At Okeford Fitzpaine


When I left the BBC in January, the very last thing I would have expected to be saying in May is how much I needed some time away. You could, with ample justification, aver (lovely word, aver) that I’ve had an inordinately large amount of ‘time away’ already this year. However, if blogposting 142 shows anything at all, it’s how very much I needed some gentle R&R last week.

I’m not quite sure why this should be so. Back in January I honestly imagined my immediate future to consist of isolated islands of activity in great doldrum seas of silent, desperate boredom. I’m relieved to say that it hasn’t turned out like that at all. Manchester, Chesterfield, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Hereford and London (several times) have all had the doubtful pleasure of my company lately - and that’s not to mention Dorset, where - as the more astute bloggers have already noted - I spent a glorious few days last week.

And yes I did see some truly spectacular wisteria. Wisteria shares with aspidistra the unenviable reputation of being steeped in the musty odours of Victorian England, along with heavy draped chenille curtains, stuffed animals in belljars, oversized mahogany furniture, draughts, bustles, antimacassars and darkly embossed wallpaper. Being a chap born hopelessly out of time, I have no truck with these ill-thought-out ideas. And those are not merely empty words; at the last count, there were seven - yes seven - aspidistras gracing the few spare spaces in my small flat; and there’s a (non-climbing, standard) wisteria coming into bloom in our garden.

As you can see from the photograph above, Mother Nature takes her course much earlier in the year down south. I reckon they’re about three weeks ahead of us here in the north-east; that Dorset wisteria is just about over its best so I’m glad I caught it.

Okeford Fitzpaine is an almost stiflingly pretty village of the sort that Dorset seems to specialise in. Carefully placed and beautifully thatched houses, village greens manicured to within an inch of their lives, churches far too big for their congregations and no public transport at all. I spent virtually the whole week driving through lush Thomas Hardy countryside and chocolate-box village thatchery. It was all very, very beautiful - but also slightly unsettling. After a while you fully expect the citizenry to suddenly appear in smocks and farm clogs, talking in their best Archers accents about milking, tups, wethers, maypoles and last night’s cheese-skittles match at The Bull. The entire county seems to be stuck at about 1870.

I know perfectly well that I’m being grossly and unforgivably unfair. Dorset really is a startlingly pretty county and Lyme Regis - our base there - is exquisite. The town is quaint and cuddly without being twee, like a south of England version of Whitby only smaller. Narrow, twisted streets, pastel-coloured houses and a long and windy prom to walk along to The Cobb.

The Cobb is Lyme’s best-known feature. It’s a kind of artificial harbour built behind a long, curving sea-wall. If you saw The French Lieutenant’s Woman, you will remember the heartbreaking scene in which Meryl Streep (whom God preserve) waits at the end of the breakwater for sight of her lover’s ship. The wind is blowing hard, the sea is high and her long black cloak is billowing in the tempest (so to speak). Well, that’s The Cobb at Lyme Regis.

Isn’t it strange how many Regises there are down south? Lyme Regis, Bere Regis (which I also visited), Bognor Regis... I think we should petition the Queen to have a few added up here. How noble Bamburgh Regis sounds! Staindrop Regis, Seaham Regis, Glororum Regis... Awesome.

Mind you, you have to get used to rather grand - and sometimes faintly ludicrous - place-names in Dorset. Cerne Abbas, Winterbourne Tomson, Burton Bradstock - all of them could have been Hollywood leading men of the 40s, playing opposite Bette Davis, Lilian Gish or Tallulah Bankhead.

AND FINALLY... of the highlights of my week in Lyme Regis occurred (not surprisingly) in the pub across the street. Drinking alongside us was a fellow holiday-maker from the small town of March in Cambridgeshire. He told us that, every March, there’s a parade round the town: the March March March. True.

THE NEXT AGM... at 1030 or thereabouts on Sunday 24 May at the Tanfield Railway near Beamish. It’s worth noting that, in a recent survey, the Tanfield Railway Picnic Area was voted one of the ten best picnic areas in Britain. True.

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Maureen said...

It's good to have you back Ian, we really miss you, you know, and I must say a very fine Robinson's Ramble. I love to hear about your travels and I always learn such a lot. How many people come back from a trip and all that you hear are the grumbles about their hotel? You've brightened my day, thank you.

Sid said...

Glad you're back safe and sound Ian. You really must do a holiday guide. You are such a talented chap, and reading your comments on these places makes me feel as though I have actually been their. As Maureen says, you have brightened my day.
I'm in Jedburgh at the moment, just about to venture out with Jean and Gillian...going to look for Wisteria.