I have lost count of the times I have been in the UK by now. Including London. Many years ago I was here on a regular basis on business. Albeit in the city of Milton Keynes. Since I met Alexandra we have been visiting London at least once a year. Oftentimes even more frequently.
But it was not until recently that we actually started to take an interest in the rest of the country. What actually lies outside London? Some weeks ago we went on a road trip up north, to Scotland. This time however, we went down south. To the coast by the English Channel.
We started by paying a visit to “The Eden Project” near the small town of St. Austell in Cornwall. This is a very special place with two “biomes” - or domes. One of them contains a tropical rainforest and the other one a small piece of a mediterranean country. The domes are gigantic! As you walk around within the rainforest you can actually forget that you are not hiking in a real rainforest, but only in an in-door, man-made one. There are waterfalls, small huts and quite a variety of produce on the cultivated fields. In the mediterranean biome they celebrated spring with thousands of beautiful tulips in various colors. Outside the biomes there were a large park with plants and trees more common for the area. Still rather “plush” though. However, as it was raining quite a bit during our visit, we focused on the in-door attractions!
We had some very exciting hours inside the domes. Besides being very special in terms of content (plants, trees, insects, birds etc) they are also an architectural masterpiece. This is simply stunning and it seems like a bit of the future has fallen from the sky and settled in a barren valley. You can easily imagine such biomes as a part of a future settlement on Mars! The whole place is run by a charity organization, specializing in information and education about sustainable living. A good example is the way they tell about how rice, coffee and bananas get from nature to the supermarkets. There are coffee-trees, rice fields and banana plantations. All this within the biome! They tell you about the depletion of the rainforest and about the importance of having it re-planted, instead of just creating more land for farming or cutting ever more trees down for timber. It is all very sympathetic and successfully made. It certainly made me think back to all the places we have been to during our journey around the world. We have seen downright gruesome cases of nature being completely destroyed and in many areas of the world there is obviously still a very long way to go until we have a “balanced planet”. It is frustrating to see that even though we have been paying close attention to this for decades in Western Europe (we could still be doing even more!), there are still many, many countries where they keep polluting and damaging the surroundings. This even in wealthy and highly educated countries! Eden Project helps to create awareness and understanding of why it is so important that we all do whatever we can. All the small steps! Exciting, educating and certainly food for thought!
After this we drove to the old holiday town of Torquay. This is where Cybill and Basil Fawlty had their “Fawlty Towers” in the popular TV-series. In fact we checked into a small hotel that had a striking resemblance to it. The Cleveland Guesthouse, however, was very nicely maintained and properly managed and the service was impeccable! No rude John Cleese here! It was really charming and just what we needed. The owners of the place helped us with great hints and tips for what to see while in the area. Torquay is an old seaside town with a large harbour for private yachts. They are lined up, side by side, along the boardwalks almost as far as the eye can see. To this day it is still an important tourist attraction, and many brits are spending their summers here. Oh, and this is also the birthplace of the world famous writer Agatha Christie.
In Torquay, and many other seaside towns along the south coast of England, you can easily imagine Captain Hook having embarked on his many robbing expeditions or “crusades” around the world, back in the 17th and 18th century. There is an unmistakeable pirate- and marine feel to everything. But all in a kinda cool way! We had dinner in “Hole in the Wall” - the oldest pub in Torquay. It was founded around 1540. This was a funny place, and we sat in a corner, just watching the locals as they came and went. In the company of a life-size statue of, yes, Captain Hook!
We did not have enough time to fully explore and experience Torquay, but the next time we are in England this might very well be the ideal base for further exploration of Devon. There is so much more to see in that area! We did, however, manage to squeeze in a few hours in the Babbacombe Model Village, which is a fantastic attraction for children. A large “city” with mountains, trains, villages, castles, people (small figures) etc. A wonderful world of its own that truly fascinated us! Definitely well worth a visit!
Just outside Southampton (which we did not manage to see this time!) lies Corfe Castle. Erected on a steep hilltop, so that it can be seen from miles afar. From the castle itself there is a magnificent view all over the surrounding area. All the way to Southampton. For centuries the castle has been a ruin. For almost 350 years it belonged to the Bankes family who bought it in 1635 and only just donated it to the state as late as the 1980’s. By then it was so damaged that only the outer ring-wall and parts of the solid castle-walls were still there. But it is still a very exciting place to explore. Children are given a small “treasure map” and have to find several small posts, spread out around the castle. Then they have to find answers to questions about the castle and the time around its heydays. The award is a small medal which you receive by the exit, if you have the correct answers. (All answers are actually written on the posts so it is not hard!) Corfe Castle also tells the story of its important role through centuries of wars and fights. Apparently even King Arthur was kept in prison here!
In the adjacent town there is plenty of people and life and almost everywhere you go you can see the massive castle ruins in the background. The castle is that huge! But all this is neither gloomy nor sad. It is actually quite cozy and charming in the classic, English country style.
We also went to the small town of Rye, which is another historic village a bit inland from the coast, but still with a small harbour, Rye Harbour, located a few kilometers from the actual town of Rye. Throughout town you find plenty of buildings in beautiful “Tudor-style” and of significant, historic value. There is a beautiful old church and lots of small, narrow and quirky cobblestoned streets. Rye even has a small, delicately restored castle. It seemed like a rather lively and thriving town to us. There were numerous cafés, restaurants and tea-houses. And all the places open for business were almost full.
Rye and the surrounding area is where stars like Sir Paul McCartney and a few of the members of the English band Keane live. So of course this was what we were listening to, as we drove around. The area, Essex, is stunningly beautiful and I can easily understand why so many people from London want to have a “sanctuary” or retreat here. Everywhere there are vast, green fields, forests and rivers. There are historic buildings, thatched rooftops and winding country roads curving through the small villages. In other words: Nice country-style in the high end. Everything is really posh, with mowed lawns and close-cropped hedges. Aston Martin, Bentley and Rolls Royce are not uncommon around here. Yet, it is not “showy” in any way and even “average” people like us feel quite at home.
A week is nowhere near enough to see just a fraction of what Southern England has to offer. We are ready to explore even more the next time we are in England. We simply have to!