AN UNREMARKABLE JOURNEY?
To drive a fully laden carriage 160 miles to the County of Devonshire, to most dear Reader, would seem an unremarkable task but if one is on the dearth side of three score years and fifteen merely to rise from ones bed in the morning, let alone set off on such a journey at 05.45 on what is to become one of the hottest days of the year would, I think you would agree, is not unremarkable.
Indeed to negotiate what is known as the M25, the M3, the A303 and the rutted tracks of Somersetshire, Dorset and Devonshire via a Diminutive (or Little) Chef to water the horses to tarry at Honiton for a short visit to friends who are also on the dearth side of three score years and fifteen, further, to wend the lanes to deepest Branscombe avoiding the advancing milk laden beasts and cartloads of harvest hay at the same time trying to control the horses and contain the mind from straying when faced with all manner of provocation surely is a task that is not un-remarkable.
All this was achieved ‘afore noon.
A welcoming Peacock at Berry Barton Farm made it all seem worthwhile, not to mention the sight of a local hostelry at the bottom of the hill. Marcia’s concern as to the condition of the provisions in the picnic box in the heat were soon forgotten as Caravan No 21 turned out to be BRAND SPANKING NEW. The term Caravan is hardly appropriate. A (possibly) mobile home with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, fully fitted kitchen, central heating, flushing toilets, picture windows, a cosy electric ‘Magicoal’ heater, touch sensitive lamps and a FOR SALE sign in the window all contrive to seduce one into becoming a soft target for any would be salesman. Within the hour Mr Mark the genial farmer explained to Bob that for £28,000 plus approx. £4000 per annum costs caravan No 21 could be theirs. Within 24 hours, dear Reader, both Bob and Marcia came to their senses to the sound of the drumming rain on the roof and the soggy dogs being dragged by the window.
In case you are interested in investing, caravan No 21 resides high on a hill in a large field with similar dwellings evenly spaced around the perimeter, some with cosy looking decks surrounded by twee wicket fences complete with potted plants, patio table and chairs waiting patiently for the obligatory wine glasses and bottle of Chardonnay. Before sunset, which was spectacular, the pair set out to explore the immediate neighbourhood which was a working farm only yards from high cliffs and the South West Coat Path beckoning to Sidmouth in the West and to Branscombe and Beer to the East. Another un-remarkable task for the morrow?
Boots, brollies and bonnets on board the pair set off on what, on the face of it and on the map, seemed no more than a mornings stroll. The route East to Branscombe Beach via precipitous steps was negotiated without mishap; walking poles were put to good use piecing holes in many leaves. Branscombe Beach turned out to be just as it was some 25 years ago when Bob and Marcia first visited except for the addition of an attractive National Trust Tea Room come Restaurant. Along the cliffs to the east there were many other holiday dwellings some perched on precipitous platforms with menacing looking rocks above. Continuing inland towards Branscombe along the valley, multi coloured milk laden beasts with strange knotted hair-do’s were admired grazing in the field. Branscombe Bakery Tea Rooms, another National Trust establishment, offering teas and scones in the sunshine seduced the couple to yet another beverage. The W.I. Room next to the Old Forge also offering homemade pies and more beverages unfortunately had to be bypassed.
Further up the lane was a scene worthy of your actual chocolate box. It is a cosy cottage festooned with flowers spilling out in all directions from tubs and hanging baskets, opposite is a small cottage in a large garden sloping down to a stream similarly bedecked with colour, the cottage can be rented from the owner Doreen Hayes and is the place where Bob and Marcia stayed some 25 years ago. Doreen is a colourful lady, a local character and a former BA air hostess and if you stay in her cottage every evening you will be visited by a family of badgers, or were 25 years ago, and I understand is still the case.
On further up the lane is The Fountain Head, a traditional country Pub which is also worth a visit. If you imbibe a trifle more than is necessary you will find the walk from The Fountain Head up a very, very, very steep hill back to the caravan site a task which would be better achieved without the trifle.
The walk up the hill took our intrepid couple into thick mist and drizzle, which was forecast, the lack of visibility and instinct made it difficult to locate No 21. The Peacock pointed the way.
Rain drumming on the roof from the early hours, mist so thick that all caravans had disappeared into the gloom dictated a warming full English breakfast and a book by the ‘Magicoal’ Bob now riveted by the rising passions of Jane and Mr Rochester. Marcia riveted by last week’s Daily Mail Health Section. TV reception is welcomingly intermittent. By afternoon the deluge eased, the mist began to clear and the sun tried to make an appearance. A short drive to Sidmouth, a short walk around the town and a short walk around the formal gardens was long enough to enjoy the short visit to Sidmouth.
