Things I Can’t Do in LA But Can Do in Dorset
Don’t get me wrong. I do know how lucky I am to live in Northridge, a quiet neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley that is part of LA County. So far it has not been invaded by street gangs and graffiti. We have four major malls within a twenty minute drive, one just a five minute walk from our house. In addition, there are the even more fabulous shopping centers just a short 35-minute drive over the hills to places like Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Century City and the Beverly Center. We have countless multiplex theaters with Stadium Seating and large 70-foot screens. In LA, there’s the Music Center with the LA Philharmonic and of course we always have Disneyland! But from my home in Northridge I could never step outside my front door into a crowd of friendly neighbors in fancy dress celebrating their Queen’s Golden Jubilee. We don’t keep our presidents that long even though it seemed almost that long while I was growing up and we had F.D.R. for four terms.
Face painted Union Jacks
Three days after I arrived in Wyke Regis this year that is exactly what happened. Wyke Regis Square was crowded with several hundred celebrating neighbors of all ages. Union Jacks were everywhere, even painted on the faces of several women. There was a long table set to serve all of Wyke’s children a celebration tea. There were marching bands and flags of all colors. Patriotic decorations were visible from every window and there were carnival-like booths offering games and tempting things to buy. I bought a homemade cake and took it back into the Coach House cottage to store it away for later.
I realized that thousands of villages throughout all of England were celebrating in the same way. We do have the 4th of July to celebrate the birth of our country but it’s a national holiday chiefly celebrated because we can have a day off work. It doesn’t have the intimate touches each village gives to the Jubilee celebration. I also realize that I’m very lucky to have generous Dorset friends who let me use their guesthouse in Wyke Regis, that was once a coach house, as a base for my travels in England. I can come and go as I please, sometimes taking short trips into other counties like Devon, Cornwall, Hampshire, Somerset, The Isle of Wight, Suffolk, and Norfolk, and once went all the way up to Scotland for a week.
From my home in Northridge I couldn’t begin to put together the day I could experience in Dorset anytime I wanted during my annual six week visit that I’ve been taking almost every year since 1982. I’ve always avoided dealing with the roundabouts and the wrong side of the road because I never drive on my own, even though I drive all of the time in LA with no problem. I believe in the old cliché “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” And I’m a very old dog.
One day last June I woke up in the Coach House in Wyke Regis and realized I had a free day with no appointments or plans to do anything special. Still, I didn’t want to waste a day in Dorset so I got out my bus timetables to see what I could work out. What I came up with, or anything remotely like it, could never have worked in Northridge. I had already been to Sherborne once this trip but since it’s the prettiest town in the prettiest county of England I decided to go again with some pleasant stops along the way.
No. 6 bus outside my sitting room window
Any journey I make from Wyke Regis has to begin at the bus stop right outside my front door in front of the Albert Inn. That’s where I catch First’s No. 6. It stops there every thirty minutes throughout the day on the hour and on the half hour on its way to the Weymouth shopping center in back of Debenhams department store. I can see it from my sitting room window when it stops on the left side of the road. Then I know it will be back after continuing its route on the upper part of the High Street and stop in front of the Albert in exactly five minutes. There’s always a group of Wyke residents waiting for it. That’s where I meet the ladies and sometimes the gentlemen and children of the neighborhood. I actually think I have a nodding acquaintance with more of my neighbors in Wyke Regis than I do in Northridge. I’ve discovered if I get off one stop before Debenhams then I’m only one short block from Weymouth’s Railway Station. The trains on the London-Waterloo line leave at 12 minutes before the hour. I usually give myself a little extra time by catching the No. 6 on the hour in Wyke. Then I arrive at Weymouth’s shopping center at 15 past the hour and have 33 minutes before catching the train.
That free morning I caught the No. 6 at 9:00AM and arrived in Weymouth at 9:15, shopped a bit in Debenhams, then dropped off some film at Mr. Snappy’s on St. Mary Street. I’ve tried all of Weymouth’s photo shops and found that Mr. Snappy does the best job of developing my film. I usually take him at least 15 rolls during my visits. When in Dorset I find it hard to take a bad picture, everything is so beautiful.
