At the end of June with Greek lessons finally finished for the academic year, Sheila and I set off for two weeks in the UK. At Gatwick we separated, with Sheila taking a flight to Inverness to do her own thing for two weeks and me meeting up with Dave Kendall, an old friend from school days, for ten days in deepest Dorset. Sheila will be writing separately about her time in Scotland and northern England, so what follows is an account of my trip with Dave and a few days at the end in Wivenhoe, Essex with another old friend, Pat Marsden.
Dave had booked us into an AirB&B cottage in the village of Marnhull which is situated more or less in the middle of the Blackmore Vale in North Dorset and which also happens to be the location where his paternal ancestors originated.
It is also just a few miles from the village of Templecombe, over the county boundary in Somerset, where he and I spent our formative years!
So as can be imagined, in addition to a lot of catching up (he lives in Sweden and we don’t see each other that often), there were some trips down memory lane planned as well as a gentle degree of ancestor hunting.
Our cottage was originally the barrell store for an old brewery which closed in 1919 apparently and may well have brewed the ale for the local pub where one of Dave’s ancestors was the publican.
This gave us a perfect excuse for an early visit to sample the local brew! However, our first day simply involved a scouting visit to the local Family History Centre in Sherborne to enable us to plan a longer day there, later in the week. The weather was beautiful and in the afternoon we took a walk around the straggling village to get our bearings.
Over the following week or so, we visited a number of churches and abbeys (a particular interest of Dave’s), went sight-seeing to a number of beauty spots both in Dorset and Somerset and checked out the ancestors:
Churches and Abbeys
Dave was very keen to see the now de-consecrated Norman church at Winterborne Tomson so one fine day, we set out on a quest. It took a bit of locating even with a map and directions but find it we did and what a gem! Take a look if you are ever that way, I guarantee that you have rarely seen the like!
Another day we visited the ruins of Shaftesbury Abbey. This must have been a wonderful building before the Dissolution and the hour or so we were there, was one of the highlights of my trip. It was just so peaceful. Later we saw Muchelney Abbey in Somerset and again, I was struck by the sheer beauty of the location. Here you can see my contemplative but scary Benedictine friend:
Hitherto, I had always thought that breaking the power of the Church was, on the whole, a good thing but having now seen what at least two of these buildings would have looked like, I now have to admit that we lost so much of our heritage to Henry’s greed and sheer vandalism.
Sherborne Abbey was saved from his avarice by being purchased for use as the parish church by the townspeople, with the monastic buildings eventually becoming Sherborne School.
For old time;s sake, we decided on a visit to Swanage on the Dorset coast and had the obligatory paddle to prove to Sheila that the weather in the West Country really was much better than Scotland!
Then it was off for a pub lunch before we went to Durdle Door
and then to Portland Bill for a breezy selfie!
Another day, we climbed to the top of Cadbury Castle, a Bronze and Iron Age hill fort, which is thought by many to be the site of King Arthur’s Camelot. Difficult for two old fogeys to make the top and even more difficult to get a photo which does it justice – nice views though and a lovely path up!
And a highlight of the trip was visiting the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum in Dorset.
One morning we visited the Shillingstone Railway Centre on the old Somerset & Dorset line and whilst there was not much that related to the old S&D (on which my grandfather and uncle were drivers and on which Dave and I used to go to school), we enjoyed the experience and saw some interesting old WW2 steam locos from the US.
And then unexpectedly, we saw a Southern Railway ‘Battle of Britain’ class 4-6-2 at Swanage which brought back happy memories of childhood trainspotting at Templecombe!
At the Family History Centre, Dave managed to locate records from our old school dating from the early 1950’s, which fortunately did not include either of us but did have my Dad, who also went to Sexey’s Bruton.
And this was where we lived in Templecombe.
We also visited Almer Church in Dorset where my namesake, John Burt, my 4x great grandfather, married Jane Terrell over 240 years ago and I stood on the spot where he would have taken his wedding vows – quite a moving experience!
We also visited the village where I think said John was born about 1754 – the son of Benjamin Burt and Mary Newman. They were married in Child Okeford Church in 1730.
We had a day in Mells, where I lived as a child and where my parents and sisters are buried, meeting Dave’s brother and his wife for lunch at ‘The Talbot’ just round the corner from where the house where we stayed.
It was a great trip.
Thanks for your company, navigation (in your own inimitable style), general good cheer, all round knowledge of the area and for making the arrangements for the Air B&B, Dave!
We had a very pleasant lunch with Liz Turner in Wiltshire, took the car back to Gatwick and went our separate ways.
After a night in London with James, I spent three days in Wivenhoe with an old friend, Pat Marsden. It was good to spend some time with her, catching up with our lives and on what has been happening in Wivenhoe in my absence.
The weather continued to be generally fine so we managed to take in a number of walks along the river, although we did get stuck in ‘The Black Buoy’ for an extended lunch one day, which was no great hardship as they were serving a very pleasant dark ‘Mild’ which took me back to student days at Keele.
We also had a meal out at a Syrian Vegan restaurant which has opened up recently. I hadn’t realised that it was vegan but have to admit that the platter, of what was in effect a selection of meze, was delicious and very reminiscent of Cretan starters.
Pat also cooked a number of tasty meals on the occasions when we decided to stay in and continue the long discussions on a complete range of topics, from family history through to community action, gardening, books and films and then back to Wivenhoe ‘characters’. I can’t remember when I have talked so much for so long! Thanks Pat.
Then it was time to return to London, meet up with Sheila and spend one last night with James in Battersea, before we returned to Crete for the summer.
It was a memorable two weeks, with England looking at its best.