4 Days in Western Ireland

Months ago, our friends Andrew and Melanie invited us to spend a day or two with them while they honeymooned on the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland. Naturally, we jumped at the chance to see them! We added a couple extra days to the trip so we could see the Cliffs of Moher and maybe a town or two, leaving our itinerary open so we could be spontaneous.

We drove from Dublin to Limerick and pulled into our Airbnb well after midnight. Our hostess’ name was Sadhbh (love it) and she could not have been more welcoming. She must have said “grand” twenty five times in the span of five minutes. We were sorry to crash and dash since she was so kind, but we wanted to make it to the Cliffs of Moher the next day before lunchtime. A failed study-abroad experience in Ireland taught me that if you look out the window and see a dry Ireland, get your butt moving because it won’t last until your next meal. I think its the only place with weather more miserable than England. Which must be why they paint all their buildings in bright, cheerful colors.

Colorful Dingle

We did a drive-by of Limerick’s city center along the River Shannon, saw King James’ Castle, and grabbed coffees and a smoothie from Arabica Coffee Co. on Shannon Street. We highly recommend this place if you’re a coffee lover and find yourself in Limerick! Then we hit the cliffs.

Major travel tip: you can easily avoid the crowds and ridiculous per person “entrance” fee to the cliffs viewing area by parking somewhere other than the official Cliffs of Moher welcome center. We parked at a farm south of the official entrance for 2 euro and then had a glorious hike along the entire south arm of the cliffs. This was the best weather we had for the entire trip, and the views were stunning. If you’re traveling with children, be aware that there are no fences or guard rails. You can get as close as you dare to the edge…

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Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

Western Ireland iPhone

On the way to Dingle that afternoon, we accidentally took the scenic route through Conor Pass, a twisty narrow road up and down a mountain, not really wide enough for two-way traffic. The fog was so thick that we couldn’t see beyond the car in front of us, but the few glimpses we caught of the mountain were breathtaking. And so begins my repetitive narrative about our time in Dingle. I’m sure it was all beautiful, but we couldn’t see a thing.

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We had a great dinner in town that evening with our friends and the next day the four of us drove around the peninsula to see some ancient sites and ruins. Half of these were not worth the entrance fee, but to be fair, if the weather was nicer, I’m sure each site would have provided beautiful views of the sea and countryside. If you plan to do this driving tour in bad weather, skip the hill fort and random stone piles and opt instead for the largely intact structures like the Gallarus Oratory…

Gallarus Oratory

Kilmalkedar Church (ruins with cemetery)…

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and Fahan Beehive Huts…

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Each site has a little Irish boy sitting in a booth or playing with his dog ready to collect 2-3 euro per person before sending you through to the sites.

Connor and I stayed in a perfect little flat on a sheep farm 2 miles outside of Dingle Town owned by a woman from Missouri and her Irish husband. Their Airbnb listing mentions:

We are farmers, so we are early to bed and early to rise. The apartment is directly over our bedroom, so if your lifestyle means you don’t know night from day then booking our accommodation might not be suitable… for you or for us.

Noted! Combined with the little signs of scary leprechauns sprinkled throughout the flat reminding visitors to remove shoes, turn off lights, unplug computers, etc we decided our hosts were either grumpy or funny. Later, Jan invited us to a drop in music session at a pub where she would be playing. She asked if we played instruments and said we could borrow some of hers! Naturally, I pressured Connor to seize the day. Playing in a pub in the motherland with a bunch of long lost kin!!! DO IT! Eventually he agreed. So what if it was actually bluegrass music, and the guitar was out of tune… Jan was our new favorite person.

Western Ireland iPhone

When we left Dingle we decided to drive the Ring of Kerry before heading to our next Airbnb on another farm outside of Killarney. Once again, the fog prevented us from seeing anything. We had 1.5 moments of clarity, and here are the pictures to prove it.

Driving the Ring of Kerry

Western Ireland iPhone

I’m actually surprised how many decent photos we ended up with from this trip. It was rainy and foggy every day except the morning at the cliffs. Too wet and foggy to hike. Fishing charters were cancelled. To sum it up:

Western Ireland iPhone

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4 Days in Western Ireland

Doyles Take England: Devon and Exmoor National Park

So this post is a day late… sorry about that. We’re leaving for Ireland this evening and I spent more time yesterday preparing for our trip than I anticipated. SO without further ado, let’s talk about Devon! After lunch in Bath we continued driving south to the county of Devon where we stayed for the next three nights. Devon has coastline in both the north and the south, touching both the Bristol Channel and the English Channel. We stayed in a small town called Lynton in the northern part of the county, very close to Somerset, with views over the Bristol Channel. Exmoor National Park is in North Devon, and we planned to explore that area during our stay. The cliffs and coast on the way into Lynton were beautiful!

