Welcome! We’re glad you’ve decided to click over here. This is Jennifer writing today. I invite you to make up a pot of your favorite brew, and relax into your most comfortable nook, as you journey with us on our road trip through Southwest England. As a word of warning, our modus operandi as it relates to traveling, tends to be a very spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants type approach, so be sure to hang on tight. We wouldn’t want to lose you anywhere along the way.
Let’s commence with the first day of this journey, of which you are now a part. Picture, if you will, all five of us (six, including yourself) plus luggage, which only seems to keep growing over the course of time, trying to squish into a tiny little Ford Focus rental car, as we bid farewell to our friends, the Clarks, outside their home in Southwick. We wonder at this point if perhaps we should go immediately to the nearest Enterprise office for an upgrade, but decide against it when we realize we still need to find a place to stay for the night, and it’s already getting rather late in the day. We realize farther on, that even the smallest car is still too big for the curvy, narrowest of roads waiting to challenge our survival along the route, and that, hell no, we don’t want anything even the tiniest bit bigger than what we currently have — even if we really are quite cramped — thank you very much.
Upon waving our goodbyes and driving away from the Clark’s house, in the wrong direction, we all waved to each other through the window again as we passed by moments later driving the opposite way, and set off to find a place to stay for the night. We programmed the GPS towards Salisbury, and began our search. As late afternoon turned into early evening, try as we might, we just couldn’t seem to find anything suitably available in the area. We worried as the sun started to dip, and had unpleasant visions of sleeping in our aforementioned very crowded car that night, as darkness descended. We made phone call after phone call to B&Bs in the area, who all told us the same thing — everything will be booked because of festivals, etc. currently happening nearby. Blah, blah, blah. And of course potty breaks were definitely overdue, as usual.
Androids in hand, we continued to scour the Internet for possibilities. We eventually found Cross Oaks Farmhouse just waiting for us to click the instant-book-button online. We were also on a phone call about a different accommodation, seemingly less expensive and more conveniently located. So, we gave our credit card number to reserve the room. Immediately afterwards, we were informed that expensive paid-parking off-site would be required. Learning this, we decided we’d prefer the farmhouse instead, and weren’t interested in keeping the reservation we made just a few breaths earlier. That’s when we were told that canceling now would incur a charge on our card, in the amount of an entire night’s stay. So naturally, we politely argued with them until they agreed not to charge us after all. Behold, the first of a few examples of overly-ambitious adherence to protocol we encountered on this trip.
Here’s another example. Slowing down even the tiniest bit to check your route (to ensure you are turning in the right place), or taking more than a split second to pull over to the side of the road when you want to capture a photo, will earn you a stern honk from the driver directly (or even not-so-directly) behind you. In Bali, Costa Rica, and many other places we’ve driven, we’ve been extended more leeway with things like that, so this new experience felt somewhat harsh.
There was also the time we came upon a long line of cars backed up into one lane, even though there were two lanes available for merging. We smartly decided to use the empty lane, after which a couple of vehicles mysteriously moved out of the crowded lane and into the deserted lane in front of us. Then, get this, they just sat there. Why, you might ask? Well, apparently for no other reason than to block us from going any farther, plain and simple. It would appear there was some sort of less-than-brilliant driving code being enforced that we just didn’t see the point in complying with. Hopefully there are no hard feelings lingering as a result of our allegedly unscrupulous merging behavior.
Lastly, there was the consistent way in which our signature-lacking credit card was questioned. Our card has a relatively recent photo of our family on the front, and we don’t really want to sign the back. We’d rather just have them check out the photo as a security measure instead, or ask for ID. Consequently, almost every time we used the card, we would have to explain, and occasionally defend, our line of reasoning, before the transaction could proceed. No big deal I guess, it just became a little annoying after the first dozen times or so, especially since, yet again, we haven’t had this happen elsewhere much. Usually, people make positive comments about the photo first thing, and run the card without a problem. Here, they focused only on the missing signature, even after we pointed out the photo. Our card is still unsigned, just in case you were wondering.
That’s it. But only if you aren’t counting the considerably draconian experience we had at the London Heathrow airport about six weeks earlier. That one truly was a bit more challenging. We aren’t necessarily against rules in general, only the ones that don’t make enough sense to us. In summary, we seemed to be surrounded by quite a few relatively punctilious people during this trip. Did we still have fun though? You bet!
That concludes my explanation of questionable Pearce family road trip habit #1 — refusing to follow rules that don’t make enough sense.
