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On the Normandy coast

For some time now we have had a motorhome and had the intention of travelling in it in Europe. However, as is often the case, life has simply not worked out that way until October this year (2014) when we made our first trip to France. I hope this will be a first in a series of blogs on our travels in the motorhome. My intention is still to focus on the walks and photographs from the travels however there may also be comment on some of the sites we’ve stayed on on the grounds that we have found other similar blogs useful to us. I was going to say that we “went over the Channel” on the grounds that that is the way it has worked in the past however this time for a number of reasons we went under the Channel via Eurotunnel simply driving on on the UK side and off in France – effortless if not all that interesting. We decided not to attempt too much on our first day and simply stayed at a campsite in Dieppe. Again for a number of reasons we were not planning to go very far this time and with the exception of our first real destination had no route in mind.

In looking at where we might go I’d happened across two different articles about the cliffs at Étretat.  They looked like they would be worth a visit and, around the same time, I came across a recommendation for a campsite at Étretat. It was simply the local “municipal” site however, from past experience, I know they can be very good sites.  We arrived in the early afternoon and found the site was fine.  We got pitched up and then walked into the town which was barely 10 minutes down the road.

Arriving on the seafront we realised just how spectacular the cliffs actually were.  On the first day the weather left a little to be desired however we walked along the cliffs to the east of Étretat.  In either direction there is quite a steep climb to get to the top of the cliffs however the view makes it well worthwhile.  The town itself was pleasant with a reasonable range of shops, cafes and places to eat and we decided to stay for a few nights.  There are also some interesting historical issues connected with the town.  The image on the left is of the White Bird memorial which commemorates the fact that there was any early attempt to cross the Atlantic and the biplane was last seen close to Étretat.  The image on the right is of the old covered market at Étretat which was used as a hospital during World War 1.

One advantage of staying in Étretat meant that we were able to look at the cliffs at night quite easily.  The town seemed to have a fair influx of day trippers but was far quieter in the evenings.  The cliffs are illuminated at night and a combination of that and a lovely sunset one night made for some good photo opportunities.

By this time we had decided that an extra night to allow us to pop into the local market the next day would be an idea however sadly the site had to close after that night. As we had planned nothing else we had a look at the maps we had and the weather forecast and decided to head to Pontorson which is close the Mount Saint-Michel. While we aimed to avoid autoroutes and their tolls as much as possible taking the autoroute over the Pont Normande across the Seine seemed more than sensible and got us to Pontorson by mid afternoon.

I’ve actually been to Mount Saint-Michel a couple of times before so was not too bothered about visiting it again. However the campsite we stayed at was good and the weather further south still looked quite changeable so we stayed on for a few days and decided to visit Mount Saint-Michel again. We took the bus from Pontorson to Mount Saint-Michel which had the advantage that it took us along the new causeway now closed to other traffic. I have to be honest and say, while I find the setting of Mount Saint-Michel stunning, the actual place is so touristy that we didn’t stay long and I doubt I’d go back again in a hurry. The religious buildings there are lovely however much of the island consists of tourist shops selling largely the same “souvenirs” – the only difference is the varying prices, some quite significantly. The campsite at Pontorson was quite an easy walk back (around 8km) along the river (Couesnon) and saved waiting for the next bus.

Wandering near Burton Bradstock

Tinkers Cuss

The final leg of our break in July 2014 was based in Burton Bradstock, a small village close to the coast near Bridport in Dorset.  We have stayed in that general area before but had been based closer to Bridport.  On the subject of Bridport we headed in there as we noticed that there was a farmers market on.  There was a great selection of lovely foods, including very good cheeses and some lovely fruit, and we bought quite a few bits to take back with us.  Performing close to the market was the local group Tinkers Cuss photographed above.  They played some good music while we sat there in the sunshine however I simply couldn’t resist this photo of the little boy who was mesmerised by the musicians.

The following day we walked along the coast from Burton Bradstock to West Bay (also very close to Bridport). There is a good beach cafe there and the idea of a coffee sitting on the beach appealed. The left hand image above taken as we approached West Bay and looks down on it. The cafe has had issues with the seagull population so they have employed someone to try and keep them away while people are eating – that is the subject of the other photo. In practice the falconer had three birds there and the gulls stayed away however the people in the cafe were mostly fascinated by this form of pest control.

