Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 9 Dartmoor (Sunday Jun. 2)

Bright and early we left the hotel carrying our packs, and took a farewell ramble through Exeter on our way to the bus station.  We said goodbye to the cathedral and the cathedral close. 

We walked through a covered arcade, and found a courtyard market, which we were sad not to have found earlier, as they were cooking and it smelled wonderful.  We found street art and intriguing streets we hadn't explored and were in general quite sorry to leave. 

But, we had a plan.  Sunday was the one day a week that there was bus service across Dartmoor, and so we went.   The bus went across the moor, came back to the midpoint, returned the far side, and then came back to Exeter, and we had built our schedule around that, so we had to be on time.   Our first stop was the little town of Postbridge, home to a thirteenth century stone bridge across the river Dart- which was a lot smaller than when we first saw it at Greenway!

We had another lovely day, and after getting lunch at the tiny convenience store and cafĂ© at the center of town (where 'town' means half a dozen buildings surrounded by fields and an occasional farmhouse), we ventured up to the Dartmoor National Park Visitor Center.  This was a very small affair, but we took a quick look around and got a hiking map for the several walks surrounding it.  The moorland was amazing.  After the green and verdant landscapes we'd become accustomed to, the windswept and treeless moors were like another planet.

It is a landscape of dry grass and stone walls, rolling hills crowned with rocky tors and occasional trickles of water in the creases of the land.

Despite being still quite close to the road and village, the place had an incredibly desolate feel.

It was easy to picture prisoners escaped from the famous prison wandering lost or imagine the hound of the Baskervilles howling in the wind.  It was also easy to lose the path amidst the grass and rocks and we kept a careful eye on the map and the clock, making sure we didn't stray.  

We came back via the little store- a place that had location, location, location going for it- and acquired some cold drinks before walking back up the hill to catch the bus on its second and last westerly trip.    When we got off the second time in Princetown, we were committed to the second half of our plan which involved a long walk.    But first we visited the High Moorland Visitor Centre in Princetown, another of the nice small museums that the British do so well.  After enjoying the exhibits, we dared not linger- there was a rail trail from Princetown to Yelverton, on the west side of the moor, where we could get bus service the rest of the way to our destination in Tavistock, but it was already nearly 4 pm. 

We'd been on our feet a while at that point, so I put on a second pair of socks for the extra padding, we got some snacks to sustain us, and off we went.   The rail trail was the path of the old Dartmoor Railway, which was used for hauling granite down to the coast. 
Dartmoor Railway Rail Trail
It paralleled the road but was much flatter, something we appreciated.  We made good time westward, but were still grateful for the long June daylight of summer- in this latitude sundown would not be until after 9, giving us plenty of time to walk.    We saw horses and miniature Dartmoor ponies grazing along the route, hillside farms, and the impressive rocky hillsides that characterized the landscape.

Toward the end of the afternoon, the track continued downhill, and the landscape became greener until we emerged on a back road in Dousland.  We were charmed by signs for (and a little sorry we couldn't visit) the aptly named town of Walkhampton, but at that point we were starting to run out of steam.  There were a few jokes early on about continuing the walk to Tavistock, but we were more than happy to see the Yelverton bus stop when we found it. 

We got into Tavistock as the sun was getting lower, and found our hotel without too much trouble.  The only difficulty?  The hotel bar was closed on Sunday, and a sign on the door gave us a phone number to call for guests.  We looked at each other in dismay- our phones don't work outside the US.  We walked back to the town center, which had its sidewalks tightly wrapped for the night, and with some assistance from a native, located a pay phone.   Our hosts were happy to let us in and direct us to a quite pleasant Indian restaurant for dinner- and left a window open so they could hear us yell a greeting when we returned. 
rfholly's Day 9 album on Photobucket

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 8 Willows and Wetlands Wanderings (Saturday Jun. 1)

Our next day we took the train back to Taunton, and got to see it this time in lovely sunshine. 

Our plan was to rent bicycles and go out riding on the Somerset Levels, a vast flood plain which is, well, level, making it an attractive place to bicycle.

After an extensive tour of an attractive Taunton suburb, however we found many pleasant walking paths, modern housing developments and no cycle shop. (We later determined that we'd taken a wrong turn and wandered off the map we had with us, accounting for the lack of cycle sightings.)