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The town was quiet and sleepy, no tour buses or crowds, and we loved it! Our B&B served us a wonderful breakfast each morning and the rooms looked out over the sea (2nd picture below is the view from our room).

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After a full English breakfast our first morning in Devon, we drove to Mortehoe and tackled an 8 mile hike on the Southwest Coast Path. The weather continued to cooperate and we had intermittent sun, and this section of the 630 mile long trail was stunningly beautiful. Around every corner was another perfect view, and the colors of the flowers, cliffs, and sea changed constantly as the sun moved in and out of the clouds. As usual, I took way too many pictures, but someday I’ll be happy I have all these. Probably. Hopefully. Maybe not…

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This was our view on the non-sea side. I could barely take my eyes off the water so most of our photos are of the sea.

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Connor and I walked down to this secluded beach at one point and soaked our feet in the cool water. We were probably 6 or 7 miles into the hike at this point, and the water felt so amazing. Penny despises swimming, and we’ve thrown her in enough times that she won’t get much closer to the water than in the below picture.

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As usual we saw some sheep who were totally indifferent to our presence. We also saw a couple seals bobbing in and out of the waves. We were pretty high up so the pictures didn’t turn out well.

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Below, Penny and I are standing on Morte Point, almost at the end of the hike.

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The village in the distance is our final destination! You can see Connor and Dave up ahead if you look closely. Can you imagine living in a little village like this, walking your dog on the Southwest Coast Path each morning?!

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That evening, we had dinner at a tapas restaurant in town and I have to say I was impressed. I didn’t expect a little village this far off the beaten path to have Spanish cuisine, and in general I don’t expect restaurant food to be very good. No offense to you lovely English! You have done a fabulous job embracing your flaws (I assume this is why you have so many terrible fish and chip shops)… you do you. And I will continue to seek out ethnic cuisine.

Day 2

After breakfast (we all opted to forego the full English this time…) we set off for another day of hiking and exploring. Our planned hike was shorter, with more amazing views, but potentially a bit treacherous. The book we were using as a guide didn’t make it sound too bad, and they definitely didn’t use the word “treacherous,” so we gave it a go. It started off innocently enough… and then all of a sudden we realized that Penny was covered in ticks. We had walked through a section of woods and she must have discovered a nes. I had never seen ticks so small in my life… some were no larger than a sesame seed. Others were normal sized… ugh, I was terrified she was going to get limes disease. We must have picked 20 or so off her. Crisis averted, we continued on.

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So, innocent enough hike, and then the cliffs became progressively steeper and the path narrower…

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And then fog started rolling in…

…and I decided this was ultimately a bad day to die. So we took the next path toward the village, through the farms and countryside, and Connor’s contact rolled up into his head. Never a dull moment.

I do think this hike would have been terrific if we had fresh legs and weren’t toting a little dog with us. You never know when she’s going to get squirmy or freak out or smell a sheep and make a bid for freedom.

That evening we took an old cliff tram down the hill into Lynmouth, the town directly below Lynton at sea level. The train/tram is a hydraulic system that opened in 1890. It uses sea water to transport passengers up and down the cliff and it seemed to be in really great condition.

We had dinner in Lynmouth and met a couple and their dog who were sitting at a table next to us. Because I have no sense of decency I asked them if they have trouble with ticks. The couple, bless them, were very kind and we chatted about ticks and walking in England and they told me about special tick tweezers that we should look into. Before we left, the man tapped me on the shoulder and handed me a sleeve of said tick tweezers. He had run out to his truck to fetch a spare set for us. Isn’t that the nicest thing?!

Fun story: these came in handy a week or so later when Connor thought he had a tick on his shoulder. I dutifully got the tweezers, Googled how to use them, and braced myself for whatever was about to happen next. I’m twisting the damn instrument, pinching the “tick” and twisting, and all of a sudden it explodes. It was a blood blister. I almost barfed.

So anyway, the next morning, Connor and I did a short hike before we needed to say goodbye to Lynton, and we met a bunch of silly little goats! There were a bunch of little baby goats, and one of them was sleeping on a rock on the cliff. As I watched, he tumbled off his perch, poor little dude.

