Starting mileage: 15383 km
Day started: 9:30
Day ended: 22:00
The cream tea and tea room have always been the mainstays of Dorset’s culinary culture. You may be forgiven to think that the foodie revolution, which was particularly active in Dorset (home of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’ River Cottage, after all) would have swept away these archaic vestiges of old fashioned Englishness, but no such thing happened: instead, the tea rooms transformed into food temples worthy of the best of tastes and accolades. It seems the Best Tea Room award has whipped the owners into competitive frenzy; where once you’d have a choice of scone with strawberry jam or plum jam, you now have a choice of local scallops on toast, dressed crab or honey-glazed organic pork with truffle oil.
We’ve discovered the first of these tea rooms yesterday in Worth Matravers; since then we’ve seen a few more, including a very special one in Moreton. More on that later.
As we retraced our steps out of Purbeck, we stopped briefly at Wareham. The town is older than it may at first seem; the range of earthen embankment surrounding it is, in fact, a Saxon fortification set up by Alfred the Great against the Danes. The grey stone church standing at the entrance to the city – built in a strange, disjointed style, looking more like a cross between a mill and a Norman keep than a sacred building – is almost exactly 1000 years old, having been built in early 11th century, with still visible Saxon features and a magnificent Norman fresco of St Martin. The most prominent feature of the interior, however, is a symbolic sarcophagus of T.E. Lawrence, taking up most of the northern nave, the only such effigy in England (apart from a modest bust in St Paul’s). A clear sign we were entering the Lawrence Country.
Wareham is an affluent, tourist-oriented community, with several good pubs and a well-stocked farm shop-cum-fishmonger and cafe (free Wi-Fi :), the Salt Pig.
From Wareham off we went towards Lulworth, one of our favourite spots on this coast: the Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove, the geologist’s sandpit. What people thought of this place – the massive crumple of rocks, obviously upheaved from the sea by some unimaginable force, and a door in the stone (named in Anglo-Saxon “a drill”) – before the advent of modern geology, I can only guess. Was this where God rested after making the Earth? Or a place of some mythical duel of wizards?
The scientific truth, the age-long interplay of sea waves and interchanging layers of hard and soft rock which created these features is, of course, no less fascinating. Add to that the fact that you can learn not only geology and chemistry here, but also physics – the perfectly round coves are created by wave diffraction, the same process used to explain the wave nature of light – sort out the P.E. with a course in kayaking, add a spot of seaweed hunting for biology and home economics (how many kinds of sushi can you make with these?) and you have the ideal school trip.
From Lulworth we went to a place which could hardly be called a village – basically an intersection, with a single row of old huts hidden in the forest and a slightly odd church. Despite being literally in the middle of nowhere – surrounded by vast, flat, inhospitable heath- and gorse-land – Moreton is a place of pilgrimages from all over the world, for one very particular reason: here lies T.E. Lawrence, the Lawrence of Arabia.
His grave is a modest slab of white stone on the tiny local cemetery. A mile off into the forest is his last home, the Cloudy Hill, and the site of his death is marked with a stone not far off. The local farmers still claim to hear the abruptly ceasing noise of the Brough Superior motorcycle just before sunrise.
The most peculiar memento, however, is in the Moreton Tea Room. The Tea Room is another of the award-winning super-bistros, and is remarkable in its own right; but take a closer look at the odd, wheeled cake stand in the dining room: it’s Lawrence’s authentic funeral bier from the 1935 funeral!
Having satisfied my fascination with Lawrence, we headed towards Portland, with one more odd stop, for which we should receive some kind of hipster badge: a now-defunct indie coffee roastery in Broadmayne, Nature’s Roast. When we got there, it seemed we were in the wrong place: there was nothing there but a farm cottage. It turned out we were in the right place, but at the wrong time. The roastery was now closed. The entire enterprise was run by a single guy in their parents’ living room: he roasted coffee in the wood-fired oven inside the house, supplying indie cafes in nearby Dorchester. The smell must have been amazing; a few months ago, he moved to Bristol, to work in a roastery there, but he did leave a few bags for his old folks, who now run what must be the most hipster B&B in West Country: for breakfast, they serve their guests aeropress with their own single variety roast! As if hearing the story wasn’t enough, we got gifted with two bags of coffee, and are looking forward to test it in a few weeks. The place is now called the Holcombe Valley Cottages – make sure to check it out when you need accommodation in the area, the people who run it are great!
We didn’t drive too far into Portland, as the engine of our poor car started to protest the long uphill run: far enough to reach the viewpoint over the magnificent Chesil Beach towards Bridport, and a disused quarry transformed into a sculpture park. It was getting late and we had to start looking for the campsite.
The Sea Barn Farm is well worth the opinion of one of the best campsites in the region. Overlooking the Fleet lagoon, it’s spacious but not crowded, and mercifully free of static caravans. The facilities are almost hotel-like, even including the bath; and if you grow restless in the stunning silence of the Fleet (you can hear a duck landing on the water from a hundred yards) the nearby bigger campsites have clubs and swimming pools and all – far enough not to disturb you back at the tent. The only drawback is the access to the water is limited by a horse riding school, so you need to take a bit of a walk across the fields.