The bride and I are returning to the U.K. for a visit again this May. This time, (for the first time on any stage, anywhere), all of my siblings and their mates are traveling with us. We decided, back in September, I think, that we would make the trip together, and so it began.
Here’s the challenge – it’s not the seven of us being together and if, or not, we might commit murder most foul on the moors or not, we are genuinely good friends and have been through a lot together over the years, even though, like most families, we have spread out. My brother Jay, and our truely southern belle, his wife, Ginger, hail from west central Florida. Younger sister, Karla and her lofty husband, Smith, live now in east central Georgia, while the older of the two sisters, Laura, Carrolle and I are from the south Piedmont of North Carolina. The challenge is for we all to be relaxed, not try to cram too much into 10 days in the U.K. and not be in conflict about when and where we’re going to visit. None of the siblings are shy about opinions, taking the lead or otherwise “being the guy”, but we are determined (so far) to just let things unfold in the spirit of discovery. Logically, we know that certain things will be influenced by Carrolle and my knowledge and past experience in the four prior visits. But here we are just seven weeks from departure and thus far, we as a group have only committed to two pre-ordered arrangements. We arrive on a Monday and the Friday following we have a ferry booking to the Isle of Wight. We’ve rented a 7 (or perhaps 9) passenger van and can take it onto the ferry so we can easily do the “Wighty 90” – the 90 km loop around the perimeter, more or less of the entire island. The other pre-arrangement is on the Monday prior to our flight home, we have rented a self skippered narrowboat on the Kennet and Avon canal and are going to take cream tea afloat – assuming we don’t wedge ourselves into the rushes or forget to pass oncoming craft port side to port side!
(an unknown person bearing no likeness to anyone in our group)
So, even before we all convene in Orlando for the flight over the big water (USD 1400 per couple less than if we flew from CLT or ATL), the adventure has begun. We’ve all watched endless episodes of “Escape to the Country”, “Detectorists”, (not so much for the scenery references, but because it’s one of the best serial episode programs on British, American or any other national media entertainment), and the tried and true shows, like “Midsomer Murders”. Trip Advisor has been consulted and countless YouTube videos watched. So preparation and research have and are taking place – but here’s to the pleasure of discovery of that very cool village pub – on the path from here to there.
Three years, a pandemic and a slew of canceled/rescheduled arrangements, we made it back. The flight over was uneventful and surprisingly smooth – Customs formailities non-existent and Immigration (almost) a pleasure – walk almost non-stop through the usual rat’s maze queue, place the passport in the scanner face down – look straight ahead at the self adjusting camera and bingo! Her Majesty’s services swing the door open and you’re in.
No drive from Heathrow accross to the West Country would be the same without the obligatory stop at Stonehenge – no matter how brief or close you walk around the ancient pile of stones, placed like a giant’s mumbly-peg set, one cannot help but be amazed.
As an aside, no one really has the “straight skinny” on the when’s and why’s of Stonehenge – here’s a couple of the latest theories:
“Researchers say the site was created based on a solar year of 365.25 days to help people keep track of days, weeks and months. The mystery of Stonehenge may finally have been unravelled by researchers who say it’s a giant solar calendar that may link the UK to ancient Egypt.” 2 Mar 2022
“Research in the last decade has confirmed that the igneous bluestones were brought to Stonehenge from the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, over 200km to the west. The sandstones have been tracked to eastern Wales although the exact outcrops have yet to be found ” .29 Jul 2020
“In 1924, Farmer Nathaneaul Porridgewock, found some big rocks and decided to build a circular barn with the help of his wife and the older 13 of his 16 sons. A subsequent windstorm later in the year caused all the wood and turf used for the roof to blow off and the foundation stones only remained. Porridgewock’s 2nd cousin, Percy, fleeing an ill-judged target for a scam he was running in London near Parliment, arrived at the farm and saw a money making opportunity. He got Farmer P’s sons to cut down all the trees between the foundation stones and the country road and started selling a chance to “observe ancient rocks up close” for only 10P. The rest is history” 28 May, 2022
Choose your own conclusion as nearly everyone else has.