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We had a really great time in Devon but had plans to see Hamlet that evening, so we left before lunch!

I’ll post about the rest of our adventure late next week when we’re back from Ireland!

Doyles Take England: Devon and Exmoor National Park

Doyles Take England: Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon

After leaving the Cotswolds, we made a quick stop in Bath to stretch our legs, have lunch, and check out the ancient city. We barely scratched the surface and I hope we make it back to Bath sometime soon. The highlight of this visit was simply enjoying the gorgeous 18th century Georgian architecture, the Bath Abbey, and the river. We had another gorgeous day so we were able to wander the little streets without needing to worry about ducking inside.

Next time, I would love to tour the old Roman bathhouse – the best preserved in the world – and have tea at the Pump Room. Also, Jane Austen lived in the city for a few years and as her biggest fan, it would be irresponsible not to visit some of her old stomping grounds and the Jane Austen Centre!

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The Bath Abbey and Park
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Roman Baths on the left
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The River Avon, St. Michael’s Steeple, Pulteney Bridge, and the Guildhall Dome
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Picnic lunch under this tree
Dave and Penny

From Bath, we continued south to the county of Devon and the little town, Lynton, that would be our base for the next three nights. However, I’m skipping ahead to the 4th leg of our trip since three days in Devon warrants a separate post. After Devon, we stopped in Shakespeare’s hometown for dinner and a play before continuing on to Birmingham. Stratford-Upon-Avon is such a cute town and the Royal Shakespeare Company is absolutely phenomenal. Connor and I saw a play in Stratford last autumn, and we were anxious to see this year’s production of Hamlet that had received glowing reviews.

If you are in England and you haven’t had a chance to see this show, do yourself a favor and GO BUY TICKETS! It is such a fresh and modern take on the classic, and so much more enjoyable than you can even imagine. Graffiti, African drums, a helicopter entrance… this is FUN Shakespeare! A quick glance around the theatre proves this better than any glowing review — students pack the upper levels, all on the edge of their seats, no one is texting or goofing around. I’m jealous that these kids are growing up in an environment that makes Shakespeare so fun and accessible. The lines aren’t changed, by the way. You still need to pay attention so you don’t miss anything. Finally, I can’t say enough about Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet… he was exceptional. Energetic, charismatic, and convincing. Just fabulous. I don’t envy the next Hamlet who has to follow Essiedu’s performance.

Technically, you’re not supposed to take pictures, but here you go.

Seeing Hamlet at RSC in Stratford Upon Avon

Before the play, we took a boat ride down the River Avon – a nice way to escape the crowds.

Seeing Hamlet at RSC in Stratford Upon Avon

Check back tomorrow for our hiking adventures in Devon!

Doyles Take England: Bath and Stratford-Upon-Avon

Doyles Take England: the Cotswolds

In mid June, Connor’s parents came to visit for 10 glorious days. We embarked on a tour of some of England’s finest, stopping in the Cotswolds, Bath, Exmoor National Park in North Devon, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Birmingham, and Wales. Miraculously, we had absolutely fantastic weather for the entire trip! We rented a car since the Minnow is really only suitable for a couple adults and maybe 1.3 suitcases, and a rental also guaranteed that we could charge our phones and thus rely on GPS.

First stop, the Cotswolds! We based ourselves at a B&B in Ablington, a tiny village with a small river, a manor house, and only a few roads. To say I envied Isabel, our hostess, would be an understatement. Her setup is dreamy. She hosts visitors in a gorgeous, traditional 3 bedroom stone house where she moved after she ran out of patience with London. She works from home, her horse boards down the road, and her dog accompanies her everywhere — even on jump courses when she’s riding her horse. I wanted to talk with her for hours. Gardens in England are magnificent, but something about her garden was so thrilling: herbs were thriving everywhere, flowers were full of dizzy little bees, and the colors were magnificent. I was tempted to ask her if she needed a sidekick for the summer.

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Our B&B in Ablington with beautiful gardens

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In love with this kitchen

Isabel cooked us a full English breakfast the first morning and day 2 was fresh baked bread, croissants, and all the jams, marmite, and nutella you could hope for. We all agreed her kitchen was just perfect, with that traditional charm radiating from the SMEG refrigerator and antique style range, both of which were actually quite modern. We enjoyed walking through fields behind the house and met one of the neighbors who owned a few donkeys, sheep, and dogs. The neighbor was tickled that we came to Ablington all the way from America, and we chatted with her for a half hour. Wild pheasant cackled in the fields, and one followed us back to the B&B to taunt Connor and Dave.

