Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ruth's Back--Great Britain …. Again!

By Ruth Richter
The excitement heightened the several days before Ruth Richter, Ken and Marla Patterson, and Bonnie Skoy who is Ken’s sister, prepared to depart for our great trip to England and Scotland, leaving on March 1.   Intrepid traveler that I am, I’d already managed to completely pack my bag when I tossed that one aside and started all over again with a different bag.
We’d had an evening of getting good advice from neighbors, Chris and Peggy Parker, since Chris grew up in England and Peggy has a great love affair going with the country.  We spread the maps out all over the table and pinpointed and highlighted roads to travel and places to see.
Our flight left out of Boise at about 1:00 p.m., which was a great time to leave from there, and our connections had us arriving at London’s Heathrow Airport around 11 a.m. the following day.  England, before the Daylight Savings Time change, was seven hours ahead of us in Garden Valley. We had some moments of concern as Bonnie’s plane from Salt Lake City to Chicago arrived more or less on time, but then was much delayed getting to the gate; Ken who had gone to meet her ran with her all the way from her arrival gate to our departure gate, with moments to spare before they supposedly were going to close the plane’s door. 
Arriving at the Hertz Car Rental at Heathrow, Ken was given the luxury of picking out the car of his choice for us to drive even though we’d opted for the economy four-door sedan version.  The car he chose was a Volkswagen Van (that version not sold in the U.S.), diesel engine, plenty of room for our [excessive] luggage, and comfy space for the four of us to sit.  It just so happened to be automatic transmission as well, a real luxury in England where they usually charge considerably more for anything but a stick shift.  With Ken at the wheel, Ruth navigating from the front seat, and Marla and Bonnie ensconced in the rear seat, we took off with clear directions for getting away from Heathrow.  There were only a few gasps, the occasional comment from Ruth to drive on the left, a bit of interpreting of the different signage, roundabout etiquette suggested, and we were on our way to Cornwall via the “M” highways (England’s version of our interstate system).
Our drive to Cornwall was mostly uneventful occasionally stopping to ply our driver, Ken, with diet cokes to keep him awake, announcing that Stone Henge is coming up on your right, there it is, oops, we’re past it already, and oohing and aahing over the greenness of the pastures and fields, but the trees and hedgerows were yet to be leafed out – which surely makes for better long-range viewing of the rolling hillsides.  It’s hard not to notice that sheep are everywhere in England, and the beauty of this country
quickly becomes apparent.  Six hours and 250 miles later, carefully following our instructions the last few miles, we arrived at our destination, Every Cottage, St. Kew, Cornwall.  We had a two bedroom, two floor stone cottage, and our host had left us a bag of food items, fresh-baked scones, juice, tea, coffee, milk, and yummy“biscuits” (cookies to us!).

