Singapore, United Kingdom and France
30 April to 19 June 2015
And Now For the UK 3 May to 14 June2015
We left Singapore on time (11pm), what an ungodly hour, for the 13 hour flight to Frankfurt. Our seats were right near the toilets, which could be good in one way, but how many people need to use the loo between midnight and dawn!? And do you really need a full meal at that hour of the night? Anyway, it was a very smooth flight, no complaints there, just not conducive to a good night’s sleep. I pulled up the window shade in one of my waking moments to find a beautiful full moon shining right in on us. That was a treat. And then it was breakfast time. I must say Lufthansa really likes to keep you well fed. Landed at Frankfurt and a mad dash to the departure gate for our connecting flight to London. Frankfurt Airport is huge. Through Customs where I got a good going over, even the soles of my shoes, and a close look at my backpack. Do I look that suspicious? It is good, though, to know that such thorough checks are made, all for our own safety. Then onto the plane to London, where more food was served!
Very excited by now, always dreamed of visiting the UK and now it was really happening. No sooner were we in the air, and it was time to land. Took a while to get through Customs, there were so many people. Finally on our way, and there was Linda, Max’s cousin, waiting for us. Linda lives at Hampton, not very far from Heathrow, so it didn’t take long before we arrived at her house, and sitting down to a cup of tea. Linda’s husband, Adrian was in the US for work, but we finally got to meet their daughters, Alice and later, Camilla on her return from work. Edward, their son lives in Japan. Linda and Adrian visited us back in 2008.
So, a very welcome shower, some lunch, and then Linda took me to visit Bushy Park and her allotment. Max elected to stay home and have a snooze. Both places are within walking distance, and even though it was quite chilly, the brisk walk soon cleared the cobwebs of our long flight. Bushy Park was used by Henry VIII to hunt deer, and the descendants of those deer still graze there today. Amazing! Now the park is well used by the locals, a cricket match was in progress, children were running around, people walking their dogs. Lots of folk out and about enjoying the sunshine. Next, on to the allotment. Linda is growing an assortment of crops, including rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, onions, and a cherry tree. There were quite a few people here, too, tending their gardens. Someone even had chooks. All the fruit trees were in blossom. So pretty. Back to the house, Max still asleep.
Saw our first squirrel. Linda has a bird feeder at the bottom of her garden and the squirrels take advantage of a free feed. Couldn’t believe I’d see one so soon. Before long a delicious dinner, Linda is a great cook, and off to bed, so very tired by now.
Next day a visit to Hampton Court Palace, home to Henry VIII and various kings and queens after him. A vast place, easy to imagine why it took an army of servants to keep it running. Beautifully laid out formal gardens, right on the Thames River. Deer roaming the park, with swans and other birdlife swimming in the ponds. It was a lovely sunny day, so lots of folk were picnicking. Such a lot to see, we were there most of the day.
Up early to get ready for our first day on the road in the motorhome. We expected the driver to pick us up to take us to the Depot at Luton at 9.30am. Well, he finally turned up at 11.30am. It took a good hour or more to get to Luton, traffic was horrendous, and after going through all the formalities it takes when hiring a vehicle, we didn’t get on the road until after 3pm. It was a nightmare getting out of Luton, finally finding our way onto the motorway to head south to Canterbury. I’ve never seen so many trucks on the road, most of them heading for Dover and the channel crossing. Thankfully, after crossing the Thames, we seemed to leave most of the heavy traffic behind. Finally found our way to Canterbury, needed to find a supermarket to stock up on supplies. Drove for miles until we found a Sainsbury’s. Shopping done, back to the Canterbury Park & Ride to camp for the night. We were very tired and hungry so we didn’t get a chance to “do” Canterbury. Quite late by the time we were fed and showered, and so fell into bed!
Woke up next morning to pouring rain. Eventually on the road heading south, Dover our first stop, very cold and blowing a gale. Followed the coast road, having a look at Folkestone, Romney Sands (scene of Great Expectations), a morning tea stop here right on the beach, Hastings and Brighton. Still very cold and windy, took what photos I could from the shelter of the car! Found ourselves in Arundel in time for lunch. Had the best fish and chips, delicious. Then on to Arundel Castle. What an amazing place, parts of it dating back to 800 A.D. Keeps and moats and grand rooms, portraits by Van Dyke and Gainsborough, must be worth millions, gold and silverware, old, old books in the library, a beautiful Chapel, I could go on and on!
