June 2010


Unsuitable for Large Vehicles

England


    …The Lewes Bowling Green Society, which was founded in 1753, still plays the original game of bowls, the last remaining such Society to play the game in this form, and their games are still played at the tilting ground on the green of Lewes Castle, in Lewes, England.  Their patron and owner of the green is The Most Hon. The Marquess of Abergavenny.  The earliest known reference to this game at this location dates to 1658…

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What more do you need to know?  England will always be England.  Or, as someone so famously said, “There will always be an England,” and we say thank goodness for that! 

We arrived here on the evening of June 10, and immediately felt at home.  We each have some English blood, look and feel like we belong here, and are having a very good time.  In general, Rick is having no difficulty with driving on the left side of the road; at first he would sometimes have to think for a minute, but now it’s quite automatic.  He has said that his most difficult adjustment was learning to trust the oncoming traffic to stay in its own lane.  And actually, in our American vehicle it’s easier to hug the left side of your lane on the narrower roads, because it’s close and easy to judge; we think it must be more difficult for travelers who fly in and rent a vehicle with right-hand drive.  

We will admit there was a moment of uncertainty when we drove off the ferry at about 10:30 pm, into the hubbub of the port at Dover, and then needed to find a spot near the port for the night.  But even then Rick kept his cool, we found a spot down by the water, and crashed - oops, poor choice of word there, should say ‘parked'.  

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We have started our Britain adventure by seeing some of southeast England, continuing west from Dover and staying well south of London.  This was pretty successful.  We were driving along the coast road the first morning, along the Dover cliffs, saw a sign for the Battle for Britain memorial in Folkestone, thought “Cool” and pulled in.  The memorial to this time in 1940 was small and homegrown, but quite interesting, There was a monument in honor of the pilots who flew that dangerous assignment, a pair of airplanes, and some informative plaques; all this along with a tiny tea room and display area.  It was located along the cliffs, among open grassy fields; the locals were out walking their dogs or just enjoying the morning by themselves.  This was a great introduction to the British people.  

And next we had lunch with Rick’s cousin Desmond.  What a lark!  Des lives near Birmingham, and we will have a longer visit with all of them quite soon.  But Des wanted to come and say hello.  So, since he works for a contractor with the railroad system, and rides for free, and travels all over Britain in his job, we arranged to meet him at the railroad station in Hastings – and head out for fish and chips.  Ah, yes -- food for the Gods!  Hastings has good F&C, that’s for sure.  

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After catching up on the family news, and exchanging hugs, we put Des back on the train and headed for the town of Battle.  Okay, now are you with us?  1066?  The Battle of Hastings?  Right!!  The town of Battle is a few miles from Hastings, which is on the coast.  There is a big old, neat abbey, and the battleground itself, and oodles of atmosphere.  We wandered all over the ruined abbey, which had been built by William the Conqueror as penance for all the blood shed during the battle; and stared at the grounds where the battle took place.  The Battle for Britain and the Battle of Hastings, all in one day; welcome to our own personal History Channel! 

While we were at the Battle Abbey we bought a membership to English Heritage, one of the governmental organizations that maintains and protects historical properties throughout England, as well as maintaining ties with other British trusts.  This had been our plan from the beginning.  Membership gives us free access to most of the properties we are interested in seeing, and reduced fees to many others, all over Britain.  (Already, over the several weeks we have been in Britain, we have used it over and over.  It has proven to be a good choice.)

By the way, it’s probably a good moment to define a couple of terms.  England is England; its capital is London.  Britain (or Great Britain) is England and Wales and Scotland.  The United Kingdom is England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  The southern part of Ireland is the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent country and uses the Euro for currency rather than the Pound.

We had been very focused up to this point, but after leaving Battle we began several days of learning how to be successful travelers in England.  There were a few things we needed to get a handle on:  (1) where to stay at night; (2) how to negotiate the roads; (3) how to access the internet; (4) where to get groceries, fuel and water, and dump our tanks when needed.  There was nothing new here; we’ve had to accomplish these same goals in each new country we have visited in the last 8+ years we’ve been on the road.  But England suddenly seemed a little overwhelming.  

