Clear sea and cobbles along Beer's harbour

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    Arriving in Beer in the evening, MrElaineous and I only had a brief moment to look around before settling into the B&B for the night. What we saw certainly seemed picturesque. There was a stream running along the village’s main road so you were never far from the burble of running water, and tidy stone cottages lined the roadways. It was a promising start.

    We set an alarm to propel us out of bed early the next day and it felt like we had the sleeping village all to ourselves to explore. We headed straight for Beer’s natural harbour, where the first thing that caught my eye was that there was no horizon. Silver water merged with grey clouds, and the perfectly still water looked more like a mirror than the sea. The second was the cobbles: rather than sand, the beach was composed of perfectly round stones that were both beautiful to look at and difficult to walk on as they shifted easily underfoot.

    Photographs of deck chairs, beach huts, and fishing boats along Beer's harbour

    The wave action was non-existent and looking at the crystal clear water against the shore made me feel like I was standing on the edge of a lake rather than the Atlantic. Yet there’s no escaping that the beach at Beer combines both seaside work and play, mixing fishing boats and coastal cruisers with deck chairs and beach huts. It’s possible to buy seafood fresh from local fisherman, or fish and chips at a standard beachside café; the local and the tourist are both catered for, and it was easy to see how this helped get Beer on the Village of the Year shortlist.

    From the beach we climbed to a nearby park that overlooks the sweep of the harbour and cliffs, and it was obvious why there were so many benches along the route—the views were still stunning, even as the mist began to roll in—and why each bench had its own dedication. While pausing at one I spotted a stone painted with what looked like the universe. On the back it read “If you like me, keep me”. So I did.

    Heading back to the B&B for breakfast and we were in for another treat. A hamper full of breakfast goodies had been delivered to our door, and we could settle in at our own table overlooking the High Street and dig in after working up an appetite during the walk. After a brief pause to rest and digest, it was time to head back out to explore further along the coast.

    Beer was well and truly awake now, with shops open and tourists following our previous footsteps down to the beach. But we were surprised to see that the weather had gotten worse since our earlier jaunt: the cliffs had disappeared in the mist and although we could walk to the nearby town of Seaton, we couldn’t actually see much of coast itself.

    Mist completely covering the harbour at Beer in the course of the morning.

    This stretch of English shoreline is actually quite special: Beer sits within the 95-mile long Jurassic coast, where you can find three geologic time periods on the surface: the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous period cover 185 million years of the earth’s history. The shifting geology shows how England changed from red sand desert to shallow sea, leaving a mark on the landscape that can still be read today. It is no wonder that this was England’s first natural World Heritage Site and is a site of international scientific interest.

    We were familiar with what is perhaps the coast’s best known location, the fossil-rich town of Lyme Regis, where ammonites can be found along the shore and the 19th-century fossil-hunter Mary Anning is rightly lionised for her role in palaeontology. [Fun fact: It is said that Mary was the inspiration for the tongue twister “She sells seashells by the seashore” as she was known for selling fossils to visitors to help support her family.]  But I was curious to learn more.

    We decided to visit the Seaton Jurassic exhibition. I have to admit my expectations were low; I thought it would be a little local museum with a few rocks and shells, maybe some posters of the local geology. How wrong I was.

    [Check back next week for Part 3, or sign up for the mailing list to have the latest blog post delivered directly to your inbox (and get a free eBook as a bonus!). Click here for Part 1 of the Bound for Beer series. ]


    Garden at the National Trust Coleridge Cottage

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    MrElaineous and I are teetotal or, as I like to put it, totally about tea. This means that there was a degree of irony in our recent trip to the Devon village of Beer as we wouldn’t be partaking in the eponymous beverage, but we did hope to enjoy everything this coastal hamlet had to offer.

    This was, I admit, another trip inspired by a television programme. Earlier in the year we caught Penelope Keith’s Village of the Year, in which 76 villages from across the United Kingdom squared off against each other for the coveted title. It was an oddly addicting programme as the presenters travelled across the country to showcase picture-perfect rows of houses, local cooking and crafts, and a few unique traditions (pie tossing festival anyone?), all of which are thriving thanks to a large dose of community spirit and civic pride. Beer was one of the four finalists and the one closest to us—a visit seemed an ideal way to kick off the summer season.

