CHAPTER FOUR TRAVEL NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND
Most of us find places to stay for holidays or mini breaks on line and a good way to choose is to pick a bed and breakfast that looks interesting and will make good photos for Instagram, Facebook and your website.
We picked Primrose House in St. Ives, Cornwall. February is hardly peak season, but the weatherman promised fine weather. It was half term and we were booking at the last minute, but we got a room.
The journey down was thick fog all the way. Our breakfast stop turned out to be a Macdonalds; in the fog we just saw a sign for Services, no HGVs and a white house shaped building. We decided its proximity to Poundbury, Prince Charles’ life size toy town near Dorchester, was the reason for the absence of the usual bright red and yellow sign. Inside it was bright and clean and packed with customers and more staff than I have ever seen; we later heard from one of the staff they were expecting an unexpected visit from the big boss. That explained the enthusiastic clearing and wiping of tables.
Although the fog cleared just before we got to St. Ives it was impossible to find Primrose House. Like lots of West Country towns St. Ives was built for fishermen and real people walking about their business, not for tourists. We knew there were steep narrow winding lanes, that’s why we wanted to stay in the town and walk everywhere, but we still had to get to our accommodation in the first place. Sat Nav’s directions made no sense. The place is right by the branch line from St. Erth, how handy it would have been to arrive by train; except that journey involves five trains ( four changes ) and takes over nine hours.
We diverted to the car park of Tregenna Castle Resort, a hotel we had stayed in once before ( another good place to stay ) and the only place we could think of to safely stop. We phoned the B&B and discovered we had missed the tiny lane that was the road to Primrose Valley. It was so steep we could have turned the engine off and free wheeled down. At the bottom were a couple of sharp U turns under, then back under the branch railway line. ‘We’re not moving the car again until it’s time to go home’ I said when I opened my eyes again – I’m not the driver...
Luckily Primrose House lived up to our expectations. We found we had been upgraded on arrival and even got a share of someone's birthday cake. Run by friendly young proprietors who have made the spacious1908 guest house bright and attractive, it is all white walls, timber and minimalism. The only criticism being that it might be described as a touch too minimalist. Our big room had lots of floor space, but not a single chair to sit on or many surfaces to put anything down. The bathroom was good with a lovely big shower.
There was lots on the breakfast menu, freshly cooked and plenty of fruit, cereals etc to help yourself. On the first morning there were lots of guests, but Sunday and Monday nights the owners told us we were alone; literally as there were no staff staying overnight! Possible inspiration for a story? The other strange thing that happened was our room didn’t get serviced due to a mix up after the upgrading, but they gave us a bottle of champagne and deducted money off the bill. I would certainly like to stay there again.
Saint Ives famously has attracted artists since the nineteenth century with the quality of light and beautiful blue seas. Now the town is also well known for its Tate Gallery, squashed between housing association flats on the promenade. Inside, the light and airy building comes into its own, with a beautifully framed view of the beach, which my photograph doesn't do justice to!
The town has layer upon layer of higgledy piggledy old buildings and narrow lanes clinging to its steep hills; a tourists’ delight. Wandering around the maze of lanes we saw a door only two foot wide at the top of steep steps and one building where a few steps took you below ground to two tiny front doors crammed at right angles; they were holiday lets.
Out and about there is plenty of space; the attractions for visitors include the old mine workings and the rocky coast where unbelievably blue seas with snow white surf pound black rocks. Fans of the Poldark books and television series will be familiar with the Cornish scenery and it is as fantastic as it looks on television. Winston Graham the author was not a local by birth, but did live in Cornwall for thirty five years from the age of seventeen.
READ MORE ABOUT CORNWALL IN CHAPTER FIVE BEACHWRITER'S BLOG
October 2018 Kent
A four day break in Kent found us staying at two very different places and gaining an extra hour as the clocks went back to Greenwich Mean Time.
Botany Bay Hotel sits on the cliff at Botany Bay between Margate and Broadstairs. Sandy coves formed by erosion of chalky cliffs make this a lovely part of the coast. On a clear day you can see rows of windmills out at sea. At night they twinkle with red and white lights and there are also the bright lights of moored container ships.