Weather improved a slightly longer drive this time to Lyme Regis, another favourite. Following a short visit to another caravan/camping site, a short walk along the Cob, a short visit to an ammonite and shell shop to purchase a short shell, a short walk along the beach, a short walk up the high street and a short visit to the library to check emails and Google Analytics followed by a short in the Nags Head opposite. The next half hour chatting to Dick with the trilby produced enough material for a far more interesting blog than this one. Dick had grown up in Portsmouth, dived for pennies at the pier, ate ‘farthing’ breakfasts, left school at 12, joined the merchant navy, dodged the Germans and the Russians, travelled the world and ferried ship loads of war brides back to the States after the war. He still carried his ration book stamped 1948, got through 6 pints of lager a day, traversed the steep lanes of Lyme Regis daily, caught the bus back home all at three score years and twenty eight! Definitely not an un-remarkable journey?
It’s not lunch time yet! Lunch back at No 21, another passionate dose of Jane Eyre followed by an evening hike along the cliffs gazing in wonderment at the variety of dwellings and Romany Vans clinging to the steep cliffs below. Method of access unknown – except maybe by boat. A passing lady Golden Retriever owner explained that one precipitous plot had recently sold for £45.000. A bargain?
Early morning spent rummaging around the Farmyard searching for a piece of wire to wrap round a rattling exhaust pipe – job done – drive down to Branscombe Beach fill the car park ticket machine with loads a money and set off Eastwards to Beer. The first steep climb from the beach is very steep, passing joggers puffing and panting, the second steep climb about 200 steps vertically to about 500ft was achieved with the RA walking poles (Rocket Assisted). Past the Coastguard Lookout and gently downhill all the way into cosy, historic, bustling Beer. 75p spent rashly on a deck chair (forgot the picnic blanket) on the beach, munching a pasty, dreaming about buying another boat as Kellar was anchored just offshore – well it looked like her also an Orkney Strikeliner was parked next to Bob’s deckchair which was his favourite (not the deckchair – the boat).
Not looking forward to the hike back. Hoping to hitch a ride from a local fisherman back to Branscombe proved not to be an option however a friendly Mackerel fisherman said ‘Why don’t you catch the bus?’ Buses in Beer? How the hell do they get down the lanes? Low and behold a bus stop was found at the top of the high street advertising a bus to Branscombe at 16.22. Sure enough at 16.23 a 10 ft wide bus arrived with branches and leaves decorating the outside. Unfortunately Marcia had forgotten her bus pass so she had to walk, but wait, Mr Rochester relented and found the bus fare deep in his pocket, Jane overwhelmed with the generosity of the man tried not to touch his arm for fear it might arouse his ardour.
The 10ft wide bus somehow managed to negotiate the 8ft wide lanes and disgorged the couple at The Mason’s Arms, Branscombe. Bob was unable to decide whether a pint of ‘Hells Belles’, ‘Summa This’ or Summa That’ would be acceptable as Jane was never too pleased about the effect so he chose ‘Summa t’Other’. Don’t believe me? Look HERE). Battered haddock, chunky chips and mushy peas at £12.75 a head were also enjoyed outside in the fading sun. The Masons Arms also can accommodate you if you so wish – click HERE for full details.
A pleasant stroll back to Branscombe Beach to collect the carriage but not before another dreamy hour spent looking out to sea this time lounging in the camping chairs. One year old Joel crawled up to the old couple and made friends, his Daddy was the chef in the National Trust Tea Rooms alongside and had also travelled the world on cruise liners, Jane mused about what it would be like to have a young family of her own once again. The local crab fisherman winched his boat up the beach and scuttled off on his tractor with his crabs.
Rain pounding on the roof, wind tearing at the trees, soggy dogs once again being dragged to the fields the forecast was even worse the campers in the adjacent field nowhere to be seen.
Today spent in the now claustrophobic caravan feeling sorry for Jane and chewing the fat with an old neighbour from Cobham who was now resident with her ailing husband in nearby Honiton. An inevitable visit to the nearby Donkey Sanctuary in the drizzle to end the week on a high!
Home in 6 hours instead of 4 including a horse watering stop at Lytes Carey Manor – give it a try when you are next in the area, only minutes from the A303, Jane would love it.
Bob Jones 2015
Chocolate Box Cottage and Garden Branscombe click HERE for full details.
The Nags Head Lyme Regis
Branscombe Beach from 200 ft and 400ft (us Spitfire pilots know exactly how high we are!)