4th – 8th October 2020, Henley on Thames
Having collected our new motorhome, a Bursner Lyseo Harmony we named her Lisa, and enjoyed five nights at a very comfortable site within easy walking distance of the picturesque centre of Henley on Thames. Trying out the new facilities was fun, having to remember which cupboard we’d put things in, that certain items now lived ‘outside’ in the garage, the habitation door is now on the driver’s side and remembering to put the electronic step out, but also retracting it before moving off again, it all took a bit of getting used to. There are many effects to be created with the numerous lighting options and corresponding switches, and it was a great joy of not having to make up beds and put them away on a daily basis. In fact, we are really pleased with our new home on wheels.
Back to Henley; what a beautiful place it is alongside the Thames having walks in either direction with views of the town and Leander Rowing Club, the home of the famous Henley Regattas. We saw plenty of rowing practice taking place and the coaches on bicycles with megaphones instructing their students. We walked north following the Thames along the path, we watched a procession of boats, the ducks, swans and geese, passing Temple Island and beautiful scenery on a circular walk, eating a picnic on a pile of logs while watching the sky darken dramatically. After a fortunate stop at a pretty pub called The Flower Pot, and the only one in the remote location, the heavens opened while we were enjoying our drinks before continuing afterwards when it dried up.
The following day heading south towards Lower Shiplake along the Thames Path, we noted many expensive riverside properties lining the banks before finding Marsh Lock and Weir. The brown water swirled under the long pedestrian walkway to an small narrow island from where you could see the great iron Watergate that control the flow of water. Leaving over a second walkway we entered onto a section of fields and a small wood before coming into Shiplake and headed for a drink at The Baskerville and then retraced our steps on this linear walk, pausing for our picnic by Marsh Weir.
In Henley we found a self guided walking tour directing us around all the main points of interest, with information about the different architecture and historical buildings. There is a nice open feel to the centre with a wide market area decorated with floral displays and trees, small cafes offering coffee with outside seating to relax for a while. Back on the banks of the Thames, we sat in the sunshine at the Angel on the Bridge for some lunch and watched life on the river float by, it was an idyllic way to pass the time. At a sometime in the future it would be great to return and see the Regatta.
14th – 19th October, Dulverton, Somerset
Located on the south east edge of Exmoor in a steeply sided and wood valley, mostly you walk is uphill out of the village, the result of which is increased fitness and beautiful views. This small place has everything for a wonderful trip in a good quality campsite; the centre of the village is pretty with a hotel and pubs, Thai restaurant, tea rooms, independent shops, antiques, art gallery, jewellery and craft shops.
Heading out uphill one morning, through the trees and along tracks we eventually came out of the woods onto the open expanse of Exmoor, complete with the native Exmoor ponies. The sun shone periodically and lit up the gorse and trees, it was fairly wet under foot with tussocks of grass making walking an effort in places. It took it’s toll on my boots which were disintegrating rapidly until I had to investigate the slapping noise accompanying each step. The sole of both boots had peeled off and was attached only by the toe end of the boots, it sounded like flip flops as we progressed onwards and necessitated me lifting my feet higher than normal which certainly made my legs ache.
Leaving the moors we arrived at Tarr Steps, the famous and ancient stone clapper bridge crossing the River Barle, it is made entirely from huge slabs of stone and very little mortar. It really is an amazing construction using additional huge stones to protect the sides and send the water underneath. After a 6 mile walk from the campsite, instead of stopping at the tea rooms for a rest, we made the mistake of crossing the bridge not realising that due to Covid restrictions, they had made it ‘one way only’. Now we had an extra 1.5 mile walk down one side of the river and back on the opposite side before getting back to the tea room! After only 30 minutes rest we had to set off back to the campsite, I flip-flopped my way uphill cursing my failing boots until a welcome distraction came when we heard red deer stags bellowing and saw them across the valley. What an amazing sound they make, it carries so far and we heard many more as we continued. For miles now I had been searching the hedges and fences for wire or string, eventually I spotted a farmer, begged for some bale string and I ‘mended’ my boots. I was very happy with the result and could now walk nearly normally again. However, our mood deteriorated as the distance continued. What should have been 6 miles back, albeit by a different route, turned into 8 miles, and when added to the lunchtime detour via the riverside walk, we were exhausted.
As some National Trust properties and grounds were again open, we booked a visit to Knightshayes Court and arrived early so we could park Lisa in a motorhome area, how very thoughtful of them. Our timed entrance meant there was hardly any waiting, the route through the ground floor rooms was well organised and we enjoyed time in each room without loads of other people to get in the way of photographs! It had a homely feel, nicely lit and not over-faced with information boards which had been removed to keep the visitors flowing through.
We were so lucky with the beautiful sunny day, the gardens were still full of colour and well kept. The walk across the lawns, by a lake and through the arboretum was truly amazing, the leaf colours were so vibrant against the backdrop of a clear blue sky, we spent ages going round it and found a perfect sunny bench to eat our picnic lunch.
We visited Dunster Castle on the north east edge of Exmoor on our route home. The castle is perched high on the rocks with lovely views from the top across farmland to the sea. The large stone castle had an octagonal tower with conical roof, the main building standing four storeys high with the roof having castellations surrounding its top.
Inside most rooms were really light and beautiful with high ceilings and detailed plasterwork, also a darker room with a huge fireplace and wood panels displaying portraits. There is a large garden room on the south side that retained any heat from the sun and was full of lush plants giving it a tropical feel. The enormous staircase was fantastically carved with the posts and hand rails made of oak. Each panel was made from a single plank of elm carved into fauna and flora with hunting scenes as was the fashion in those days. The bedrooms displayed how lavish the standard of life had become and the bathroom had the largest enamel bath I’d ever seen; it would have taken gallons to fill it and the cold sides would have taken the heat out the water.
Back outside we walked down through woods with large redwoods and a small stream. Leaving the grounds we went into the small village of Dunster to look at the numerous individual shops selling anything from artisan food and drinks to paintings and jewellery. The magnificent octagonal Yarn Market was originally built in the early 1600s and restored in the 1951, a lovely building constructed to shelter the wool traders that had historically made Dunster a centre for woollen clothing.
October allowed us to use Lisa at a couple of nice campsites, get used to the feeling of a bit more freedom and start planning where to go in November and December before Christmas. However, the dreaded Covid started on another rampant surge and that was the end of any plans, probably until 2021. So that’s all folks!