Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Week in Southwest England

It was late spring and starting to get a little warmer so Layla introduced us to one of her favourite retreats - Dartmouth in Devon. Since this was almost four hours away from close-to-everywhere Birmingham, the usual day trip was extended to five days in order to do the place justice. Well why not! Ben demonstrated his uncanny packing prowess by fitting two baby strollers and five large travel bags for four adults and Jude within the trunk cover of an Audi A3, and off we drove.

Jude in the carseat
Stopping briefly at the village of Cheddar in the Mendip Hills for a spot of well, cheddar cheese, we arrived to a gorgeous holiday apartment in Kingswear provided by the family's good friends. The setting was perfect as we relaxed in the sunlit loungeroom, which opened onto a balcony overlooking a magnificent view of Dartmouth just across the river. A cheerful toot-toot! and a puff of smoke completed the scene, as a quaint heritage steam train chugged along the rail line skirting the Dart River.

Afternoon view of Dartmouth town from Kingswear, Devon
Early evening view of Kingswear town from Dartmouth - Devon
Our stay was full of good walks, good food, scenic trips up and down the river and great family time.

Dartmouth Castle viewed from Kingswear, Devon
Afternoon Munchies. Clockwise from top left: Tangy Cheddar Pickle from Cheddar, French Rillettes au Canard, English Stilton Blue Cheese, Cave-aged Cheddar from Cheddar, French Porc Saucisse
Boat House on the River - between Dittisham and Dartmouth, Devon
On the ferry - Dartmouth, Devon
Castles on the coast, sunsets on the hills, thriving riverside town life, and beautiful old stonework meant plenty of photo opportunities.

Hedged Path at Sunset - Kingswear, Devon
Postbox in the Wall - Kingswear, Devon
A couple enjoying the view of Kingswear from Dartmouth - Devon
We visited Coleton Fishacre, a National Trust heritage manor and gardens, picnicking on scones (with heart-stopping clotted cream of course!) amongst stunning flower beds and trickling streams.

Scones with Fresh Strawberries, Black Cherry Jam, and Clotted Cream - Coleton Fishacre, Kingswear, Devon
The walk from Coleton Fishacre back to Kingswear along the sea was another reward for the senses, as dramatic coast gave way to heady fields of daisies.

Clear Turquoise Blue of the English Channel - Coastal Walk from Coleton Fishacre to Kingswear, Devon
Another fantastic walk from Kingswear to Dittisham unveiled entire forest floors blanketed with blooming bluebells.

A Forest Filled with Flowering Bluebells - Walk from Kingswear to Dittisham, Devon
Streams Through Bluebells - Walk from Kingswear to Dittisham, Devon
When the family went back to Birmingham, Ben and I decided to return the long way. We landed a very cute Fiat 500 at the hire car pickup, and headed towards Somerset again to check out the mythical Glastonbury Tor. All sorts of legends surround this grassy hill, some associating it with Avalon of Arthurian legend, others claiming it as the entrance to a Celtic fairy underworld, and another of the Tor being a possible burial site of the Holy Grail. All we know is that the sheep loved the fresh green grass and it commanded an awesome view of Glastonbury and the surrounding countryside.

Grazing Sheep Around St Michael's Tower - Glastonbury Tor, Somerset
Warily Inquisitive - Glastonbury Tor, Somerset
We stayed at a random pub hotel in Wareham, Dorset, where we enjoyed beer and cider, four dozen fresh local mussels steamed in a curry sauce, and a lively Saturday market that turned up in the carpark the next morning. We stocked up on some fresh fruit, bread and honey, but we couldn't stay long, for we had much to see and do. Such as a sunrise shoot over the dramatic ruins of Corfe Castle.

Sunrise over Corfe Castle and Town - Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
Ben experimented with slow shutter speeds and a ten-stop filter to capture smooth seascapes around the coastal town of Swanage on the Isle of Purbeck.

Calm Waters - Swanage, Dorset
Sunrays on Harry's Rocks - Jurassic Coast, Dorset
And these were some pretty cool looking chalk rocks.

Bright White and Chalky Harry's Rocks - Jurassic Coast, Dorset
The Pinnacles - Jurassic Coast, Dorset
Despite the gloomy forecast, we managed to drag ourselves out of our pub hotel bed in Amesbury in Wiltshire for our 6:30am appointment with Britain's most famous bunch of stones.

Stonehenge, viewed from the Northeast - near Amesbury, Wiltshire
It was surreal experience since for a long time we were the only ones there apart from the security guards and one other couple. I felt the heaviness of time on these rocks which had stood here (and fallen there) since prehistory. It was pretty cool seeing graffiti from past centuries, and hearing one of the security guards regale us with strange tales of horrific burials and ghosts.

Stonehenge, viewed from the Northeast Slaughter Stone - near Amesbury, Wiltshire
Here it is again from a slightly different angle.

Stonehenge, viewed from the East - near Amesbury, Wiltshire
And just to prove that we were really there …

Us and the 'Enge' - near Amesbury, Wiltshire
True to nature, Ben wanted to find his own angle on Stonehenge. So we both got dusted in bright yellow pollen.

Stonehenge viewed from a nearby rapeseed field in flower - near Amesbury, Wiltshire
Golden Hour (sort of) in a Field of Yellow Rapeseed Flowers - Stonehenge near Amesbury, Wiltshire
It had been awhile since we had been up so early for sunrise, and it always surprises me how much seems to fit into a day when we get up early. Next stop, the perfectly preserved Georgian streetscapes of Bath.

Windows in Green Walls - Bath, Somerset
Door Under the Railway - Bath, Somerset
After spotting a couple of nesting peregrine falcons swoop around St John the Evangelist Church (where a visiting choir from Germany graced Sunday Mass with angelic harmonies), we wandered around the city, taking in the sights. Highlights include the immensity of Bath Abbey, the picturesque walk along the River Avon, a steamy Roman bath (at which we snuck a free look-see from the Pump Room window), and the grandeur of Bath's most famous addresses - The Circus and The Royal Crescent. We chilled on the Crescent Lawn watching a game of frisbee thinking, this is quite alright.

A Straight View of The Circus - Bath, Somerset
An easy two hour drive returned us to homely Birmingham, an afternoon pot of Yorkshire Gold and Sheila's birthday cupcakes.

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