Albion, Books, Photography, Stuart France and Sue Vincent, travel

A Thousand Miles of History: Dog-sick with Ice Cream

By late afternoon I was flagging. We had been on the road for a mere six days, and although we never rush and we always take our time at each of the sites we visit, we don’t stop either. It is easy to drive the short hops between sites, staying alert for obscure turnings, the perils of road-hogging sheep and lanes so narrow the hedges either side brush the car doors. But, after a few days, the longer stretches get tiring unless you are planning on stopping along the way, for that breaks the journey into bite-sized pieces and gives you a chance to stretch your legs.

My navigator keeps an eye on me though. “Fancy an ice-cream?” he said, casting a critical eye over his driver. Well, as it was rush hour and the roads were busy, and as the sea was only two or three miles to my right, that seemed like an excellent idea. He found me a seaside town where there was not only bound to be ice-cream, but also a last look at the sea.

I was born in an inland city and have lived away from the sea all my life. Distance is relative and what seems like an impossible distance to someone from a small country may be a daily commute for someone born in a land as big as the States. For all that Britain is an island, and a fairly small one at that, trips to the coast were rare and therefore special. I think that inland-dwellers tend to forget that we are islanders at heart, but the rhythms of the sea still sing in our blood and the sea calls to something that is buried deep within body and soul.

So, we drove into the little town of Seaton in South Devon and headed for the shore. The cliffs of the Jurassic Coast encircle a bay of deepest sapphire. The shingle beach was almost deserted as we sat with our ice-creams beside the sea. Watching the bathers, you could see how steeply the beach falls away at the waterline… no place for small children to paddle, perhaps, but I was sorely tempted, and had I packed a swimsuit, would have been in there like a shot.

Instead, I watched an old lady and her elderly dog… a joyful and strangely familiar dog, with a passion for tennis balls. We cannot bring Ani on these trips when they begin with a workshop, but I couldn’t help thinking how much she would have loved to be frolicking in the water and chasing her ball. After a week away, I was not homesick in the slightest, but I was missing my Ani.

Time was getting on and with still another fifty miles to go, we did not linger for long. Uncertain of what would be available in the village inn where we were staying, we decided to stop in Dorchester for something quick to eat and chose to return to the place where we had eaten with the girls at the end of the workshop weekend. They would have a light snack… or so we thought. They also do a wonderful elderflower cider… But apparently, Thursday nights they do a unique take on one of my very favourite meals… raclette. The whole central island counter is covered with dishes containing salads, pickles, olives and charcuterie with which to stack your plate. The chef melts mounds of a local Dorset cheese over the lot and me? I was in heaven. (Thank you Alethea, Larissa and Helen for introducing us to the place!)

Just a few more country lanes, a few more places where ‘if only we had time’, and we arrived at our destination, the aptly named Fox Inn. We had pretty much come full circle and were once again in a village close to Cerne Abbas. The adventure was almost over… all we had to do was go home. We were unlikely to find anything else on the way, though we did intend stopping at a couple of familiar places. But then again, you just never know what surprises a day is going to offer…

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