The closest beach to Burton Bradstock is Burton beach and it definitely had attractions. However the first day we passed there and headed on down the coast towards Chesil Beach.  The left hand image is taken looking along Cogden beach towards Chesil Beach and Portland Bill and it was one of a number of very good days (weatherwise and walking) that we had there.  The right hand image was taken on Cogden beach.  The blue/grey foliage of these plants was very striking when set against the almost golden beach.  At the time I thought it was probably some sort of kale and some research when I got back confirmed that Cogden beach is well known for its patches of sea kale.

We went down to Burton beach a number of times. It was quite an easy walk to get us onto the coast, it was pleasant there and there was also a beach cafe there. It is a sister cafe to the one at West Bay and is called the Hive and does do very good breakfasts indeed and, personally, I can’t think of many places I’d rather sit and have a breakfast and a coffee than this spot. The views from the cafe (which is literally on the edge of the beach) are great.  The left hand image looks towards Burton beach while the right hand image is taken from the cafe.

What a difference a few hours can make though. Both these images were taken on Burton beach on the same day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon and the change, not abnormal, is very noticeable.  Certainly not a complaint as, for the most part, we had very good weather for the whole of this break.  While I am really a fan of the Cornish coastline I must confess the Dorset coast is lovely too and it is growing on me – I am sure we will be back there again in the not too distant future.

Two evenings walking in the Haytor area

I really should have been blogging the last one in the series of my July break (and it is mostly written honest!) however life has been happening and then I made the most of a couple of evenings to walk in slightly different areas of eastern Dartmoor. The evening light was simply lovely and made the walks, quite short ones, very worthwhile. Although I’ve been out a couple of times on the moors over the last month the weather/light has not been that good for photography however I’d like to think these two evenings were better. I’m going to let the images speak for themselves basically although I’ll roughly outline the walks at the end of the gallery – enjoy.

The order above is random intentionally so I can’t point to specific images although they all have titles. The first night’s walk was roughly from Cold East Cross, up Rippon Tor and the down to Top Tor, Pil Tor and back. The second night was from Saddle Tor towards Emsworthy Rocks and then around the back of Haytor – the sun went into a cloud at that point so I headed back to the car. I enjoyed being out – I hope you enjoy the photos.

Wandering around Corfe Castle and Swanage

Corfe Castle

From Salisbury (see previous blog here) we moved to Corfe Castle – a place we’ve been to before and enjoyed.  The village is pleasant however the castle itself is a stunning relic set in a gap in the ridge making for an obvious place to fortify.  Photographically speaking it is best in early or late light however I thought these storm clouds added something of an atmosphere to the scene (my previous blog on the Corfe area is here).

We only stayed three night this time however the weather was lovely and we set off on one of the days to walk the ridge down to the coast from Corfe.  The ridge runs from the castle down to the coast effectively at Old Harry Rocks however the final part of the ridge we walked when we stayed here before so we dropped off the ridge and aimed for Swanage walking along the seafront to get there.  The left hand photograph above was taken looking back at the castle as we gained height climbing the ridge, the right hand image was taken looking towards Swanage as we left the ridge.  While it was a lovely day we had started the walk quite early and didn’t see another person until we started coming off the ridge again – lovely.

We headed back to Swanage the next day – again enjoying very good weather and headed west along the coast and South West Coast Path. Swanage itself is fairly busy and a popular resort however, as is often the case, walking a fairly short distance gets you away from the crowds and along a lovely stretch of the coast.  Albeit distant the left hand photograph shows (just) the Isle of Wight fairly clearly while the other image looks east along the coat to Old Harry Rocks.  The Needles on the Isle of Wight and Old Harry Rocks are both limestone and would have been connected many many years ago.

Reaching Durlston Park you get to see the globe which is there.  The setting is great and on a good day it is a lovely spot to stop a while.  The simplicity of the stone globe was very appealing and the views were great.  We walked on along the coast for quite a way and eventually decided it was time to head back towards Swanage again before going back to Corfe Castle.

It is always nice to return a different way so we walked back a little inland and again passed through Durlston Park. The habitat there is interesting and the area we walked through when I took the photographs above was meadow set on chalk effectively. Once again we saw no people but the flowers and wildlife were ample compensation.

Views around Salisbury

I am back from a recent break when we visited a few places in the south west of England and the trip started at Salisbury in Wiltshire. We were staying on a campsite there quite close to the city and just beneath Old Sarum.  Human occupation of Old Sarum goes back around 5000 years and it was lovely to wander around the site.  The ruins of the royal palace are quite extensive and the remaining walls are impressive both in their age and the construction.

