South Coast Road Trip–Part 1

Monday 10 July – Tuesday 11 July 2017 – Devon and Dorset, England.

I am writing this after July turned into August and the big news is that I have finally started my new job; the job I applied for in January. I am now a civil servant, at least for the next two years, working in an IT role with the Cabinet Office in London.

Four weeks ago, back in blog time, my daughter arrived from her extended stay in India and Nepal. I haven’t seen much of her in the past 18 months; she was in a different part of India when I visited there and New Zealand last November and we all know what happened on my India trip. So I did not get to see here then. It was with much excitement that I headed out to Heathrow Airport to meet her and bring her back to our place in Walthamstow.

It was kind of bad timing as El and I had a holiday booked for the following week, however Meliesha and I got to hang out for a few days before we went away, including a walk in my favourite forest.

Meliesha had been living in Bristol when I arrived in the UK five years ago and she still has numerous friends there. Bristol is sort of on the way to Exmouth so we dropped Meliesha there on the way, and I suspect now she is with her crew I won’t see much of her again for a while!

Our plan for this week-long break was to drive along the south coast of the UK from Exeter in Devon to Rye in East Sussex. We are scoping possible locations to buy a property, and escape some or all of the time from London. The idea is to find a few potential places and then go back and spend a few more nights and see how it ‘feels’ over a longer period. While the overall distances are not vast, there will be a bit of driving each day, but it’s a good excuse to go and hang out in a variety of places on the coast. I love this part of the UK.

I thought we left home at a reasonable enough hour to miss the worst of the M25, but I got that call badly wrong. It was a really slow drive to Bristol, taking close to 4 ½ hours. This set the whole journey back and we did not arrive on the coast at Exmouth until almost 2:00. Lunch time. We stopped for a pub lunch by the quite nice beach – lime and soda for me. Even though I am in my mid-fifties I still find it weird/uncomfortable ordering a non-alcoholic drink in a pub.

Lunch was very average, setting an unfortunate precedent for the rest of the week. It was here that I discovered I had failed to pack a camera! I had originally planned on bringing the big Canon DSLR, and then rejected it in favour of bringing the small G16. This was a holiday and not a photography trip. I just failed to pack the G16, though I did have the charger, a spare battery and the tripod… So all photos were taken on my Samsung S7 phone.

Our next stop, and the first on our new list of places to return to, was Budleigh Salterton, just along the coast from Exmouth, but with a totally different feel, and a totally different beach. Budleigh Salterton was also where I started my 50th birthday 50 or so km run. A place that has ‘good’ memories for me.

We also liked Sidmouth, and will return there as well, though it was a drive-by liking, as we could not find anywhere to park and I was getting tired and we still had a way to go. We did stop in Beer, for an ice-cream. I like Beer, and beer, though it is a little too remote for us to consider buying somewhere here, plus it is a bit pricey.

Plan A, before we left home, was to lunch in Lyme Regis, but that was blown right out of the water by the traffic leaving London. We have both been to Lyme in the past, so decided to skip it today. It is a lovely town, too expensive for us, and there are so many other places to explore. I was tired, and getting over the whole driving thing, so we carried on through Bridport, where El’s sister once lived, and then down to West Bay. I finished my birthday run in West Bay so while my memories of Budleigh Salterton are good, my memories of West Bay are clouded in pain and tiredness. Not really, I was very happy to finish my run, and my memory of West Bay was filled with the joy of completing something pretty amazing. Shame it did not live up to that memory. We didn’t stop.

We didn’t stop again until we found our B & B for the next two nights in Piddlehinton, Dorset, so small it could hardly be described as a village. It had a pub, but nothing else. Naturally we went to the pub for dinner. It was a lovely building, had some pretty good beer, though the food was disappointing. It had been a long day, 10 hours in the car.

We are staying in a 16th century house that is now a B & B. As we had such a long day we called it a night pretty early, and it was great to just be able to blob out on the bed and watch TV for a while.