Comfy Sleep & Oxford
We booked the Farmhouse that night, even though expensive (as England tends to be), and wound our way into the country to find it. Not having eaten any dinner, in our desperate attempts to find accommodation, we snacked on fruit from a bowl we found in the breakfast room upon our arrival. After an amazing night of luxurious sleep, on what would prove to be the most comfortable bed of our entire trip, a very cheerful, animated host, who seemed to have a bit of Robin Williams-esq charm about him, served us a proper English breakfast (with the trademark out-of-this-world-delicious bacon, included).
We continued our journey with a pleasurable drive through the irresistible English countryside, during which we began reading Michael Morpurgo’s biography, War Child to War Horse, as a family. This is something we continued to do throughout the trip, on the longer drives. Mr. Morpurgo is an amazing British storyteller we learned about through the Clarks, who have read many of his books together.
After a while, we arrived at a darling Victorian style holiday home located South of Oxford, where we stayed for the next two nights. Our first activity was one we just couldn’t pass up, due to the elation of our girls — some merriment at the Oxford Ice Rink. I’m happy to report that we had no serious injuries, minus some really sore muscles and a few bruises and blisters. We started out quite wobbly, as usual, but quickly found our flow on the ice, including Aysia who was all smiles and giggles after a while, despite her initial terror. We followed that up with one of our favorite Pearce family pastimes — browsing bookshops (of which there are many in Oxford).
We grabbed a bite to eat from a grocery store for dinner and devoured it a few steps away, outside on a bench in the middle of the broad sidewalk, feeling just a tad bit self-conscious. But, yum! We were starving. That was our second meal of the day (after an early breakfast) at about oh, I don’t know, probably dinner time. In our defense though, we did eat a few snacks in the car during our drive … I think. But we didn’t have time for a meal before our ice skating session started, and we wanted to browse the book shops before they closed. So there you have it, questionable Pearce family road trip habit #2 — inadequate scheduling of meals in a timely fashion. We’re quite often too busy doing other things that require our immediate attention, like snapping photos, doing work tasks, trying to get to that next destination before nightfall/closing time, etc. But, I’ll also admit that sometimes it’s just because we’re too damn lazy to get off our butts and rummage up some grub.
Next up, on our harem scarem schedule for that day, we hightailed it to Christ Church Cathedral to hear the choir sing during evensong, which was scheduled to begin at 6:00 pm. Upon finding a place to park, we had a relatively rushed seven minute walk through the gorgeous center of Oxford, admiring all the fancy old buildings along the route. We made it just in time for the service at the cathedral and enjoyed hearing the choir. Included in the experience were the opportunities of singing hymns with the congregation, following along with the scriptures being quoted, and listening to the speaker preach a few words from time to time. About halfway through this very religious experience though, Marie became quite bored and insisted upon leaving. So we did, discreetly.
The next day found us doing exactly what the Pearce family does best after so much sightseeing. We stayed in and did homebody things, like cooking, laundry, computer work, planning itineraries, playing Minecraft (as Aysia would say, “Not Yourcraft, Minecraft!”), reading, writing, and creating. In hindsight, Oxford turned out to be one of our favorite places we visited in England.
Our Quest for Balance
I’m going to let you in on a little not-so-secret Pearce family code of conduct — quite often we opt to just stay in, and not see another “point of interest”, even if it means missing out on something fairly compelling. Truth be told, we’re really enjoying our creative integration time at home these days, and we apparently need a lot of it. Which means, if we don’t spend oodles of time in a location, we’ll most likely miss out on some things we may have otherwise cherished seeing. We’re learning to be very selective of what we put our time and effort toward, making sure it’s only on things we value the very most. We try to follow whatever our hearts are proclaiming to us most loudly at the time, so we can experience less burn-out and focus more on what feeds us in the deepest ways.
The next stop on our itinerary was Bath. However, it was time to drive there, and after hours of searching for a place to stay for the next two nights, we had been turned down by all of them. Sound familiar? Yep, you guessed it, this would most definitely be, questionable Pearce family road trip habit #3 — waiting to book accommodation until the last minute. Fortunately, as we were getting in our car that morning, we got a phone call from one of the people we had contacted about lodging, letting us know they’d changed their mind. We could stay there after all! It was the very best option on our list, a really nice little house with free parking out front, and located within a 10 minute walk to the center of Bath. Finding convenient, legal, and free parking throughout our journey was no easy feat, so this place was ideal. And, we greatly appreciated that the weather was absolutely wonderful (surprisingly!) for the entire duration of our road trip, so we never needed to worry about walking in the rain or cold to get places either. Big bonus, especially for cold-phobic people like ourselves.
