Exeter, Truro, Southampton, Winchester
Itinerary accomplished in London, I was able to catch the earlier train to the Exeter Saint David station. In an unbooked seat on the aisle, for perhaps half the journey I conversed with my seating companion, a woman from Canterbury on her way to Exeter. On arriving, my Premier Inn lodgings were right across the car park. Helpful staff, they located a laundry to wash, dry, fold and deliver my soiled clothing while I headed to Cornwall the following day. I just needed to get it to them within the hour. Up to the room, I pulled out the two near-overflowing laundry bags I had, emptied the small roller and adding the York jacket and one cotton sweater, changed clothes (I found all three pairs of slacks were dirty, so I wore Bermuda shorts), and was out and walking up the steep hill and into the city proper in 15 minutes. Getting a tad lost, I arrived with 10 minutes to spare at CareClean, but was relieved to know I’d not have to have the cruise ship laundry getting my stuff clean. Delivery to my lodgings would be between 4 and 6 the following day.
Back in 2019 I’d been to Exeter, had enjoyed my two nights there (with a day trip to Plymouth). Nick at the laundry had suggested I would enjoy The Prospect Inn, a restaurant / pub down near the water on the River Exe quay. Nearly a mile walk and the sun preparing to set, I kept a brisk pace to keep warm as I walked along and on the old city walls (harking back to Roman times) through a greensward, as I dropped from city center downward. The tower of the Exeter Cathedral was off to my right about midway, but I was enjoying the green of gardens and trees too much to venture off my route.
Reviewing the menu, I noted that I found it awesome, that I could probably eat there nightly for a week or longer and be happy. They had a cask ale from Legends, a typical warm, flat English ale, that was delicious. The starter was a baby Camembert, baked with garlic and thyme, served with minted gooseberry chutney, sliced pear, walnuts and rustic bread. Bread was great; the cheese was ripe and warm, delicious; the chutney good, but the pears were unripe and hard. Then for the main: Elston Farm rustic venison and hog lasagna, garlic bread. I probably overuse this descriptor, but the lasagna was awesome; hot, but also a piquant spice to heat it up more. Heavy on the thyme, it was rich, the bechamel was yummy. The garlic bread had been slathered with olive oil and garlic, and was unsalted – truly to die for! I noted that the ragu consisted of chopped meat, and had been heavily layered into the dish. A small portion of mixed greens were on the side, and I suspected they were local, as they tasted fresh and were quite yummy.
To finish off my meal, a double of a Cotswold single malt whiskey. I took a triple chocolate brownie with raspberry ice cream to go, and asked for a taxi. With only shorts (commando), a t-shirt and my sports jacket, it had turned cool enough to call for a ride back to the hotel.
Up with the alarm, I headed across the road and car park into the station at Exeter Saint David’s. There are 3 train stations in Exeter, and this itinerary, all my trains were to/from ESD – in 2019, I was into Exeter Central, but out of ESD. Once in the station and past the gates, I took the footbridge over the tracks to the far platform and was soon on my way to Cornwall and Truro. I wanted to get some work done, unusual for me as I usually will just enjoy the passing countryside, but I wanted to get another blog up before I “went offline” on the transatlantic crossing.
Selecting a seat facing to the rear, but with a table, I pulled out the Chromebook and began looking at the photos of Clonfert and Clonmacnoise that I’d taken on the first of my two days based in Athlone. After reviewing my journal, I attempted to launch Google Docs, which was the word processor I’d been using. Turns out that until I established that I wanted to use it offline, I needed to be on the internet. So, using the BritRail wifi, I got back to my document and proceeded to write that day’s adventures up plus the day in Athlone prior to pulling into Truro station. After proofing, I began making a list on paper of the photos I wanted to add – the train’s free wifi didn’t have the bandwidth to allow me to upload.
Google Maps again directed me on my walk. A bit more than half a mile, I was quite surprised at the cathedral’s size and relative newness. I’d expected a building more like Exeter or Portsmouth, rather than one like St Davids. I thought these cathedrals off “at the ends of the earth” would be smaller, but again, I was proved wrong. Situated in the northern part of the city, it is still closely surrounded by neighboring buildings. The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary started as a parish church in the mid thirteenth century, was rebuilt (as a church) twice, and with the establishment of the Cornish Diocese in 1876, was named a cathedral. The present cathedral was built in Gothic Revival style starting in 1880, incorporating part of the old church, and effectively completed in 1910. Work continued, and restoration continues presently (as at most cathedrals worldwide.)
