Day 15: Buckland Dinham to Stockton, UK: Ups and Downs in the Downs - Grampies on the Go - Again! - CycleBlaze

June 3, 2012

Day 15: Buckland Dinham to Stockton, UK: Ups and Downs in the Downs

Our first priority on leaving our pub camping was to find again our NCN route. We travelled first on the B road, leading to the market town of Frome.

Our road near Frome
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We spotted what would also have been a good campsite, a Dissenters Cemetary. It seems kind of appropriate for us.

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We got to the outskirts of Frome without finding our path, so we took the chance to stoke up on breakfast. The place wee found was called the "Let Them Eat Cake", but it was breakfast wee were after. For the first time in England, we came up with food that (while better than an Egg McMuffin) was a bit lower on the quality scale.

Weird breakfast sandwich near Frome
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Weird breakfast baguette near Frome
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Every one here seems really caught up in the Diamond Jubilee. It's easy to be happy about it, since it has created a four day weekend.

Jubilee Weekend
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We spotted the entrance to NCN 24, congratulated ourselves, and headed off in the direction of the arrow. The way lead along narrow laneways, down into deep hollows, and back up again. We needed to push to get up, and going got pretty tedious. At one fork in the path the signage was ambiguous, and we chose sort of randomly. We really hoped we had chosen right, because the path descended way way down, and we would have been ticked to have to backtrack. We came up the other side into the village of Great Elm.

Up and down lanes near Mells
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We were just in time for their jubilee parade! The parade consisted of exactly one float. Oh yes, we need to add to that one scrap shiny paper swan!

The local people thought it was great, and we did too.

One float parade in Great Elm
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Plus one Swan
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Only after the parade did "Great Elm" sink in - damn! We were going in exactly the wrong direction. We turned around, and yes, had to crawl back up the long hill. This was now getting tiring and we were not having (much) fun. After about three hours of slogging we returned almost to Frome where we had started.

More travel along leafy narrow lanes brought us to a locked gate. Grrr. We hate unpacking our whole rig just because some Brits have never heard of a touring bike. We were on a National cycle route, for heaven's sake. What if it were a recumbent trike or something?

This time I said no time to fool around, and lifted Dodie's whole loaded bike over. Dodie was leery of any muscle injury, but we then both lifted my (heavier) loaded bike as well.

Defying a locked gate
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On the other side of the gate we began to encounter some evidence of ev en more security.

Yeah, you can't scare us.
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We learned that we were entering something called "Longleat". Dodie's map seemed to associate this with a lion logo, so we guessed it was another Royal park type deal. We maintained this theory until we encountered a car marked "Escort Vehicle". We asked the driver where we were, and he let is know that it was a Safari Park! Fortunately no lions or anything ate us as we made our way to the main buildings.

What we found there was totally bizarre. Like, bizarre! Longleat House is a stately home much like the fictional Downton Abbey. It could have been used for filming that, but actually it is bigger. It is huge. It is also set in 900 acres of stately park and 100,000 acres of forest!

So that is what you see on one side of the property. But beside and behind the house is a huge jungle/safari theme park. This is not a little roadside deal, but a highly evolved and professionally designed series of attractions. There are boat cruises on the lake beside the house, a monkey island or something, and other stuff for which people were queuing, having left their vehicles in a large car park.

We took a seat in the large food fair type area, where crowds were wolfing down the chili dogs, cotton candy, burgers, pizzas, etc.

All this attached to or in the shadow of something much like Windsor Palace.

Reaction: Aristocracy and unearned priviledge are reprehensible, I say. On the other hand, the concentration of wealth does create wonderful places like Royal Parks, and it fosters great works of art and architecture. Concentration of wealth also supports saving and investment, which is beneficial to society in the long run. So I am of two minds to see a great estate, still occupied by the Marquess of Bath, serving up the chili dogs to the swarming masses, presumably to stay afloat.

Anyway, seeing elegance and crassness so lose together just made us feel weird.

The theme park is bigger and grosser than it appears here
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One advantage of the theme park was that they were selling Pimms, so we could continue our Pimms research. Of course, we fell short of actually buying one, but this time we got to sniff an opened bottle. It kind of an orange liqueur, maybe like Grand Marnier.

Pimms research continues
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Longleat House
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Longleat House is set in a huge bowl shaped valley. It took us a really long time to climb out of it. Again, kind of demoralizing. We began to mentally compute just how long it will take us to get out of England. We seemed unable to get out of Longleat Estate!

Naturalized rhodos
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We next entered a forest, not like the green landscape of meadows we have been in of days, but more like a Canadian forest. It was very sweet smelling and was densely treed. Again, though great, this landscape did not give us any sensation that we were getting anywhere.

Forest near Sutton Veny
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Finally, though, we got onto a B road that connected a string of villages. At last, we could kind of see where we were going, and with the villages being 1-2 km apart, we seemed to be making progress.

Sutton Parva village
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Thousand year old church at Tytherington
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Shades of green
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We began to thing we could make it to Salisbury, because our B road, though hilly, was very cyclable. However when we rolled in to the town of Stockton, we stopped in at the pub. The people immediately welcomed us, saying that we needed to stay for the BBQ tonight, and the Jubilee celebration tomorrow. Someone directed us down the road a bit and up a side street to the "park" where they said we surely could put our tent.

Ourt "park"
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The park turned out to be ideal - secluded, level. We quickly popped up the tent and walked back to the pub for the BBQ. Many villagers were out, and karaoke seemed to be the main fun. It was fun!

This is really a fairy tale village - thatched cottages, and apparently tons of community spirit. Tomorrow they will close their only road in and out for some partying. Sadly, we will be far down that road by the time things warm up.

Fairy tale village of Stockton, our home for the night
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Today's ride: 50 km (31 miles)
Total: 352 km (219 miles)

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