The pace is slow and moseying in the Cotswolds. It isn’t the place to visit if you’re looking for action packed adventure, but if you enjoy little villages, gardens, and nosing around, you would enjoy this part of England. Some villages are completely devoid of tourists and others are just packed (Bourton on the Water was so horribly crowded that we didn’t even stop.) From what I could tell, if your village has a parking lot, you will attract crowds. We made the most of our 2 days in this area and visited a number of villages. We started Sunday morning in Cirencester, the largest town in the Cotswolds. We strolled the streets, admired gardens, and saw the big Bathurst Estate and nearby Cirencester Park.

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Bathurst Estate in Cirencester
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Wisteria!
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Family photo in Cirencester Park

We also visited Upper Slaughter and walked the 1 mile trail to Lower Slaughter. I was happy to learn that “slaughter” comes from an old English word which means “muddy place” and so has nothing to do with death. The lower village was similar to Ablington, just a few scattered houses, but the upper village had a picturesque river curving through the town and an old mill with attached cafe. I regret not buying something from the little mill shop – so many good things in there it was hard to settle on just one item.

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The old mill in Upper Slaughter
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The shop at the old mill is definitely worth a visit!

Next we ventured to much larger Stow-on-the-Wold with its little tea shops and ice cream stores and famous St. Edward’s Church. The north door with its ancient yew trees looks like something you’d find in Narnia or Middle Earth.

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St. Edward’s Church and Yew Trees
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Stow-on-the-Wold

Our final visit was to tiny Bibury to see its famous row of old wool weavers’ homes dating back to 1380. The timing of this trip perfectly coincided with the explosion of growth in gardens all over the country. I adore the wildness of these gardens and how fast everything seems to shoot up overnight. Sometimes I can’t help but think that if someone went all out and did this to their house back home, the neighbors would think a total nutter lived there. Like all the other tourists, I took pictures of the gardens and houses, knowing full well that normal people lived in these places, people who may not appreciate having strangers crawling all over their town. One person had a sign on their gate warning people to keep out as it was a private residence. The sign was posted in a couple different languages, which made it perfectly obvious who the main offenders were.

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Weavers’ homes in Bibury
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Arlington Row weavers’ homes
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More gardens in Bibury

I’m not spilling the beans and calling out the main offenders, but I will tell you about the Drone Dolts. As we were walking back to our car, still laughing about the “keep out” sign, we pass the Drone Dolts: two people who perfectly fit the description of “main offenders” who are very calmly guiding a drone downstream. Attached to the drone was their camera, and I certainly hope they were satisfied with the perspective of the photos because they looked absolutely ridiculous. The fact that they were lugging around a suitcase dedicated solely to the transportation of said drone did not help their case. I later saw this drone in a store in Bath as well as in an article about new travel gadgets. Can we not just visit buildings from the 1300s and enjoy them for what they are, following all posted signs and the spirit of the law that is kindly requesting just a bit of privacy for residents? I mean, come on people.

Next stop, a brief stop in the beautiful city ofย Bath, Jane Austen’s home for a time and site of the old Aquae Sulis Roman baths.

Doyles Take England: the Cotswolds

Weekend on England’s Jurassic Coast

White cliffs on the Jurassic Coast

June 24-July 1 was one of those weeks. Nothing goes right and all commitments and sanity go out the window. For one, the weather in Birmingham BLOWS and I do not understand how people live here full-time. Do not let the above picture deceive you. That was not taken in Birmingham. Secondly, I received 2 parking tickets because I’m a total idiot. Third, Penny suddenly became very ill with alarming symptoms and we had a very expensive week in and out of the vet’s office. As a result, I spent my week reading about dog illnesses and medicines and remedies and food. Now, I’m going to share trip reports out of chronological order because I feel like it and I’m the boss. Thankfully, the dog is doing much better and we were able to get away for the weekend to celebrate the 4th of July.

One bucket list item that we’ve been dying to check off our list this summer is a visit to the Jurassic Coast on the English Channel. This part of the coast is England’s only natural World Heritage Site, which places it in the same category as the Great Barrier Reef, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. Of the 1,000 or so World Heritage Sites, less than 200 are naturally occurring, and England’s Jurassic Coast looked positively dreamy in pictures. 95 miles of rock formations, cliffs, and beaches cover 185 million years of Earth’s history: the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.

