Sunday, November 30, 2008

Family & Friends (Saturday 29 November)

Today we had a relaxing day catching up with friends for lunch - Rachelle and Lee - and then family for dinner - my cousin Cassandra, her husband Sianon and their gorgeous wee Miniature Schnauser called Buster Brown!

We did have a few adventures on the trains to get to Rachelle and Lee - my fault I admit - but we got there in the end and only about 30 mins late :o) We had a lovely lunch in a "chain" English Pub called "The Asparagus" in Clapham with them and it was great to be able to catch up with them both. I met Rachelle and Lee through AMP but Lee also used to work at DIA with Crispin - small world aye!

We then made our way to Northfields to catch up with Cassandra and Sianon. We also got to meet Jill, their flatmate and friend, and the gorgeous Buster Brown - he is SOOOO cute and playful (even at 3 and a half), he reminds me of Merlin only about 1/6th of the size. We had a wonderful meal put together by Sianon, Cassandra and Jill and got to watch Cassandra and Sianon's wedding DVD which was awesome as Crispin and I had been unable to attend their wedding earlier this year.

We had a great time catching up and it was great to just sit and talk for a while as well as get lots of cuddles from Buster - I challenge you to look at his photos and disagree that he is the cutest puppy ever (apart from Summer and Merlin of course).

We got back to the Caravan Park about 12.30pm and pretty much went straight to bed!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blenheim Palace....birthplace of Winston Churchill

Well, the wifi at the campsite still wasn't working, so we had quick showers and left for the Starbucks at the end of Dean Lane (not taking such a circuitous route as we had last night!). After coffee and some breakfast, we logged onto T-Mobile to check emails, then got on the road again.

Our original plan was to head straight to the campsite at Abbey Wood, east of London, and in retrospect, this might not have been such a bad idea. But several people had suggested we visit Blenheim Palace, near Oxford. Since it was only about an hour away, we decided to go.

As we approached Woodstock (the village where Blenheim Palace is), the fog started to close in. We entered the palace grounds through the Town Gate, and as we drove down the driveway, it slowly emerged from the mist.

We entered through the Palace's East Gate (free admission, thanks to the British Heritage Pass), and made our way into the huge Great Court. It says something about the size of the place, that we stood on one side of the courtyard, and the other side disappeared into the mist.

We wandered around the courtyard for a bit (all three acres of it!), before heading inside. Unfortunately, Blenheim Palace joins Shakespeare's Birthplace, Rosslyn Chapel, and other places on our trip in not allowing photography inside, so for now you'll have to make do with photos on their website.

We went through the first half of the Churchill exhibition, then quickly tacked on to a guided tour that went through some really opulent apartments in the west wing of the palace (the east wing is the residence of the current [11th] Duke of Marlborough and his family, and is closed to the general public). The artworks! The tapestries! The 24-carat gold leaf ceiling decorations! Quite an eye-opener on how the aristocracy live!

After the tour, we went back through the other half of the Churchill exhibition, and rushed back through the rooms the tour had taken us through, before ending up in the beautiful chapel. We then went back in the main doors, for the Untold Story tour that took us through the upper level, and gave a potted history of the Duchy of Marlborough and the Palace.

We then went into the restaurant underneath the Palace for lunch, and then took a stroll through some of the grounds, including the Water Terraces and the lake that 'Capability' Brown had built in the 18th century.

By now, it was about 3pm, and we had been through two of the three gift shops on site, so we quickly went through the third, grabbed coffee and ice cream, and headed back to the campervan. Betty was telling us that it would talk 2.5 hours to get to Abbey Wood, arriving around 6pm.

Here's a bit of advice about driving on the motorways near London: don't. Once we got to the M25, our average speed dropped from about 60mph to around 5mph -- including several periods where we were stationary for 10-15 minutes. We eventually got to the campsite around 8:30. Unfortunately, the reception closes at 8, so for the first time, we're spending the night in the Late Night Arrivals area (along with three other campervans that arrived after us). Fortunately, they do have electrical hookups in the LNA, and their wifi is working. All we have to do is hang around until about 9am tomorrow to get booked in for the next couple of nights. I'm really grateful that there's no more driving until Monday -- I could use the break, especially after today.

