Cliffs of Southern England

It was a pretty shaky start to our great UK road trip… We hired the cheapest car available for 30 days – a manual. It’s been about five years since I’ve owned a car with a stick… when I sat in the drivers seat of our little Peugeot I noticed it had 6 gears and the ‘R’ for reverse was beside ‘1’ …it made for a nervous first start out of the rental carpark (hoping I wouldn’t suddenly reverse into the rental car parked behind and also praying I wouldn’t stall). Thankfully, I managed to go forward and exit through the boom gate, but then… just as I approached the main road, I went to indicate… and the wipers came on! So now my left hand was busy between changing gears and having to work the indicator. After surviving 12 busy roundabouts, in rather quick succession, we made it to the highway. We headed east, and within an hour, we pulled into the city of Cambridge. In a parking bay on the side of the road, I experimented with the ‘R’ beside ‘1’ (working out how to pull the leaver up first) and managed to reverse the car into a park. With the car parked up in town, we had 2 hours to explore Cambridge by foot. We walked through a park with lots of leafy green trees and people out enjoying the sunshine, the relax feeling of the place suited us perfectly. We spent most of our time exploring the Cambridge University grounds. We had our lunch next to Isaac Newton’s apple tree …but we weren’t struck by any world-changing epiphanies.

Back on the road, we had another hour to drive to our airbnb, located south of Norwich. The satnav directed us off the main highway and along some very narrow and windy country lanes. It quickly brought back my muscle memory of driving a manual (although all the roads were sealed and lacked the natural camber of the gravel roads I grew up on in New Zealand). We made it to our little Annex in the small village of Homersfield. The property had a little apple orchard and our host said we could help ourselves to the cooking apples which were falling off the tree. We spent the evening wandering around the village. There was a picturesque St. Mary’s Church and a woodlands walk nearby. It was pretty nice to have the whole place to ourselves. During our walk we also came across many blackberries! Later in the evening we cooked up the cooking apples and wild blackberries in a pot. Next, we used the oats and butter that we also found in our airbnb kitchen to make a freebie crumble for dessert…

The following morning, we woke up to rain. Accepting this may be a common occurrence during our UK travels, we set out on a drive north to the Norfolk Coast Area of Natural Beauty.

We took a small detour to Sandringham Castle, but when we arrived at the gates, there was a large queue and the fee was a bit steep for our interest. We took a photo of the imposing brick wall and continued on our way…

The sky was just clearing up as we drove into the coastal town of Hunstanton and we also managed to time a prime-location free parking spot, right next to the information centre. The lady inside the centre informed us that we were lucky and that we could leave our car there for the whole day. We ended up spending several hours in Hunstanton. First, we admired the beautiful gardens in the town square…

Next stop, was the main reason for our visit, the coastal cliffs. The Hunstanton Formation is a spectacular sight with two distinct layers; the bottom layer of red limestone (Lower Cretaceous) and the top layer of white chalk (Upper Cretaceous) …

Drawing a small crowd was a man determined to separate the red and white rocks… moving one rock at a time. The effect was quite satisfying…

We continued to walk along the coastal pathway. It was a rather windy place, which was perfect for the kite and wind surfers. We walked along the beach and fossicked through the rocks and were entertained by one particular kite surfer who regularly did impressive jumps into the air. The hot chocolates at the lighthouse cafe were calling our names on the return walk.

By the time we came back from our coastal walk, the tide had gone out, revealing the seaweed-covered rocks. So, we climbed back down the cliff for a final photoshoot.

We carried on our drive along the Norfolk coast. As we came around a bend, we saw a pond with lots of water birds having a swim. We pulled over and watched them for a few minutes. The star of the show was a swan who looked like she was off to the races with a fascinator in her hair…

Our next coastal stop was West Runton beach, known for fossil discoveries in the eroding cliff. The most famous fossil was a Mammoth. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any fossils, but we did find some pretty rocks (taking photos only) and enjoyed a long stroll along the beach towards Cromer’s Pier. It was getting late by the time we got back to the car, so we called it a day and drove back to our cosy little home for our last night the county of Suffolk.

We checked out in the morning and started to drive to our next destination, Dover. On the way we decided that we should probably join the National Trust, as the membership gains free entry into the many castles and heritage sites we could see on the map. The total cost for a dual membership was £120. With a quick look at the fees for the places of interest, we thought it would end up being worth it and we knew if we didn’t buy the memberships, we wouldn’t pay for any of the entries. We then downloaded the National Trust app and selected our first stop on the way to Dover, Cobham Wood and Mausoleum. This was a free site – so not the best start to making our money back… However, it was a nice halfway break to stretch the legs. We found some Highland cattle grazing in the woods and there were free apples for afternoon tea.

