06.04.2006 10 °C
Settled on spending two days in Miriam's ancestral lands, Dorset and Devon. Very limited options for a roof for one's head available by Net booking - this still being a relatively
low tech area. No wireless LANs visible around here! Selected the Hensleigh Hotel, Lower Sea lane, Charmouth, a glorified B & B that calls itself a hotel because you can get a drink.
Unfortunately to stay at England's only nationally significant geological site, famous for its Jurassic and Triassic strata teeming with fossils, a premium is imposed. Still, 200
english pounds is pretty savage for two days. Cleanliness and a modest degree of comfort, such as pillows thicker than 10 millimetres and a shower capable of washing the human body apparently create a much higher rate of gouging.
As for getting here, I found that buses were the only option, with several connections required. National Express busline is willing to sell you tickets through a phone call with ticketing details sent to your mobile by SMS, which you then show to the driver who waves
you aboard. Before departing from Victoria Coach Station (a short distance from Victoria Tube station), we had walked across London from the Kensington Edwardian, through the Royal Boroughs, past the Sloan Square yuppy shopping precint,where shop workers stepped around sleeping homeless men in the indented entrance to a high fashion retailer. With frequent monitoring of our progress on a detailed map, we made it to the coach station with an hour
or so to spare. Found that here you could actually buy food that didn't make you feel as greasy and befouled as the standard London fare. Particulary recommend the samosas available at the first store as you walk in the entrance.
Once aboard, the journey was soon underway but had not progressed more than a hundred metres before striking a total traffic gridlock, rumoured to be caused by some kind of boat race
happening on the Thames. No kidding, it took an hour and three quarters just to reach the M4 motorway and get above 5km/hr.Passed houses formerly lived in by Sylvia Pankhurst and
Hilaire Belloc. In fact many famous people had lived in this street, according to the profusion of circular blue plaques.
The bus drivers were in disarray, with following connections having to be rearranged on the fly. There was much discussion over mobiles between drivers and base, with buses being redirected to take passengers hither and thither. After one more bus change,we were dropped off at Dorchester. This ancient town is better known under its fictional representation in Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge". It has wonderful ancient stone cottages, Keeps, walls that have stood for a thousand years or more. But the folk at the railway station didn't know where Charmouth, our destination, was located; it required a forensic examination of the atlas to confirm that if we walked 10 metres to the bus station and waited for the number 31, it would pass Charmouth in its journey.
As we pondered the lack of timetable, the lack of even a notice as to what bus line operated here, in rolled the alleged number 31, with a driver as jolly as an extra in a Hardy crowd scene. At one stop, a sour faced harridan climbed aboard and asked " You going to Weymouth?"
"No, I'm going to Axminster, that's why it says so on the front of the bus."
For three pounds 20 (you wouldn't have the 20p, would you?) each, this ride was a lovely panoramic ride into the past, through green rolling hills and splended vistas of the distant sea. Not being quite sure where to get off, and noting that in a series of towns there had been only one stop by the bus, I pressed the stop button as we rolled into Charmouth's town limits. As luck would have it, the turn off we needed was only a hundred metres or so further along.
After submitting to the rude financial discipline of the future Mrs Fawlty and being shown to our room, we strolled down to the windswept, pebbly Charmouth beach, watching the sea mists flailed by a constant gale against the soft and crumbling cliffs. This is an area where intact Ichthyosaurus heads and other fossilised bones have been found often, and you can see in local fences where many prize specimens have been pried out and ripped off by the unscrupulous. Once so common, the fossils are now not so easy to find, but the locals keenly promote visitors to come and enjoy them. The protective attitude is reserved for automobiles, with signs warning thieves that they may just find that the car in the car park they are intent on stealing is a police honey pot set to entrap them in the act.
Very light dinner: yoghurt and fruit and choc biscuits. Not willing to spend another 40 pounds for another over fatty meal with chips over everything. Brrr! Will have an early night in comfort and go for a long walk tomorrow to Lyme Regis.