Staff were moving about, as were technicians, as the cathedral would be used for university graduation the following day. The nave would close at 1pm, so I had 90 minutes to get my inside photos. A light granite stone was used for the interior, with fluted columns rising two levels to the clerestory gallery over the side aisles. [Triggered by notes on Wikipedia, I checked my pictures from my visit to Lincoln Cathedral, and I see the similarities in the nave.] It was a sunny day, so splashes of colored light appeared on the walls and floor. The quire floor is tiled, with dark wooden choir stalls, ornately carved, lining its sides. At the east end, the old high altar stands in front of a carved wall – three levels of scenes flank the two central depicting the Crucifixion and Final Judgement. A helpful placard explains in detail the elements of the reredos.
At the crossing, the opening rises into the bell tower, while at the west end (outside), two taller towers bracket the entrance. I made my way to the south aisle (alongside the quire) where the old St Mary’s Church is preserved. A polyptych with 7 panels is open over the altar, below a 5-panel stained-glass window. Nearby is a second baptismal font, this of red and black marble and topped with an elaborately carved wooden cover. (The other is modern, white and black bowls.) Magnificent rose windows fill the upper walls of the transepts and west end.
As the ushers began moving those stragglers out, I stopped in at the gift shop and made a few purchases. Outside, my struggles began as I tried to find a representative shot from the ground which could show the building’s depth and towers. Panel vans from the AV contractors were parked in front of the doors, and would probably remain until the friends and families of the 100 graduates began arriving. I wanted to show all three towers, and the narrow side streets and elbow-to-elbow surrounding buildings had me frustrated. Over on the north side I found a park, and had to wait for the sun to get behind the clouds – I even climbed onto a few walls to get a better angle.
With a bit of time before my return train, I searched for and found a jeweler who was able to repair the (backup) watchband that had broken on my arrival in Hereford. He was also able to replace the battery in the dress watch, and I might be able to start counting steps again. On my climb up the hill I stopped at a bakery and got two Cornish Pasties, which fed me on my next two train rides.
Departing Truro train station, I remembered seeing the cathedral from the bridge over the River Kenwyn. Not the cleanest windows, I was ready and took two frames; I was pleased. My train trip involved a change at Plymouth, stopping for 6 minutes. I caught up with my journal, and then pulled out the photos of Athlone, selecting those to share with the blog. I did get distracted near the end of the ride by a group of university students: we got involved discussing a card game, Civil Rights & Freedom Fights which had been created by the (Liverpool) International Slavery Museum’s Young Ambassadors, intent on creating new conversations about the Civil Rights Movement.
Back in Exeter, my laundry was at the front desk, so I took the small roller and two large plastic bags up to my room. After refolding (shirts were all folded wider than my normal), it all got tucked away into the large roller for my departure the next morning. There were several emails to attend to: RCL advised that a quick Covid test done 48 hours before boarding was all that was required, so, using a link they provided, I booked getting swabbed at the mall between the Southampton train station and my hotel. The other email had to do with my insurance claim for the roof in Florida: I called my insurance company and made sure a note went into my file that I’d be incommunicado until my arrival in New Jersey at the end of October. I also sent an email back to Florida authorizing temporary repairs to my villa roof. While all this was going on, I finished my artisan gin and the cheese I’d bought in Shrewsbury.
Friday evening, and Exeter is a university town. It was gloomy, so I didn’t want to return to The Prospect. Climbing the hill and walking around St David’s Church, there were multiple lower-priced eateries to chose from. Remembering back 3 years, I selected the Farmer’s Union. Lots of young men standing in the large bar area, I spotted a table back in the corner (beyond several tables of seated young women) and claimed the end of a long table. Journal out, backpack on the table too, with my jacket on the chair, I was secure when I went to the bar to order. After placing my order for a prawn cocktail and the steak and ale pie, I carried a pint of Otter ale back and settled in.