We’re using Wincanton, or more specifically, Horsington Marsh as our base and made a short trip down to Cornwall, spending 2 nights there. We’ve only been to Port Issac previously, but stretched out and stayed in Penzance in a really cool tiny houselet –
HIKING IN CORNWALL
So, we could record a whole bunch of details, trace every step we took, blah, blah, blah. Here’s the nut of it – there is more hiking on the bottom of SW England, in Cornwall, than anyone could detail in other than a series of books. Most hikes are well publicized already, but there is plenty of interesting “detours” that well equipped and slightly mad hikers/ ramblers/scramblers could take. For example:
The Southwest Coastal Path.
We did two pieces, the first in Marazion fronting right on the beach. Looming several hundred yards offshore is the Mount of St. Michael. Which you can hike out to at low tide. An extended stay on the island can be arranged merely by hanging around too long while the tide comes back in and then a long wait for the next low tide (or pay to have one of the local marine entrepreneurs, (read that as the Pirates of Penzance still live!), to take you back off by boat.
The second hike, a little more than 6 miles, started at Prussia Cover and went south towards, but didn’t reach, the Lizard – the southernmost point in England. The path is sometimes on gravel cliff top one lane roads, sometimes across gravel and scree beach and often on cow paths that are perfect tunnels – if you’re 5’4″ or less in stature. Also, given the British tradition of Health and Safety, warning signs are considerately posted here and there…
And finally, on top of the Bodwin Moors…
Going Bodmin, in local nomenclature, means the mental state of someone who has spent too much time out on the Moors. Daphne du Maurier gained some of her fame by writing of those afflicted by madness of the moors. At first look, it seems barren, the predominant plants are thorny and the wind howls incessantly. The wild beauty of it undeniable. When you drive on the 1.25 lane roads to the upper reaches of the Moors, (at your peril), you drive across a cattle grate and suddenly you are in livestock wonderland. Cows, Moors ponies, sheep of every description, foxes, badgers and song birds by the hundreds greet you at every point of the compass. After lunch outside the Minions Tea Room (Highest Tea Room in aaaalllll Cornwall), we set off for our final hike in Cornwall – to the top of the Cheesewringer!
Hiking up to the Cheesewringer, which is topped with a natural roack formation that resembles a mammoth stack of granite pancakes, is not the casual stroll it might appear to be, but worth the effort. After working off the calorie load from the Minions Tea Room in the first half hour of the climb, the work part of the hike started and it is, for safety, hands and feet in a couple of spots. The view, all the way to sea, is worth every moment of the climb
And lastly, just to keep things in perspective……………………………..
I’ve traveled …. a lot. Close to home – Canada and Mexico close to home. Every state except Hawaii and North Dakota Most of the banana republics of Central America and the Latin States of South America. 17 island nations of the Caribe, islands of French Polynesia, Great Britain and some places that I can’t even remember the names of, just vignettes of incidents that blend in my mind to make me thankful for the colors I’ve seen and experienced.
Among my very favorite places is California – swimmin’ pools and movies stars, right? And it’s somewhat true – you can’t have that many folks in the entertainment industry in the same place without bumping into some – yesterday I rode the Air Train from rental car return into the air terminals at SFO with Eric Bana. I recognized him and we chatted casually – he was on his way back to NY and I was returning to NC. Thank goodness I didn’t try to address him by name since the only thing that popped into my mind was Liev Schrieber. For once I didn’t stick my foot in it, but my sense is that he would have thought it funny.
My California isn’t so much of the south, though I have family in and around San Diego and have spent some time around Laguna Beach, but of the northern half, with family there too. One most excellent summer, my father was free from work, (a supportive union was out on strike and he didn’t have to report for work until the ironworkers ended their walkout}. I’ve taken to calling it “The Summer of Creedence”. We rode horses in the foothills of the Sierras, played endless games of pool in the garage, snuck drinks of Jug Wine (think Boone’s Farm in fake ceramic jugs) and endlessly listened to CCR’s Green River album, “…Walkin’ along the river road at night, Barefoot girls dancin’ in the moonlight….”, The Carpenters, and tried to grow up. That California is pretty far removed from the LA/Valley scene, even in the names of the towns – Cool (really), Dew Drop, Secret Town, Yankee Jimsand the everlasting Grass Valley. During that summer, Grass Valley was the habitation and habitus of “them hippies”, according to my Dad and Uncle Buck – also affectionately known as “Uncle Blob”. Grass Valley has retained its flavor with newer influences evolving the scene.
