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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

After what is our best yet breakfast feast -- home made granola, then fruit covered pancakes with maple syrup and creme fraiche, we leave Lynton for the lower village of Lynmouth. Whilst ambling along the riverside shops Gail utters a panicked OMG!, OMG!! It is as if some mysterious force has taken hold of her and an unknown fate is awaiting. "I have just been reviewing my photos on my camera" she blurts "and the last photo should not have been uploaded to Facebook". Continuing in a panicked tone "quick, get the laptop out! We have to delete the image before anyone sees" Unfortunately, the broadband device does not work in the valley of this village and we hastily return to our car to drive back to the B & B at the top of the hill whose wireless broadband we had been using. Up the hill we chug as 1st gear is the only selection that will enable this little 1.6 litre motor to conquer a 1 in 4 slope. "Faster, faster" is the cry as another hairpin bend is skilfully negotiated. At last, the destination is in sight. "Pull in behind the red car" is the demand. "Not that red car! THAT red car!!" Dutifully obeying (with a hidden smirk) the motor is turned off. "You go in!" is the cry. With no time to argue and with just a hint of resistance, the last plea is withdrawn and Gail disappears behind the front gate of the house. A couple of minutes later a voice cries out "It doesn't connect, You need to help!" 30 more seconds and we are happily bidding farewell to our hosts (whom must have been thinking how odd these Australian travellers were) again and we descend the hill once more to follow the river to where it meets another upstream at Watersmeet. The 2 rivers come together on a pretty plateau where one may picnic, or just relax and enjoy the gentle rushing of the waters or the singing of the birds. From here we continue through the woods via the winding, confining, tall hedge lined by-ways. We are trying to locate the diminutive grey stone church in Oare's quite valley which overlooks the crystal clear waters of the Oare river. This is the setting in R D Blackmore's famous story -- Lorna Doone, for the heroine's wedding to John Ridd. After some time we spot a couple having a picnic beside a bubbling brook which gurgles under a little stone bridge. We ask "Are we going the right way to the Oare church?". In a broad Somerset accent they reply "Ah! But you have missed the church by a whisker as it is fairly hidden just off the road you have travelled about 2 miles back". Not ones to be backtracking, we rationalise that we have already seen many akin to our blink and miss church, so we breathe in together and squeeze our little car across the Lilliputian bridge en route for Selworthy. At a vista point, Dunkery Beacon atop Dunkery Hill, the highest point on Exmoor (a stupendous moorland dotted with woods and medieval villages that have roaming wild ponies and horned sheep grazing at leisure), we ask another traveller whether it is better to take the toll road, which avoids the very steep Porlock Hill descent or the public road which we have been travelling. The traffic is light, the toll road fee is £2.50, we are travelling in a hire car and the time to travel is analogous. The car is put into 1st gear and the steep descent begins. "We haven't seen a weir! (this journey)" we exclaim in unison and another diversion is at hand as a left turn is quickly taken, much to the annoyance of the car travelling close behind. Porlock weir is nothing more than what appears to be a large guillotine without the cut-out for the head that extends between 2 rock walls firmly planted into the mud. The 'guillotine' is open and just a few old yachts with their keels firmly entrenched into the mud are beyond the gate.. More interesting however is a chalked signboard announcing the location of the 'Exmoor Cooking Company' which specialises in Artesian bakery made on Exmoor with local produce. Past the old customs building, with a faded sign warning of what will befall any wretched smugglers, we trot and a couple of minutes later emerge hungrily with our booty of Coronation Chicken baguettes (lunch) and 4 large Venison and red wine pies that are destined to be consumed in Washfield for dinner at Chris & Marg's beautiful home (more details later). Returning from our diversion along the entwining lanes we pause in Allerford to watch the ducks and teals paddling in the waters under a double arch stone bridge of which its only purpose is to provide access across the little stream to the single charming stone house on the other side. Arriving in Selworthy, a picture=postcard hamlet of thatched cottages, we marvel at the view over the Vale of Porlock from a memorial timber bench seat located in front of the 14th century Perpendicular church. The meandering paths across the lawns of the thatched cottages are able to be walked freely as this hamlet is another which comes under the umbrella of the National Trust. The day is passing and we move on to our next destination -- Dunster. The turreted Norman-style Dunster Castle is inviting us from its hilltop location, and we respond by slipping past the 'pay and display' National Trust car park and locating a 2 hour free space 1/4 mile up the hill just outside the entry gate. As proud as Punch, we step up to the ticket box and present our DBH cards for entry. "Yes, all looks in order" smiles the uniformed attendant, "however I am sorry to inform you that the castle is closed on Thursdays!". 'At least we didn't pay for parking and walk a half mile round trip' we rationalise as we head off for Washford, the town in which Cleeve Abbey is located. This abbey was founded by the Cistercian monks in 1188 and has the most complete set of monastic cloister buildings in England. By now, we are both suffering from the Law of Diminishing Returns and we look at our trusty BIG Road Atlas of Britain, which has guided us throughout this amazing journey, and locate the quickest route to Tiverton -- the borough of which houses the village of our friends (and Gail's brother in law's cousins) Chris and Marg …(Intentionally deleted). We arrive into the town of Tiverton. "What is the address?" I enquire. "I don't know!" is the reply. The phone number we have does not answer, so we embark on our next treasure hunt to locate a phone booth with a white pages from which we could gain vital information in our quest for contact. Such a hunt would be easy, we assumed (never assume as it makes an ass out of u and me) because in the remotest locations, along the narrowest lanes, and from the most fatherly points from other humanity, there was always, like a shining beacon, a BT branded public phone booth to be found. Just as was with the case of B & B's when you needed them most, so it was with the telephone booth. "Ah ha" was the exclamation as the light turned on. "I shall text Erin who will contact Louise (Chris and Marg's daughter) who will contact us (on the phone with the British sim card that had no credit left) of who's dilemma would soon be resolved. Sure enough and with a touch of luck, it was arranged that we would rendezvous with Louise outside the high school gates (where we had initially stopped upon entering Tiverton) in 10 minutes. "Drive back to the high school"" was the command said with the authority of a hirer of a cab driver. The only problems were that I was not a cab driver, the BIG road atlas was an atlas and not a street directory, we had been circling in the usual manner of trying to locate the object of such quest, the only means of immediate communications was now exhausted of credit and time was of essence with just 9 minutes and 55 seconds remaining (54, 53, 52, 51, ..........). With all the power, skill and knowledge gained from in excess of 3000 miles (that's around 5000 kilometres) of driving these British roads, I called upon the driving gods of the land for guidance and with 1 minute to spare, we were patiently waiting for our guide to arrive. We followed Louise from Tiverton to the small rural hamlet of Washfield (in the borough of Tiverton. The setting of Chris & Marg's acreage was magical with rolling green fields surrounded by fauna filled woods. The jet black 16 hand filly was grazing contentedly alongside the smaller white pony and the mandatory tractors were safely parked in the old stone sheds which were sited just behind the burbling brook which meandered alongside the well maintained vegetable patch. Settling in to our room in the 200 year old locally quarried stone villa we wondered whether the masons of those days had any idea of the masterpieces they were creating. After those Venison pies were delightfully devoured and washed down with a glass (or two) of a locally produced tipple we bid our hosts good night and retired happily knowing that a change of pace was now at hand.
Continue to Part Three

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