Anyhoo, we're both pretty tired, and it's late (just gone midnight), so it's off to bed to rest up for tomorrow's adventures in London.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Naughty Fox from Sherwood Forest (Wednesday 26 November at 9.30pm)

Today we visited Sherwood Forest - only a few of the old oak trees remain from Robin Hood's era but we did find another new friend whom we have called Robin Fox!

Things were a little rocky between Robin Fox and Crispin to start off with as Robin was very naughty and stole a kiss from me - words were exchanged!!

Needless to say I managed to convince Binky that Robin should join our collection of "refugees" regardless and so we now have quite a crowd on board....they all seem to be getting along even Peter and Robin, though Binky does seem a little suspicious of Mr Fox though.

See piccies for Robin Fox and his band of merry men/Women!

Maid Sweetie signing out and off to bed myself :o)

Drivin', drivin'... (27/11 at 3:45pm)

Another lazy morning, we didn't get up until 9am. But then, there wasn't a lot on the agenda today.

After another dash across the A414 to the BP station, we got some breakfast and lunch, then dashed back again. Breakfast was leisurely, then we started packing up and got back on the road around 10:45.

After thirty minutes of driving, we arrived in Sarratt, the small village where Mum was born. It's not much to see -- a main road, with cottages lining it, each with names like "Holly Tree Cottage" -- but the emotional impact was much larger. We looked around for a bit, before deciding on lunch at the village pub, the Boot at Sarratt. Juliette had the fish soup (which arrived laden with mussels and shrimps), while I had the Boot burger -- beef, bacon, and Stilton cheese, served with chips and salad. The food was lovely, but the servings huge -- I couldn't finish mine.

View Larger Map

After Sarratt, we headed for Biggin Hill, where my grandparents lived during the war. Their house was near the RAF airfield there, and Grandma used to tell a story of how they were evacuated during the Battle of Britain, and a Spitfire went into the kitchen a week after they left! But Biggin Hill was disappointing: just another small English town, with no apparent museum or whatever about its wartime history. We didn't even bother stopping.

The final destination was the Caravan Club site at Alderstead Heath, about thirty minutes drive from Biggin Hill -- longer when you get confused by the wretched motorway system, which has two exits at the same place, and I took the left exit, when I should have taken the right! As you can probably tell, I'm a little fed up with British roads -- roundabouts that feed into roundabouts, traffic signals on roundabouts, A roads, B roads, .... I'm looking forward to getting home and driving on State Highway 1 again!

Anyway, we got to Alderstead Heath about 3pm -- a novel experience, arriving in daylight hours. We're all settled in for the night, although their internet connection is currently out, so we're currently in a nearby Starbucks, using their wifi!

York, Sherwood Forest & Hemel Hempstead (27/11, at 8:30pm)

These long drives are starting to take their toll -- I'm falling asleep earlier at night, and finding it difficult getting going in the mornings. It's still cold, but not as cold as Scotland -- about 10 degrees this morning.

The campsite we stayed at overnight, Maustin, has nice facilities (including free wifi), but I was glad to leave it. There was nobody else staying here, and the camp wardens weren't exactly fussed about making sure we were comfortable.

We left Maustin about 9:45 (after a lovely cooked breakfast of bacon and scrambled eggs, courtesy of Juliette), and headed to York. After a brief stop to fill up the tank (oddly, diesel costs more here (around GBP1.08/litre) than petrol (at about 98p/litre)), we decided to risk going into York itself rather than use a Park+Ride. We found our way, but took a wrong turn trying to get to the Castle car park, so ended up going up a narrow street, with cars parked all done one side. I almost clobbered a pedestrian with the left wing mirror, and at one point had to drive onto the footpath to get past a parked van. Nerve-wracking, but we got around the block and back to the carpark. There was no height limits that we could see (the local council's website said "electronic barrier", but no alarms went off), so we drove in, took up two parks, and paid GBP2 for an hour's parking.

