8 Years of Blogging + A 2011 Coastal Tour of England

Last Saturday marked eight years since I began blogging, so I thought it was probably time for me to emerge from hibernation and do a post again. I wanted to celebrate by doing a throwback post to just before I started blogging in 2013; however, I was so desperate to try to populate my blog with content at the start that I was posting nearly every day and working my way through every museum I had visited even semi-recently. This means I had to go all the way back to 2011 to find a trip that I hadn’t already blogged about, so here we are! Back in April 2011, Marcus and I embarked on a coastal tour of the Isle of Wight and southwest England – I seem to recollect that this was because Will and Kate got married then and everybody got an extra bank holiday, so we decided to spend ours heading to some parts of England I hadn’t yet been to at that point in time. Because it was so long ago and we didn’t take nearly as many photos as we would on a trip now, some of my memories are vague, so I’ve decided to do it more as a pictorial tour with captions rather than my usual lengthy review. Not to worry, as the bad bits are vividly seared into my mind!

We started by driving to Portsmouth to catch a ferry to the Isle of Wight so we’d be able to take our car with us. Based on subsequent experiences with the Isle of Wight, I would say this was definitely the way to do it, as their public transport system is unreliable at best, and downright terrifying at worst (the bus driver on the Osborne House route was a complete maniac).

The first stop of the Isle of Wight was the surprisingly excellent Donald McGill Museum. McGill was an illustrator who created many of the iconic saucy British seaside postcards, which lined the walls of this small museum. I was clearly quite taken with his novelty scales, which showed me to be somewhere between the weight of a sickly old man and a bathing beauty.

Here is me and my terrible hair at the time (reminder to self: this is why you should NOT cut bangs again) at the Garlic Farm, one of the many “must see destinations” on the Isle of Wight (said only semi-sarcastically). This is basically a glorified farm shop selling garlic-related products, and we never even got to try their “world’s best” garlic bread, since it was the take and bake kind and what with being on holiday and all, we didn’t have access to an oven until after it expired. The rhubarb, pear, and garlic ice cream was actually quite alright though.

We stayed in Shanklin, where you can see me doing what is clearly my standard “grimacing whilst holding up food” pose with some seaside treats (Mr. Whippy and a “green” flavoured slushy). This was memorable solely because of how revolting our hotel was. It was a particularly grim traditional British seaside hotel with ancient floral coverings on everything and dubious cleanliness – Marcus had to pull out a clump of some previous guest’s hair clogging up our sink that was so large I still gag thinking about him touching it with his bare hands. It was enough to put me off seaside “resorts” for life, and I genuinely think I have not stayed in another such hotel since this trip, though I have stayed in many awful British non-seaside hotels.

After that charming hotel experience, we headed up to the Donkey Sanctuary, which is THE place to see big donkey dicks (if you’re into that kind of thing) as we found out. I decided to spare you by not including the photo of the giant black erect donkey penises (they were so obscene I was legitimately worried my post would get reported), but it was essentially just us walking around and being annoyed that you couldn’t feed or pet the donkeys, though we admittedly didn’t much want to once we noticed their visible arousal (in retrospect, considering the degrees of tumescence on show, this may have been more for our protection than the donkeys’).

Then there was Alum Bay and the Needles, where I was freshly annoyed by the inability of everyone on the boat except us to follow basic instructions designed to keep them from falling overboard. Oh, and we made a sand bell (which involves filling a glass bell with layers of different coloured sand, though they also had more modern (ugly) designs like teddy bears), which is apparently an Alum Bay tradition dating back to Victorian times. We still have the bell, so that’s something.

We spent the night in Weymouth after this, I think because they had some sort of artisan bakery where we could get breakfast (Marcus knows me well) but I seem to remember it being underwhelming. However, this statue of George III is nothing short of fabulous. I’m not sure what he did for Weymouth to deserve this honour, but it must have been amazing!

I swear this trip gets much less phallic after this, but here is a cock rock from the incredible Museum of Witchcraft in beautiful Boscastle. This place was dark, creepy, old school, and all about witchcraft, so what’s not to love? I very much want to go back here when they reopen and do a proper post about it, because this place deserves one.

