London, ENGLAND29th September 2012.
We left Hong Kong last night at 11.25 p.m. After three days of walking and catching trains in that most amazing place. We were tired but ready for something equally different.
The flight to London was with British Airways which was a new experience for us. It was a 12 ½ hour flight and I really enjoyed looking out the plane window at the lights that continually covered China and then appeared sporadically for much of Russia. I slept fitfully during the night, but Glenda slept well. Breakfast was served around 3.30 am and by 4.50 a.m. we were there. The view from the plane was truly breathtaking as we approached Heathrow. As the plane touched down we were wide awake.
There was no hurry at the border control (Customs), at least on the part of the Customs Officers. There was a station for UK and UE passport holders to move through early and a place for "All Others". This meant Australians and a huge number of African people and first time students moving into the country lined up facing a handful of counters. We moved at a snail’s pace before finally getting through. This meant a brief wait until 7a.m for a number 707 bus to take us to Luton Airport so we could then be picked up by a staff member from Just Go, the Motorhome company from whom we had hired our vehicle.
A crash on a nearby highway meant an hour wait for the bus. A sulky driver didn't help so by the time we reached Luton we were agitated. The weather was clear but with a slight chill which was a significant change to the humidity of Hong Kong. A girl from Just Go arrived and drove us to the property where we were to pick up the motorhome. She took us along typical narrow lanes that despite being two way traffic concerns just managed the width of a motorhome. We encountered two vehicles coming from the other direction and experienced our first taste of "the right of passage". Basically the larger vehicle goes first and the smaller backs up or drives off the road in anticipation. There's no room for road rage and it obviously works!
The Motorhome with toilet & shower built in. Perfect!
After the usual run through of forms and a tour of our vehicle we set off. Our first stop was Tesco in Hamel Hampstead to stock up on groceries, a phone for Gary and some essentials for the motor home. We decided not to hire the linen from Justgo as it was very expensive. Instead we packed our own. Very old towels, sheets, doona cover, hand towels, face washers, pillow cases that we could dispose of at the end of the trip. We purchased a double doona for $16, 2 pillows for $7. ( please note I am converting costs to $) It worked out much cheaper than the $125 to hire linen. We were pleasantly surprised with the cost of groceries. Having done some homework prior to the trip, most indications were that food items were cheaper in the UK. This proved to be the case in most instances. Fruit and vegetables were very cheap, e.g. a pack of 2 mini cos lettuce for 70 c compared to home $2.98, truss tomatoes $2.50, 800gm loaf of bread 80 c, salt and pepper containers would you believe 15c. Wine can also be purchased quite cheap with NZ Sav Blancs around $7 a bottle. They do have 2 litre bottles of wine from Chile and Italy for $3 but I do not think we will try them though. Meat and dairy products seem comparable to prices at home.
With only a small map and vague directions on how to get to Abbey Wood and our first caravan park we headed off. My sense of direction was out and combined with travel fatigue I wasn't the best company!
We hit the M1 freeway which was as busy as expected. It was like a time warp travelling in miles instead of kilometres so judging time and distance will be an added challenge over the next six weeks.
We made more than a few wrong turns but as Glenda put it, "this is an adventure in itself". On any other day l might have been more appreciable. We bumbled into the town of Abbey Wood and narrowly missed a dead end in the form of a restricted vehicle road. Metal barriers prevented only vehicles around two meters wide to enter a narrow street. Crikey, we were continually pulling over to let cars squeeze by as it was!
The North American Grey Squirrel is an introduced species
We drove in to the caravan park about 2 o’clock with much relief. It was very much like an Aussie equivalent with the exception of the trees which were mostly oak trees. We set up and slowly unpacked and sorted our groceries and clothing for the trip as this will be home for quite a while.
I managed to stalk a few squirrels late afternoon and started to add to my UK bird list. It was interesting to see Starlings hop around our feet like Sparrows at home. English Magpies were about as were some ravens. A local flock of feral Indian Ringed-necked Parakeets were common here so I had enough to interest me.
