Posts Tagged ‘Stonehenge’

“Go west, young man, go west. There is health in the country and room away from our crowds…” Horace Greeley

 “If you ever plan to motor west,
Travel my way, take the highway that is best.” Bobby Troup

After our weather-turbulent Christmas we were pleased to get away for a few days to blow away the cobwebs, taking advice from both the above quotations. We headed to Cornwall, the most south-westerly county of the United Kingdom, where the jaggedly ragged land stretches into the Atlantic, fashioned over time by crashing coastal attrition. Cornwall –  land of Arthurian legend, of piskies and sprites  and of that famous snack once a staple of  Cornish tin miners – the Cornish pasty.

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North Cornish coast

Because the traffic reports were so horrendous we abandoned our favourite route – that of the trusty old A303 (part of the original artery to the west country from London, passing as it does by Stonehenge and so steeped in folklore along its course there is even a book written about it), and plumped for keeping to the longer and infinitely more boring motorway network.

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Narrow entrance to Boscastle Harbour

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Boscastle harbour snapped on my phone – hence the colouring!

However, this paid off and we were in north Cornwall within four and a half hours, driving along its wild coastline, past Boscastle (the site of terrible flooding a few years ago), the salt spray and spume mixing with bracing fresh air as we left the car and battled with the elements to stretch our legs along the cliff path at Port Isaac (now overly popular since the filming of the TV series, Doc Martin).

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Boats in Padstow harbour

We based ourselves in Padstow, a small but lively fishing port, nestling next to the river Camel and home to the burgeoning empire of celebrity chef and travel presenter, Rick Stein, whose seafood restaurant with rooms is a delight if anything sea related tempts your palate. He has several food emporia in the town – a deli, a bistro, a café and a gift shop and while locals may regard it as overkill, his presence has ensured a steady stream of tourists which has helped other businesses to flourish.

As Cornwall is a long and narrow county, it is easy to hop from north to south coast with relative ease when the weather changes suddenly, so altering geographical location can be a distinct advantage.  As things were looking inclement, we drove down to the Eden Project, near St Austell. Opened in 2001 and the brainchild of Tim Smit, the Eden Project is the largest collection of indoor rainforest plants in the world and is billed as a top eco visitor attraction. We’ve been meaning to check it out for years.

Turning up on spec though, is not to be recommended. It wasn’t particularly busy, which from our point of view is a good thing but it cost us a fortune to get in. Apparently our tickets are valid for re-entry for one year but booking online is a much more economic way to have a day out.

The plants are housed in massive ‘biomes’ – huge domes resembling the chrysalis of some enormous science-fiction horror insect. We wended our way through a humid jungle path interspersed with display boards informing us of the various species and their uses around the world. After the jungle biome, there is the Mediterranean biome where a lone flamenco guitarist attempts to create some atmosphere.

Now, taking into account that it was just after Christmas and that everywhere always looks a little like the aftermath of Armageddon, I can’t help having a little moan. I know this is a charity and I know that much of the work here is done by volunteers, but to be honest, it looked a bit tired to me. Considering there is so much in the press these days about students needing to volunteer to get at least a toe in our ever shrinking job market I reckon they could advertise for a few more of them to tidy the place up and repaint the information boards; do a bit of weeding. Although we found it interesting, I can’t see us rushing back to make more use of our very pricey annual ticket.

Back on the north coast again, the weather cleared to that extraordinary light for which Cornwall is famous and we set off for a long trek up the cliff path at Padstow and down onto the wide stretches of golden sand washed clean by the stormy waves of the previous few days.

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Padstow beach alongside the river Camel estuary

There is nothing like a breath of sea air to restore wellbeing  after festive over indulgence and we left Cornwall feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything that the New Year celebrations might bring. We returned on the A303 and stopped off to see the new visitor’s centre at Stonehenge. It was packed; there were queues. We didn’t wait, having been fortunate in our youth to see the stones close up. Nowadays you have to take a shuttle bus and view the stones from behind a fence on a tarmac path; but that’s progress, I guess.

