Exploring Britain 5 Purbeck, Cumbria and Yorkshire

Monday 9th September 2013
We have just returned from three nights camping down on the Isle of Purbeck. It is not really an island but is rather remote from the nearby towns of Poole and Bournemouth – where the Labour Party was holding its conference at the time. It lies in Dorset at the start of the beautiful Heritage south coast with the Isle of Wight visible off shore.

Modestine and her friend/fellow Romahome campervan Erik’s “son” Erikson fancied a few days lazing in the sunshine together while their owners took the bus to the sea and various beauty spots – of which there are many - around Purbeck. We’ve had delightful weather with the rain only beginning as we drove away from the campsite yesterday morning. Incidentally, the original poor Erik, veteran of our Greek campaign, made the sad journey from which no Romahome returns about a year ago when a white van drove into the back of him. Erikson is his replacement. A younger version with a mere 25.000 miles to his credit compared to Modestine’s 164,000!

We arranged to meet at a site just outside the pretty town of Wareham which still retains much of its original earthwall defences, built to protect it from Viking raiders. It is sited on the river Frome at the point where it flows into the head of Poole Harbour. Wareham is a small market town with pretty terraces of old cottages, many with their little gardens filled with roses and runner beans. Market stallholders gather down beside the river every Saturday.

Saxon earthwork defences surrounding the town, Wareham

River at Wareham

Brownsea Island ferry on the river at Wareham

Market square, Wareham

It also has a selection of old pubs, a couple of individual bakeries, an excellent little museum and the oldest Saxon church in Dorset.

St. Martin’s church, Wareham

Inside is an effigy of T.E.Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia because of his sympathy and support for the Arab cause against the Ottoman Empire. He even dressed in Arab costume, finding it far more convenient for riding camels than his British military uniform. Lawrence was regarded as a local eccentric once he settled at nearby Cloud’s Hill. He was eventually killed in a motor cycling accident near his home and is honoured in Westminster Abbey though he is in fact buried in a small village near the campsite. His effigy was not wanted at Westminster Abbey and the Saxon church in Wareham was considered an appropriate place for it.

Effigy of T.E. Lawrence, Wareham

Wall paintings in St. Martin’s church, Wareham

An English classic written in Wareham

On our first day we took the bus from Wareham to Poole. The oppressive heat of the previous afternoon had eased and there was a definite breeze as we sat beside Poole Harbour eating our picnic lunch. Poole itself is not especially exciting and is familiar to us only as the nearest port to take the ferry to France. We sometimes use it when the timetable is more convenient than crossing directly to Caen, It is then a pretty drive from Cherbourg 100 kilometres through the Cotentin peninsula, through Bayeux to Caen and can cut several hours off our journey time.

Poole town centre is a clone of almost every other town centre in Britain but approaching the harbour we entered the old town with streets of small individual shops, many now used as charity shops – a sad reflection of the economic situation created over the past years. They are the only flourishing business in British high streets, run by volunteers with all goods donated by the public.

Old town, Poole

Poole is well known for its pottery and we visited the works with its kilns and sales room. It was crowded with visitors though I personally do not particularly like the gaudy bright colours used which would never tone with any home. They smack very much of the 1970’s, probably the heyday of the pottery.

Our friends are great museum enthusiasts, as indeed is Ian. We spent a very pleasant while exploring the galleries of the town’s free museum spread over several floors of an old timber-beamed warehouse on the Quay. My damaged eye still cannot easily read the information panels so my interest is rather more ephemeral. Outside again, we stopped at a cafe for a coffee and watched the fishing and pleasure boats plying their way out into the bay. Soon the ferry from Wareham passed by on its way to Brownsea Island, owned by the National Trust. Brownsea is famed as the location where the founder of the Scout movement, Lord Baden Powell, started his first scout camp for young boys who spent time with him there, building camps, learning to tie knots and to rub sticks together to start fires. Nowadays there are international jamborees taking place in different countries on a regular basis - strange to think it all started here. One wonders whether it would have been so easy to start such a movement in such an isolated location with vulnerable youngsters these days! I do wonder about his so famous book on the subject called Scouting for boys. He seems to have found plenty!

It was David’s birthday so we celebrated that evening, squashed into the little awning attached to Erik’s rump, with a very gooey chocolate cake topped by a citronella candle to ward off any enthusiastic mosquitoes and wasps. Actually our evenings together were delightful. We’d developed a rapport when we met up in Greece some years ago and it was the first time we’d camped together in Britain since. A bottle of wine by lamplight in a cosy tent in the wilds of the silent English countryside is a unique experience.

Erik and Modestine host a party, Wareham

David frisking with glee on his birthday, Wareham

Next day we took the bus down to Swanage. Ian and I had never visited this very pleasant seaside holiday town before and we both loved it. It was the weekend of the Folk Festival with free performances all along the seafront, around the harbour and pier, and out onto the headland. At least 50% of the people were connected with the festival and the streets echoes to the sound of fiddles and thousands of little bells fixed to shoes and trouser legs, punctuated by the regular thwacking sound of clashing sticks as grown men in extravagant rags and sooty faces hopped and skipped to the sound of flutes and fiddles, at the same time clashing cudgels together in time to the music. Occasional crushed fingers were inevitable.

