Welcome to the first stage of our Journey in Southern England. With our Motorhome “Henry” we are discovering the island.
Our first stop in England. Destination of the cross-Channel ferries and home to the famous white limestone cliffs. Immortalized in countless songs, movies, and literature as a big “Welcome Home” sign for generations of travelers and soldiers. Over 100 meters high, these giants rise as witnesses of history on the canal.
The rundown downtown is a sad introduction to England. Most of the travelers who arrive by cruise ship or, as we do, by ferry in Dover, pass quickly through.
We were also greedy to continue our journey. Located in Kent, Dover is a perfect base for our first destination in England – Cornwall. The journey would take us through a series of charming harbor towns and regions.
A little luck with the weather, and it would be – another – unforgettable trip.
The Lighthouse Situation
Despite the rundown city center, there are exciting things to see in the immediate surroundings. The South Foreland Lighthouse, not to be confused with the North Foreland Lighthouse, was the first to warn coastal ships off the Goodwinds Sands with electric light. That was a big deal in 1857.
42 years later, the Italian Guglielmo Marconi used the lighthouse for the first International Radio Broadcasting – to Wimereus in France.
The most fascinating thing about this lighthouse is the history of the lighthouse keeper. In 1730, the young William Knott started his career as a lighthouse keeper here. In 1906, more than 176 years later, the life of the lighthouse keeper family Knott ended with Edmund Horton Knott. As a result, the Knott family is the longest-running family of lighthouse businesses worldwide.
Originally there were even two lighthouses. The South Foreland Upper Lighthouse and the South Foreland Lower Lighthouse. The second was taken out of service in 1904 and now belongs to private. Cool – your own lighthouse in England.
Next to the lighthouse, Dover Castle definitely deserves a visit. The site contains the remains of a Roman lighthouse and is assumed to be the oldest building in the UK.
Only a few minutes drive west – direction Cornwall – you will find Samphire Hoe. A County Park piled with 4.9 million cubic meters of lime from the construction of the Channel Tunnel. That is a lot. This is almost the same amount used for the Great Pyramid of Giza. There are walks, and several places invite you for a picknick.
Folkstone was our first stop. We parked in the center of the former resort town. Like Dover, the place had seen better times. The numerous pubs at the harbor gave us a glimpse of the British pub culture. Here we learned that parking in English cities always costs money – a lot. We paid on average five pounds to park near a town, village or whatever. Passing Mythe, St Mary’s Bay, and Ladd, we drove to Rye.
A few words about driving
Since I have a little time here, I can tell you something about driving on the left side of the road and driving in general in South England.
Driving on the left is nothing new for me after five months of New Zealand and Australia. New is to drive with a car that is made for the other side, to drive left. That brings some exciting situations while driving in England.
We have a situation here
For example, ticket counters and parking machines are located on the passenger side. At many intersections, I have no idea what is approaching from the right side. So this would be the normal procedure, when Nina is not by my side: stay standing, take off the gear, put on the brake, crawl to the passenger seat, look out of the window and when the road is free to go, immediately jump back into the driver’s seat, release the brake, engage the gear and hit the road. Unless I did not choke the engine, the alarm would go off after a few yards because I was not wearing a seatbelt. I was so happy that Nina was there to help.
On some streets in England, this did not matter. The roads are so narrow that there is no left or right anymore. A slightly wider car, like our Henry, rubs with both ears (side mirrors) on the hedges left and right. If then another car came towards us, that means to go back hundreds of meters or stubbornly wait until the other does.
“It’s time to start living the life you’ve imagined.”Henry James
This famous quote from Henry James, an American-British author, came to mind when we stood in front of the Lamp House in Rye. A beautiful, large, typical townhouse that has been carefully renovated by the National Trust.
From 1898 to 1916, Henry has written here – I have read many of his works, so I call him by his first name – “The Wings of the Dove” (1902), “The Ambassador” (1903) and “The Golden Bowl” (1904). The house can be visited for a fee. That’s one of the beautiful things for me in England. In so many places, the legacy of historical figures is as alive and entertaining as nowhere else. What is not so amazing, are the entry fees.
The Mermaid Street
The highlight of this most original place in southeast England is, without a doubt the Mermaid Street. The gently sloping street, which like the rest of the city charms with smooth cobbled streets, impresses with timbered houses from the 15th century on both sides. Sweet little coffees with homemade cakes, a photo gallery, and a lovely cinema, housed in a building close to the church, shows to the authenticity of the place. As if someone had paused time – a very long time ago. We liked Rye.
