Birthday Road Trip: Castles, Caves and Countryside
Everyone loves a road trip.
The wind in your hair. The freedom of the road. The shoddy GPS Nav on your Nokia…It’s all about getting as far away as you can from where you’re from. Even if it’s in the gloom and doom of the British weather it’s all about going places untraversed and unknown. So for my birthday I thought, let’s hire a car, let’s head west, let’s get lost!
For me, the West Country of England was an unexplored territory. Coming from London, the natural doesn´t gel well with the perspex classrooms, concrete homes and aluminium bins. But the allure of sheep, fresh cider, bumpy roads and cow pat was too strong to just have another birthday in the city. So with a loose plan and a full tank of diesel, it was game on.
Heading South out of Bristol we made our way to the Cern Abbas Giant. This is one of the most risqué chalk hill figures dotted around England, as it clearly depicts a naked man wielding a club with a very erect..umm..yup.It was a great way to start this archaeological and historical tour of the west as a lot of the tradition lost in the UK still harbours some form of life in the Dorset-Devon-Cornwall triangle.
Heading further south and we hit the Jurassic Coast, which is a world heritage site as it clearly documents millions of years of geological history. Not only are fossils literally exploding to the surface but this area is also known for its curious rock formation – Durdle Door: an archway in the cliff side that has been carved out due to erosion.
After a couple of hours frolicking around in the sun and sand, we drove to Dartmoor. I have many horrifying memories of this place, but anyone who has ever done Gold Duke of Edinburgh (a feat of a hiking challenge), I need not speak more. The landscape of Dartmoor is terrifying, in the winter its a swamp and in the summer a barren wasteland where ostracised trees stand like stone monuments under gale force winds.
As the star-sequined blanket of night rolled across the sky, I didn´t want to be stuck in the place where Arthur Conan Doyle was inspired to write ‘The Hound of The Baskervilles‘. So we bowled it out of there and arrived in the small town of Ashburton. A mediocre meal was had at the Exeter Inn; however, low ceilings, wooden beams, church pew seats, muskets on the wall and a fireplace made this pub just want we needed after a long day of travel. Even at 23:00 the staff were keen to help us find somewhere to sleep for the night. After a few dead-end phone calls we were beckoned to Dartmoor Lodge Hotel. Views of the moors, free parking, simple rooms and a nice full english in the morning. Can´t complain, especially when you´ve been gifted with a bottle of gingerbread rum!
My favourite part of this trip was Tintagel Castle. Commonly regarded as the birthplace of King Arthur – there was something grandiose, brave and knights-of-the-round-table-esque about it. Even in ruins one could see how magnificent it was, built on a cliff edge, sprawling across the island and staring into the heart of the ocean.
Even if this road trip only consisted of visiting this one location, I would have been content. The ruins were open and free to roam – you could walk anywhere, touch anything and be anyone. This place inspires the imagination. Tintagle Castle is truly one of the finest relics I´ve seen.
By blindly pointing to a random location on the map, we found ourselves in Port Isaac, a quiet coastal port in north Cornwall. This country is infamous for their cream teas and and meat pasties. But between the hours of 13:00 – 17:00, you´ll be hard pressed to find a place serving food – as is with most villages, I suppose. After booking a table at The Mote – Seafood Restaurant , we were adamant on having a Cornish Pasty for dinner, an order, to which, the Chef profusely rejected. Our host returned to us and said, “Sorry, that´s a lunchtime meal. We have linguine…“, however, I believe the acute look of dismay on our eager faces forced our waitress to return to the kitchen and berate the chef for being inflexible. Port Isaac is not the most accessible place to get to: it feels cut off from the land because of the insurmountable number of steps and steep slopes that wind down to the village itself. It´s a community-centred place where old women leave out eggs and homemade jam along with an honesty box by their front door.
We meandered through a few smaller villages and absorbed the still scenery as we reluctantly made our way back to Bristol. A fantastic birthday coloured with historical intrigue and beautiful adventure.
If you know any hidden gems I should check out in the south west, please let me know! I’m looking forward to going further into Cornwall!