The Finale

Trip Start May 08, 2004
Trip End May 23, 2004

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Sunday, May 23, 2004

Janice: We're at Gatwick Airport and are ready to come home. I gave Nick about six pounds and he's spent them all on arcade games -- having a great time. Now, while we have a bite to eat, we'll bring you up to date on our final adventures.

On Friday, with reluctance we left our cottage in Castle Cary. It is such an interesting place and was perfect for us. We loaded up the car and drove west for about two hours, taking mostly back roads and winding in and around the hedgerows and through many beautiful little villages. We marvelled at all the fabulous blossoms and farm fields. The landscape first became much more level, although never flat. As we approached Exmoor and the coast, the hills became higher and steeper.

Exmoor is known for its moors -- high windswept, treeless expanses. They're starkly beautiful. We were headed for the Exmoor Falconry Experience and were booked to stay at the 15th century farm B & B.

We located the farm and then headed for a nearby village for lunch. Nick picked out a cute little cafe where he had his new discovery for lunch: a Jacket Potato (baked potato). They're available with many different toppings, but Nicholas, true to form, takes only butter. I had a wonderful home-made mushroom quiche.

After lunch and browsing the village shops (Nick under duress), we headed back to the farm for our afternoon with the birds of prey.

Nick: I had been looking forward to this for the whole trip. I wish you could have been there, but, sadly, you weren't. Too bad. I'm being forced to tell you this. I'm a stand-up comic, but I'm sitting down! Anyways ...

First, they gave us a glove for the birds to land on (JB - A hot and smelly leather glove for the left hand, previously used to feed the birds with the heads of dead chicks!). Then, the guide, Tony, brought out one of the birds -- a peregrine falcon. It's my favourite bird. It had a little hood on, too, that covered its face so that it thought it was dark and wasn't so rambunctious. (JB - Maybe I should have tried this with Nick!) Tony took us into a field and put a hunk of meat on a piece of string; this is the lure. He swung it around in a big circle so the bird would dive at it. We and the other two guests stood in a line with about 20 feet between each person. Tony began to swing the lure and the bird, who he had set free and was flying about, would dive at the lure, flying between us such high speeds! It was so cool. Tony said the bird was travelling at more than 100 miles per hour. We could feel the wind rippling beside our very essence as the bird swooped to the other end of the field. (My teacher will like that one!)

After, we got to hold a variety of birds, including owls, a kookaburra, hawks and falcons. The heaviest one was an eagle. I had to use my right hand and arm to brace my left arm where the bird was sitting. (JB - Each bird Tony brought out would fly to the four guests for food -- about three or four times per person. So, we got to have these incredible creatures land on our outstretched arms about 20 times each!) And there were these cute little baby owls, only five weeks old. They were SO CUTE! I got to feed them dead baby chicks!

A little while later we got to go on a hawk walk. The falcon would fly through the trees and Tony would give us food to hold up to him. The hawk would fly down to our gloves and eat the food, then fly off. A little while later, we went into a field and we called the bird to come for more food, but he didn't come. Fifteen minutes later, we realized that the bird had gone hunting on his own and had caught and eaten a vole or small mouse. Once he returned, we got a little more holding time, but then it was done. And it was SO MUCH FUN! I almost want to have a bird of my own. But, don't worry, Mom. I won't get one. I know you'd scream and run around in every direction. Your secret is safe with me.

Janice: That afternoon, Nick was in heaven. He wandered around looking at the birds and mumbling, "It's like a dream!"

During the evening we had dinner in Porlock, the nearby village. Nick had pizza, but I had the most unbelievable creamed carrot and coriander soup with fresh, fresh foccacia bread.

The next morning, after a fine English breakfast at the farm, we were picked up for our Exmoor Jeep Safari. With two other guests, our guide, Richard, drove us for about 60 miles through the back country of Exmoor National Park.

There are two things in Exmoor that everyone wants a chance to see: the famous red deer and the wild moor ponies. We were no different.

Richard started off by driving from Porlock straight up a narrow road behind town. I mean straight up! I wouldn't want to take a car up some of those roads. Most of the locals we saw were driving 4-wheeled SUVs. We were soon rocketing over rutted roads ... no, they were tracks. Before we knew it, we were on top of the world!

When you reach the summit of one of those hills, it feels incredibly high because they're rounded, with no clear edges and with no trees to speak of. It makes everything feel open and expansive. The view extended over the sea and Wales was clearly visible.

Before long, Richard stopped the jeep and we got out to have a look and take some pictures. As we left the vehicle he said, "Don't forget your bynos." He was referring to the binoculars that were supplied to everyone. No sooner had we all lined up outside the jeep, but Richard had spotted a couple of deer moving through the heather. We all tried to see them with our bynos, but didn't have his eyesight. He did say that the deer were moving quickly and were quite distant to begin with.

Soon we were back in the jeep and heading over another hilltop. Suddenly Richard pulled off the road and stopped. This time, we could all easily see the herd of deer he'd spotted -- even without our bynos. They were, perhaps, a block away from us. The herd consisted of about 15 females and young from the last couple of years (no newborns from this year, yet). We didn't see any stags.

What a glorious sight!

We saw a second herd later on, but it was farther from us and not so easy to watch.

One of the most interesting sights during this three-hour tour was the Tarr Steps. Archaeologists believe that this stone footbridge was built about 3,000 years ago. The large stones that you walk across (about two feet wide and six feet long) are laid across a shallow, but swiftly running river. Space for the river water is left beneath each cross stone. The end of each stone sits, as I recall, on low stacks of rock. These joining points are protected from higher water flow by cunningly angled vertical stones that deflect the water flow away from the joints and the supporting stacks. After the jeep took us across the river by actually driving through the water on the river bed (!), we stopped and walked across the stone footbridge. It was completely steady, with not a bit of movement. Amazing!

Our last great sight of the day was of some wild moor ponies that were grazing just by the road. They didn't seem frightened of us at all, but were busily eating and grooming themselves.

This jeep safari was a wonderful experience and a great way to end our two weeks in England.

Immediately after the tour, we hopped into our car and headed back to Gatwick, a four-hour drive, mostly on six-lane highways. We spent the evening at an airport hotel repacking our luggage and hoping the airline wouldn't charge us extra for heavy bags! (They didn't.)

This has been a wonderful trip. Nick has been more homesick than we'd expected and was quite distressed by our flight delay at the beginning of the trip and by his injured eye. However, he still enjoyed every activity ... from watching the ducks at the Stourhead Gardens to hearing stories about executions on Tower Green at the Tower of London to overcoming his fear of heights on the London Eye. I suspect he'll be raving about his experiences once he's home safely in Canada.

I enjoyed England much more than I expected. It was green and clean and friendly in every circumstance. We found the people to be excessively friendly and polite. The weather was spectacular -- praise God!

I would love to visit again. In fact, the places we went were so wonderful, I'd be happy to just back to the same spots again!

As soon as we have our photos developed, we'll add the best pictures of our trip to this travelogue.

Thanks for reading!

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