UK Wandering & Aegean - Black Seas Cruise - Part 2Author: Phillip F. (More Trip Reviews by Phillip F.)
Date of Trip: June 2010
Lots of great coastal scenery pass and we arrive in Abbotsbury. Lots of almost blond stone block buildings and a 15th Century tithe barn, which is the only remaining building of a 15th Century Benedictine Abbey, which now houses a children's farm.
Following the advice of our previous night's host we continue on in the direction of Lyme Regis. Just beyond Abbotsbury we pause at a road wayside and look back to admire from the other end of the pebble dune, its unearthly expanse backed by the Fleet Lagoon. Further on we turn left to West Bexington to see if the beach there was still pebble. Sure enough it was, however there was no more lagoon and the water only gradually deepened allowing for swimming activities (in wetsuits mainly). This was in stark contrast to the outer sea side of the pebble dune where the only activity was fishing and sun bathing. Anyone entering the water may have found it somewhat difficult getting out as the slope going from the shore was about 30 degrees or steeper! Arriving at Lyme Regis (where The French Lieutenants Women was filmed) we were pleased we had taking our host's advice at it was a lovely spot to walk by the seaside with floral gardens along part of the foreshore and some ice cream stalls that were selling the locally produced premier, double cream, handmade ice cream -- of which we just had to experience. Yum!!
We returned to our original itinerary by travelling east again to the town of Dorchester. A quick drive around the town was all that was needed and we headed for Sherborne to the north. We thought we may make the Old Castle (ruins), New Castle (built for Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594, and the Sherborne Abbey -- a fine example of Perpendicular architecture. Arriving a little after 5.00 pm we were too late for all and we pondered as to whether we pull up stakes and see them in the morning or drive on to the start of our next drive -- the South Cornwall Coast. With so much more to see and so little time to see it, we didn't have to ponder for too long. Castles, ruins, abbeys -- seen them, done that! We fastened our seatbelts and headed for the M5. We thought we may make Launceston by 7.00 pm where we could stop and continue on the next morning for St Ives in Cornwall. Apart from a wrong turn off the M5 at Exeter, we were making good time. However, good was not good enough and Okehampton was selected as the alternative. Little were we to know but this town on the edge of Dartmoor Forest was buzzing with activity (some sort of Solstice celebrations that were continuing on well past the day) as were all the surrounding towns and villages we were darting to and fro from. (Maybe that's why it is called Dartmoor!). By 8.30 pm I had had enough and I headed back to the A30 for Launceston. This time it was us passing all those slow travellers in the left lane as I gunned the little Ford Escort down the highway. (I changed the Meriva at Bath re the air conditioner -- remember?). At 9.00 pm we are driving around in circles looking for anything that had VACANCY in their window. We had just about given up and were wondering how comfortable a Ford Escort could be when a wrong turn down a one way street produce a miracle and less than 10 minutes later, after checking in to the B & B which probably had the only bed left for a hundred miles, we were happily eating our dinner what used to be the house where Lieutenant Philip Gidley King was born. He accompanied Cook on the First Fleet and was 3rd Governor of NSW. Small world isn't it?
The Launceston Castle is a ruin from the Norman era and once controlled the route into Cornwall. It is perched atop a high hill in the middle of Launceston and gives a fantastic view.
Finishing our drive to St Ives we approach the seaside town via Carbis Bay. The views as you wind down the hill toward the rail line are fabulous with aqua water shimmering against the broad golden sands. St Ives, once a busy pilchard fishing port, is now a busy tourist port with a strong artisan flavour. Its narrow cobbled streets have the most wonderful galleries and the town now houses the New Tate Gallery. Driving along the Cornwall Coast we stop at Zennor where in the 12th Century St Senara church a pew from that era depicts a mermaid which lured a chorister to his death by her singing, or maybe it was just an old fishwife's tale to discourage outsiders from venturing down to the cove where local smugglers had their haunt. Ruined stacks and engine houses flash by as we negotiate the narrow roads and just beyond the Geevor Tin Mine we turn past some standing stones and burial mounds to make our way to Cape Cornwall -- a windswept headland topped by a slender chimney stack which evokes a true end-of-the-world feeling. In fact Land's End which is only slightly further to the west has lost that feeling due to its commercialisation of the site -- a shopping centre of all things! Minack Theatre features an amphitheatre hewn out of the cliffs above it with the sea as a backdrop. Unfortunately, it has to be on our 'next trip to Cornwall' list as it was just closing as we arrived. The views from the top of the cliff were still open however and the view down to the Porthcurno cove were all encompassing as were the cliffs that surrounded the little sandy beach. Mousehole (pronounced mouzzel) was reached by narrow hedged flanked tracks and upon entering the village the drive down and through the even narrower streets was a feat that could only be done in small cars and bicycles. (Definitely glad I didn't get that Roller!). As cute as this village was, it was quite busy and to try to find accommodation for the night would have been futile so we headed for Penzance (of the pirate variety) and with a bit more of a panic finally found the street of B & B's and restfully laid our weary eyes.
