We disembarked from the ferry at Dover, famous for its white cliffs which the day we crossed were shrouded in mist and the customary English light rain. We then immediately headed for Canterbury, renowned for its cathedral and its narrow cobbled streets. Unfortunately Bonnie decided to take a dive from her bike, pitching forward over her handlebars, on the second day we were there. The aftermath included a trip by ambulance to Margate, the town nearly thirty miles away but closest with a CAT Scanner, and an almost three hour wait at the NHS Hospital before we decided that she really didn’t have a concussion and we could safely return to Romy and our campsite back in Canterbury. But she did look like someone who had been in a nasty bar fight so we stayed around the campsite for most of the next four days and ended up with almost no photographs or experience of Canterbury. We plan to return on our way back to the Continent in July. But here is what we have to look forward to.
When Bonnie felt sufficiently recovered we headed off around the entire London area to reach the home of our friends Carole and John whom we met in a campground deep in the Peloponnese in Greece about a year ago. We camped on the outskirts of the lovely town of Lechlade beside the Thames River where it reaches the end of what is navigable to boats of any size.
They were wonderful to us in several ways, including giving us much of the leftover gear from their motorhome they had sold last year and taking us around their lovely Cotswolds neighborhood. One of those towns was Bampton in Oxfordshire, which might be familiar to some of you. It is the ‘town’ in the BBC drama “Downton Abbey.” This is square in front of the Crawley family home
We also had several lovely pub meals with Carole and John. Here is lunch at The Keepers Arms in Quenington, Gloucestershire.
From there we headed off to the Southwest of England, driving by Bath (where we had been before) and Bristol and even Wales in search of the sunny weather most likely there in June. We found it in the lovely little town of Porlock, wedged between the Exmoor National Park and the sea and down a series of some of the narrowest roads we have yet encountered. It is also one of the towns where Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his writer cronies spent time as they walked across this part of England for about 170 miles. Robert Southey and Wordsworth were also part of the entourage at one point or another. Here is a view of its High Street from the church graveyard. The sea is just beyond the thatch roofed houses across the street.
We then crossed the expansive Exmoor National Park (mostly rolling farmland) and stopped next at the town of Dunster, seat of the giant and impressive Dunster Castle which clearly dominates the town below.
The town has long been a woolen market and much of the castle was built in the 13th century though significant parts date from the 19th century. We were particularly impressed by a couple of the rooms. The dining room had been set as it had been for the visiting Maharaja of Jaipur who was there with his polo team to play on the field below the castle.
The library was also impressive with over 8,000 books and a cozy area around the fireplace to read on cold and blustery days and nights.
From Dunster we drove to the town of Clovelly, interesting for several reasons. First of all, it is now entirely privately owned and it is so steep down the hill to the sea that there is no chance of cars making the climb, so everything that comes into the village is brought down (or up) by sledge pulled by either donkeys or humans. It is arduous, so very steep, and cobblestoned with round ‘river rocks’ so that it is slippery as well when wet. But the sense one gets of the struggle for centuries of its fishing citizenry is quite intense and moving. It’s harbor, built in the 1200’s, was the only one for miles on the coast so that all the catch was brought into Clovelly and from there hauled up the hill and then sent off to London and beyond.
This is a view of the bottom and the hill and part of the harbor from the balcony of a fisherman’s house. The wall on the harbor to the left is the breakwater that dates from the 1200’s. And it is mighty.
And this is the view from that breakwater looking back at the harbor at low tide and the lower part of the town beyond.
When watching an episode of “Poldark” the other night, there he was striding this same breakwater at high tide.
What we found resting at the bottom was a collection of family and identical dogs sitting next to a pile of crab pots, just too photogenic to pass up. The wall behind them is part of the breakwater.
As we headed further into Southwest England our next encounter was a real treat. We headed for the town of Wadebridge, initially attracted to the bike trail there that leads down the river to the town of Padstow close by the sea. But we kept seeing signs for the Royal Cornwall Fair scheduled there and when we got to the campsite in Wadebridge there was no avoiding what turned out to be the sort of state fair of Cornwall. And it had everything! From rather round folks eating that English delicacy Fish and Chips
to an eight foot robot named Titan who seemed to have vision and intelligence and could converse with anyone in the audience including rather intimidated young boys,
to absolutely champion stud bulls like this one, third place in the South Devon breed and weighing in at 1764 pounds
and bred by his owner with the bowler hat and friends sitting next to his stall
to some rather impressive farm machinery including a combine that Dave just wanted to drive away and to hell with that motorhome named Romy!
The next day we finally got to the bike trail that brought us to Wadebridge in the first place. It is called the Camel Trail and follows an old railroad bed and ends in Padstow, famous for Rich Stein a renowned British chef who has about five restaurants in town now. The bike trail is about 6 miles and follows the river and we shared it with perhaps a hundred people on the day we rode it both ways.
Once we got to Padstow the highlight for us was the Tinner Morris dancers we met along the harbor front. They are a long way from being shy, and that the sight of Bonnie’s camera they wheeled around to present themselves:
There are groups of Morris dancers all over England but their history is confused, cloudy and extensive. What I found doing some research was that the folk tradition of men dancing with bells on their shins and waving sticks or swords as they dance goes back to at least Medieval times and not just in England but all over Europe–Germany, France, Portugal, Italy and Spain all have these traditional dancers. In fact ‘Morris’ may be a corruption of ‘Moorish’ and there is strong evidence that the origins of this dancing may be in North Africa and the Moors who occupied Spain. In certain regions of Europe the dancers even blacken their faces, lending further credence to North Africa being the origin of the dancing. Whatever the history, they were wonderful when preforming with the intricate weaving among themselves and the beating of long sticks–batons–against each other as they danced, We followed them all over town and loved their dancing!