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nonconformist2 Jul 20th, 2020 08:43 AM

Trip Report: What time are we booked for again? Swans and Stonehenge
2020 was supposed to be special. I suppose it was memorable, but not the way we had anticipated.

We had to cancel three trips over the summer. Having not seen my parents for almost four months, the relaxation of lockdown in the UK came as a great joy, and possibly rashly, we decided to make the most of our freedom by taking a short trip to Dorset.

We had a trial run a couple of days beforehand by booking a visit to Stonehenge, which is within easy reach from my parents. We had been before, but not since the new visitor centre was built. We thought this might be a Golden opportunity to visit without too many other people around. Visits are now allowed again on a prebooked basis, with a window of half an hour for arrival, to limit overall numbers and stagger arrival times. The booking system also allows for track and trace, as was the case for everywhere we visited on the ensuing trip. We rejoiced in lovely weather, sunny but not too hot with a fresh breeze.

We had booked for the 11-11.30 o’clock arrival slot. We were there a little early, but this was not problem. Bookings are made online, and you get sent an e-mail confirmation which you show on your phone or other device at the entrance. It was a very straightforward system, easy to allow for one member and two non-members.

The site was very well organised for the current situation. Access to the exhibition was limited by numbers, entry only allowed when enough people had left by the other door. The loos were exceptionally clean, with alternate basins and driers blocked off from use.

The only failing was that the website said the cafe was open, but in practice they had minimal offerings. There were, oddly, hot sausage rolls, but no sandwiches.

Use of the shuttle bus to the stones from the carpark and visitor centre was gently discouraged, with masks mandatory for those few who did use it. We saw a grand total of three people sitting in it as it passed us, as we slogged the alleged 25 minutes. My parents are over 80 and not as fit as they used to be, so it took us about twice that. However, it was a really pleasant walk, partly through a copse.

The stones are of course a remarkable feature – what can one say? It was not deserted by any means, but not too many people. It was rather nice not to be surrounded by the usual hordes.

We resorted to the bus back, but they were stringent about masks as well as socially distancing users and allocating seats. As dad had forgotten to bring a mask he had to tie Mum’s jacket around his face. It was quite hot on the bus.

As we had not brought lunch expecting to use the café, we drove into Amesbury for lunch, resorting to Greggs. They did a surprisingly nice toasted sourdough sandwich. However, the disposable plastic cutlery is frankly not fit for purpose.

janisj Jul 21st, 2020 08:54 AM

Thanks for the 'on the ground' report. I read a couple of on-line UK papers most days so have kept up with what's open and what's still locked down but reading how its working IRL gives a better idea/picture.

I also haven't been to the Stones since the new visitors centre (Lordy - has it been seven years - hardly 'new' anymore LOL ) and was supposed to visit Salisbury and Stonehenge earlier this month. 'Hopefully' I'll be able to visit next summer. :sick:

nonconformist2 Jul 21st, 2020 09:35 AM

Good luck!

A couple of days later we set off for the trip proper: three nights at Yalbury Cottage, the restaurant with rooms in Dorset which is one of my parents’ favourite places and where we stayed last year: usually visit at the end of March to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and had missed out this year thanks to the national lockdown.

The weather was not nearly as nice as it had been for Stonehenge, grey and chilly despite optimistic weather forecasts. We had booked for the gardens at Kingston Lacy on our way. The house was actually one of the seven properties selected by the National Trust for a pilot opening, but as we had been inside last year we just stayed in the garden. It looked a bit neglected, no doubt the lack of volunteers over the spring taking its toll. One way routes had been set out, with a few areas out of bounds completely, but the routes were not all that clearly signposted, and we definitely went the wrong way a couple of times. I didn’t see anyone in masks here.

Overall, we felt it was not as well organised as Stonehenge. Toilets here were not quite as sparklingly clean, and interestingly here the air driers were disabled completely and it was disposable paper towels only. The café offerings were better, though, with sandwiches and very nice cake, if takeaway only. We were allowed to eat on picnic tables outside, but no indoor seating was allowed at all. The rain decided to fall on us as we ate, and we went into Wimborne for coffee at Walford Mill. This is a small cafe and art centre; the latter was only open at weekends. Here indoor seating was available.

