While not quite on the Tour proper, yet, I'm now on a mixture of leave and embarkation leave, in which I drift around the country seeing things and people and places that catch my interest. I've already done a bit of that, and certainly said a few final goodbyes, but now begins a good excuse for plenty of parties while I still can.
I start the journey by visiting the RRS Ernest Shackleton in Portland on the day she sails. A few of my (lucky?) colleagues are going the whole way to Halley on the boat so I popped in to wave them off and to leave a bit of luggage in their care rather than trusting it to South American baggage handlers. The ship looked quite the thing, gleaming red and white against the blue of the sky and the deeper blue of the sea. Seeing the ship got my excitement back up again, knowing that she's going where I'm going. I'll not say more about the Shack now, though, as there'll be plenty of time for her later.
Then off to see things, first Maiden Castle, an Iron Age hill fort on the edges of Dorchester. It's earthworks catch the sun and shadow, the castle huge beyond my normal imagination of primeval England dotted here and there with huts and caves. Now children man the ramparts in uniform red coats and roar and roll their way down to scatter attackers.
Refreshing myself with a cup of coffee, I headed off on a literary pilgrimage in a quest to get the most out of my National Trust volunteer's card. Picking oak trees from my map I chance upon Hardy's cottage, the birthplace of the scourge of schoolchildren and the master of Wessex. His beginnings were humble indeed, so humble that he overstates their size in his biography. The cottage is reached by a walk through a wood, clearing the mind of today and helping me wander back into the books. Outside is a pillar placed by American friends, a quaint country garden with people pottering at plants. Inside is part shrine and part period piece. Interesting to pass through, but unlike some quiet souls I find it hard to silently connect with the ghosts of ages past.
I followed a different route back to the car, past a pond where dragonflies dance above a shimmering sky. Try my hand at capturing skittish insects but give up when my legs start hurting from crouching and waiting.
The bookish tour continues with TE Lawrence's retreat at Cloud Hill. A small white near shed nestled amongst bushes flowing up a hill. Outside clean and crisp, inside entirely crazy. Fitted out with gadgets and furniture to Lawrence's design. Downstairs a leather bedroom lined with books, above a bedroom like the inside of a submarine, walls papered with aluminium and a porthole for the window. TE clearly taken with the promises of post war technology.
Just down the road is the spot where he fell from his motorbike -- now marked with a fitting oak but ignored by the masses drooping over the fence of the Royal Armour Corp's public viewing arena. People out tank spotting would be faintly sinister, and put me off a trip to the tank museum itself.
Rounded off a long day with (NT again) Montacute House. Grandly glowing in the setting sun with golden guardians against the deep blue above. The garden is a delight of bright and dark, with green and shade the colours of the moment. Would be perfect for sitting and thinking on a warm summer day. The house like all the others (dingy and dark to protect the illuminated tapestries) but with a surprise on the top floor. A long gallery the length and width of the house, lit from all around and now home to an offshoot of the National Portrait Gallery and some of the Kings and Queens of its collection.
Slept at River Dart YHA, has magnificent lounge with a fire no one can light.
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