Freeway billboard along the 101
My Coolifornia has a few palms scattered here and there, but it’s a place of dry hills, sprinkled with Cedars and other relatives of the Sequoia, Live Oaks and the various Elms – American, Chinese, Siberian and the more uniquely named, Zelkova.
Take time to visit my California – take I-80 north from San Francisco, get off this highway that wanders from two to six lanes, which does NOT improve traffic flow, at Auburn and enjoy the Old Town – think old Key West still with a gold rush flavor. Head west and south out of town on Hwy. 49. The road twists and turns, like the Blue Ridge, down canyons to the American River, with plenty of turnouts to enjoy the views – and take note of the various weeds, something far too many overlook when traveling – the Star Nettle and many others .
Drop down across the American and climb the switch backs on the other riverbank. Pass through Cool and wind your way through the opening land to Folsom. And, holy cats, don’t fail to watch for reminders of California’s more recent past…..
The Prison is still a major presence there with sprawling lands, bordered by the Johnny Cash Art trail and Folsom Lake.
Finally, for the painterly, this is a chance to visit Northern Italy without the bother of international travel – landscape, scenery and the lemony blue light. I’ll be going back, all things staying equal, to Coolifornia, to visit, paint and again feel the wonder of my youth.
Sorry, this is not about Moscow girls, Leningrad girls or JoJo, who hasn’t been on my mind.
First, indulge me in a comment on Airline Economy Class upgrades- some are nothing more than the vehicle to charge you more for a seat that has some, real or suggested, advantage – “oh look, I’m four whole rows closer to the deplaning exit..” (but you’re still in row 30 instead of 34). But the airlines DO have some wicked cool names for your freedom to pay more for essentially the same, well, everything – American Airlines can allow you to upgrade from Basic Economy to Premium Economy, United has Standard Economy to Premium Economy, Delta from Economy to Comfort, and so on.
However, one basic upgrade level I can recommend is Virgin Atlantic’s “Economy Delight”..( skyrockets in flight, economy delight…). Yes, this whimsically named upgrade has some real benefits. First, since if you are flying, say Boston-Heathrow – 5-1/2hrs and 7hrs on the return, the extra 3.5″ of leg room is great, especially compared to the 2″ additional on some other carriers. Next, you board with Premium instead of the cattle call and have guaranteed overhead storage. Seats are roomy with excellent curved headrests and worth the $ spent. As they say onboard – “Economy Delight – look for the Champagne coloured seats..”
We flew LHR-BOS on Sunday, had our baggage collected & were in the rental car by 6 p.m and headed for Maine. After traveling 4000 miles into the headwind, and inevitable delays on the taxiways of Beantown, the 90 minute drive up Rt. 1A and I-95 to our friend’s house in Maine was kein problem! We would spend only that night, the next day and the following morning in Maine before driving back to Boston and flying back to North Carolina.
Maine is a world apart by almost any measure. The year-round population of just over 1.3 million is almost exactly that of Charlotte and Raleigh, NC without their suburbs. More than 75% of the state is wooded and 13% of homes are totally heated with wood. In fact, Mainers are leading the way with decreasing dependence on oil for heating purposes, with almost 7% switching to wood between 2009 and 2014 alone. Yet, far from Utopian, Maine has about the same per capita population of folks who are finding comfort, and hellish lives from Meth and Heroin.
For all that, after moving away 19 years ago, I would still like to live in Maine….from April through October. I’m not lazy – I would just rather not spend every minute of free time shoveling snow, ice, slush and other various forms of increasingly solid water states for about 5 months out of the year.
I would rather again live right near the ocean, especially during the non-tourist times to walk on the beach in the morning, pick up hen clams after a storm and catch the “they’ah gonna be heah any day now”, stripers. A crowded spring beach in Maine
And if you’re a water sport, you never know who you’re gonna catch a wave with…
I’m back in NC now, back to some recreational and non-stop grass mowing, whacking away with paint on canvas and maybe throwing some mud on the pottery wheel. But part of me is always traveling……..
