So, that Thursday, we head to Paddington Station and get on a sleeper train to Penzance. (I know, right?) The train's actually reasonably nice; we get two adjoining compartments so it's actually a not-unreasonable amount of space, there are sinks in-compartment, and the beds are not that bad. Still bouncy, of course, but what'cha gonna do. So, we get to Penzance, pick up a rental car, driven intrepidly on the left side of the road by Sarah, and head off. We're headed to Land's End, the sort of southwestern tip of England. We end up stopping briefly in a village called Mousehole to get something resembling breakfast.
Land’s End was gorgeous. Also very, very windy. The setup’s a bit touristy, but we got our pasty and walked along the trail a ways, though it was too cold and windy to do all the hiking. The rocky cliffs down to the endless ocean was quite something, and there was yellow-flowered gorse and other hardy plants growing except for the places where hikers had worn a path. There was also a farm with llamas and such and cool crafts. And apparently it’s where Merlin’s ghost drowned an army, or something.
Afterwards, we headed along to our B&B, much of the way to Dartmoor. It ended up being in Duloe, a little rural town.
If you’re used to the States, the experience of driving in the English countryside is not what you might expect. These roads seem to generally be bounded by walls and hedges that predate the automobile. Thus, they range from two-way roads that are only sometimes wide enough for two lanes to two-way roads barely wide enough for one car except for occasional pulloffs. Also, the hedges and walls are beautiful and charming, with a variety of different plants and styles. They also, however, are not great for being able to see around a corner, when you’re turning on a narrow road and there might be a car coming towards you. So, it was an adventure, and I am definitely impressed by Sarah’s driving. (I did the navigating, by paper map, because awesome.)
Duloe was pretty tiny. Like pretty much every town, it has a pub and a church, and that’s about it. (Many of the towns have a shop that’s also the post office, but I don’t think Duloe did.) The B&B was charming, among fields and with a nice garden, and very comfy. We got there hungry, and thus went to the pub for a meal. It was restaurant-style and quite good, and the building was an excellent old stone building.
In the morning, we spent some more time seeing Duloe, in particular the Duloe stone circle, reputedly the smallest stone circle in Cornwall, conveniently situated at the end of a short public footpath through someone’s sheep pasture (complete with sheep and lambs having breakfast). Pretty cool.
Then, we drove to Dartmoor, along the way passing through more English countryside. The pastures and fields are small patchwork non-industrial-looking, very different from flat rectangular farmland I often see in the States. Lots of sheep and lambs, some cows, lots of daffodils.
Dartmoor was amazing and I’m not going to do it justice here. I’ll actually post photos sometime soon, hopefully. I didn’t really have a concept of a moor properly before going there. Just, the springiness of the turf and the rock formations on the tors and the scraggly plants and everything. Basically the first thing we saw getting there was wild ponies. Which is pretty amazing. All sorts of ancient stone remains: hut circles, stone circles, cisterns, and stone rows. Pretty amazing, and great to just walk around.
Dartmoor has a few small towns with pubs, at one of which we had lunch and returned to a pony hanging out by our car.
Our second B&B, for two nights, was past the far side of the park, so we had a fair amount of more driving on variously narrow roads. It was pretty awesome, with a thatched roof and large interesting grounds.
The next day was more Dartmoor. We went to Hound Tor, which had amazing rock formations that were great to climb. Did a geocache, looked for an abandoned medieval village but misnavigated and found less intact remains instead. Got lunch and played poohsticks at Postbridge, with an awesomely simple medieval bridge. Afterwards visited a wooded area for contrast, which was very peaceful.
The next day we did some geocaching near the B&B and then headed out. The plan was to stop by Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, then return the car in Southampton and take the train back into London and hit our AirB&B. However, traffic was horrible for at first no obvious reason. We grabbed a bite to eat at a shooting range built into an abandoned tunnel presumably from an earlier iteration of the highway, which I thought was a cool use of space. The hope was that traffic would clear up, but it did not. Eventually, we found that apparently a 16th-century thatched-roof pub had caught fire along the highway (no one was hurt), causing it to be completely blocked in both directions indefinitely. There were no other highways nearby, so suddenly a highway’s worth of traffic was trying to navigate the aforementioned narrower-than-two-lane roads to detour. And, partway through this adventure, we saw the line of traffic ahead of us stop. We peered ahead, and it turned out that a shepherd was moving their flock of sheep along the road, so the whole line of traffic sat still for a while as a large flock of sheep came past, complete with adorable lambs, various sheep pausing to take bites out of the hedge, and a sheep dog. Pretty amazing, though not good for our schedule.
We did manage to get to our destination before the light failed, and it was worth the adventure. Durdle Door is a ginormous natural stone arch just off shore, and Lulworth Cove is this very circular protected cove. Between them was Stair Hole, a cool series of smaller coves, holes, and caves I also liked. The area was crowded with Bank Holiday visitors, but the formations were amazing, the water was beautiful, and the hike was great if steep. We also found a geocache getting only mildly stabbed by blackberries. All in all, it was a great trip and a great chance to see a variety of English nature.
And we did eventually make it to our AirB&B in one piece, with quite patient hosts.