A green and pleasant land. (September 2012)

We have just been in England.

After 8 months of struggling with foreign languages, it was a change to be able to read a menu, understand it, then order food from it, and be understood.

The rain was ever present and the cloudy skies our constant companion.

England is green for a reason.

Our first stop was Land’s End in Cornwall.

This is a rugged, windswept coastline with the sea on three sides. Our hotel is about as far west as you can get on the English mainland and the wind tried hard all night to get into our room.

From Land’s End we headed to Dorset with a side trip to St. Michael’s Mount. This bears a striking resemblance to Mont St. Michel in France, which we visited only a few days before.

There is also an historical connection.

The church, built on the summit of the mount after the Norman invasion, around 1066, was granted to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St. Michel.

Mount St Michael is still home to the St. Auburn family, who have been in the castle, on and off, since 1647. In 1954 the island was given to the National Trust, with the family retaining a 999-year lease to live in the castle.

Next we spent few days with friends in Burton Bradstock, Dorset, a beautiful little village on the Jurassic Coast.

The Jurassic Coast has 153 km of World Heritage coastline, that can document 180 million years of geological history.

It was made famous by the paleontologist Mary Anning, whose discoveries changed the thinking about prehistoric life.

We visited the fishing towns of Lyme Regis and West Bay, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch of local seafood, in the rain.

Then, in an attempt to stay dry, we visited Althehampton in Dorchester, a quintessential English Manor House, with beautifully preserved rooms and formal gardens.

Apart from the many water features in the gardens, there is a finely detailed marble statue of a rather stern Queen Victoria.

From the coast we drove inland to visit the Cerne Abbas Giant. Aptly named a giant as he is large in every respect.

There is a lot of conjecture about his actual age, as some say he is from the Bronze age, while common belief is that he is a lot younger.

Then to the Avebury Standing Stones, not as impressive as Stone Henge but a lot more tiring to walk around.

The final stop on our prehistoric investigation was to see the Uffington White Horse, dating back 3,000 years.

On our way to London we did a circle around the Cotswalds, starting and finishing at Burford in Oxfordshire.

In London the grey skies were still with us.

We walked along the Thames between London and Tower Bridge and got a rare view of the bridge opening to let a Brazilian war ship pass under.

To shelter from the weather, and to tie up a few loose ends, we visited the British Museum.

Having discovered how important the Rosetta Stone was to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics, I wanted to see the real thing.

This visit also gave us the opportunity to see the other 50% of the remaining marble sculptures from the Parthenon and Acropolis. There is still a great deal of sensitivity surrounding the ‘acquisition’ by Lord Elgin of these ancient artifacts. So much so that the only free piece of literature in the British Museum, is a leaflet setting out their side of this argument.

We also visited the Natural History Museum, this time to see some of the amazing fossils Mary Anning discovered in Lyme Regis.

Our final day was spent in seaside town of Southend-on-Sea.

Apart from the world’s largest pleasure pier, it doesn’t seem to have much else going for it.

Except the Turnstones.

These migratory birds, who get their name from turning stones to find their dinner, seem to spend a lot of time on one foot.

The next day we headed south to Folkestone and the Eurotunnel. This amazing engineering accomplishment takes you from England to Europe, by train, in just 35 minutes.

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