After leaving Penzance we headed directly for St Michaels Mount'. This islet looming out of the sea near Marazion is dramatically topped by a 12th Century castle. At low tide it can be reached on foot across a causeway first used by pilgrims in the middle ages. At high tide there are small ferries that will take you across or back for a small fee. Continuing along the coastline we head for The Lizard Peninsula. The tip of this windswept peninsula is England's most southerly point (another End) and it is here you can see The Last House in England. Also there is England's most powerful lighthouse which is visible for 34 kilometres. It is the reason that some small craft shops sell little lighthouses made from Lizard Serpentine which is in abundant supply from the cliff faces. Why is it that when you travel there is an irresistible urge to buy every piece of memorabilia you come across? There is no such urge to buy a boomerang or opal pendant when walking down Swanston Street! A little further around the peninsula and tucked below the cliffs is the tiny seaside hamlet of Cadgwith -- famous for holding the record of most pilchards caught by local fishermen in one day. (1.3 million). From here we had intended to carry on up the eastern coast of Cornwall but it would be more of the same and by now we are looking for newer, better and more exciting. The west coast of Cornwall seems to fit the bill and we divert to the A30 once again to blaze a trail to Port Isaac -- of Doc Martin fame. Along the way we take a detour across the Bodmin Moor to the small town of Minions. Apart from stopping to see Jamaica Inn at Bolventor -- the inspiration for Daphne Du Maurier's novel of the same name, it turns out to be a waste of time and effort. 30 minutes later we arrive in Port Isaac. If we had thought we had seen it all, well this little village was just oozing in personality. We slowly threaded our way through the narrow streets and lanes looking for a B&B. Down one side past the harbour and up the other side. There is no opportunity to turn around and we find ourselves driving out the other end. We drive through Minor Ruan then through Major Ruan (a few more buildings than Minor) and along the single lane hedged roadway. By the time we reached an intersection of these narrow laneways which would allow a reversal of direction, we were a couple of miles out so instead of going back we thought we would do a wide circle and start again from the beginning. Along the way we stumbled across a farm B & B -- (sheep and cattle) which had a small very old stone farm shed that had been converted to a self contained 2 bedroom unit with all the mod cons. The farmer's wife could not make breakfast as she was leaving for work early the next day so she offered us the unit for £50 without breakfast. We hastily agreed and on the way to dinner back in Port Isaac we stopped off at The Co-Operative food store for the ingredients that would make us our breakfast in the fully self contained unit.
After a leisurely self made breakfast, we departed the little farm house heading in the direction of Delabole. It is here, at the Delabole Slate Company, that one can see the largest man made hole in Britain. The site has been continuously quarried for more than 600 years and it is no surprise that all the surrounding town's buildings are built with slate. Slate roofs, slate fences, slate paths, slate housing bricks -- the versatility of this stone is simply amazing.
At Bude, a popular seaside resort, we park the car and walk to the cliff tops where, aside from the sweeping views of the rugged coastline, there is a curious octagonal tower which has the direction of each side of the octagon carved into it (south, south-east etc). It was a Victorian coast guard's hut built in Grecian style. From this vantage point you can see twin sandy beaches -- one of which was 'women's only' during Victorian times. Tintagel's 13th century castle (ruin) is reputedly the birthplace of King Arthur. More interesting however is the 14th century Old Post Office and the 12th century church of St Materiana which sits on the rugged cliff top bordering the township to the west. Leaving Cornwall we make our way to the Hartland Peninsula in North Devon. At Stoke we visit St Nectan's -- a 14th century church known as 'the cathedral' because it has a 128 foot high tower. Nearby we visit the 16th century Hartland Abbey -- now a stately private home. Its rooms are majestic with many original features still intact. Whilst we are now totally 'heritaged' out, this converted abbey was certainly worth the visit.