I then walked to the Railway Station and caught the London-Waterloo at 9:48AM and arrived in Dorchester at 10:00AM. I could have taken one of the many buses near the King’s statue in Weymouth that go to Dorchester but I prefer the train because it can’t get caught up in the bottleneck that often happens on the Dorchester Road on the way to Dorchester. Since I didn’t have to catch the No. 216 bus to Sherborne on Trinity Street until 10:58AM I had nearly an hour to enjoy Dorchester. I shopped at Ottakar’s Bookshop and even though I saw several books I wanted to buy I told myself I couldn’t buy any books that day. I would have to wait until I was going straight back to Wyke Regis so I wouldn’t have to carry them around with me all day. I seem to have a problem traveling lightly in Dorset and I usually arrive back at the coach house loaded down with purchases from bookshops or food from Marks & Spencer’s and sometimes from Thornton’s English Toffee shop. I decided to have lunch in Cern Abbas that day so I had to resist a very strong temptation to sample The Horse With the Red Umbrella’s wonderful warm bread pudding with clotted cream.
Smith’s Arms at Godmanstone
I was standing at the bus stop on Trinity Street when the No. 216 pulled up at 10:58AM. It arrived in Cerne Abbas at 11:22AM. Along the way we passed the Smith’s Arms at Godmanstone, it claims to be England’s smallest pub. I was tempted to get off there for lunch because it looked so inviting and pretty with tables and chairs outside by the Cerne River, but I kept to my plan to have lunch at the Royal Oak Pub in Cerne and had an extra hour to explore Cerne. I had to keep my eye on my watch to be ready to catch the next No. 216 in front of the New Inn on its way to Sherborne at 1:22PM. My smoked mackerel ploughman’s at the Royal Oak was delicious, as usual. I always enjoy being in the Royal Oak with its flagstones, oak beams and warm atmosphere. Since it was built in 1540 it’s had a lot of time to develop the character of the best kind of English country pub. I also enjoyed my time to browsing around Cern’s handsome streets, seeing the remains of the ancient Abbey, and catching a view of the famous giant cut through the turf in the chalk hills, then watched the ducks in the pond at the head of Abbey Street before catching the next No.216 on its way to Sherborne.
It arrived on time at 1:22PM and I got off only five minutes later in Minterne Magna. It was only a five-minute ride but it would have taken hours for me to walk because it was all up a very steep hill. I then had an hour to enjoy Lord Digby’s lovely, lush, and beautiful garden with woodland walks, and a great variety of beautiful trees, before catching the next No. 216 on my final lap to Sherborne at 2:47PM. It really should take much more than an hour to fully appreciate the beautiful parkland and lake and the acres of Lord Digby’s rhododendrons and azaleas.
The conduit was built as a washing place for the monks in the Abbey
But I was waiting across from the small 17th century church when the No. 216 arrived in Minterne Magna at 2:47PM. We pulled into Sherborne on Digby Street near the church/abbey at 3:10PM. The last bus back to Dorchester would arrive at the same Digby Street stop at 5:42PM so I had 2 hours and 15 minutes to spend enjoying Sherborne with its lovely stone buildings of all dates from the 15th century onwards. Sherborne is Dorset’s most attractive town. Since I think Dorset is England’s most attractive county that makes Sherborne pretty special. It has a beautiful church that was once an Abbey, a good variety of smart shops and many places to eat. St. John’s almshouse next to the abbey has a beautiful mellowed look and on Cheap Street (meaning market or fair, not very frugal) is the conduit built as a washing place in the cloister of the Abbey in the early 16th century and moved to its present position in 1539, after the dissolution, to form a small market house. The famous Lord Digby’s school is just off Cheap Street on Newland St. It was used as the setting for the Peter O’toole version of Good-bye Mr. Chips. It’s had many famous graduates including Evelyn Waugh (although I’m not sure he graduated). My favorite stop is in the art gallery in the Swan shopping precinct. I never go in without seeing at least a dozen paintings I would like to own. This time was no exception.
I was back on Digby Street in time to catch the last bus to Dorchester at 5:42PM and arrived at Ackland Rd. in Dorchester at 6:59PM. Just the right time to go to the Mock Turtle on High West Street for dinner. The reason I always choose June for my Dorset visits is because it stays light until well after 9 o’clock, so when I left the Mock Turtle after a very satisfying dinner I didn’t mind the short walk to the Dorchester South Railway station (I know how to take the shortcut through the Eldridge Pope Brewery gate) to catch the 8:15PM train that arrived at the Weymouth Station at 8:28PM. The last No. 6 bus to Wyke Regis leaves the stop in back of Debenhams at 4:45PM. I could have caught First’s No. 1 that goes all of the way to Portland Bill instead at the same stop and gotten off at Fords Cross for the 5 minute walk to Wyke Regis but I felt like splurging and instead took one of the taxis that are always waiting at the station and arrived back at the Coach House in Wyke at 8:45PM in plenty of time to settle in for an evening of watching British TV. All together it was a very satisfying day.