“……Tariffs me to not scam me. I’ll have the grounds, and the house No more relaxitive than this. The stay’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the relaxation of a king….”
Every so often you run across “the real deal”. Most often when we use that expression, we mean, “the genuine article”, the superlative, the sublime, etc. As true would be, the added quality of value. Our recent stay at Lois Barns, near Wincanton, Somerset, UK qualifies in spades. I’ve written an informal review of the lodging, which is a renovated swine barn of many years ago, (no trace, or smell, of a piggery now!). In that initial missive, I included some photos of the exterior of the place and have received several requests for photos of the interior – which follow.
Here’s where the value readily manifests itself. I’ve used Air BnB, Homeaway.com, VRBO and other lodging booking services many, many times, both domestically in the U.S. and abroad, since I greatly prefer the relaxation of a home stay, not to mention the convenience of having actual cooking and most often, clothes washing capabilities. I pack light (most of the time) and don’t mind having a libation while the clothes are in the wash. These items are available in almost all rental homes. What is much less common are the qualities of the hosts. Which is why I’m writing about Chris and Tanya, owners and operators of Lois Barns.
Tanya and Chris Peatroy, owners of Lois Barns
Quietly witty, forever patient with the questions of the insanely curious – “How does your septic system work out here in the country?”, “why are there numbers painted on the sheep?”, and “is the nearby pub really not good for a meal?” Add to this, being hospitable and friendly without being intrusive. These qualities are actually, in my experience, rarely found in hosts/operators of rental properties. In fact, I’ve rented several houses and have never even met a live person – just received an email telling me where the key is and please mind the new kitchen countertops!
All of that, packaged with a completely comfortable and relaxing home with thoughtful attention to what short stay tenants will need, and want – makes Lois Barns a winner!
Max’s lodging long and short of it (mostly short):
3 bedrooms sleeping six, all can be configured as king beds or oversized singles. All bedrooms, (2 up, one down) feature original wooden beams with whimsical cross ties in the upstairs bedrooms.
Full kitchen with four burner stove (cooker) and oven. All needed table service, cooking utensils and table seating for six.
Two baths, one up and one down. Downstairs is 3/4 bath with a nice shower cube, upstairs has an excellent soaking tub with hand shower and plenty of hot water for that nice soak.
Large living room with wood stove and entertainment center featuring a couple of hundred channels for the video-dependent.
Very nice outdoor seating on the rear patio with table and seats for six under a grape-arbor. Additional benches and charcoal grill.
Excellent rural views all around with horses, cattle and sheep-oh my!
No noise made by anything other than soothing animal sounds – (this is a refined working farm).
7 minutes to Wincanton with it’s truly excellent Wincanton Fish Bar (say hello to John and Wendy, the 14 year proprietors, for us)
Central and reasonably close location to very many desirable sites and activities
and finally, Tanya and Chris – for all the reasons mentioned above and far more
The town of Dervizes, located in Wiltshire, U.K., is as is so many in Britain, a historical market town that has a great many sites to explore and enjoy – one of the notables is the Wadworth Brewery, a relatively “new” company that has only been producing a line of brewed potables since 1875. One touch of class is that they deliver to pubs in a 5 mile radius of the brewery in their own horse drawn wagons, powered by a couple of their Shire draft horses, Monty, Max and Archie and Sam. When not on the beer delivery route, the horses serve as sometime taxis, are entered in shows and as you would suppose, as well known in England as the Busch Clydesdales are in the U.S.
Wadworth provides tours and tutored tastings of their product line, which we will be availing ourselves of on our next visit.