    Yet one unfortunate trend of our travels this year has been the tendency for sunshine and blue skies to only appear when we stay close to home. A room booked at a B&B? I can almost guarantee rain. This trip was no exception, with rain showers following us as we travelled south.

    However, we didn’t let that stop us from stopping at a small National Trust property as we headed towards Devon. We had visited the large stately homes in the area previously—Killerton and Knightshayes are both lovely, grand, and the type of place you need a full day to explore—and with only a few hours to kill we decided to give the Coleridge Cottage a try.

    The National Trust’s Coleridge Cottage and a local pub, named after Samuel Taylor Coleridge best known poem, the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

    As the name implies, this cottage once belonged to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, one of the founders of the British romantic poetry movement. Other members included William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, William Blake, and John Keats. Rather than “romantic” in the sense of love and relationships, the practitioners of this movement championed imagination, being in touch with nature, and expressing emotions through poetry.

    As we approached the cottage, I used my phone to find the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” online and recited it to MrElaineous. I hadn’t looked at it since high school, and yes, the rhymes are a bit dodgy and he does go on a bit (surely a few of the repeating stanzas could have been cut?), but I had forgotten how cinematic it was, which isn’t too shabby for a verse written in 1798. The ship of the dead calls to mind the Black Pearl from Pirates of the Caribbean, and his descriptions of Antarctic ice and the southern lights are familiar to anyone who has ever picked up a National Geographic. It has also entered popular culture through the phrase “water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink” and, of course, to have an albatross around one’s neck.

    Arriving at the house, we were greeted with one of those fantastic National Trust volunteers who seemed to know everything about the person and the property. Her introduction to Coleridge helped set the scene: his friendship with leading poets like Wordsworth, his fondness for walking holidays, family tragedy, the breakdown of his marriage, his opium addiction. He and fellow poet Robert Southey even hatched a plan to go to America and start a commune where they would grow their own food and revolutionise poetry. While the latter came to pass in its own way, it became clear throughout the visit that Coleridge would have made a poor farmer!

    Samuel Taylor Coleridge quote: "This is my botanical garden ... the weeds you see have taken liberty to grow, and I thought it unfair of me to prejudice the soil towards roses and strawberries."

    While Coleridge only lived in the cottage for three years, it was here that he wrote some of his best known poems, including “Rime”, “Christabel”, and “Kubla Khan”. His live-and-let-live philosophy, which comes across in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (“He prayeth well, who loveth well, Both man and bird and beast”), was on display during his time in the country. He allowed mice to run about freely, much to the disapproval of his wife, and his desire to keep a garden was scuppered by allowing weeds to grow equally with the fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

    As a property, there is very little that is original as the traditional two-up-two-down thatched cottage (literally two rooms downstairs and two upstairs) was enlarged and enclosed in the Victorian period. Yet it serves as a fantastic introduction to the man and the period, with reconstructions and more modern interpretation harmoniously living side by side. Bits of Coleridge’s poems and letters are used throughout, the literature breathing life into what could have been just another period piece.

    Three reconstructed rooms at the National Trust's Coleridge Cottage in Nether Stowey.

    The garden of the cottage was lovely, bursting with flowers and abuzz with bees. Much of it was turned over to wildflowers and, at the very end, sat a small woven bower that had pride of place. While at the cottage, Coleridge wrote the poem “The lime-tree bower my prison” about sitting there while missing a walking trip with his friends; with a bit of National Trust magic and the press of a button, we could listen to the poem read aloud while in the place that inspired it. The bower turned into our prison for a time as well—what had been a drizzle began to come down harder and we had a decision to make: stay within or make a dash for the car.

    We chose the latter and it turned out to be the right choice because, soon after, the first wave of torrential rain that was to hit the UK that evening descended on us. A garden bower wouldn’t have been enough to keep us dry, but now we were safely on the road to Beer and an even further leap back in time.

    Check back next week for Part 2, or sign up to the mailing list to have it delivered directly to your inbox.