The prawn cocktail arrived in what I’d call a sundae glass, initially filled with a lot of shredded lettuce and topped with small shrimp in a (mayo?) sauce, paprika, cucumbers, and lemon; accompanied by three pieces of buttered sliced bread. The “pie” arrived on an oblong plate, mashed potatoes and peas bracketing pastry – a top disk and a bottom about the size of a donut, topped with chunks of marinated steak in gravy.
Back to the room, I was able to upload the proofed blog and begin pushing photos for the first five days visiting in the Republic of Ireland. I’d checked the schedule at the train station, and I wouldn’t be getting the “sleep in an extra hour” that I’d planned – but I’d be in Southampton (via a change in Basingstoke) by noontime and have plenty of time for my test appointment.
The first train, Waterloo Station bound, was 45 minutes late leaving Exeter, but I still made my connection (also late). The day started out as brilliant, albeit a bit breezy. By the time we crossed from Dorset into Hampshire, occasional showers streaked the windows. During the second leg I joined a couple heading to the port to join a short cruise that would take them to Hamburg and back. With much less luggage than me, they were off at the station at a slow trot, while I rolled slowly along a major surface street, past the large mall, and found the Moxy Southampton. It was cooler and cloudy, but still not uncomfortable.
Room 429 was ready for me, so I took my gear upstairs, deferring the welcome cocktail until later. Although there wasn’t an abundance of surface space, there was enough floor space to leave the large roller bag open. Unpacking the toiletry kit and hanging the jackets, I relaxed and chilled, doing a little reading. About an hour before my test, I decided to head out to scope out the mall complex, as the Harbour Parade Regenerative Clinic was in the Westquay Shopping Centre, a really massive mall.
After walking past the movie megaplex (nothing I felt any interest in seeing,) I passed through M&S and John Henry, two slightly upscale department stores. (I’d bought the Nikon at a John Henry in London in 2019.) I realized that about the only item I might need was a bathing suit, and both stores had moved into winter wear with no “cruise section”. Still looking for the Crispy Crème storefront which was purported next door to the test center, I finally checked at information and got sent in the right direction and level. Although I was early, the clinician fit me in and I was soon off, trying to figure out the parking structure which supported the retail space. Crossing the street I’d walked earlier, I went into Decathlon. I found an inexpensive gray boxer which I fully doubted I’d ever wear, and then walked around the outside of the Centre and found a market which had no bananas, but had crisps (4 bags) and chocolate bars (not the gourmet kind I've mailed home.)
Back to the room, I vacuumed down a bag of crisps and snagged my welcome cocktail ticket. At the bar on the ground floor, it turned out to be a fruity ice tea, with gin added if one wanted the alcoholic version. I collected a pint of ale and took it back upstairs, to consume with a chocolate bar (with crispy orange bits) and crisps (pretzels with jalapeno) while reading and finishing my catchup with emails. Appetite somewhat sated, I relaxed with my feet up on the bed.
Seven o’clock was approaching, and I figured I needed to find dinner. Not wanting to have mall food, I skirted the building and roamed the streets, not really finding anything (other than the remains of the castle) of interest. Coming back to the restaurants under the mall floors and facing the crumbling castle walls, the slight drizzle and cool air made outside dining, the only apparent alternative for a solo diner, less than appealing. And wait times were over an hour. So I capitulated and sat outside under a heater at Bill’s Restaurant. My notes are incomplete – I have no idea how the meal started, but the photo shows a pasta dish and the foot of a wine glass. I do know that my (mini) dessert was a salted caramel and chocolate brownie pot, with a golden latte: turmeric, agave, ginger root, cinnamon, black pepper and coconut milk.
The alarm woke me, and soon I was downstairs having coffee and OJ with a pain au chocolat, the latter to go. I anticipated a train ride (although my rail pass was expired), but checking my phone near midway to the station, I found I needed to backtrack a bit to catch a bus near Westquay. Securing a round trip ticket from the driver, the bus wended its way for 45 minutes through lush greenery, past fields and small towns under brilliantly sunny skies. It was a short walk to the cathedral, and I wandered a bit around it (the doors would open shortly for service only.) A young woman in a carriage was readying to sell coffee and tea, so I was her first customer. Rather tall, she would stoop or bend over all day.
