Friday 4th September 2020
Initially, 2020 was scheduled to be the year we circumnavigated the northern hemisphere without flying but these plans had to be, first, adapted and then shelved completely in the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past several months therefore we have been the non-Travelling Herd apart from a few days away in Southwold in Alan the motorhome in August.
Prior to lockdown, we had booked a week in Tresco on the Isles of Scilly and we are pleased that travel restrictions have now been lifted sufficiently for us to be able to go and support the beleaguered UK tourist industry.
The 300 mile journey across to Tresco can be an adventure in itself with travel options from the mainland including the Scillonian ferry, a light aircraft or the helicopter. At various times, the members of our holiday bubble will be making use of all of these. The two of us decided to take a few days driving down to Penzance prior to our helicopter flight on Tuesday afternoon, taking in some more of the beautiful English countryside.
On Friday, we drove slowly along the congested A303 past the majestic and iconic Stonehenge on our way to our first overnight stop in Exeter. Neither of us had visited this ancient city before. We first walked to the Cathedral. If you are able to agree to gift aid your entrance fee, you are given a free annual pass to this historic building.
The chairs had been removed to promote social distancing but this made the cathedral seem exceptionally spacious. This might also be because at 315 feet [96m] the interior has the longest uninterrupted Gothic stone vaulted ceiling of any cathedral in the world. Two portable magnifying mirrors were placed in the nave to provide more detailed views of the intricately carved bosses on the ceiling and the carved minstrels gallery high up on the north of the nave. Although the height of the ceiling makes them appear diminutive, a life-sized replica of one of the bosses illustrates how large these decorative features really are.
Exeter Cathedral boasts a medieval astronomical clock, similar to the one at Hampton Court Palace, depicting the solar system as it was envisaged in 1484. The door to the clock room features a small hole which according to legend was made to allow the cathedral cat to go mousing and ensure the internal works were rodent free. This is also reputed to be the origin of the nursery rhyme, Hickory Dickory Dock.
The Leaves of the Trees is an art installation by Peter Walker which was developed in response to the pandemic as a reflective memorial to those who have lost their lives. Reminiscent of the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London, five thousand metal leaves each die cut with the word “HOPE” cascade down the steps from the altar. The installation will also appear at other cathedrals around the country in the coming months.
From here we walked along the River Exe towards the coffee shops and bars of the Quay area.
Although it seemed quite busy here with people sat enjoying the views, the centre of the town was testament to the impact of the lockdown with many businesses still closed or shut down completely and there was an air of impending recession. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that amongst those retails outlets which were open there were multiple charity shops with a queue of people waiting patiently outside one of them.
We had booked to stay at the Headweir Mill House Hotel, which is attached to the Inn on the Exe – a pub fondly remembered by a friend from her student days in the town in the early 80s. This pleasant pub has an extensive beer garden which, unsurprisingly, has a view across the weir, where we sat and enjoyed our first pint of the holiday and watched several dogs retrieving balls from the water. After a very tasty and filling meal, on our way back to bed we discovered the secret inside route connecting the hotel and the bar to avoid the fine drizzle which had started to fall.
Breakfast was served in the bar the following morning and we agreed that this was the most important meal of the day – see dish of the day.