A Visit to Dorset/Devon August 2015

Being retired and on my own, I usually go caravanning in the UK after I’ve seen the ten day weather forecast showing some reasonable weather but my recent trip to Wood Farm at Charmouth needed to coincide with my daughters’ holiday cottage booking. Consequently my stay at Wood Farm was booked a few months ago. I decided to travel on the Sunday rather than a busier Saturday and I was ready to leave by 8am


The M25, M3 and M27 were busy but free-flowing, however traffic slowed once I’d reached the A-roads after the New Forest. With a coffee stop at Rownhams Services on the M27 I completed the 140 mile journey which got me to the site just before mid-day. Wood Farm is a large, privately owned site but with areas for Caravan Club and another for C&C Club members. The remainder of the site is devoted to mobile homes and touring vans.


Each section has its own toilet blocks with a central area of buildings containing swimming pool, games room and restaurant. Beyond the central buildings is a dog walk with a large park area containing fishing ponds. The site is built on a hill side running down into a valley consequently some of the pitches are on quite a steep gradient. The one which I was directed to was one of them. P1050486__1439840256_24659__1439840256_88253  

However several concrete building blocks were located next to the electric supply box, so with two 4” blocks under each front leg and a piece in front of the wheels, the van was secure. I began my settling in chores but it wasn’t long before one of my daughters and grandson arrived. We made our plans to meet up in the evening to go out for dinner. Their barn conversion was situated four miles inland and served by some very narrow country roads. We were fortunate to find the nearby Five Bells, which being off the main tourist route turned out to be a lovely17thC country pub. They served locally brewed beers with some very good food. After we left, by the time I’d negotiated the unfamiliar roads back to Wood Farm in the dark, it was almost time for bed.

We spent our first morning driving to nearby Axminster to buy supplies at Tesco. Later in the day I parked in the car park on Charmouth beach where I went to have a look in the Jurassic Coast Exhibition Centre and visit some of the fossil shops. Meanwhile the family had decided to do the cross-country walk from their cottage to the beach where we later met up



Tuesday looked as though it was going to be one of the better days in a week of unsettled weather, so we decided to visit the Swannery at Abbotsbury which has the only managed colony of nesting swans in the country.P1000260__1439841911_32812__1439841911_33901

They have around 150 pairs although at times numbers can rise to over 600. The Swannery is situated on a lagoon known as The Fleet which was formed by melting ice at the end of the last Ice Age. It is separated from the sea by a huge bank of pebbles known as Chesil Beach. In the 11th Century a monastery was established here where the monks farmed the birds as a useful supply of meat. The monastery flourished until the dissolution in 1539 when the lands and buildings were sold to the Strangway family –  the same family which owns it today.P1050462__1439981059_51327__1439981059_55861P1050463__1439839848_53031__1439839848_63192                   I first came here more than 50 years ago and today was my third visit. Over time the admission prices have risen alarmingly but fortunately Tesco have chosen it as one of their “Days Out” so our £43 entry charge was paid for by supermarket shopping. Within the grounds of the Swannery there was also a marquee where a Birds of Prey Sanctuary was displaying some of their birds. P1050467__1439839905_66630__1439839905_91577

Included in the entry fee is admission to the Subtropical Gardens situated on the other side of the village. It was to there that we went next – but first it was time for some lunch.

Later we set off on a tour of the Gardens where they have plants, shrubs and trees from various parts of the world


At one point the gardens open out into a wide avenue stretching for two hundred or so yards, lined on each side by woodlands.P1050474__1439839956_15123__1439839956_83886                 

Unfortunately it is on a very steep slope. With the promise of a wonderful view over the Chesil Beach, I found it hard going to reach the top.  But it was certainly worth it. There was a splendid view over the Fleet; over the long ridge of Chesil Beach, right across to the Portland Peninsular.      


Once we were back in the Gardens I left the family to continue the circular walk around the Gardens whilst I made my way back to the comfort of the car. P1050480__1439840095_45099__1439840095_59306


Another reasonable day for weather so after meeting up we headed off in the direction of Sidmouth. First stop was at the Donkey Sanctuary. P1050491__1439981159_41423__1439981159_32999              

This charity which was first started in 1969 is now a huge undertaking which includes seven outlying farms looking after thousands of often abused and neglected donkeys and mules. Being in school holiday time the car parks were over-flowing. Not only adults but lots of children were finding it a lovely spot to visit. P1050501__1439840368_52360__1439840368_37061   

Several children were being given the opportunity to groom some of the animals. We were fortunate enough to find an unoccupied out-door picnic bench so we enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine.