We had breakfast booked for 8:30 on Tuesday morning, we are on holiday so no rush. Today’s weather forecast was not looking too good, and after 10 hours of driving yesterday I had no real desire to spend a lot of the day in the car.

Our first stop was the village of Cerne Abbas, to pay our respects to the Cerne Giant. We arrived in Cerne Abbas about 9:30, and it was very quiet, a beautiful old English village, we both immediately fell in love with it. So we parked up and went for a short walk,

Past the old church and its lovely little garden,

Through the grounds of the old abbey,

And into a field of wheat, so far un-trampled by our illustrious leader!

The Cerne Giant was just above the field, though the view was not very good, so we walked back to the car and drove round to the viewing area. The Cerne Giant is a 180 feet tall human figure carved into the chalk hillside. It is the largest hill figure in the UK. There is much uncertainty over the origins of the giant, it could be pre-Roman or it could be from the English Civil War and a mockery of Oliver Cromwell, a mystery yet to be solved. The figure was quite unclear and my cell phone hardly did it in any justice either.

Our next stop was Abbotsbury Swannery. I wanted to visit here last time I was in the area, but did not get the chance. As we arrived it started to drizzle so we stopped in the cafe for was the first in a seemingly never ending run of awful cups of coffee. When the rain stopped we walked around the swannery, it was not overly exciting, lots of swans! It started to rain more heavily as we left, and that was pretty much the end of the nice weather for the rest of the day.

The swannery is the only place in the world where you can visit an active swan nesting sight. It was established by Benedictine monks in the mid 11th century as a source of food for the many banqueting halls in the area. The monastery was destroyed during the dissolution in 1539, but the management of the swannery continued.

It was raining quite heavily when we left. We did not stop at the ruins of the abbey as I had intended, and decided to go on to Weymouth for lunch. It was tiring driving in the rain on these narrow and quiet roads, but I don’t mind too much, there are so many little stone villages, like Fleet.

I love driving like this, so much nicer than the busy roads of London. We arrived in the outskirts of Weymouth and it was madly busy. It was raining heavily so we decided to turn around and go somewhere else for lunch. The thought of parking and walking miles in the rain did not appeal. I did stop, nip out of the car and take a photo up Chesil Beach, an area I wanted to explore more. Another day.

We decided to go to Sherborne, inland and north of where we are staying, it was another nice drive through the lovely Dorset countryside, even though it was constantly raining. El has been to Sherborne before, with an old friend living here, though we did not make contact this time. We parked the car (so many bloody parking metres – is there no free parking left in the UK ?) and had lunch and a quick walk around. Sherborne looks really nice, though with only one hour of parking we did not stay in town long. Shame.

We did stay local and went to visit the ruins of 12th century Sherborne old Castle. There is a newer privately owned ‘castle’, but the old one is the one that interested me. Though it was pouring with rain we still chose to visit. I somehow managed to set my phone into some weird setting that made the photos look like they were taken on some old Holga type camera. I am not sure if I like these or not, but I could not edit them back to ‘normal’. We will be back to Sherborne, and I will come back to the castle as well.

It was getting late in the day so we went back to the B & B for a rest before heading into nearby Dorchester for dinner. We wanted to explore the town a bit, but it was absolutely tipping down by then so we found a big car park near a mall and had dinner in Carluccio’s. It was better than the pub the night before. I will leave it at that.

A walk along Poole Bay

Saturday 07 November 2015 – Bournemouth, Dorset.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to a four day working week, or more importantly a three day weekend, was to be able to go away overnight on occasion yet still have time to do all the things that need to be done at home.

After a really good trip to Folkestone last Saturday I decided to go to the complete opposite end of my ‘where should I live on the UK south coast’ line and head to the Bournemouth area. I have long considered Bournemouth and Poole as an area to live in, not that I have done anything more than drive through. They are two hours from London, which is the furthest I want to be away, but more importantly they are a short ferry ride from the end of the South West Coast Path, an area I remain completely fascinated with.