Now, a month later, all is in hand of course, and has been for some time.  The very small roads continue to be challenging.  We have been down some lanes where we touched the bushes on both sides.  The driving requires continual concentration, and Rick is very tired at the end of the day.  We are using our GPS a lot of the time, but even Lady Emily gets confused, along with the rest of us.  (We have given her a title, befitting her status in our little family.)  

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We really struggled with trying to find places to spend the night, not wanting to end up in full-fledged campgrounds, which tend to be expensive and full of folks.  We are used to being able to pull off the road onto a quiet lane or overlook, but not here.  We like parking areas near shopping; not available – most have barriers that prohibit entry of taller vehicles.  After some long country drives late in the day looking for a good spot, we finally took some good advice and purchased a membership in one of the British camping clubs.  We found that in addition to their full-on campgrounds, they also had a myriad of smaller locations that were limited to only 5 vehicles at a time, had fewer services, but almost always water and dump facilities, and were much less expensive.  These spots are typically out in the country, in a farm setting, in an open field, often with sheep close at hand.  Hot damn!  Perfect for us.  We still like the adventure of finding remote spots on our own, so much of the time we are likely to be found overnighting in the car park of a ruined old castle or church, for instance, but the addition of these small approved camping locations to our arsenal has proven to be a good combination for us.

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Internet access was also making us nuts.  McDonalds has been a mainstay for us in Europe, and they are readily available in England, but finding them with access for our rig, in working order, etc. was sending us chasing all over the countryside and making us bonkers.  So, upon the advice of good buddies Don and Kim Greene, who have been in Britain since April, we purchased a cool little item called a Mifi.  It is a mobile wireless router that connects to the internet via the cell phone system and works in most of the UK and Ireland.  Importantly for us, it allows us to be on line with both computers at the same time.  So far it’s working quite well.  In looking toward solutions for both the camping and internet issues, the cost of fuel was an issue as well as simple stress and the question of how to best use our time and energy.  We can be surprisingly stubborn at times, but even we eventually realized that at around $6.50 per gallon, it doesn’t take many miles of driving around looking for a ‘free’ spot for the night or some ‘free’ wifi to pay for the cost of the campground or the internet access device.  So, life is good on both fronts, and we haven’t seen the inside of a Mickey D’s in awhile – no loss.

As we worked our way through various problems, we also were working our way along the southern coast.  The lovely old medieval wool market town of Lewes (pronounced Lewis) was a real treat.  The town is great for walking; just seeing all the old buildings was neat.  There’s a castle, a priory with gardens, and the aforementioned game of bowls that we enjoyed watching as it was played on the castle grounds.  It’s a beautiful place, and we’ll always remember the comment by the young man who stopped to watch the bowlers with us for a moment, “They really just do it to work up a thirst for the pub after the match.”  A great excuse matched up with a wonderful afternoon’s activity for sure.

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The South Downs are charming, if far too popular; we can see why so many people live here.  Nice beaches and headlands to walk upon, open fields between the market towns.  World Cup Soccer is underway, and the flag of England is flying absolutely everywhere.  The first grocery store we entered had one whole aisle filled with cheddar cheese; we called it The Wall of Cheese and Rick humbly bowed before it; all the cheddar a man could want, at last!  Rick quickly began making noises about never leaving.

We crossed Greenwich Mean Time; it had a different meaning than ever before.

We visited Chichester with its really great cathedral, one of the best we’ve seen.  Also in this area were new acquaintances Nicky and Kevin, whom we’d met in Belgium.  They helped us get organized, fed us dinner, more fish & chips at our request, and sent us off the next day.  We are planning a longer visit with them in the fall, when we hope to see more of the coast with them; they are sailors, and know the area intimately.  Besides, they are lots of fun and we want to see more of them.

