Imagination time. Picture yourself, if you would, navigating what has suddenly become THE WIDEST HATCHBACK IN THE WORLD through central London during rush hour, toeing the edge of the £12 Congestion Charge zone while a British GPS system incessantly chirps and beeps at you.
Now do it on the wrong side of the road.
And so we join our two heroes, white knuckling their way outta town!
Our Day 1 route was strict but simple: head west to Stourhead, stopping in Winchester for a quick peruse of the cathedral and lunch. After Stourhead, we would eat and sleep in Shaftesbury, a little town famous for their wonky-ass steep hill.
On the way to Winchester, we figured out that the hyperventilating GPS system was actually alerting us to hidden speed cameras. That’s a thing in England, apparently!
Upon arrival in Winchester, it because abruptly, painfully clear that tiny medieval market towns didn’t have much in the way of street parking. So we drove around for a while before giving up and finding a lot a few misty minutes walk away. No matter!
Here’s the deal with Winchester: it’s been an important cathedral town for centuries. Jane Austen’s buried there. And they charge entry. Whaaaa? Mom and I rolled up damp and hangry, which is not the recipe for a delightful £40ish tour of a somewhat disheveled church. So! We peered inside from the doors, then stomped away for lunch.
We got really lucky with our random lunch find, The Stable. From what I gather, Winchester is right on the border of the West Country, so The Stable had the region’s prototypical Hagrid accents, amazing meat pies, even better cider. Sold!
Then we hopped back on the road and hightailed it to Stourhead with me in the hot seat.
The thing with driving on the wrong side of the road is that suddenly you realize how supremely WRONG driving really is. You’re steering a killing machine inches away from incoming traffic, bombing down tiny country lanes that are maybe one-way when they feel like it? And when (or IF, big IF) you make it onto a highway, you suddenly have major, multi-lane roundabouts to contend with. I found the trick was to drive way, way further left than I wanted to, all the while staring hard at the left/center of the window shield to make sure I didn’t go into a ditch. Oncoming traffic was completely off my radar, and I just prayed the whole time that everybody else had some experience with the whole thing. Nuts.
We got stuck in traffic halfway to Stourhead and then everything became BLAZINGLY clear as we finally eked our way past Stonehenge, only a few hundred feet away. Oh hi, Stonehenge. Who puts a historic monument so close to the highway, I ask you.
(mini pic courtesy of Mom)
Aaand here’s the deal with Stourhead: It’s a beautiful Palladian mansion on gorgeous, extensive grounds that are absolutely littered with various Victorian follies. It was also our first National Trust guy, and we cackled with delight as we sailed past the ticketing folks, flashing our Royal Oak badges.
The National Trust does an amazing job trying to keep the houses topical, in the hopes of drawing return visitors. The current “exhibition” was focused on a former heir of the property who had died in WW1. The remaining family had eventually donated most of the estate to the NT, but a lone daughter still lives in the back. Anyway, each room was well staged with nice pensioners dying to explain everything to us.
The rain cleared up just as we headed outside, and the green was so green, like someone had cranked up the saturation level.
After doing a huge lap of the grounds, we had a little cream tea in the gardens. I ordered one just to cautiously nibble, but realized that the glutens weren’t… getting me. So I ate the whole goddamn thing, clotted cream and crumbs, and washed it down with some Earl Grey. Please note: this became a theme of the countryside visit. We scheduled everything around cream teas, and I never had a lick of trouble in all three days.
Our last stop was Shaftesbury, where we gratefully deposited the car at our adorable B&B before striking off in search of legendary Gold Hill. The street was stunning.
The rest of the town was… closed. I had assumed Gold Hill and the Abbey would have built up a little bustling tourist hotspot around it, but everything was dead at 5PM. So we barged into the only open pub in town for ciders, dinner and complete and utter denial that one of us would have to drive in the morning.