There is quite a lot to look at, Bournemouth is a reasonable size town and Poole runs right  along one side. Bournemouth sits on Poole Bay with its long long strip of beach, so I planned on getting a train to Poole, walking down to the bay and then along the coast to Southbourne where I will stay the night. On Saturday I will go to Christchurch to have a look around and get the train back to London from there. There were a few flats to check out on the way, so it seemed like a good plan. It rained both days…

As it was a Friday I chose to leave after 10:00 as the non-rush hour fares are significantly cheaper than peak fares. The train left from Waterloo, I paid a little extra to get a first class seat, mainly as I wanted to get a seat with a table, and with free wifi in the carriage I could catch up with emails and other things on the way down. I did not pay much attention to what was going on out the window until we passed Southampton and got into the New Forest. Not that I could see too much through the rain anyway.

IMG_2548

I arrived in Poole a little late at 12:30. It was not really raining, just a fine drizzle, but it was being blown by a really strong westerly wind. There was no station at Poole, just an exposed platform, so I hurried off in the direction of the old town, but was faced with a massive roundabout and big wide roads, which took me a while to navigate across and around to get to some shelter and put a rain coat and my pack cover on.

For a change I had actually packed well for this trip, and even had appropriate clothing for the conditions – lessons finally being learned. I had also printed off some maps of the route I wanted to take, but paper maps were useless in these conditions, so maybe I had not planned that well…

I did find my way to the old centre of Poole easily enough, it is only a couple of streets with a scattering of old buildings. There was a flat opposite the church that I wanted to walk past, checking the area out. It was nice, but really only just one street nice.

IMG_2552

IMG_2553

I had read that Poole itself was not the most attractive of towns with a lot of the centre built during the dire architectural period of the 60s and 70s. It was fairly evident, especially around the harbour at the end of the road. I was also disturbed to see a few closed restaurants – never a good sign.

IMG_2556

IMG_2557

I started walking down the harbour side in the wind and drizzle, I was planning on walking through to Bournemouth a few miles away, but a bus happened to stop at a bus stop just as I was walking past, so I jumped on board and got a ride to the bus station and from there a bus towards Bournemouth. The traffic was pretty bad; as my tummy was telling me it was lunch time and we were not going anywhere fast I got off the bus in Westbourne to look for an open cafe. I am glad I did, it had a decent looking high street and a vegetarian cafe, where I had a very nice lunch.

There were a few flats to rent on West Cliff Rd, so I walked down it to Bournemouth central and the coast, passing the ubiquitous Conservative Club. They seem to be everywhere in small towns.

IMG_2560

I skipped Bournemouth town and headed straight down to the waterfront by the pier. I was surprised, pleasantly so, to see a few surfers out making use of the small break, I never considered Bournemouth as a surf town, so this is good news as surfers are generally laid back types, and I want that where I live.

IMG_2564

With the wind blowing the rain into my back I headed up the beach front towards Southbourne, three miles away. After pebbly Folkestone, it was nice to sea a long stretch of sand.

IMG_2563

It was an interesting walk, a bit damp, but I was wrapped up well and if I did not point the camera into the rain I managed to take a few photos without rain drops on the lens.

IMG_2565

The strong winds brought out a couple of para-surfers who were really making the most of the conditions, whistling up and down the beach.

IMG_2574

You can see from the, very New Zealand looking, grasses and trees just how strong the wind was.

IMG_2571

I loved how these beach huts followed the colours of the rainbow from beginning to end, nice to see some real thought put into planning and designing public space.

IMG_2568

Like Folkestone last weekend the sea front is a narrow band between the sea and the cliffs and for the most part it is free of buildings, in fact walking along it was rare to see anything at the top of the cliff as well, I really liked that. There were not that many places along the sea front to access the tops of the cliffs, though there was this cool funicular.

