I’m in love with the romance of train travel! But not the kind of travel born out of dull necessity or the long inexorable commute to work. This is the first of many odes to The Union – to England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland – a journey undertaken for pleasure, adventure and getting lost! To places I never knew I wanted to visit – to Gravesend, Glasgow, Petersfield and Penzance.
Blame it on His Majesty. Until we met, travel was just going from A to B, something I did in a mad hurry, often with my eyes shut. Now, he couldn’t possibly let a week go by without declaring I need an outing or an uplifting expedition.
Some men like to give their consort expensive lingerie (usually in a very annoying colour) or take you down the pub. My man gallantly asks me to put on my favourite pink hat and Harley Davidson biker boots and then he whisks me off to Waterloo, Victoria or maybe even Kings Cross and the Euro Star for a surprise, green day out by train. I’m not allowed to peek at the destination board, which just adds to the excitement….
Let me take you with me as I dress up, not down for glorious days spent larking on hillsides, eating figs and gazing at forgotten medieval towns, eccentric beauty spots, ancient palaces and eating cake in the ruins of a Roman mausoleum.
One Saturday in late August my love leapt out of bed with great excitement. “ Why don’t you put on your butterfly dress he said silkily? We’re going expeditioning.”
Less than an hour later we are sitting in our first class carriage contemplating an exciting day out for the princely sum of £10.00 return, with a £5.00 upgrade to first class. Hooray! South West Trains have gone mad and are doing their bit to encourage green travel. We can go anywhere on the network for just £10.00 return on weekends throughout August.
So His Majesty took me to Sherborne– a charming 15th Century Dorset Town in the romantic Vale of Blackmore with first class opportunities for: eating, foraging, admiring very beautiful things and a nice bit of history.
Visiting Sherborne is like walking into a living history book; this incredibly pretty, honeycomb-coloured swirl of a town is dominated by its magnificent fan-vaulted Abbey, completed just after the battle of Agincourt.
As Abbey’s go this one is spectacular. Expect romantic tombs, Medieval bling, flying buttresses, unruly villagers, and a dandy or two – just take a look at the Rococo statue of the Earl of Bristol, standing resplendent in his flowing wig and frock coat, flanked by his adoring wives, suitably positioned several inches below his own portly figure. Or the serene sleeping figures of Sir John Leweston and his wife buried side by side for all eternity in their own remarkable, Elizabethan four-poster tomb.
If you hate the fact that some of our greatest towns are being homogenised by the identikit, Clone High Street – then Sherborne is for you.
It only takes a couple of minutes to find our first gem – Verbena, a tiny health and beauty shop overflowing with handmade wild flower soap, beauty treats galore, bunches of herbs drying from hooks on the staircase and the piece de resistance? A table piled high with the jewels of the season – freshly picked plums, carrots, pumpkins, onions and runner beans, all from the friendly owner’s kitchen garden. I’m offered a sweet plum to try and we leave with enough fruit, vegetables and eggs to last a week – and all for the frugalista price of £6.50. I like Verbena. It’s quirky and individual and champions all things local.
When it comes to lunch, it is always a good idea to ask a discerning local. We ask four antique dealers and they all come up with the same answer – Greens at the top of the hill. The menu certainly looks enticing. Lots of local fish, game and Denhay ham. Alas! We have arrived too late. Fortunately there is the wonderful Town Mill Bakery right next door.
A postcard tells the story. The breads, wonderfully rustic open tarts and assorted cakes are hand crafted with the finest locally milled organic flour, plenty of passion and no additives. The best bit? Finding something different to tantalise my cake addiction. I can thoroughly recommend the Poppy Seed Muffins with zingy lemon drizzle icing, and the odd sounding but quite delicious sticky pecan and marmalade flapjack. The spelt and sunflower seed bread is very good too, and deliciously nutty.
Lunch is a quick pit stop at The Zest Café for pannini followed by Marshfield Farm’s very ginger, stem ginger and honey ice cream, made with creamy, organic Somerset milk. Afterwards, we firmly intend to set off on a bracing walk to Sir Walter Raleigh’s Old Castle on the hill.
Only we are constantly distracted and diverted by the beguiling treasures to be found in the town’s excellent galleries, fine antique dealers, print shops and a wonderful monthly flea market. Along the way I loose my heart to a gorgeous cape the colour of clotted Cornish fudge and His Majesty admires a wood engraving of Hambledon Hill by the artist Howard Phipps in the Jerram Gallery.
It is now late afternoon and there is just time for a stroll to the Castle to admire the dry moat, lofty tower and drawbridge. I can just imagine the dashing Raleigh galloping up to The Old Castle, a present from his Queen when he was still in her favour.
On the way back to the railway station I stain my mouth and fingers with the first blackberries to ripen in the August sun, and then I spy a fig tree overhanging a lane next to an ancient fruit garden. I can’t resist the opportunity to forage the fattest, juiciest fig I have ever seen. Quick as a flash His Majesty lifts me up high into the canopy to pluck the fruit, and once back down to earth I dissolve into a fit of girlish giggles.
Yes, the perfect end to a magnificent day out.
Until next time,