This trip, we were making a flying stop on our way to Heathrow, to see the famous locks. For those born in areas without meaningfully navigable waters and after the advent of video games, this type of lock is not something to secure a place, nor something placed on someone else’s lips, but a series of doors in the water that will lower or raise a boat to the level of the water found up or downstream of the lock.In the case of the Dervizes “flight” of locks, 16 in number descending Caen Hill, dropping, (or raising) a total of 247 feet, are all powered by….humans. As seen each lock has two doors. The boatman, or more likely, his wife, climb out of the narrow boats usually seen in this area, places the largest muscle in the body against the white beams and leans back against the boom, moving it in a 90 degree arc to parallel the water, which opens the door to enter. Once the boat is inside the lock, the outgoing door is opened, after water is let in or out, to raise or lower the boat to the next level. There are some Olympic quality backsides and legs in the area!
These locks, 29 in all, were completed in 1810 and are still in daily use, many, many times. The area is beautiful and well worth a visit, even by the video driven souls…
Feed the swans – tuppence!
The native narrowboats are often to hire, by the day or for even extended stays and can be used to get from one side of England to the other via the various rivers and purpose dug canals.
George Edward the 10th, (more commonly known as Buddy), and I went for our last fishing outing in England this morning as tomorrow this time, we will be at the Gate at Heathrow just about to board our flight back to the U.S. And of course, we are flying Economy Delight on Virgin Atlantic, my dear!
So, we arrived at the lakes fed by Sweatsford Water, a tributary of the Avon in Hampshire, around 8 a.m. The lake’s visibility was marginal, but it was a terrific morning, cool at first, steadily warming as the sun rose higher in the sky and we could see ocasional trout rising to take a snack from the surface here and there. We waved our 9′ rods to and fro with little result – a few “follows” and no takers. As we were changing flies, and leaders, an older gentleman came along on his way to go chill his fish..which he had four of. (Somewhat embarrassing). Noting his patch that said, “British Masters Champion – 2014”, with all the good will and politeness I could muster, asked, “Might I know what sort of fly you were using?” He showed me a dark blue damsel. Before I could ask anything else, he dug into his well-worn fishing vest and handed me a fly clearly tied at Hollywood & Vine, or on Time’s Square, or somewhere else you would find the epitome of tackiness. It was large and gaudy with a black body, wrapped and with tail “feathers’ made from golden mylar that twinkled in the sun. “Now, young man”, he said, “you just cast that out, particularly if you see a trout rising, throw it right at ’em, and let it sink for 10 seconds or so. Then, just you strip it back in like this.” (Making short, jerky motions with his hand, miming retrieving line from the water by hand). “you do that, me friend and you’ll catchem!” Acknowledging my thanks and disregarding my offer to pay for the Imperial Gaudy Fly, he wondered off.
The short version of the rest of the story is this – I did exactly as he instructed, just so, and caught this very chunky 2-1/2lb Blue Trout.
My thanks to the unknown Master Champion, your Kung Fu is formidable!
I’ve been fishing, sometimes daily, for over 55 years, this day will stand out as one to be kept right in the front hall closet of my memory palace!
For those who may be unsure of the suitability of keeping the fish we caught, the waters we fished this trip are NOT catch and release, but are declared No Release waters. This is to ensure that no fish are returned to the waters in an injured state to die a slow death and bring possible contagion to the pristine waters. And, we eat them!
You’re paying good money to go see history while in England. You might go to any of the dozens, or even hundreds of sites maintained by the English Heritage organization…they even, for we Yanks and other “furriners”, have an “Overseas Visitor Pass”, pay one price and gain entry to over 100 historical sites – about $40 USD. Or, you can pay the same cost and gain entrance to a place that sounds like part history, part Disneyland, and the remaining portion of a road side zoo. And yuou would be right to do so, ..and wrong
Longleat is a fine example of an Elizabethan grand country home purchased for the Marquesses of Bath in 1541, formerly a Chapter House for the Augustinian Priory – (holy DaVinci Code!). Burnt badly enough to be razed and rebuilt to its current splendor in about 1580. The eighth Marquess still lives there, now in his eighties and in poor health. He is surrounded in old luxury and a 10,000 acre game park inhabited by lions, tigers, bears, (oh my), wolves and various African species…including a very large troop of monkeys that could get employment in any auto wrecking yard in the U.S. When you drive, foolishly, into the monkey enclosure, after immediately and completely ignoring all advice for folks in the know, and the very pointed warning signs at the entrance, the first thing you see are the trophies taken in the park. Not lion’s heads, nor Cape Buffalo horns and skulls, but fenders, countless window wipers, hubcaps, bumpers and various other car parts. We got off very easy indeed – (rest easy Budget Car Rental agents)..