    Flowers at the National Trust’s Coleridge Cottage.


    Pink flowers in the garden of the National Trust's Coleridge Cottage

    Well, it is, sort of. Over the past week I’ve been busy moving the MissElaineous Blog from one system to another, and I am very pleased to announce that it is now settling into its new home at https://miss-elaineous.com. Please feel free to have a look around at the shiny new features: different branding! a search box that works! an easy-to-access archive! The latter two are in the sidebar, and if there are other features you would find useful, please let me know.

    However, I don’t know if a website can ever truly be described as “done”. There is always something new to try, an idea to implement, or just tweaking the current format to get it one step closer to the imagined ideal. So there are a few things you might still notice amiss, such as formatting, internal links, and the complete categorization of past blog posts. This is something that I am currently working on, but if you have problems with anything else, please drop me a line so I can fix it.

    That drill I mentioned? Before I get fully back into the swing of things, I wanted to check that the mailing list was working properly. All going well, the next new blog post will be up on Thursday with a journey into the past, poetry, and Beer. Here’s a sneak peek …

    A visit to the National Trust's Coleridge Cottage


    Castle Drogo Under Construction

    Castle Drogo. The name sounds like something out of an 18th century Gothic novel, perhaps created for a work of fiction by Ann Radcliffe. It is, however, a very real place and one built just a century ago: completed in 1930, it is the last castle constructed in England. The owner was Julius Drewe, a self-made millionaire who developed the Home and Colonial Stores, a precursor to the modern retail store, and its overwhelming success meant he could retire from active business at the age of 33. Drewe decided to take the saying “An Englishman’s home is his castle” to the extreme and create an “ancestral” family seat. He chose an area in the Devon countryside because he believed he was descended from the medieval landowner, the Norman baron Drogo de Teigne (also known as Drewe de Teignton), and he selected the leading architect of the day to bring his medieval fantasy to life from the local Dartmoor granite.

    This was Sir Edwin Lutyens (pronounced Lutchins), who was renowned throughout the early 20th century for his designs of stately homes, buildings, and monuments. His best known works include the extensive Viceroy’s Palace in New Delhi and the Cenotaph in London, which was designated the UK’s official national war memorial. It seemed like it should have been the perfect marriage of client and designer, but there was one little hitch: Drewe and Lutyens didn’t get on—Drewe wanted a “proper” Norman castle, Lutyens a “lovable house”.

    Four images of Castle Drogo

    Drewe’s insistence on adhering to historically accurate (but impractical) architecture would cause problems: the castle was to have a flat roof and no rain guttering or window sills. To seal the roof, Lutyens decided to experiment with a new, untested material—asphalt. Although he had seen it successfully used in the warmth of the Caribbean, the British climate and Castle Drogo’s location—perched 250 metres feet above sea level on the edge of the Teign Gorge—meant the asphalt layer cracked in temperature fluctuations and severe weather. The result of all this? Castle Drogo leaked from the very beginning (and I haven’t even mentioned the problems with the windows—there are over 900 of them and they also sprung leaks over time).

    Six years ago, the National Trust began a massive construction project to make Castle Drogo watertight. Costing over £13 million, it should see this modern take on a medieval castle last well into the future. The scaffolding is due to come down next year and, in the meantime, visitors to Castle Drogo can get a view of the incredible construction project that has seen each granite roof slab removed, the full castle repointed with lime mortar, and each of those 913 windows refurbished and resealed.

    Two images of Castle Drogo under construction

    The MissElaineous Blog has been ticking along for a few years now itself. It doesn’t leak, but if it were a house it would be the equivalent of a one-bedroom studio flat. I’m starting to feel I’ve outgrown the current system and there is a lot more I would like to offer readers, so I will be taking the rather drastic step of moving everything to a new platform and renovating the blog.

    I am anticipating that this will take slightly less time than the six years that Castle Drogo has been under construction but I will not be posting anything new on the blog until the migration is complete. The daily photos, however, will continue over on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, so feel free to follow along on your chosen social media channel. If you’re not already on the mailing list, please consider signing up to be notified when the next new post is ready. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the things that I’ll be writing about once the new blog is up and running …

    Images of Beer and Lytes Cary Manor


    National Trust's Croome Court, a British stately home in the English countryside.

