Today, Patricia, Ali and I are off on an adventure to Somerset. The number one goal is to get to Mill Cottage Plants, a nursery that specializes in hydrangeas and unusual perennials, ferns and grasses. I'm along for the ride as I'm always up for a road trip, and there are other things that we may get a chance to see around Somerset.
Mill Cottage Plants is in Wookey, south of Bristol and Bath. So we head off south on the M5 and then cut off to one of the "A" highways. I had printed out directions from Multimap, but we were soon to find out that, like the ones I had in Italy, they are just slightly off. Also, we are in Terry's car, which doesn't have the GPS and we can't find the road map. (Almost sounding like yesterday's adventure, just a different mode of transportation!) But Ali and Patricia are old hands at this, and they seem to know where they are going.
You know you're in Somerset when the roads are winding and there are high red stone walls on either side of the road, with no shoulder (or verge as they would say in the UK), making you feel like you are driving down a chute. Every once in a while there is a break and you get these beautiful views of farmland, rolling hills and cows (we are very close to the town of Cheddar). At some point we took a left when we should have gone right. We should have been near the town of Wells, but we ended up in Chew Magna. Chew Magna? Where do I know that name from? And then I realize -- it's the name of the village where one of my ancestors was from! We are in the home of John Pope, born about 1555, whose grandson Thomas emigrated to Plymouth in 1632 (around the time of the pilgrim ships). My paternal grandfather's mother was Kittie Pope.
Patricia sees that there is a village tea and sale at the Old Schoolroom, so we decide to take a break from our drive and have tea. The Old Schoolroom was originally built as a parish meeting room in 1510, so I am actually having tea in a place where my ancestors were! Afterwards we wander up to the church, and inside I find a plaque to Thomas Minor, who emigrated to New England (as did Thomas Pope) in the early 1600s.
This stop has made my day, and I'm so glad that we got lost in Somerset. And the day has just begun! We have yet to get to the nursery, which is our next stop. We didn't stay long; just time enough to buy some plants that are put in the boot (trunk to North Americans) and in the back seat (now I feel like I'm in a jungle back here). Next stop is Wells for lunch. A great French restaurant where we had a fixed menu and a great bottle of wine (2005 Jean-Claude Boisset - Saint-Veran, Bourgogne).
Next it is on to Dunster Castle, but the hour is getting late and it is closing at 5pm. We realize that we are not going to make the castle by closing time (you just can't go very fast along those twisting roads), but we are going through some nice towns, including Glastonbury (where the famous festival is held). We got to Nether Stowey and saw signs for Coleridge Cottage, a National Trust attraction. Patricia and Ali were shocked that I didn't know right away who Samuel Taylor Coleridge was. When they said "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", I knew that they were talking about a poet, but I must admit that I have never been big on poetry. It was about 4:45 so we decided to stop and see the cottage. The National Trust volunteers at the cottage said that they were closing up, but Patricia told them that I had come all the way from Canada and had been quoting Coleridge all the way down the M5. She said it with such a straight face (thank goodness they didn't quiz me) that they let us walk around to see the rooms and the memorabilia from the early 1800s.
Even though we knew that we were not going to make Dunster Castle before closing, we decided to continue on to see what we could see and also go to the shore. Dunster was indeed closed and half of the castle is under white wrapping for restoration, but the gardens are accessible (well, you have to step over the chain across the entrance), so we took a walk up the path to see the grounds. Back down in Dunster, there is a beautiful restored dovecote and the Parish & Priory Church of St. George. The church is famous for its rood screen, a locally carved wooden screen that separates the priory (monks' area) from the parish church. It is, at 54 feet in length, the longest in Europe (or possibly anywhere).
From Dunster we went to Blue Anchor Bay. The body of water is called Bridgewater Bay, also known as the Bristol Channel. It is the mouth of the Severn River, the one that overflowed in June/July, flooding Gloucestershire. Since it is the draining of the river, it is not "pretty" water --- quite muddy and brown coloured. I collected a few stones to add to my collection of stones from France and Italy, we walked along the pebbled beach, and then headed back to the car so that we could get on the road before dark. Driving back towards Bristol and the M5 along the coast, we noted how many ugly caravan (trailer) parks there were at the shore. Obviously it is a popular place for summer vacations, but not the quaint, cottage-style living that one would think of on the English shore.
We arrived back in Blockley about 9pm, later than we had intended, and not having seen exactly what we set out to see, but it was a lovely day, and a new part of England has been explored.