So instead, we returned to the center of town and took a bus out to Lyng, a wide spot in the road, but within walking distance of our destination.  The levels were in fact level- lush fields drained by an intricate network of canals and flood control measures, overflowing with wildflowers and with occasional scenic cows dotting the landscape. 

The little clusters of houses we passed had the usual flowery accoutrements.

In due course we arrived at the Willows and Wetlands Center, home of the Coate family business where generations had made a living harvesting willow withies and weaving them into a vast array of products- everything from baskets and garden fences to furniture, carts, even a hearse and coffin. 

In the 1960s, the rise of alternative artificial materials reduced the market for willow and the family cast about for another kind of willow product.  After some intense research, they found that willow was an ideal material for artist's charcoal (due to its lack of growth rings- willow grows quickly and is harvested every year).  And so they also produce Coate's Charcoal

After viewing the visitor center and learning how willow is processed:

-we looked for a different route to take us back to our bus.  We strolled along farm lanes, and by the river, but we found that each lane eventually dead-ended at a farm or waterway. 

We eventually found our way back to the road and walked back to Lyng, which despite its small size, featured a very nice pub. 

We had some refreshing cider, and then caught our bus back to Taunton and made our way by train to Exeter.   On the way back to the hotel, we detoured through the Northernhay gardens, which we hadn't had a chance to see yet.

A very pleasant day, even if we spent a bit more time wandering than we planned.    We headed back to our hotel and started packing, because tomorrow we were heading to Dartmoor.

rfholly's Day 8 album on Photobucket

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Day 7 Greenway Halt (Friday, May 31)

The next morning, we set off by train to Paignton.   It's another pretty seaside town, with candy-colored row houses along the waterfront and lots of tourist shops.

I secured a caffeinated beverage and we set off to explore a bit until the other rail station opened, as it shortly did.    The other rail line is the old Dartmouth and Paignton line, and the home of the Dartmouth Steam Train, one of the numerous British Heritage Railways.    The engines were of course gorgeous, and I shot many-many train photos for my train-loving husband. 

It was a lovely day and the crowd boarded in a holiday mood.   The rail line runs along the scenic coast, passing through several small towns, and terminating at Kingswear, at the mouth of the river Dart, and across the water from Dartmouth.  We got off at Greenway Halt, however, and took a footpath up through the woods to visit Greenway, Agatha Christie's summer home. 
We were both very eager to see it.   Christie used it as a setting for several of her books.  It more than lived up to its billing.  It was much larger than I'd expected.   Rather than the rambling cottage I had expected, it was a large, well-proportioned house sitting on a high bluff above the river, surrounded by extensive and well kept gardens. 

We ran the gauntlet of earnest clerks extolling the virtues of National Trust  membership, and walked through the house.  It was filled with the collections of various family members, including Christie's second husband, archeologist Max Mallowan and various of the five generations that had used it as a summer home.  Each room had cards describing the contents, along with bits about Christie and her family.  Many were supplied by her grandson, who recalled idyllic summer holidays at Greenway and a lively and gregarious family life.    I had known that Christie's first marriage was unhappy, and her second much more so, but little more than that.  I left with a picture of her second marriage as a full and contented one.    Perhaps it's silly of me, but when I think of the hours of entertainment her books have brought to millions of readers, it pleases me to know that she had a happy life, despite the aggravations that her celebrity doubtless brought her.

After seeing the house, we strolled around the gardens, admiring the river views, and went down to the battery and boathouse- which did not look at all as I had pictured them when I read Five Little Pigs!

The River Dart

The battery overlooking the Dart

The  boathouse- an excellent place to find a body!
They were much more wooded and secluded- perfect for a murder.  After poking around we turned to the dock, just as a ferry serendipitously docked.  So we took the ferry down the river to Dartmouth.

Dartmouth was another pretty town, climbing the hills up one side of the river Dart, and looking across at Kingswear on the opposite bank.   We took a turn about the downtown, and were charmed to find a small museum devoted to Thomas Newcomen, blacksmith of Dartmouth and inventor of the Newcomen steam engine- the museum had an excellent explanation of how the engine works, and a working engine to demonstrate. 