St. Kew Inn, Cornwall

Ruth had wanted to stay in St. Kew knowing it would be a perfect introduction to the quaintness of Cornwall plus the St. Kew Inn (Pub) is renowned for being a great place for good food.  BUT we arrived in this tiny little village of one pub, one church, and maybe a dozen houses with Ruth being a bit disoriented on where we were. She stepped out into the little lane in front of our cottage to figure things out and noted a man “in the gloaming” pushing a wheelbarrow coming toward her.  He asked if he could help, told her we were steps away from the pub, said “you’re American” and was most excited to meet her.  It turns out that Tim Honeywill (related to the well-known Honeywell family who generations ago when they arrived in the U.S. had their name spelled incorrectly as they entered the U.S.) had lived in Chicago for 18 years and loved the experience.  He and Ruth chatted for awhile and he then invited the four of us to come over to his property the next day for a bit of a visit.
With church bells ringing every 15 minutes the hour before the worship service the next day, we walked into church and enjoyed the opportunity to attune our ears to the British way of speaking.  After the service, we walked over to Tim’s home, part of which was built in the 1400s and added onto multiple times so that what appeared to be a somewhat modest home from the lane was actually 39 rooms … for one man to be living in.  Tim is a bit of a horticulturist and much enthused with his hundreds of years old trees on his property, his new plantings of trees, one in honor of the wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate, and then he introduced us to the “ha ha".  According to him, a ha ha is a ditch that has been dug at the edge of a grazing area which will keep the animals in that area without using a fence, desirable, I’m sure, when it’s your front yard we’re talking about.  He didn’t define why the term, ha ha, was used.
We were all thoroughly enjoying the whole visit when he then launched into telling stories about why the British Healthcare System is much abused and how he’s taken it upon himself to suggest to the doctors that some folks shouldn’t be getting all that free medical care.   He was hilariously funny in the telling and, while we had surely overstayed our welcome, we could hardly tear ourselves away from the visit.
But we were on to Lanhydrock House near Bodmin, less than 30 miles away.  It was miserably cold and windy out and as we walked to the House we were all shivering with cold.  We had a lovely hot lunch in the tea room of the house (for your own future travels, the cafes and tea rooms attached to the castles and houses you might visit are always great places to eat and usually reasonably priced).  This “House” is really huge and guests are allowed to walk through it at their leisure seeing some 40-50 rooms, each of them beautifully decorated with furnishings from the Victorian era.  Of particular note, are the wonderful kitchens of the house and the library which runs the length of one wing of the house and has shelf upon shelf of fascinating books one wishes they could sit down and read all afternoon.
On our return drive we searched out Jamaica Inn, since Marla and I had just re-read the book of the same name by Daphne du Maurier.  It’s a very dark romance novel we’d read in our younger days, and it was fun to see the house/inn that the book had been written about.
 Our first day ended with a stop at a grocery store for some supplies so we could prepare most of our evening meals and a relaxing evening in our homey little cottage.  Grilled cheese sandwiches made from English sharp white cheddar cheese (try some next time you go to Costco!) with a cup of soup made a great evening meal!
St. Michael’s Mount near the western tip of Cornwall was on our agenda for the next day.  This is a castle built on a promontory on an island that is accessible by walking on a stone path at low tide and having to take a boat at high tide.  We caught the tide out and had a lovely stroll out to the island but the castle was not yet open for the season. Truly, this is a beauty spot on the south coast of the country.  Ken and Marla have a Border Collie, April, who we were already missing so when we saw a lady walking her two dogs and one of them was a Border Collie, we couldn’t resist stopping.  As Ken approached the dog, the lady indicated he shouldn’t pet her saying she was a “great stroppy bitch".  We didn’t know for sure what “stroppy” meant and we didn’t necessarily think that a lovely lady as she appeared to be should be using the “b….” word but she elaborated that her dog was quite difficult and not very friendly to strangers.  And thus began our education in the British English!
Our final day in Cornwall, Tuesday, March 5, was spent driving to Port Isaac, which some of you will know is the site of the fictional Port Wenn and is used as the village in the “Doc Martin” series (and if you’ve never watched “Doc Martin,” you should give it a try!).  A walk-through past the house used as his office in the series, Skinny Belly Alley which is very narrow, and other landmark spots were fun to see again (Ruth spent a week in this village last March, 2012).  Then we drove on to Tintagel, which is the site where King Arthur’s Castle was said to be, only ruins now, and where he thrust his sword into the stone.  Ken hiked the site but we ladies refrained from that strenuous activity and instead visited the National Trust Old Post Office building which is quite charming, and also shopped a bit.
Boscastle, Cornwall
Then it was on to Boscastle, a whole village belonging to the National Trust, with a lovely stream running right through the middle of it and out to the tiny harbor.  This village is subject to massive flooding from time to time but there was no sign of that having happened as we strolled through the streets.  A lunch of either a ham, turkey, or a fish pie was much enjoyed by each of us. 

Slate mine near Delabole.
We also stopped at the slate mine near Delabole and saw the largest man-made hole in the ground in all of England, where they have been mining slate for 1,000 years.
By now Ken is beginning to think he’s a pro at driving the roads.  Cornwall is known to have some of the most narrow, winding roads in all of England, and I as navigator was making sure we were trying as many of them as possible.  We noted on that final day that we’d now driven in and out of St. Kew from five different directions and weren’t yet sure we’d tried them all.  By the way, St. Kew is made up almost entirely of stone buildings made out of a very dark stone, and most of them have been there for hundreds of years. 
Helpful Suggestions:  Self-catering cottages are the least expensive way to provide accommodations for yourself; the pluses are having a good amount of space, as many bedrooms as your group needs, the ability to prepare your own meals (thus missing out on wonderful B&B full-English breakfasts!) which is less costly, and gives you a base to come back to each evening that’s “home".  If you research on line, you’ll find many, many to choose from and then it’s a matter of finding one that accommodates your needs, a central location to what you want to see and do, and one that has aesthetic appeal for you.  I’ve yet to find any that have misrepresented themselves online.  Every Cottage, St. Kew, during this off-season with the lowest rates, was $426. for a week; we only stayed there four nights but paid for seven.  Still, that’s just over $100 per person for four nights’ accommodation and very satisfactory.  Most of them prefer to rent by the week but during the off-season, they’re more willing to accommodate your particular needs.
A must-have item if you plan to drive yourself is a detailed Atlas and someone who can easily interpret maps as well as reading the signs as they come up on the road.   AAA usually has them available as does a big bookstore.  DON’T GO TO ENGLAND WITHOUT ONE!

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