Friday, 25 February 2011

stoughton cross, somerset

the next target in the conquest was somerset. more specifically nut tree farm in stoughton cross, just outside of wedmore and cheddar. we drove down after work on friday so were reasonably late arriving. plus we got lost. well, we found the place. parked up. looked around and thought "this can't be it". found another place called "nut tree house" down the road and went there. then realised that that was just someone's house. so we went back to nut tree farm again. we knocked and rung and waited and knocked and waited then the hostess came and let us in.

she was pretty ethereal really. she almost floated around and spoke in a soft tone. she was nice. not overly friendly per se, not homely. but nice enough.

nut tree farm is a b and b and also an art house of sorts. they specialise in wood turning and the daughter, son, mother and father are all wood turners. their art was all over the house and attached workshop.

the place itself is a 16th century farmhouse style scene. lots of pale internal wood. crooked floors and latching doors. very pretty.

we bedded down for the night in the comfy bed.

our crib

more of the crib, notice my halo
in the morning we looked at a map and realised that cheddar was only a short drive away. "that's where they invented the cheese" i said to ellie; "let's go!" she said. and we did.

we got there and parked up in a car park reserved for people utilising the (i presume) local authority supported/ran company's offering of cave tours/open top bus etc. you basically bought a single ticket and this enabled you to access a bunch of attractions.

as we pulled into the car park the snotty women asked us "are you visiting the caves today?" with the subtext of "you're not bloody parking here if you're not!". we were though so all was good. we bought our tickets and picked up their tourists map.

as we were walking from the car we saw an outdoor shop that was doing 50% off of jackets. the only jacket i've really got now is a double breasted, to the knees number. so in the spirit of "outdoorsing it up" we made a visit and ellie treated me to a new windbreaker. nice. very nice. i was loving it.

just about to get on the bus
we then went on the open top bus and got an informative and light-hearted tour of the gorge by this old fella. we saw goats on the steep, steep gorge sides. it was amazing actually. super steep and windy road through this massive, tall sided gorge (cheddar gorge). really impressive - i'd heartily recommend visiting cheddar to anyone.

on top of the open top bus
after that we went into cheddar cave. there was a personal talking guide thing. it was dead interesting. the caves had been used by our ancient ancestors (i.e. cavemen and women). one of them was found. they named him "cheddar man". he talked to you!! (via the talking guide).

in the main cave, listening to a tiny man in a small black box you carried around
there was also a chap that went in there and excavated loads of it.

a mock up of the chap that discovered the cave in the first place
the caves themselves were very impressive indeed. rain falls on the slopes above the caves, percolates through the soil and infiltrates through the stone and picks up a cheeky bit of acid. this then drips through and dissolved some stone. the stoned water then infiltrates right through to the soffit of the cave, drips through and lands on the floor. when it drips through and when it lands on the floor it leaves behind a little bit of "stone". therefore "stone" builds on the drip (stalactites) and landing place (stalagmites). pretty cool hey?

rock that looked organic!
the caves also made me think how funny the saying "caveman" is. i.e. man that literally lived in caves. i guess the word had always rolled out in a single utterance without me semantically breaking it down and thinking about it. men that lived in caves. and i also realised; of course you're going to chill out in caves if any shelter you can make is ultimately rubbish compared. i guess we're "houseman" now. or "flatman".

cheddar cheese!
by the time we'd finished that and had some photos we'd moved past the closing time of the other cave attraction. apparently there was a DRAGON in there, so i was pretty annoyed about that. i think the tickets last for a year though ... so i've still got time.

chilling out by a river
we decided to do the walk around the gorge. up the north side, along the bottom and down the south side. brilliant.

we had to jump over the official entrance stile as it was closed also. why would they close it? no reason we thought!!

we walked up the hill. read some information panels. we were travelling through time as we walked up (geologically speaking)! i kept looking out for a poorly selling supercar and a crazy old dude with wirey white hair ... i didn't see either.

ben in the geological past

travelling thousands of years a second!