Our next stage took us through the stunning East Sussex coastline. This inspired area of England is regularly visited by Londoners. Whenever the sun battles through the cloud. Like these days.
We past Hastings, one of the original Cinque Ports in England. In the Victorian heyday, Hastings was a famous and popular resort. A Hastings resident told us that the city has experienced a renaissance in recent years, leaving behind the post-war decline.
Close to the tranquil seaside town of Eastbourne and off Newhaven, are the famous cliffs of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters. A path that runs on the tops of the cliffs invited us in the best weather for a hike. At 162 meters (531 feet) above sea level, Beachy Head is the highest cliff in England and Britain.
The number 3 suicide Spot – worldwide
And because it’s so high and there are no barriers, it’s not only magically appealing to hikers, it’s also a popular suicide spot. The number of suicides varies depending on the source between 20 and 30 per year.
Many people are probably not sure if some cases are suicide or an accident. As I have been photographing directly on one of the edges of a 100-meter cliff, I can well imagine that an accident happens faster than you can hit the button on the camera.
In 2010, it was the number three suicide spot in the world. After the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and the Aokigahara Forest on the northwestern side of Mount Fuji in Japan. Both beautiful places that we both had already visited, even without committing suicide – obviously.
Brighton & Hove
We reached Brighton. Known as the UK’s LGBTQ capital, Brighton has something for everybody. Beachside raves, home to bikers, countless pubs, boutiques – an exciting shopping experience at The Lanes – narrow lanes with over 400 quirky shops offering everything from spiritual T-shirts to second-hand sunglasses, books, and crazy hardware.
Jedi in Brighton
Oh, and what really impresses me is that Brighton has the highest Jedi population in the UK. Not only in England, in the UK. Yes, Jedi population. Did you think that Jedis exist only in Star Wars? Did you? Who does not know what a Jedi is: two things: First: Shame on you and second, read here.
We stay only for a short day. Brunch on a hip roof terrace with a classic British breakfast. These include beans, sausages, eggs, and delicious toasted bread. Salted butter and lots of coffee.
Of course, we don’t miss a sunbath on the famous stone beach at Brighton Pier. The pier was reminiscent of a strange mix of two California coastal towns, Santa Monica and Santa Cruz.
To the Jurassic Coast
Past Bognor Regis, Arundel, and Chichester, we continued via Lympton, Bournemouth to Poole. We did not get bored while driving. There was always something to see, and on the narrow, often only single-lane roads, there was also a lot to do.
We enjoyed the eternally green pastureland, irregularly traversed by old mossy stone walls. The whole thing was presented to our eyes with rolling hills overlooking the deep blue sea. We were pleased with our decision to change our plans and come here instead of Greece.
Poole looks back on 2500 years of history and has not retained the charm of a South English town – Unfortunately. It suffered heavily under German bombing and neglect in the post-war period.
Poole was the third largest shipping port for Operation D-Day landings in World War II.
Today, the largest natural harbor in Europe plays an economically important role. Money is in the air. Sunseeker, the world’s largest manufacturer of privately owned motor yachts, is home to 1,800 employees.
In the 1970s, big companies moved their headquarters from London to Poole – who knows why. Poole is also home to Merlin Entertainment, the world’s number two amusement park operator – after Disney, of course. Of all that, we saw little. We drove through Poole and reached our destination, Lulworth Cove.
Lulworth Cove and surroundings
For millions of years, wind and sea have formed a varied and wild coastline. Small round bays, caves, and crazy shaped rock formations tell a story that goes back 250 million years.
Lulworth Cove is located in the middle of the Jurassic Coast – England’s only World Heritage Site. Erosion has spawned the unbelievable rock formations of Triassic (very old), Jurassic (old), and Cretaceous (geo-young).
The various creatures from that time, a tropical paradise back then, are trapped in stone and were waiting for our discovery. We did not find any. Nothing. Nada.
From our car park, we hiked to the Durdle Door. By European standards, a huge limestone arch in the sea with a magnificent bay framed, with steep cliffs of the Jurassic Coast.
We shared the view with half of India. Danced, smiled in love with the lens, and some bizarre poses for Instagram. Since 2016, a set of the movie “Housefull 3” was filmed here, it attracts Indians from all over the world.
With about 250,000 visitors, the small area is entirely overcrowded in the summer months.
A funny incident occurred here when two years ago, the local administration noted in Hindi that no trash should be left on the beach. An online translator translated “trash” with “nonsense,” and so the hint “do not leaf nonsense on the beach” by the Indian visitors as hilarious and a bit confusing recorded. The whole thing reached the press, and the operator officially apologizes, and now there is a new sign – probably correct. I didn’t use my online translator – would I?