 In the afternoon the family decided to do a walk along the cliff tops. It was arranged that we would meet up at Branscombe Beach carpark at around 3pm. So the girls and Sam set off on their four mile hike and I, after a while set off on the drive to the beach. Branscombe is one of those Devon villages set in a steep valley with almost every cottage having a roof of thatch. Eventually I found the steep, narrow road leading to the beach. The road ended at a field belonging to the beach cafe where for £1 an hour I could join several hundred other cars. With such a healthy income the owners could well afford the services of the attendant who made sure everyone had a valid ticket. I found it very pleasant sitting on a bench on the low cliff whilst I waited for the family to show up


But with no signs of them by 4.30 I was beginning to wonder whether I had driven to the correct beach. A mobile signal was non-existent so I was beginning to get a wee bit anxious. But not to worry – very soon Sam suddenly plonked himself beside me on the seat. They had not taken into account the steepness of some of the cliff footpaths.


A quick dip in the sea for one daughter, a cup of tea and we were ready to set off for home. For the evening meal we decided to visit the Royal Oak in Charmouth. Another nice pub but busier than the Five Bells.


A wet day today so we decided to visit the Beer Quarry Caves.P1050510__1439840502_27675__1439840502_27550       P1050514__1439840571_18307__1439840571_36814    These are vast underground workings stretch for a long way underground, consequently we were taken around in groups so as to avoid visitors getting lost. The first thing we saw on entering the first cave was the tracery from a 15th Century east window which was removed from a local church during ‘restoration workin Victorian times.       


It is made up of 58 pieces of Beer stone and was left abandoned in the churchyard until it was rescued in 1985 and rebuilt in its original home. The quarry was first worked more than 2000 years ago by the Romans and stone from here was used in a 2nd Century villa discovered at Seaton.      .P1050523__1439840784_99891__1439840784_69959      

 The quarry continued to produce stone all through the Norman and Medieval periods and there is evidence that Beer stone was used in several cathedrals in Southern England

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On the list is Exeter, Westminster Abbey and St. Pauls. Also Rochester Castle, Windsor Castle and London Bridge. It was even shipped to America where it was used in Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis.


A copy of a photograph showing the transport of stone in Victorian times.

The period of greatest activity was during the Middle Ages when quarry men, assisted by children worked 14 hour days with their work place lit only by candle light. The stone was sawn by hand so the atmosphere would be incredibly dusty and unhealthy. It was found that the stone quickly hardened upon exposure to air so the stonemasons also cut and chiseled the blocks underground as well. The quarry was last worked in the early 1900’s. Being on the coast, stories of smugglers using the caves as storage and being chased by excise men abound.


The rain started at around 3am – enough to make itself heard through my partly deaf ears. It was still hammering on the van roof at 10am. As we needed further supplies, a visit to Tesco filled in the morning. The rain continued during the afternoon so I stayed in the van, connected up my Huawei mobile Wifi and browsed the internet for a few hours. By early evening the rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to brighten. It was time to drive through some flooded country roads to the cottage for dinner. The cottage my daughters had booked is unusual in that it is built from the top down. That is to say the bedrooms and bathroom are on the ground floor, whilst the lounge, kitchen and cloakroom are on the first floor. When you see the views from the upstairs windows, one can appreciate the inspired decision to build it so. The views are superb.



Not only was this our last day in Dorset but also my daughter Angela’s big day. Her half-century birthday. We met in the cottage at 10.30 where daughter number two and grandson had overnight decorated with balloons and banners. Present opening, telephone calls and text messages took up most of the morning. After lunch I drove the family to Lyme Regis where they walked along the promenade and chose a venue for our evening meal. Meanwhile I had a leisurely afternoon on site. The pub for our meal, the Cobb Arms was well chosen for not only did it provide good food,P1050555__1439841149_38685__1439841149_64475          

it had some beautiful views across the bay and harbour.


Typically the day we had to go home was the brightest day of the week. The girls had to vacate by 10am and since it was such a nice day, we decided to meet up at West Bay and have a morning by the sea.. With mobile phones to hand we easily found each other and quickly selected a spot on the beach.

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After an early lunch it was time to say our farewells The girls to drive eastwards and me to return to Charmouth. Although I was booked to leave on Sunday morning I decided to start packing as soon as I got back to the site. Because of parking and busy day-time traffic close to my home, I prefer to arrive in the late evening. By 4.30pm I was ready to leave, and found the Dorset roads fairly quite – at least traveling homewards – not so the traffic arriving. With a stop at Winchester, I was home by 8pm.