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Man of War Cove, on the other side of Durdle Door

As you can imagine, fossil hunting is a popular activity. When I visited London’s Natural History Museum a couple months ago I was surprised at the number of whole, intact fossils on display that were discovered along the Jurassic Coast, many by an impoverished woman named Mary Anning. Mary was a sort of Princess of Paleontology, and her numerous discoveries not only pulled her family out of poverty but also ended up in museums around the country. Her lizard/fish/dinosaur/turtle-like creatures of all sizes are in London’s Natural History Museum, and I highly recommend a visit. It’s the only non-creepy natural history museum I’ve ever seen (due to its emphasis on dinosaurs and fossils over taxidermy). The building itself is also stunning.

Jurassic Coast fossils at London’s Natural History Museum
London’s Natural History Museum

Moving on… We decided the 4th of July just wasn’t the 4th of July without a little sun and beach time, and since it’s persistently grim in Brum, we headed south to the county of Dorset, starting in Weymouth. The city is a great launching point for exploring the Jurassic Coast, and it supposedly tallies up more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in England. Fine with me. We walked along the harbor and the beach, explored the tiny side streets and shops, and bought some goodies for our campsite that evening. We met a chatty and very kind man from Wales who was visiting for the weekend with his children and grandchildren. As usual, Brexit and Donald Trump came up, but for the first time, so did Taylor Swift and Beyonce. He asked me if I was from Northern Ireland. You guys – this question marks a triumphant moment in my quest to appear as close to invisible as possible! My accent and adorable puppy-like dog draw attention everywhere I go, and sometimes I just don’t want to answer questions. Sometimes I don’t want to explain why I’m here and what I think about Donald Trump. If the small talk topics would vary, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way. At this point, I have picked up enough British lingo that I can utter short phrases or noncommittal sounds without sounding American. But this guy totally made my day when he incorrectly guessed my nationality.

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Picturesque buildings along Weymouth’s Harbor
Fishing town

Fishing boats and gear were everywhere. This could be a good spot for a fishing charter!
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Approaching the beach
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Weymouth Beach and Bay

After Weymouth we drove a few miles east and saw Chesil Beach, a 15 mile long pebble wonderland formed by the remains of a landslide that occurred 100 million years ago. Its vastness was surprising, but other than that, it was just a pebble beach, so we moved on to our campsite. This place in Osmington was a serious find and I think we’ll return if we ever decide to camp again. It had great views, coastal access, and was within walking distance of a 14th century thatched roof pub.
Campsite in Osmington

Campsite

Camping Attempt #2 was much more successful than #1. We packed food, our grill, wood, and 2 down blankets. We planned to encase ourselves in feathers so we couldn’t feel the hard ground or the cold night air. This seemed entirely necessary; you can still see your breath when the sun sets. Talk about overkill. I woke up sweating to death, claustrophobic, convinced I was being smothered by an evil cloud.

The following day we drove a bit further east to Durdle Door, Man of War Beach, and Lulworth Cove, three of the more popular stopping points along the Jurassic Coast. There were more people than we expected, many from other countries, and many very overdressed. I don’t know if its an American thing or just a personal preference, but I don’t see the point of wearing anything other than gym/outdoor clothing if I know I’m going to be exerting myself and sweating. Perhaps I’ve just totally let myself go in the last year.

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Durdle Door
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Durdle Door from the beach
Cold water and more pebbles
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Enjoying the sun!
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Walking to Lulworth Cove, 3/4 mile east
YUM!

Michelin rated restaurant and their genius Fish Exchange for Food and Drink
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Walking back from Lulworth Cove, the view overlooks Man of War Bay, Durdle Door, the Southwest Coast Path, and Weymouth in the distance

Lulworth Cove had a small visitor’s center, shops, fishing huts, and everyone was serving seafood. We were so tempted to try the Michelin restaurant offering fishermen pints of beer in exchange for their daily catch, as long as the fish passed inspection by “Philip or the chef.” Instead, we opted for a stand at the seaside selling fresh fish so we could continue enjoying the sunshine. Connor had fish and chips and I had a crab sandwich. Both were delicious.

It was a gorgeous weekend and we’ll definitely be back to the Jurassic Coast to keep exploring the bays, cliffs, and paths. And I don’t think I’ll ever have my fill of seafood, so even if we end up with a rainy day I think I’ll be a happy camper. As long as we aren’t camping in the rain…

Weekend on England’s Jurassic Coast