by Carmen Allan-Petale
Ahhh, the English countryside. There’s nothing quite like it. As you travel out of London (often in a traffic jam), hitting the motorways, your stress seems to fade away like a dandelions’ petals in the wind.
Living in London, we frequently feel as though we’re the centre of the universe. It seems as though it’s where anything that’s worth knowing about happens, and certainly during the Olympics it did feel that way. Sometimes, when something significant happens outside of the city, like the shooting in the Lake District two years’ ago, you pause, frown, and then quickly Google the village on your iPhone because if it’s happening outside of the capital, it must be something major.
But venture out to the country and it’s the simple happenings in life that become more apparent. You’re able to appreciate the finer things; like the sun shining through the clouds or the deep green of the meadows.
This is exactly how we felt as we sped off in our (tiny) hire car, on our way to Somerset. Turning off the motorways, we navigated down tiny country lanes with six foot tall hedges adjacent to each sides of the road. So many people had used these lanes over the centuries that they had carved a path, resulting in the earth surrounding the lanes being much higher than the road itself. Indeed, when we drove under the hundred year old trees with branches hanging over the road, it was almost as though we were travelling inside a green tunnel.
The town where we stayed, Corton Denham, was quaint and exactly what you’d expect an English village to be. Complete with its own pub, church and post office (even if the latter had now been converted into a cottage), there were thatched roofed houses scattered throughout and sheep ‘baaing’ on the hills that surrounded.
We took a day trip to Sherborne – a neighbouring village roughly three miles away. Most of the town’s old buildings remain and it feels as though you’re stepping back in time on a visit, where Tudor buildings abound and many of the shops feel almost as old as the village.
We visited a vintage toy shop that had games from the ‘30s. A bookstore felt so old that when you stepped in it, it felt as though you were walking into a medieval library. I bought two books that are both nearly 100 years old although the shop owner told me that the oldest book she had was from the 16th century and was probably worth about £300. It made my two purchases, a copy of Gulliver’s Travels from 1908 and Black Beauty from 1920, look like small fry.
On the outskirts of Sherborne are two castles – the old and the new. The old building is the ruin of a 12th century castle and is now owned by the UK’s English Heritage foundation. The new castle, however, is still in the hands of the family that first built it, back in the middle of the 1700s.
The new castle has a captivating history – it was used in both the first and second world wars. In World War I, the Red Cross took over the building to use it as a hospital and then in World War II, commandos involved in organising the D-Day landings used the site as headquarters in which to plot the attack.
Unfortunately we visited on a Friday, the only day of the week when the castle is closed to visitors. Fortunately, we managed to sneak into the grounds (you have to pay a £5 entrance fee when it’s open) and picnic next to the picturesque lake.
The following day we visited another village which was much smaller in size and further off the beaten track. To get there we drove through Yeovil – a town I have no desire to drive through again as it was full of traffic jams, enormous supermarkets and warehouse outlets. Emerging the other side we were once more comforted by the peacefulness of the hills and soon found ourselves in the neighbouring town of Lower Odcombe. We had a drink at The Masons Arms, a pub that was nearly closed in 2005 before a couple bought it and proceeded to bring it back to life. It seems the locals welcomed it with open arms and it looks as though it has been thriving ever since, holding events like the village fair and a dog show where the pet with the ‘best tail wag’ can win a prize.
To earn our wine, we went for a stroll around the nearby trails beforehand where we saw horses and allotments the locals used to grow their fruit and veg. We didn’t dare walk on to those grounds though – with a sign stating ‘Trespassers will be shot’ – we thought it’d be best to stay out!
For once the English sky didn’t come a-pattering down and we managed to enjoy a glorious weekend of sunshine. We even crossed one major British feat off our list – we saw a badger in our headlights when we were driving in the evening! As his white-tipped nose and bushy tail disappeared into a bush on the roadside it felt as though that was worth the trip alone.