Time now to find a camp for the night. We had joined a scheme called BRIT Stops before we left home. Pubs or farms all over Britain offer a spot to park over night, all for free. So, our first pub stay was The Winterton Arms (appropriate, don’t you think) at Crockerhill, near Chichester. This pub was about 130 years old. Proprietor very happy to have us stay. We had a drink at the bar, chatting with the locals. It was here I took a liking to cider shandies!
Awake early to the dawn chorus, a fine day and the wind had dropped. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard our next stop. This was an incredible place to visit. First, HMS Warrior, world’s first iron-hulled war ship, launched 1860. Never fired a shot in anger! We were able to explore this ship, top to bottom. Next, HMS Victory, Lord Nelson’s ship. Great fun exploring it. Then the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship. A fascinating exhibit, about half of it raised in the 1980’s. It is sealed in a special “room” drying out, with still about another four years to go before it is completely dry. Lots of artefacts, clothing, coins, tools etc. also on display. There were numerous other exhibits depicting English naval history. A day well spent. Made our way to our stop for the night, The Green Man Inn at Kings Stag in Dorset, a picturesque village, a real country idyll. And a delicious Venison Bourgignon for dinner.
Next day a detour to take a look at the Cerne Giant, a huge figure (60 metres high by 51 metres wide) cut into the chalk downlands. Some believe that he represents the Roman god Hercules, over 1500 years old, others a caricature of Oliver Cromwell and only 350 years old. On the road again to Weymouth and then West Bay. West Bay is the location for the TV series Broadchurch. Met a couple of locals who pointed out various places of interest pertaining to the show. From West Bay on to Dartmoor. Spectacular scenery here, sometimes lush pastures, but also bleak and rocky. Very atmospheric, with fog and drizzling rain. We stopped at the Info Centre at Princetown, and were told it used to be a hotel. Arthur Conan Doyle stayed here in about 1901 to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. I was even given a free poster of the Hound! Back on the road to the Britannia Inn at Trehegren, Cornwall, for our next overnight stay.
We woke up feeling very cold, and realised the gas had run out overnight. Just great. Couldn’t even make a cup of tea. The heater is a must for the cold UK nights. Found a Maccas for breakfast. I won’t go into the saga of trying to find gas. Suffice to say, we eventually did. Made our way to Falmouth for a look at the Maritime Museum. All about boats, of course, but there was also a very interesting Viking exhibit. Lovely and sunny by now, but still very cool. Next, Land End. Great scenery, but quite foggy. Time to sample a Cornish Pastie. Well, that was a bit of a let down, I’ve had better here in Aus!
On the road again, great scenery along the coast, with evidence of the old tin mines dotting the landscape. Roads are very narrow, quite a challenge negotiating the motorhome along them and very tiring for Max. Pulled into a caravan park at Padstow for the night, tired out after a big day. Also a chance to do a load of washing.
Woke up to a gray and blustery day. On the road early, heading for Bath. One thing we have noticed is how close to the road the houses are in some of the towns and villages. The front doors are only inches from the road, you’d need your wits about you coming out of your front door! Found a village called Westward Ho! on the map, and, having enjoyed the novel, Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, thought it might be worth a look. It turned out to be a holiday village, but the coastline here, and the nearby town of Bideford feature in the novel. We found a spot right on the headland, with great views out to sea, for morning tea. There was an amazing old house here, which I thought was an empty ruin. However, after talking to a couple of locals, they told us an elderly lady lives in it. Apparently the local hotel would like to buy it, but the old lady is holding out and won’t sell. Very mysterious.
Had a look at Shepton Mallet on the way to Bath. Max has a family connection to this town and the surrounding area. Annie Augusta Stokes was born at nearby Oakhill. She was Max’s great grandmother and there are other families connected to the family tree. Shepton Mallet has an industrial look about it, a mill town dealing with wool during the Middle Ages and then, later, silk making, footwear manufacture, cheese making and cider. The town is home to the country’s oldest working gaol. Some lunch here and a look around town, although it was Sunday and everything was closed! Then onto our next overnight stay, driving through the little village of Oakhill on the way. Hartley Farm Shop and Cafe at Winsley in Wiltshire was a great stop. Bought ourselves a few goodies, duck eggs, local cheeses and a delicious walnut cake. Such a peaceful place in the countryside.