The lovely staff at Yalbury Cottage were delighted to be open again, and reported that the phone had not been off the hook since they announced reopening. The food was delicious as usual, but dining and breakfast times were staggered. Breakfast was all by order, no buffet options.

nonconformist2 Jul 22nd, 2020 04:12 AM

The next day we visited the Swannery at Abbotsbury. Again, prebooked visits only were allowed, and the café was closed. They also stopped the mass feeding, which encourages people to cluster together. We hadn’t been here at this time of year before, and it was lovely to see all the cute fluffy cygnets. They and their parents were all completely calm and used to visitors, despite the quiet spring. Their were potted biographies of the couples raising families in the pens for those needing special help – the social services of the swan world. Despite swans’ reputation for monogamy, a number of the couples had abandoned previous partners for their current ones.

We walked into Abbotsbury village so my parents could visit the Dansel wood art gallery. Then we went to The Old Schoolhouse for some lunch – very nice, but my dad said the ‘flat white’ was no such thing.

The weather had now improved and was lovely and sunny. We had an afternoon booking (yes, mandatory again) for the Sub-tropical Gardens in Abbotsbury at 3 pm. We did find trying to get to places for set times quite trying; it destroys the possibility of spontaneity and takes away some of the relaxed nature of being in holiday. We had never been to the garden before, but it was very nice, with some pretty Alice in Wonderland inspired statuary. A one way route was signposted.

On our return journey, there was a period of alarm when an enormous bee wandered in through an open window and sat on the seat next to me. We managed to pull over and gently remove Mr Bee. Panic over.

nonconformist2 Jul 23rd, 2020 08:52 AM

The following day the weather was absolutely gorgeous. We had booked for Corfe Castle today, and were a bit late setting out as Dear Mother had left her purse in her room and we had to go back. Then as we got out of the car, I reminded them to get out their National Trust cards for free entry.

Oops. Not in purse. Not in bag.

We had booked for 11, and had timed our journey accordingly, but had not realised the car park was about half a mile away from the castle, the visitor centre at the car park was closed, and the entry kiosk was at the castle itself. This was rendered somewhat anxious by (a) worrying about whether we would get there in our slot, and (b) where the NT cards were.

Luckily, not only did we just about get there by the end of our half hour arrival slot, the staff were quite relaxed about timings anyway. They were also happy to take my parents’ word that they were members so no need to pay.

The café was takeaway only here too, but we just got cold drinks as it was pretty hot.

Corfe Castle is a really striking ruin, destroyed during the Civil War, but remaining in the ownership of the Bankes family who built Kingston Lacy as a replacement home in the late 17th century until 1982.

We walked into the charming village of Corfe Castle for lunch. Not much was open, so we ate at the café of the model village, and then went on to Wareham, where we went for a rather boring walk. Supposed it was the two rivers walk, but we didn’t see a single river, let alone too. Not, perhaps, the best bit of Wareham. Dark clouds then loomed above us and we returned to Yalbury.

At this point, DM found their NT cards. In the bag she had with her all day. I remarked, with restraint, it was lucky she hadn’t had to pay after all.

nonconformist2 Jul 24th, 2020 09:23 AM

That night we made a last minute decision to go to Sculpture By The Lakes next day before heading home. Luckily I checked online as this too was accepting prebooked visitors only. I had not been here before, but my parents had; it is a lovely site set around a few small lakes with rather good bits of sculpture and a small garden area. The café offered takeaway ice cream and cake.

A sweet end to a lovely break.

Lessons for visitors at the moment: prebook everything, keep an eye on the clock, and if you have any membership cards, know where they are.

janisj Jul 24th, 2020 10:19 AM

Sounds like you had a lovely get away with only a few minor hiccups. I love the Corfe Castle model village Very similar to the one in Bourton-on-the-Water with model within the model within the model etc. They probably got the idea from Bourton's but Corfe has the bonus of a castle

bilboburgler Jul 24th, 2020 11:38 PM

Good to hear all the places of my youth are still going. I went with my sister to KLacy once when a Bankes was in residency as they were going to an Austrian finishing school. The main seat is now over towards Blandford.