We made it to our Dover accommodation late in the evening; a self-contained unit on a rural property with a wickedly steep driveway to test my hill-start skills. There was a washing machine in our small kitchenette. The next morning, with our clothes on the line (whipping around in the strong wind), we headed for the Cliffs of Dover. This time our membership saved us the £3 parking fee and we could join a tunnel tour (usually £10 each). We started with a walk along the cliffs and decided to go down the track to the beach below, while the tide was still out. The path down to the beach ended with a tunnel through the cliff (recently re-opened after a cave in – great!) and then a ladder climb (about a 10m drop) …

Down on the beach, we explored a ship wreck and enjoyed a different perspective of the cliffs…

We made the more strenuous climb back up the top, then followed the coastline further for more dramatic shots…

We reached the tunnel entrance at 11:27am (and the tours were running on the half-hour and hour), so we decided we’d take the opportunity. We ended up being the only people around for the 11:30 tour and our National Trust volunteer was fantastic – his father was in the army and worked in the tunnels, so he was able to share personal stories and even showed us family photographs. It was a super interesting tour, and gave us an insight into the war…

Back above ground, we walked to the lighthouse on the point. Here we enjoyed lunch in a lovely English tearoom under the lighthouse…

On our return walk Kadin enjoyed sampling the blackberries along the pathway. We came across some ponies grazing in the fields and had some great views of Dover Castle too…

The next morning, we checked-out early and made our way to the southern coastline, via some more National Trust attractions (creating ourselves a 200mile/5hour route). Our first stop was the Sissinghurst Castle Gardens. A place I can remember seeing Graham on Better Homes and Gardens visiting a while back. Our membership saved us another £3 parking and £10 entry fee. The gardens did not disappoint, from the grand formal gardens, to the fruitful orchards, and the expansive vegetable gardens…

Not far down the road, we came to our next stop, Bodiam Castle. This 14th century, moated castle is begging to be photographed. This time we saved £3 parking and £20 entrance fee…

Next, we headed south for the coast and stopped by at the popular, Birling Gap. We felt this place was a mix of Hunstanton and Dover. We were able to utilise the National Trust parking (another £3), and enjoyed another coastal cliff walk before driving 2.5hours to reach our airbnb in Bournemouth (the start of the Jurassic Coast), before dark.

The next morning, we drove to the Jurassic Coast. Free parking is a hard thing to achieve along the coast, but we managed to gain a spot on the side of the road near Lulworth Cove. We started our morning with a coastal walk around the less popular side of the cove. The walkway passed through a military training ground (only open on weekends – luckily, we were visiting on a sunny Sunday). The views were absolutely stunning. We stopped for lunch with a view too!

A bit further along we finally found a path down to a beach (Mupe Bay). It was a beautiful pebble beach, with only a few other groups there too. We could see many more trampers tackling the route that continued up the steep hills ahead, but we opted to lay on the warm stones and Kadin even went for a quick dip too. We then walked back through the military road and treated ourselves to an ice cream in the Lulworth village.

After our ice-creams, we were re-energised and ready to tackle the climb over the more popular hill to Durdle-Door. Again, we were treated to more beautiful coastline…

The following day was raining …providing us with a guilt-free lazy day off. Although, it ended up being productive, as I sorted out a cancelled flight and we booked in more travel plans. The weather improved a bit the day after, ready for another big drive. Before departing, we treated our host’s pet rabbits to the left-overs of our salad ingredients…

Our first stop was Bath. We managed to get a 2-hour carpark in the centre of town and decided to go to the Roman Bath House first – Google suggested that people typically spend 2.5hours there. We lasted 45minutes. Again, confirming we aren’t really museum people. But here are some photos we took…

The town had lots of neat architecture but was too overcrowded …so, we didn’t need to worry about our ticket expiring. We drove up the hill for a few snaps of the city from above and then quickly aimed for the highway again…

Our last stop in Southern England was a spur of the moment decision when we saw a National Trust sign to Dyrham Park. Needing to stretch our legs, this was a perfect stop. This time our savings was £4 parking and a whopping £30 entry fee. Dyrham Park consists of a 17th century mansion, church, formal gardens and a deer park. We were told, on a clear day you can even spot Wales – our next destination…

Have fun at work!

Gemma

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