We stayed here three years ago and the smell of cooking fish was exactly as I remembered when we walked in. This time the only room available was the best one, with a little balcony and a round seating area with a view. The staff are friendly and welcome children and dogs as long as they stay off the furniture and out of the table service dining room; the dogs that is, not the children. We don’t have a dog, but if we did I’m sure we would enjoy staying or stopping for coffee in the warmth after a bracing walk on the beach or cliff top. But we had never seen so many dogs in one place and contrary to popular myth, the children were better behaved than the dogs.
On the first morning our quiet sit in the bar lounge with the papers ( and mobile phones of course ) was disturbed by an outbreak of yapping; two poodylish dogs hidden under their owners’ table went into a frenzy every time another dog came near.
The place was packed as it was the end of half term, but after meeting up with relatives on the cliff top for a bracing walk in howling wind and rain, we returned to find enough room for lunch in the bar. The lunch was very good and no toddlers or babies were eaten by dogs, nor were any dogs attacked by little people.
In the evening we were back in the bar for a snack and to our dismay so were the poodlyish terrors, they were obviously staying. A very loud family had a long haired Alsatian puppy squashed under their table and every time it moved the poodlyish were alerted.
The next morning the hotel was even busier, most of the guests were there for a wedding so I was enjoying eavesdropping and working out people’s family history. A very pregnant lady came to greet another table and they said ‘Oh... your mother told us not to mention to anyone that you were pregnant.’ I wondered how the mother thought nobody at the wedding would notice.
Even from the sanctuary of the dining room we could hear the poodlyish yapping again. In the bar lounge there were now a couple of dog walkers with three Alsatians and a border collie. The poodlyish couple seemed to have no desire to take their dogs outside. I wondered how many dog owners and non dog owners had fantasies of unwinding the offending dogs’ leads from the table and chair legs and leading them on a brisk walk to the cliff edge....
See more pictures of Botany Bay in
Chapter Five Beachwriter's Blog
Our second two nights were in Hythe, a town we stayed in two years ago at a strange seafront hotel; as that was full we stayed at a guest house near the high street, a lovely old house with beautiful gardens. Satnav got us there, but the usually available private parking, a small triangle of gravel at the back of the house, was blocked with a huge horse box and a couple of cars. Further up the steep hill we found a side road. We then slid back down the hill, with our luggage, on a pavement carpeted in wet autumn leaves. A car was backing out of the guest house; it drove back in and a woman half climbed out, we assumed she was our hostess but she said ‘Mother will look after you’ and drove off.
At the back door we were greeted by an elderly lady who showed us into the hall and up to the landing; all the walls were covered in shiny silver flowery wallpaper. Upstairs everything was a pink time warp and the three rooms and guest lounge were named after Winnie the Pooh characters. In our room there was a 14inch television perched on the dressing table with lots of interference and, but there was WiFi. The For Sale signs we had seen outside did make us wonder if the place was being gently run down.
We left from the front door to find somewhere for dinner, but as it was dark by then the descent of the uneven, steep front path was an adventure. The royally named old pub we had fond memories of from last time had lost its charm, but we realised this too late. We watched as another couple were brought soup swimming in a bowl the size of a bath and were glad we hadn’t ordered starters. Our dinners arrived on huge platters; a shark in batter with a week’s worth of salad and vegetables. We surmised the sweet menu was purely for show as it was unlikely anyone would manage a third course.
At breakfast four guests were seated at the other table, we were all sitting in the hall and the daughter and granddaughter wandered back and forth in their dressing gowns with mugs of tea. The other guests asked the elderly lady if she ran the place by herself.
‘Oh yes, I’ve been doing it for forty years’ she answered cheerfully as she brought us tea and coffee; no pots, the overflowing cups rattled in their saucers as they shakily descended to the table.
As we left on the second morning we asked if the place was for sale because was retiring.
'I am 82, so I suppose I’ll have to retire sometime, but I don’t want to.'
Hythe is a very pleasant seaside town with a long promenade and shingle beach. You can also walk along the tree lined military canal built during the Napoleonic Wars and there are walks laid out to take you from the town to the sea. From here you can also ride on the Romney Hythe Dymchurch narrow gauge steam railway which will take you to Dungeness, you can see the headland from Hythe sea front.
