We Brits do get teased about our obsession with the weather. But, having just driven for nearly three hours through flooded roads and in driving rain that meant even on the motorway I had to slow down to 30 mph, I think we can be excused for wanting to talk about rainy summers! Actually, until a week or so ago there had been hardly any rain for weeks. My little patch of grass in the garden – hardly a lawn, even at its best – had turned desert brown; well-established shrubs needed to be watered. Then the heavens opened and rain has been falling relentlessly for days.
When I arranged a trip to Dorset for a couple of days to visit my good friends Lesley and Colin, I’d imagined sunny walks along the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site Jurassic Coast with its stunning scenery; trips to the beach. It turned out I had to take rain gear and waterproof boots, not to mention my very English large umbrella! Being kind friends though, Lesley and Colin did still take me out and about, showing me some sights of Dorset that I hadn’t visited on my last trip to them. And in the end, despite the rain, my full day with them yesterday turned out to be very good indeed and there was even the odd glimpse of sun.
I arrived early evening on Monday and because they’d been away for the weekend, my friends suggested a pub supper at their local: The Kings Arms. We had a great meal but unfortunately I wasn’t in blogging mode and took no photos, which was a shame, but another time I’m there I definitely will! It was the next afternoon that I went back – when some sun arrived – to take the photo above. It’s only a few hundred metres through the village of Portesham from my friends’ cottage – a lovely thatched cottage which is 230 years old. I had a gorgeous smoked salmon pâté to begin, followed by a very tasty Brazilian fish stew made with a mix of local Dorset fish, and we drank some excellent Sauvignon Blanc with it. When we’d finished eating, Colin moved over to the other side of the pub to join his ukulele group that meets there on Monday evenings, and then we were entertained with some great music and a bit of a singalong. Ukulele groups have become very popular here in UK in the last year or so and the instrument is even being taught in schools.
The view from my bedroom (above) wasn’t quite what I’d been hoping for in terms of weather when I woke yesterday morning, and rain was forecast for most of the day, but we put our holiday thinking hats on and Lesley came up with some suggestions. Lunch, it was decided, would be at The Cove Inn on the Isle of Portland, right by Chesil Beach. Fortunately the weather wasn’t as bad as January 2014 when this particular 18th century inn and Chesil Beach made news headlines when horrendous storms battered the area and a huge wave washed right over the pub.
The Isle of Portland is bigger than I was anticipating and we crossed a wide causeway in the car to reach it. Apparently during the great storm last year, the causeway was closed and thus Portland really did become an island again for a few days. To the right as we crossed over, we followed the line of Chesil Beach, a 29km long bank of shingle which protects the low-lying land from flooding. ‘Chesil’ comes from the Old English word ‘cisel’ meaning ‘shingle’. I know of the beach from Ian McEwan’s wonderful 2007 novel, On Chesil Beach, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize that year. Thomas Hardy named the beach ‘Dead Man’s Bay’ in his Dorset-based novels. Colin told me that smugglers who landed on the beach centuries ago in the dark of night could tell exactly where they were by the size of the shingle for at the island end the pieces of shingle are large, but as the beach curves into the mainland the shingle becomes more sand-like.
Inside, the inn is quintessentially English – just how people imagine an English pub. We had a wonderful view from a table by the window – or it would have been wonderful if the weather had been better!
I had some scallops for lunch while Lesley and Colin chose a tapas-style selection of fish.
The service was friendly and the food was nice, but not outstanding in the way the previous evening’s meal had been. Afterwards, we headed along the beach for a walk. It was grey and dull but now there was only a slight amount of rain. Walking back after a while, I said that there was a rather brooding and slightly sinister air to the view, reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s novels – although they of course were set in Cornwall and not Dorset.
Back in the car again, we headed for Portland Bill, which lies at the southern end of the island and is the southernmost point of Dorset. Its main attraction nowadays is the lighthouse. It’s the third of three in history and this one was built in 1906.
This is a notoriously dangerous bit of coastline for shipping and the existence of some kind of beacon there goes back to Roman days when fires were lit to warn ships of the dangerous rocks. In the late 16th century, during Elizabeth 1’s reign, warning lights there were an important part of strategy during the threat from the Spanish Armada.
As we drove back down towards the causeway to cross to the mainland again, the weather was brightening a little. We drove on to nearby Weymouth and through the town to the Oasis Café which is situated right on the beach.
Inside we found good coffee, tea and homemade cakes. It’s a brilliant location and would of course be even better on a sunny and warm day when you could sit outside. But when we left, it was indeed quite sunny and so we walked a little more.
Back ‘home’ the local ducks welcomed us back at the gate to the cottage.
Well looked after by the locals, the ducks and geese are a feature of village life. A goose has been acting as surrogate mother to some ducklings and could be seen leading them down the main road – sensibly on the pavement!
It’s amazing how a dull and disappointing day weatherise can turn into a lovely and very enjoyable day if you’re prepared to just go out and explore anyway – especially with good friends to act as your guide! But our exploring was done for the day. Lesley made a lovely Thai chicken curry for supper – perfect for the weather – and more wine was opened. By the time I set off home this morning, although it had been a trip of barely 48 hours away, it had felt like a great little holiday.