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We tried to visit the Arundel castle; despite the guidebook saying it should be quiet except on weekends, the hordes were deeply entrenched.  Maybe another time… late in the fall…  when it’s raining really hard.  We did get to the Bentley Car Museum and Wildfowl Park.  The name should have been a clue that this would be a real hodgepodge.  Yes, they did have a few Bentleys, which we both enjoyed; but Rick had been anticipating a class act, and this wasn’t it.  But the ducks and geese and bunches of other birds, some quite exotic for England, were all fun; the grounds were extensive, the birds were quite tame, and we got some good pictures.  Both cars and birds can be viewed at www.motor-museums.com.

The furthest west we got at this point was our time in Chichester; from there we decided to turn north, having worked our way around to the southwest of London.  Our first “inland” visit was to Winchester, another great town, where we spent parts of two days.  The cathedral is quite amazing (I liked Chichester’s better, while Rick preferred Winchester) and the town is a nice place to wander.  It’s a university town and the grounds around the cathedral were lovely and filled with folks out taking the air.  We have been able to park close to the old part of the city in each of these towns, making it easy to enjoy the sights.

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Having gotten a ways up from the coast the country was opening up just a little bit.  There was more space between towns, and we were feeling looser by the minute.  We went straight up into the Cotswolds, where we spent about a week, visiting town after charming town.  Whatever you’ve heard – it’s all true.  A lovely area: tiny towns, horses, stone walls, rabbits popping out of the hedgerows.  This is Peter Rabbit country.  We had lunch one day at The Smoking Dog, a pub in Malmesbury that came complete with two ancient yellow labs lounging all over the wooden floors.  Cool.  

Did we tell you we had to order up five (count ‘em, 5) new wheels?  After having our one extra wheel shipped over to replace the first broken one, another failed.  We said nuts to all that and had 5 new aftermarket wheels shipped to us from the States.  Yes, expensive, but few choices.  Rick spent some time researching on line to find wheels with a high enough load capacity rating and was then able to locate a distributor for them in Warwick (which has a neat castle).  We detoured north a bit to have them installed and now we are all shiny and new.  Spiffy.  

We were working north in part to meet up with Don and Kim Greene who were coming in from Ireland and Wales. We spent a couple of days together in the Cotswolds, wandering and puttering and sharing information on where we’ve all been.  They are good friends and experienced travelers; it’s always a treat to see them. They have been in Britain since April and are now working their way back towards London, from where they will fly home to Arizona for several months.  We first met them in Guatemala and our last visit was in Arizona over New Year’s; our plan is to meet up again in December, and spend time in Morocco together.  Ain’t it great!

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Saying good-by to Don and Kim, they headed further south and we went to Gloucester, which also has an awesome cathedral and is a fun town to visit.  We were developing a happy pattern of travel: Cathedrals and ruins and lovely countryside.  Ah, yes, and then Rick really hit pay dirt:  the Morgan Car Factory and Museum in Malvern Link.  He was there much of the day, and emerged with a plan: sell everything and buy a country cottage and a Morgan.  Well, perhaps not; but they really are something else.  When Rick was young he would go out to Riverside Raceway in southern California to watch the sports car races.  Even then, back in the 80’s70’s (?)… well, okay, in the mid 60’s, Morgans were considered rather quaint and old fashioned, but boy were they fast.  Now, nearly fifty years on, they still make them the same way they used to, by hand in the same factory; they still look the same, and the waiting list is about nine months long.  Morgan is the oldest family-owned car company in the world and celebrated their centenary in 2009.  Learn more about Morgans at http://www.morgan-motor.co.uk/.  You can also see more photos of our visit at out own www.motor-museums.com.

By now we had about ten days available before we were expected in Birmingham to see Desmond and his family.  We decided it would be a perfect time to visit southern and central Wales, leaving the northern part of that country until we went through on our way to Ireland later in the summer.  So off we went, and we’ll tell you about our Welsh adventures later on.  Suffice it to say that we really enjoyed ourselves, and will look forward to a return trip later on.  

