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Thursday, September 21, 2017

The English Countryside

The English countryside has really earned its reputation. I never really gave it much thought even when I was there back in 2010... and, unfortunately, you can really tell that by my lack of exposition. Well, I'm happy to say that my most recent visit has given me more appreciation for the this part of the world. I think it definitely helps when you have a good local friend to share the experience with. Also, as Steve once suggested, being more descriptive definitely makes a big difference as well.

I arrived at Gatwick, a cheaper airport outside of London, on Thursday, September 21st. Steve was there waiting with a rental car ready to start our journey. We didn't waste any time getting to our first stop - Beachy Head.

Beachy Head is located at the easternmost end of the South Downs in the South of England. It's a lot like the White Cliffs of Dover but, in my opinion, way better. This is because it's less touristy and, as Steve explained, you actually get to see more of the cliffs! I suppose for some the only downside of it being less touristy is that perhaps it has less security. Apparently, it's been a pretty popular spot for driving one's car off the edge. I don't know if that's still the case today but still it seems strange that they haven't done anything about it.

The cliffs themselves are really interesting as they're made of chalk, and the chalk itself comes from seashells. The story goes that the chalk was formed 65 million years ago (Cretaceous Period) when dinosaurs roamed the land. Although, I guess the actual dinosaur fossils themselves are a bit older as this stop is just 140 miles shy of the beginning of what they call the Jurassic Coast (80-130 mya). But I digress.

A few miles down from Beachy Head is a place called Birling Gap. Here we were able to take a large metal staircase down to the pebbly beach below the cliffs. The pebbles themselves are notable as they change consistently as you get further down the coast. In fact, thanks to this consistency, sailors of old were able to figure out their geographic location simply by looking at the pebbles on the beach! Steve and I stopped here for a pot of proper English tea and a cake. Maybe I was just hungry, but I thought it was all pretty exceptional.

Our next stop along the way was about 25 miles away, in Brighton. There, we took a walk down to the pier to visit with my friend Robert who I met back in 2010 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and again in Australia two years later.

Robert joined us for the next leg of our journey as we stopped to see Arundel castle. We didn't really manage to get all that close to the castle, but we did have a little walk around the town which was nice.

A little further down the way, we dropped Robert off so he could catch a bus back to Brighton. We then continued to Poole in order to catch the ferry there. The ferry was actually a bit different than any I'd ever seen before - this one was pulled across by a massive chain! It seems the tides are a bit strong for controlling the boat manually and, because it's such a short distance, the chain's weight doesn't create much of a problem. Once on the other side, we drove through Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve to a small village called Swanage - famous for it's fish 'n' chips.

After enjoying our generous portions of the coastal delicacy, we made our way to Corfe Castle. Two things that really stood out there were, of course, the castle up on the hill over the village with its seemingly precarious Jenga-style build, and the ubiquitous stone slate roofing on all the buildings. This stone slate roofing is actually rather unique as it requires traditional materials and techniques to maintain.

We walked around this beautiful village (I highly recommend it) for a bit before finally calling it a day. And what an amazing day it had been! We definitely didn't expect the weather to cooperate so well and, as I mentioned at the start, the quality of this experience was well beyond what I had ever hoped for. A few miles down the road, we pulled up to our youth hostel in Lulworth - the first stop on our next day's journey down the aforementioned Jurassic Coast.

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