After this, we drove out to Penzance to spend a couple of nights there in what was probably the only nice B&B I have ever stayed in (very plush carpets and one of those really high comfy beds). Unfortunately, the niceness of our room was marred somewhat by the literal crappiness of Penzance. We happened to be staying there at the time of the 2011 MasterChef final, which I was very invested in, so we set out that night for an earlyish dinner in town to be sure to be back in time to watch it. Our B&B was a couple of miles from the centre of town, so it was quite a walk. As we were walking down the road in the middle of town, nearly at the pizza place we had decided to dine at, I obviously strayed too near the overhang of a building, and the world’s largest, nastiest plop of bird crap fell on my head. I say bird, but part of me thinks it might have been someone doing a “Gardez l’eau” with a chamberpot, because this shit looked human. I have never seen brown bird crap before, and this most definitely was, but maybe it was just from an unusually large seagull who is a fellow IBS sufferer. The poop was everywhere – in my hair, in the hood of my hoodie, down the side of my face, everywhere. Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I am not unfamiliar with being covered in crap on the streets of a city, but it’s normally my own and in my pants, where it (sort of) belongs. However, there was no shitting way (pun intended) I was walking two bloody miles back to the B&B and then two miles back into town again, so we pressed on, figuring I could at least rinse out my hair in the restaurant sink. Only guess what? This establishment didn’t have a bathroom, and they directed me into the exceptionally disgusting public toilets down the road, which had a sharps bin, but not a proper sink. It was one of those wall mounted dealies with the integrated extremely weak water pressure sink, thin watered-down hand soap, and an ineffectual hand dryer. I couldn’t even stick my damn head in this thing, not that I much wanted to from the looks of it. I did my best, but in the end, I confess that I 100% ate a pizza pie with poop crusted bangs (another reason not to get bangs!) and a smelly jacket with a turd in the hood, had as long of a shower as I could manage without missing MasterChef when we returned to the B&B, and never went into Penzance again (this photo was pre-poop, obviously).

This is the Lizard, and the photo at the start of the post was at Lands End, respectively the most southerly and westerly points of Great Britain (as in, the big island, not all the little ones like the Isle of Wight and the Scilly Isles and junk). We went there the day of the pooping incident I think, and were too cheap to pay for a photo with our specific hometown in, as you can see at the start of the post. We did hang around for a bit hoping some fellow Londoners would show up and we could sneakily grab a picture of the sign once it was changed over, but no dice. They have pasties at the Lizard (because Cornwall) and not much else, but I hate pie pastry, especially in savoury applications, with the exception of empanadas, particularly my homemade seitan empanadas, because the masa does something to the dough that is *chef’s kiss* (fact: the only kind of sweet pies I ever make are cream or ice cream pies with crusts made from ground up biscuits and butter, because Oreo and digestive biscuit/graham cracker crusts are eight million times more delicious than crappy normal pie crust), so the lack of non-pasty food did nothing for me or my mood.

This is the seal sanctuary in Gweek, which we presumably chose to visit because the town was called Gweek (hilarious, obviously), because I don’t even like seals. I find them to be gross amorphous blobs (see exhibit A, above). Given a choice between this and the donkey sanctuary, I’d pick the donkey sanctuary, because donkeys are at least cute, even with huge disturbing erections.

The Eden Project! I remember this being mega expensive, even ten years ago, but we undoubtedly had some sort of 2 for 1 deal or we wouldn’t have gone.

The tropical biome was the hottest place I’ve ever been within Britain, so I was thrilled when I spotted a baobab smoothie stand. Unfortunately, said stand was cash only, so we had to make a very long trek back to the front entrance to obtain some whilst I was dying of thirst the whole time, just to get my hands on a refreshing smoothie. I would hope they would have changed this policy by now. We also made garlic breadsticks in the Mediterranean biome (also cash only) which were undoubtedly the highlights of the whole experience. I’d go back sometime though and blog about it properly.

We spent an awful night at a Travelodge in Torquay where some louts were yelling up and down the hallway all night long and kept rattling the lock on our door, so I was terrified they were going to break in and spent the night creeping on them through the peephole armed with whatever weaponesque thing I could find (god knows what that was in somewhere as bare bones as Travelodge. Even the hair dryers are attached to the wall). I did complain to the front desk the next morning, and they completely ignored me so I later sent a strongly worded email to Travelodge, only it turns out I accidentally sent it to the US chain which is apparently not affiliated with the British one, so that got me nowhere. At any rate, I have not stayed in a Travelodge since, in either country. Cheesy chips were the only good part of the whole Torquay experience. North Devon is lovely, but I am really not a fan of South Devon.

We couldn’t head home without detouring through Dorset to see Cerne Abbas (oh shit, I said there wasn’t anything else phallic on this trip. Totally forgot about this one, but who doesn’t like a chalk giant’s dingdong?!).