Miriam awoke early, the sun was already kind of up, so we went for a quick walk down to Charmouth beach. Beautiful sunny day, perhaps the upside of global warming for the UK. What is hard to get used to is the sudden variability of temperature; when the sun goes behind a
cloud it is almost like a ghost has walked across you, you shiver and hurry to put on a jacket, and just as soon you are tearing it off in a hot sweat.
Signs warned of the danger of walking to Lyme Regis along the beach, with a huge area of clifftop having collapsed not so long ago, mudslides from the cliffs, and powerful tides that could cut you off with nowhere to go but into the drink. Decided to take the land route instead, of course preparing ourselves with a hearty breakfast prepared by Sybil Fawlty and her minions. I like a good coffee, but the cafetiere (so pompously described in the menu) was so loaded with caffeine that I was wide eyed and almost shaky.
Back to the beach to begin our walk, we checked out the fossils in the beachside shop.
There were some fascinating examples mainly of ammonites (ancestors of the squids of today), small fish like creatures, and the prize icthyasaurus heads, a crocodile like creature of the distant past). On the whole, though, the local fossils were outnumered by imported
examples from such non-local sources as Madagascar. Always check the provenance of your fossils, lads.
We set off on the signposted walking route, shortly finding that due to the mudslides mentioned above, the original route had been deviated from, lengthening the walk from 2 and a half to about 3 miles each waY. Walking through the cottage lined street out of
Charmouth, we encountered a village plod (policeman) sussing out a rather suss looking character who could have picked up a role as an extra in the Bill. Mr Plod glanced at us, dismissed us as mere tourists and went on his way. We saw him again a few minutes later
parked on the side of the road, and again on the road on our way back from Lyme Regis. I can't believe there is much crime going on here.
The path continued along the road, then turned into woodland lined with hundreds of years of leafmould, with a pathway mired in mud in parts, requiring careful navigation along the edge. Then across the Charmouth golf course, with many an elderly golfer kindly waving us
across the airway before wacking their tiny white balls.After the golf course, the path followed the roadways that seemed thick with diesel fumes making us gasp until turning again into quiet wooded pathways. We made our variation to the route deviation, tramping across some very muddy patches and glimpsing splendid coastal views. It really is a very pretty seascape.
Reaching the outskirts of Lyme REgis, we wandered through the old graveyard, surpisngly finding few graves older than the mid nineteenth century. None of Miriam's relatives in evidence. The town sits on several steep inclines that make it hard to see where you're going but we eventually found our way down the main street lined with houses built in the 1600s.
The street so narrow that cars are formally obliged to wait for the oncoming traffic to pass them before advancing. Liked the Hong Kong Chinese restaurant with its menu sticky taped to the ancient glass, the Chinese characters somewhat out of place against the architecture.Excellent lunch at a cafe overlooking the harbour, at last some green leafy salad, which had seemed elusive at most food vendors. Beneath the stonework of the main harbour front area, an innovative sewage water storage and treatment facility has been incorporated, preventing sea pollution and keeping up the venerable feel of the area. The streets full of tiny shops offering ice creams cornets, chips in paper cones, locally made fudge and lollies, small children darting around everywhere, lots of animation and colour.
We tried to commence the walk back to Charmouth along the beach, but the large pebbles that stressed our ankles as we walked, and the uncertainty of the tide - is it coming in or going out? - led us to retrace our steps to the land route.
Back at Charmouth, after a doze in front of the tele - remarkably free of American product - we chose to have an evening drink and a meal at the George Hotel, named after one of those
Georgian kings, I think Geo V, c. 1911? Enjoyed seeing some of the local folk, families
playing snooker, a man taking his mum's dog to the pub with him (fine dog you've got there, I said to him), old friends doing what they clearly do as a regular pastime. Friendly atmosphere, despite furnishings on the wall that looked like they might have knocked off a few heads in their time. Back to our digs for a relaxing bath, rang Miriam's relation in the Midlands to arrange a visit up there tomorrow. Iris, who has not even yet met us, proved delightfully welcoming and proposes to meet us from wherever we can get to near her
place by public transport tomorrow. Must be out of this joint by 7.15am tomorrow so early
to bed tonight.