It was a hop, skip and a jump through to the Jorvik Viking Centre, which is an underground exhibit based on archaeological digs around York. It's more geared to kids: you first got into a "time machine" that took you back to 866 CE, then you go through onto a ride, with chairs suspended from the ceiling following a track through a reconstruction of a Viking village. It was quite cool, especially the way the chair swivels to point you in the direction of whatever the voice track is talking about. After the ride, you go through a display of artifacts (including staff dressed in period costume), before emerging in the gift shop (where we were very restrained).

After a brief stop to grab coffees from Starbucks, we headed back to the van and got out of the carpark without too much trouble. Back on the road again, we headed for a small village in Nottinghamshire called Edwinstowe, to visit Sherwood Forest. The Forest is much reduced from its Robin Hood days -- only a few acres remain. But they have a nice visitor's centre, and a walk through the trees. The main attraction is the Major Oak, an oak tree that's estimated to be around a thousand years old, but the rest is a pleasant woodland walk, very quiet, the only disturbances being other walkers (with Juliette accosting anyone with a dog!) and the squirrels.

By the time we left, it was nearly 3:30, and Betty was telling us it would take us till 6pm to get to Sarratt (a small village in Hertfordshire, where my Mum was born), so we headed straight to the Caravan Club camp site at Hemel Hempstead. Of course, there were roadworks all down the M1, and the exits had been moved around, so we'd already gone past the turn-off before the GPS told us to take the exit! We ended up taking a later exit, and having to negotiate several roundabouts before getting onto the A414. Fortunately, the campsite was easy to find after that, and a couple of petrol stations close by meant it was easy to get some supplies (though having to dash across the 60mph road to get to the BP was entertaining).

We've just had dinner, and I'm knackered (we've travelled over 600 miles in three days!). Juliette's going to do her own entry for the blog, but I think I'll just go make a cup of coffee and fall into bed.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Edinburgh to Leeds (via Hadrian's Wall)

Another morning in Edinburgh, and more entertainment with Edinburgh Camp Site's electrical problems. Fortunately, they seemed to have gotten most of the kinks out of the system -- we were able to run the tumble drier through two cycles without losing power!

Unfortunately, the internet connection was still too weak to connect. As we left, Juliette sat in the back with the laptop, and as we neared the reception, the signal quality improved dramatically. So we sat in their driveway for about half an hour, updating the blog and doing other interwebby things (like making sure the credit card didn't starve!).

Around 10, we finally left Edinburgh. Our original plan was to head for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, but the British Heritage Guide pointed us toward Housesteads, the best-preserved of the Roman Forts along Hadrian's Wall. It took us nearly three hours (the
route went west to Glasgow, then south to Carlisle, then back east along the A69) to get there, arriving about 1pm.

We walked along the track from the carpark for about 10 minutes -- dodging sheep and sheep-poo -- before arriving at the museum a bit puffed (the path was very up-hill and down-dale). The museum was interesting, though small, and had a model of what they think the fort looked like at its height, as well as bits and pieces of recovered masonry and statuary.

We browsed for a bit, then headed up to the ruins proper. Over the intervening centuries, the fort (indeed, the whole Wall) had been scavenged by locals, who used the stones to make everything from fences to churches, so all that's really left are the foundations of the walls. Still, you get a good idea of the size of the fort from the remains of the exterior walls, and the views northwards are amazing. And yes, you can still see the Wall trundling off into the distance.

