Today began with the humdrum of regular life, although we’ve been enjoying the freedom and liberties that come with an itinerant agenda, sooner or later the reality of life’s necessities catches up. So the first half of this morning was spent bumbling around Branstaple doing shopping and laundry. But as with most things in life, if was never that easy or straightforward. Yesterday when I’d purchased the new SIM for my phone the lady at the cash register forgot to hand back the ‘top up card’ that came with it, so although I had the new SIM and had bought credit for it, it was in fact still a no-go affair. A quick trip this morning into the Barnstaple Sainsbury’s though proved to relieve this, once the situation was explained they were only too happy to assist me and I was actually quite shocked by how sincere they were – they being the three individuals who made phone-calls and sorted it out on my behalf. Now that’s what I call customer service, and it will certainly pay off as I’m inclined to be a staunch supporter of that brand now.
Having left Barnstaple we headed for Ilfracombe, a lovely Georgian seaside village on the Bristol Channel, typical buildings of the period lined the meandering streets, and although we didn’t stop to wander around it did look like so many other villages of its day, we did however stop for a lovely cup of tea on the side of the road and marvelled at the similarities between it and parts of the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. From there we headed east towards Porlock and into the Exmoor area. This was the first time on the trip that I’ve felt drawn to an area, and North Devon is most definitely that area. I’ve enjoyed my time in Somerset (the south portion) and Dorset has been charming, but now up into the northern parts, and north Somerset too, my imagination is definitely stirred. We ambled through the hills and dells of ‘Doone’ country (read Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore and you’ll know what we’re on about), spotted sheep grazing on the open moorland, and of course had our fair share of narrow misses on some of the more restrictive roads – some signs indicating as narrow as 6’6″, pity some of those lorries were 7′. We stopped on the hillside just up out of Minehead for a spot of lunch, sitting by the bay and listening to the music blare out of the Butlin’s behind us – mental note: never, under any circumstances, go near one of these in the high season, it was horrendously loud when quiet, I fear for the hearing of civilisation when it’s busy!
From Minehead we motored on only a short distance before stopping again, this time at Cleeve Abbey, a Cistercian abbey that was one of the first hit during Henry VIII’s disillusionment of the monasteries. Like most Cistercian properties this one had been self-sufficient, sited near a babbling brook, had arable fields for crops, and was a source of hospitality for wayfarers and alms for the poor and sick. Cleeve isn’t an overly showy abbey, it’s small and modest, perhaps due to its location it was less inclined towards the pomp and ceremony that infiltrated many other monasteries, but Cleeve still holds a certain serenity and dignity that belies the destruction it’s endured.
We were actually quite surprised to discover some of the medieval paintwork that’s still evident on some interior walls and ceilings, and even more so the detail of the carved ‘angels’ on the oak ceiling of the refectory. It’s certainly seen a lot of changes over the years, between the original buildings, the renovations done when a new Abbot was appointed, the ‘deconstruction’ courtesy of Henry, and of course the changes that were made when it became a private residence for a period. All in all it’s a thoroughly delightful property to visit, and it has a great stream for racing stick-boats down too!
We’re overnight in Weston-super-Mare tonight, we’ve enjoyed a quick drive around the harbour – as it was pelting down with rain – and can say it’s rather pretty, in the typical seaside Georgian promenade fashion and the pier that projects itself out into the water. It reminded me a lot of Beaconsfield Parade in Melbourne and the Esplanade at St Kilda. Tomorrow we’re off adventuring over the border, you’ll have to guess which one for now, and visiting more castles and other historic sites, we may even squeeze in a book or two, if we have room.
Next we travelled onto our final pitstop for the day and one that we’d both been looking forward to. Amusingly it took us two goes to actually find what we were looking for, mainly because our new ‘Mrs Foo’. or as we’ve dubbed her ‘NewFoo’ or ‘Ducky’, insisted that it was a) half a mile further down the road than it actually was, and b) was on the other side of the road. Sigh. So, after a preliminary loop we returned and dived into the first parking spot we saw and with great relief made our way on foot to the address of S. T. Coleridge. For the record we tips our lids to his Mrs, she was one very brave and supportive soul, to willingly move into a mouse/rat infested cottage with babes-in-arms and a day-dreamer for a husband, I think she deserves an award! The cottage is lovely now, I say that with great emphasis on ‘now’. Back then apparently it was smoky – something that was remedied late in the 20th century – alive with rodents, poorly lite and quiet squishy when Coleridge had his chums over. I can understand why he turned to opiates, because reality must have been pretty uncomfortable. Having said that, the cottage really is charming, for a couple it would be lovely, it’s spacious for its age and had a large rear yard and own well, sadly both are now no longer either attached or working.