We are on the move again!
We said our goodbyes to friends and with Littlehampton disappearing in the rear view mirror, we set the sat-nav for Stonehenge.
There are plans afoot to sink the nearby highway to the iconic rock structure and this will apparently make the visitation experience much more pleasant by removing the visual and audible pollution of the highway! At near £15 a head to enter the site and limited to just over 7500 visitors a day – (you do the math) it just might kick the gate numbers along as well when you’re unable to see it from your car – a very popular way of visiting currently. Undaunted we spotted a few vehicles on a local by-way and managed to park a couple of hundred meters away from the prehistoric masterpiece! We wandered around taking a few pictures and learnt from security personnel at the main gate that if wandered a little further down the road and made our way through the farmer’s paddock we could get quite close and have a better look.
We followed the instructions and ended up within about 30 meters of the main event! It would have been nice to wander amongst the stones but $AU60 for the 2 of us (exchange rate allowed for) seemed a little steep. Whilst taking in the view, we noticed a couple of vans a little further along the by-way and they were obviously camping. We headed for their location and camped about 300m from the Stones!! Of all the places I would have expected to find some free camping, within view of Stonehenge certainly wasn’t one of them!! So all in all it was a great day!
Next stop was Lyme Regis; a lovely little village nestled in an amazing section of geography known as the Jurassic Coast. After a wander around town, we headed west a couple of miles and found a campground in the town of Charmouth, located smack in the middle of a World Heritage fossil finding location.
With low tide being touted as the best time for fossil hunting and Jen quite keen on rocks, she was out the door at 7:30am and off into the sleet and cold and down the trail to the beach. I, however, am not as intrigued by the fossil hunting pastime and slept in through the sleet, only emerging once the sun had risen and warmed the whole area. If you have ever spent time in high mountains or areas with lots of snow and wind then you will relate to the temperature differentials that we are currently experiencing. When protected from the wind and the sun is beaming on you directly, it’s T-shirts, cold beer and the clean crisp colours of blue water and green fields! The very moment a cloud interrupts the sun’s rays and their attempt to reach you, and it’s anoraks, beanies and hot drinks. It’s just like flicking a switch! Definitely 4 seasons in 1 day!
Over the course of the day, we found quite a few nice fossilized ammonite specimens, all the while listening to the sounds of erosion and collapsing earth from the cliffs behind the beach. Serious erosion is constant along this coast and with the rich hoard of fossils hidden away in the silt, there is a constant renewal of interesting creatures revealing themselves for the first time in millions of years.
Continuing along the Cornish Coast, we parked up for a short time in the town of Teignmouth to discuss our options for the night’s accommodation. We were trying to find a free site somewhere! As fortune would have it, a motorhome made it’s way through the car park and stopped right alongside us. I said hello through the window and inquired as to whether they knew of any free-camping sites locally. They had just purchased their new house on wheels and were out for a test drive. Luckily for us, they were well versed on the area and pointed us in the direction of a lay-by on the Teign river which proved to be a great stop for the night.
They also told us about a “wildcamping” website in the UK that we have since joined which has lots of overnight stops listed. With our fairly consistent use of the site since, we’ve found it quite good and although many of the sites aren’t the sort of location that we would normally attempt to find, some have led us to really scenic spots that we would have missed otherwise. So while it takes a little getting used to – parking for the night in carparks and other quite public locations – they certainly are a great budget saving backup to paid camping. I also have to add that as we are in a pop-up camper, we are quite obvious when camped as opposed to a hard side motorhome where you may be able to appear simply parked as opposed to camped!
The lack of public open space that’s accessible is such a contrast to that of Australia, everything here is owned by someone or it’s been bought back by, or donated to, a trust such as the National Trust. You head for a nature reserve with expectations of forested areas of wilderness only to find farmland and open fields! There just isn’t really much left that’s escaped the touch of man!
We have had a few mixed comments about being in the 4×4, such as “that looks like it would be good for pushing things over in the desert!!” Mind you those types of comments generally come from the more challenged of the population with not much idea of what the world has to offer other than what they see on the BBC! “Generally deserts don’t have a lot of things to push over hence the term desert, you moron”- that would have been the appropriate response but not really a helpful one…
Polperro was our next target. Many locals had recommended this village as a must see and I’m glad to have taken their advice. I’ll let the pictures of this Historic Fishing Port tell the tale.
Driving in and around the back roads of Cornwall is an unusual experience, even after some of the countries that we have traversed! Once off the highway and on the more interesting back roads, they are all quite skinny single lane roads with slightly wider sections here and there for passing. Many of the smaller roads are limited to vehicles of width no more than 6 feet and although we are a little wider, we haven’t come unstuck – yet. We have been on sections where both wing mirrors have been in constant contact with the leafy embankment, which really makes you concentrate on your steering!
Speaking of embankments, nearly all of the roads are bordered both sides with ancient stone walls or hedges covered in tangles of vines that are usually around 5 to 8 feet high. You can’t see anything of the countryside once in the maze and have to constantly wait for a low section to provide a vista of your surrounds. It’s a little annoying actually but it’s also the character of Cornwall and possibly a lot of the UK. Oncoming traffic is always met at the most inconvenient of times. If I had a pound for every time I’ve had to reverse to find the nearest section that provides a little more clearance for passing then we’d have a much larger travel budget than we are currently on!