Back in the museum, we went through the gift shop, picking up a couple of bits and pieces, before heading back to the van (now named "Vaughan the Van"). The next stage was the two-and-a-half hour journey to Leeds. I'm still not used to it getting dark as early as it does here at this time of year -- having to have the headlights on at 4:30pm feels wrong! Fortunately, most of the trip was on the A1(M) -- at least two lanes of traffic, though getting back to the A69 from Housesteads through narrow country lanes was not fun, and neither was the last 20 miles to get to the campsite.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Culloden Moor Battlefield, Urquhart Castle and more of the Loch (Monday 24 Nov at 10pm)

Headed off to Urquhart Castle, but got distracted by the local Tesco. By the time we were done in there, it was nearly 11, so we decided to change plans and go to the battlefield first. Of course, the Lonely Planet Guide was wrong (again!), and the battlefield actually opened at 10.

The visitors' centre at Culloden Moor is brand-spanking new: it only opened in April this year. We arrived just before a guided tour of the battlefield. Juliette wasn't quite game enough (it was still pretty cold), but I went out with the guide (an historian employed by the historical trust that runs the place) and a few other visitors. The guide took us out to the government lines (marked out by red flags), and described events leading up to, during, and after the battle. It was all very interesting -- and quite sobering. The most poignant part, I think, was a memorial wall on the west side of the visitor centre building. Made of dark stone, there were lighter-coloured stones jutting out. On the south end of the wall, the lighter stones marked the 1500 Jacobite dead. Towards the north end of the wall, there was a small gap, then the lighter stones marked the 50 government dead. A bit of a one-sided battle.

Back inside the centre, they had a large electronic display showing a bird's eye view of the battle. There were several display cases full of weapons of the era, but because they were on loan from other places, I wasn't allowed to take photos of them (again!). They also have a room were you stand in the middle, and an almost-panoramic film is displayed on the four walls. Taking about five minutes, its all about immersion -- giving you an idea of what it was like in the midst of the battle, especially the part when the Jacobite charge arrived at the Government lines, and 700 Highlanders lost their lives in the space of 2-3 minutes.

Juliette: You forgot to mention that Sweetie found it very sad and depressing!! Not to mention pointless - another war due to religion - I am sure that God does not want people to kill each other in his name - well no god I would want to know anyway!

Crispin: Well, not just religion, but that was a major part of it.

After Culloden, we headed back to Urquhart Castle -- we were getting to know the road quite well by then! We got there about 1pm, so they let us in, and for free too (thanks to the British Heritage Pass). It's a very different castle than Warwick or Edinburgh -- for starters, it's in ruins! But somehow, as Juliette said, it felt more real. (And the reason it's in ruins is quite sad: rather than leave it intact, its gatehouse was blown up by the defenders, just before they abandoned it.)

You could go all over the ruins, and we got some spectacular photos of the ruins and the loch. Just before we left, we stopped for a hot cuppa in the very nice cafe (where Juliette scathingly filled out a survey form!), and watched a short (8 minute) film about the history of the castle.

By then, it was almost 4pm, and time to begin the long (3.5 hour) drive back to Edinburgh. This time, the drive was almost totally in darkness, and we had a great deal of fun getting lost after taking an exit off the A9 trying to find a petrol station. Fortunately, we found one, and filled up on diesel, before getting back on the A9. We even managed a stop at a lay-by in the Grampians so Juliette could experience falling snow!

The trip back was also different in that Betty plotted a route over one of the Forth bridges. We were a bit wary, as yesterday Betty had indicated that going over the bridges was a toll route, but it looks like that's only for traffic heading north. Ten minutes after crossing the bridge, we were back at the Edinburgh site where we spent Friday and Saturday nights. Fortunately, it was still 20 minutes before their final check-in time (any later, and we'd have to have parked in the driveway and waited till morning).

Unfortunately, the park is still having electrical problems, this time with power constantly going out at the nearby toilet block. It doesn't affect us so much, as we have an on-board chemical toilet, but anybody else is going to have issues, as there's no power to the electronic combination locks, so you can't get in the loos! And, of course, the wifi hotspot is even worse, so it looks like we won't be able to update the blog until tomorrow at the earliest. Agh.

