There's more to life than computers, you know. In fact, our creations, however useful, do lock us away from the world around us, so in an attempt to encourage you to turn off your monitor go out and do something more interesting instead I've put together a guide to some of the places I've visited out there in the Real World where the air is clean (well, relatively) and the grass is green. Each link will take you to a photograph on my own website, a simple click on your browser's back button will return you here. The list is only small at the moment, as I don't get out as much as I'd like and I'm only including places that have really moved me, but it will grow as my wanderings increase, so bear with me (and my limited finances :-)
So, without further
ado, choose your destination... The Lake District,
Ravenscar & Robin Hood's Bay, Nidd
Gorge, Stump Cross Caverns, Glastonbury,
Nine Stones of Altarnun, Cape
Cornwall or Avebury...
Mountains, lots of lovely, breathtaking big ones. The Lake District is a small piece of heaven in depressingly flat England and I love it to death. I could quite happily spend the rest of my life sitting in the middle of a mountain range just looking and feeling fine. I'm going on holiday to Scotland this summer so expect a long and vociferous section on that soon!
Well, I tried really hard to pick out a few special places to visit in the Lakes, but the whole area is just so beautiful I couldn't do it. The best thing you can do is go here yourself and spend as much time as you can walking around. I haven't spent half as much time here as I'd like, but in the few days I have had I visited Thirlmere for a long and relaxing evening where I sat on the shore taking lots of photos of a rock I thought was really photogenic (I was wrong) throwing stones into the water and watching Helvellyn sit on the opposite side of the lake being big and looking at me like mountains do. Another stopping place was Castlerigg Stone Circle (OS ref NY293236), which is one of the most beautifully placed circles I've ever seen, sitting in the shadow of Blencathra. A word to the wise, though, visit late on as during the day it's usually covered with touristy types. I have to blushingly admit that I don't have any pictures of this circle yet as when I was there last I took the back off my camera before I'd rewound the film - hey, shut up! every photographer has to do that at least once in their career!
Brat's Hill (OS ref NY173023) is home to a set of three stone circles and though it's a heck of a climb up Boot Bank to the top the view once you get there is amazing - from the plateau you can see all the mountains in the area, including the Old Man of Coniston - and it's so quiet and peaceful that you can just forget about 'normal' existence for a while.
Also, Hardknott &
Passes are not to be missed and are probably the most hair-raising
drives you'll ever make - not to be attempted in any vehicle that doesn't
have serious pulling power, so don't try to make it in a clapped out old
camper running on three cylinders or you may well end up a steaming wreck
at the bottom of a crevasse like we almost did :-) The views are jaw-dropping,
mountains fall away and rise up all around you, the colours are amazing,
the textures the shapes, the immense space. I can understand why our ancestors
held mountains in such awe, I feel like dropping to my knees and worshipping
them myself when I'm here.
(Both are signposted once you're past Scarborough).
Ravenscar is owned by the National Trust and, in welcome comparison to nearby Scarborough, there's not a chip-shop or neon light in sight. It's one of those places that brings out the big kid in you because there are so many paths and cliffs and ruined buildings to explore. Here I've clambered down cliff-paths lined with Hawthorn to sit on the rocks above the sea and watch the waves crash into land, I've walked along the cliff-top to Robin Hood's Bay and scrabbled up bankings to look long and dreamily at beautiful (and somewhat alarmed :-) wild deer. I've peeked into the remains of the old alum mining buildings and I've tried my damnedest to get a decent photograph of the place, only to be confounded time and again by the weather, so please be gentle with the terrible photos linked here as the light was flat, colourless and horrible!
Hood's Bay is one of those places you could get away with calling
quaint. It's a tiny old fishing village with the steepest paths in the
world and the best beach for fossil hunting in the area. It's popular,
but not horribly so, and hasn't caved in to the tourism trade. If you
catch the tide when it's out you can sit for hours on the sand staring
out to sea (it'll probably be raining on you, but you won't care, trust
me :-) Again the single photo of this place was taken in the middle of
a rainstorm so don't expect a masterpiece!
