Our road trip down to Dorset for the weekend, began with the motorway to Gloucester and then across the Cotswolds to Cirencester, Swindon and south of the M4 into the chalk country west of Marlborough.I was reminded how different the definitive chalk landscape of England is to our own hills and dales up here in the Peak District. The very curves seem different, the vegetation subtly changed and the soil now light coloured and flinty. Poppies coloured fields red like a painting by Monet and as we crossed the ancient Ridgeway, a great view of the Hackpen white horse appeared on the scarp to our left. We drove on through the impressive (and free to access) prehistotric stone circle and ditch at Avebury, pausing briefly at Silbury Hill before arriving in Devizes, a delightful Georgian town new to us both.
After a pleasant pub lunch at The Bear and a pint of the town’s own Wadsworth Brewery 6X, we pressed on across Salisbury Plain to see Stonehenge together with the world and his wife. We declined, however, the opportunity to add a further £15 to the brimming coffers of English Heritage for the privilege of viewing the famous henge without a chain link fence between us and the stones , but gained a good enough, monument ticking view from the A303 whilst cohorts of Belgians and Malaysians did their duty by our national deficit walking at a respectful distance on the other side. “Depeche toi, Gaston , Nous sommes en retarde pour la maison d’Anne Hathaway maintenant !”
Following the famous A303 into Dorset, we made for Shaftesbury, a hilltop site initially settled by the Saxons with many interesting buildings and famous for Gold Hill, the star of ten thousand jigsaw puzzles and one bread advert. Unlike Stonehenge , this was deserted and charged no admission.The abbey walk offered marvellous views over the vale of Blackmoor. We then continued onto our first night’s stay just south of Sherborne, Munden House. Sherborne was another gem with honey coloured stone buildings and lots of history but we had no time to explore.
Our accomodation this first night was the excellent Munden House, an extended and thatched B&B recently taken over by Colin and Annie whose hospitality was outstanding. As they provide a three course evening meal on request, we had asked to take this when we booked the room. Annie rang us up a day before leaving to ask what we would like to eat. We enjoyed very good asparagus with gremolata, followed by fillets of Gurnard in a tarragon cream suace for me and a flavoursome Beef daube for the OH. We finished the meal with a blackcurrant parfait and sorbet both made from home grown fruit.
The next morning, fueled by a superb breakfast, we headed south across Dorset to visit Lulworth Cove and walk to Durdle Door, a famous limestone sea arch. We paused at Cerne
Abbas to view the famous Rude Man chalk figure of an uncertain age and spend a pleasant half hour in village of Cerne itself. The variety of architecture in such a small place was astonishing with representatives of every century going back to the thirteenth coupled with almost the full set of building materials; brick, stone, flint, oak frame, tile and thatch.
After Lulworth, we meandered westwards along the Jurassic coast, stopping at Chesil Beach around Abbotsbury,taking a glimpse of West Bay, Bridport and stopping
just five minutes at Charmouth beach to breathe the ozone breeze and admire the south coast’s highest point at 626 feet, the mighty Goldencap (still lower than our house’s
elevation however by some 100 feet) That aint a hill….
We called our accomodation for the next two nights, Allhallows B&B , to confirm the time of our arrival and then spent an hour in Lyme Regis looking for a place to eat that
evening. After some deliberation , we decided on a fish restaurant, Rumours, more of which later. After a sea front coffee, we drove out of town for 3 miles to the tiny village
of Rousdon and the Rousdon Estate, of which our B&B was but a small part. Passing through the stone pillars of the entrance, we felt as if we had entered the location for
Brideshead Revisited as we drove for a good half mile through well kept parkland, embroidered with mature beech trees filtering the warm evening sunlight. The house appeared and it took a short while to locate our accommodation in the west wing. This was the mother of all B&B’s!
Our bedroom dwarfed the four poster bed , with dimensions of 20 foot by 36 and a 12 foot ceiling decorated with intricate paneling and plaster work. Half the wall was oak panelled and the upper half a rich William Morris wallpaper. A large antique wardrobe sat demurely against one wall whilst a 9 feet large mullioned window with intricate lead panels looked resplendent in the last of the sun. The separate bathroom, tiled floor to ceiling in warm limestone sported a modern bath and his and her washbasins on a limestone worktop.
We had booked a taxi to take us back into Lyme Regis for Dinner at Rumours. We enjoyed our pre dinner drink in The Ship, a proper pub for local people to drink. It had a warm
feeling and a small clue was found on the bar wall where three photos of couples dating back to 1932 recorded the last three licensees! The beer prices down here are most
definitely sat in the twenty first century at £3.50 per pint and this a haunt of the locals. Then Rumours, which initially promised much with it’s menu, decor and position but then
delivered only an hour and a half series of minor disappointments. The portions were parsimonious, especially the vegetables ( four small new potatoes between two! ) the fish
probably frozen not fresh, the Turbot OK and the Lemon sole cooked to the consistency of a shoe inSOLE. The reaction by the waitress to a polite and discreet enquiry about a mistakeon the bill was that of disdain and mockery. A further drink is a busy pub by the Cobb and we were met by our taxi driver as arranged.
The next morning we enjoyed more outstanding hospitality from the owners of Allhallow’s B&B as we sat in their beautiful kitchen while breakfast was cooked to order on the Aga.
It takes a special skill to cook such a great meal and hold a pleasant conversation with their guests.
After so much travelling, we spent the day in Lyme Regis itself enjoying an old style day at the sea side. We played minigolf, enjoyed the gardens, walked the famous Cobb
breakwater and admired the boats, bought sandwiches and a pasty to eat on the sea wall, got sunburnt on the beach, fed the gulls, enjoyed an afternoon pint whilst people
watching and later found the best view in Lyme on the deck overlooking the harbour and a forty mile view to Isle of Portland at the Alexandra Hotel where a pleasant hour was
passed for the expense of two cream teas.
What was as interesting as what we did , were the things we would have liked to do and didn’t have the time. Fossil hunting ( my 45 year old geological hammer remained unused) a trip around the bay fishing for mackerel, rent a beach hut (£4 a day, with chairs and a kettle!), visit the museum, walk the undercliff, browse the fossil shops and many more.
Lyme Regis was a delight, a balanced mixture of people, young to old, doing normal things, buckets and spades, crab lines and fishing nets, windbreaks and deckchairs, a little
independent cinema, it’s own lifeboat, working boats, narrow streets with independent shops and very few multiples, seaside gardens and great views, cliffs, a harbour and a
beach, an interesting mix of architecture and a disproportionate number of literary connections.From Thomas Hardy and Jane Austen to John Fowles and Ian McKewan.
The following day, plotting a cross country A road route to see new places and avoid teh Glastonbury exodus, we took four hours to reach the Cotswolds and our ultimate aim, the
famous Hidcote Manor Garden, the definitive example of the design concept of garden rooms. I had been motivated to visit by a recent TV programme about the designer, Lawrence Johnson. The gardens were superb, some of the best I have ever seen and in fabulous order.
One observation of our busy weekend away would be that often the “Honeypot” tourist places are now overrun and there seems no real life left in them. The famous Cotswold villages of Bourton-on-the-water and Stow-on-the-wold are almost like theme
parks awash with coach trippers and shops like Edinburgh Woollen Mills. Give me Devizes, Shaftesbury or Malmesbury every time.
After an idyllic hour and a half at Hidcote, we completed the rest of the journey home as it had begun, mostly on A roads with just the motorway to get past Birmingham.