We ate bread and cheese for tea, Glenda absolutely jet lagged to the point of exhaustion. We were both asleep by 8 p.m. local time which was 5 a.m. back in Aus. We'd been on the go for quite a time without proper sleep.
Day 2 Sept 30th
I woke up around three in the morning and remained fairly much awake for the rest of the night. Glenda was much the same but stayed snug and warm for longer than I.
I did a walk around the park and photographed my first English Robin which was a thrill. A few others appeared also so I was in a good mood. Glenda prepared porridge, banana and golden syrup for breakfast which was filling and seemed appropriate, being in England and all that. We walked the two blocks to the train station and took in the terraced houses along the way. The most prominent feature of their front yards was the rubbish bins unfortunately.
Narrow streets and houses pushed together with no yards
I asked a local bloke for directions to the railway station. His answer had me giggling as it was real English stuff;
“ You see that geezer with the dog? Go down the lane behind him and turn right at the end. It’s on the left.”
The train took us to Charing Cross Station which was a different one to the one I had planned. It was a simple mistake but it turned out to be both useful and costly. Andy who is a Shorin Ryu Karate student phoned and we planned to meet near Tower Bridge late afternoon. Instead of taking the train to Cannon Street Station I chose the one above and we ended up at Trafalgar Square. This was okay but we’d planned to visit tomorrow and not do too much walking today. Huge error!
Looking down from Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square was much bigger than I thought but just as exciting as I'd anticipated. So too were its monuments and the walk past Buckingham Palace to Parliament House. Being a Sunday it was busy and we noted many French and German conversations happening along the way.
A right royal guard outside Buckingham Palace
Statues to the glory of the Empire, its monarchs and heroes abound in this magnificent place. I was pleased to see one of Queen Boadicea and of course Nelson dominated Trafalgar on a huge column which was appropriate.
Where Big Ben is housed
We eventually decided to try and get to Tower Bridge where we were going to meet Andy and that’s when the fun started. The subway, better known as the tube wasn't too welcoming and we found ourselves lost and missing a station or two. A number of lines were closed for maintenance it being a Sunday. We found ourselves having to back track a few times which was very frustrating. Luckily we had a traveller’s pass which entitled us to unlimited travel in trains, subway, and buses for the day.
On reaching the Tower of London we did the walk across the Bridge. Andy was late in meeting us and we had to cancel as it was getting late. A long walk to Canon Street Station was even more painful when we found it closed for the day for maintenance! A number 15 London bus took us back to Trafalgar Square and a train back to the motorhome.
On a whim we ducked into the local pub at Abbey Wood near the station. A pint of beer turned into three and we engaged a few locals in some chat. It’s easy to see what a trap an English pub could become (much like the pubs of my miss-spent youth in Ballarat).
The owner walked passed as we sat there and realising we weren’t regulars said g’day; “Hello Luv. Hello Governor,” and walked on.
We were again exhausted yet Glenda managed to put together a stir fried chicken for dinner. We're going to stay up later tonight to help acclimatize but I fear we’ll both be asleep before nine o’clock.
Day 3 October 1st
There was steady drizzle for most of the night. I know this because I woke up around 3 a.m. and had a similar sleep pattern to the previous night. I did some photo searching for a time and went back to bed and slept until 9.30 a.m.
We both have blistered feet from the walking and the steady rain kept us at the park for most of the day.
We caught up on washing and generally had a relaxing day.
The local Magpies and squirrels kept me entertained during the breaks in the weather and I'm enjoying the challenge of a quarry other than birds for a change.
Dinner tonight was steak, mushrooms and vegetables. Limited cooking utensils and resources in the motorhome, compared to our caravan, make it a challenge in what can be prepared. I just managed to cook tonight's steak in the tiny frying pan. There is a microwave in the motorhome, but no microwave dishes. I may need to look out for an op shop to buy some cheap ones.
Addendum: Bloody delicious my Love!
Day 4 October 2nd
I awoke again around 3 a.m. for the third night in a row. It is getting better but l really wasn't expecting jet lag to be this difficult. The dawn chorus is very different to home for obvious reasons. I can't recognize all the calls but the Crows and I think the Magpies stand out. The higher pitched trills and calls probably come from the Robins and Blackbirds.
