Southwest Coastal Rendezvous
Four hours and one comfort break and we're in Dorset, staying at Bindon Bottom, the most highly rated B&B on Trip Advisor (Neil's Yard toiletries, home made brownies, antique furniture that clashes with the flat screen TV. No sanitary towels though. Guesthouses never have any menstrual equipment: maybe most of their guests are past all that). It was apparently architecturally designed by Tom Hardy (not that one), but I imagine any Victorian house in Purbeck claims that. Our room is called Barnes, after a local dialect poet and there is a book of his poems in the room. I wonder what's in the Blyton room.
We walk around the village, all thatched cottages and hanging baskets (even the bus-stop is thatched), wild ponies behind the house, a real cider pub, a new church up the hill (the old Norman one remained in the village until 1869, then they decided they wanted a new one). There's also an out of service post box - you'd have to be Steven Finn to reach it, but it's Victorian, so I imagine that there was a campaign to save it, culminating in angry meetings in the village hall.
Then down the slope to Lulwoth Cove, where you can get anything you want, as long as it's fudge, ice-cream or a Thanks For Looking After The Cat mug. There is a fossil shop, but I guess fossils are a finite business, so they sell quartz and gemstones as well. I'm on the look-out for animals made from shells, but whilst seaside rock shaped like boobies never goes out of fashion, it seems that shell animals do. We wander around the pebble beach and then foolhardily decided to walk to the mile to Durdle Door: foolish because it's not 20 minutes on a flat surface, but up a cliff and then down a gravel path, but it's worth it for the views.
Back in the cove, we eat in a sunny beer garden where there are free apples, dog biscuits, and wasps.
I imagine that West and East Lulworth are very competitive:
East Lulworth: We have a castle.
West Lulworth: Well we have a cove.
East: We have an MOD firing range!
West: We have a Londis; fuck you, Easties!
There are also lots of anti-windfarm posters everywhere. How about an anti-car campaign: it's pretty difficult to walk through the village on the skinny strip of pavement (or no pavement) with shiny landrovers and 4x4s trying to take your ear off as they pass.
I've installed a fitness app on my phone so I could shame myself about how how little exercise I do. Yesterday was the first day I hit the target of 10,000 steps. So I'm raring to go: we walk up behind the house past a small holding of onions, sweetcorn, orchard fruits, sunflowers and chickens, a bunch of cows chewing the cud around the water cooler, and then round the back of the village in a wooded area before setting off in, um, the car to Wareham, a market town with a quay, a river, boats, pubs, tearooms and shops (where Dave buys a sea captain's cap) and Saxon walls (now covered up in grass and wildflowers) that we walk on and around, before lunching in a place called the Five And Dime, which has pics of James Dean and Marilyn Monroe on the wall. Maybe it was supposed to be a diner for the young folk.
We drive into Corfe, intending to go to the castle, but instead visit the miniature village and see a model of it instead - it's better because there are mini-Roundheads scaling the ramparts and a tiny Lady Bankes trying to repel them. Elsewhere in the model village there is a red postbox and an advert for soap, so our eras are all confused. There's also a village ghost, a Tardis, some yokels doing Morris dancing and miniature village of the miniature village with a miniature village in it. Mind = blown. Conversely, there are giant games of Connect 4, Jenga and draughts.
There's also a faerie glen, which looks like a gift shop has puked up in it (if I were 7, I'd have loved it). Opposite the model village is Ginger Pop, an Enid Blyton book and toyshop. In the window is a teatowel featuring "The Darkest Gnome" (a gollywog type creature) and words like "Diversity" and "Equality". Are they trying to reclaim Golly as a post-racial icon? In Wareham museum there was a gollywog toy and a golly postcard for sale; let's just say that if some blacked-up Morris men came prancing down the road, I wouldn't be surprised. It's probably not worth getting incensed about such trivialities; I'm sure if black tourists went into Ginger Pop, they wouldn't be treated differently from a white family, but it's the insistence that these things were OK, that we don't need to move on from our past that annoys me. It sometimes feels as if the battles aren't between rich and poor or left and right anymore, but between the anti-PC "Well, Nigel's got a point" brigade and rational, thinking people. On the Ginger Pop website, it staties that they sell books as Enid Blyton write them "not as someone else thought she should write them". Also: "lashings of ginger beer" is from the Comic Strip, not Blyton's oeuvre.