After seeing the museum, we walked out to Dartmouth Castle, one of two that historically protected the port of Dartmouth:

-and then back to Dartmouth for fish and chips, which were quite good, but we agreed not superior to the ones we'd had a few years ago at the Black Country Living Museum in the Midlands.

Then it was time to take the foot-ferry to Kingswear, on the opposite side of the river.  We'd hoped to spend a little time walking in Kingswear, but the ferry schedule was against us, and by the time the ferry arrived, we had barely enough time to walk up the hill to the steam train station and board the last train back.  

Kingswear, across the river from Dartmouth
We decided to go all the way to Torbay, as it was another town we hadn't seen before  and had read about it as kind of an upscale resort. We had a stroll around Torbay before catching the train back to Exeter.

A statue of Agatha Christie in Torbay, her birthplace., 

Due to some odd timing of trains and ferries, we'd had our fish and chips quite early, and after some dithering hit a grocery store for some late evening snacks to take back to the hotel. 

And yet more pictures, of trains, Greenway, the Dart river, Dartmouth, Kingswear and Torbay:
rfholly's Day 7 album on Photobucket

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Crafting intermission: Melting

For almost two weeks, we had very hot summer weather.  In the 90s.  Now, I know that out there in the blogosphere, many of you are laughing.  But.  Kindly consider.  In addition to not being used to hot weather, picture 90+ degrees. 80%+ humidity, and no air-conditioning.   None at home.  And the AC at work does a fine job of reducing the temperature about ten degrees.   How hot was it?  My neurons fried.  I draped myself across chairs in front of a fan when I couldn't be in the pool.  The cats have been shedding fluff at an amazing rate, even for heavyweight shedders like Biscuit.   Heck, you want to see hot?   Here's a hot cat.  

Except for occasionally going and lying belly down on the tile floor in the kitchen, he pretty much stayed in this position. 

Setting anything on my lap, let alone a hot laptop was pretty much out of the question.  And the brain cells to operate a computer had dripped out of my ears and were in a puddle somewhere on the floor.  Monday it finally cooled down, and a few of them found their way back.  I feel sure there are more around somewhere, but it may take until fall to find them.  

In an attempt to reconstruct the last couple of weeks I poked around and noted that however hot it was, I did manage to knit.   It helped that I was given a large bag of cotton yarn just before the heat wave set in.    So.  In no particular order, I knit washcloths. 

And more washcloths:

I'm keeping a couple myself, and the rest are going to a coworker who is rebuilding after losing everything in a fire. 

There was also crocheting, also made from gift cotton:

I was quite pleased with how this came out, as it was a complete improvisation from start to finish.  I especially liked the handle attachment.   I didn't want the handles to be supported only by the top edge of the bag, so I ran  each row of stitches down the inside and did a crochet slip stitch to reinforce an area below it. 

The yarn was carried down the outside, and made a very neat overstitching- not obtrusive at all.

A great little stash-busting project.  I'm making a second one in shades of blue.  That will get the cotton stash down to a more reasonable level-- spending 18 days in England knitting on one pair of socks meant that I was falling way behind the rate of new yarn that people were de-stashing in my direction.  I'm not by any means caught up, of course, but getting a few quick projects done has started to put a dent in it. 

And speaking of the socks,  I braved the heat and went down to the New Bedford Folk Festival on Saturday, where I met up with a knitting pal I see far too rarely, heard some terrific music, and knit more.   I finished the South Coast Socks (so called because they were mostly knit on the south coast of England, and the blues capture some of the shades of the water).

I did have to stop in the middle of the socks and make myself a quick crochet sweatband, though.  Because the sweat was rolling into my eyes and stinging so I couldn't see.   (I wish I were exaggerating but no.)   And so, the headband:

For a quick improve, I was quite pleased with it.  Functional and not unattractive.   I may do a couple more to wear when doing yard work in the summer. 

I'm actually a bit surprised I did so much knitting when it was so hot...but then, how many things are simple enough to do when your brain is melting?   Knitting and crochet clearly don't require much thought.   However, it's long past time to get back to my travelogue, before I forget what happened!