STRATFORD-UPON-AVON APRIL 2018
With Cyberspouse going on a one day course near Stratford-upon-Avon, we recently booked two nights at the originally named hotel The Stratford. Formerly the town hospital it had pleasant spacious gardens at the front and plenty of parking at the back. It was about ten minutes walk from the historic heart of the town.
Our room was large with a very wide screen television. We were not asked if we wanted to book a table in the restaurant for dinner, we found out why the next morning.
After our slow journey we wanted to stretch our legs, explore the town and go down by the river. The sky remained an unrelenting grey, but it did not rain and we got a picture of William Shakepeare’s birthplace without too many people in the way. We had our dinner at The Golden Bee, another Wetherspoons pub to tick off our collection.
On our return to the hotel we went to the bar to get a cup of coffee; not an unreasonable request in a hotel. There were several other guests so we assumed someone was around to serve us... yes, but still took a long time for two over expensive lattes to arrive. Both were dark and too strong, no pretty stripes, one merely warm, the other burning hot.
The next morning when we went to breakfast we were asked if we were with the ‘Bridge Group’. Non bridge players were relegated to the hotel lobby for breakfast; it was a bit of a trek backwards and forwards to the buffet bar in the restaurant and then a manoeuvre between tables crammed together.
The food itself was indifferent, but amusing. Breakfast buffets are never as good as freshly cooked and toasters never seem to work properly, though it makes for camaraderie among hotel guests. Each passing on tips; you have to put it through twice... it takes forever... it was not a surprise when smoke started coming out. The continental selection had a lyrical description on the menu that bore no relation to the reality. The croissants and fresh uncut loaves were very nice, but thin slices of cheese were curled up, the only meat was salami and the unpeeled fruit had been hacked into pieces impossible to negotiate.
The staff during our stay were friendly and smart, with one exception. The excellent view of the reception desk from our breakfast table provided us with free entertainment. The large chap who was on reception shuffled out to help people with his shirt hanging out and in general disarray. He didn’t seem to be able to help any of the guests who came with queries and problems ranging from toilets to windows.
An intriguing sight was a large white bear who I came to call Sad Ted, he was sitting by the entrance waiting to be won. Who would want to win him or how he was to be won I’m not sure, but it seemed to involve putting your business cards in a bowl. He was still there when we left.
On Saturday the sun came out and I made the most of my day wandering around the town. The ticket to Shakespeare’s birthplace lasts all year, or you can buy a ticket to include all five historic locations. The town deserves at least a week to sample everything on offer. The River Avon and the canal were in holiday mood in the afternoon; after our late snows and wet spring everyone was out and there were plenty of boat trips on offer. The river is also the location of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre.
I’m looking forward to going back; we'll look on line and see what hotels come up next time.
Read about Shakespeare's birthplace in my blog.
Our autumn trip to Normandy followed a straight line from home. The Barfleur car ferry sails daily to Cherbourg from Poole taking four and a quarter hours, all the fun of a cruise without time to get bored. Leave in the morning and have breakfast on board, return in the evening and have dinner. Regular passengers head straight for the lounges to bag the best seats, but to get the total experience don’t leave your coat in the car, wrap up and stay up on deck as you cruise out of the world’s second largest natural harbour. The boat passes Brownsea Island, avoids colliding with the chain ferry that links the millionaire real estate of Sandbanks with the Isle of Purbeck, then sails out past Old Harry Rock and Swanage and down across the English Channel.
We drove south on smooth roads with light traffic to Mont-Saint-Michel where we stayed at a delightful bed and breakfast for three nights; peaceful, but near enough to the new ‘tourist campus’ to use the free bus shuttle to the island. Everything has been redesigned to protect the environment and cater for tourists. Barriers across all the roads ensure only locals and tourist coaches pass through. Holidaymakers can stroll around the hotels, restaurants and campsite in peace. To walk to the island takes just over half an hour and there are also horses and carriages.
Mont-Saint-Michel is spectacular, a granite rock that became a mediaeval city surrounded by the largest tides in Europe; groups of walkers can cross the vast bay at low tide with a guide. We enjoyed a beach walk at low tide, keeping close to land and a close eye on how far others roamed, assuming they knew what they were doing. Back on land the island is very busy with tourists, but you can branch out and explore and it is a good way to keep fit going up and down the many flights of steps. Reward yourself by stopping at one of the many restaurants and coffee shops and enjoying the views. The abbey is the only part that involves paying, but is worth it for the view from the top terrace.
