Monday, July 29, 2013

A British Seaside Holiday

As our time in the UK was winding down, we took our last holiday trip down to the south coast of England and finished it off with a trip to Highclere castle, filming location of Downton Abbey - a popular show in the UK that gets broadcast on PBS Masterpiece in the USA (on significant delay).

PBS Masterpiece Theater is America's outlet for British dramas.  Basically, we consider anything out of the UK to be a "masterpiece".  Good thing we don't broadcast Coronation Street.

550 miles and 12 hours of engine running time in the BMW 3 Series on 48 liters of diesel.  Yeah I caught a nice upgrade coming back from Prague.

We left bright and early on Saturday morning and made our way down to Dover.  Our first stop was Canterbury for lunch and a brief overview.

A Norman ruin by the car park in Canterbury

Canterbury cathedral's tall tower, founded in 597.  We didn't bother with interiors.

The gateway to the cathedral very ornate

The closest free view I could nab, we didn't have enough time to explore further
We had a curry lunch taking advantage of a 2 for 1 deal and hopped back in the car.  We had to find the 3rd paystation in the car park, because the first one wouldn't read tickets and a guy jammed his debit card in the 2nd (even though the sign said no cards).

We had another hour drive to get to the white cliffs of Dover.  I was really happy with the photos we got here.

The harbor at Dover where the ferries come and go all day long on their way to France.

Contrasting the industrial, built up harbor on the edge of the natural park - a national trust site

Dover's castle is like the castle you're used to in fairy tales.  Remember that fairy tales are much different from ferry tales, but I would guess Dover has plenty of both.

We set off on a short walk along the white paths made of the white dirt which makes the white cliffs, made of chalk and spots of black flint
May Mr. Public Foot Path rest in peace, his legacy lives on forever

Very quickly along the path you get away from the industrial sites and are presented with some spectacular coastline

Mini snails on these kale leaves

Ferrys crossing, as they do

Further in the afternoon, the sun burnt off the cloud cover and the cliffs just started to shine!

Looking back on the harbor from a distance

We moved up from the cliff edge and made our way to a lighthouse

Background worthy, inbox me for the hi-res image

Here's the lighthouse, a beacon of hope for ships in the night

Blue skies and blue seas, looking out at the channel toward France

Don't slip

This is what we came for, so I took no shame in taking more than one photo, fantastic colors

We stopped to soak it in

And found a switchback that lead down to the shore

A WWII bunker - Dover was a key military site

From the inside, pretty cool

This photo of Kerry is awesome, in the tunnels connecting the bunker

The musical rocks on the shore

Here I try to show you what I mean, these rocks have fossilized shells cemented in them which give them a very interesting hollowish sound and are fun to stomp around on.

Stomping on rocks on Dover's shore

The rocks were warm from the sun and soothing to lie on, you could work the hot stones into your back and give yourself a nice massage.
Shipwreck!  I read this ship was carrying hemp and matches, caught fire and got heaps beached az!

New expat Logan is into bouldering.  He showed me this cool book he bought on all the bouldering sites in the Peak district.  I tried to boulder on the chalky cliffs but I didn't get very far after my initial pull.

Good thing there's a ladder too

A close up of a chalky cliff with the flint

This is no ferry, looks like some cruisers are saying bon voyage

I give the Cliffs of Dover raving reviews, especially on a beautiful English summer day.  We hopped back in the car and headed to our B&B in Eastbourne, driving along the coast through all the small seaside towns like Rye, Hastings, and Bexhill-on-Sea.  We got there in the evening and went out for the most fantastically touristy "Greek" restaurant.

The classy chandelier above our table at the restaurant, the owners were a lot of fun, though.  The next morning, the owners of the B&B told us that this restaurant has been open for 40 years.

Eastborne's pier at night - it's a sleepy town for the retired crowd

We got back to our room and I tripped the breaker when we tried to turn on both lights in the room and the loo.  I didn't know where the reset switch was located, so any trip to the toilet was lit by the glow of iphones.  The next morning, luckily the sun came streaming in.

The next morning our breakfast wasn't until 9:30 so we went for a morning walk, with many other elderly couples

Dog on the boardwalk, more great views and white cliffs

Eastbourne had some big hotels and nice flowers

At the pier

Sun was getting hot, and the beaches are made of pebbles

I've heard it's less common to see the Union Jack flying on a flagpole in the UK than an American flag in the USA, but I think this looks pretty good.

Our B&B by the C.

A much more swanky hotel nearby

After breakfast, some nice conversation with the B&B owners, and having a laugh about our very dark evening, we made our way to Brighton.  I did get mad at myself here because I continued to take the scenic route hrough South Downs - accomplished by setting the GPS to navigate "shortest distance" rather than "fastest route", but that meant I had to drive through the city center to get to the park and ride on the north side of town, only to take the bus back to city center.  Ugh, and the park & ride fare was outrageous.  I could have easliy found city center parking as I was driving through.  Here's an example when I should have trusted my gut and deviated from the plan, the whole ordeal burnt over an hour of time.  Anyway, woes aside, we made it to the beach (after slipping into a travellodge bathroom to change, and hitting up a Sainsburys local for some picnic items).

