Saturday, 23 February 2013

To Cornwall and Back, or One Epic Vista After Another

Cornwall, you really surprised me. With your magnificent coves, breath-taking sunsets, and indulgently hedonistic cream teas, I dare say you are out of this world.

The fortunate thing about traveling to Cornwall in the winter is that not many other tourists are there. No crowds, Off-season prices, etc. However, this means that a lot of the attractions, like castles, close.  This makes it a bit tricky to see everything you want to see. Our first stop on our drive down A39 was Dunster Castle, which sits atop of a hill in the small village of Dunster. Guess what? It was closed.

There we were, standing at the bottom of the castle, a beautiful picnic from Peppercorns Deli in our backpacks, staring at this CLOSED sign. And then Sebastian, my fearless companion, just stepped over the gate -  just like that. Might I add that he is partially a giant, so this was quite a simple maneuver for him. He turned back and looked at me, with an expression that was equivalent to a chicken taunt.  Bawk, bawk. Weighing the consequences in my head (forever a Libra), I decided that I'd much rather enjoy my fancy ham n' cheese baguette on top of a castle than in a parking lot. Under the gate I went!

Never has trespassing felt so good. With each step up the castle stairs, the view got a little more rewarding. We approached a bench that the sun was shining directly on. It sort of felt like the sun was demanding us to sit there and have our lunch, and it would probably be rude if we didn't.

And that's my story of how I stormed a castle and then I ate a sandwich.

Next stop: the Valley of the Rocks, near Lynton. There's a scenic road starting in Porlock on the way, which takes you through Exmoor National Park. If there's one thing I've learned, always take the scenic road. If that isn't already on a refrigerator magnet or coffee mug, it should be.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect at the Valley of the Rocks. I mean, the name is pretty self-explanatory, so I was thinking there was a good chance we might see some rocks there. And how! Lots of rocks, BIG rocks, and even bigger cliffs with killer views! Oh, there were some goats hanging out there, too. You will soon come to know my love for chasing farm animals. I have the aspiration of one day being able to catch one. But these Cornwall goats were quick, and they would not be caught. Sigh. One day.

All that goat-chasing and castle-storming had left me and my companion rather weary. We made our way further down the coast to a B&B in Wadebridge, where we were awakened the next morning by a friendly greyhound named Woody.

Is this not the cutest kitchen you have ever seen? Definitely Pinterest quality. Also, I tried Marmite for the first time; Seb seemed a bit appalled at the amount that I slathered on to my toast. Not bad! Though it still doesn't come close to my love for Sriracha.

Bellies full of Marmite (well, not just Marmite - that would be gross), it was off to St. Michael's Mount!  After seeing it, I can safely say that I want my own castle on an island. All my friends could come too, of course.

Since the tide was out, we were able to simply stroll over to the island. There's not a whole lot going on there. Nothing, really. Now that I think back, that would have been an excellent time to storm the castle and claim the island in the name of SHANNON!  Next time, I guess.

Just when we thought the views couldn't get anymore spectacular, we arrived at Lizard Point, the most southerly point of England. After following a narrow coastal path, we planted ourselves on a large rock jutting out over a cove. From there, we watched the sun slowly dip below the horizon. I've seen the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean a few times, but never set, not until that moment at least. It certainly is a neat feeling, you know, being on the other side of the pond.

Continuing the Camelot theme, Seb and I took our journey to Tintagel, King Arthur's legendary birthplace. There's a cove beneath the ruins of the castle, and it's very easy to imagine an Arthurian setting - Merlin's Cave, anyone?

The ruin itself is perched high up on a cliff, accessible by a very steep flight of stairs. I couldn't help but wonder how many people have fallen down those stairs. The castle has been inhabited at least since the late Roman period, so it's pretty much inevitable that someone has busted their ass.

... Am I the only one who thinks about these things?

The last stop on our tour of the West Country was Glastonbury, the site of the Glastonbury Tor. The Tor sits upon a sacred hill, and has been a place of pilgrimage since Neolithic times. The panoramic view from the top of the hill is very, very vast, spanning several miles into the distance. Seeing the area we had covered, it was a bit of an overview of the last few days: the Bristol Channel, the rolling hills, the little villages.

England, you continue to surprise me with your history and landscapes. Your rich antiquity, your Druidic lore, your Arthurian legends - you will always have a place in my heart. Although I still don't understand why anyone would eat a scone covered in jam and clotted cream in the middle of the day. You can keep that.