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    The first thing that caught my eye upon arriving at Croome was the property’s tagline: expect the unexpected. Well, we certainly hadn’t expected to go there, so it was a promising start. We also discovered that Croome Court was actually “Capability” Brown’s first major commission and he had designed the house as well, so it was beginning to feel like we were stalking him through time.

    The property continued to live up to its tagline, with the first unexpected sight being the vast open expanse of land and impressive mansion house as you emerge from a short woodland walk. This was closely followed by a tree enclosed in a mock-temple, a modern art project called Adam Speaks. Robert Adam was another 18th-century luminary, famous for his Neo-classical architecture and interior design. Croome was also his first commission so it was clear that the original owner, the 6th Earl of Coventry, was not only happy to take risks on fresh talent in order to follow the latest trends, but he also had very good taste in designers.

    National Trust's Croome Court, a British stately home in the English countryside.

    The house itself has been through a lot since the time of the 6th Earl. Much of its richly decorated interiors were sold off by the family to pay debts, and World War II saw it requisitioned by the Royal Air Force. It then served as a Catholic boys’ school for a time before becoming the UK headquarters for the Hare Krishna movement. After that it went through a rapid procession of owners who tried different things: conference venue, private flats, restaurant. It even became a private home again for a time before finally ending up in the hands of the National Trust.

    The Trust has the unenviable job of restoring the property, and this is something that they are doing slowly while ensuring that the full story of Croome Court can still be seen and heard. This means that things are done in a slightly different way compared to other National Trust properties: modern art exhibitions can be found throughout the house, and they have an artist-in-residence whose plein air paintings filled one room. They even had former students of the boys’ school providing tours, giving their perspective of a place that dominated their childhoods.

    The Interior of the National Trust's Croome Court, a British stately home in the English countryside.

    For me, the most memorable part of the interior was the exhibit called Archive. It was formed out of curling shelves of archival boxes, some of which could be opened to reveal artefacts or stories from Croome’s long and varied history. Standing in the centre of the spiral and looking up into a reflective surface showed the rows of boxes stretching almost to infinity, and put the viewer directly into the heart of it. You were now part of the story.

    National Trust's Croome Court's Archive exhibit

    After touring the house, we ventured out into the garden. Although the Croome-branded deck chairs weren’t needed on such a grey day, there were still plenty of unexpected sights to see, from a small patch of bluebells to a grotto guarded by Sabrina, the goddess of the river Severn. Despite being “Capability” Brown’s first commission, the landscape felt both adventurous and assured, from the use of temples and follies to help bring the Arcadian vision to life, to the island developed in the middle of the lake that showed off Brown’s skill as a water engineer. Then there was the river, dug by hand, that became a trademark illusion used in many of his properties: through the clever use of design, it’s made to look as if it continues beyond the line of sight, but in reality comes to an abrupt end.

    The garden at the National Trust's Croome Court, a British stately home in the English countryside designed by Lancelot "Capability" Brown.

    That evening we ventured out of the B&B for the first proper dinner away and headed to the town of Great Malvern, a journey that took us through winding roads and incredible scenery with views across the surrounding fields. The Malvern Hills are designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and they more than lived up to this description. But there was one more unexpected feature awaiting us.

    After a drizzly, grey day without any sign of sunshine or blue sky, the sun made a brief, bright appearance as it was setting, casting the entire countryside in stunning golden hour light that made both MrElaineous and me gasp as we came around a corner. We quickly found a place to park on a side street to photograph the view before heading on our way, but a few minutes later the scenery got even better and we squeezed the car into a tiny layby to fully take in the view over the valley.

    Views of sunset over the Malvern Hills, England.

    The next day it was time to pack up and head home, which is more reality, less reality programming. However, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised throughout this entire trip. Taking a chance on a random bed and breakfast on the basis of a television show is not my usual way of travelling, but it introduced me to lovely people and historic properties in a breath-taking part of the country. Who says there’s never anything good on TV?

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    MissElaineous Blog: Escape & Explore & Discover & Enjoy