This picture taken from The Heights Hotel shows Portland in the foreground, Portland Harbour, then Weymouth Harbour in the background. Chesil Beach is on the L. H. side.
Monday 8th September – With Peter Seymour, coach driver of Travel Wright, Newark it was a 9am start for 47 residents and friends of Winthorpe as we departed on a bright sunny morning, for a five-day holiday to Dorset. Following a coffee stop at Blooms Garden Centre, near Rugby we continued our journey to Newbury in Berkshire for a lunch stop and then to Dorset passing through some of England’s finest country side.
Dorset, whose county town is Dorchester, is in South West England on the English Channel coast. Dorset borders the counties of Devon in the west, Somerset in the north-west, Wiltshire in the north-east and Hampshire in the east. The landscape varies from chalk downs, steep limestone ridges and low lying clay valleys. The chalk downs and limestone hills providing pastures for sheep. The rich cow-grazed pastures of the valleys produce the Cheddar cheese for which the region is famous. Agriculture was traditionally its major industry but that is now in decline and tourism has now become important to its economy, I did see many fields of sweet corn, the climate obviously suits their growth. Most of the area is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural History with about three-quarters of its coastline a World Heritage Site, known as The Jurassic Coast.
Our stay for the next four nights was the 66-bedroom three-star Heights Hotel on the Isle of Portland near Weymouth. The hotel, with the nearby Cenotaph and the Sidon Memorial have commanding views of the town below, Portland and Weymouth Harbours and the Chesil Beach. Weymouth is almost always associated with Portland that is because The Isle of Portland is linked to the mainland by a thread of a road which must cross Ferry Bridge. This road, which runs alongside Chesil Beach is considered the finest barrier beach in the world. This limestone island, famous for its Portland stone and part of the Jurassic Coast, is 4 miles long by 1½ miles wide. Quarrying is still being carried out, leaving many disused stone quarries as nature reserves. The red and white lighthouse at Portland Bill (a narrow promontory or bill) is on the southern end of the Island and the most southernmost point of Dorset. It is one of the thirty-one sea areas in the BBC Weather Shipping Forecast.
Tuesday 9th September – Another bright sunny day for our visit to the Abbotsbury Swannery, a twenty minute coach ride from Weymouth. The two-acre site around the Fleet lagoon, protected from Lyme Bay by the Chesil Beach, was established by the Benedictine Monks, who, during the 1040’s, built a monastery at Abbotsbury. The monks farmed the swans to produce food for their lavish banquets. The monastery was destroyed in 1539 during the dissolution. Some of the ruins can still be seen. The Swannery, which is the only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world, had on the last count 602 swans. This number rises and falls with the swans going to and fro from the Somerset Levels. It was feeding time at twelve noon. Visitors were then invited to throw wheat seed amongst the swans. This caused such frenzy. The footpath, through the reed beds, had several small open fronted huts constructed of reeds. One hut contained a replica of the Barnes Wallis Bouncing Bomb. This bomb was tested on the Fleet during March 1943.
Leaving the Swannery on our way to the Sub-Tropical Gardens at Abbotsbury we passed through the village of Abbotsbury. The village comprises a long street of stone houses, many of which were thatched, with some dating back to the 16th century. We enjoyed it so much, as it was so pretty, that our coach driver drove three times through the village.
The Sub-Tropical Gardens are probable one of the best gardens of its kind in the world. Winner of many awards including the Chelsea and Hampton Court shows. Originated in 1765, this 20-acre site is home to many rare and exotic species of plants and trees from around the world. The gardens are in a wooded and sheltered valley, leading down towards the sea at Chesil Beach; this combination produces a microclimate in which delicate plants can flourish, and plants that would otherwise need a greenhouse can be grown outside. The area is like a maze that one needed a map, which I had. Thank goodness. There were many gardens, which included the Fern Garden, Jungle Glade, Bamboo Ride, the Sculptures and Ponds. The Walled Garden with its Sunken Lawn and Victorian Garden appealed to me.
Leaving Abbotsbury we stopped at Weymouth, a most beautiful seaside resort on a sheltered bay at the mouth of the River Wey. The town is blessed with the sunniest and warmest climates in the country. Weymouth offers a huge amount of activities and attractions for people of all ages. The promenade area was busy with holiday makers taking in the last spell of the sunshine. King George 111 came here on his summer visits. His statue and a replica of his bathing machine can be seen on the seafront. I was intrigued by the seven 16 metres (50 feet) lighting columns on the promenade. Consuming only 8 watts, each column projects a green laser over the beach and into the sea. The lights start half an hour after sunset and go on and off every six minutes through the evening and each time there is different pattern of lights. The harbour is home to the cross-channel ferries. I loved the place.
Wednesday 10th September – Another bright sunny day for our visit to Forde Abbey and Gardens, near Chard in Somerset. Owned by the Roper family, Forde Abbey was founded by the Cistercians Monks in 1140 and became one of the richest and most learned monasteries in the country. The church was demolished in the dissolution, but in 1649 the abbey was transformed into a magnificent commonwealth house. Before entering the house we walked through a walled kitchen garden boarded by large clumps of herbaceous plants. Their autumn colours and perfume in the bright sunshine were breathtaking. I walked around this garden three times admiring its tidy layout and the quality of the produce. Wonderful.
