Monday, May 27, 2013

To the South, To England (Part 2)

I Ain’t ‘Fraid of No Ghosts.  Most of the tourist shops in southern England sold small books about local ghosts (ie., the Ghosts of Dartmoor, Southern Ghost Stories, etc.).  I also have a book I’d been reading at home before the trip called “Britain’s Most Haunted Pubs and Inns.”  This led me to start asking at the pubs and inns we visited if there were any local spooks.  
In Staple Fitzpaine near Taunton in Somerset we stayed at the Greyhound Inn which has been a coaching house and inn since the 1700s.  
Greyhound Inn, Staple Fitzpaine, Somerset

A great steak dinner
While visiting with the landlord I jokingly asked if there were any local ghosts we could visit with.  He said that while he’d never felt a presence, the kitchen staff say that sometimes they feel someone else is in the room with them when no one is about.  He also said that a burly Irishman had stayed one night a couple years before.  In the morning when he was asked how he’d slept, the Irishman replied, “I barely slept at all.  I woke up in the middle of the night with hands around my neck and no one was there.”  The landlord didn’t know if the Irishman had had a supernatural experience or just too many pints the night before.  
Our next opportunity came at The Dolphin Inn in Penzance, Cornwall.  

The Dolphin Inn

We picked out this pub because of its very nice menu and reputation for food, as well as its reputation as a quite haunted inn. At least three ghosts haunt the inn: the old retired ship’s captain, a young man who had committed suicide in the pub, and an elder lady who wanders amongst the upstairs rooms.  We had a pint one night and a meal the next and never did see any of the resident spirits except the ones in our pints of cider.
On our exploration of Dartmoor National Park in Devon we were told by a visitor’s centre docent to stop by the Warren House, the third highest inn in England.  
The Warren House, Third Highest Inn in England
It was quite foggy on the moor, very atmospheric, so the Warren House pub was a lovely stop with its welcoming fire (which has been going for almost 200 years).  The landlord here was very chatty and when I asked about ghosts he said he wasn’t sure if the inn was haunted or not.  
Landlord of the Warren House
 He then proceeded to tell us that there were certain places in the pub house that dogs wouldn’t set foot, that the kitchen staff had seen fleeting images outside the kitchen when no was there, and that a publican had once been murdered behind the bar, but he wasn’t convinced their spirits still roamed the house.  Even when we went back for dinner later in the day, we still didn’t find any evidence of ghosts, just friendly locals enjoying Sunday dinner.
Our last spooky place is considered the most haunted pub in England. The Red Lion in Avebury in Wiltshire is indeed special.  
Avebury Stone Circle
The inn is in the middle of the largest ancient stone circle in the world.  The Avebury circle, about 30 miles north of Stonehenge, is three-quarters of a mile around and consists of scores of very large stones.  

The Red Lion Pub has numerous eating areas as well as five resident ghosts.  The staff have also reported seeing a phantom horse drawn carriage pull into the inn at night and hearing the ghostly clattering of hooves in the courtyard outside the pub. 

Though Prince Charles has eaten several times in the pub, not even his presence had brought any of the spirits to seek a Royal audience.  
Although we weren’t successful in finding any evidence of real phantoms (now there’s an oxymoron for you), we did enjoyed the search for English ghosts.  

The Moors.  Our trip to the south shires of England took us through or around several of  the famed English moors--areas of grasslands, heathers, fern, and stone, usually quite desolate,foreboding, and very Hound of the Baskervillean, except that they were all full of walkers or trekkers.  Exmoor in Somerset and North Devon was disappointing.  It was mostly stonewall-fenced farmland hidden behind tall hedges (see the last blog post).  On the way from Penzance (Cornwall) to Tavistock (Devon) we got into more typical moorland on Bodmin Moor.  After quite a drive along the southern England coast it was pleasant, even in light rain, to walk a half mile out to Hurler’s stone circle, 

Hurlers' Stone Circle on Bodmin Moor

one of the more ancient of the Neolithic circles.  A much less strenuous 50 foot walk was needed to see Trethevy Quoit (aka. the Giant’s House) 

with its 12 foot long top stone, a form of burial chamber we’ve seen more in Ireland where they are called dolmens.  
It was Dartmoor though where we got the real moorland experience, complete with heavy fog and swirling mists.  
Anne walking in the moors

A Tor, a naturally sculpted rock outcropping in the moors

We drove from our rather forgetable Mallards B&B in Tavistock to the main Dartmoor National Park Visitors’ Centre in Princetown, where we got suggestions for what to see on our one day visit to the park.  First on the list was the Warren House, a great inn in the heart of the moors.  
The Warren House, Dartmoor
Then, after coffee, a flapjack (a sweet homemade oat biscuit), and some conversation, we stopped to see a clapper bridge (a stone bridge over a stream or river) in Postbridge.  

