Thursday, May 31, 2012

A real Corker of a day - 26 May 2012

This was the first weekend of summer weather, after all the cold and rain (we had been told it was, up to this week, the coldest May for 400 years). So we, and probably half of London, headed for the coast.

The particular place on the coast we planned to visit, was Abbotsbury, the only place in the world where you can walk amongst a colony of nesting mute swans. Originally an abbey, the swans were used for food but are, apparently, very unappetizing as they taste like mud. Today it is the only privately owned herd of swans in the country and the moulted feathers are sold to Lloyds of London to be made into quills for recording events in the Casualty Book of vessels that become total losses.
Between mid May and mid June, the signets are hatching, so it was the perfect time to visit. We hoped to be there for feeding time at mid-day, and timed it perfectly, despite taking the scenic route, which was half of two different circular tours.

The first tour was based around Shaftesbury, starting for us at Fonthill Bishop. The fascination of this part of the drive, is the gatehouse. This is a massive Gothic arch across the road, which is all that remains of a huge Gothic palace, built by William Beckford, who inherited his fortune age 10. He was too impatient to wait for his palace so corners were cut, and the lack of proper foundations caused the house to collapse (rather like a certain parable!).

Shaftesbury was the perfect morning tea stop, with lovely Tudor tearooms, abbey ruins, and picturesque cobbled Gold Hill.

We left this tour here, and travelled a few miles west to pick up another scenic tour based around Sherborne. We had visited this stunning town some years ago, but it is definitely worth another visit.

From here we went straight to the swannery, in time for feeding. There were lots of swans sitting on nests and family groups with plenty of newly hatched signets.

First stop on the new tour was Cerne Abbas. This is the second giant figure cut in a hill side near the south coast. Last year we visited the Long Man at Wilmington, about 120 miles (by road) east of here.

Just north of here was Mintern Gardens, worth a visit, as the rhododendrons were still looking good.

An amazing route along a collection of minor back country roads took us to another stunning stone house at Montacute. En route, we visited a castle-like church at Bradford Abbas, and the absolutely fabulous village of East Corker.

Montacute is also a lovely village, and the House was almost empty of visitors, they were obviously still at the coast! This Tudor house is wonderful, as are the large formal gardens.

It was time to enjoy the highlight of the tour, and visit Sherborne. We enjoyed walking around, and looking out unsuccessfully for a hotel with an available room. It was several villages later, before we found a hotel to stay in. The choice was good, The Talbot in Iwerne Minster had a comfortable room, and we enjoyed an excellent feast of tapas for dinner.

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