Next day the amazing town of Bath. So old! The Roman Baths are incredible, so much to explore here. I tasted the water, warm and metallic. Has to be good, since it was blessed by the gods! It’s wonderful that these historic sites have been so well preserved so that we can step back in time and imagine how life was in days gone by. Next, a look at the Cathedral. Tragedy here when the camera batteries died. I could’nt believe it, I’d left the spare batteries in the van. Me, who is usually obsessively organised! Thank goodness for the mobile phone camera. Then morning tea at Sally Lunn’s Tea Shop. A delicious Bath Bun with strawberry jam and clotted cream and a coffee. Sally Lunn came from France and opened the tea shop in the 1600’s. The house itself was built in the 1400’s. Picked up some batteries at a newsagent (thank goodness) and proceeded to explore the rest of the town. Very picturesque.
On from Bath to Lacock Village, a quaint old village, used as a location for Pride and Prejudice, Cranford and Harry Potter. The village church, St. Cyriac’s, was built around the 11th century. On the way to our overnight stay we came across Woodhenge. This was a timber monument with six oval rings of tall timber poles built about the time of Stonehenge. It’s not known how Woodhenge was used, but people placed many objects and animal bones among the posts. Of course, the timber has long gone, so small concrete pillars have been put in place so you could get an idea of what it looked like all those ages ago. The Bell Inn at South Newton our stop for the night, with a lovely outlook from the van, a little river and the bright yellow of the canola fields.
After such a lovely day the day before, the weather had changed again to cold and drizzly. We did not intend to actually visit Stonehenge, as you had to book in advance, and we had no idea when we would be in the area. However, I thought we could at least get a photo from the road. Well, we found the road, but there was a gate blocking our way. There was a large parking area nearby where you picked up the bus to go out to the site. Pure commercialism, I thought. Anyway, we turned around and found our way back to the freeway, where I was able to get a bit of a photo as we sped by! On the way to Avebury we found a field with standing stones following both sides of what may have been a road in ancient times. I don’t know how many there were, but they stretched far into the distance. And then Avebury, another quaint village, with a lovely old church, St. David’s, the oldest part of which dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, about 1000 AD. In a nearby field there was a very large circle of standing stones. For the cost of parking we were able to wander around the village and the stones as much as we liked. Certainly not as spectacular as Stonehenge, but a thrill just the same. The ancientness of it all!
After Avebury, we headed for the Severn Crossing Bridge and so into Wales. Our stop for the night was the Old Ferry Inn at Beachley, not that far from Cardiff. This little inn was tucked in right under the bridge. We had the best Lambs Fry and Bacon for dinner. Up early to head for Cardiff, and the Doctor Who Experience. Had a bit of time to kill, so took the road to the coast and came upon Porthcawl, a seaside holiday town. Back on the road to Cardiff, and so as not to have to contend with traffic and looking for parking, used the Park & Ride facility. These are great. For the price of a bus fare into town you can leave the car in the designated parking lot all day. I was very excited at the prospect of a visit to see the ins and outs of The Doctor. It turned out to be great fun, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Needless to say, Max, not being a fan, waited outside for me. Back on the bus and a bit of look at Cardiff and then back to where we had left the van.
We made our way to the Pwllgloyw Arms ( no, it’s not a spelling mistake) for the night. Happily cooking tea when the gas ran out again! The tank capacity is so much less than our van at home. Nothing for it but to head into the pub for tea. Met some very friendly locals. Fish and chips for tea, and, on the recommendation of one of the chaps at the bar, I had the most delicious lemon sponge pudding with vanilla custard for dessert. The publican was the cook. He was a big bear of a man, but, boy, did he have a light touch for a sponge and the custard was like eating silky velvet. I can’t describe it any other way.