Folk dancers on the sea front, Swanage

Swanage sea side

To be honest it was brilliant. Very lively and colourful, organised by enthusiasts who danced on and on for the sheer hell of it all! We were proud to be British even if we were only spectators. Every pub was filled with beer drinking dancers stoking up for their next session and ice cream shops were doing their best business of the season. On the sandy beach families built castles, ate their picnics and tried to dam the incoming tide – a typically British example of the triumph of hope over reason! We joined them all with our pasties while the seagulls wheeled around hopefully.

Morris men – or total anarchy, it’s all the same thing! Swanage

Folk dancing on the cliffs above the harbour, Swanage

Folk dancing on the cliffs above the harbour, Swanage

Looking across the bay, Swanage

Just one of the many exciting things you can do with a handkerchief, Swanage

David, who would be a Morris dancer if he had the energy, chanced on a friend and we left them discussing the finer points of handkerchief waving while Lesley joined us for a walk along the Unesco Heritage cliffs. The views were stunning, right along the Purbeck coast with the ragged, white cliffs of the King Harry rocks in one direction, while the Isle of Wight lay in its brilliant sparkling blue setting in the other. This, incidentally, is one of the extra perks of taking the ferry from Poole. The ship cruises lazily past these splendours so we can observe at leisure the stunning Jurassic coast, the Needles and lighthouse on the tip of the Isle of Wight, the ferry crossing to the Studland Peninsula, King Harry’s cliff and even the boy scouts struggling to start fires on Brownsea Island!

Coastal footpath at Swanage

King Harry’s cliffs, Swanage

In the late afternoon all the hundreds of dancers processed through the town, dancing all the way while the musicians played for their lives. Visitors crowded the streets and the traffic was halted for a couple of hours. Everyone had had a superb day and the dancing and beer drinking looked set to continue late into the evening.

Organised mayhem on the streets of Swanage

Back at the station the little steam engine was shunting up to the platform ready to carry people down the line to the picturesque village of Corfe. This is a private line rescued from the days when steam was the norm and now a popular holiday attraction during the summer.

Steam power, Swanage

Our bus route crossed delightful countryside, passing right through the centre of Corfe. Unfortunately we’d had such fun in Swanage there was no time left to explore Corfe, famed particularly for its romantic ruin of a castle set on a hilltop towering steeply over the village. This was sacked by Cromwell’s army when the walls were blown out. It has since become a protected ruin, cared for by English Heritage. Its setting is magnificent and with the thatched stone cottages and quaint tea rooms of the village it is a magnet for visitors.

Corfe Castle seen from the bus

After another enjoyable evening together in the dusk of the campsite, snug inside Erik’s awning we spent our last night in our vans. Sunday morning we said farewell and set off back towards Exeter. Modestine allowed us to stop for a couple of hours to explore the Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, from where ferries depart for the Channel Islands off the French coast of the Cotentin.

The harbour area bustles with craft while picturesque fishermen’s houses are clustered closely together in the old town. It is still an active port as well as a holiday resort so it is very lively with many, rather old fashioned attractions to enjoy. It was here that the 2012 sailing Olympics were hosted which has smartened the town though the hinterland is nowhere near so agreeable as it used to be. It is now cut about with a massive ring road. Along the sea front there are exquisitely sculptures sand figures, a popular feature of the town for many years. The sand is very fine and when damp it is perfect for forming into finely sculpted works of art. Even Ian, when our kids were small, would spend hours making well endowed mermaid sculptures on the beach.

Moored fishing boats, Weymouth

Quayside cottages, Weymouth

Weymouth marina, Weymouth

General view, Weymouth Weymouth

Weymouth became popular during the 1790s when sea bathing became very popular. King George III, who suffered from the then unrecognised malady of porphyria, was recommended sea bathing as a treatment. He and his family would regularly visit the town, bringing with them publicity which helped Weymouth to prosper greatly as a health resort. There is a beautifully gilded statue of him on the sea front erected by a grateful town. There is also an original restored bathing machine which would have been pulled by a horse out into several feet of water. Once the king was ready he would climb down the steps directly into the sea and the clutches of a bathing attendant – a beefy woman who would pummel and duck the unfortunate monarch until he was exhausted before releasing him to return to the bathing machine to dry off and be towed back to the shore. The king certainly had good taste in selecting Weymouth. It is a very atmospheric town with streets of characterful 18th century guest houses still catering for those wishing to enjoy some fresh sea air.

The king goes bathing, Weymouth

Bed and Breakfast accommodation, Weymouth

Too soon our two hours on the parking meter were up and we had to leave the town. We hoped to find a country pub for lunch in one of the villages on our way home but as we climbed the steep hill along the coast on the home side of Abbotsbury Modestine began to buck, shudder and scream, dropping to an exhausted crawl as traffic tailed back behind us on the narrow road.

