The South West - Cheddar, cider, cream teas, and tors

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May 7th 2011
Published: July 10th 2011
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Almost all of our British friends say that the south western counties of Devon and Cornwall are must see UK destinations. After a few years this recommendation eventually sinks in, and so now hooked on the idea, and with Brian and Beth visiting, we organise a few days off work, hire a car, book some accommodation and, on a slightly overcast Saturday morning, set off to see what all the fuss is about.

After a few hours driving our first stop on our great south west adventure is Cheddar Gorge in Somerset. The gorge is just outside the village of Cheddar and is (no surprise) where the cheese originated! The gorge is quite surprising because the countryside doesn’t seem to rise much and then all of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle of rocky cliffs. At the feet of the rocks there are plenty of quaint old buildings and plenty of tourists.

We have a quick look around before heading back to the village where we find one of the few free parking spaces in the area and duck inside a lovely looking pub for lunch. The staff are incredibly friendly and we order some cider (which
Dartmoor sheepDartmoor sheepDartmoor sheep

Checking out the local herd
is also famous as being from Somerset) and a ploughman’s lunch. Containing a selection of local cheeses, including cheddar and brie, it is delicious.

Before heading back to the motorway, we pop by a local farm shop and marvel at their huge casks of scrumpy ready for tasting. There’re two types - sweet and dry. To get a ‘medium’ you mix them 1:1, and at prices almost cheaper than petrol we can’t help but leave with a small cask of scrumpy.

Back on the highway we carry on our journey through the ever increasingly beautiful countryside towards our resting place for the night, the aptly named Moorland Hotel which is on the edge of the Dartmoor National Park. Arriving, we’re pleased to find it’s a traditional old hotel with magnificent views over the rolling paddocks and out to sea. We’re not far from Plymouth and from our vantage point we can see the large ships coming in to port.

After depositing the luggage in our rooms we head out for an early evening stroll. As we head uphill through the fields, much to Ariana and Beth’s delight, we pass by many new season lambs who follow their mother’s call to safety whenever they stray too far. We’d read about the famous Dartmoor ponies before coming here, and we’re quite excited when we spot three of them in the distance. We hasten our step to follow them but they quickly find another path and disappear into the scrub which covers the upper part of the ridge side.

We begin to feel peckish and duck back to our rooms to freshen up before our dinner reservation. The restaurant serves a range of steaks and tasty local specialities like pork in cider apple sauce and we order an assortment of dishes. When our meals come they are absolutely delicious and, much unlike us, we even order dessert!

The next morning we set off for a day trip further west. With Brian navigating, we pass Plymouth to make our first entrance into Cornwall proper. There is no doubt we’ve changed counties because as we drive along we pass numerous houses, service stations and cottages all flying the black with white cross flag of St Piran (the flag of Cornwall).

In our opinion there are some counties in England which have distinctly more identity than others, but we’re already beginning to feel like Cornwall is pretty special. One of the things which reinforces its identity is not just its distinctive flag, but that it has its own language! (Cornish is a celtic language similar to Welsh and Breton - the celtic language spoken in Brittany, France). Perhaps we should have known, but before coming to the UK we never knew that there was parts of England which spoke anything other than English! There is a strong movement for Cornish independence from England (to create a fifth home nation of the UK).

As we make our way west, we first stop to check out the church and castle of St Michael’s Mount. It is no coincidence that it immediately reminds us of Mont St Michel on the French Normandy coast as the Cornish version was, for hundreds of years, a priory to the French island cathedral. As much fun as we’re having checking out the fortified island, it’s blowing a gale so it’s back in the car to continue our journey.

We pass through Penzance and continue all the way to Land’s End. It’s the most westerly point of England and a common start/end point for any “across
St IvesSt IvesSt Ives

The beautiful seaside town- with huge seagulls!
the length of Britain” routes. The sky is bright and the wind bracing as we walk around the coastline admiring the various signs indicating distances to various locations around the world.

From Land’s End we head up the coast, reaching St Ives just in time for lunch. When in Cornwall, enjoying a local pasty and clotted cream teas is an absolute must and once in town, we find a lovely local bakery offering both to take away. The town centre of St Ives is nestled in a little cove with quaint terraced buildings painted in white lining the coastline. It’s absolutely idyllic so we find a perfect spot on the pier to enjoy our lunch. Lachlan is close to finishing the last morsel of pasty when one of the giant seagulls which have been steadily circling overhead swoops down and snatches it from his hand! We run for cover before taking a stroll along the foreshore at the end of which we find a more sheltered spot at which to enjoy our scones.