IMG_2570

And further along there was this zigzag to the top. I walked up so could I have a look at what the houses looked like on the cliff-top, but apart from the large building at the top of the zigzag there were no other buildings, there was a little more cliff to go.

IMG_2575

I walked along the road into Boscombe Spa, which looked quite nice from here, a winter time flat on the beach would be OK – not sure if I would want to live here in the summer when it is really busy.

IMG_2576

There was a nice little chine here, and the trees looked amazing with the autumn leaves still on, the photos I took was just washed out of colour sadly. I checked out Boscombe Pier, though there was nothing much to see, just a few stragglers braving the weather for some fresh air.

IMG_2580

There was another mile or so to go to Southbourne, and though it had mostly stopped raining my trousers were soaking, and my legs were getting cold in the wind. I picked up the pace a little bit, though still had to stop and take a couple of photos. It was nice down here, and I loved the weather as well! The Toi-tois – or pampas grass as they are called here, just reminded me of home – as did the acres of scrubby gorse all along the hill side. There are no beach huts in Auckland – so I remained rooted in southern England.

IMG_2581IMG_2582

I found another zigzag and headed up towards Southborne.

IMG_2584

I popped out not too far from where I was staying the night at the Cliff House Hotel, I had booked a single room online and it was tiny – but very comfortable and nicely appointed, though the shower was rubbish Smile

IMG_2591

The bar area was booked for a party in the evening, I was planning on not going out once I had arrived, but had to change that plan to find some food. After getting into some dry clothes and shoes – I am so pleased I bought a rain cover for my day bag yesterday, I went for a walk to the local pub. One pint and out, it wasn’t my sort of place, not bad, but not great either.

I looked for restaurants on my phone and found a place that looked OK, but took a wrong turn in the dark and found Southbourne’s high street instead. It was a nice high street, couple of bars, coffee shops, loads of other shops etc and only one bookie. Not bad. I found myself a bar, had a drink, felt comfortable enough to sit and read my book and eat my dinner so did. It was not a late night and I was back in my room well in time to watch The Returned on the TV. A great episode too, the best TV for a long time !!

I slept pretty well, and woke up to the expected very heavy rain. I lay about in the room for a while, eventually going down for breakfast just before last orders. I was trying to kill some time until the rain stopped, which it did pretty much on forecast mid-morning, though it was only a brief respite. I walked back up to the high street and had a look around in the day light, taking some time to visit a couple of real estate agents to talk about short term furnished rents – food for thought. It is very expensive !!

Christchurch is the next town along the coast , on the other side of the River Stour. Fortunately there is a good bus service running along the coast so I jumped on a bus rather than make the walk the in the newly started rain. Like the view of the New Forest from the train there was not a lot to see crossing the river from the bus.

IMG_2592

Leaving the bus at the top of the high street I took a leisurely stroll down towards a big old church I could see at the end of town. I was talking to a woman on the bus – I like a friendly town, and she was telling me about all the good things in Christchurch, including the volunteer run cinema.

IMG_2593

What I did not know prior to visiting, was that Christchurch had a small castle. I saw a sign at an intersection in town, so had to take a detour to check it out. It was a bit wet, so I did not get a good explore.

There has been a fort here since before Norman times, but the ruined keep on the hill was built in the mid 1100’s when the castle was extensively upgraded from wood into stone. The site was largely destroyed in 1652 after a short siege during the civil war. The castle was built near where the rivers Avon and Stour meet and guarded the entrance to the New Forest.

The first thing I found was the remains of the constable’s house, built inside the castle walls around the time the keep was built. It has one of only five remaining Norman era chimneys left in the UK – the fact there are any left amazes me! The rain was falling quite heavily now and the ground around the house was just one large puddle, so I took a couple of rain splattered snaps and left.

IMG_2595IMG_2597

There is not much left of the keep, only a couple of walls remain standing, I am sure there was a nice view to be had from the top of the low mound, but I did not linger up there after taking a quick picture of the priory from the shelter of the walls.

