Last time on Stranded on an Island, we made it to Amesbury. At this point you really should revisit Part 1 to remind yourself of the adventure thus far because this next bit followed hot on the heels of that first (mis)adventure and contains a recurring theme. This is a long post. Settle in, grab your favourite drink and join the adventure in jolly old England.
At Amesbury, we stayed the night at the Mandalay.
I know, it’s not much to look at from the front, but it has a beautiful garden behind and at the time we really didn’t care what it looked like, we just wanted a bed.
After rising and enjoying a full cooked English breakfast
we were on our way to Stonehenge.
From Stonehenge we made our way to the Eden Project in Cornwall. It should have been relatively easy to travel from Stonehenge to the Eden Project–they are both well known destinations after all. But our GPS decided that as pampered American tourists, our vacation would not be complete without a runaround. Ignorant of our machine’s malicious intent I blithely followed its direction when it told me to turn left on this road.
Now, heaven knows I’m not Sherlock nor even Watson, but I sensed something amiss. This did not look like the approach to a tourist attraction that sees more than a million visitors a year. It looked instead like an accident waiting to happen because that road was as narrow as it looks and I expected death (or at least serious injury) around every bend. But in my naive innocence I trusted the infernal device. We followed this track for about ten minutes then were instructed to make a couple of turns and finally another left turn to
Yeah, it was the same road. To the consternation and furious honking of the car following, I slammed on the brakes before entering the lane and after backing up managed to squeeze my way past the entrance to this “road”. With great reluctance, seeing that I wasn’t falling for its trap, the GPS gave us appropriate directions and we ended up at the Project.
Our daughter Catherine picked this destination. The project is a series of lovely greenhouses (I think they call them Biomes, but they look like greenhouses to me) hosting different ecosystems.
As I mentioned, the Eden Project is located in Cornwall. You know what else is in Cornwall? That’s right Doc Martin!
In the year before our trip I had consumed all the Doc Martin episodes available and loved them. The show is set in the mythical town of Port Wenn and was filmed on location in the actual town of Port Isaac on the Cornish Coast close to the Eden Project. Well that was enough for me. Totally fanboying it, I booked a room in Port Isaac and that was our next destination. But we had to get there first.
On our way out from the Eden Project I was driving on a road that merged into another at an angle from the right. I had a yield sign for which I duly slowed down while checking over my right shoulder for oncoming traffic and seeing none proceeded on my way only to have a car appear from nowhere whipping past me, the driver laying on the horn. A hundred yards down the road he pulled up at a stop light with me right behind. His door opens and out steps scarecrow. His limbs were sticks and his hair was wild–Christopher-Loyd-Back-to-the-Future wild.
And he was pissed, screaming at me like I’d killed his dog. It didn’t help that I couldn’t stop laughing–that just provoked increased intensity. He wanted me to get out of the car and take him on. At least, that seemed to be the gist of his spittle flecked rant. I didn’t think he really meant it though. How could he? He looked older than I, was five ten and must have weighed a hundred and twenty soaking wet as they say. I let him rage until he got it out of his system and got back in his car after flinging one last gesture in my direction.
Okay, off we went glad that the drama was behind us–next stop Port Isaac.
As we approached Port Isaac, our GPS instructed us to make a left turn down a road that would lead us to town. Still not aware of the electronic devil’s plans, I obeyed its command. A few minutes later we approached two sets of poles set in the roadside. A sign set next to the poles announced that if your care wouldn’t fit through the poles, it was too wide and you couldn’t proceed. I inched forward with a sharp eye on the side mirrors. We had a good two inches to spare.
On we drove not appreciating what lay ahead. In a few minutes we discovered the reason for the posts.
Now, the truth was we did not have lodging in Port Isaac itself, but about a mile further down the road in Port Gaverne. Getting there was a trip as well.
Fine, easing our way along the strait and narrow, we made it through town. But that wasn’t the end of our worries.
Yeah, it was that narrow and the question in the caption wasn’t rhetorical because
I’m not making this up. I don’t have an actual photograph but an actual photograph would have looked worse. We rounded that bend and faced two cars coming up the hill. Hill, you say? That doesn’t look like a hill. Okay,
It’s easier to see from this angle and the two cars we faced were at the bottom of the hill. Fortunately, they decided that we had the right of way (maybe because they knew a crazy American was driving the other car and if he’d had to back up on that hill would have driven clean over the cliff killing the car’s passengers and driver) and backed down, as in drove in reverse to the bottom of the hill.
So, we made it to the bottom and our hotel. I was prepared to heave a great sigh of relief, but the English Road Gods had not finished with us yet. We had to find some place to put our car.
So, yeah. A sign promised that a short way past the hotel we would find a car park. The lovely Marianne agreed to investigate while I waited clutching and releasing the steering wheel, sweat pouring down my back, fearing the need to move my car through another dimension to get out of some mad Englishman’s way because there was no way I would be able to maneuver it in this one.
The Lovely Marianne returned forlorn because the car park was full. I was pretty much at the end of my rope by that point, ready to abandon the entire adventure and catch the next plane home.
Yes, you see down at the bottom of the hill right across the street to the west from our hotel was a little car park.
And right where that blue car is on the left, that car (well, not that car, but the car that was parked in that spot when I was in the depths of despair) left. Shouts of joy and thanksgiving rose to the heavens as soon as our car was firmly ensconced in that spot.
The only lingering fly in the day’s ointment revealed itself when the Lovely Marianne opened her door to a loud crack. Upon inspection, I discovered that during one of our mad dashes around the Eden Project, I had grazed an obstacle and put a crease in the door right by the joint where it connected to the body. Not great news, but we were safe in a beautiful place.