For the second part of our holiday we travelled back up the coast to Montmartin-sur-Mer and stayed in a lovely farmhouse gite. In contrast to the camping field next to the farm, our outbuilding had been refitted with a super modern bathroom. Our hosts spoke no English, thus making this a ‘real’ experience and my smattering of French quite useful. We sat in their kitchen for petit dejeuner and drank coffee out of bowls. A short walk to the beach provided spectacular sunsets if the weather was fine. The weather was exactly the same as the English weather we had left behind, brilliant sunny days alternating with rain or grey drizzle. We had come prepared and enjoyed walking on the beaches and sand dunes and exploring the bay which changed remarkably with the same huge tides; at low tide the locals go out to pick up the seafood left behind and many tractors and trailers drive out to the mussel beds. There were small seaside towns to explore, all of them very quiet, but with enough places open to find coffee and good meals.
READ 'TIDES AND TOURISTS' AT TIDALSCRIBE
LINK IN HERE
DOWN TO THE DOCKS JUNE 2017
Family fireworks take on a new meaning when family members are pyrotechnic experts; though we had never heard of the Battle of The Medway we decided at short notice to take the opportunity to see the large display they were working on at Chatham Dockyards. It was the celebration of 350 years of friendship with Holland; the anniversary of an event described by Samuel Pepys; the Dutch Fleet had sailed up the River Medway and destroyed the English Fleet.
We managed to book the King Charles hotel, once a NAAFI club, now a family run hotel, for a bargain two night break. We found it with Sat Nav and parking was easy; as promised it was within walking distance of the dockyards. We needn’t have worried about finding ‘somewhere to eat’ close to the river. The naval dockyards closed for good back in the eighties, a great loss for industry and tradition, but regeneration makes the docks a desirable place to live and a great leisure destination. There were many restaurants to choose from and the whole area was buzzing with people and live music. On the hottest day of the year so far it was a fine evening for the firework extravaganza that was well worth our journey.
Back at the hotel our room was basic but clean and had real windows that opened in both the bedroom and en suite bathroom, a pleasant change from many hotels where windows open only two inches for ‘our guests’ comfort and safety’. Getting air circulating helped beat the stifling heat of the ‘hottest June on record’.
At breakfast the buffet was uninspiring and we opted for a continental which consisted of half a baguette, some reasonable ham and a thin slice of sweating cheese. We recovered from this meal in the very pleasant courtyard garden.
The walk to the docks was much longer in the heat, but worth it. We had already visited the historic dockyard in the autumn and that deserves a whole day, with a submarine and other ships to visit and a rope walk where you can see rope being made. The long rope walk building forms part of the setting familiar to viewers of ‘Call The Midwife’. Scroll down for notes on our September travels in Kent.
This time we walked around the many basins and by the river. There is a big shopping outlet, plenty of pubs to idle by the water or you can stroll around looking at boats old and new. We spotted a boat about to leave on a trip and ended up cruising to Rochester and back. An ideal way to visit this little city full of interesting old buildings; Charles Dickens set his unfinished ( last! ) novel ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ in Rochester Cathedral.
The walk uphill back to our hotel was very hot especially as Cyberspouse decided we could cut through the university campus. There were lots of lovely old naval buildings to see, but no way out and we ended up back where we started at the bottom of the hill.
We had planned to try the hotel restaurant, but had omitted to read that it was closed on Sunday evenings, luckily the bar offered meals and plenty of sofas to flop down on. I had lasagne which was very good and Cyberspouse ordered ‘the worst ploughmans he had ever had’ - the same baguettes and sweating cheese from breakfast!
If you have ever lived in Australia you will know that wherever you go you are usually bound to meet an Australian. We met a very interesting couple; he was from Chatham and had worked at the dockyards before emigrating to Australia as a young man, so had plenty of stories and we gleaned more from him than from our visit.
Would we return to the hotel? Yes, it’s an ideal location to enjoy the area at a budget price and it’s fun to stay somewhere different.
Chatham and Rochester are worth several days' stay.
THE WEBSITE OF AUTHOR JANET GOGERTY