So up early (raining again!) and a quest for gas. We were in an area called the Brecon Beacons, so picturesque (I seem to be using that word a lot). Gassed up and on our way to St. David to have a look at the Cathedral there. The Cathedral is named for the patron saint of Wales. The church is still in use, as are all the churches we visited, but for a donation we were able to have a good look around. In the Treasury there had an amazing collection of silverware, candlesticks, goblets etc. On the road again, lunch at Fishguard, we could see the ferry to Ireland across the bay. After lunch we then followed the coast to Cardigan. On the way, we stumbled upon a great attraction, a replica of an Iron Age village, Castell Henllys. Thatched huts set up in the way people must have lived 2000 years ago. Very interesting. There were a couple of women dressed in the period happy to give us a tour. There was only one other couple there, (whose daughter lived in Perth!) and we happened to be there on a free day! By now getting late and needed to find our next overnight stop. We arrived at the pub we had chosen, but we were told they had pulled out of the BRIT Stops scheme. Back on the road, finally pulling into a van park, only to find it was what is called a “static park”. These parks consist of privately owned cabins and do not cater for tourists like us. Luckily for us the caretakers were happy for us to park our van on a vacant patch of grass! We were so tired, I think they took pity on us. They didn’t want to charge us for the site since we did not need power or water. They were such a lovely couple, we couldn’t leave without giving them some money for they’re trouble.
Next day saw us making our way east and back to England, heading for Kenilworth Castle. We were hoping to have a look at Stratford-upon-Avon, but when we got there it was so crowded with traffic and people, and there was absolutely nowhere we could park the van. There have been a few places we had to pass by because of parking difficulties, and even just negotiating the narrow streets proved hard at times. Anyway, we got to the Castle before too long. Kenilworth was a great place to visit, mostly because I had read the book Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott. I know, me and my books! Castle ruins, lovely Elizabethan gardens and the house the Earl of Leicester built in anticipation of a visit by Queen Elizabeth I. The actual castle was built in the time of King John, in the 1200’s, only to be destroyed by Oliver Cromwell in the Civil war of the 1600’s. Fascinating. On the road again, driving through the Peak District National Park, past the Derwent River and reservoirs, up Snake Road to the Snake Pass Inn at Bamford for our overnight stop.
The Lake District and Windermere next on the agenda, stopping for morning tea at a Lookout overlooking the beautiful Yorkshire Dales. Wuthering Heights country. On to Windermere where we did some grocery shopping and had a look at the Info Centre. Very busy here, too. We wanted to get a close look at the lake but there were very few places to pull over for a good photo. A bit disappointing. Found a van park for the night, and settled in after another busy day. We were certainly notching up the miles.
Next day we had every intention of taking the road that skirted a couple of other lakes, but we missed the turn and ended up heading west to the coast. We were never destined to see those lakes! But it was a very scenic drive, which took us to Carlisle. From here we found the road to a section of Hadrian’s Wall. A stop for morning tea here, right on top of a hill overlooking beautiful countryside. I might add, freezing cold as well. Very exciting exploring the bit of wall that is still standing since 122AD. On the road again, and before we knew it we had crossed the border into Scotland. Kirkcudbright Bay our next stop, bitterly cold here, so fish and chips for lunch in a nice warm restaurant was the order of the day. Kirkcudbright is a small town, but even here there is a castle ruin. Headed for our stop for the night at the Kings Arms Hotel at Ballantrae, (The Master of Ballantrae, Robert Louis Stevenson?) passing by some spectacular coastal and countryside scenery. Weather pretty miserable, but nice and cosy in the van.
Small emergency, Max lost a filling, so needed a dentist. Next town was Irvine, so stopped here to make enquiries at the chemist. Luckily able to make an appointment with a dentist for that afternoon. Found the Sandyland Holiday Park about half an hour away at Sailcote. It was a bit of a blessing in disguise, having a rest day after the constant travelling. I was able to do a couple of loads of washing.
Feeling well rested, off again, heading for the Highlands. Driving to Loch Lomond, snow on the mountains took us by surprise. Morning tea at the Loch, the sun had come out, so a very pleasant place to stop and take in the spectacular scenery. Next stop Oban to stock up on food, gas and fuel. Followed the road past Loch Linnhe, up to Fort William, then across the bridge, heading for the coast and the Glenuig Inn on the Sound of Arisaig, overlooking the Inner Hebrides. Amazing scenery all the way.
Next day back to Fort William, with the sight of a snow-capped Ben Nevis quite breathtaking. Up past Loch Lochy, through Fort Augusta, finally arriving at Loch Ness. The Exhibition Centre here was closed, which was disappointing. Would have been interesting, I think, with all the tales of the Loch Ness monster. Actually, the Centre is nowhere near the Loch, but a bit further down the road, we found a great vantage point, with excellent views of the Loch and the ruin of Urquhart Castle. Golden Gorse bush is everywhere, smelling exactly like coconut. Up to Inverness, then the Culloden Battlefield Memorial. This moor is the site of the battle fought on 16 April 1746 by Scottish Highlanders and Prince Charlie against the Government. A lost cause with a terrible loss of life and still moving even after 300 years. Made our way down through the Cairngorm Mountains, a beautiful drive with the mountains still capped with the last of the winter snow, to Lintrathen and Peel Farm, our camp for the night, and a welcoming committee of ducks and chickens.