We’ve had lovely weather almost the entire time we’ve been in England.  The local folks are complaining about the lack of rain, but not us.  And we really do love it here.  We’ve fallen in love with lemon curd; we sample/purchase it every time we get the chance; and Rick has been enchanted by the sheer number of splendid cars he sees – every day.  

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I love the recycling opportunities.  This may seem a bit mundane to you, but it’s important.  Every single town we go through has a large collection center, with signs telling you how to get to it.  They consistently recycle far more than we do, even in California.  Plastic bags do exist at the grocery store, but you have to pay for them.  Virtually everyone shows up with their own sturdy bags (which they fill themselves at the checkout counter).  The goods are clearly labeled, indicating what is/isn’t recyclable; some of the yogurt containers even come with removable labels as the label can be recycled, but not the plastic cup.  It’s neat.

The word is that Britain is more expensive than other parts of Europe, and it is, but not by as much as we’d been led to believe.  We continue to be helped in this by the relative strength of the Dollar right now against both the Pound and the Euro.  Both the weather and the financial markets are smiling on us so far this summer and we do appreciate it.  Fuel is about a dollar a gallon higher than on the continent, and groceries are a bit more as well.  Eating out, at least at our fairly low level, is about the same or perhaps even a bit less; but we have to pay for parking almost everywhere, though some businesses and attractions refund the parking fee if you actually shop/visit there.  We’ll have a more accurate picture in a few months when we can compare the numbers, but at least for now, we are pleased.

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Britain is also known for being much less motor home friendly than the continent and this is definitely true.  The Brits love their countryside and being outdoors; walking and hiking trails are everywhere.  There are also lots and lots of motor homes and caravans out on the roads, several large camping clubs and lots of campgrounds that are apparently full most of the summer.  However, this popularity of camping has not translated into camper-friendly facilities outside the campgrounds themselves, and British RVers are the first to say that traveling on the continent is much easier for them than here at home.  As already mentioned, parking is consistently difficult so is finding a place to get off the road for a lunch stop, a view, a photo opportunity, or just to let traffic get by.  Something we’d not seen before are traffic signals in some towns located not at intersections, but simply to control the traffic flow through a narrow section of street.

Other than the main highways, which are just like anywhere else, the secondary and minor roads where we spend most of our time are very, very narrow.  We’d been told this before we came, but weren’t fully prepared for the reality.  After all, we’ve now traveled by RV in twenty-two countries, and after the mountain passes we’ve crossed in the Andes we’d thought we’d seen narrow roads, hah!  If our side mirrors had rough edges we’d be picking leaves out of them every day.  Whether due to differences in land ownership versus governmental powers or just to a widely-held philosophy that everything is just fine as it is, despite heavy traffic and lots of trucks, these roads must be about the same width as they were back in the 30’s.  It is often all I can do to keep the left side mirror out of the hedge on the left and the right side tires off the dots in the center line at the same time.   

Now, don’t get us wrong, travel here is not as easy for us as it is in some other countries, but the rewards are great.  We’ve never enjoyed such beautiful, bucolic countryside as we see everywhere here.  Driving along, you catch a view ahead to see the narrow road winding along between the hedgerows over the rolling hills and you just want it to go on forever.  When we meet a car or truck on one of these narrow lanes, they will invariably signal us with their lights and either squeeze off to the side to let us pass or back up to the nearest place where they can do so.  And, this is all done with a smile and a wave, never once with any sense of us being in their way at all.  We truly love it here despite the difficulties.  

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Impressions:  The clocks on the churches are correct – virtually everywhere.  And the church bells?  We love them, day and night; they are wonderful.  Westminster chimes have taken on a whole new significance.  I’m being offered “caged eggs” for purchase in the stores (the pictures in my head!).  We’ve not yet run into other Americans traveling the way we are, not except for those we already knew were here; that’s disappointing, but not surprising.  

As you can see, we are having a happy summer in what, at least to us, is a very Great Britain.  

Rick and Kathy and Lady Emily and La Tortuga, aka Rick and The Girls



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