Seeing old sites with new eyes

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March 29th 2012
Published: April 9th 2012
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So I am home. How I feel about all this is for another blog, should I ever work out how to put into words how I actually feel right now! What I can say is that in the past two weeks I have enjoyed immensely rediscovering the area where I grew up. After two years roaming the world, ticking off 'must dos', having life-changing experiences and seeing UNESCO World Heritage sights, I have returned to find they are all on my doorstep and travelling has merely taught me to open my eyes and mind to appreciate them more.

I have also made the surprising but very flattering discovery recently that it is not only blood relatives that read my blog these days. It would seem other people are mildly interested, not in if I'm alive, but in my take on what I have seen of late. As I rather enjoy putting my ramblings into words for my own pleasure if nothing else, I'll take this as a bonus excuse to continue my blog now that I am home, and also as a good incentive to get out there and see places to find inspiration for future blogs.

To start off with I must just have a little gloat to a few people I have left behind on the other side of the world. In my last few weeks in New Zealand and Australia I had an endless parade of locals offering up sympathy and derision at my choice to return to the UK at the end of winter. Well little did they know I was coming home to the highest March temperatures on record and a hose-pipe ban! Three weeks ago I was dodging flooding in Sydney and putting on everything I owned to camp in near-zero temperatures in Fiordland. Last week I was back in shorts, slapping on sunscreen and paddling in the English Channel (we won't mention the snow and gales this week though)!

As well as temperate sunshine and lengthening evenings, I have been welcomed home by a riot of spring flowers, choruses of nesting birds, bleating lambs and butterflies fluttering in the unseasonably warm weather. I had timed my return to perfection as far as I am concerned. One of the main things that discourage me from emigrating permanently to countries like Australia is the lack of seasons. Spring is the most amazing time of year. You can't help but feel energised and alive when the rest of nature is proving its vivacity with such gusto. I challenge anyone to not be gladdened by a host of golden daffodils or a carpet of bluebells, and there isn't a much better setting for them than the National Trust gardens at Stourhead. If you haven't come across the National Trust before, they own all the nice bits of England and Wales and look after them for us so we can pay them lots of money to park at the beach and walk around their gardens. Actually they do a blooming good job and all the grand old country manor houses would either be crumbling ruins or owned by bankers if it wasn't for their hard work.

As well as crap weather, Britain is world famous for old stuff: Castles, The Tower of London, Stonehenge, Prince Phillip, The Antiques Roadshow... It is a lot easier to find a building pre-dating the millenium (first or second) in England than it is in Dubai, Hong Kong or most of Australia. Not to say that these countries don't have a rich

A jewel in the National Trust crown
and long history, it is just a lot more in your face in the UK. My parents picked me up from Heathrow and driving the 120 miles back home to Dorset we bisected a neolithic stone circle, shadowed watery highways from the Industrial Revolution, stopped to admire a 13th Century cathedral, and viewed First World War regimental graffiti carved into a chalk hillside. As we meandered south-west we passed settlements with records going back to Roman, Saxon, Norman, Tudor, Georgian and/or Victorian times, or more often a hodge-podge of all of them. I'm afraid to admit that I am a history heathen with little interest in the past, but it impresses me to think how many generations have built the landscape you see today.

On the way home we stopped for a walk at Avebury, a stone circle far larger than Stonehenge, but overlooked by most visitors on whistlestop tours through England. I've never understood why Stonehenge is a top attraction with foreigners - as you walk around it you're closer to one of the worst roads in Britain than you are to the roped-off stones. Perhaps Avebury is considered less attractive because of its greater size
Salisbury CathedralSalisbury CathedralSalisbury Cathedral

with the tallest spire in the UK
(you won't get it to fit nicely in a photo), or because pious Medieval parishioners associated the stones with the devil and knocked a lot of them down (killing a few of their mates in the process when the 40 ton stones fell on them), but I still think it's well worth a visit. We turned up on the Spring Equinox so there were a few hippies - sorry pagans - sleeping off hangovers and drinking cans of scrumpy amongst the stones to add to its charm!