Knaresborough is built atop an ancient volcano and was home, of course, to Old Mother Shipton, she who prophesied the internet amongst other things. If you want you could pay to visit her cave but I suggest instead that you drive out of town and visit Nidd Gorge (OS ref SE330585) instead. It's said she spent many a day wandering the banks of the river Nidd, which just goes to show she was a very sensible lady because it's lovely down here. Spring is the best time to go because the woodland along the river's banks is full of bluebells and wild garlic and the air is thick with pollen and seeds. The River Nidd itself is next only to the Wharfe in the scale of gorgeous Yorkshire rivers. In places the water is so deep it looks like ebony silk and in others it rushes along like a herd of crazed and frothing unicorns. A bit of advice for you - if the weather's been wet it gets really muddy down here so don't wear your Sunday best!
Cross Caverns, Near Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire Moors.
Oh, Glastonbury, wonderful Glastonbury. I could ramble on about this place for hours. Where do I start? One of the most important ancient holy centres of our land and the main reason why it was so heavily Christianised. Hence the tale of the Glastonbury Thorn, the sacred thorn tree growing atop Wearyall Hill that became instead Joseph of Arimathea's staff taken root. Hence the tale of the Christian St. Collen who lived in a hermitage at the foot of the Tor and was invited to feast with the fairy folk . He responded to their offer of friendship by insulting their king and tossing holy water upon the lot of them, so banishing them from this now supposedly Christian place. This no doubt springs from the tales that told of Glastonbury Tor as an entrance to Annwn, ruled by Gwynn Ap Nudd, the Lord of the Dead. Maybe this was why, in 1539, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey was hanged atop the Tor by order of the envious Henry VIII.
The red and white springs once flowed through the sacred groves of Glastonbury but only the red spring flows free now, rising in the Chalice Well Gardens on Chilkwell Street, which is a pretty enough place, with two great old Yew trees still standing in its grounds. One can't help but imagine how impressive this sacred grove must once have looked when all the trees still stood. The well is covered by a lid decorated with the Vesica Piscis design and if you shine a light down into the shaft you can see the cubicle set into its side where it's said the druids performed initiation rituals. Glastonbury Abbey is worth a visit, too, as it's built on very special ground and is quite an impressive old ruin. Also you must see the two great old Oak trees Gog and Magog at the back of The Old Oaks campsite - if you catch them in the evening sun they come alive with wise, gnarly old faces and wizened limbs.
Hill is a small, rounded mound lying next to the Tor, it's pretty
much ringed round with fencing by the farmer who grazes his livestock
there, but you can see it from the Tor and you can see Wearyall Hill,
too. It's curious, I think, to find these three hills here, almost as
though each one stands for part of the threefold goddess. Curious, too,
how they look so different from each place you choose to look. The Tor,
especially. Sometimes she is a conical
pyramid, others a humpback
whale, still others a smoothly undulating mass of stepped curves.
It makes me wonder how many standing stones and circles once stood around
here only to be felled by later hands. If you look closely about the Tor
you can see the odd remnant here and there. Whatever you do while you're
here, though, make sure you spend one evening atop the Tor and watch the
sun set and the night close in. It's an experience everyone should have
at least once in their lives.
Oh, and one final
thing, when you park in town make sure you go to the manically busy Abbey
car park, the attendant there puts on a great show directing cars into
three inch wide spaces. Hard to believe he's a stress counsellor when
he's not yelling at crap drivers :-)
Of all the circles
in Cornwall this is the loneliest one. There's no way to get to this other
than with an OS map, a compass, a good pair of boots and some determination.
Rest assured when you get here there'll be no ice-cream van and no tourists!