Another interesting thing is that many companies use a picture of the Durdle Door for advertising purposes. Even though they are not located in the area – often not even on the Island. Or Europe. For example, a hotel in the Arab Emirates used the image of the unique stone arch to promote the hotel. The whole thing came to face, and the hotel had to remove the picture. We liked it here.
The next day, a Monday, we were (almost) alone. So we could walk sun-hungry along the cliffs and enjoy this paradise. We hoped that this unique landscape will be preserved for a long time. Just a few meters in the sea are the most valuable oil deposits in Europe outside the North Sea.
Harry and Evelyn
We shared our table that day at the famous fish restaurant, “The boat shack” with two exciting people – Harry and Evelyn. Harry was a painter and one day before his 56th birthday. He had lived in Paris for more than ten years – as a real painter.
By painter, I mean someone who paints pictures, not someone who brings a rundown apartment with bucketfuls of paint to a second life. Not that the second has nothing to do with art.
The Thing about Fish & Chips
We talked about the local preparation of fish and chips with malt vinegar and brown sauce. This is a thick brown sauce that matches a slightly sweet, spicy steak sauce. It is made from apples, plums, onions, malt vinegar, and spices. It is especially popular with fish and chips.
As children anywhere in Germany and probably the rest of the world can give ketchup to anything – even spaghetti, so the Brits use brown sauce. The significant advantage of Brown Sauce is that no matter what you buried with it, it immediately tastes only after this sauce. We love England.
One of the most interesting beaches in England is probably Chesil. The 29 kilometers long and 15 meters high beach is not covered with sand. No, that would be too easy. Chesil is like the Old English name cisel, which means as much as gravel.
This 100-million-ton hill is part of the Jurassic Coast. The stones of Chesil Beach range from pea-sized in the west to full-sized in the east. The almost perfectly straight coastline stretches from West Bay to the Isle of Portland.
When we arrived, we absolutely did not meet anyone. Also, no traces we recognized. Nothing. So we decided to hike a bit. Going on gravel is an exhaustive thing. As soon as the foot is on the gravel, it slips away in all directions. Then add the weight of the entire body, it may well be that the foot is more than ten inches elsewhere else than initially set. This requires a certain amount of energy, and after a few meters, you become with a sad look aware that you have to go back the same way.
Chesil Beach is the place of action of an exciting and crazy novel by Ian McEwan. Like most of his books. The book “On Chesil Beach” finds its “peak” or just “no peak” on this beach (those who have read this book understand my saying).
We left the beach after an exhausting walk and a lovely cooked meal in our Henry’s and drove to Lyme Regis.
When we arrived in this south English village with the typical British flair, we planned to find some fossils. That’s what everyone does here. Fossil hunting in the Jurassic Coast is a must-do. We tried. Maybe not a complete specimen of a dinosaur, perhaps a vertebra or a head, or petrified excrement – who knows – we were open to anything. We did not find anything. Nothing at all.
Well, in some stores – of which there are many in Lyme Regis – we found what we were looking for. But that’s not the same thing, right ?.
The story of Mary Anning
When we got into one of those shops and marveled at the many fossils, it was hard not to think about Mary Anning, the famous Victorian fossil hunter who braved the crumbling cliffs day after day for the beautiful fossils to find. She sold these to tourists and geologists to survive.
Although Anning had no formal education and was not welcome in the masculine science community of her time, she met some of the leading figures in Victorian geology and managed to make some of the most important paleontological finds of her time. Including the first known Ichthyosaur and Plesiosaurus – both giant sea reptiles that lived in the Jurassic period.
The scientific community did not mention any of Anning’s findings after her. We are talking about a time when women were not allowed to vote, hold official positions, or even go to university. It was a shame.
In 2010, one hundred and sixty-three years after her death, the Royal Society included Mary in a list of ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Sometimes the Brits need a little longer.
The “Cobb” – the harbor wall
Depressed by the unsuccessful search, we probably should have taken a guide, we strengthened ourselves with classic fish and chips. After that, we strolled to the harbor and to the “Cobb” – the harbor wall which sheltered about a hundred moored small fishing and leisure boats.
Jane Austen visited Lyme Regis twice and set a pivotal scene in her novel “Persuasion.” One of the main characters, Louisa Musgrove, falls from the “Cobb” during a vacation in the city and was seriously injured.
We left Lyme Regis and headed west, where Cornwall was waiting for us.
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