the five people next to us. They are fun loving folks from Portugal just come to London for a 4 day lark, taking advantage of bank holidays in their country. I announce in a voice strong enough for CK to hear, that I’d love visit Portugal. I like this bar. It is busy and loud with the sound of conversation. No thumpy pop music. Downstairs, more customers have arrived. There are scads of 20-something office workers packing the bar-snugs. It is quite the hang-out.
Tomorrow. Yikes. We have no plan.