We try to find a cream tea in the village of Wool (there's only a Chinese takeaway) and then at Lulworth Castle (about to close) so we go back to the B&B and I have my own version with a cup of green tea and the aforementioned brownie. Later, we go to a pub that men go to to complain about each other's wives, although the barman does give me a free soda water.
I know that I'll be back in Chesil Beach someday
We walk up the hill behind the house and then through the MOD rifle range, which is open for the summer (I consider shouting "Viva ISIS, death to America", but resist), past some not unfriendly baby bulls, a ruined cottage, a Jurassic coast sign that implies early Homo Erectus hung out with dinos, down to Fossil Cove which has been decimated by local A-level geology students, past Mope Bay and back to Lulworth Cove, where we stumble down the cliffs and around the pebbly cove.
We drive west to Portland where we're staying at the bottom of Chesil Beach. I wanted to walk along the tombolo, but what looked like a long line of golden sand both from the map and the top of the cliffs this morning is actually all pebbles. Chesil = coesil = pebble. Hmph. We manage about half a mile before giving up and walking into Chiswell village, but finding nowhere to eat (so many closed up shops and cafes, not ever charity shops have moved into the void), we go further to Fortuneswell and find a gallery cafe, where we sit in the sunny window and look at the view.
I'm finding it hard to adjust to all the niceness of the countryside (David is in his element). In Abroad I try hard to be nice and polite, so as not to give a bad impression of British people. In the countryside, I do the same so they don't think all Londoners are arrogant. It's only up north that I can be my bad (blunt) self.
We drive down to Portland Bill, passing the stone quarry (the place is much more industrial than I thought) and wander around the lighthouse, having a surprisingly delicious al fresco cream tea from the cafe, looking out at the channel, trying to spot France. Later, because we're fed up of pub food and Portland only seems to have pubs, chippies and a sad looking Indian restaurant, and because Dave has keep up his daily alcohol ration, we take the bus into Weymouth. The bus is regular and the fares are comparable to London (£3.50 return). It drops us off in the town centre, no fucking about trying to find parking. The old harbour is flush with restaurants (but not Carluccio's, Pizza Express or Cafe Rouge). We eat tapas outside in the square, accompanied by a lady playing piano versions of jazz standards and then ruining a perfectly good heroin ballad by warbling her way through it. The man on the table opposite treads in the bowl of dog water by his feet. Everywhere we go it's dog biscuits this and dog water that. Dorset is open for dogs. There's even a Dog, Sausage and Cider festival. No wonder we haven't met a solitary cat - I was hoping for a holiday romance with my platonic ideal feline.
We then drift into a craft beer bar opposite. They have a poster on the wall stating: Keep Calm And Wine. Surely the last word is missing an 'h'. I wish the relatives of the draughtsman/woman who created that poster in the war would serve cease and desist notices on everyone selling posters, mugs, t-shirts, coasters etc featuring that design.
On the prom, the town is lighting up for tomorrow's carnival. We walk on the beach and listen to the sharp short swoosh of sea over the sand. On the way back, we see one pub advertising Tranioke, i.e. men dress up as women to sing Sweet Caroline and Hi Ho Silver Lining. It's not a gay bar. No. Just no.
And the days were just packed
I am woken up by a seagull, yesterday it was a chicken. Tomorrow, I expect a crow to be sitting on the bedstead, reading me an Aesop's fable.
Our luck had to run out. It's raining. We were going to take a gander at Weymouth's carnival, but standing around in the rain watching local bands soundcheck sounds unappealing. We decide to set off for Bournemouth via Poundbury so we can make snide remarks about Prince Charles's architectural vision, we but take the wrong turn at Dorchester and the traffic going back is harsh, so we head north to Blandford Forum, a fine example of a Georgian town. It is pretty and we linger for a coffee, but no longer.
In Bournemouth, after we've fed our faces on toffish and chips at the veggie Zoukini cafe, the rain clears enough for us to walk through the rather charming Alum Chine ravine walk to the prom, where I beat Dave's ass at air hockey. It's kind of frustrating to be finally on a sandy beach in the daytime - in 15 degree temperatures. There's another nice park between the front and the town, unfortunately it's pissing it down once more so we seek refuge in Espresso Kitchen and then wander around the high street shops, buying DVDs and jeans. You can see why some people's hobby is shopping, there's nothing else to do and the shops themselves are quieter and nicer than, say, Oxford Street or Westfield. I can also see why the Netflix model is so appealing since a DVD of a film released last year is £14.99 in HMV. Later, we eat at Wagamama, the saviour of many a provincial evening, and take a taxi back to the B&B as it's still raining.
