Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part in a week long series about our fantastic trip to England two weeks ago. If you’d like to see the rest of the posts about our journey, click here.
On Saturday I awoke in our warm, soft and comfortable bed in Updown Cottage. I woke up as the sun was coming up. I didn’t want to miss a beautiful Dorset sunrise as the Blackmore vale was filled with sunlight. That didn’t quite happen though, as it was raining and quite windy. But I still managed to take far too many pictures than were necessary of that early morning.
We’d had a little bit of trouble sleeping the night before. One thing we were not prepared for was just how quiet Shaftesbury is. We’re used to having a fan for white noise when we sleep, so it was hard to sleep with no background noise, other than silence. That first morning though – we’d slept with the windows open, so there was a lovely chill in the air and when we awoke, it was no longer silent. The air was filled with the sounds of birds, beginning their day.
After I’d had my fill of taking many pictures, I made my way down to the kitchen with the plan to make a delicious, slightly traditional English breakfast. Simon and Jane, the owners of Updown Cottage, had left us a welcome basket that featured everything that we would need to make a good breakfast. The kitchen features everything you need to cook breakfast, including an electric tea kettle and a beautiful AGA cooker.
So, I set about cooking breakfast on unfamiliar cookware. I had mild success, until I set the smoke alarm off. I had intended to make Jackie breakfast in bed, but the smoke alarm woke her up and she made her way down, hungry for some tea.
Speaking of tea, the welcome basket featured Devonshire Tea and I must say, it is quite possibly the best tea that I’ve ever had. I highly recommend giving it a go. I keep it in my desk at work to help remind me of that wonderful morning in Dorset.
I managed to finish cooking breakfast, but it was a little off, at least the eggs were. But it was edible and we enjoyed eating in the lovely dining room at Updown Cottage, at the Provincial style table that overlooks the lovely garden.
The plan for the day was simple, we wanted to enjoy ourselves and take it easy after the long days we’d just had. So we fancied a spot of shopping on the high street and a trip down to Weymouth to see Chesil Beach and the ocean. I’d never seen the ocean and since we had a car, it just made sense to drive on down and have a look.
Shopping on Shaftesbury High Street
The High Street had changed quite a bit since that last time we’d been there, 3 years ago. Some storefronts were empty, others had changed to new businesses. The Woolworths was gone, but the WH Smith was still there as were the country outfitters.
One of the goals of my trip was to find a proper English umbrella. Every umbrella I’ve bought this year has turned to crap with a single Chicago wind gust. Our umbrellas are cheap and are not made to last. Even the expensive ones are terrible. They’re all made in the same factory in China. I’d been on the lookout for a proper British Brolly the whole trip and the only one I’d found that was of quality was at Harrod’s and it was way more than I was willing to pay.
Luckily, there’s a good shop in Shaftesbury called Squires that sells typical English country menswear and they had a good selection of umbrellas and they were well priced. So, after much deliberation, I sprang for one and it has been a worthwhile investment. It is holding up well to Chicago wind gusts, it’s sturdy and keeps you dry.
We popped in and out of the stores and bought various bips and bobs. My favorite acquisition was a Dorset themed 2010 Calendar that features lovely images from all over northern Dorset throughout the year.
By far my favorite stop, though, was Gold Hill Books. I’m not sure when the last time Shaftesbury had a good bookstore was – I don’t think the WH Smith really counts – but it’s a lovely little shop right at the top of Gold Hill. If features a great selection of local books so if you’re interested in local history, it’s the place to stop. They also have many maps, guidebooks and an excellent selection of fiction. The shop owner is very helpful and she directed us towards some interesting tourist attractions in the area.
After we’d had our fill of shopping, we decided that it was a good time to journey down to the ocean. My goal was to see Chesil beach, it’s on my ‘Britain Bucket List.’ The recent book by the same name by Ian McEwan is one of my favorites.
We hopped into our little car, planned our route and headed down to Weymouth. The drive down was lovely, I just love driving on English country lanes. We got to see some lovely scenery and pass through some very beautiful villages. It was not a quick drive – it took almost an hour.
Our atlas did a good job of guiding us down to Weymouth, but once we got there, it was pretty much useless. So, we followed our noses and headed for what we thought could be the ocean. We passed through a roundabout, rounded and curve and there it was: the ocean.
It was so beautiful it took my breath away and almost reduced me to tears. We quickly got lost and thought we were heading back towards the city center, when in actuality we made a giant circle and ended up back where we started. We took a different way and pulled onto the promenade area of Weymouth, filled with gaming rooms, hotels and various other amusements.
The weather was atrocious, but Weymouth Harbor was still a beautiful sight. It was incredible to see the English channel lapping on the shore. We parked the car and admired the scenery. We wandered into the high street area, which was rather large and explored the various shops. We didn’t really buy anything though, they had many of the same shops that Shaftesbury did and really, we didn’t see anything worth buying.
In all honesty, Weymouth reminded us a lot of a town near our hometown called Michigan City. It’s a very tatty placed, a little rundown with lots of shopping, expansive beaches and a general tiredness about it. That’s exactly how I would describe Weymouth, though the weather probably had something to do with the feeling.
Still, Weymouth is an interesting place to visit. Sadly, we were out of time and it was very clear that we would not have time to see Chesil Beach. We had to get back to Shaftesbury to meet Simon and Jane for afternoon tea. So, we bid farewell to that interesting little seaside town and made our way back to Shaftesbury. Chesil Beach would just have to wait for another time.
Back to Shaftesbury
We made it back to Shaftesbury after dark and just in time to meet Simon and Jane at The Salt Cellar – an excellent little cafe at the top of Gold Hill. They have the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had!
Tea was lovely and it was great to chat with Simon and Jane, learn some local gossip and hear some of the history of the cottage. Simon is a bit of a techno geek and we chatted about that as well. We headed back to the cottage and visited some more while Simon checked on a leaking faucet (it wasn’t leaking, just stupid Americans not knowing how to work a British tap). It was a lovely evening and we can’t wait to see Simon and Jane again, so welcoming!
After they’d left, we had to sort out dinner for the evening. On their way out of town, Simon called us to let us know what restaurants were still open on a Saturday night in such a sleepy little village. We opted for an Italian Restaurant called Amore, located in an old church.
The place was lovely, they converted the old church into a a scene from Italy, with lovely paintings on the wall – it had the feeling of an authentic Italian courtyard. The place was even staffed by real Italians. My wife is of Italian descent, so she has a critical eye towards any food claiming to be Italian. The food was fantastically delicious and met her approval!
After dinner, we took the long way back to Updown Cottage and strolled through the village, stopping at the local Somerfield grocery store to pick up provisions for the next day’s breakfast. It was a very romantic walk, the air was filled with the rich smell of wood burning fireplaces. I was in my Anglophile Zen place and it was heaven. I did not want the evening to end because the next day, we would be leaving it.
After our stroll, we settled into the Cottage, engorged on the Harrod’s chocolates we bought a couple days before and discovered a hilarious new British Comedy (well new to us) called Peep Show. It was so funny, we ended up sitting and watching 5 episodes!
We turned in pretty late as Peep Show managed to keep us awake. I was a little sad, going to bed on our last night in England. It was strange to think that I would be going to sleep in Shaftesbury and the next night I would be going to sleep in my own bed, back home in Valparaiso, Indiana.
I didn’t want it to end. But one thing you learn in life is that all good things must come to an end.
Check back tomorrow for the chronicle of our journey to the airport and our bleary eyed homecoming.