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UK Wandering & Aegean - Black Seas Cruise - Part 2

Author: Phillip F. (More Trip Reviews by 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?

June 21

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.

June 22

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).

June 23

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.

June 24

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.

June 25

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.

June 26

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.

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