Pests but still cute
We emptied the grey water and the toilet before we headed off towards the east coast. This process is necessary and we decided to get into a regular routine of disposing of our waste as we move around. Because there are no water mains to connect to in UK parks we have to fill the tanks by hand and empty the grey water every few days. It doesn't take long and in truth it’s quite painless. Glenda had done her homework and had a good idea of which roads we needed to get to our destination. Despite that I became nervous quite soon after our departure and I was stressed by the traffic and the narrow roads.
Miles take longer to cover than kilometres and by the time we reached Colchester it seemed like we were on the road for hours. The town was very busy and we had great difficulty finding a park for the vehicle. Most town parks had height barriers that we just couldn't fit under. The reason for these barriers we later found out was to stop motorhomes from free parking overnight. We wanted to take our time here as it is England's oldest town but we left in frustration as we couldn't find a park anywhere!
Just as we were leaving I noticed a Tesco Superstore so we parked in their parking area and ventured in for some extra shopping. That concluded we headed on to Clacton-on-Sea. Again parking was difficult but eventually we found one albeit we protruded onto the road a tad. Glenda finally found some knitting needles and I managed to buy a book about the birds of The UK. With that done we drove on to St Osyth where we eventually found the Orchards Caravan Park. Rain began soon after, prohibiting any local search of the area.
At the end of the day, our first week since leaving home, we are again exhausted from the stress of driving in crowded conditions.
Yes, Gary's waking at 3 am..........need I say more. Problem is Gary is ready for bed at 6.30pm. He is finding it difficult to adjust to time difference.
Breakfast this morning was porridge which is becoming our usual. I have always liked porridge but found it made me feel unwell afterwards. Since have discovered if I do not have milk on it, I am okay. So I am enjoying porridge with banana and golden syrup minus the milk. Porridge cooked with water. I think I have always had an intolerance for milk, but interesting not to milk products such as cheese, yogurt, cream etc
Our destination today was Colchester. Having read about this town being the first established town in the UK, dating back to the Roman Invasion, I was interested in seeing it, especially the ruins of the castle. This proved to be quite impossible as we could not find a suitable park anywhere, so in frustration, as Gary mentioned we headed for Clacton. We have lots to learn about motorhomes and driving in the UK.
We enjoyed a much needed wine on arrival at the caravan park. Cooked chow mien tonight for dinner.
Steady rain tonight. Always like the sound of rain when we are in the van at home, same here with the motor home.
Day 5 October 3rd
An overcast morning greeted me as l set out on my early morning walk. Our motorhome neighbours, Mick and Chris had alerted me to the estuary next to this huge caravan park so I headed towards it through a gaggle of Mallard Ducks which seemed quite happy to share their part of the park with me.
Stranded on the tidal mudflats
I surprised a lone Curlew as l summited a sea wall next to a large boggy, marsh area next to the estuary. There were small to large holes filled with water and sludge much as l imagined a peat bog would be like. It was low tide and hundreds of boats were lying in the thick mud in clusters. It was an interesting scene.
Secure your moorings!
As we drove along a highway we saw a sign to an Owl sanctuary. This was a must but on turning off the main road we soon became lost on some narrow lanes. The English are not great on signage and we found ourselves having to ask a disgruntled geezer (I’m learning the lingo) where it was. He was annoyed because he was trimming the hedges on the side of the road in front of his house. I assume each landowner has some responsibility for keeping the verges neat just like their responsibility for their thatched roofs.
Apparently if your house has a thatched roof it cannot be changed according to the UK’s equivalent to the National Trust. Further, if it is straw thatching it must remain so and similarly for slate roofed dwellings. All too much!
We arrived at the sanctuary to find they were closing for the season and that the flight show wasn’t happening. We had the feeling that apart from looking after injured birds the place was for collecting species as much as being a safe haven, the owls from overseas indicating this. We enjoyed looking at the bird species and I saw a Great Grey Owl for the first time. Sadly though, a Barn owl had me choking as it seemed to be begging for freedom in my mind’s eye.