All photos by Sebastian Anthony

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Dressing out of a Suitcase: February 6th

This is the first of a new series of posts based on my wardrobe, which happens to be a suitcase. I've been on the road for nearly a month now, and I'm proud to say that I haven't worn the same combination of clothes once! Though it hasn't been easy. There have been a lot of those girl moments when I just stare at my wardrobe out of frustration, hoping if I stare long and hard enough new clothes will magically appear.

Unfortunately, I've never been much of a "basics" girl. When I go shopping, I gravitate towards to the anything-but-basics. This has resulted in a closet of costume-inspired pieces. Which makes for an even more interesting suitcase. Anyhow, the point of this series is to show y'all how I layer different patterns and textures, and how dressing out of a suitcase doesn't have to be boring!

photo by Sebastian Anthony

Above is what I call grunge-inspired lolita. A lot of 90s throwbacks going on, like maybe I could be one of Clare Danes's friends on My So-Called Life.

Layering is vital in England, especially during the winter. With a chilly, drizzly climate, heavy knits are a must. Frilly socks and a petticoat not only look adorable, but they add that extra warmth that a dress and tights simply don't provide enough of. Finally, a thick beanie because icy wind-chilled ears are no fun at all.

photo by Sebastian Anthony

Dress & hat, Topshop.  Cardigan, ASOS.  Petticoat, American Apparel.  Socks, Free People.  Booties, Colonial Madness @ Urban Outfitters.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Standing in the Shadow of Camelot

Only a few hours after getting up close and personal with Stonehenge, Sebastian and I found ourselves driving around the Somerset countryside in search of the legendary location of Camelot. The site itself is actually known as Cadbury Castle, positioned on a limestone hill surrounded by earthworks. As we arrived at South Cadbury, we noticed a rather large mound rising up behind the steeples of the village church.

"I think that's it." Sebastian said, a little uncertain.

"How do we... get to it?" I asked, studying the thick mass of trees encircling the hill. Gotta admit, I was expecting neon signs, or something: THIS WAY TO CAMELOT. Nope. No signs, no markers, nothing. The road was getting narrower and narrower, and the hedge on either side was obscuring our view of the hill.  The sun was dipping towards the horizon, it was going to set soon. Time was running out. Were we really going to miss Camelot?

Just as the road curved, the landscaped seemed to open up.  We had a clear view of the hill, standing high above grassy moorland, basking in the copper glow of the setting sun.  Oh, and look -- a public footpath, and not a moment too soon! Bless you, England, with your public footpaths.  A few minutes later, we were out of the car, hiking boots on, and making our way towards the summit.

photo by Sebastian Anthony

The sun seemed to give us just enough time to reach the dense cluster of trees enshrouding the hill. Gazing back at the horizon, I imagined myself living in Arthurian times, standing in the shadow of Camelot.

We weren't there yet though -- there was still a hill to climb!  Hopping over a stile situated between the earthworks, we began the steep ascension through the trees.  Oh, how thankful Sebastian and I were of our new hiking boots as we slopped and sloshed through the terrain.  The mud was thick like molasses (why, yes, I am from Georgia -- how did you know?).  It was as if the ground was slipping out from underneath me with each step. Finally, breathless and red-faced, we reached an opening in the trees.  

There were high-fives all around. 

photo by Sebastian Anthony

The view from the summit was absolutely incredible.  Holy shit.  I mean, I'd definitely have a castle up there.  Although there aren't any ruins of Cadbury Castle, there is a historical marker.  While no one can really say for sure who inhabited that castle, it is known that he lived in the time of Arthur, and that he was also verrry wealthy.  A girl can dream, right?  

For future reference, I think that would be a great spot to bring a picnic.  Maybe not in the winter, but I can image it would be just lovely on a Spring/Summer afternoon.  Anyway, I'll save that for another day.  The sun had set, and we were beginning to lose any light that remained.  As we stood at the edge of darkened wooded area, we glanced at each other, and I noticed a bit of apprehension in Seb's eyes.  

"Are we going to end up like those people on TV?"  He was referring to the creepy mystery/investigation shows that run non-stop on Investigation Discovery. I laughed and reminded him that I had a flashlight app on my iPhone.  I don't think the people on Disappeared had iPhones.

Walking back down the hill was a bit like... surfing. Surfing through mud and shrubs, every now and then grasping on to the nearest tree trunk for dear life. It was fun though. Sebastian was attempting to perfect an awkward horizontal side-step down the mound. It just looked like he was trying to do the grapevine. "Promise not to laugh if I fall!" I yelled back at my grapevining comrade, a little mix of desperation and amusement in my voice, as I glided clumsily down a slippery slope of sludge.  