time travel is tiring
so we got to the top of the south east edge of the gorge. there was a look out tower. we climbed it and looked out. it was a great view, you could see the whole town of cheddar and the basically circular man made cheddar reservoir. the tower had a iron ring around it that you used as an arm rest but also had labels on it along the lines of "london, this way 180km!" etc. good fun.


after that we set off on the way up the east side of the gorge. we saw some goats. we looked down the gorge. it was really beautiful.

view of cheddar half way up the gorge
we walked and walked. we got to the north edge of the east side of the gorge. we crossed the road. we joined the west side of the north of the gorge. spirits were dropping. as was the sun. quickly. really quickly.

where ellie's bum met the ground

where the ground met ellie's bum
i could tell ellie was getting scared. we walked in dim silence. we trotted in dark silence. we near ran in pitch black silence.

i tried to think of words of reassurance. i knew that we were going to be okay. it was just dark. i came up with:

"just so you know; i'm not worried". it turns out that ellie thought this meant: "i'm extremely worried" and only served to make her very scared.

where as before we were carefully picking our way up and down muddy paths: "mustn’t get our shoes dirty!" now we were almost sprinting down the hill. holding hands and falling over constantly. we were covered in mud. although you couldn't see the mud as it was night time.

we emerged triumphant and elated. ellie said that it was the most scared she'd ever been. i said it wasn't a touch on the loch ness car saga.

we went to a thai restaurant looking sheepish and carefully hid our mud caked shoes, bums and legs.

hiding dirty shoes in the thai restaurant
after dinner we headed home and went to bed.

we had another tasty breaky, went back up to cheddar for a last minute look around, some fish and chips and a milkshake and headed off home; a jolly good conquest and i'd massively recommend cheddar gorge to anyone. just set off a bit earlier.

breaky time!

Friday, 18 February 2011

matlock (loch ness trip - fifth leg)

we were nearing the end of our epic journey and we were hoping to go out with a bang. it turns out that things didn't exactly work out like that. the trip didn't totally fizzle out either. they more ... well, if going out with a bang is likened to a nuclear explosion say. and a fizzle is a tub of water being poured on a candle that is basically already extinguished by a slight gust of wind. the finally of the trip was more like a collection of smalls arms fire; maybe someone had brought a bandolier of grenades but only managed to get the pin out of one or two.

it went out in a large "pop".

we were destined to stay in matlock. i hadn't heard of it but it turned out later that i had been there when i was a small child. and in fact a famous (in my family) photo of me in a fetching all in one blue waterproof number was taken there.

as we approached matlock we drove through some scenery that wasn't exactly picturesque. there were big portal frame warehouses. a lot of concrete. the roads were wide and new and there was a fair amount of traffic lights.

ellie was heard to remark: "i think we've made a terrible mistake".

as we got into matlock things did get substantially better. the houses got a lot older and prettier. but the roads remained wide and new looking. the place had the urban design of a impersonal southern city in the commuter belt i thought.

i think coming from ambleside any town would have to do very very well to drop our jaws or melt our hearts.

we found our lodgings and parked up outside. the b and b was part of a terrace on a very steep hill. it looked like someone's house. it was someone's house. and not really in a good way.

we knocked on the door and a homely south african women opened the door. she showed us straight up to our room without so much as a glimpse into the common parts of the house. we didn't like that. and our room. we didn't really like that too much either.

we realised quite quickly that we'd been put in the bottom ranked room. this was confirmed after a couple of furtive glances through half open doors. our room was also obviously the "lover's room". sounds like a nice idea. but it just came over as a bit tacky. we thought that some people may really rate the decor but we found it to be just a bit cheesy. the room was mostly red and burgundies and the like. there were a few love hearts hanging about (literally, from the ceiling). we did get a bathrobes and slippers. well ... a bathrobe. and a pair of slippers. we'd have to share then it seemed.

the bathroom looked like the "second bathroom" in your mate's house. like, not the nice one. the one around the back of the house. the one that people don't really use.