First views of Brighton beach and pier, on a HOT day, by UK standards, we're over 80 F.

Descending down toward the beach

We found our spot and I whipped out my quart of whole milk, probably not the most attractive picture I've ever put up, but it was so hot, milk was a bad choice.  (Also, I'm purposefully trying to put on some mass for weightlifting.  It ain't pretty but it works.)

Rocks were much smaller than Dover, and my tender feet were useless.  It was a very painful walk to the water, only to step on more rocks gouging into the feet.   Some folks seemed to do OK, but I need to toughen up a bit I think.

Beach was really popular today, everyone was working on their tan

When we had enough we walked through parts of the town, admiring bunting here

Stopped at a Belgian restaurant with quite a selection!  Reminded me of good times with Doug and Tara in Brussels.

Milk is done, bring on the Belgian

I thought this peppermill at the restaurant across the path was absurd

It turned out we had enough of Brighton pretty quickly.  Lots of sun can drain your energy faster than you realize, and we weren't in the mood for any cultural activities.  It was getting to be later in the evening so we forged onward to Southampton by way of Chichester  and Portsmouth to our 2nd B&B.   So much to see just from the side of the road, but no time to stop unfortunately.

Southampton was severely damaged in WWII and is now a fairly new college town.  I almost felt like i was down at Indiana University to visit Kerry, like I used to do 9 years ago.  We checked in and found a nice Asian fusion restaurant that sounded promising across town.  So we took advantage and walked across some campus areas.

Lots of green space

The main drag

Artistic rhinoceri dotted the landscape.  This one is a dental hygienist. 

This one is rocking some hi-viz gear.

Solent University.  I was looking for the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (we collaborate with them quite a bit in my line of work) but I didn't realize that was a ways out from city center.  Not that I would have known what to do if I did stumble upon it on a Sunday night...

Skateboarders have amazing ability to continue to make attempt after attempt and falling every time.  I could learn from that I guess.

The next morning, we had another full English at another nice B&B.  The owner here said she was looking forward to Wednesday, when the weather would get "a bit more civilized".  I got a good laugh out of that.

Also, another couple came in to eat after we had started.  When the woman was asked if she would like tea or coffee, she said she couldn't decided and would like to wait and think about it.  The server was a bit miffed by this and said "OK but we're going to get fairly busy soon, and I'd like to know as quickly as possible." Another group of 3 showed up 15 minutes later.  And that was that.

I turned "shortest distance" back on the GPS and drove through Winchester on our way to Newbury.  Winchester looked like a great town, and I was sad we couldn't stop.  The castle/cathedral area was massive.

We got to the outskirts of Newbury at the location of Highclere castle.

Our BMW doing well on the drive (the fender damage was not me!)

First peak of Highclere as the tour bus dropped off an entire nursing home.

I avoided the verges at all cost

Here's Kerry in front of the house
Here's Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey

Here's the view Lord Grantham had from his dressing room

Side view with many bedrooms

The tea tent

The stables (now a gift shop)

Quite a stump, indeed

Detail of the front entry

Detail of the tower

Of course interior photos were expressly forbidden.  It was a nice house though.  There were people stationed in various rooms who can give you tidbits and facts about the real family who lives there, and how they are related to the Queen by six orders of separation, if you care about such frivolities.  They also had plaques showing which rooms were used in filming the series.  Turns out the kitchen scenes are all off site.  Highclere's kitchens have been modernized.

The one fascinating bit is that this castle is totally privately owned; no national trust or English heritage influence.  It's closed to visitors on Friday and Saturday.  Tickets for our viewing sold out six months in advance (it's a Monday morning on a work day).  But there were plenty of tickets available for walk-ups, so it turned out the advance tickets were unnecessary.  The owners are prepared to accept visitors in all the rooms at any time.  They all have modern conveniences, and I even saw a bowl of complimentary toiletries and water on every night stand.

After about taking 45 minutes wandering through the house, we went back outside to explore the grounds and gardens.
Some nice views of nearby hills 
Getting an urge to frolick

Some type of wild hen (?) not sure what to make of me

You belong among the wildflowers

Root bench rest

Getting into some garden landscaping.  Brace yourselves

I think I can pull this off in my yard in a few years

Neat flower

Rose bushes

I really enjoyed the garden area.  Well done and on par, on a much smaller scale, with our visit to the Chatsworth house gardens nearly a year ago.  I have really high expectations for myself to get my yard back in Indiana looking something like this.  

A panorama of the views from the house

We found this old monument to stop to eat our lunch (again packed from Sainsburys)

One last look before we took off

So we sure hit quite a lot in a short amount of time.  The weather was perfect, the views were superb, and England's summer (albeit short) are starting to grow on me.  I can see how people could get along very well in this environment.   I used my last vacation day, so I'm working straight through the remainder of 2013 until Christmas.  I say it was well spent over here!  Just one more weekend remains before we head back to the colonies.  Back soon with more.