"Please release me"
Glenda had purchased a sim card for the ipad so for the first time we were able to use the satellite navigation system which took all the worry about driving to our next destination....apart from the narrow lanes of most roads. We made our way back inland to Diss ( what can l say?) and after getting lost despite the tracking device eventually landed at a farm park called "The Grange". This was a great spot with a dam (pond), walking tracks over a field edged with blackberry hedges and quite a few new birds.
We didn't have good phone coverage so it was frustrating to have our connection drop out regularly. I still couldn't phone home so it was equally annoying.
Day 6 October 4thThetford & Bury St Edmunds
The pond behind the caravan park beckoned early and despite the frost l managed to see some new species. A pair of Red legged Partridge from a long way off was the prize sighting.
Self & andy Tate (4th Dan)
Andy Tate, an Englishman who had married a US servicewoman met us around 10 a.m. to take us on a local tour. Andy had spent three years on Okinawa and held the rank of 4th Dan in Shorin Ryu Karate. He was an extremely enthusiastic guy and took us firstly to his home in Thetford where we got to know him over coffee. A walk to the lakes behind his home gave us three new birds for the trip as well as our first English birder. I regret not asking for a photograph with him as he was the quintessential idiosyncratic.
We drove to a pub called the Elveden Inn which was owned by a relative of the Earl of Guinness. Naturally we had a pint and an enjoyable meal. I chose "Toad in the Hole" if only to finally see and try it after Glenda remarking about it years ago.
The use of vines on buildings was well done
Andy wanted to show us Bury St Edmunds which is an ancient city dating back over 1000 years. The Abbey of St Edmunds was fantastic! The ruins gave a tiny hint of what must have been a miraculous place judging by the drawings and models of what the surrounds were like. It was near here that Cardinal Langton and the Barons swore an oath that they would obtain a ratification of the Magna Carta by King John in 1214. We entered the St Edmunds Cathedral, a small building compared to the original Abbey but one which made the Cathedral in Bendigo back home look ordinary. So many stained glass windows and the ceiling architecture just left us stunned, wondering how the hell those early craftsmen managed such an engineering and artistic feat.
St Edmunds Cathedral
We picked up Andy's son, Kieran and we drove back to our motorhome. Andy got lost despite the sat nav equipment which he has lent us for the next five weeks. We said our goodbyes and retired to our motorhome. It was an insightful day courtesy of a great guy. Hope we meet again.
Day 7 October 5th
It rained steadily for most of the night but by morning it had cleared apart from the overcast sky. With Andy's sav nat we thought things would be a big improvement but unfortunately this gadget didn't account for the size of our vehicle.
We headed for Snettisham which wasn't too far away but suddenly found ourselves being directed down some excruciatingly narrow lanes. The device plotted the quickest way to our destination which meant farmers and their tractors had to get out of our way. That was the theory anyway.
Once again we found the lack of signage appalling when it comes to places. We found Snettisham okay but the Queen Victoria Pub and park was difficult. We set up out the back where five sites were located (pitches as they call them). Following lunch we drove to Snettisham Nature Reserve for a look about. It was very windy and for the first time we felt cold.
The mudflats at Snettisham.
Note the whirling flocks of small waders too far out to identify
After a long walk through a grassy lane edged with blackberries we came to the beach. The tide was a long way out and vast mudflats were exposed. Shelduck was the most obvious bird on the area due to its white colours but a number of small waders in pairs or alone were fossicking about. I managed a Ringed Plover and a Grey Plover amongst others. Some lapwings were hunkered down amongst some Starlings on an island on the river that accompanied the lane way parallel to the beach.
On the way out I came across a family of Egyptian Geese which was a real find.
Day 8 October 6th
Jackdaws were plentiful and used chimney pots for nesting
I did a quick walk around Snettisham early and noted a number of Jackdaws that had been using old chimneys as nesting sites. Hopefully the fireplaces aren't going to be used this winter!
