Friday 24th August 2012, Normandy, continued
Back home in Devon we gave up worrying about the weather. Sunset over Dartmoor can be spectacular late on a midsummer’s evening. Our luck though was to arrive on the moor one evening with a group of hardy friends in pouring rain. Nothing daunted we set off to explore the remains of the quarries of Haytor from where the granite was extracted for the construction of many of London’s major buildings during the 19th century. Once the blocks had been cut they were loaded onto carts and dragged by horses along specially constructed granite rails, down off the moor onto barges on the river Teign. From there they were carried to the sea and shipped round to London and up the Thames. The original London Bridge now stands somewhere in the Arizona Desert.
Dartmoor also has many ancient and prehistoric remains. Around 9pm we all stopped in the lea of a granite crag near the remains of the mediaeval village of Hound Tor to eat our picnic supper of sandwiches with flasks of hot tea. We were so wet by this time from the rain and scrambling across brooks that we treated it like any other picnic on a sunny day. The wild ponies and sheep gathered at a safe distance to watch us with curiosity.
Twenty miles to the east of Exeter is the neighbouring county of Dorset. It has spectacular coastal scenery and a dramatic coastline, rich with fossils. It is listed by UNESCO and is a site of special scientific interest. In the cliffs around Lyme Regis can be found abundant fossilised remains of sea creatures, large and small, and the shops of the pretty little town are full of belemnites, ammonites, trilobites and even complete ichthyosaurs. The tapping of little hammers at the foot of the cliffs was once a common sound during the summer as visitors searched out their very own fossils. This is now discouraged for reasons of conservation and because of the dangers. The cliffs are formed from blue lias, little more than mud and when saturated can collapse without warning, cascading huge quantities of mudstone and fossils down onto the beach. Sometimes the landslips can be massive. On Christmas day 1839 such a huge section slipped seawards that the cliff-top fields of potatoes and arable crops continued to flourish at an angle of some 45 degrees and were eventually harvested by hand! Sadly there have been a couple of recent landslips over this summer that caused tragedies.
Our friends Peter and Kate have a holiday cottage with views across the cliffs to the sea. We spent several very happy days there with them over the summer taking long walks in the surrounding countryside despite the weather. The coastal footpath that surrounds the South West peninsula is tough walking but stunningly beautiful. The villages are charming with thatched cottages and tiny grey churches set in green churchyards full of lichen covered granite headstones. Footpaths lead from many village churchyards out across fields and flowering meadows, through woodlands and across muddy farmyards.
On the 14th July we were invited to a revolutionary barbecue. We got into the spirit by mass producing Phrygian caps for everyone. Ian even made a revolutionary clock with ten hours.
In July we were invited to join friends Peter and Rosemary at their rented holiday cottage in North Somerset near the little seaside town of Watchet, overlooking the Severn estuary with the coast of Wales across the water. The weather was awful, it soaked us through as we squelched through the quaint town of Porlock and the chocolate box village of Selworthy with its thatched cottages and flowery gardens surrounding the green. A walk around Watchet harbour reminded us that it was near here that Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his epic poem The rhyme of the ancient mariner The ill-fated mariner stands on the quayside, complete with albatross.
During a gap in the rain we visited the remains of Cleve Abbey.
From Somerset we headed north once more to Beverley. While the family were off variously at work or nursery (depending on age and size), we drove up the east coast to Scarborough where our Wetheral friends Peter and Jill were holidaying. Scarborough was new to us and we really loved it. It’s a hilly Victorian seaside town with lots of hotels and guest houses offering bed and breakfast and there are wide, golden sandy beaches where kiddies enjoy donkey rides. On the cliffs above the town there are impressive castle ruins while down on the seafront – reachable by an original cliff railway – are the winter gardens. Here old folk like us (but slightly less active) can sit in a deckchair, sheltered from the sea breeze, and listen to a seaside orchestra playing medleys from the shows.
Scarborough’s literary worthies include Emily Brontë, buried in one of the churchyards, and the Sitwells – Osbert, Edith and Sacheverel. Their former home forms part of an attractive crescent above the town while Woodend Art Gallery, in another of the former residences of the Sitwells, retains a library of their works.
On certain summer afternoons Scarborough offers visitors a rare and bizarre experience in the pretty Peaseholme Park. Back in the 1920s somebody on the council had the incredible idea of recreating naval battles on the boating lake. The idea proved so successful that, although the boats have needed replacing over the years, the battles continue. Councillors and local government employees don shorts and clamber into scaled down models of some of Britain’s most illustrious battleships and aircraft carriers and, hidden away inside, they pedal off across the lake. On a bandstand in the lake the resident organist plays The Dambusters’ March and Sailing to get everyone in the mood and he then provides a commentary to what must be the most anarchic battle-scenes imaginable.
It should be mentioned at this point that the lake is also used for boating and normally brightly coloured Chinese dragon pedalos wend their way between water lilies while swans, ducks and Canada geese glide back and forth between them. In the centre of the lake is a small but tall island topped by an elaborate Chinese pagoda shining red and gold in the afternoon sunshine. A waterfall cascades into the lake and it is behind this that the submarines of the undefined enemy fleet hide before attacking passing British supply ships. You will appreciate it is all a little surreal!
We settled with our ice creams in the afternoon sunshine on wooden benches around the lake. The pedalos were anchored to the shore but looked rather incongruous. The geese continued to browse amidst the fleet, massive by comparison.
Soon the enemy had spotted the British fleet. The submarine surfaced and fired off a missile. The Arc Royal responded with a broadside. Soon the lake was covered in a haze of smoke, there were bangs and rockets everywhere. The enemy submarine was scuppered but one of the British vessels had got entangled in the water lilies and was hors de combat. Time to send in the Royal Air Force! Two wires stretch across the lake. At a given prompt from the bandstand a wooden plane, suspended from the wires, slides down over the battle scene “guns” blazing and drops a bomb onto one of the enemy vessels. There is red fire, an explosion, swirls of smoke and a scattering of ducks. Hurrah, a direct hit!
But oh dear no! From behind the tethered pedalos slips a dangerously armed enemy warship! Just in time the RAF fly to the rescue, dropping bombs right across the lake. Two British vessels converge on the enemy and as our ice creams melt we are regaled with the sound of depth charges, shrapnel and broadsides. Smoke is everywhere, children are screaming with delight or terror; a victory for Britain as the enemy turns tail and flees back to the safety of the island.
Triumphantly the organ starts up and we all cheer. The battle is over. The council employees lift the tops of their boats to wave in triumph and pedal around the lake in a lap of honour before returning to the computer screens in their offices for the rest of the afternoon. Somebody rows out in a tiny boat to tow home the sunken submarine and to disentangle HMS Hermes from the duckweed. It’s unbelievable British fun. Ian was actually crying with hysteria and we all had sides that ached from laughter. Don’t miss it if you ever have the chance to see it.
The park returned to normal and the Chinese pedalos and Canada geese invaded the lake once more. We crossed the little bridge to explore the island and climb up to the pagoda. It had been a Grand Day Out!
We returned to Exeter down the east side of Britain crossing the high and impressive Humber Bridge and following minor roads through Lincolnshire. It was thus that we discovered the village of Scampton with the RAF station nearby. It was from here that the Dam Buster raids of WW2 flew to breach dams in Germany using the new bouncing bombs. In the village church there are the crests of the various regiments displayed while outside in the churchyard stands a line of war graves. In the village the local pub doubles as a small museum of these wartime heroes.
By lunch time we had reached Lincoln with its steep streets of old houses leading up to its beautiful cathedral. With such a long journey home there was time only for a quick stroll around the old town.