Edinburgh to be our next stop, but after we left the farm we decided to have a look at the Reekie Linn Waterfall, just down the road. As we pulled up, we caught a glimpse of a red squirrel scurrying across the old bridge that crossed the river. Red squirrels are becoming quite rare, so we were very lucky, even though it was only a glimpse. Back on the road and the Park & Ride at Halbeith and the bus into Edinburgh. It was an absolutely awful day, very cold and drizzly, but we were well rugged up. Edinburgh is an amazing city, full of old buildings and monuments, the monument to Sir Walter Scott something to see. Lots of atmosphere, even to the lone piper playing the bagpipes on a street corner. Quite a trudge up the hill to the Castle, which literally looms over the city. On our way up, we came across a chap dressed in his “Braveheart” gear having fun with tourists for a donation to a local charity. Max got in the spirit of things and joined in. Anyway, the castle was a fabulous place to explore, we spent hours wandering around all the buildings enclosed within the castle walls.
Time to get back on the bus and back to the van after a great day in Edinburgh. Headed for the hills and found the Sheriffmuir Inn at Dunblane. Very isolated and also a battlefield site in the Jacobite Rebellion. Delicious dinner here of Venison Braise for me and Pork Belly stuffed with Black Pudding for Max. Blew a gale during the night, with some rain and lightning. Woke up to very thick fog, which only added to the atmosphere of this almost treeless moor. There was a memorial here to members of the MacGrath and the MacRae Clans killed in battle for the Royal House of Stuart 13 November 1715. Bit of a hairy drive down the mountain on a very narrow lane in the fog.
Soon at the border, crossing into Northumberland, and making our way to Stanhope in the County of Durham. Max’s grandparents, on his father’s side, emigrated from this area in the early 1900’s. Found the Holebeck Caravan Park and settled in for a couple of nights. The Durham Dales is a particularly beautiful part of the UK. Lovely drive through the countryside. We visited the Weardale Museum, then on to the “family farm” (on the Forrest side of the family) at Shittlehopeburn near Stanhope. Max’s cousin John (NZ) had visited here years ago and found the farm buildings in ruin. However, when we pulled up, we could see that restoration work was in progress. We were taking photos when a young chap, Danny, appeared, obviously curious as to what we were doing. Turned out he had bought the farm. He was very excited that Max had a family connection to the farm and wanted to know all about it. He took us on a tour of the property, very proud to show what he had done to restore the building. We exchanged information and promised to put him in touch with John who had old photos of the farm.
Next day into Durham, a lovely city on the River Wear. A sunny day with lots of people out and about. We decided on a guided tour of the Cathedral and we had a great guide who really brought the beautiful old church to life. Back to the van park via Ferryhill, where another great grandmother of Max’s is said to be buried, but we couldn’t find the cemetery. Probably long gone by now. It was a long weekend, and when we got back to the park, lots of families had turned up.
Next day dawned cold and blowy, I can’t get over how the weather changes so quickly. I felt sorry for the campers after such a lovely day the day before. Made our way to Whitby, the weather here even worse. Not a good day for a visit to the seaside. But there were lots of people enjoying the attractions. Amusement parlours, pony and donkey rides, boat cruises out on the bay, food and souvenir shops. The place was really buzzing. Back on the road to our stop for the night at Harefield Hall at Pateley Bridge near Ripon. The drive took us through the North York Moors National Park, James Herriot country, and Pateley Bridge is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Amazing scenery. This Hall was gifted by Henry VIII to one of his generals for a job well done during the Reformation and now offers accommodation and a restaurant. A drink at the bar and a friendly chat with the barman then back to the van for tea, a bit of telly and an early night.