Also Buckfast Abbey, though I couldn’t tell you whether this was before or after Cerne Abbas as I’ve forgotten where they are in relation to each other and can’t be bothered to look it up. It was clearly undergoing some sort of restoration, but I seem to remember the shop full of monk-made products being quite good, and we picked up a bottle of the famous Buckfast Tonic Wine for a friend, though I certainly wouldn’t drink it myself. It’s caffeinated fortified wine. Deadly.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour through a small portion of England’s southern coast, since it’ll still be a while before we’ll be allowed to go see it in person (though remembering all those awful hotels has not made me particularly keen to spend a night away from home any time soon anyway). Museums aren’t due to reopen until at least 17th May (I am so not excited to go back to work in person, but I am excited to visit other museums! I’ve already booked tickets for two different exhibitions at the end of May, so fingers crossed they’ll be able to go ahead) so I think blogging will still be patchy around these parts for a while, though maybe I’ll surprise myself and find some other old, almost-forgotten trip to write about. Thanks for sticking around with me for eight years (or however long you’ve been reading)!

Devon, UK: The Gnome Reserve!

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First, please don’t be scared off by the very sinister gnome in the opening picture.  Most of the gnomes here are rather more jolly.  Now, this post is a total blast from the past.  I visited the Gnome Reserve about three and a half years ago, and haven’t managed to return since, so I can only hope it is still as amazing as it was when I was there.  If not, I’m sorry!  But I had all the pictures sitting around, so I thought it was high time to inject a bit of humour and whimsy into the greyness of winter. (Although the Reserve is only open from late March- October, so you’ll have to wait til then to visit!)

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The Gnome Reserve is tucked away into one of the prettiest corners of England I’ve yet had the privilege of visiting, in North Devon, quite near to Bude.  I mean, really, they could illustrate “idyllic” with a picture of these gently rolling hills.  Judging by the local attractions, which include a sheep-themed amusement park and a cryptozoological library, there’s a lot of eccentrics in these parts (my kind of place!), but Ann, owner of the Gnome Reserve, probably takes the idiosyncratic biscuit.

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She’s pretty much made the Reserve her life’s work, in addition to producing gnome and pixie themed art, which is for sale in the gift shop.  Sometimes it can be hard to tell how much of the experience is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but that’s part of the fun!  Admission is only £3.75, which is frankly a bargain relative to how much you will enjoy this place if you visit with an open mind and a willingness to laugh at yourself.  Visitors are required to wear a gnome hat from Ann’s extensive collection, so as to not “embarrass the gnomes,” but they look surprisingly fetching, as I can clearly attest to.

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Once properly attired, you are free to enter the woods where the gnomes dwell, and let me tell you, Ann has collected some real gems of garden gnomes from all over the world; the oldest ones are 19th century gnomes made in Germany.  Yes, you are just wandering around a forest looking at lawn ornaments, but these are gnomes as you’ve never seen them before! I’ve included some of the highlights below.



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There are also some larger gnome tableaux (and I do love a good tableaux, not least because it’s a fun word to say), from the standard gnome picnics to a  helicopter and a gnome rocket, operated by GNASA, obviously.  And some random Teletubbies, though I don’t think they count as gnomes.

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In addition to simply admiring the gnomes, and having your photos taken with them, there are a few activities scattered throughout the woods like fishing for lucky numbers on the bottoms of rocks, and a thinking stump, where I guess you’re supposed to think about becoming a tree.  My boyfriend claimed he later played his “lucky numbers” in the lottery, and won 5 quid, so perhaps there’s some real gnome magic at work.

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Once you’ve finished with the gnomes, there is still a pixie garden to explore.  Unfortunately for me and my raging lepidopterophobia, it was also a butterfly garden, so I spent most of the time fleeing in terror whenever one of the winged hell-spawn fluttered near me, and hiding amongst the trees. However, if you are a normal person who does not fear butterflies, there’s a scavenger hunt to complete in this section where you must find the hidden pixies, which seemed quite challenging.  Even if you didn’t spend most of the time running away.

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(I am totally hiding from the butterflies in that picture.)

Fortunately, there was a convenient shed to hide in along the path (it looks like I’m walking out of an outhouse in the below picture, but I can assure you it was a shed! However, the bathroom there did also share the gnome theme, and had a gnome’s (g)nose serving as a toilet paper holder, whilst the gnome himself stared at me in a most unnerving manner), where visitors were encouraged to sign the walls.  There were already lots of winning comments, but my particular favourite had to be, “I’m 42 years old and live with my parents, and I love gnomes.”  (I was going to stick an exclamation point at the end, but it’s more disturbing as a flat statement, which I think is how it was written).

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After leaving the garden, we had a cream tea on the lawn in front of the gnome cottage, which had a stunning view of the surrounding countryside, as I couldn’t bear to part with my gnome hat just yet!  Really, the only way you are not going to enjoy this place is if you are a humourless turd or are afraid of gnomes (the latter problem I can understand, as some of the specimens here were fairly creepy; see the first gnome of the post); everyone else will have a blast!  5/5; a practically perfect afternoon.  And for a summary of some other weird places I love around England, please see my guest post over at Smitten by Britain!

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