Most of our other stops on the way home revolved around my favourite beverage and pastime. Being back in Blighty meant it was acceptable - nigh compulsory - to have a Thermos of tea with us and to stop regularly to slurp from it. So in my first few hours back in England I sipped tea on the tow path of the Kennet and Avon Canal, in an award winning tea shop, and in the car park of Waitrose. For a change of scene a few days later I went up to the big smoke and proved myself a deeply unimaginative tourist by having afternoon tea at The Ritz Hotel.
Giant willy on a hillGiant willy on a hillGiant willy on a hill

Who needs to go to the other side of the world to see weird big things?!
Overpriced and snooty it may be, but it was great fun to have an excuse to dress up, stuff my face with posh cake, and celebrate seeing my best friends for the first time in nearly two years!

It turns out I didn't need to travel to the other side of the world to find such illustrious attractions as UNESCO World Heritage sites, they are scattered all over the south-west of England! As well as Avebury and Stonehenge, the world has finally recognised just how awesome Dorset beaches are and designated the entire coastline appropriately. Branded 'The Jurassic Coast', it is a smorgasbord of golden sandy beaches, dramatic cliff top walks, textbook rock arches, and landslides that offer a tantalising chance of discovering dinosaurs. Making the most of the spring sunshine and being in the same country as my Dad, we spent an afternoon fossicking for fossils amongst the sunbathers on Charmouth Beach. That's right, you read that correctly, people were sunbathing in March in England!! Unfortunately we didn't discover a Frankwahsauros amongst the landslips, just a few crumbly ammonites, but we did have a lovely walk along the cliffs from Golden Cap back to Charmouth.
Avebury stone circleAvebury stone circleAvebury stone circle

Stonehenge's less famous big sister

UNESCO sites aren't the only thing putting Dorset on the map. In a few months it will be blasted into the public eye thanks to the new Weymouth and Portland Olympic Sailing Academy. I've managed to avoid all the hype, or lack of, surrounding London 2012 and returned to discover a country of discontent. It's hard to get excited when no one can get tickets or jobs or any connection with the event. I tell a lie, one of my friends is carrying the Olympic torch - that'll be pretty exciting for the 30 seconds she has it!

One of the things seasoned travellers always warn you about is that when you go home nothing will have changed apart from yourself. Not entirely true. In two years best friends have got married, got pregnant, got new houses and pets. Dare I say it, grown up. If anything I am still the same reckless, commitment-phobic teenager I was a decade ago! To live up to this reputation I thought I better run away from responsibilities and the Blackthorn Winter and have a holiday on a tropical beach to recover from the shock of coming home. I'll be back in a month and ready to explore the UK some more in between facing reality and looking for a job.

Additional photos below
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Afternoon Tea at the RitzAfternoon Tea at the Ritz
Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

It doesn't get more touristy or English than this!
Golden CapGolden Cap
Golden Cap

the highest point on the south coast of England
Chesil Beach from PortlandChesil Beach from Portland
Chesil Beach from Portland

in the centre of the photo you can see the new Sailing Academy ready for the 2012 Olympics.

...every discerning country manor should have one patrolling the grounds!
Fovant Regimental BadgesFovant Regimental Badges
Fovant Regimental Badges

carved in the chalk hill side

9th April 2012

I always love to see the most ardent round-the-worlders explore their home, and so much to see too! Glad to hear you are enjoying and finding wonder in the local sites as well as those abroad - it is true, you don't have to go far to see big, weird (wonderful!) things (and would you believe that walking amongst the bluebell forests of England are one of my "must do's"?) Those daffodil fields look amazing as well; no wonder Wordsworth wrote about them as he did. Happy travels, and welcome home - two phrases that do not have to be mutually exclusive :)
9th April 2012

Happy travels and welcome home - two phrases that don't have to be mutually exclusive
Hi Stephanie and Andras - I love the way you put that, thank you :)
9th April 2012

Looks like we are both going through the same changes and experiencing similar realisations. Coming home doesn't mean it all has to stop, we just need to keep motivated and keep in mind those things which we learnt about ourselves whilst away.
9th April 2012

home blogs
Hi Jess yep I just saw your blog and thought it was funny we were both doing the same thing virtually! Lets keep fingers crossed for a nice summer so we can explore the UK some more.
9th April 2012

Ahhh...England in the Spring
This was our favorite time to visit, with the reasons just as you described. Enjoy your favorite paradise island (and give us some more hints about it), and then return to more blogs about England.

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