Time for bed -- hopefully, things will be better in the morning.

The Tale of Baby Nessie (just a little bit of fun for ya!)

Well I had almost given up hope of getting down to the shores of Loch Ness to call for Nessie when we found a secret path at Urquhart Castle...and lo and behold there was a baby Nessie siting on the shore!

She looked lost and cold and alone so we picked her up and took her with us to the campervan.

On the way back to Edinburgh we came across Mama Nessie - I didn't think it was a good idea to steal baby Nessie away from her Mama, especially such a BIG mama and even though I had already become very fond of baby Nessie we stopped to take her back to her Mama.

Mama Nessie saw that we had already become fond of her baby and told us we could bring her home to New Zealand with us where it was a little warmer and Nessie could grow up away from all the media attention.

So baby Nessie is coming home with us and we have another furbaby to add to the family....along with the royal Corgi and reindeer that is....but that's another story :o)

No Snow this morning (Monday 24 Nov at 9am)

Well it's not so cold this morning and there was no snow last night - damn it, I wanted to stand outside and feel the snow falling - not for long mind you but just for the experience :o( Oh well, there is still the journey back to Edinburgh this afternoon and of course Edinburgh itself so it may still happen.

Not much to update since last night as we ended up going to bed for a rest at 6pm and then just sleep through until this morning! Must have been tired!

Nice and warm again last night, though we did have the heater that Just Go provided to us going most of the night and woke up a couple of times to check if it had been snowing.

I can't believe this is our second week in the motorhome - it's all wizzing by so fast but Crispin is taking lots of photos and we have lots of little souvenirs to remind us of our trip.

We are going to have some breakfast and head back to Loch Ness soon, was really annoyed that they wouldn't let us in to Urquhart Castle yesterday afternoon because they made an exception for a tour group and then would not let us in - simply ignored me knocking on the window! I will be providing feedback to them this morning - in my mind if you make an exception for some it should be for all, especially as we were standing outside and saw them do it!! I am also hoping to get down to the shores of Loch Ness this morning so I can call Nessie some more - so far she is being elusive lol.

The Great Loch (Sunday 23 Nov at 6pm)

Even colder today. Woke up to find frost on the ground, the van, the trees. Even the birds were shaking ice off their wings as they cawed overhead. Walking between the shower block and the van was more like skating. According to the bloke in the caravan on the next pitch, there was even 3 inches of snow around 4am!

The alarm went off at 6, but it was almost 8 before Juliette could convince me to get up. We had breakfast, did the dishes, and got on the road by 10am. A quick stop at a BP station to fill up the tank, and we headed north (avoiding the toll roads) for Inverness.

Initially, it was quite pleasant, passing through the snow-covered Scottish countryside. However, as we crossed the Grampian mountains, it started raining, then snowing. Juliette enjoyed it -- even trying to catch some snowflakes as we blatted along at 60mph -- but the appeal was lost on me as I tried to keep the van on the road.

Eventually, the A9 arrived at Inverness, and we turned down the A82 to Drumnadrochit, on the edge of Loch Ness. We stopped at the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre, and sat through six short films about the legend and the various attempts to find Nessie (though they seemed more about debunking the legend than promoting it), before we ended up in the gift shop.

View Larger Map

Next, we headed further south along the A82, to Urquhart Castle. Unfortunately, we arrived a little after their 'last admissions' time, so we had to make do with photos from the carpark.

Finally, it was off to Culloden Moor Camping Site we we're staying for the night. Tomorrow, we'll have a look at the Culloden Battlefield (just down the road), and go back to Urquhart Castle -- both of which are free, thanks to the Great British Heritage Pass -- before making the four hour drive back to Edinburgh.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shivers in Scotland!!

Well it's cold here - damn cold!!! The merino wool thermals got broken in yesterday and boy am I glad we had them.

