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East from Cornwall

Our primary reason for driving seven hundred miles through all weathers to reach CornwallJessie at home is to visit Jessie, my sole remaining aunt, who at 92 years of age is my family’s supreme matriarch. The remote cottage she inhabits is far older than she is but it has been extensively adapted and is able to provide for her every need, right down to the semi-tame pheasant who conveniently comes to her back door and takes away any stale bread she has lying about. Jessie feeding pheasant

The driveway of Jessie’s home, however, was not really built with campervans in mind and at first sight it appears that the gateposts are simply too close together to allow us to pull in clear of the narrow lane. With careful manoeuvring we soon realise that we can fit Ducky’s stylishly designed hind quarters through the gate with an inch to spare either side although a scraping noise tells me that in doing so our roof is making contact with an evil hedge built from coarse Cornish vegetation. With Jessie’s permission I begin to cut back the offending wildlife with pruners and shears in order to permit passage for our high-sided vehicle but I soon find myself under attack from some of the sharpest and most virulent flora on this planet. It is the hawthorn that does me most damage, fighting back with every spike, until my hands and arms are bleeding and scarred and I have thorns sticking out of me here, there and everywhere. But I win in the end, if success is determined by the damage I inflict on the hedge, and we are able to pull our van off the road far enough to allow us to spend a night there.

The lane outside her house is barely wide enough for our van to squeeze along although strangely Jessie refers to it as the ‘main road’, which makes us wonder what the minor roads are like nearby. Everywhere the trees are flush with chirping birds which Jessie has taken it upon herself to feed from her garden. At one time or other the majority of Cornwall’s garden bird population appears just outside her kitchen window and the antics of these creatures provide endless entertainment whilst washing up or cooking, such that her only complaint in life is that there is never enough time in the day to sit and watch them. Her advanced age and a good memory for detail allows her to look back to a time when the world did not operate in quite the same way as it does today, a viewpoint that is inevitably different from most of those around her. She is interested in everything and seems to welcome the opportunity to sit and talk, keeping us up till midnight when the tawny owl sings out from her birdsong clock. Sadly we take to the roads later the next day, leaving her to her birds. If she can remember my instructions on how to operate her computer she may be able to read about herself here; the Internet is one of the few things that arrived a little too late in her life for her to cope with easily.

Sunset at West Bay

Several days later we find ourselves on a visit to Dorset’s West Bay with Peter, one of Kate’s widely scattered siblings, and his wife Liz. This is a favourite haunt for them and we all need the fresh air after eating a substantial Bangladeshi meal with them the previous evening. In the interim Ducky has been fitted with a comfortable new front passenger seat, ordered some months ago and stored beneath the stairs in Peter and Liz’s home in Yeovil. We dump the old, rather modified, front passenger dual seat which cramped the spine of anyone sitting on it for any length of time and Kate now luxuriates in a stately posture next to me while I negotiate yet more narrow lanes down to the coast. Dorset lanes are not simply narrow, they are deep too, chasms formed by tall banks which are a serious challenge to drive along. I try to keep as far over to the left as I can without our nearside wing mirror ploughing a furrow through the hedgerow but don’t always succeed.

East Cliff West BaycropWe like West Bay so much that we decide to stay for a night in the enormous caravan park which dominates most of the town. We check in then are directed to pitch #100 which is high up on the hillside, affording a view towards the pale East Cliff and Portland Bill beyond. Some 185 million years ago the sand was being deposited here in multi-thousand year cycles over immense periods of time, forming the layered structure that is visible today. The jury still seems to be out on what caused the whole process to repeat so often, forming the successive layers, or how they came to be separated by harder bands of calcified rock, but the view from the sea is striking, especially when the sun casts shadows on the cliff. This being the Jurassic coast it is impossible to escape the geology here; it just jumps up and bites you.

The camp site is impressive. For only a small fee we take in the view, dine in our own home, we skip the evening Country and Western show as we felt our costumes might not be up to it but sleep in total peace then get up and have an early morning swim in a warm indoor pool before heading off the next day.

Britain is about to be hit by the first equinoctial gale of the season so a quick visit to Lyme Regis to brave the wind blasting across the Cobb seems appropriate before we retire to Yeovil where Peter and Liz have the kettle on the moment we come in the door.

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