After what seemed like a killer thigh workout, we were back on the flat farmland.  The sense of accomplishment I felt was almost as great as when we reached the summit. We made it to Camelot and back, and alive, no less!  By the time we trudged back to the car, we were feeling, as they say, a bit peckish.  A tall pint of cider and some fish and chips seemed like the perfect way to celebrate our first day of adventure, with many more to come. 

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Following in the Footsteps of Druids

I've been in England for two weeks now, and it truly has been one of the most exciting experiences in my life so far.  Which would explain why I haven't updated in a while!  But I heard that reflection is a great way to really appreciate things, so here goes ---

Two days after my arrival in England, Sebastian and I embarked on an adventure to the West country.  That morning, Sebastian woke me around 5 a.m., which nearly deterred me from going on the trip at all (it's sacrilegious to get up that early). Jet-lagged and almost nearly comatose, I managed to drag myself out of bed, mostly because a surprise had been promised.  Nothing like anticipation to get you up in the morning (or coffee... there may have been some of that involved)! For the past few days I had been desperately trying to extract clues out of Sebastian, but, damn, that guy is pretty good at keeping a secret.

photo by Sebastian Anthony

We had been driving in the dark for a few hours, and just as the sun started to spill over the horizon, I caught glimpse of a very familiar structure - a circular cluster of upright stones silhouetted in the distance.  "STONEHENGE!"  My jet-lag faded.  Now I was giddy -- really giddy, like I'm-about-to meet-a-celebrity giddy.  So this is the surprise, I thought.  Well, almost.

If you know about Stonehenge, you can't really go inside the circle anymore.  For preservation purposes, there are ropes keeping you a good distance away.  As we drove into the practically deserted parking lot, the surprise was revealed.  Sebastian had gotten special permission to go inside the monument.  "Really?!" My jaw dropped.  Really.  What an incredible experience - seeing Stonehenge up close at dawn!  And we were basically alone, aside from a security guard, who acted mostly as a tour guide anyhow. He pointed out the earliest prehistoric graffiti, a primitive carving of a dagger.  That kind of arcane stuff really fascinates me.

photo by Sebastian Anthony

When he wasn't looking, we did manage to touch the stones.  For me, that was probably the best part. Being somewhat of a druidophile (yes, I may have just made that word up), that instant in time was pretty magical.  While the true purpose of Stonehenge has been lost with time,  some have said that it was a place of healing.  In my last entry, I discussed the feelings of unrest that instigated this whole trip.    Since I've been here, and especially after Stonehenge, I've felt more at peace.  I feel good about where I'm going.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Somewhat of a New Beginning

So here I sit in bed, too nervous to sleep.  Tomorrow I board a plane to London.  I've never been to England before, but I've never even left the country before either.  That's not to say that I don't travel; I've seen most of the States, more than most I'd guess.  California and Hawaii were definitely my favorites, probably because the weather rarely drops below 60 degrees.  Which makes England sort of an odd first overseas experience.  To be honest, it wasn't my first choice, or even my second.  Just a few months ago I was dreaming of bungee jumping in New Zealand.  But life has a funny tendency to never work out the way I planned.

Okay, so that sounded a little like disappointment.  It isn't though.  You see, I met someone in a hostel in Asheville, NC this past September.  This someone is from England, and I'm sure you'll be hearing more about him later.  But, yeah, it seemed like a good excuse to visit somewhere I've never been before.  I'll still jump off things in New Zealand someday. For now, this is where my life is taking me, and I couldn't be more excited.

I didn't want this first post to be so much of an obligatory introduction, but I suppose I should say a little about myself.  I'm Shannon.  I'm an illustrator, and a working one, too.  Post college, I found my life had slowly become stagnant.  It was a pleasant life, that's for sure.  I mean, I was living in Savannah, GA, and there's definitely a reason they call it the Hostess City.   It's the type of city that sucks you in and keeps you there.  Although, deep down inside me, there was this growing feeling of unrest.  I've never liked routine (probably why I chose to become a freelancer), and every part of me was saying Go! Get out!  And that's what I did.

Now we're back to me sitting here in bed.  I get goosebumps when I think that in a little over 24 hours, I'll be stepping onto foreign soil for the first time.  This trip is going to have a lot of firsts. These thoughts are the things that reassure me.

See you tomorrow, England!