We walked to the local playing field where a car boot market was in full swing. Lots of junk and friendly people but we managed to buy some vegetables and a present for Obi 1 when he / she arrives at the start of December. (our first Grandchild).
Our target today was the Titchwell Marshes Nature Reserve which was only about 30 minutes from our base at Snettisham. We arrived mid morning and were shocked by the number of birders there. In Australia you might get a dozen at a special site but today all car parks were nearly full with hundreds of twitchers moving about. I couldn't believe the number of scopes and 500+ lenses being sported.
Avocets - just too far away
The place is run by the RSPB and typically we found they were asking for money and new members. The guy at the entrance gave me an unwanted spiel about the benefits of an annual membership but wouldn’t allow a month long one in our case. We paid the £4 parking fee and entered. Bird feeders were suspended in places to attract the small bushland birds while bird hides (lavish by Australian standards) were placed around the fresh and salt water ponds.
We ended up with over 15 new species for the trip.
ShelduckWe had a pizza for lunch courtesy of the RSPB headed back to Snettisham. I managed to raise Emily by phone early this morning for the first time. She appeared to be doing well and not concerned about the lack of contact. It was all reassuring really.
Day 9 October 7th
A light fog greeted us as we left the Queen Victoria pub and headed north. Initially we were going to Nottingham but a camper advised against it. York was next but then the same camper suggested the beach east of York. Somehow we got the name wrong and five hours and a few wrong turns later we arrived at Withernsea.
The beach at Withernsea
This place has nothing much to offer us save a cheaper camping fee and fair facilities. After putting on the washing machines at £4 a load I ventured to the cliffs nearby overlooking the ocean. Erosion is a big concern here and apparently the ruins of two churches lay two hundred meters off shore, a sign of a once higher sea level or land mass.
We planned our next two weeks in our assault on Scotland. Tomorrow its York followed by Whitby then up to Edinburgh. It’s getting better all the time.
Day 10 October 8th
Again we were met with a light fog which makes photography less sharp amongst other things. We are relying on Glenda s laptop for directions which works reasonably well but we still manage to make some bad turns. My joke was that we drove "to Hull and back before headin' to Hedon". Sorry.
A view of York
We decided to sack York today and in saying so we realized quickly that we were a thousand years too late. First the Romans invaded in the first century A.D. followed by the Vikings 800 years later. We parked the van at the Park and Ride outside of the city and took the bus for £2.50 each into the city centre. This was much like London in its heart in that the architecture was grandiose to say the least.
We visited the Jorvik Viking Centre which had some great displays and artefacts from the nineth century courtesy of some remarkable archaeological digs. These have been preserved in some very impressive and innovative ways such as glass walkovers and 3D imaging together with a few skeletons displayed to show forensic evidence of their respective lives.
The twin towers of York Cathedral
We looked at the castle ruins nearby which enables some excellent views of the city before hopping onto a tour bus which took us around the old walls and gates of York as it was in Norman times. Some of the commentary was just plain bloodthirsty but in the end these were brutal times.
A quilting museum attracted Glenda’s attention (no!?!!) but at £6 each we were disappointed. Not much if anything more than an art gallery.
York is a fascinating city which still retains large sections of the walls and gateways that were built in Norman times. The river that flows through the city is beautiful although our bus guide told of severe flooding recently that caused significant damage in some places.
Old Castle Gateways still span the entrance
to the inner city, making it small vehicles only
We returned to the motorhome and headed towards Scarborough where we booked into a farm at Serburn. It was a tranquil place and the lady alerted me to a flock of Canadian Geese and Pink footed Geese nearby. I jogged on over and had a look but the dusk light made a photograph impossible. A girl in a florescent jacket bicycling by made them take to the air and disappear. I kept my cool if only just.
Day 11 October 9th
After the frustration of last night’s failed photographs of the geese I was up early taking shots of some local bush birds. As always the Robins called clearly and stayed put. I see this bird daily but I’m convinced a better shot is still waiting.
The gear these enthusiasts bring is amazing
A frosty night made for a beautiful day although the mist didn't clear for some time. An old fisherman was setting up by the pond on this farm just on dawn. He was after a carp of all things and was joined by another angler about an hour later although the second gent set up on the other side of the pond.
