Singing in a Drought's Abundant Rain in Exeter, Devon
By: John C. Dyer, UK Correspondent
It has long been said Britain has weather not climate, a nod to the weather’s changeability. But a new British reality is unfeasible drought punctuated by untenable downpours, leading to floods that seem to defy all expectations that come with the word, "drought." It is the second year of a British drought severe enough for water use restrictions in some parts of the country. But the South West, my destination, was on flood watch due to record downpours. (Photo left "Vintage Exeter Roof in Rain" by John C. Dyer, May 2012)
Incidentally, because of the weather’s changeability, traveling in the UK requires at least two essentials- an all weather coat and a sensible pair of shoes. You can get by without an umbrella, but not the coat. The weather can change from sunshine to storm within a half hour. Sensible shoes are critical. You may see women dressed in 5 inch heels. This custom is called “fashion.” But for the traveller, high heels may be the truest symbol of British austerity- not austere, in fact ostentatious, but undoubtedly horribly uncomfortable, especially walking along all those hills. Wear sensible, comfortable shoes with great arch support. Your knees will thank you in the morning.
A Journey by Rail (with travel tips)
St. Annes is a community within the community of Lytham St. Annes. While neighbours the two towns have a different feel to them. (Photo left "Sated Tulip" by John C. Dyer, May 2012)
This summer that feel will be busy. Golf’s biggest professional tournament comes to the Royal Lytham Golf Course, which runs like a green belt through St. Annes. I shop Marks and Spencer. Their St. Annes outlet is hardly larger than a US 7/11 convenience store. It is always busy, but they estimate during the tournament as many as 10,000 people will shop there each day. Whew.
I traveled to Exeter by rail, with an overnight stop in Bristol, Somerset.
Rail has the place in British life air travel has in California. I have often seen BBC interview the Chancellor , the shadow Chancellor or the leader of the opposition during their routine rail commutes between their constituencies and London. For a visitor rail presents the advantages of dependability, wide access through the country, good directions for a new user, and, in First Class, comfort.
As an example of how user friendly it can be, when I arrived in Preston to make connections for Bristol I learned that my connection had been delayed due to a safety problem further up the track. Even as anxiety set in, the cheerful crew at the highly visible information booth set the old codger’s mind at ease. They explained to me just how to deal with it. They permitted me to use their telephone gratis to call my wife to advise her of the expected 20 minute delay. Although I missed the scheduled connection in Bristol as a result, I just caught the next train with the same ticket. It was all quickly sorted by the onboard ticket taker. With trains departing every 30 minutes I didn’t really notice a difference.
Rail’s main disadvantages are relative lack of luggage space, particularly for large items, and crowding during peak hours. For visitors who prefer a low fat, low cholesterol diet I suggest you consider buying your own prior to the journey. You will not find your diet choice either on the train or in the stations. If you want to avoid noisy crowds and cell phones try for the “quiet car.”
If you travel by rail with a reserved seat you will receive two tickets, one for the trip and one for the seat. You must hold on to both. Both will be checked, predictably just after you decide that they aren’t going to bother this time. Expect your ticket to be checked when you first set off and as you attempt to leave the station platform area. In fact, your ticket is your exit pass from the station. Don’t lose it.
Other than that, trust the system, sit back, and enjoy the many sights and sounds of the journey. A rail journey in the UK is in-of-itself an adventure in discovery.
As the train departed St. Annes the loudspeaker announced destinations. I drifted bemused and amused by the pronunciation of "Oswald Twistle," a stop further down the line. In this reverie it finally occurred to me the British are entitled to pronounce "Oswald Twistle" as they do, without an American saying to himself “how cute” or “how quaint.” I don’t know if this was a transformative insight or just the haze of waking at “O Dark Hundred” to begin my journey. (Photo Above "Impulse Power, Scotty" by John C. Dyer, May 2012)
I soon settled in, watching the beautiful green, rolling countryside with its fields dotted by free ranging cattle and sheep, listening to the symphony of dialects spoken around me. I remember registering just before nodding off that the “ot” in “Not” in a Glasgow accent is pronounced “oh” as in French. So Not is “No.”