As we drove homeward memories of that Cornish light kept re-entering my mind and I thought back to previous trips westward, during summer months, to St Ives, an artist’s colony where we discovered something truly magical.

But I‘ll leave that till my next post – Barbara’s Hidden Studio.

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This is Veteran Jim “Pee Wee” Martin.

He is ninety-two years old. 8944021905_2cc4329064[1]

He arrived in England from Ohio, America, last weekend to begin his three-week Trip of Remembrance through Europe, visiting the places he encountered during WW2. He is travelling with his companion, Doug Barber, a history teacher, also from Ohio. Our son (the Sofa Loafer), met them at Heathrow and drove them to Wiltshire, where they revisited places Jim remembers from 1943. He had a reunion with Rosemary, a young girl he met in the village of Ramsbury, where he was billeted prior to the Normandy Invasion.  They have corresponded ever since, know all about each other’s lives and families, but this was their first meeting in almost seventy years.

One of Jim’s ambitions was realised when, on the way back to Surrey to stay over at Chez Pellett, they made a detour to take in Stonehenge. After walking all around the site it was back in the car to a final stop at the Bourne Woods, Farnham. It was here that the HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers” filmed the Currahee Mountain sequence and Jim had been impressed that the location used was sympathetic to the real Currahee – which he had run up and down many times during training at Camp Toccoa. He amazed everyone when, after almost two hours in the car, he got out and sprinted up the hill. Doug managed to capture it on a short video. You can watch it here.

They arrived at our house in the early evening after a brief stop at a typically English pub. I expected him to be travel weary, jet-lagged, even. I would have been. But Jim is an extraordinary man and we feel very honoured and privileged to have made his acquaintance. We had a light supper and talked till late in the evening, S-L showed us a DVD of Jim taking a tandem sky-dive at the age of eighty-nine – another of his ambitions was to jump out of a plane again. Very early the next morning, they set off for the Portsmouth to Cherbourg ferry. The Sofa Loafer delivered them to mutual friends in Normandy who will look after them while there. After four days they head to Belgium, Holland and Germany.

Tonight there will be fireworks  to celebrate the 69th anniversary of D-Day. There will be parties and lighting of beacons all along the coast. They’ll all be there and I have a feeling that Jim will be the last man to bed. As he said when we were watching the sky-dive video – “Life is not a spectator sport.”

A moment of quiet reflection

A moment of quiet reflection

All Photographs courtesy of Doug Barber.

Below is a brief description of Jim’s war.

Jim’s war began in 1942 when he signed up to the 101st Airborne Division and trained with the 506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment), at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, moving to Fort Benning for their jump preparation before being shipped to England in 1943. His G Company was based in and around the beautiful village of Ramsbury where further training was undertaken until the start of Operation Overlord – the Battle for Normandy.

In the early hours of 6th June, 1944, Jim, aged twenty three, was one of over 13 000 American paratroopers who crossed the Channel in a C47 and was dropped by parachute into Normandy. He landed safely near the small village of St Cȏme Du Mont, near Utah Beach. Thousands of his compatriots didn’t: the Germans had flooded the drop zones and many troops drowned, unable to stay upright in deep water, the weight of their chutes and supplies dragging them down. Jim went on to fight in Normandy for thirty three days before returning to England in July.

 By September 1944, Jim had jumped again, this time into Holland where his Company fought to secure “Hell’s Highway” in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden. After seventy days of fighting in the Netherlands, Jim’s unit camped out in France until they were sent to Bastogne in Belgium to take part in the Battle of the Bulge during a bitterly cold December. After Bastogne, Jim took part in the Rhineland Campaign and ended his war at Hitler’s mountain home, “The Eagle’s Nest” in Berchtesgaden in 1945.

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