It is only a short distance to Clovelly which sits on the Western side of Bideford Bay. It is a unique traffic free village with cobble stone streets lined with flower-strewn cottages that tumble down a 400 foot cleft in the cliff face. Being an old 14th century fishing village there is the familiar stone walled harbour lined with fresh fish outlets where one can buy fish that are still wriggling to be free.
We were too late for the Dartington Crystal Tour (and chance to purchase a bargain piece) in Great Torrington so we head (quickly) further up our travel route to find a B & B in the vicinity of the town of Bideford. Nothing suitable here (couldn't be bothered driving in circles) so we head for Westward-Ho! -- a neighbouring seaside resort named after Charles Kingsley's novel of Elizabethan seafarers. We find a recently updated B & B in a house built in the 1800's that overlooks the long sandy beach and pebble ridge. After organizing our room, we head for the promenade to find a suitable eating establishment and in a little while have chosen an old fashioned restaurant serving (mainly locals) the hot roast carvery for only £8.95 -- yum!
If we thought things couldn't get any better, then we were mistaken. After leaving Westward-Ho! we drove beachside to the next little village of Appledore. We parked and began walking the tiny streets and alleyways which were lined with colour-washed Georgian cottages with bow windows. All the little cottages had names (as most English homes do) which best described what they had been or what the owner thought was most appropriate. There was the 'gingerbread house' with a window full of gingerbread men; 'bird cottage' with figurines and displays of birds; 'tunnel house' which had a tunnel entrance as a front door. We came across one little cottage which had a gallery in the front room of the resident artist. He specialised in water coloured drawings of the village and its environs. They were very detailed and finely depicted -- so much so that despite all previous resistance to galleries, gift shops and other such tourist traps, this time the enthrallment of the moment totally bound us and we departed most chuffed with 3 works. They will soon be on display in our Rye gallery. A drive by of the 13th century, 24 arch Long Bridge in Bideford and we were on our way for North Devon and all its dramatic coastal beauty.
Braunton Burrows is the largest area of sand dunes in England. After carefully negotiating with a drake protecting his swan and 5 goslings (we wouldn't run him over if he would stop pecking our car) we came to the end of the country lane where parking was provided to enable continuation on foot into this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Despite being home to 500 species of wild flowers, 33 of butterflies and varieties of kestrels, skylarks and curlews, I found it somewhat strange that the area is still used 10 times a year for army training. Beyond Braunton Burrows the scenery and beaches dazzled exponentially. Reaching Woolacombe Sand we could easily understand why this 3 mile beach is regularly voted one of the world's best. At the northern end overlooking Morte Stone (where in 1852 five ships were lost) is Morte Point. Just a couple of grassy slopes back is Mortehoe -- an ancient village mentioned in the Domesday Book. The 13th century St Mary's church houses 6 bells dating from 1275 and also has many graves of the sailors that were ship wrecked on Morte Stone. The beauty continued -- Ilfracombe then Combe Martin -- seaside towns/villages with differentiating points of interest that makes stopping to soak it all in, mandatory.
Despite travelling only a relatively short distance, time had once again passed unnoticed. With the adjacent (by vertical separation) towns of Lynton and Lynmouth in mind, we put our blinkers on and set off in their direction. AT the fork in the road we ask ourselves 'Do we take the high road to Lynton or the low road to Lynmouth?" A slow bus in front of us turns down the low road so the choice suddenly becomes easy. We quickly find a cute B & B and after settling in the host gives us some suggestions for some walks in the area. As we were not driving in circles looking for accommodation we thought it would be a good idea to follow her advice. Well! The zenith of all our sightseeing and viewing came to pass. This cliff top walk past the 'Valley of the Rocks' and on to 'Castle Rock' (about a 1 mile section of the 1000 mile Coastal Path) was an experience to die for (which you would if you lost your footing along the path of the steep slope with no safety barriers). Time stood still as we returned to town along a narrow country lane wedged at the base of the other side of the 'Valley of the Rocks' and another steep fern covered mountain where wild Exmoor ponies and feral goats could be seen grazing. After a hearty 3 course home-cooked style meal at the Butter Churn restaurant which is run by some local farmers, we rolled (last course was Roly Poly with custard) back to the B & B for the evening. This meal, as delicious as it was, set us back the princely sum of £10 each and that included drinks!!
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