Victoria met me in Bristol. We stayed overnight in Bristol before leaving for Exeter.
The new flats and shopping areas of the redeveloped docks all came after Victoria moved away 20 years ago.
(Photo Up left "Queen Elizabeth Welcomes Thee"; Photo Left "Brisol Port Flats" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
John Cabot was one of Bristol’s heros. Memorials to his contribution to Bristol’s glorious past dot the city, from Cabot Tower
(Photo far left "Cabot Tower Bristol"; Photo left "Cabot Bronze" by John C. Dyer, May 2012)
This sculpture symbolizes the vibrant unity of Bristol’s past and present. Cabot’s character-filled face gazes across the new development.
(Photo far left "Cabot Surveys Bristol Channel"; Photo left "Cabot Bronze Detail" by John C. Dyer, May 2012)
Exeter is an ancient Cathedral and University town, located on the Exe River in Devon, near the English Channel. The Cathedral dates from the 12th Century, but the town itself is even older than the grid first laid out by the Romans. It is the site of a well respected University. Exeter, like Bristol unites a fascinating past with a vibrant present. It is considered one of the top 10 most profitable locations in Britain for building a business. As in Bristol, old throbs side by side with new beneath the omniprescent visage of the Cathedral. (Photos below from left to right "Cathedral Mixed Use Development"; "Tai Chi Cathedral Squarel" by John C. Dyer, May 2012)
The visitor may take Tea (supper) in Sir Francis Drakes’s favourite Inn (Photo below "Ship Inn" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
as we did, the new Hatt’s Bar on Gandy Street. (Photos below "Hatt Bar quisine I & II" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
Both live happily together in the mix of redevelopment along the City shopping area (or “High Street”) and its side streets (like Gandy Street). I am a great fan of side streets. They secret lovely surprises of great variety and pleasure. (Photo below "Gandy Street" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
I am also a great fan of redeveloped docks. (Photos below left to right, "Fisherman's Fossil," "Exeter Docks I," "Exeter Docks II" & "Exeter Docks III" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
Exeter’s dockyards have been transformed from their gritty hard working past into boutique shops and new flats (Photos below center & right "Boutique shops" & "Quay Flats" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
where swan and seagulls swoop and careen in the hundreds. (Photo below left "Feeding the Birds" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
On the day we visited, the river Exe swelled with flood waters. (Photo below left "Torrent" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
The Cathedral drew us, of course.
(Photos (Photos above left to right, "Exeter Cathedral Detail I, II, & III) By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
(Photo below, "Statue of John Hooker Before Exeter Cathedral" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
Despite John Hooker's stern, brooding face, the Cathedral's opulence takes one’s breath away.
(Photos left to right, "Opulent detailing Exeter Cathedral I, II, & III By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
The grave memorials in particular shout out. The grandest belongs to a medieval Bishop. (Photos below left to right, "Duke," "Burgher," "Bishop" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
But the most significant moments for me came touring old structures.
Girding the inner city are the remnants of the Roman city wall and a Medieval Tower and bridge. (Photos below left to right, "Medieval Tower," "Roman Wall," & "Medieval Bridge" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
As you walk through this small ruin in the rain you hardly feel like singing. You feel the stilling presence of the ghosts of civilians and heritage lost. (Photo left "Ruined Chapel" By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
But, focusing on the beautiful flowers so fresh and turgid in the rain, I soon felt something as significant. I nodded to myself, muttered to Victoria, “Life will find a way.”
(Photos above center to right, "Life Finds a Way I & II) By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
(Photo left "Life Finds a Way III) By John C. Dyer, May 2012)
Life always does. Suddenly I was, metaphorically speaking, singing in the rain.
Gives a whole new meaning to "hope floats."