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May 15, 2018, England, United Kingdom

More than castles and cream teas

Melissa Anne Tan travels back to the days of yore and experiences the charms of south-west England

Melissa Anne Tan

I NEVER miss out on cream tea, an English tradition of tea and scones served with clotted cream and jam, whenever I visit England.

So I made the most of a recent visit there to try cream teas wherever I could. It was only after several delightful afternoon detours to savour the bread-like cake accompanied by smooth cream and sweet jam, that I learnt people in different counties eat their scones differently.

Devon’s way is to slather on Devonshire cream first, then put jam on top, while in Cornwall, it’s jam first and then clotted cream on top.

Traditions are strictly observed and to confuse the two would be a faux pas.

Much ado about scones? I didn’t mind — history and heritage were foremost on my mind during my six-day trip as I walked through historical buildings and in the footsteps of ancient kings and queens while taking in the beautiful landscapes.

I returned home with many wonderful memories, of which these are but a few:

The city of architects

Many flock to the city of Bath, a Unesco World Heritage Site in Somerset that was founded by the Romans in the first century as a thermal spa, to marvel at its classic Georgian buildings.

Among the most impressive are The Circus, a residential street that gets its name from its 360-degree design; and the Royal Crescent, a sweeping arc of townhouses with expansive green lawns.

Designed by architects John Wood, the Elder and John Wood, the Younger, these Bath icons were built in the 18th century with warm, honey-coloured oolitic limestone that gives the buildings their distinctive appearance. Once home to aristocrats, they are now highly sought after addresses in the city.

The Aquae Sulis or Roman Baths houses the city’s main spring, which was deemed a shrine by the Celts thousands of years ago. Down the ages, people have come here to bathe in or drink the waters, which contain 43 minerals and are believed to have healing properties.

Next to the baths is The Pump Room Restaurant, where I enjoyed an afternoon tea while listening to some classical music performed live. I was persuaded to sample the hot spa water at the fountain — it tasted pretty awful. Hopefully it did my health some good!

Bath is where one of the most beloved English novelists, Jane Austen, lived from 1801 to 1806. At the Jane Austen Centre, I learnt that this city was the primary location for two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. I found the exhibits depicting the fashions and lifestyles of Bathonians during the Regency era fascinating.

Of knights and kings

Devon and Cornwall have their fair share of England’s 600 to 700 castles. Although Tintagel Castle, on Cornwall’s rugged coast, was built in the 13th century by Richard, the first Earl of Cornwall, archaelogical investigations have revealed that the site housed a thriving Late Roman period settlement.

More famously, Tintagel has had a long association with King Arthur, whose story of Camelot and the Knights of the Round Table is legendary. In the numerous writings about Arthur, Tintagel is named as the fifth-century mythical king’s birthplace.

I had quite the workout climbing the 148 steps leading to the ruins, where I lapped up the crisp air and breathtaking view of the Atlantic.

At what used to be the Great Hall and the Inner Ward, I imagined what life would have been like during the Dark Ages. From the beach below the castle, the view of the sea and the rocky coast was so magnificent that I settled down on the grass to soak in all this wild beauty.

Travel back in time

Clovelly, a small village in Devon that looked straight out of the pages of a storybook, was my favourite place.

The moment I set foot here, it was as if I had been transported back in time. White cottages with little gardens lined both sides of the cobbled main street, made from pebbles from the beach.

Clovelly has been looked after since 1738 by the same family, who preserve the village’s traditional setting as much as possible.

No vehicles are allowed here. As I carefully walked down the steep and narrow path, I saw sledges lying on the side — these as well as donkeys are used for transporting goods.

I came to Fisherman’s Cottage, a pretty yellow house where you can see how a fisherman and his family would have lived in the 1930s.

Clovelly was the childhood home of Charles Kingsley, a prominent Victorian author, who wrote about the village in Westward Ho!.

The Kingsley Museum displays Clovelly’s history as well as the 19th-century writer’s links with the village.

A-farming we will go

I had the chance to visit the Trefranck farm at Bodmin Moor in Cornwall as part of the Trafalgar Be My Guest experience, where you get to dine with local families and learn more about their lives and history.

Husband-and-wife team Jimmy Vennings and Sheila Kempthorne showed us around their farm and we got to meet their ponies, sheep and pigs.

The scrumptious Cornish lunch of vegetable soup, pasties (baked pastries filled with meat) and cream tea that Sheila prepared had us going back for seconds.

During lunch, we were entertained by their daughter Gemma, who demonstrated some good old Cornish dancing. She kicked and stamped on the floor with hard-soled footwear that has metal plates added to the toes and heels called “scoots”.

The family has been farming on these lands since the 18th century and the heritage continues, with Jimmy and Sheila’s younger daughter Pippa and son-in-law Matt now running the farm.

Times have changed, though, and the farm’s business has expanded beyond agriculture. It now offers farmstays and the barnhouse has been turned into a studio where Gemma conducts yoga and dance classes.

I enjoyed my trip immensely — not only did I gain a deeper insight into England’s history, I also found myself falling in love with the people and culture of the south-west.

THE WRITER’S TOUR, THE BEST OF DEVON AND CORNWALL, WAS SPONSORED BY TRAFALGAR.

GUIDELINES

I flew from Singapore to London direct on Norwegian Air.

Villages with no vehicle access, like Clovelly and Tintagel, may offer Land Rover services for a fee.

These are from the nearby visitor centres or carparks. There are admission fees for Clovelly and Tintagel Castle.

PREMIUM SERVICES ON NORWEGIAN AIR 

Stretch out in comfort on Norwegian Air’s Premium Class the next time you fly to London.

The spacious leather cradle seats have a nine-inch recline and adjustable foot rest that will make your 14-hour journey to Gatwick Airport a comfortable one.

The airline’s new 787 Dreamliners, which have 56 Premium seats, are used for the direct Singapore-London flight.

Premium Class passengers can enjoy:

■ Gatwick Airport lounge access;

■ Access to the SATS Premier Lounge at Changi Airport Terminal 1;

■ Fast-track security; 

■ Hot meal services; 

■ Unlimited flow of beverages (including alcohol); 

■ Personal in-flight entertainment;

■ Luggage allowance of two 20kg checked bags and one 15kg cabin bag.

From Gatwick, passengers can connect to other flights in Norwegian Air’s extensive European network, including cities in Spain, Scandinavia and the United States.

Return airfares start at $519.80 for Economy Class and $2,019.80 for Premium Class.

A ROYAL EXPERIENCE

During a recent stay at The Rubens at the Palace in London, I indulged in the Royal Afternoon Tea at the hotel’s Palace Lounge.

There, I enjoyed a view of Buckingham Palace’s The Royal Mews as a delightful assortment of finger sandwiches, cakes, pastries and scones was served to me on a silver-tiered tea stand.

Among the goodies was the Queens Jammy dodger biscuit, one of Queen Elizabeth’s personal tea favourites.

You can pick your preferred tea from an extensive range.

The menu was inspired by royal events and dining trends through the centuries. Children below 12 can also enjoy this English tradition with the specially created The Little Prince and Princess Tea.

The four-star, 161-room luxury hotel is known for its friendly service, focus on sustainability, and the Living Wall.

Located on the side of the hotel, the wall spans 350 sq m. Made up of 10,000 plants, it attracts birds and bees, beautifies the surroundings and helps reduce the 21-year-old hotel’s carbon footprint.

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