Once a year I generally take a holiday in the UK with my daughter and grandchildren. In previous years I have been to East Anglia, Yorkshire and Wales but on account of the distance never to Cornwall in the extreme South West. An Australian motorist would no doubt consider four hundred miles to be a drive to the mini-market to get a loaf of bread but in England this is generally considered to be a long way and an arduous journey that requires rather a lot of meticulous planning.
I live in Lincolnshire which is on the north east coast so a journey to Cornwall requires a drive in a diagonal direction right across the country from north-east to south-west. As I plotted my journey it occurred to me that I was going to pass through twelve (25%) of the forty-eight Counties of England so I thought that I might take you with me.
To be clear here I am talking about the traditional historic counties of England such as Warwickshire and not modern administrative areas such as for example the West Midlands.
So, the journey begins in Lincolnshire where I have lived for almost twenty years, at first in the South in the farming town of Spalding but now in the North in the fishing town of Grimsby. It is the second largest County in England and even though my destination was south we began by going north because this is the quickest way out of the County using its only motorway, the M18, to go west towards Yorkshire.
The White Rose County of Yorkshire is the largest in England and for administrative convenience was once divided into Ridings, North, West and East, but no obvious fourth and I wondered why? Well it turns out that there is a simple explanation because the word Riding is derived from a Danish word ‘thridding’, meaning a third. The invading Danes called representatives from each Thridding to a Thing, or Parliament and established the Ridings System.
To this day, Yorkshire consists of three ridings, along with the City of York, and that’s why there is no fourth, or South, Riding (but to confuse matters there is a modern administrative area of South Yorkshire). I once lived for a short time in Yorkshire in the North Yorkshire town of Richmond.
We drove through a part of the West Riding (South Yorkshire) past the town of Doncaster and the steel city of Sheffield and driving south now slipped into Nottinghamshire in the North Midlands and into Robin Hood country. I have never lived in Nottinghamshire but I did work there once between 1987 and 1990 in the town of Arnold.
Shortly after that we were in Derbyshire following the route of the Erewash Valley, an area of great mineral wealth, particularly coal, extending from Yorkshire and into Leicestershire. I lived and worked in Derbyshire for almost fifteen years before moving to Lincolnshire and we passed close to the town of Ilkeston where my family still do.
After Derbyshire the M1 motorway took us into Leicestershire, the County of my birth and boasting the finest football team in England and then into Warwickshire, the County where I lived and grew up from 1960 until 1980 in the town of Rugby famous for its public school and for Rugby Football after William Webb Ellis cheated at soccer and picked up the ball and ran with it.
Warwickshire is probably most famous for William Shakespeare and for a short time (just a year in 1986/7) I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon.
We passed through the West Midlands and close to the city of Birmingham and then into the rural county of Worcestershire, briefly into the farming county of Herefordshire and the town of Ross-on-Wye and on into Gloucestershire where we were breaking the journey with a two night stop at my Sister’s home in Lydney in the Forest of Dean because two hundred miles is just about the limit that most people will drive in just one day so a break half way seemed to make good sense.
I will return later to tell you about the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley but for now I will continue my drive through the English Counties but before I can I have to report that we crossed for a short while out of England and into Wales and drove through the County of Monmouthshire before crossing the Bristol Channel and back into England and the County of Somerset
Now we were in the West Country but still with two hundred miles to our final destination. The west country counties are all quite large so it took a while to pass through Somerset (seventh largest) and then through Devon (fourth largest) before we finally crossed the River Tamar into Cornwall (twelfth largest). The Tamar almost completely separates Cornwall from the rest of England and is a geographical dividing line that kept Cornwall as somewhere rather remote and mysterious up until relatively recently.
The most westerly point of Cornwall and England is Land’s End but we weren’t going that far and fifty miles of so before the land ran out we drove to our holiday home in the fishing port of Mevagissey.