Back in 1999, I’d first visited Winchester Cathedral. It was on a Sunday, and the nave had been filled with many religious organizations celebrating an ecumenical gathering. I had one or two pictures from that trip (black and white film) which I’d included in Cathedrals to the Glory of God. Now armed with a good digital camera, I expected to expand that photo collection. Another immense church, pictures of the exterior of the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Swithun is probably best taken after autumn’s denuding of the surrounding trees.
Entering for the 11am Choral Eucharist, I put my camera away and found a seat. Eight men and eleven boys sang in the choir, with perhaps 100-130 worshipers in attendance. Once the service and coffee hour were over, I returned to the front to get my admissions ticket and fire up the camera. Per my somewhat established routine, I started with shots down the central aisle before moving through the church.
That Sunday I came down the aisle to the altar at the crossing, which sits below a polyhedral neon star and in front of the screen into the quire. Turning around, the nave was darker, back lit by the huge stained-glass window of the west wall. The abstract design of its forty-four plus panels are filled with shards and fragments of glass recovered during excavations and restorations.
Enamored, I admit I stayed and took pictures for nearly 3 hours, burning through two camera batteries. Two hundred thirty-five pictures. Some of the highlights: in the sanctuary, besides a brilliant reredos, caskets or the remains for 6 kings of England sit on the walls. Memorial burial stalls for several bishops depict different attitudes about death. Carvings abound, and the stained-glass would take years to study. (A lot of English history is represented in those windows.) I’d love to attend a session on the multitude of bosses in the vaults. In particular, I especially loved the vault at the crossing, below the central tower.
While Saints Peter and Paul are well-known worldwide (and presumably buried in Rome), Saint Swithun’s remains used to lie within the ambulatory behind the sanctuary. In that space, a grand collection of ornamental tiles fills sections of the floor. When 3pm rolled around, I stopped and slipped into the quire, sitting behind the baritone, counter-tenor and alto men who returned from the morning service, this time joined by the girls choir. It was a lovely, mellowing service.
Afterwards I spoke with a tall younger vicar, chatting about the magnificence of the cathedral and how pleased I was to return after more than twenty years. Exiting, the skies had turned gray and overcast, but not raining, so I walked back to the bus stop and waited for my ride back south. As we proceeded, the bus became crowded and warmer, and I was grateful to exit once we reached the shopping centre. It had started raining again, so I decided an early dinner at L’Osteria would avoid returning out into the rain. Crowded, I was seated at the bar. First choice for an ale (Curious Session Extra IPA) was unavailable, so I went with the house primativo. A pizza place, I ordered a Nduja calabrese pizza (mozzarella, spicy sausage, half-dried cherry tomatoes) with a small rocket salad. For dessert, crema fragole e mascarpone. Back at the room, the watch reported 7700 steps. Before I slept, I finished and published my first Irish blog.
Arising at 8:30, I was downstairs for breakfast at 9. Eggs, sausage, yougurt, coffee, OJ, pain au chocolat and porridge. More food than I’d eat at dinner, but I had an early afternoon boarding time, and a late seating for dinner so I didn’t know when I’d get fed next. Back to the room, I was still waiting on the charging of the second camera battery and the reader while I finished packing. I tried to complete preboarding using the RCL App on the phone but was again unsuccessful. The AmerCAN (Canadian Covid app) seemed to work for flights only. Being on the road at that point for 9 weeks, I had no paperwork, so I closed up my bag and headed downstairs to check out.
Two ships would be boarding and departing that day, so the bar area was busy. Getting an ale and eating one of my crisps bags, I chatted with a number of folks. Two Irish brothers, twins, that I’d seen arrive late Friday (and looking very harried) were taking their first cruise on the Anthem. We walked from the hotel to the ship together, although we got separated once we’d entered the check-in lounge. As I recall, there was a lot of back-and-forth, dropping luggage, returning for initial screening (Covid test results), emigration check, RCL paperwork check, etc. All required moving from one place to another, with the inevitable queues. Finally, I was given my access key and allowed to board.