Out on to the cold high street of Charmouth by 7.30 to await the 7.43 bus. It's that one, or
wait four hours for the next one that goes back to Dorchester Sth rail station. At the last
minute find I still have Mrs Fawlty's room key. With the bus drivers indulgence I drop it
off on the unattended counter of the general store, while the shopkeepers are busy out the
back with their baking for the day. Hopefully it will find its way back to Hensleigh House.
A picturesque misty early morning showed the green hills of Dorset dotted with black faced
and shaggy sheep, and we were soon standing in the frosty chill of the bus stop. Our
connection back to London arrived on time and delivered us safely to Victoria Coach stn
where we needed to figure our next move. National Coachlines offered Northampton as the
closest destination, but falsely supposed that a local train would take us the rest of the
way. In fact, once at Northampton the only option was the local double decker bus, that
weaved its way through stonelined laneways via a roundabout route, through standstill
traffic and with a couple of phone contacts with Iris eventually spotted her patiently
awaiting us at the bus terminus.
After a natter and a rest, Iris walked us down to the Canal Boat business before dark,
which was bigger in scope than expected, up to sixteen boats lined up along the stretch of
canal. She showed us the "Malvern" and explained she was happy for us to take it for a run
for a couple of days - to depart tomorrow morning. A brisk walk up to the pub for a hearty
dinner and a couple of drinks and we were ready for a kip. Iris kindly putting us up in the
most comfortable digs we've had so far in old Blighty. Best sleep, with back spasms almost
completely gone now.
Iris introduced us to son Tim, who showed me the ropes of skippering a narrowboat on the
canal. After ten minutes of tutelage, he seemed confident enough that I could handle it,
and jumped off onto the bank to walk back. I'd decided to head towards Napton on the Hill
because it offered a long stretch with no locks to navigate - and this proved a relatively
easy run. Diesel engine, forward and reverse, throttle, and a couple of ropes to secure the
vessel to the bank wherever one chose to stop.
Along the way we saw many different narrow boats, some painted up with folksy art and bright
colours, some with rough sheds and gypsy style dwellings on the banks. Plenty of boat
dwelling dogs, and even a few cats - one boat had mesh over the front of it, from where a
proud ginger moggy acted as the the figurehead of the vessel, while two big black dogs at
the rear of the boat confronted two large white swans who were not a bit concerned.
Thankfully Tim has tipped me off about the basic courtesies of narrow boating. If a vessel
is approaching, pull to the right. First one to a bridge has right of way. If you see a
potential trouble spot, like three boats entgering a narrow stretch and heading for a
narrower passage beneath a bridge, throw her into neutral and exercise some patience. So,
no "canal rage" incidents, which do, apparently, happen now and then.
After about three and a half hours we reached Napton, where the sign for the "Folly" Pub
indicated "Last Pub for Five Hours".
Beyond, we would have had to go through seven ascending locks and after being at the tiller
for some time I was feeling knackered and ready to stop for the night.
The way of the canal appears to be that you park your boat in line with all the other visitors to the locality, within an easy walk of the pub. Some retirement age couples seem to drift around the canal system much like in Australia people take off in their motorhomes and drive around the whole nation.
As the afternoon wore on Miriam started feeling chilled and in respiratory distress. She went to bed and slept fitfully for thirteen hours, giving me time to read an entire novel that was in the end not worth reading but passed the time. Cooked up a Croque Monsieur in the galley but M could not eat anything.
Prepared to commence the journey back with Miriam not in a good way. Apart from handing a cup of coffee up to Captain Shane at the tiller once, she again fell into a feverish sleep. Once back at Braunston, Iris rang the local medical centre and we took M to get some antibiotics, as the doc confirmed a lung infection. She is now sleeping peacefully and hopefully will be right again in a day or two. But is she well enough to cope with going further north, to Scotlan? Mmmmm.... just don't know yet, and yet I will have to make some kind of forward bookings. Anyhow, the focus for the time being it to get M well again.