The Green Fields…
Woken by the rooks cawing through heavy morning mist we could only be in England.
Sturminster Marshall, one of many pretty Dorset villages. On this Saturday morning cyclists streamed by, horses too, and so many Range Rovers – clearly the conveyance of choice.
In Dorchester we dropped in on the aunt and cousin who’d given me my best childhood holidays.
I guess I was less than 10 when we used to go to stay with Uncle Harold and Auntie Joan, but I remember so much that we did there still. The house was special, a 60s modern place that was filled with light, but there were three things that particularly stuck in my mind.
Wheels. Harold’s scooter was just a little step through, but to be taken around the streets on the back was an absolute thrill. There was also a Raleigh 20 Shopper bike that I rode endlessly.
Sean the dog. Sean, great name, was a Shetland Collie (like Polly’s mum). Probably the first dog that I’d spent time with. Sean had a beautiful temperament and would sit time and time again for me. It was love at first bark.
Julie. My cousin is only a few months older than me, she was mischievous and fun. I thought the world of her then and it was great to see her decades later and know that a night out would still be a hoot.
Wagon and Horses.
Camper van pub stops are becoming more common. The Wagon and Horses just outside Shepton Mallet has taken it a little further and has a dozen hard standings and a small toilet block behind the inn.
Among all the beautiful pubs of Dorset and Somerset the Wagon and Horses doesn’t really feature. It looks tired from the outside, but the appearance doesn’t tell its story.
A full car park by 7.00pm showed the locals knew better.
Butcombe Bitter – English local beer served at room temperature as it should be.
Hearty plates of delicious smelling food were being devoured with gusto by the happy crowd. Steak and kidney pie, special burgers, steaks, fish and chips, faggots and peas, gammon and eggs, local food at its best, we’re truly home!
In Greece few people are interested in their cars. They tend to drive whatever they have until it will go no more, and if that takes 30 years then so much the better. Most are ancient pick-ups or small Fiats.
The Italians may make some very special exotics, but most people stick to small Fiats that fit down the tiny streets of their medieval towns.
In France we saw more Mercedes and BMWs, but still there’s little obvious interest beyond a necessary conveyance. Great food is the French obsession.
Then England. In England it’s mad. The £50k car is commonplace. Range Rovers and similar Mercedes and BMWs ride the south east. So much so that you soon stop noticing.
In a sleepy Somerset village we came across something far more exciting than these quotidian behemoths.
Our friends Andrew and Gillian have driven a fabulous Aston Martin DB6 for many years, showing it, occasionally hiring it, but most importantly doing the miles and loving it.
Recently their garage was extended and they welcomed a sleek DB9GT 007 limited edition to the stables.
Not only is the car elegant without being flash, its performance is extreme, both in gaining, and losing speed. A little tootle around the lanes with Andrew fixed a grin to my face that I’ll remember for a long while. It sounded rather good too.
Andrew and Gillian now run Petrol Heads Welcome. It’s portal for those driving exotica. It recommends venues to visit, eat and stay where expensive cars have the space and security that their owners would hope for, but can’t always find.
For the first time since Christmas we’ll stay in the same place for a few nights. At my sister’s house in Castle Cary.
The roads through Somerset are busy, but you have to slow down and absorb what’s around you.
It’s a serene county despite the cars.
I think of it as flat. But in fact it has the Quantock Hills, the Mendips and the cheesy Cheddar Gorge.
Much of Somerset is low lying. The Levels is a vast area of flat lands reclaimed from the sea. It has been drained over the years by the Romans, by the monasteries, and more recently by Dutch engineers. Despite that, much of the land is below the level of the spring tides and there are floods most winters. The 70,000 hectares never dries out and it retains its rich green grazing lands that stretch as far as you can see, the occasional hill like Glastonbury Tor rising from the plain.
Glastonbury and its Tor.
Home to the lord of the underworld and king of the fairies Gwyn ap Nudd, the tor attracts fairy folk and the religious in equal measure.
For us it was a good stiff walk, and a fine place to pic-nic on the excellent sausage rolls and scotch eggs from the deli in Castle Cary as we gazed across the levels in one direction, and down to England’s smallest city, Wells, in the other.
In Glastonbury town we take a trip into another dimension, mingling with the purple cloaked priestesses of alternative living, absorbing the healing powers of crystals in at atmosphere thick with patchouli and peace.
An old rocker window cleaner wears a uniform that might only ever be seen here. His Fields of the Nephilim leather jacket, leather trousers and Cuban heels possibly make his task a little harder, but leave no one in doubt over his musical allegiances.