Luck was with us as we had the bridge to ourselves for a few minutes before a bus of tourists arrived to swarm the bridge and get into each others’ photos.  
Anne in one of the stone huts at Grimspound, Dartmoor

It was about three miles from Postbridge to the turnoff to the trailhead of the hike up to Grimspound, a low stonewall encircled Bronze Age settlement of 24 stone huts dating to 1300 BC.  For a break from the foggy moors we drove down a horrendously small road to the village of Buckfast and a visit to Buckfast Abbey, 

an active working monastery. 

In the abbey church I visited with Father Christopher who knew about the Mt Angel Abbey and the Benedictine Assisted Living Center where my mother is getting well cared for.  After the dry weather of the abbey we headed back into the moors to find either stone circles or remains of stone huts (I couldn’t be sure which) 

before again visiting Warren House for a good dinner.  One interesting note about dinner at the inn was that while in the morning the specials board had listed a special of Sunday roast, by mid-afternoon the roast had been replaced with a different special.  As we ate we watched the bar staff change the specials three more times--either they were one-of-a-kind or they were yesterday’s left-overs.  Lastly, we wanted to see a second ancient village with a unique stone row feature.  

We started out past the wild Dartmoor ponies, but soon were turned back by fog so thick we were afraid of getting lost on the trackless moor.
Although the villages of southern England, such as St Ives (made famous by the Doc Martin TV series) and Mousehole, 
Mousehole harbor, a few miles from Penzance, Cornwall

were picturesque, I much more enjoyed traipsing around Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor.

At the Theatre.  A Rick Steves’ travel show turned us on to the open-air Minack Theatre at Porthcumo about four miles from Land’s End in Cornwall.  We booked from home an evening  performance of a Cornish Celtic Folk Group at the theatre and were looking forward to the music and to seeing the venue.  When the weather on performance day turned nasty with 40 mile an hour winds and heavy rain, we decided to visit the theatre during the day knowing that the evening performance would be cancelled.  

The hand-built rock amphitheater is the dream child of Rowena Cade, who used her back garden to stage a local production of The Tempest in 1932.  Her work and that of a faithful gardener produced a dramatic seaside theatre which today hosts 17 plays in a season running from June through September and seen by 80,000 theatre-goers in a typical year.  

As we toured the theatre in high wind and driving rain we were told that the performance would probably not be cancelled--evidently the group would perform for anyone silly enough to sit out on grass or stone seats in 40 degree wind-blown rain.  We were not in attendance, but the theatre is still a highlight of our trip.  

Next: More highlights from England and Scotland and our trip summary--all written from home.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

To the South, To England (Part 1)

Our foray into England began with a golf tournament at Clovend GC in the Dumfries area of southern Scotland where we had a wonderful time with members even though we played miserably--too much visiting with Roger and Wendy Bailey (our playing partners) and not enough concentrating upon our golf).  After our golf and visiting, it was on with our English sojourn--Taunton in Somerset, Bude in Devon, Penzance in Cornwall, Tavistock in Devon, Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, and back to Scotland.

Sat Nav Problems.  To help Anne the Navigator we had purchased a new Garmin GPS system updated with the latest UK maps.  The Sat Nav was doing great getting us down toward Devon until we wanted to see the Cheddar village and Cheddar Gorge.  
The Village of Cheddar

Cheddar Gorge

Using our handy Atlas Anne had it mapped out down the M5 and a short jaunt over to Cheddar, but we figured the Garmin knew a better way when she (female program voice) took us off the M5 (motorway or freeway) into and through downtown and Bristol. 
Buying Cheddar Cheese in Cheddar

Cheddar Man--the Oldest Skeleton Found in UK

When we finally got to Cheddar an hour later it was lovely and very crowded on a holiday Sunday.  But that was only the first of our GPS woes.  Next was a wild ride through the tall-hedged roads of Devon to the little village of Staple Fitzpaine and the Greyhound Inn.  
Staple Fitzpaine Manse

The next morning when we took five minutes to get to the M5 we wondered why the damned Garmin had taken us the back way which was much harder driving and probably three times longer than the easy way. 
Staple Fitzpaine Parish Church

Parish Church Interior

 We checked the settings and she was programmed for the fastest route and not the most round-about route (which I’m sure is one of Garmin’s standard settings).  As if to convince us of her control, the f--ing bitch took us through the center of Penzance and dumped us in the middle of a city garden (literally through the main gates and onto the garden service road) when our guest house was right on the sea front avenue of the town.  
The Blue Seas Guest House, Penzance

Needless to say we’ll be dealing with Garmin Corp as soon as we get home. 