Yesterday we had a big sleep in - I think we both needed it but especially Crispin. It was nice for him to get a day off driving as we had 2 nights here in Edinburgh.

We got the bus into Edinburgh around 2pm after I had cooked Crispin a bacon and egg brunch - just scrambled eggs for me - and went to Edinburgh castle. The castle was magnificent, though I do get so annoyed with the fact that it gets dark so early here and the afternoons just go so quickly. We left the castle at 5pm and it was virtually pitch black!! We didn't get a chance to see the Scottish crown jewels but we did get a pretty good look around and the most amazing part for me was the fact that it sits right on the edge of a cliff face - pretty damn good defence system if you ask me!

We then went to the Edinburgh Woollen Mill and got a proper tartan blanket from Scotland - it was more expensive that I expected or really wanted to spend but it was authentic and made from wool...we may need it in Inverness tonight!

We made a pitstop at Waitrose for some more groceries and then got the bus back to the campsite. We got back about 7pm - did some washing and then had a lovely dinner - chicken casserole for Crispin and a beautiful chicken and leek soup for me - and retired to bed.

We were actually nice and warm overnight but this morning we got up and the front windscreen is all iced up and there is frost all over the grass. I had trouble getting Crispin out of bed as he wanted to hibernate but he is up now and we are going to head off to Loch Ness and Inverness shortly.

We have managed to get a 7 day internet pass from the Caravan Club and as we are pretty much all at Caravan Club Sites from now on (apart from one day) we should have fairly regular internet access.

Right off we go to even colder weather - we may even need to break the snow chains out - hooray!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Edinbrrrrrr! (Fri 21/11, 7:15pm)

After another long drive, we're finally ensconced in Edinburgh.

We started off from the park just outside Liverpool, heading back to Anfield about 8:30. About a quarter of the way there, a double-decker bus emblazoned with an ad for Anfield Stadium & Museum tours pulled in front of us. Sure enough, at the bottom: "Open everyday from 10am to 5pm". So no point going back to Anfield then, we needed to get on our way.

A few taps on Betty, and we set course for Lake Windermere in the Lake District. It took us a couple of hours, and a exciting trip down a narrow country lane, but we arrived at the Aquarium of the Lakes. It's a small aquarium, based mainly around the wildlife of the Lake District, but they also had Amazonian piranhas, red-tailed boas, birdeating spiders, hissing cockroaches, and pygmy marmosets!

I liked the aquarium, but Juliette wasn't so impressed. (Didn't stop her cooing over the otters and marmosets, though!). We stopped by the two gift shops, and I managed to grab some photos of the lake, before getting some coffees and heading back to the campervan.

Since we were in the Lake District, Juliette's mum suggested we visit some the the Beatrix Potter attractions in the area. Because of time constraints, we only had a chance to visit one: The World of Beatrix Potter. And it was fantastic. They had a short film about the books, then you take a walk through scenes of the various books. Absolutely wonderful. Of course, another gift shop (including Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddleduck soft toys for Sheryl), and we stopped for lunch at the little cafe they have. Juliette had the soup (and almost ordered seconds, just so she could have more of the garlic-flavoured croutons!), while I had a potato stuffed with baked beans and Lancashire cheese!

The next stage of our trip was the most demanding yet. Our destination was the small Scottish village of Roslin, home of Rosslyn Chapel (of The Da Vinci Code fame). Betty, in her infinite wisdom, decided that the fastest way was along the A592, through the hills of the Lake District, popping out near Penrith and setting us along the M6. Now, A roads may be the next step down from motorways, but the A592 is like the Akatarawa Road. Narrow, blind corners, and local nutters blatting along as fast as their motors can carry them. Combined with the wind buffeting the van, the journey was a little hairy, to say the least. About halfway along, the van started complaining about 'low outside temperature' -- about 4 degrees Celsius. We stopped at a lookout point (ignoring the couple getting intimate in the front seat of their car) to get a few shots of Lake Ullswater, and it started sleeting. I beat a hasty retreat to the van (Juliette having wisely decided to stay put), and got a little worried when I turned the engine on, and got an 'engine malfunction' warning. Fortunately, it disappeared after a few minutes driving, so I think it was just a little cold.

