Bronze Age Burial Chambers to Residential Castles
08.08.2007 - 14.08.2007 -17 °C
Our morning began with an underground exploration of Halliggye Fogue (EH), an ancient Cornish Iron Age burial chamber or shrine. The interlinking unlit passages required some ducking and weaving to navigate with our head lamps on. Luckily we made it out past the deadly (looking) massive (if you are an ant) spiders.
Halliggye Fogou as seen without the torches
Wow, it is really dark in here!
The next stop was far more photogenic.
St Michael's Mount was founded in the 12th century and following the English civil war the St Aubyn family have retained a residence in the castle. We enjoyed egg sandwiches and tea on the windy island watching the tall ship and other sailing boats enjoy the breeze. As it was high tide during our visit it was necessary to do a little bit of boating ourselves with the resident ferry masters to get over to the island and back to the mainland.
After another scenic drive through the hedges we made a short stop at Tregiffian burial chamber which strongly resembled a large rock with a small gap underneath. Unfortunately over the thousands of years the nearby road has encrouched on this site and destroyed the rest. Arriving at what we thought was our final destination, give that you can't drive further west of Land's End, we only remained for a short time. Uninterested in an overcrowded novelty park we opted for hot chips at Sennen Cove watching the summer frivolity and sea birds.
Determined for a full day of sight seeing we filled in the rest of the afternoon and evening with a 100km scenic drive to Tintagel head campground.
Tintagel Castle (EH) presented a concise summary of the King Arthur legend and history entwined, far more than we learnt from Spamalot. Set on a cliff edge Tintagel Castle began as a trading settlement for Celtic kings during the 5th and 6th century and remains in ruins which were still in good working order until the 13th century. The view of the bay far below and adjacent coastline is stunning.
We ventured into a vast sea cave which led us through to the other side of the peninsula on which the castle rests. Back in the bay we admired the 20m+ waterfall crashing onto the sand and pebbles before making its way to the sea.
Tintagel's longest standing complete building is the Old Post Office (NT) dating from 15th century and preserved as it was used back then as a farmhouse and residence. The narrow staircase, rickety roof beams, low doorways and small rooms gave us reason enough not to buy a 550 year old home if you want to maintain good posture. To top off our absorbtion of Cornwalls history and delightful farm scapes we sat for a while on a rock wall eating a selection of cornish pasties we saw being made earlier that morning on our way to the castle. They don't come any better or bigger!
Leaving Tintagel we took a short detour through Boscastle harbour and village on our way to Arlington Court (NT). Unfortunately we were late by 15 minutes to view one of Britains largest collection of horse drawn carriages. Instead we amused ourselves with the extensive collection of model ships (50+), massive shell collection and art throughout the house before strolling in the formal garden and green house.
Deep in the Exmoor National Park we set up camp in the corner of a field with the sound of a nearby creek lulling us into sleep, horses standing quietly on the hillside silouetted by moonlight and the canopy of the Hawkcombe Woods keeping the dew off the tent till morning.
You may be wondering if we are all 'castled' out yet, and to you we say NEVER! Castle hunting has become rather addictive and for today our first catch would be Dunster Castle (NT). Owned and lived in by the Luttrell family for 600 years we thought it was a bit drafty but certainly good for entertaining. While Steve was admiring the art, furnishings and grandfather clocks Camilla was riveted to a page of scribbled notes in a glass cabinet in a dark corner under the oak staircase. It seems there were a few holes worth picking to pieces in the 1800's instruction manual attached to the portable medicine chest. In particular the bleeding of 12 ounces for treatment of early fever goes against all modern day knowledge.
After cheese and tomato sandwiches in the shade of a huge oak looking out towards the Bristol Channel we ventured in to town as our supplies of traditional clotted cream and lemon meringue fudge was critically low. Without further delay or a moment to lose we made our way post haste for the 14:55 train from Minehead on the West Sommerset Heritage Steam Railway. After careful deliberation over the question to catch or not to catch, Steve is adamant that it is far more exciting to see the action from the platform.
Full of fudge we thought some exercise was in order. Hiking from the carpark we slugged our way up to the tallest point in Exmoor, Dunkery Beacon (NT) at 519m. It took all of 13 minutes at a stretch and the view was well worth the exertion.
Stourhead Gardens (NT) was featured in the recent production of Pride and Prejudice which made for a lovely morning tour.