So, once settled, the Lovely Marianne and I walked back the way we had come to Port Isaac. I had the LM take a snap of me opposite Doc Martin’s surgery (upon which a prominent sign was posted declaring the place to be PRIVATE PROPERTY upon which NO TRESPASSING was permitted.
And we returned to our hotel at sunset.
In my memory, the night we spent in that hotel has a magical, otherworldly feel to it. Our room was just above the little out door seating area you can see in the picture. It was a warm night. We propped our window to enjoy a little breeze. Along with the breeze subdued conversation murmured from diners below, occasionally punctuated with gentle laughter. I drifted off to convivial sounds of good friends enjoying a pint.
The next day dawned clear and bright. Before we departed we took a walk to a little headland and drank in a sweeping view of the Cornish coast.
Upon returning from our morning constitutional we were off again. Being in Cornwall, Catherine wanted to experience a cream tea for which Cornwall is famous. Our hosts at the hotel had pointed us to a tea house in Tintagel only a few miles up the coast. Our destination that day was Liverpool where we had reservations on a ferry for an overnight crossing of the Irish Channel to Belfast. The LM had relatives in Belfast and our itinerary called for us to spend a few days there.
Our ferry reservation required us to be at the terminal in Liverpool at 9:00 pm. Our trusty GPS told us it was a four hour trip–plenty of time to stop by Tintagel, grab a cream tea and visit King Arthur’s birthplace. I was not and am not an Arthur buff, but I’d read the Crystal Cave and Once and Future King and The Dark is Rising series, so Tintagel sounded cool (even if I still have not mastered its pronunciation. Every time I say the name the person I’m talking to says “You mean Tintagel?”)
Being a slow learner, I input Tintagel as our destination into the demonic machine and away we went. Winding our way along a narrow coastal road from Port Garverne, we soon came to a larger roadway. Relieved at not having to repeat our Port Isaac experience, I calmly turned onto a road that was a boulevard by comparison. Little did I know what fate had in store.
A few miles down the road, the unholy device demanded a left turn onto a narrow track. Truly, I cannot say what came over me. Had I been in its thrall the entire time? Or had I pledged my soul to it only in that moment. Whatever the case, I obeyed the fiendish voice and made the turn.
As with all such mistakes, at first the going was easy and my confidence rose. Then
Yep back on the one track roads. Only this time the two cars coming in the other direction decided they had the right of way and I needed to back the car to a suitable turn out spot which it happened was a few hundred yards away.
I crumbled under the pressure of backing while operating the car from in what God intended to be the passenger seat. Catherine had to get out of the car to guide me. Even then I wandered into the verge before straightening out. After a few moments of terror, we let the others pass and were on our way.
To this day, I’m not quite sure what happened next. We arrived at an intersection. I recall the blasted machine telling us to turn left, but after we had done so, it wanted us to go back the way we had come. I couldn’t turn around so we continued on until we came to a car park.
I pulled in to try to get our bearings. When I got out of the car, Catherine had already exited and stood with her face screwed up as if she were fighting tears.
“Catherine what’s wrong?”
She lost the fight. Tears flooded down her cheeks and she sobbed unable to speak. I gave her a hug and she blurted out between sobs, “We have a flat tire.”
Sure enough on the passenger side where I’d run the car into the verge the rear tire was flat. I reassured her that I could change the tyre. The Lovely Marianne suggested that she and Catherine try to find someone who could direct us where we needed to be while I changed the tyre.
As I finished they returned. The woman they spoke with said that GPS mis-directions were legendary around there. Last year, she told them, a bus driver transporting German tourists foolishly heeding his GPS had taken the route we followed. The bus had wedged into one of the narrow bits. It took three days and heavy equipment to free it.
Well, tire changed we loaded back up. Catherine declared at that point her desire for a cream tea had escaped along with the air from our tyre. She wanted no more English back roads but insisted (fortunately for us) on proceeding straight to Liverpool. It was 11:30 or so and our GPS told us we’d arrive at the dock at 4:30. I wondered out loud how we were going to occupy our time between then and 9:00 pm, but figured we’d find something to do.
Our route to Liverpool took us on steadily more roomy roads until we arrived at the M6. M for motorway–the equivalent of an Interstate Highway in the US. Ah, the freeway. Yeah, that lasted about fifteen minutes.
At the fifteen minute mark we slowed down and slowed down and stopped. Okay, traffic slow down. I can deal with this. We will still arrive at 4:45. Time passed. Our arrival time ticked forward. 5:00. 5:30.
We moved again things opened up. We were on… Nope another slow down. 6:00, 6:30, 7:00. Moving agai….7:30, 8:00. By this time we were seriously panicked. We had moved and made some progress, but when our arrival time hit 8, well. We had booked accommodations in Belfast and spent four or five hundred dollars on the ferry ride. We had no idea whether we could catch another ferry the next day or if everything was booked.
8:15, 8:30. They had told us if we hadn’t checked in by 9, we’d lose our spot.
Finally, the traffic thinned and at 8:55 we were at the dock.
We made it! Those were an exhausting three days (Parts 1 & 2). But there we were on the ferry and ready for a good night’s sleep. The rest of the trip was incredible and beautiful and thankfully calm.
As a post script. You will recall from Part 1 I paid $300 per tyre at the rental car place for the Mercedes tyres. Maybe it was the Mercedes tyres and maybe the rental place ripped me off. You will also recall that I had creased the passenger side door where it joined the body resulting in a huge cracking sound whenever it was opened. So, when we got to Ireland, I found a tyre shop and a body shop. I bought my own replacement tyre and got the body guys to do what they could for the door. It almost looked okay, but at least it didn’t crack when we opened it. The rental car place didn’t charge me for any damages.
We were supposed to return to England and Ireland this year, but you know that story. Maybe it was providence and we were spared even more harrowing adventures. I suppose we’ll never know.