undeterred we still had a laugh as we sat on the bed. mostly because there was no where else to sit whilst you laughed. it was that or the toilet seat.

the b and b was super famous for its breakfasts. you were given a little bit of paper on which to tick boxes as to your choices. and there was a lot of choices. and we ticked a lot. as in we ticked outside of the box. we made new boxes and ticked them. twice. breakfast was going to be big.

when we went down to (sheepishly) hand over the breakfast order we asked the host whether we could collect a takeaway and eat it in the dining room (which we assumed existed!?). we could. which was nice. so i went out in search of food once again.

i decided on chinese.

we dined and the meal was okay. the soup was nice. but we decided that we definitely preferred thai though. i spilt some sauce on the table cloth. woops. that definitely wasn't coming out anytime soon. i moved the tablemat to cover it. hopefully this wouldn't be discovered until after our departure.

we retired for the night.

in the morning we went down for breakfast. i quickly checked if the stain was there still. it was. i replaced the tablemat. sorry.

the breakfast was very nice. and big. and interesting. the host came out and chatted to us which was nice. we were trying to work out if she had over heard us discussing our disappointment at the place. as she said a couple of things ... probably just our over reactive imagination.

we also met the dog. a little bulldog. he was funny. and smelly. and snuffly. his name was duke. his legs weren't big enough for his body. he was south african also.

after all this we packed up and set off on our way: the final drive!

we headed south and into london. we returned home.

our road trip was over. and it had been great.

as we pulled up on our drive and i stopped the engine we were left in an eerie silence. we turned to one another and met eyes. we were both thinking the same thing:

"where next?"

Thursday, 17 February 2011

ambleside (loch ness trip - fourth leg)

we are driving from loch ness to the lake district. ambleside to be exact. we're on pretty main roads still and my phone says there's only 40 minutes to go. i'm thinking we can't go too far into the middle of nowhere in 40 minutes. turns out that the 40 minutes was a bit of a under estimation and you in fact can go reasonably far into the middle of nowhere. not the middle of nowhere i guess - on the outskirts. nowhere suburbia.

we drive down the steepest hill i've ever encountered. it gives me a great opportunity to describe "engine braking" to ellie. she is (of course) enthralled.

i didn't really know anything about ambleside and neither did ellie. well, we didn't know anything. as we arrived the beauty of the place hit you in the face like an extremely attractive ball. a ball made of dark lake district slate.

the place is almost outrageously picturesque and i thought "i bet this place is famous". and sure enough it is. it also turns out i had "been" there previously. well in my mother's womb. wonder if that was why i instantly felt an affinity for it. probably not; probably the aforementioned beauty.

so we arrived at our little b and b and were met by the daughter of the family. she was potentially the most energetic person i have ever encountered. now normally this would severely grate on me but she definitely managed to pull it off. she was funny, interesting, exciting and nice. she gave us a tour around the house and showed us a map of ambleside - which she talked us through (a very nice touch). her love of her town positively radiated from her and it was infectious (in a non-gross, not carried in water droplets in the air type of way).

a plate in our lodgings
apparently "bownessie" has been sighted recently. it's the lake's version of (loch) nessy. our host left a newspaper out for us to read! we said that the monster probably followed us down from loch ness - taking to rivers, lakes, drains, sewers etc as necessary.

i'm sure it followed us!
i think you can make your own caption for this one ...
our room was lovely with a big four poster bed that was super comfortable and massive windows looking out over the town. we set up camp and relaxed for a while.

ellie enjoying the dressing table
it was getting reasonably late and we were getting hungry so we googled a thai takeaway and i walked down to pick some tucker up. i felt extremely hunter gathery.

after i'd ordered i had a quick walk around town. and i literally mean around town. i think i basically hit all the sites. it was dead small. there was one road that was quite literally ALL b and bs or guesthouses! and lots of them had the "no vacancies" sign up. a real b and b hotspot.