Next day an early start, and on leaving the Hall, spied what we thought was a hare trying to hide in the grass. Focused the camera and saw it was a baby deer. Managed to get a great photo, it was just as curious about us as we were of it. So cute! Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal Water Garden and Deer Park our next stop. Arrived nice and early and took a walk through the Deer Park. The park is vast, but we eventually found a couple of herds of deer. Next stop the lake with ducks, gulls and a pair of swans with a cygnet. Time for morning tea at the Tearooms beside the lake. Scones, jam and clotted cream. Yum. Further into the Park and a view of the Studley Royal Garden, beautifully manicured lawns and ponds, dating back to the 1700’s. After a very pleasant walk around the Garden, we came upon the Surprise View with the ruins of Fountains Abbey in the distance. Still a way to go, but finally reached the Abbey. Very interesting wandering around the Abbey, so many nooks and crannies to explore. We spent most of the day here so time to head to Grimsby and a visit to Max’s cousin Paula, another family tree connection. We over-nighted at the Whitehorse Inn at Marshchapel, in Lincolnshire.
A lovely drive to Grimsby through the countryside of North Lincolnshire, very flat, with fields of canola giving off a pleasant scent. Found Paula’s house without too much trouble and were made to feel very welcome. Paula and Mike, her husband, insisted we stay in the house for the night, so nice to have the use of a proper bathroom and to sleep in a real bed. After a delicious lunch they took us to visit the Heritage Centre for Fishermen, which was very interesting. Andrew, their son arrived, fish and chips and mushy peas for tea, and a great time was had by all.
After breakfast, time to hit the road. Paula and Mike were so nice to us, we’ll never forget their warm hospitality. Now for Sherwood Forest, a place I was very keen to visit. Sadly there is not much of the forest left, but there are still some old, old trees scattered about. One in particular, Major Oak, is said to be at least 1150 years old. Of course, it’s all about Robin Hood! A drive through the Leicestershire countryside, arriving at Northfield Farm at Cold Overton for the night.
Next day made for Milton Keynes and Bletchley Park, home of the codebreaking operation during world War Two and birthplace of modern computing. Exhibits included the Enigma Machine and Alan Turing’s BOMBE machine. So very interesting. At it’s peak over 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park and it’s associated out stations. Did a tour, learning about other wartime activities, including the use of pigeons and the important role they played during the war. Overnight at The Stretton Arms in Turweston, Buckinghamshire.
Oxford our next place to visit, really looking forward to it. Made use of the Park & Ride. Very cold and rainy. First stop the Ashmolean Museum, the oldest museum in the country, established 1683. A very interesting Egyptian Exhibit here. We could have spent all day here, but there was so much else to see. Oxford is so old, dating back to the 12th century. Picked up the obligatory Inspector Morse souvenir at the Info Centre, and then armed with a map, took ourselves off to see what we could see. Visited all the iconic sites, the Bridge of Sighs(or Hartford Bridge), Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre, the Botanic Gardens, a peak in at the Colleges through half closed doors, the Covered Market, walked until we were ready to drop. So back on the bus to the car park and off to search for a caravan park. Found the Diamond Farm Caravan Park near Bletchingdon, not far from Oxford. On the way to the van park, we took a wrong turn, (there was an awful lot of those on our tour!) and found ourselves at a toll booth at a bridge on a little country lane. The toll booth operator asked for 5p to cross the bridge! I couldn’t believe it. And the worst thing was we had to turn around at the roundabout and cross again for another 5p!!! And the traffic was backed up waiting to cross. (I did some research when we got home. It’s called the Swinford Toll Bridge and is privately owned. It’s governed by it’s own Act of Parliament and allows the owner to collect tolls. Google it, it’s very interesting). Anyway, we finally found the van park and luckily got the last site. We booked in for four nights, as we were basically at the end of our driving tour. I think it was a bit of a relief to finally call a halt to the constant driving. But there was still more to see. We were quite close to the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Blenheim Palace.
A cold but sunny day for our drive to the Wildlife Park. Set in the grounds of a stately home, animals and birds from all over the world on exhibit. Australia was well represented with wallabies, kookaburras, emus and even a couple of rainbow lorikeets. Felt just like home with the kookaburra’s laugh ringing out over the park.
Then next day we visited Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, the day wet and cold. After such a sunny day the day before! This place is huge with acres and acres of garden and a huge lake. Decorated in the usual 18th century opulence. There are cabinets full of Meissen china. There is a large sterling silver centrepiece on a table weighing 110llbs! The Great Hall is a remarkable 67 feet high. It must have cost an enormous amount of money to build. Of course, the cost of upkeep must be horrendous, hence the present Duke of Marlborough has to open the doors to the general public who are willing to pay to see how the other half lives.