Stones (OS ref SX236782) are a beautifully askew set of stones standing
in smooth dip between the rolling, heather and gorse clad hills and moorland
of Bodmin, though curiously the area around and inside the circle is devoid
of these prickly and entangling growths. The only living creatures here
are the insects and a few grazing ponies. Peace
reigns, the land curves and cradles you and the sky watches in brilliant
blue. The stones lean as though sleeping and small pools of water gather
at their bases. The wildness, the sense of space and timelessness are
incredible here, just to have all this to yourself, no sound of cars,
just the world slowly turning and the land living beneath you. Sigh....
After doing Land's End, as we all must (never again, though. It's a loud, brash, commercialised hell-hole!) head up the coast a little to Cape Cornwall, which you can actually see from Land's End, ignore the tower on the cape that everyone else seems to find so fascinating, trek off across a field with a small ruined chapel called St Helen's sitting in it (worth a look as it's quite charming) go up the cliff to the right and you'll come across a little valley that's flooded with flowers, bees and dragonflies in summer. Go down this and there's a lovely rock-strewn beach just perfect for climbing and scrabbling, poking about in rock pools and generally being a big kid. I found a piece of amethyst here, still embedded in the rock it grew in, that is one of my prized possessions. Once you've finished playing, if the tide is still out, you can use the rocks as stepping stones to cross across the beach to the other side and back up to the car park again. You have to be careful, though, 'cos they're slippery, especially when you reach the seaweed strewn part. Navigating this bit is pure skill and you feel as smug as hell when you've done it :-) Then, when you're back in the car consider going to see Ballowall Barrow (OS ref SW355312) which is only a stone's throw away and is a damned impressive chambered cairn with a top view of the ocean!
(This is a major tourist area, so all places are signposted).
Avebury is one of those places whose power and presence socks you right in the face from the moment you arrive till the moment you leave. If you want to see the henge at its best get there in the morning when the sun's just risen and for a glorious couple of hours you'll have it all to yourself and can really appreciate the size of the stones and the sheer scale of the henge. You can also hug rocks to your heart's content without people looking at you like you're a nutter :-) When the tourists start arriving head off along the henge past two beautiful interlinked trees to Kennet Avenue, which stands at the foot of Waden Hill (you can't miss this on account of the fact that it always has a big crop circle on it!) This avenue is later than the other in the complex (Beckhampton) but it's the most complete as the other was almost totally demolished, save for two stones called Adam and Eve standing in a field a short distance from the henge. The rest suffered the fate of so many of the other stones here, toppled in the 18th century by various farmers and suchlike. Also worth a visit while the henge disappears under a mass of humanity is Silbury Hill, the old Goddess mound, where you can sit and see for miles and, if it's summertime, all the crop circles that appear with startling regularity around these parts. Then there's West Kennet Long Barrow where, legend has it, a ghostly priest accompanied by a white dog with red-tipped ears appears on Midsummer's Day. This probably illustrates the barrow's connections with the land of the dead, the red-eared dogs being fairy dogs and the priest a later Christian overlay. If you sit in the Barrow for a while the warmth and silence has a strange effect on you, you come out feeling so much calmer, even for having spent just a few minutes there and I think this is my favourite part of the whole Avebury area.
Of other places to see here there are so many. You could make the trip out to Windmill Hill to see the sadly denuded (due to farming) remains of the mysterious neolithic enclosures. You could drive out to Cherhill Down to see the massive remains of Oldbury Castle and the White Horse etched into the hillside. You could make your way to Overton Hill to stand in the empty but still magical site that once held The Sanctuary. You could visit the tree-covered East Kennet Long Barrow and hunt around for any one of other countless mounds and standing stones. I've been here two years in succession, I still haven't seen it all, I'm still not bored and I'll still go back for more every year that comes.
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isolated stone cottage with no mains water, invaded by mice, rats and swarms
of insects, a place where giant snowdrifts sever the electricity supply and
all connections with the outside world... This is what Lawrence and Christine
Dyer face when they start a new life up in the bleak, rocky hills of the English
A place of dreams and nightmares... or a dream come true?
Cover art by Lauren Halkon
For more, click here: English Country Cottage