i picked up the thai and walked home. the place was a classic "man goes to thailand, finds a wife, brings her back, starts a restaurant" type affair. nicely decked out inside. we'd asked if we could sit in the dining room and they'd laid a little table for us with cutlery etc etc. very nice. it was like having your own personal restaurant. only you were allowed to wear your pyjamas without getting funny looks.

takeaway dinner! all the benefits of a restaurant with none of the trappings
the food was really tasty. as we were finishing up the "mum" came to see if we had everything we needed and that we'd enjoyed our meal. we had. it was very nice.

we headed to bed.

in our four poster bed
in the morning we had a tasty breakfast in the conservatory. the "mum" came down again and was loving the chat with us and another ~family unit that was there. all the basic topics were covered: the weather, snow, rain, wind, the weather.

the breakfast room
after breakfast we headed out for a walk. we decided to walk up the fell of loughrigg. first we walked through ambleside a little bit to soak it up as we knew we'd have to leave this beautiful little town soon.

the streets of amberside
then we headed up loughrigg.

just getting towards the fell
it was a pleasant walk/hike up to the summit of todd crag.

the views from the summit were absolutely amazing. you could gaze over to lake windermere and look out over the entirety of ambleside. it was warm enough for you to not be thinking about your body temperature. there was a slight breeze in the air which gently flicked your hair across your face. truly breath-taking.

great views, great times
it was EXTREMELY windy
after hanging out at the top for a little bit we headed back down. on the way down i think we were getting a bit too confident in our mountaineering abilities and ellie took a little tumble. she was okay though, just a bit shaken and a bit muddy.

in one of the most beautiful locations in the world, surrounded by nature's greatest art ... still playing words with friends with her mum
walking back from walking
we got back into town and made a quick stop to a bakery/cafe and picked up some car-picnic lunch. after that we headed back to the car and we were on our way to the peak district!!

getting the desert for our car-picnic
next stop: matlock!!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

lower foyers (loch ness trip - third leg)

we woke up in our b and b and went for our breakfast in the "conservatory restaurant". which was really just some tables in the conservatory. you got the impression that they'd "over-realled" the whole thing. tried to make it a real restaurant. it wasn't though, it was a conservatory with a little kitchen in and the chef was the chap that lived in the house - and that is absolutely fine. desirable even; that's why ellie and i were here. there's no need to over play stuff in my opinion to make it more "official". to try and make it grander than it is when the ungrand alternative isn't unattractive.

a massive dog. it walked like a horse.
the breakfast was very nice, all cooked in the kitchen in the conservatory by the host. the eggs especially were super tasty. really orange yolks. ellie commented on how tasty and yellow/orange the yokes were and apparently we weren't the first. it's one of the things that loads of people comment on. the guy that delivers the meat and fish apparently delivers them also and they'd asked him for his supplier but (like a true business person) he wouldn't tell them. made me think of the cocaine trade ... well, movies i'd seen about the cocaine trade. our hostess had tried to sneak a look into the back of his van to read the name on the egg crates! how funny. the host and hostess were very nice. especially the host, he was ready to give advice and helpful local knowledge without being too in your face or pushy. a tricky balance to strike!

we basically stayed in our room the whole day. the view from our bed was really pleasing on the eye. you lay in bed and looked out beyond your feet and through a big window and over on to loch ness. lovely, calming, peaceful.

inside our little room.
brushing de la teeth
there was nothing in this little village. no petrol station, no shop, just a couple of houses. i decided that i definitely was a city boy. well, not necessarily a city city boy but definitely a town with a reasonably sized city in the near vicinity boy. i don't like isolation. it freaks me out. i don't like the idea of not being able to drive or walk yourself out of a situation. i like civilisation. that's in no way to say that i or we didn't enjoy our stay in this remote village - quite the contrary, we lapped it up - but it's good to return to our own reality. i'm all for pushing the boundaries for a finite amount of time. but give me a home where i can easily drive to a shop please. as ellie says "i like to be able to pick from 15 different antiperspirants".