Luxulyan and the Treffry Viaduct sounded interesting and we arrived in the area late in the afternoon. The beauty of the countryside amazed us!! Built in the late 1800’s, the centerpiece of the area is a 30-meter high dual-purpose viaduct that carried steam driven machinery and water for mining. The whole area was fascinating and easily consumed the rest of the afternoon. We ended up camping in the car park, as it seemed like an OK option late in the day, reasonably remote and quiet, well almost – other than some illicit substance smoking locals at 1am whom parked no more than a meter from us and then proceeded to blast their horn as they left in order to get a rise out of us! Seems they are a little short of Friday night activities to engage in around here! Doesn’t help if you haven’t got any teeth and can’t read!
We make our way from village to village and I’d have to say that most of them are lovely, some with more character than others, but all with something of interest.
Pentewan Sands was our next stop and provided us nice blue skies for the next couple of days.
A walk along a section of the coastal path that traverses much of the Southern England Coast was fantastic – majestic views of rugged coastline with carpets of green fields capping the cliffs, really stunning stuff!
Continuing our travels, we arrived at Lizard Point, the most southerly point of the UK. Freezing cold and windy but also spectacular and picturesque!
St Michael’s Mount was on our must do list, England’s version of Mont San Michel (and historically related) and it proved to be a really enjoyable visit. Firstly, we camped in a pub car park that was listed on the website that I spoke of earlier. It was obvious to us that you couldn’t camp there but with no signs to say otherwise, we decided to play the dumb Aussie card and waited until quite late to pop the roof up! As locals wandered past observing the rather strange Australian vehicle we felt as though we should direct them to “move along, nothing to see here!!”
Well, we got away with it but received the knock on the back door as we were packing up the following morning. No motorhomes allowed! The security guy was easy going however and not really bothered by our presence, so we drove off down the road a couple of hundred meters and parked in the designated car park for the day for a few pounds! You can’t stay overnight in any of these car parks, lots of signs telling you to go away politely! The local caravan park was charging £24 for the night as it has a captive market! Ahhhhh tourism, have to love it! Anyway the castle was fantastic, I enjoyed the visit immensely. It’s still lived in by the St Aubyn family whose hands it’s been in since 1659 which I thought made it feel more real than the now tourism based plethora of castles that have become Museum pieces open to receive the tourists dollar elsewhere the World over. It’s small as castles go but oh what a piece of real estate!
We have since joined the National Trust (£99 for 2 Adults, 12 months), which provides free parking and entry to a host of sites around England, including St Michael’s Mount, along with access via a reciprocal agreement to sites in some other countries including Australia. The Boroloola Post Office, in Australia’s Northern Territory, was on the list (Hmmmm don’t quite know what to make of that one!) For those wondering what I’m talking about, Google it and see if you can find the similarities between St Michaels Mount in Cornwall and the Post Office in Boroloola and let me know what I’m missing. Linda ask Deb what her memories are of Boroloola – hahaha.
We headed for “Lands End”, the most westerly point of England. After entering the car park and seeing the theme park with the “Shaun the Sheep 3D Experience” we exited the other side of the car park and headed for Cape Cornwall with it’s wild, woolly and less commercialized coastline. The entire coast along here is awe-inspiring, beautiful little coves between rough vertical cliffs with ancient stone walls crisscrossing the countryside above. Small villages with tiny roads, farmhouses and barns with ancient build dates smattered all over the area. It really feels as if time has stopped in some of these areas – sensational. Levant mine was the next attraction, with the only remaining operational Cornish Beam Engine. It was an eye opening experience, mining for copper and tin a mile out to see but 2000 feet below the waves!. Photo opportunities galore present along the coast here, stunning in every direction.
We spent the next few nights in the town of Botallack hoping to see the return of pleasant skies. What began as a one night stay extended as the weather went slowly and then more rapidly from nice blue skies upon our arrival to drenching rain with freezing gale force winds, capped off with visibility of less than 100 metres. What to do but go to the Pub!
The local drinking houses in the UK really are an attraction in themselves – I love them! Quaint little centuries old buildings with real ale pumped by hand from the keg! If you like your beer, it really is paradise! With a bit of effort, you’re generally able to strike up a conversation with some locals or the bar keep and have a great local experience!
On two occasions now, I’ve observed gents in these small pub’s that could easily have been having a night off before heading back to Biggin Hill ready for an early morning air-raid in their Spitfire’s or Hurricane’s! The quaffed hair, scarves and swagger along with long leather coats, has them only missing the classic MG in the car park and the forlorn sound of an Air Raid Siren!
Our last night in Botallack could probably be compared to a Whitbread Round The World Yacht Race – it was so windy that it felt like we were tacking our way across the Atlantic! Enough was enough by morning and with deplorable weather still showing its ugly little face, we began the journey north. I won’t go on about the beautiful Cornish Coast, just get there and have a look if you haven’t already!