IMG_2599

IMG_2600

A path down the side of a small tributary of the River Avon took me to the back of the priory. The church is all that remains of priory which was (as usual) destroyed around 1539 in the dissolution of the monastries. I took a walk around the churchyard, but did not venture inside, which I now regret as reading about it on Wikipedia I have discovered it is more interesting than I thought. Next time.

IMG_2601

After stopping for lunch, and a respite from the drizzle, I headed back up the high street to the station and caught the train back to London.

IMG_2603

The view of the New Forest on the return was worse than the view on the way south !!

IMG_2605

Despite the weather I really enjoyed my two days out, walking along the sea front in the rain was not as dire as it sounded, or could have been. There were enough people around to make it not seem deserted, but few enough for me to enjoy the space and the scenery. I liked the area and will add it to my list of places to consider moving to.

Castles, beaches, views and almost a sunset.

Monday 03 March 2014 – Swanage.

After a fairly solid sleep I was up pretty early again, but the view out the window had me back in bed for a while with a cup of coffee and yesterday’s paper. It was raining and there was no way I was heading out early with absolutely no hope of a sunrise. I waited till the dot of 8:00 am and was down in the restaurant for breakfast, this time I asked for a break between my fruit and my eggs on toast. I think I introduced a whole new level of stress to the staff with that request…

I had another big day planned, with a shorter coastal walk as well as a visit to a couple of castles. I love castles, and have done since I was a child when I visited some with my family. If you have followed my blog for a while you will have probably worked out I am a fan of all things old. Coming from New Zealand where anything over a hundred years old is considered historic it is great to be visiting places that are ten times older and more.

My first stop was nearby Corfe Castle, I had driven past it a couple of times and had been really looking forward to visiting it, it was one of the many reasons I chose Swanage as a base.

I parked on the far side of Corfe Castle village and walked through the town, the village is dominated by the castle on the hill. The whole village is built of the same locally mined sandstone as the castle, they love their rock around here!

IMG 8293

IMG 8294

IMG 8298

IMG 8300

The sun was shining when I entered the castle and thankfully the wind had dropped significantly from yesterday, so I was in for a nice walk around.

IMG 8301

IMG 8302

Corfe Castle was developed over a five hundred year period, starting from the early twelfth century. Sadly it was destroyed by an act of parliament during the English civil war in 1646 as one of the final outposts of royalist resistance. What I saw today was pretty much as it was at that time it was blown up.

IMG 8303

I love how the walls are sagging over the steep side of the hill, I guess one day they will just roll down to the stream below.

IMG 8304

IMG 8307

IMG 8308

IMG 8309

I really enjoyed walking around and exploring the place, but as I started walking up to the top keep the clouds were gathering on the horizon, so I picked up the pace a bit.

IMG 8311

And the rain started to fall just as I made the exit gate, a shame for the people arriving as I left, sometimes it pays to be up early!

IMG 8318

I stopped for a coffee in one of the small coffee shops and the rain stopped soon after I finished my coffee, and I got to carry on with my day. The clouds over the castle looked amazing from the car park though.

IMG 8323

My next stop was Lulworth Cove, not too much of a drive away. The roads here pass through a large military camp which has a live firing range for tanks and cannons and all sorts of things. I sneakily stopped on the side of the road just before the range as I saw some (I think) wild ponies in the light flooding among the trees, I should have grabbed a better lens, but figured outside a military base was not a place to be stopping with a camera…

IMG 8326

I parked at Lulworth Cove at walked up the hill and over to Durdle Door. As I started out the weather was lovely compared to yesterday – I was in a t-shirt and unzipped hoodie and worked up a bit of a sweat walking up the coast path , though a shower moved over once I was over the top and the rain jacket was soon on again.

IMG 8328

Man O’ War Bay.