Signs indicated that fishing at this location was for members only. It appears that angling is organised much like the caravan clubs and the birdwatching sites. Membership of a group allows you access to farm ponds and streams as well as maps and suggestions on where to go. What intrigues me is the amount of gear each fisherman carries and sets up, everything from lean-tos to portable stoves and the latest in camouflage gear. I know it gets cold but some of the characters we’ve come across tend towards the eccentric. Then again, this is England.
More small towns met us as we headed north, the distance between them amazingly short. A lot of narrow streets with the same old stone churches with headstones scattered in their grounds. The practice of growing vines to cover cottage brickwork looked beautiful in some cases. What I couldn’t get over was the shop fronts in these villages. There was precious little signage to show what they were selling or any change to the facade to differentiate them from the cottages or houses next to them.
The York Moors
The York Moors were fascinating in their flat, starkness. The plants reminded us of salt bush in their size and texture, the big difference being their brown colours. Much of the area has been turned into pasture and in this the land looks much like the same in Victoria.
The entrance to Whitby
We stopped at Whitby by the sea and were amazed at the picturesque setting despite the crowds of tourists. It was like I imagined but with much more. We drove down into the town and found a good park by the wharf. The English love their boats is all l can say. On the east side of the estuary was a high cliff on top of which was the ruins of the old abbey.
The ruins of the Abbey on the hill
It was this ruin that Bram Stoker was apparently inspired by when he wrote "Dracula". He spent a lot of his time in the seaside town during his study of the supernatural.
You could spend a long time photographing this place but as luck would have it, it was closed to visitors.
We hugged the coast as much as possible for a while but the restricted speed and the trouble with oncoming buses forced us inland to better roads.
The newish city of Redcar was a dramatic change to the old England places we’d passed through as it was spread out and modern. We moved steadily north and I think l might have been photographed speeding as we neared our destination at Belford in Northumberland. We settled into the Blue Bell Caravan Park run by the Caruthers family.
Local Mute Swans at the blue Bell
To give Glenda a break I bought fish and chips from a shop next to the park. I told the English owner that we were told it was essential to have some before we left England. He replied that they were over rated and he was right.
Day 12 October 10th
Today was just magic in terms of the weather; hardly a breeze and no cloud. We left the caravan park mid morning without seeing the caretaker (I wonder whatever happened to old Caruthers?).
The causeway was much more substantial than we envisaged
Tourist brochures suggested that crossing onto Holy Island was only possible during a brief two hour period at low tide. Today’s tide chart said it would be safe by one o'clock so we didn't expect to get too close nor were we really considering driving on a narrow causeway that had claimed a number of cars in the past. A birdwatcher parked on the causeway changed all that.
Eider ducks near the causeway
The tide was substantially low when we arrived and still dropping. The guy told us that we would be safe until high tide which was after nightfall. That gave us a full day in a very special place. We drove straight over stopping briefly to photograph a female Eider Duck plus a number of waders enjoying the mudflat that led to the island proper.
A car park for visitors enabled us to walk around the small fishing village out to the remains of a castle built centuries ago to ward off Viking raiders. It was a beautiful setting.
The Castle on a perfect day!
Back in town we visited the ruins of the Priory which was built in the 700's. This enabled one of the most breathtaking vistas we've ever come across. On any other day it might not have been so.
The waders on the causeway were between us and the sun so further photography there was useless although I added substantially to our trip list.
The Priory graveyard
We headed north towards Scotland and took a detour to St Abbs on the coast. It was the wrong time of year for birds nesting on the cliffs so we kept going to the city of Dundee.
We were now in Scotland and already there was some relief in the driving. The main road into the capital wasn't too bad by comparison with some we’d driven in England.
Our stop for the next three nights was the Edinburgh Caravan Club Park next to the Fourth of Firth. It was well spread out, very well presented and full of travellers. The Scottish accents were already in evidence and I was greatly amused listening to the banter of the children playing in the playground. That was unusual for us!