a little southern comfort

Fri, Sep 23, 2011

We recently fought our way down the west coast into the teeth of a hurricane and rain of biblical proportions in Glencoe on our way south to the very southernmost edge of that place south of the wall. England no less! But the highlands didn’t let us pass easily. The wind and rain through Glencoe were phenomenal, having to drive at 20mph with the wipers going mental and still not able to see a thing. The north face below Ossian’s Cave was a mass of white streaks with the burns roaring down the cliffs. It was truly awesome to behold.

East Wittering beach

Our destination was East Wittering where we were staying in a friend’s holiday home on the beach and what a beach it was. It was such a change to get up in the morning and saunter onto the sand and walk for miles and miles and miles under blue skies and blazing sun. I’m sure it must have been 150 degrees at one point it was so hot! It was probably only 21.

East Wittering beach

One day, while Dawn went to London for a day out, I walked barefoot to Selsey, about 6 miles, only having to sandal up when the tide came in and forced me onto the jaggy pebbles near an abomination of a caravan site. I gave up walking at Selsey as the coast from there is privately owned apparently and I was confronted with a dirty great fence and a Fk Of sign. I think you can walk along the coast when the tide is out but as it comes right up to the top of the groynes you’re barred until it goes back out again. So I just plodded back, missing my opportunity to cold call Patrick Moore to thank him for inspiring me as a nipper to get into astronomy. An eccentric friend once sent him a painting they’d done of him outside his observatory but he looked like Stevie Nicks out of Fleetwood Mac and the telescope appeared to sticking up out of his head so he sent it back with a polite “no thanks pal” note.

Arundel Castle

Then we had a day oot at Arundel Castle. A real gem of a place although the locals seem to regard it as we regard Dunvegan Castle, i.e. a 1920s fabrication as a lot of the insides are still lived in and the Arundel owners are therefore not too keen on bare stone beds and the like. Nevertheless a fantastic place. It was there I saw something very rare. Well the lady I asked said it was rare to see these “memento mori” sculptures. I forget the chap it represented but apparently these skeletal carvings lay on top of the tombs of the well to do, reminding them that death was always tapping them on the shoulder, whispering, “are you ready yet?” When the well heeled harassee finally succumbed, the memento mori was replaced by their own effigy on the top of their tomb. The mystery is where did all these stone skeletons go? This one was superb.

Mememento Mori

Mememento Mori

Also, the gardens at Arundel are stunning, especially in the perma-sun that seems to bake the land down there.

Red Admiral

And of course, Chichester was a really nice town. There are wonderful pasty shops and a good bookshop that I almost emptied of its stock and an amazing cathedral.

Chichester Cathedral

There’s even a Cotswold shop but luckily the Rab Latok Alpine was only available in small or XL, phew! It took a while to work out what was so nice about the centre of Chichester. Apart from being a pedestrianised zone, there was something else. Then it struck me. All the shops were small local shops, producing local food, local crafts from old buildings. There was a shop called Lakeland which is quite the thing down there I believe and it reminded me of Grace Bros in Are You Being Served. Very very very nice ladies guiding me towards the coffee making gear upstairs. And then it really hit me why it was different. There were no mobile phone shops! Hurrah! The wonders of Princes Street in Edinburgh are often extolled but if you actually go there and walk down it, it’s a midden. Every third shop is a mobile phone shop and the ones in between are either tartan tat shops or big name chains. To paraphrase Jack and Victor. Princes Street, shitehole! I really enjoyed bimbling round Chichester with most of the contents of Waterstones under my arm. Strangely though, I was the only person to sit outside at the cathedral tea room as it had been raining. I looked round from my coffee and bun to see a sea of faces watching me. “He’s from the north you know. No, even further north than that. You don’t mean? Yes! The Hairy Arsed North!”.

There was a little drama one day though. I was sitting outside the house in East Wittering sipping my morning coffee and listening to the sea crash on the shore when the old gal next door came down her path waving her arms in the air, looking down the road. At first I thought she was calling for her cat, shouting “kaya, kaya” and waving her arms. This went on for a minute or so until I realised she was shouting “fiya fiya”. So I dropped the coffee and belted down the road and into her house to see the plastic electric kettle merrily blazing away on the electric cooker. So I soaked her bath mat, put the conflagration out and Dawn got on the blower to the fire chaps who came screaming round the corner from the local station. Apparently they don’t get many flaming plastic kettle callouts and they seemed chuffed with the experience for the new recruits. I had to laugh when the chief told one of them to bring the kettle and mat out but “remember to wear your gloves”! The old gal actually asked him if the kettle had boiled yet. She was 90.

So it was a nice change, for a while. Sitting at roundabouts for 15 hours waiting for a break in the traffic became just a tad tedious as did the speak-ing-ree-ly-slow-ly as apparently they don’t understand English down there. Not my kind anyway! and the sleeze brothers in the chippy weren’t too pleased when we handed over a Scottish tenner. Is this legal?

But there was a brilliant moment on the beach as a Spitfire flew over, on its way to the Goodwood Revival. We baulked at the hundred quid or so it would cost to get in for the full thing and the parking nightmare and millions of hoardes milling around but we got a grandstand view of the iconic metal bird as it flew through the achingly blue sky over the miles of gleaming sand. And there our overly adjectival adventure reached a merlin accompanied finale and we headed back home. Blown north this time in yet another hurricane.

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