Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Dorset Discoveries--Portland and Chesil Beach

Wednesday, August 24, 2016.
More Dorset Discoveries--Portland and Chesil Beach
            My coach back to London was not until 2.00 pm. This left me with the entire morning to spend as fruitfully as possible. With a more relaxing rise and after packing up my backpack which I would carry with me on the bus to the next place I chose to explore, I went downstairs for brekkie—this time I was determined to have a full English one! Carol materialized and produced a large plate with soft scrambled eggs (as I like them), two rashers of bacon, a fat sausage, grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms and some baked beans. There was also cereal (I had muesli) and toast with butter and preserves. It was a breakfast fit for a king and since I would be eating no lunch, I made the most of it. By 8. 45, the other residents of my B and B came down to eat and the dining room got full.
     I had spent a few minutes before falling asleep last night trying to figure out where I could go in the morning and still return in time for my 2.00 pm coach departure. I found Portland Bill was best to explore in the space of time available to me. So after brekkie, I took off with my back pack and waited at the bus stop for the bus to take me to the King’s Statue.
But before I boarded any buses, I needed to find out where my National Express Coach pick-up point was. I entered a shop to ask and discovered exactly where it was—opposite the Marks and Spencer shop on the seafront. The owner there asked me where I was from and was delighted when I said I was originally from Bombay. Turns out she, Pat, owns a home in Goa and spends six months of the year there—near Mapusa in Monte de Girim (a town I know like a ghost from the past as a Goan friend of mine had studied in the famous school there). Well, she was delighted to get into conversation with me and when I requested her to hold on to my back pack as I was going sightseeing, she gladly did so. I told her I would return to pick it up at about 1.30 pm.  Now how lucky was that?
      Leaving her shop, I found the Jurrasic Coaster (open top bus this time—No. 501) waiting for me to board it at 9. 40 am with a lot of other passengers who had the same idea.
Exploring Portland and Viewing Chesil Beach:                
     Portland is a peninsular (most people call it an island) but it is joined to Weymouth by the wide expanse of Chesil Beach. Although I would not actually get the chance to walk on Chesil Beach myself, I felt like I had made a pilgrimage in honor of my favorite writer by viewing the beach that he put on the tourist map. Overall, between Hardy, Austen, Fowles, Chevalier, McEwan and Erin Kelly (who wrote Broadchurch), the area has been put firmly on the tourist map by a set of brilliant writers whose work one can read and re-read and never get bored
     The famous Portland stone of which most of London’s famous buildings are made, is quarried here in Portland which is really a small settlement made up of four or five villages each of which has its corner shop, church and ‘local’. There is also Portland Castle that we passed and Portland Museum (that details its history of sea-faring). Before it arrives at the point at which most passengers get off, it climbs to what is known as The Heights—the highest point that offers grand slam views of Portland, of Weymouth and of the long and broad sweep of Chesil Beach, one of the world’s best barrier beaches that goes on for at least 10 miles with sand at one end and large pebbles on the other.  The bus driver very obligingly stopped the bus here for five minutes and allowed us to hop off to take pictures at a point that is also dominated by a sculpture of the five Olympic rings—as Weymouth and Portland had been selected as the venues for the sailing races at the 2012 London Olympics.  
     However, Portland’s biggest attraction is Portland Bill—the furthest point on the Island that is dominated by a pretty red and white lighthouse built high on a cluster of rocks. The bus dropped us off and told us it would be back our way in an hour. Most of the passengers got off to explore the lighthouse. Guided tours are offered that last 25 minutes and cost 7 pounds. I refrained from taking one although it goes up to the very top of the building. Many moons ago, I had explored a lighthouse in Cape Comorin (or Kanyakumari, the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula). The bottom of the Portland lighthouse also contains a museum and I was quite happy to explore it—much of the history of Portland’s connection to the sea is spelled out here.
            The souvenir shop for magnets and postcards was my next port of all and there I used the facilities and, ten minutes later, I was back on the bus to Weymouth. On the top deck was a lovely couple from Perpignan, France. She was English, he was a pied noir from Algeria who settled down in France at the end of colonialism. It was great to speak French again and to chat with them about their travels. It is wonderful how solo travelers get into conversation with strangers and expand their own horizons in the process. I have been teaching the Algerian War for Independence from France but I had never met a real-life pied noir—little did I think I would meet and chat with one in Dorset!     
Arrival in Weymouth:
     Back in Weymouth, I looked for the spot where the coach to London was supposed to pick me up. Then, I nipped into M and S for a sandwich and a drink and an ice-cream to have on the coach. Ten minutes later, I picked up my backpack from Pat and took a seat to await the coach. It was very late—at least a half hour late and we were afraid we’d miss our connection in Bournemouth. Several other passengers waiting with me were also concerned—but eventually it did show up and made up time beautifully.
Journey to London:
     We (my fellow passengers to London and myself)  made our connection—but only just—and were on the coach to London when I had my 20-minute power nap before we arrived at 6. 30 pm at London’s Victoria Coach station. I took a bus for one stop to Victoria Tube station and rode the Tube home. I was really too tired to do more than take a tepid shower (as it was so hot). I wondered how I would fall asleep in the heat—there is no AC in most homes in the UK (which is understandable) but how on earth do they manage without even fans? I had cereal with yogurt for dinner and some rum and raisin ice-cream as it is hot, hot, hot. And at 10.00 pm, I fell asleep.
     Discovering Dorset had been everything I had hoped for and more. I explored so many parts of it on public transport that but for a shaky start (with Hardy’s Cottage), I did not feel handicapped without my own transport at all. It is a gentle land, punctuated by postcard villages, old stone churches, a wonderful coastline built for leisure (and of which English folk make full use) with loads of literary and cinematic connections. It is not surprising that so many tourists are now coming in search of these fictional landscapes and are eager to walk in the footsteps of so many of the people who feel like their friends.
     Having said all that, it was great to be back home, to give my feet some much-needed rest and to get down to some serious work again. Thanks for following me as an armchair traveler. It is always a pleasure having you for company on my travels.
     Until tomorrow, cheerio


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