IMG 8331

Luckily it didn’t last and by the time I was down at Durdle Door the sun was shining again. The seas were looking pretty good here, nice even, though large swells – and no, I was not tempted to swim…

IMG 8337

IMG 8339

Durdle Door is a large hole in the limestone rock and is a major tourist and photographic attraction. Surprisingly it is part of a private estate owned by the Weld family, who also own Lulworth Castle – plus about fifty square kms of Dorset. At least visiting the site is free, though of course parking isn’t!

The steps down to the beach have been destroyed in a recent land slip, as there were a few people down on the beach I made my way down as well. The way down was incredibly slippery and very muddy and I was lucky to have my trail shoes on as I didn’t fall over – looking at the state of some other people’s trousers, I was a fortunate one. I am really glad I ventured down though.

IMG 8340

IMG 8341

IMG 8347

Once back up the bank I walked down the steps on the other side and visited Man O’ War Bay.

IMG 8355

On the way back up to the hill top walk to Lulworth Cove, I spotted the lovely Durdle Door Holiday park, a bit of a blight on the English countryside !

IMG 8359

Lulworth Cove is lovely though, as are the numerous cottages in the village. When I visited here two years ago it was absolutely rammed with people, so it was quite pleasant to visit when it was empty – though not much was open for coffee and lunch.

IMG 8361

IMG 8362

IMG 8363

IMG 8364

After a very average sandwich, but a spectacular ice cream cone I jumped back in the car and drove over to Lulworth Castle.

IMG 8379

The castle was built as a hunting lodge in 1610 and was purchased by the Weld family in 1642 (it is still in the family !) It was the residence of the family up until it was sadly destroyed by fire in 1929. The exterior has been fully renovated, but the interior is just a large shell, but interesting nonetheless. The whole time I was at he castle I could here gunfire in the background, I guess it must be what a fire-fight over the next hill sounds like. Something I have no desire to hear.

IMG 8380

IMG 8382

IMG 8384

Next door is the Chapel of St Mary, built in 1786 once the persecution of Catholics ended in Britain. It is a lovely building and I would have liked to have seen in-side, but it was all closed up.

IMG 8385

It was getting to be late in the afternoon and the sky was still looking good so I decided to go o Kimmeridge Bay and see if I could catch the sunset I missed on Saturday. I stopped just outside the town of Wareham and took some photos of the flooding there.

IMG 8388

I made it to Kimmeridge reasonably early and took a walk around the beach as the tide was out, it was a good time to play with the camera as the sun slowly set. I took a load of photos.

IMG 8402

The storms have created a massive pile of sea weed on the shore.

IMG 8406

As the sun was slowly setting I watched the big thick clouds move their way slowly across the sky towards me, and with a sinking feeling I knew that there was going to be no sunset again !! I guess, to be fair, the sun was still going to set, just not in a spectacular display.

IMG 8408

IMG 8409

IMG 8412

I made my way around to the point anyway and met another photographer there who pointed me to “the” spot for sunset photos, he had been there a million times before so was out today photographing the surfers. Surfing in that cold water – madness!

IMG 8415

IMG 8417

I lurked there for a while and then moved down to the waters edge for a bit, but then the threatened rain started to arrive so started making my way back towards the car.

IMG 8420

IMG 8425

I got back to the good spot and the rain stopped so I lurked there for a bit and took a bunch of photos of the clouds that were going to block the sunset, and left again as another shower hit. The clouds were damn good though !

IMG 8426

IMG 8428

IMG 8432

IMG 8434

Once I made it back up to the car the rain stopped again, so I hung around and watched a very light sunset struggle through the gloom, though the sky did get very colourful and a little liquid at times.

IMG 8444

IMG 8450

IMG 8454

IMG 8459

Once dark settled in I packed up and went back to the hotel for dinner and a glass of wine before collapsing into bed nice and early with my book.

It had been a long but very enjoyable day. Great to see so many lovely places and with much relief I really enjoyed taking photos again.