The English Church.
After the highly decorative churches we’ve seen on our travels the humble English place of worship is suddenly interesting for its modesty.
Near my sister’s town, and en route to Galstonbury, we stop to visit St Peter’s Church at Hornblotton, interesting for the sgraffito decoration of its walls. It sits in the grounds of its former rectory, a generous Victorian manor house that’s far bigger than the church itself.
There are several small churches in the area that appear attached to nearby halls, but on learning the above I now wonder whether their rectors managed to have fine houses built for themselves, and of course to entertain passing dignitaries.
The (utter) magic of home.
We meet many people on the road who hail from the less salubrious towns of Britain.
Travelling home for them must be hard. The dread of trudging ever further north into the grey mill towns, or queuing through the traffic clogged south east.
We have the happy knowledge that the end of our road will forever be Cornwall.
With the weather on our side we left the honey stone villages of Somerset this morning and cruised down through Devon to meet Andi Sweeny and discuss an addition to ArchieVan’s furniture. Andi built ArchieVan’s flight case furniture which pulls comments wherever we go.
By the time we left Andi the sun was doing its thing.
The air was warm.
The light was perfect.
And the long views and new greens of England were immaculate.
Hedgerows burst with blossoming blackthorn.
Village gardens groan gently under the weight of magnolia, and I noticed for the first time its strong sweet scent.
And daffodils. For us they’re the colour of the new year, they flower across the far west from early February, in gardens and commercially. I read a statistic that suggested 75% of the world’s daffodils are grown in Cornwall. Even if only half that is true then it’s no surprise that they are the flower that shouts SPRING loudest to us here.
We grin, delighted to know that even if we don’t currently have a base here, this beautiful land, this Cornwall, will be forever home.
In Zennor we meet friends by chance.
From there we take the hard cliff path to The Gurnard’s Head, and there, at our favourite hotel, we stopped for a beer.
On across the fields, past the coconut scented furze (gorse), we stanked and back to the van in Zennor. There we ate a feast at The Tinners, supping Mermaid and its eponymous ale. We’d planned to camp in the pub car park, but then Minty had a genius idea.
20 plus years ago we were married on the high cliffs of Bosigran, and tonight we’ll sleep under the Carn Galva mine overlooking those same cliffs.
The sunset was modest, calm, beautiful.
The peace here is intense.
We’re both on the edge of tears.
And so happy to be in this land that we love.
To wake, to walk through the dew drenched bracken and heather, to know how lucky we are to be in this wonderful place.
You have to go away, for a long time, to know just how good it is.
VanLife – new opening window.
In the summer we were hot in the van at night, very hot indeed. Thankfully we didn’t experience the heat wave that roasted central and southern Europe, we were hot even in Scandinavia.
We love ArchieVan’s huge dark windows, but the solar gain is hard to counteract.
Strangely the roof lights don’t create much air flow when they’re open. The only solution is to leave front and rear doors open, but we can’t sleep like that.
We’re having a couple of changes that should help.
Cornwall Van Windows in Long Rock, Penzance fitted a new offside rear window today with a small opening section – I hope that will help draw air through.
Mylo at Cornwall Van Conversions has a few jobs to do as well. One of them is to replace a roof light with an extractor fan – we’ve seen one in action in another van and it seemed good. We’ve also bought a large 12V fan.
If all three don’t help we’ll simply drive north of wherever it’s hot!
I’d built St Just up so much that I began to fear that it wouldn’t deliver.
But it did.
St Just is a strange place to love.
For too many days of the year it is shrouded in low cloud.
Then, being so close to the sea and the prevailing wind, it rains more than you’d want it to.
But on the days when the sun shines there’s no where else I’d rather be.
There’s tremendously varied walking in every direction with no urban sprall to interrupt your pleasure.
There are beaches and swimming spots.
There are hills and moorland.
And if that’s all a bit too much, a simple stroll around town absorbing all the different styles of houses is enough to keep you going until it’s time for a pasty and a cooling off period in The Star.
The sun beat down, we met several friends in the Dog and Rabbit Café, Polly had her hair cut, and for the first time we slept in the St Just car park only 100m away from our own house.
The Dog and Rabbit is now an excellent café under the care of our old Tregiffian neighbours Ben and Rosie. The latte coffee is quite possibly the best we have had in all our 17,000 miles. It’s not cheap, nor should it be, but it is very good.
We may only be here for a few days, but we’ll make the most of it, and we’re very happy to be here.