Now I'm lost in some small town, I'm lost somewhere in England
It's still raining. We set off for Poole, checking out the cockle trail (old buildings with local history - Charles II visited (a building that stood on the site of) the Sainsbury's), the Scaplen's Court Medieval house, the museum, and ye olde coffee saloon.
I like Poole. It's tedious when people go somewhere on holiday and immediately want to move there, but I could see myself living there when I'm old(er). It's a seaside town, but not so touristy that you feel that the place would be dead in the winter (most of Dorset's economy seems to be 90% cream tea based). There is a sci-fi shop, a comic books shop, a second hand record shop; it's good that such things still exiss. There are also tea rooms (one offering a vegan menu), a high street (if only I could monetize spotting which building used to house the Woolworth's), a pottery shop where we watch a man make, and then destroy, a teapot, and a historic quay with boat trips to see the red squirrels on Brownsea island.
We drive to our B&B, which is on an industrial estate. We were dithering for ages about booking it as it looked like you had to walk down the A35 to get to the town (there's actually a car-free walkway), but I'm glad we did because, apart from the chintz o'clock decor, it's very cosy with Dorset apple cake on the side, a proper bathroom, a very reasonably priced minibar, and is run by the kind of eccentrics you only meet when you stay in B&Bs. She is from Doncaster, he from Nottingham and I'm sure Steve Coogan must have stayed here, because he is the very spit of Saxondale with his droopy moustache, too long hair and "I left the oil rig to spend more time with my motorbike". There's a private bar downstairs with UV lighting and thank you cards taped into the guestbook.
We decide to go back to Bournemouth to see the much advertised airshow. The journey, which should take 14 minutes, takes us an hour due to waiting for the train, delays, some more delays, and I'm in a temper by the time we leave the station, especially as it's badly signposted how to get to town. When we do find the way, it's across, then down the side of a busy road. People travelling by train obviously have no car so why make things so deliberately pedestrian-unfriendly? It's not even as if it's great for cars either, today, we got tangled up in the one way system, yesterday, roundabouts conspired against us. Never mind going back in time to kill Hitler, I'd go back the 1960s and murder the town planners. Ban cars from towns and run free or cheap buses. You can have that one for free, Jeremy Corbyn.
I get into even more of a mood when we find out that the airshow has been cancelled. I don't even like airshows - I'm not interested in old planes or the WW2 heritage industry and the guys doing tricks with coloured exhaust fumes don't make me proud to be British, but it's been so heavily promoted that it now seems a bit sad to cancel it because of rain*. The day seems mostly to be an advert for the RAF anyway - we are Guantanamod by tannoy adverts all the way down the prom and through the town: "I was born in Lincoln/Carlisle/Portmouth, but the RAF/Navy/Army made me". Big Brother is forcing you to join the forces.
We quit Bournemouth (taking advantage of the delayed trains this time by nipping onto one 8 minutes late) and go back to the more refined confines of Poole. We eat in a Thai restaurant, populated by northerners having a birthday meal. I often feel like a member of an established community when newer immigrants arrive when I witness Yorkshire folk down south (i.e. I feel embarrassed by their loud mitherings). The birthday girl is making her poor aged grandparents eat Thai green curry and chips.
Poole, unlike Bournemouth, has not cancelled its entertainments. I check the Poole Tourism twitter feed: "Breeze sponsored by Volkswagen is going ahead tonight!!" Breeze comprises three lovely ladies doing a kind of clockwork ballet to Katy Perry and then a quick costume change to Riverdance. It's bloody freezing, so I applaud their English stoicism in the face of an English summer. Then there's a singer doing Commitments covers, a cold magician, and a shivering balloon wrangler. We retire to the Drift craft bar, which is tinier than the same one in Weymouth, but with an upstairs gin bar with nobody in it, until it's invaded by some middle aged men with a penchant for music from 1974 and loud opinions. We go outside to watch the fireworks (every Thursday throughout the summer), with a climax of a big hoot-hoot from the chimney of a moored ship, then make our way B&Bwards.
* NB: I wrote this before I read about the Shoreham airshow disaster.
Through the New Forest to Lymington (Idea: combine the tourist attraction of Monkey World with the wild horses of the New Forest to create a simian rodeo). Lymington is a Blandford-style market town, until you take a right turn down a cobbled street where it suddenly becomes St Ives, with boats and fisherfolk cottages and a natural saltwater pool.
Then we sit on the M25 for several hours before arriving back into civilisation.