Tuesday August 13th – Saturday August 17th

Rain or shine, the southwest part of England makes for a wonderful vacation…. For these few days, I enjoyed time with my friends Karen and Steve — semi-retired engineers who took time out from their sailing adventures on the great Muddy in order to show me their home and the surrounding countryside. Thank you both!!

Tuesday August 13th

Our first stop was the hairdresser’s, as I was much in need of care after so many weeks of travel. Karen (same name as my host) at Park Street Studios in Bradford-on-Tone (near Wellington in Somerset) was fantastic. I can’t say enough of how well she did, preserving the natural look of summer highlights and providing a nice trim. While in many cases it can be worrisome to go to a new hairdresser while travelling, that wasn’t the case here; she gave me great peace of mind for the rest of the journey.

And finally, I went to see the home that my friends Karen and Steve built…

It’s amazing to see what happens when two engineers get together and build their own house. They constructed the garage first, home to their business and an apartment while the house was being built; and subsequently they built the main residence. I enjoyed it from all perspectives — the historical aspect and conforming to the local rules and prerogatives, the architectural and construction aspects, and of course the style of it, along with all of the finishing touches. The rooms are rich with cool colors, nautical themes, and beautiful woods. Of course there are always projects ahead, but at the moment it is in fine form and I thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

My day of travelling and touring concluded with a home-cooked meal and beer/wine tasting… I don’t know what happened to me when I crossed the border into England, but when I look back on the diary entry it becomes apparent that the scales tipped away from food and toward drink in terms of the items consumed. For dinner, there was delicious steak and shrimp; for beverage, we had Doom Bar and Otter Bright beers, Muscadet (white) and Primitivo Puglia (red) wines, and finished off with the Azerbaijan cognac that I have carried through several countries. Very delicious all!

Wednesday August 14th

Our driving tour was well charted by Steve (thank you!!), making the following stops:

  • Winsford – ideal destination if you want to see thatched-roof buildings
  • Exmore – where we stopped for lunch at the White Horse Inn
  • Minehead – for beautiful countryside and seaside views
  • Dunster – for tea and Victoria Sponge Cake at the Victorian Tea Rooms; also for the outdoor clothing shop Rohan’s (an outlet, at that!)
  • Taunton – where we came to the “World’s End” (pub), how fitting!

You never know what you may find around the next corner… In Winford, I enjoyed discovering the many thatched-roof homes and public buildings, including the post office-pub:

Love the signs (although I wonder which way to the Spire Cross?).  Heed the ones warning you to ‘give way’, as you never know what you may come across on the road ahead…

On to Exmore for lunch at the White Horse Inn.  Whether sunny or not, the countryside is always picturesque:

The main road through Dunster looks crowded, but there is good reason.  Every shop is one you would want to dive into for a few hours, and even the spaces in between the shops holds equal intrigue… In our case, we stumbled upon the Victorian Tea Rooms and enjoyed traditional Victorian Sponge Cake and fine black tea.  The unusually shaped building in the middle of the road, by the way, is the original Yarn Market where people would come to sell their wares back in 1609.

I seem to have stumbled upon the end of the world, and yet I’ve not finished my journey yet! What to do? Perhaps they heard that Runrig has retired.  That’s it, we’re all closing up shop now.  I knew that would happen!

Thursday August 15th

Quoting the movie Room With a View, “It’s a glorious day, Honeychurch!” as we headed for a day of sightseeing in Dartmouth and Plymouth… (and I was very grateful that Steve was doing the driving on these narrow, hedge-lined country roads!):

Blue skies, cottonball clouds, and a seagull fly-by greeted us in Dartmouth:

I just couldn’t get enough of the Tudor-style architecture…

… or tucking into the side streets.  If you are lucky, you might even encounter Simon Drew at his drawing table (although I don’t know how he would get anything done with so many visitors…).

After lunch at Bayard’s Cove Inn, we made our way down to the water’s edge, where we enjoyed a walk to conclude our time in Dartmouth:

The Dartmouth-Plymouth Connection to Massachusetts:

A special note to the Humphreys Fellows, who often visit Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts: In Dartmouth, England, the original ships stopped here on their way to America.  And later, when we arrived in Plymouth, England (see photo below), we took a moment to view the steps from which passengers originally boarded the Mayflower.  The steps are located to the right in the photograph, just behind my left shoulder. I was strategically blocking the portion of the steps that are undergoing renovations for next year’s 400th anniversary celebration:

During the afternoon, we strolled around the marina near the aquarium, over to the Barbican and up the hill to West Hoe, where a carnival was going full-bore.

… and how wonderful to have clear skies on this day in particular, because Karen and Steve had planned our tour to be on the final day of a two-day fireworks competition in Plymouth. We watched three 10-minute shows designed by competitors who had been invited to participate, so you can imagine how special it was. People in the crowd were in position hours ahead of time in order to get the best spot for viewing.  We were very fortunate to find a good spot as well, just an hour before the show began. Even more special was the picnic that Karen prepared, which we enjoyed with full view of the marina and the fireworks beyond.

Friday August 16th

How nice to have some significant downtime to get caught up on packing and other essential tasks, make progress on the website, and meet with the hairdresser for the second step in the process that we were doing.  Looking back, these past few weeks have been a flurry of activity, all with different climates, time zones and such…  Early on, if I had come across a few hours to blog, I would immediately fall asleep! So where was this energy coming from now?

I would guess that my body had become so confused by experiencing the constant change of every aspect of my days (food, drink, sleep, weather, language, terrain, time zones…) that it went into a certain state of alertness. With each day, I felt more ready for whatever came next — as Bruce Guthro of Runrig would say: “Scotlaaaand, let’s do this!!”…and so I did!

The day and also my time in England drew to a close with a very special dinner. We were joined by Karen’s mother, Sheila, whom I’ve not seen in quite a long time.  Sheila is retired now, and had a great many experiences to share from her time spent counselling children undergoing very difficult circumstances in their lives. She is well respected and loved in her community, and I appreciated hearing her perspective and insights on work that many people would not be able to manage.

I’m so pleased that the parents of both my English and Belgian friends can enjoy such wonderful living arrangements, being near to their children and well cared for.  For me, the heartbreak of my own mother’s situation and her all-too-early passing last year was one of the driving forces behind my going on this journey.  I can only hope that Mom is seeing me now, sharing in the love and joy I have been feeling through the kindness and generous spirit of my friends.

Speaking of joy, let me conclude my visit to England with photographs of the happiest couple on earth.  This is what happiness looks like when you live life by your own terms.  Thank you Karen and Steve!