And so our last full day in the van. The first day of summer and it’s cloudy and cool and quite windy. Last lot of washing to do and the van to clean. A nice dinner at the pub in the nearby village of Kidlington. Next day up early to sort out the van and be on the road in time to reach Luton at 11.30am, drop off time. It was a 45 mile drive with gas and fuel to get on the way. The van passed inspection and we were driven to our guesthouse in South Ealing, (London) arriving there about 1.30pm.
The London Adventure Begins
We’d booked the guesthouse for eight days. It made a great base for us, we had our own bathroom, the use of a kitchen, even a little fridge in our room. South Ealing Tube Station was two minutes up the road and a Sainsburys even closer. There were plenty of local restaurants and a couple of pubs where we had some delicious meals. London is a big busy city, so many people and so much traffic. We visited all the main attractions, The Tower of London was amazing, the Crown Jewels spectacular. Sadly, no photography allowed of that exhibit. A cruise on the Thames, which was great. Such a lot of history on the banks of the Thames. The cruise took us from the Tower of London to the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. A very interesting time here, with the obligatory photo astride The Meridian. Then a look at the National Maritime Museum. Back on the boat, getting off at The House of Commons and Big Ben. First sight of these famous landmarks and I finally realised, we’re really here! The tour guides on the boat were very funny, bringing the Thames River to life with their ‘cockney’ accents. The walk from Big Ben to Piccadilly, and the train home, took us along Horse Guards Parade, where preparations for the Trooping of the Colour were underway. We were able to watch this live on TV at Linda’s.
Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square, the Science Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Victoria and Albert Museum, HMS Belfast, St. Margaret’s Church (next door to Westminster Abbey), Westminster Abbey. The Abbey was incredible, very crowded but well organised, the audio guide a great help. It didn’t hurt having Jeremy Irons as the narrator, either, telling the story of the Abbey! So many Kings and Queens entombed there and Poets Corner especially interesting. A look at the Palace with a Changing of the Guard Parade a bonus. The Churchill War Rooms very interesting, deep underground at Whitehall. A look at Kew Gardens, just a short bus ride from South Ealing, which was handy. A kind lady on the bus gave us directions. In the Gardens is a little cottage where King George III (I think) and his family used to have picnic lunches. We were surprised to see the lady from the bus there, dressed in period costume showing people around. The Sherlock Holmes Museum made the whole story come to life. Lots of fun at Madame Tussaud’s. A highlight here, if you can call it that, was the Scream! exhibit in the Chamber of Horrors. It was pitch dark, actors loomed out at us, not talking or doing anything, and all I did was bury my head in Max’s back and scream! It was the longest five minutes of my life. Good fun!! The London Eye with spectacular views of the City.
Before we left home I purchased London Passes, which offered discounted entry into attractions and also fast track entry. In hindsight I wish I had not done that. The Pass had to be used within three consecutive days, and, although it was useful in some venues, we didn’t get the full value out of it. Because we were unfamiliar with where a lot of the points of interest were, we wasted a lot of time getting our bearings. The same went for the Hop on- Hop off bus. The traffic was so heavy, it took ages to get from one end of London to the other. The best thing I did was purchase a Visitors Oyster Card, for use on the Tube and the buses. We soon realised this was the best way to go. The train service is excellent, with trains leaving every few minutes. Of course, you don’t know how things will work out until you’re actually there. Needless to say, we still had a great time in London.
We met up with Maurie and Bernice, friends from Brisbane, and had a nice dinner and catch up at the Albert pub in Victoria Street. Both our trips to the UK happened to coincide. We didn’t get to see half of what there is to see in London, you’d need a month at least. We’d ‘literally’ walked our legs off. We did what we could in the time we had. We did our couple of days in France, then back to Linda’s for the last day before we left for the second leg of our time in Singapore. A big thank you to Linda, Alice and Camilla for making us feel so at home.
Britain is such an amazing place to visit, so full of history, the mind boggles. Spectacular scenery, windswept moors, lush dales, snow-capped mountains. The weather so changeable. Wildflowers blooming everywhere, bluebells in the woods, violets, buttercups and daisies, just to name a few. The whole of the UK is a garden. And then the hustle and bustle of London and all the iconic places and buildings. I took hundreds and hundreds of photos. We covered over 3000 miles in the van. Some people we spoke to on our travels were astounded that we were travelling all over the UK in a van. Almost unheard of. An amazing holiday, we loved every minute of it.