Blown Away by St Michaels.  Not far from Penzance at the southern end of England is   the village of Marazion and just off shore is St Michael’s Mount, known locally as the Mount.  
St Michael's Mount
The tidal island is connected to the coast of Cornwall by a 400-yard manmade causeway.  The name for the monastery on the island comes from the legend that Archangel St Michael visited local island fisherfolk on the Mount in the fifth century.  Today, the former priory on the Mount is the residence of Lord St Leven.
On a Thursday in a mix of sun and clouds Anne and I walked over to the island at low tide.  
Anne Walks the Causeway to the Mount at Low Tide

The day was quite breezy and got even windier as we walked along the sea front and directly into the wind across the causeway to the Visitors’ Centre on the island.  Thirty to forty mile an hour gusts suddenly increased to fifty plus gusts.  
Starting the Climb

The Castle on the Mount

We started the climb up to the castle entrance--a steep zig-zag path ending in a climb up about fifty exposed rough hewn stone steps--with gusts now approaching hurricane force.  Anne struggled in the wind to keep her balance on the uneven steps and I got no photos because I was struggling as well. 
Interior Work

Checking the View

The Drawing Room

 While we toured the house the decision was made to close the island to more visitors and to clear the island of both visitors and staff as the conditions were getting too dangerous--we have no idea what the resident family did. The walk back across the causeway was easier with the wind at our backs, but it still was a struggle to keep our balance on the cobbled path.  

The Lovely Views from the Small Roads of Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall. Everyone had told us that the southern shires, Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall, were lovely.  What they didn’t tell us was that we couldn’t see most of it from the road.  You see [well actually we saw, or couldn’t see], the narrow roads in the south of England are lined with lush hedges closing in the small roads even more.  Since we couldn’t see much of the countryside, I had Anne take a few snaps of what we could see.  Here is a sample of lovely Devon.

Are these Roads a Little Tight?

Next: Ghosts, Theatre, and more.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Big Fight

In this corner, wearing a mantle of white and packing an icy punch, is the Scottish Winter.  In the opposite corner, looking dapper in leafy green and mild of manner, is Spring.  

And in the midst of this titanic struggle we arrived in Scotland for a five-week stay--which includes a two-week tour down to Land’s End in Cornwall.
A Hieland Coo

Even though it is officially spring, the trees are still bare, 

the snow is heavy on the hills, and house chimneys belch peat smoke.  Although last spring we saw more snow on the mountains, this year the hills are bleaker and the snow is lower.  The golf courses are in better condition because the winter wasn’t so wet, but golfers are more bundled up against the frigid wind

--even I have had to put on a jumper (sweater).  The forecast is for the warmest day of the year on Monday--it might reach 60° F.
The lingering Winter hasn’t put a damper on either our touring or our golf.  We’ve played three times so far (five days into the trip).  

At our home course of St Fillans, about 17 miles from our B&B base Merlindale in Crieff (central Scotland), Spring was starting to fight against Winter.  Anne was tightly bundled against the cold, the sun did show its face a few times in the round, though it was hard to find much warmth in it.  

We saw more sun at Kirriemuir GC at the foot of Cairngorm National Park, but the 20 mile per hour wind with gusts to 30 blew away any heating.  Sun and warmth met us at Dragon’s Tooth GC in Ballachulish along Loch Linnhe.  

I even had my jumper off for a hole or so.  
Our touring has been enhanced by the slow move from Winter to Spring.  The one really rainy day led us to a large antique mall in Doune (location of Doune Castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail).  

Anne and I wandered among the various stalls picking out items we’d like to have at home.  In the end there was nothing that called to us strongly enough to plan room in our suitcases.  The Scottish scenery

The mountains of Glencoe

--snow capped mountains of Glencoe, 

Rannoch Moor

bleak Rannoch Moor, 

the river falls of Glen Etive, 

and the steep sides of Glen Clova--will all make it home through scores of photos stored on computer and camera memory cards.  
A visit to one of our favorite gardens, Branklyn Garden in Perth, showed us that Spring was on its way to winning this bout.  

The Himalayan Blue Poppies weren’t out yet, but there was plenty of color in the garden for 

Anne and I to spend an hour or more wandering and photographing.  
A Goshawk takes flight in the garden.

After the gardens we rested in a nearby pub, The Village Inn in Bridge of Earn, 

where we visited with a local Cameron Brown.  Listening to the local weather forecast it probably won’t be a knockout for Spring or even a TKO, but the next few weeks should let Spring beat Winter on points.  But we aren’t putting away our raincoats or jumpers yet.
Ancient standing stone
Next: We head down into England, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, and the Cotswolds.  On the way we stop in Dumfries to play in a charity golf tournament.