We walked into the center of town, eating at a delicious Thai restaurant along the way, where we enjoyed a conversation with the very friendly owner. We toured the ancient Roman Baths, saw the beautiful abbey, poked around in some of the shops, etc.
That night, we went to see an outdoor drama production of Robin Hood, which was performed by a youth group, on the grounds of Prior Park College. We had extra time before the performance, so we brought a picnic to feast on while sitting atop a broad, grassy hill on campus, where the girls were able to run and play to their heart’s content. We layered our clothes and brought extra blankets to stay warm during the show, which began at 8:00 pm. It was a different version of Robin Hood than is usually portrayed, and he died at the end. What is the real story of Robin Hood? Sounds like it’s still a subject of debate. We all really appreciated the naturally British accent of the performers, too. Being Americans though, we had trouble understanding it once in a while, which reminds me of the line from the song in My Fair Lady, sung by the character of Henry Higgins, “There even are places where English completely disappears. In America, they haven’t used it for years!”
One of our most entertaining activities was playing an uproariously funny game of Articulate! together, from the game collection provided at the house. Marie especially kept us all doubled over in laughter with her guesses and gestures as she attempted, with a surprising amount of success at times (and at other times being hilariously off the mark), to act out and guess the words on the cards. Ah, family game nights can be so fun.
Before we left Bath, we attended a glass blowing demonstration where we watched them make a dish, tea light holder, icicle, elephant, and even a ball-shaped ornament for our family to keep. A few of us took turns blowing into the ornament to bring it to the right size, and it was particularly fascinating to see the elephant being quickly, and perfectly formed. Afterward, the glass artist explained that his first ever attempt looked nothing like an elephant, and it took a lot of practice to finally get it right. Good lesson for the day. If at first you don’t succeed…
Next stop was Wells, described as England’s smallest city, with a nice cathedral, beautiful and peaceful park, cute streets and shops. We found a convenient and free parking spot (yay!) and explored for the afternoon, before heading on to Glastonbury where we’d be spending the next two nights at the very unique corrugated cottage. So much fun!! It’s a cottage built in the spring of 1940, around the beginning of the Second World War, made out of corrugated iron with period-style everything, including furniture, decorations, books, toys (including a stereopticon), games, appliances, an old projector with a slide show film stick, and even a modern but retro-looking record player with old records (including, Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee, Perry Como, and Louis Armstrong — just to name a few!). That night, we found substantial delight in listening to the old-time music, while playing a nostalgic game of pick up sticks as a family, slowly recalling all the techniques as the game progressed. Such a nice way to spend an evening.
We also discovered something else really wonderful about the corrugated cottage. By some purely awesome coincidence, it’s only a few minutes walk away from the home of one of our favorite friends, Heidi, who we met in Bali a couple years ago. She spent the entire next day and evening with our family, showing us around Glastonbury to see the shops (full of crystals, magic, and costumes), the abbey (where we savored a picnic together on the awe-inspiring, tranquil grounds), the springs (where we sampled some of their healing water), and the tor (a tall and peaceful hill with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside). Heidi topped it all off by hosting a delicious sushi dinner for us at her home, where we also met her adoring fiancé, Chris. At one point during the evening, while we were all seated around the dining table, Marie’s enviably contagious laugh suddenly erupted into the air, and quickly resulted in a sustained and wildly gleeful chorus of laughter from everyone present, which took us all a while to recover from. Fun memories!
The next day found us driving through Dartmoor, a scenic area of moorland in south Devon, where we climbed around on a granite outcropping of rocks at the top of a tall hill and took in the view at Haytor (recommended to us by Chris and Heidi), where Aysia had an amusing interchange with one of the many imposing black cows grazing up there. Aysia and I were walking together as we passed by the massive animal in pretty close proximity, during which time, Aysia and the cow both stared each other down rather attentively. When I noticed what was happening, I observed that Aysia seemed to be holding her breath, nervous yet mesmerized at the same time, so I asked her, “Is that cow staring at you?!” in a tone heavy with awe. She replied by exhaling a big and breathy, “Ya — he is!” in her best wowed voice. Immediately thereafter, both our emotions overflowed into a burst of giggles. I practically worship being able to see the world through the eyes of my children.