A tour around the 30-acre garden revealed many ponds, each cascading into each other. The Long Pond had a small circular temple at its head, the dome of this reflected in the water. There was a pagoda, close by to the Mermaid Pond,with pillars taken from the abbey church. The highlight of the garden visit was when the Centenary Fountain burst into life at one o’clock. In 2005, to celebrate 100 years of the Roper family at Forde Abbey, the Centenary Fountain was commissioned. Reaching a height of 160 feet, it is the highest powered fountain in the country. It reminded me of the gravity fed Emperor Fountain at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire which reached 300 feet, when it was installed in 1844. This year, (2014) after some modifications, two new nozzles have been manufactured. The narrower nozzle achieves the original height and the larger nozzle a height of 200 feet.
The one-hour tour of the house had many splendid Mortlake tapestries and ceilings from the 1650’s and the crucifixion painting dated the c1320. I loved the model of a Burmese fire engine on show in the Main Hall.
An afternoon tea stop was made at the coastal town of Seaton in Devon. Seaton has a unique tramway that runs for three miles along the Axe Estuary to the medieval market town of Colyton. The 2 feet 9 inches narrow gauge tramway uses overhead wires to carry a voltage of 120 volts D.C. This reminded me of my schoolboy days when I used to travel to school on a steam train and then complete the journey by a Sheffield tram. Locally, we had electric trolley buses. They had twin overhead cables and rubber wheels. The Good Old Days.
Thursday 11th September – Today it is steam railway day. Peter, our organizer, always tries to fit in a steam train journey on our holidays. Our journey was on the Swanage Steam Railway with its six miles of track. Boarding the train at Norden we travelled to Swanage where we alighted for coffee. Then back onto the train to Corfe Castle. The puffing of the engine, the bellowing smoke, the hot smell when close to the engine, the ‘clickety clack’ of the wheels, and beautiful scenery, was a joy to behold.
Corfe Castle, overlooking a picturesque village of the same name, stands on a hill in a long line of chalk hills, known as Purbeck Hills. Sitting on a hill top, it is one of the classic images of a medieval castle. The castle was built in the 11th century and is of stone. Various royalties have owned the castle until it was besieged by the Parliamentarians, during the 1645 Civil War. Attempts were made to completely demolish the castle, but these failed. The castle is now under the care of The National Trust. Some of the stone from the castle was used in the building of the village, making the village one of the most attractive places in Dorset.
Leaving Corfe Castle our last call was at Lulworth Cove. Lulworth Cove has a steep road leading down to a sandy beach. The beach with its rocky pools is almost encircled by pure white chalk cliffs. With the sun shining on the shallow water, the white cliffs give the sea a turquoise colour. The cove reminds me of Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire, although the road there has a much steeper gradient. Oh, what a day to remember.
Friday 12th September – Following a group photograph and a quick visit to the Portland Bill lighthouse, we began our long journey home. A lunch stop was made at the city of Worcester, the county town of Worcestershire. Overlooking the River Severn, which runs through the city, is the 12th century Anglican Cathedral who’s Chancel holds the tomb of King John. The Cathedral’s current 15 ringing bells were cast by John Taylor & Co., of Loughborough. The same firm who cast the bells that are in All Saints’ Church, Winthorpe. In front of the Cathedral is a statue of Elgar, the famous composer. Following a stop at a Leicester motorway service station we arrive back in Winthorpe at 5.45pm.
Pat Finn. Sept. 2014.
Wessex comprises of the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset and Dorset.
Whilst writing this article, I mentioned in the second paragraph, Cheddar cheese and chalk, I have given some thought about this. I wonder if the phrase ‘As different between chalk and cheese,’ comes from Wessex. A nice thought!
A special thanks to our holiday organizer Peter Foden, ably assisted by his wife Jean. Peter, you did us proud. You obviously had the prayer mat out as we also had excellent weather. Thank you Peter and Jean.
My final thanks go to Peter Seymour, our coach driver. His friendliness, humour, knowledge and good driving skills, helped to make this holiday both enjoyable and safe. Thank you Peter.
The total mileage for the holiday was 776 miles.
The Heights Hotel, Isle of Portland, Dorset - 8th Sept. 2014.
Feeding the swans at Abbotsbury, Dorset - 9th Sept. 2014.
A Cob and a Pen at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset - 9th Sept. 2014.
The Sub-Tropical Gardens, Abbotsbury, Dorset - 9th Sept. 2014.
The statue of King George 111 on the seafront, Weymouth, Dorset - 9th Sept. 2014.
This picture taken from the balcony of The Heights Hotel, Isle of Portland shows: The Cenotaph, Portland and Weymouth Harbours. Chesil Beach is on the L.H.side - 8.25pm, 9th Sept. 2014.
Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset - 10th Sept 2014.
The Walled Garden at Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset - 10th Sept. 2014.
The Centenery Fountain at Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset - 10th Sept. 2014.
Two nonagenarians relaxing under the Pagoda close to the Mermaid Pond, Forde Abbey, Chard, Somerset - 10th Sept. 2014.
Tramcar No 12, built in 1966, on the Seaton Tramway, Seaton, Devon - 10th Sept. 2014.
'The Waverly Boat Train' at Swanage Railway Station - 11th Sept. 2014.
Corfe Castle, Dorset - 11th Sept. 2014.
Corfe Castle, Dorset - 11th Sept. 2014.
A seaside artist at Lulworth Cove, Dorset - 11Sept. 2014.
Portland Bill lighthouse, Isle of Portland, Dorset - 12th Sept. 2014.
This Photograph was taken outside The Heights Hotel, Isle of Portland, Dorset - 12th Sept. 2014.