the crib
we went for a quick walk down to the loch. the part that lower foyers abutted onto was definitely "real". there was none of the tourist trap "get your picture with nessie" stuff here. what there was was essentially a semi working marina, although quiet when we were there. loads of boats and rope and peeling paint and shacks and buckets and rust. the loch and the view over it was perfect. super still. silent. tranquil. there was no movement or sound and the vacant/dormant dock area only added to the feeling of being the only ones there. that this place had once been very lightly touched by mankind but that even this touch had failed, had given up and had retreated to leave behind the cold and aging relics - this was nature's domain.

a walk around lower foyers
on a bridge in lower foyers
hanging out by loch ness
we headed back to our b and b to get ready to head out for dinner. you could tell the hosts were gutted we weren't eating in the "restaurant".

we drove north to inverness, which took around 45 minutes. we'd looked up a nice place via google. the place was over ground and first floor (we were at first). we had amazing seats with our own private window out onto the river ness (the river that runs through inverness). one of the bridges over the ness had loads of ever-changing lines installed on it to form a rippling wave of light along its length. it was a bit much we thought. it would have been nice if it didn't have so many colours and move through them so quickly. the effect was a bit cheap and tacky. but when it was on a nice colour it did look jolly nice.

the constantly changing colours of a bridge in inverness
the restaurant itself was nicely and tastefully decorated. it was definitely further up the swanky/fancy spectrum than some. from looking around you could see that there were a lot of couples that had come out for a special meal and were in their "sunday best". the food was average in parts, good on the majority with a couple of very good. ellie's starter of vege chilli and tortillas was the most underwhelming. i can't remember my starter; but it was nice. for our main courses we had a chicken dish and a salmon dish. both were definitely tasty. a couple of the ingredients were a bit plain though and let the dishes down.

smile! you're on film
the waitress said "i'm a semi-pro photographer"
we headed home in the car. and this is when things took a turn for the worse ...

so i missed the turning that i needed to take and helpful as ever google navigation rerouted and we were on our way again. it only added 15 minutes apparently. that's okay. we're not in a rush.

well. first, as we changed altitude a thick thick bank of fog rolled in. the road shrunk to a one lane bitmac track. visibility was down to literally 4 metres. we were crawling along at around 10 - 15mph. we didn't see another car or sign of civilization or life for 15 minutes. 20 minutes. 40 minutes. the road decreased in quality. 50 minutes. the bitmac/tarmac surface gave was to stones and dirt. 1 hour. it was dark, really really dark. ellie and i were in complete silence. i didn't want elle to know that i was starting to get worried, starting to think we may end up staying in the car tonight. i thought she was blissfully unaware; she told me later she was petrified. 1 hour 20 minutes. the stone and dirt road gave way to just dirt. 1 hour 40 minutes. we were still crawling at 20 - 30mph as the fog lifted every now and then. it was getting late. 2 hours. we arrived at a gate. google told us to go through it (thank god there was obviously a map/route in my phone's cache memory). i got out of the car and told ellie to lock the doors. if i wasn't back in 20 minutes, phone the police (you can't you haven't got signal). i opened the gate, drove through and re closed. 2 hours 20 minutes. we were in field. an open field. google thought we were on a road. we weren't on a road. we were in a field. full of mud. and (as the fog lifted slightly) cows. lots of cows. and horses. i hope to god there's no bull i thought. we drove through the mud/field for what seemed like an eternity. i was in mortal fear that the car would get stuck or break down. 2 hours 40 minutes. we got to the end of the field. no bulls thank heavens. one final obstacle stood in the way of us and an A road - the most bendy and steep road i have ever seen, let alone drive down. but it was all over. and just over 3 hours later we pulled up at our temporary home. we were elated. ellie immortalised the event with these words:

"let's curl up in bed together and never speak about this again".

we slept.

the next day we had a walk around the foyer falls and a small distance along loch ness and then headed back to the car and headed off to the lake district!

chilling out by the falls (off camera)
the one and only loch ness
we DID find nessie in the end!
and that's where we leave you ... to be continued!