Resting and Celebrating in Saltash
We settled into a comfy place in Saltash, Cornwall for the next three nights, where we basically just stayed at home to assimilate and work on other things. Sometimes rejuvenation means going out, but in this case, it meant staying in.
However, we did take off one of those days, for the very special occasion of honoring the celebration of Emily’s 11th birthday, to the China Fleet Country Club, where we received free admission (from the place we were staying) to the swimming pool (with a water-slide), sauna, hot tub, racquetball/squash, ping pong, and badminton. The only thing we paid for was our food. Pretty sweet deal! Afterwards, we came home, sang Happy Birthday, and delighted in chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream. We also watched Back To The Future together, which Emily was really excited to see for the very first time. We watched part two the next night, after a savory delivery of Indian food from Tamar Spice, during which I discovered a new favorite Indian dish, Lamb De Kodu. Here’s the description from the menu: “Marinated lamb lightly spiced, cooked with turmeric, jeera, garam masala & butternut squash, creating a spicy (mild) but sweet taste.” Swaadisht! Catalyzed by the movie’s vision of what technology would be like in 2015, our dinner conversation centered around inventions we might expect to see in the next few decades. Unlike Hollywood predicted, we still don’t have hover boards, or shoes that lace themselves.
Cream Tea in Devon
The time eventually came for us to make our way back the other direction again, toward Salisbury. On the way, we visited Kents Cavern in Torquay, a fun and educational way to break up our drive.
While there, we indulged the opportunity to try a Devon cream tea in the café, while we waited for our tour to begin. What is a cream tea, you might be wondering? I asked that same question to our friends the Clarks, while we were visiting them, and they gave me about the same definition as trusty old Wikipedia, so here it is:
“A cream tea is a form of afternoon tea, consisting of hot tea taken with a combination of scones (preferably fresh and warm), clotted cream, and jam (traditionally strawberry).”
Just in case you’re wondering, as I was, here’s the definition of clotted cream:
“A thick cream made by indirectly heating full-cream cow’s milk using steam or a water bath and then leaving it in shallow pans to cool slowly. During this time, the cream content rises to the surface and forms ‘clots’ or ‘clouts’.”
And don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it before, because I also read this:
“Despite its popularity, virtually none is exported due to its short shelf life.”
It does have an extremely high fat content (55%) though, so you really wouldn’t want to be eating it all that often anyway, but with scones and jam, it really is delicious!
You may also be interested to note:
“As clotted cream is not regularly available outside south-west England, there are a number of ways to create an approximation. One example is to mix mascarpone with whipped cream, a little sugar and vanilla extract.”
Speaking of creams, the British have developed them into an impressive art with their abundant, legally defined varieties. They also make some truly delicious custard, which incidentally, my mom taught me how to make as a child. Care to try out some recipes for yourself? And I’m just now discovering I probably should have tried some of these popular treats while in England. Looks like I can order them online instead. If you’ve already tried them, please let me know what you think.
We next stopped to visit the seaside at Lyme Regis where we had a nice dinner on the coast, before continuing to Bournemouth to stay at Waves In, a 10 minute walk from Boscombe Beach. It had one of those delectable English-bacon-breakfasts thrown into the deal, superbly-done beach decor, and very hospitable owners. We arrived just in time for bed.
The next day started out with an hour drive to Stonehenge, where we learned about the mysterious history and the much sought after healing energy, followed by an explore of Salisbury, where we saw the eye-catching cathedral, which is Early English Gothic style (completed in 1258, over a period of 38 years) with the tallest church spire in the United Kingdom.
We also played at the park and relished a bite to eat at Café Rouge. We meandered back towards Bournemouth after that, through the quaint and picturesque New Forest area with ponies all around.
Later on, we took a leisurely family walk to Boscombe Beach at sunset, enjoying some ice cream bars and snapping photos on the pier.
The next morning found us driving back to the Clark’s house, for one last lovely night’s stay, before catching our flight out the following afternoon.
Well, it appears we’ve reached the end of our journey. Would you like to share any parting thoughts? Do you mind if I share some? I love how deep and established England feels. I love the rich history and traditions. It feels comfortable to me, in a cozy sort of way. I felt like I connected with something I’ve been longing to discover for quite a while now, a deeper sense of who I am and where I come from. It’s been supremely memorable.
Thank you for joining us on our journey. It’s fun to share, and we hope you had fun. Please enjoy the beautiful photos and video Brandon put together, and don’t forget to grace us with your thoughts below. We look forward to taking you along with us again soon. Next time — to Barcelona!