We were assisted by a GPS transceiver with audiovisual guide to the grounds and estate which should be read as an indicator of how large the gardens are. Although fairly accurate the GPS plotter would have run us into a number of large trees if directions were followed blindly. Most of our day was absorded at Stourhead so we decided in the late afternoon after a visit to the house that a drive to Bath would be all we could manage.
Having found a suitable campsite we squeezed onto the last pitch available with Teilo and Kathy, a very firendly couple from Brisbane. As dusk fell the four of us caught the bus into town for a walk past the baths, abbey and down to the river Avon with the attractive Pulteney Bridge. Even though it was only 9pm when we started hunting for dinner most of the pubs had stopped serving so we took a local's recommendation and were delighted by the Eastern Eye Indian restaurant. On the return bus journey to camp we experienced the unfortunate disgraces of drunken aggression from youths who evidently were generally dissatisfied with riding the bus, the driver, the seats, windows, each other or anything else for that matter.
To guide us down the narrow path back to camp Teilo produced his trusty wind-up torch and we all slept well as the midnight rain shower started.
Today would be dedicated to bathing, well visiting the Roman Baths in Bath actually. We avoided the shower drenching us by remaining in our tent till it stopped later that morning. Catching the bus into town we spent about an hour and a half in the Roman bath centre, testing the water temperature and admiring the plumbing before finally tasting a drop from the kings spring in the famous Pump Room. Originally the water was believed to have healing qualities and upon tasting the 46 degree water with its mineral rich after taste it certainly was bad enough to be medicinal.
The rest of the afternoon was spent preparing for an all Australian, outdoor, campside, sing along, tong turning mouth watering, lip smacking gastronomical BBQ! As we finished the last morsel of grilled scottish salmon we chatted till late with Teilo and Kathy. It was very nice to share our campsite with friendly likeminded Aussie travellers, we wish them well on their adventure.
Dyrham Park (NT) was our first stop for today. Walking down the kilometre long drive we detoured into the woods and spotted a young family of speckled deer. Points of interest in the house included wonderful paintings of Amsterdam depicting harbour and village scenes from the late 1700's and as always an impressive kitchen complex.
After a quick sandwiches lunch in the parking lot (this is totally normal in all National Trust country houses, usually equipped with picnic tables) we headed off to Lacock Abbey and village for the afternoon. Totally saturated with historically interesting tales a point of interest in the Abbey was the famous window which William Talbot used as the subject for the first negative / positive photograph. Walking through the rooms it was also of interest to note that Harry Potter was filmed here using the cloisters and basement for scenes. Finally we had a quick read and paraphrase of one of the few copies produced of the Magna Carta.
A walk through the lovely village of Lacock was not sufficient exercise to offset the carrot cake from the local baker-ess wearing complete 1800s attire. We enjoyed the streets used in the BBC productions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma while desperately trying to imagine the avenues with horse and buggy instead of cars.
Our final stop for the day would take us back 5000 years in time to a point where Avebury was home to a small developed farming community (not much has changed in that time evidently). Pondering the immense stone circles, long stone lined procession way and deep moats around the town rivals Stonehenge for intrigue, historic significance and mangnitude of effort to develop so long ago.
With the late afternoon sun on our shoulders we walked through wheat fields up the hill to admire the man-made Silbury Hill (commenced at the same time as the pyramids although not as impressive) and delved into the West Kennet Long Barrow burial chambers. Much of our current understanding of the healt, diet and rituals of ancient communities is learnt from the burial chambers making a visit both fascinating and ominous.
At the third campsite we had tried the night before we found ourselves approximately 10km outside of Oxford. We awoke to the drumming of heavy rain on the tent skin under an apple tree in the back paddock. Taking Sarah and Robs' advice (NZ friends in London) we decided to try the 'Park and Ride', a system of strategically placed parking lots linked by buses to the centre of town. A great idea to keep the crazy tourists out of the city and help maintain better air quality and less congested roads (think about it Sydney)
At the Royal Blenheim Pub we enjoyed a burger they claim to be the best in Oxford (SnC rating - 8/10). The rain finally subsided sufficiently for us to dash to Christ Church although there was no real need as we look like mountaineers in our wet weather gear. The famous dinning hall was used in Harry Potter and as it was presented ready for dinner it is easy to imaging the 100+ diners sitting to dinner under the watchful eye of the church leaders, or in Harry's case Dumbledore. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking town and hiding from the rain in a hot dank internet cafe blogging.
Back on the Park and Ride we extended our pantry inventory to include soy sauce which added the perfect element to a feast of rice and green vegetables whilst singing 'Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but meeee...'