Interestingly, we discover that in Devon the scone is spread with clotted cream, then jam is dabbed on top. In Cornwall however the practice is
A stroll through the Dartmoor National ParkA stroll through the Dartmoor National ParkA stroll through the Dartmoor National Park

Straight out of a children's storybook
to spread the jam first, then add the clotted cream. After a bit of debate we all choose the Cornish technique and sit back to enjoy the views of the clear water and golden sandy beaches.

We retrace our steps back up the steep hill to the car and continue heading back eastwards along the north Cornish coast. Being so close to Newquay, we stop in for a look at some of the renowned beaches of the area before returning to the Moorland Hotel. We make it back just in time to enjoy another steak dinner before calling it a night.

Having not yet been for a good walk in this beautiful National Park we appreciate some handy local tips on a nice nearby walk from the owner of the hotel as we check out the next morning. The starting point is only a few miles down the road and the path takes us through scenery akin to a children’s fairy tale book complete with babbling brook, fields of blue bells and moss covered rocks. It’s ever changing, and lots of fun.

Before leaving Dartmoor, we drive up through its centre to little towns in order to
Beautiful apple blossomsBeautiful apple blossomsBeautiful apple blossoms Sheppy's Cider Farm
see the moors proper. We pick up a walking map in the hope of being able to take a longer walk but just as we set off, it begins to rain and we make a decision to turn back. It’s fortunate that we have as just as we clamber back in to the car, the rain turns to hail!

More and more spectacular scenery opens up before us as we venture further inland and just before we leave the National Park we take a high road passing loads of the famous tors with their exposed granite gleaming in the bursts of sun which occasionally pierce through the clouds.

We pass out of Cornwall, through Devon, and once back in Somerset Lachlan has planned a stop at a cider farm on our route to Glastonbury. We don’t know much about cider and have never visited an orchard before so we enjoy asking plenty of questions while we try their selection of single apple variety ciders, scrumpy, draft and a bright red cider with blackberries! We choose some to take back to Nottingham with us and take the offer up of a walk through the orchards themselves before we leave.
Glastonbury at sunsetGlastonbury at sunsetGlastonbury at sunset

The town has almost a mystical glow over it in the late evening hours of summer
It’s coming to the end of spring and much of the beautiful apple flower is on the ground, wafting through the air or clinging desperately to the trees.

From outside Taunton we continue on to Glastonbury where we’re given a very warm greeting by our B&B owner who has kindly left some home made elderflower cordial in our rooms to try. She offers us a map of the town and traces a recommended route for an early evening walk up Glastonbury Tor, past the Chalice well and on to the thorn tree. It’s fantastic looking down on the town as the sun is low and while the walk up the tor takes some doing, we’re glad we make the effort and marvel at the 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside. By the time we reach the town again, we’re starving and are very pleased to find a relaxed cafe filled with locals still serving food. The whole town has a distinctly relaxed vibe and we soak in the atmosphere.

The next morning we take a recommendation from our B&B host and head north east from Glastonbury towards the Avebury stone circle. Our journey takes us across the flat cropped plains of Wiltshire. The fields here are probably the largest that we’ve seen in the UK.

It takes quite a while to reach Avebury because it seems like there is a roundabout every 500 m or so on the minor highways which we’re following.

We pass the stone circle at Avebury which is all very interesting before we spot a delightful looking thatched roof pub nearby and can’t resist a close up look at the building and besides, it’s about time for lunch! Inside we order a round of local ale, and to be sure not to miss another culinary specialty of the area, thick cut Wiltshire ham and eggs. Yum!

We can’t believe how much we’ve seen in a couple of days and just to pack in a little more, we make a detour through the Cotswolds and its renowned picture postcard villages (upper and lower Slaughter) on our way to Stratford Upon Avon.

We have a brief stop in Stratford Upon Avon to admire the fantastic black and white Tudor era buildings and for Beth and Ariana to go in search of cake before continuing back to Notts.

In our four
Somerset countrysideSomerset countrysideSomerset countryside

The beautiful rolling green hills synonymous with the region
day trip we’ve see ancient sites, beautiful seaside towns, rolling green hills and quaint villages. We’ve enjoyed Somerset cider, Wiltshire ham, Cornish clotted cream, and Cornish pasties. The people have been warm, friendly and very loyal to their heritage. It’s no wonder really, they inhabit one of the most wonderful parts of all the country, why wouldn’t the Cornish want to make it their own? We would!


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