Chesil Bank seen from the hills above Abbotsbury

To gloss over a very unpleasant experience getting her back safely we now have her unmoveable on our driveway with a major amount of work to be undertaken by the Citroen garage in Exeter. Her power assisted steering went, leaking oil over the drive belt which slipped and screamed until it too gave way leaving us without power to run the battery and depositing oil on the alternator. That we reached home is practically a miracle. As I write I await the arrival of a lorry to load her up and transport her to the garage to have the damage assessed. You should try driving something the size of Modestine along a steep and winding clifftop route when the PAS has packed up! You need muscles like Popeye!

A final note. Yesterday we accompanied Modestine to the garage in Exeter. We prefer using the Romahome specialsit in Bristol but there is no way we can get her there. We made quite a sight as we sat high up with the driver in his cab as he towed Modestine carefully through the town. She looked so forlorn as we left her on the Citroen dealer’s forecourt and walked back home. The garage has just phoned to tell me the good news/bad news. At least there is no oil on the cam shaft. If that went it would mean the end of Modestine. The part she needs cost £500 but they have sourced a compatible unit for £150. Her illness will still cost us over £500. It makes you realise how fortunate we are as humans to have the NHS to service us doesn’t it?

Modestine leaves home

Wednesday 9th October 2013, Exeter
This blog posting has been delayed. It has been back to square one with the stupid eye problem, almost certainly resulting from the stress caused by Modestine’s malady. I’m now on the mend again but I’m treating the computer screen with great caution.

Modestine has recovered more quickly than me and is back in action again. Recently we have been up to Cumbria and across to see the family in Beverley.

In Cumbria we visited the home of John Ruskin in the rain. It was so damp and cold we warmed up with home made soup and warm bread in the stables restaurant.

Brantwood House on Conniston Water. Home of the 19th century writer and art critic John Ruskin

Steamer on Conniston Water seen from the dining room of Brantwood House

Two Jills playing a lithophone or stone zylophone, Brantwood House

Back at Jill’s home I went for a swim in the communal pool belonging to the apartments while Ian’s sister Jill organised supper upstairs. Am I spoilt or what?

Relaxing after a hard day enjoying myself, Kendal

Next day we took the bus into Kendal where Ian’s sister Jill volunteers in the Oxfam bookshop. Despite the chill we spent a very pleasant day in this small northern town with its market, busy library and friendly atmosphere. A fellow passenger on the bus invited us to her local church coffee morning. Why not? We crowded in to the Unitarian Church hall with the local oldies for coffee and biscuits. It felt so welcoming I rather wished we lived there. We’d have friends galore already! One lady took us to see inside the adjoining church and proudly told us of her life-long membership together with reminiscences of her childhood.

Kendal Public Library

Kendal street market and war memorial

Typical steep street in Kendal

Coffee time in the Unitarian Church Hall, Kendal

Unitarian Church, Kendal

Seen inside the church. Worth enlarging to read and definitely Food for Thought. Kendal

On our way across Cumbria and Yorkshire to the East Coast of England we stopped off at the quintessentially Yorkshire town of Skipton. It’s just so atmospheric. We loved it despite the chill wind whistling round the side streets. Steep cobbled pavements and lots of individual shops - though too many charity shops and too little real employment for people. The museum is excellent and still free.

Canal barges moored in the centre of Skipton

Canal basin, Skipton

Skipton Library

Skipton Town Hall

Blackened stone of Skipton Parish Church. They do a excellent coffee in the vestry!

Statue of legendary cricketer Freddie Truman from Skipton

In Beverley Jeev left us to Neil’s mercies and disappeared to a reunion meeting down in Oxford for the weekend. The sun returned and we spent a really happy few days with them. Deyvi begged for a picnic in Modestine. She regards her as a sort of dolls house on wheels. We ended up at a rather snooty nature reserve where we were let in on tolerance with dire warning not to disturb the birds or play ball games. I somehow don’t think we will be going again but it served its purpose and provided somewhere peaceful for Indi to practice her gradually developing walking skills.

Neil with his daughters at the waterfowl nature reserve

One day we took Deyvi swimming where she finally discovered not to try breathing under water, thus making lots of progress. Our lunch plans in Hull were scuppered when we discovered we’d brought the wrong bag and had none of Indi’d special diet food with us for lunch. We drove home with Indi wasting her precious energy screaming to be fed. Once we’d sorted her we walked to the local pub for our own lunch. Then while Ian and Neil cut the lawn I took the girls to the park and to play on the children’s climbing equipment. Indi now demands to go down the slide with her sister and I need eight pairs of hands to cope with them on my own.
Indi tries out the swings

And the seesaw

Deyvi burns off some excess energy

Jeev, Indi and Deyvi after Jeev’s return from Oxford