The city of Salisbury itself was lovely to spend some time in. There are plenty of green spaces and the pace of life is quite unlike many modern cities more akin to places like Chester than the Londons and Manchesters of this age. The markets there seemed busy and there was some great local produce available at the Farmers Market. Obviously one of the major attractions is the cathedral.  It has the tallest spire in the UK and parts date back to the 13th century – see here for more details.  Two of the views above were taken Harnham and the Old Mill there (see below) with the third taken actually at the cathedral.  While the whole building is of real interest some will find the opportunity to see one the the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta irresistible, We were lucky as a pair of peregrine falcons had nested on the spire this year and the RSPB had set up telescopes to allow people to watch the birds and their young.  I’ve seen them in other places but it was good to see them in the city setting.

We walked around the city quite a bit and walked over the city marshes to Harnham one day. This is where the painter Constable painted his iconic picture of the cathedral from (and a couple of my photos in the section above this were taken from there).  The Old Mill is a grade 1 listed building and really does look lovely particularly in the sunlight.  It is now a hotel and bar so a good place to stop off for refreshments.

 

We had a great time in Salisbury and will hopefully return one day however it was time to move on and there will be another blog on our next stopping point soon. I’ll just leave some photographs of some of the lovely sunsets we enjoyed.

 

A contrast to a previous walk – East Dart in Summer

Enjoyable as this walk is it was in part intended as a contrast to a walk I blogged in March 2013 when we walked almost exactly the same way. That in itself is fairly rare these days as we tend not to stick to particular walks or paths. In practice the March 2013 walk was in some snow which continued to fall for quite a while during the walk – conditions this time (June 2014) could not have been more different with full sun for the majority of the walk as well as quite high temperatures.


We left the car at Postbridge and headed up the east bank of the East Dart river. Part way up we headed up a side valley heading slightly north East towards Sittaford Tor and Grey Wethers. Grey Wethers is a pair on ancient stone circles.  as with so many of these sort of features there is a rich folk law surrounding them and there is some more information here on Wikipedia.  The contrast to the weather last time can easily be seen at the top of the blog here.  If I were being totally honest the stones look more interesting (and photogenic) in the snow than the do in the verdant green of Summer however the contrast is worthwhile.  The photograph with the helicopter in in the earlier blog was taken close to the photograph in the centre image above.

In a sense I planned this walk to be a contrast to the previous one however the “plan” was a little loose so I wasn’t quite sure what photographs I’d actually bogged last time and the above shows that quite well.  I’d certainly not remembered that I hadn’t included a picture of Statts house in the previous one so I took one or two this time as it is an interesting remains.  As such the left hand image is one from March 2013 while the other two are from this June.  Statts house is probably the remains of a peat workers hut, in this case in a rather elevated position on Winney’s Down which has considerable peat deposits around it to this day.  It is also quite close to one of the “black lanes” on Dartmoor which are passes through the peat deposits. It seems likely that its relative remoteness has meant that there is more left of the building than is often the case.  There are suggestions that the building was as late as the 19th century however I’ve come across no definitive answers to that.

 

It was interesting following roughly the same route as in the snow – in practice the ground was easier to negotiate in the snowy conditions mostly as some of the very wet areas were frozen and we had a number of problems crossing the same areas this time (including quite wet feet).  On the 2013 walk we had reached the East Dart fairly close to Kit Rock although we were not absolutely certain we had found it as the snow tended to make everywhere look quite similar.  We got to Kit Rock with far more accuracy this time.  It is one of those strange quirks of Dartmoor naming in that there are large rocks in many parts of Dartmoor that have no name however this one does.  The left hand image is from 2013 so I can now happily say that we were at Kit Rock then – the other images from that time simply show a white mound.

East Dart

We headed south from here following the East Dart back towards Postbridge and I’m simply offering the above image as a contrast to the one in the 2013 post.  This one is taken at almost exactly the same spot as the mostly monochrome image of the East Dart covered in ice in 2013 – what a contrast!

Heading down the river we went through Sandy Hole Pass.  By comparison with the stretch up river this is a relatively narrow defile which has been managed by tinners a long time ago.  The edges of the river are man made to direct the water and on either side there are indications of tinners work.  On the eastern bank there is quite an outcrop of rock which can been seen in the left hand image as well as in the central one which is taken looking back up the river.  The right hand image is of the East Dart at waterfall.  In wet weather this can be quite dramatic (by West Country standards at least) and it certainly was in the snow (that blog is here and shows the waterfall frozen).  From here we headed directly back to Postbridge and the car.  It had been a warm walk but worthwhile and we enjoyed reflecting on the previous walk too.

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