Missing the river in Wareham takes a lot of skill :-).

The Mill in Wimbourne is full of special made things. I love going there for ideas but the cafe is meh.

nonconformist2 Jul 25th, 2020 03:47 AM

LOL, @bilboburgler. To be fair, we did actually park by the river, it was just the walk seemed to be in the wrong direction ;)

annhig Aug 2nd, 2020 11:44 AM

Thanks for starting this thread - nice hearing about what's happening up country as speaking for myself of course, we're feeling a but cut off down here! And it's a very long time since I went to Stonehenge, probably about 25 years, so interesting to hear how it's changed.

<<At this point, DM found their NT cards. In the bag she had with her all day. I remarked, with restraint, it was lucky she hadn’t had to pay after all.>>

lol. I can imagine a certain froideur at that point. Actually I've found people to be remarkably trusting - we turned up at Trebah once hoping to use my RHS card to get in and discovered I'd left it at home. Fine, said the lady on the till. I trust you. Perhaps she thought that people wouldn't pretend to have an argument just to save £10!

​​​​​​​We have not been as adventurous as you. So far I've ventured out to the Lost Gardens of Heligan with a friend - not too busy and though their great cafe by the entrance wasn't open the smaller one about half way round was as was the kiosk in the car park which had sandwiches but no hot food so the opposite to what you found.

Then we took my mum [a little older than yours by the sound of it] to Trelissick [NT] but it was quite hard work taking her round the gardens as they had a set route and she found that a bit hard. But they had plenty of seats so we hopped from bench to bench and then had a nice cup of tea in the cafe which was extremely well socially distanced.

Our last outing was to a local pub near my mum on the way to the King Harry ferry so very out of the way unless you know it's there. I'd booked but there was no need to and they were asking for phone numbers as you arrived. We had a nice table in the shade all to ourselves, the staff kept a good distance and there was plenty of hand sanitiser as well as a one way system inside. And the food was very good.

Both the Lost Gardens and Trelissick required advance booking but as we were members of both it didn't cost us anything so cancelling wouldn't have been a problem.

bilboburgler Aug 3rd, 2020 12:30 AM

Ann, you are being braver than us. Apart from straying (I want to say Harrogate ;-) ) to Ilkley on two occasions we have stayed in our usually mobbed tourist town of Otley with empty streets slowly coming back to life. We ventured into Leeds in July (city of 800,000 souls of whom about 100,000 work in the lawyerering (sic) or banking industry) to find the commercial centre virtually devoid of pedestrians, road works on every corner as they try to make it more bike and ped friendly. I'm considering a bike ride to Bolton Abbey but.....

My sister who lives just outside Looe went to Fowey last week and found the place to be heaving so she left.

annhig Aug 4th, 2020 11:21 AM

<<Ann, you are being braver than us......My sister who lives just outside Looe went to Fowey last week and found the place to be heaving so she left.>>

I don't blame her. Since the beginning of what would normally have been the school holidays, beaches near us [Portreath, Perranporth] have been heaving so we've been nowhere near them apart from DS who was desperate for a swim yesterday so i dropped him off in Perranporth - he took one look at the crowded beach and decided it was no go so he walked along the cliffs to Portreath and by the time he got there he had the beach more or less to himself. Others, especially surfers, are going out in the early morning or late evening to avoid the crowds. And I haven't been to Truro or any towns either - I either shop in the village or at a few trusted shops I know out in the boondocks or go to Tesco early in the morning or call in at Waitrose on my way home from mum's. They have never been crowded at those times. But that is it.

So I don't think we're being brave. I would not go to Heligan or Trelissick at the moment or anywhere that we were likely to come across a large number of people from up country. I do need to find somewhere to take my mum to lunch next week after a hospital appointment and for the next week for her birthday. If necessary we'll bring her back here.

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