A single, rather than dozens, female monkey hopped on our car, scrambled onto the roof and only ate small chunks of the rear mounted radio antenna. After a few gentle, sort of, pumpings of the brakes, she was off and watching for her next victim. The rest lay in the tall grasses, huddled together to ward off the chill of the brisk wind.
The house should be seen -The details are too numerous and detailed to mention, but for those who have not seen it, think Biltmore House on steroids. This is the sort of grandeur that Vanderbilt had in mind, but did not match, when he had Biltmore constructed.
Something else that old George V couldn’t match, and undoubtedly wouldn’t want to, was the reputation of the current Lord of the Manor, Alexander Thynne, the seventh to inherit the place and the title, now past his former glory, or lack thereof. But during his heyday he was the very epitome of the artistic hippie, techno beatnik, right down to the whole rap he espoused, which included incidentally, to have the traditional wife and offspring to inherit, but also upto 75 “wifelets” to address his other interests and outlets.\
Alexander Thynne, 7th Marquess of Bath then
Lest I dwell overmuch on the eccentricities and lasciviousness of this artful dodger, let me say this – Longleat is well worth visiting, with its animal park, the Great House, the adventure park, the boat rides into a freshwater lake inhabited by seals and gorillas on an island and many other features. It should feel like a tacky, State Highway attraction, but still manages to come off with the class that only the passage of centuries can bring.
“Be an opener of doors” -Ralph Waldo Emerson, a man I’ve always thought of as someone really smart, who cast about looking for something to latch onto and, sadly, never really found it. That said, at some point of my dimly remembered youth, I read those words and
they stuck with me. In my youth, I boldly rushed in, whipped the door open without consideration of consequence and took some nasty falls. I still open doors when presented with the opportunity, but I “count the cost….” first – most of the time..<g> Here’s a collection of doors, with their real and imagined stories behind, seen in the last few days.
Gold Hill, Shaftesbury (several following)
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And for those who prefer their entrances a little more pretentious, nay, grandiose…
To close this one out, and even though I don’t espouse all that he has to say, it may be interesting to consider the words of Mark Rice, a Scottish rocker with Metallic Dreams. Mark speaks of a, or the, definitive moment in his youth……
“I was ten when I heard the music that ended the first phase of my life and cast me hurtling into a new horizon. Drenched to the skin, I stood on Dunoon’s pier peering seawards through diagonal rain, looking for the ferry that would take me home. There, on the everwet west coast of Scotland, I heard it: like sonic scalpels, the sounds of electric guitars sliced through the dreich weather. My body hairs pricked up. To my young ears, the sound of these amplified guitars was angelic (although, with hindsight, I don’t suppose angels play Gibson guitars at ear-bleeding volume). A voice that suggested vocal chords of polished silver soared alongside razor-sharp overdriven riffs. I knew that I was hearing the future.”
And, of Isaac Asimov: “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s troublesome.”
May you find the essential door, or someone who appears at your own, to change your future for the better –
I’ve written many times about our preferences about where and “how” we generally lodge when we are centrally located to the sites we want to visit. Though we don’t mind staying in hotels for short stays, once we exceed four or five nights, we much prefer staying in a rented home. And we have had some excellent side benefits from doing so. Since we not infrequently travel with friends or family, a home stay, or in the cases of our last two visits to the U.K., a renovated barn stay, gives us the space and sense of sharing that very few hotels ever could. And further, we’ve made some good friends with some of our “landlords”, Simon and Claire in Pewsey, Wiltshire and now Tonya and Chris in Horsington, Somerset. Si and Claire aren’t currently taking short term renters, but Chris and Tonya of Lois Barns, still accept qualified short leases. And their rental space is first class and genuinely, a “home away”. For more information, including contact details, go to this website: http://www.loisbarns.co.uk/booking.html
I knew when we first booked for this trip, last December, and after pouring over the photos on the web, that I would like to paint one or more views of the property. So here’s the piece of the back of the renovated barn.