View Larger Map
It took quite a while -- about three hours -- but we eventually pulled into the carpark at Rosslyn Chapel about 4:30. They shut at 5pm, so we quickly shot inside. Unfortunately, you can't take photos or videos of the inside of the chapel, and the outside was more or less masked by scaffolding. But we found it to be a very beautiful, peaceful place. We lit a couple of votive candles, and hastily left before we got locked in the carpark!

Finally, we headed for the Edinburgh Caravan Club Site, just outside Edinburgh. After battling the incomprehensible intersections, we eventually made it to the campsite, only to find that they'd lost power to half the park, so everybody was crammed into the other half! A bit chaotic, but we're settled into our berth now. We've had a bit of dinner, and can update the blog via intermittant wi-fi access, but I'm knackered and ready for bed.

Shakespeare and football (Thursday 20 November at 8pm)

Juliette: Well we got started early this morning and headed to Stratford-upon-Avon....more shopping ensued once we arrived as I saw a lovely Christmas reindeer in the window of a shop that I just HAD to have and then just around the corner was a Swarovski shop - happy, happy, joy, joy!!!

Shakespeare's birthplace was very interesting and the buildings themselves were lovely...I had some fun posing for photo's in the garden too :o) Unfortunately they didn't allow photos to be taken inside which was a shame but my favorite was the outside so I wasn't too worried though poor Crispin had to suffer camera withdrawal for about 15 minutes lol.

We took a walk down to the river Avon which was marred a little by all the construction going on - the same thing was happening in Bath - I guess as it's technically the "off" season they are trying to get a lot of things done.

We then headed back to the Park and Ride - which we had been able to use this time as they had a special area set up just for motorhomes - we could have kissed the attendant!!

Then off we went to Liverpool for the sole purpose (not mine by the way) of visiting Anfield. I'll let Crispin tell you all about that!!

Crispin: I've supported Liverpool Football Club ever since the first time I sat down to watch a match with my Grandad on the television. His team (can't remember which one, one of the London teams I think) was playing, so I decided to support the other team, which happened to be Liverpool (this was back in the days of Peter Beardsley, Ian Rush, and John Barnes).

Since we were over 'ere, and were travelling north, I decided that we might as well make a pilgramage to Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC (at least, until they move to their new digs sometime between now and 2010). We ran amok in the club's shop -- spent several hundred dollars there (including a club shirt, scarf and beanie for me). I wanted to go on the stadium tour, but was just a little bit late (the last ones were admitted about five minutes before I got there), so I had to settle for a quick tour of the museum, which was still pretty interesting. Lots of old club strips, displays on the big managers (Bill Shankly through to Kenny Dalglish) and players (Kevin Keegan, Roger Hunt, Roy Yeats), memorials to the Hillsborough 96, and lots and lots of silverware!

After leaving Anfield about 4:30, we headed up to Southport where we're staying at the Willowbank camping grounds -- we thought it was a good choice, since we like its namesake in Tawa -- but so far, I think the best grounds were the Old Oaks Touring Park in Glastonbury. Got here about 5:30, and got settled in for the night. Cooked dinner (setting off the smoke alarm several times!), and had a look through some of the souvenir books we've picked up (like "Shakespeare in a Nutshell", summarising each of the Bard's 34 plays in rhyming verse).

Starting to feel a bit sleepy now, so might be time to get off to bed. One thing's for certain, we'll definitely appreciate the superking-sized bed back home, after having to cram into double-sized beds since we got to Abingdon!

Juliette: And don't worry boys, I am making Crispin drive back to Liverpool FC in the morning so he can go on his beloved stadium tour - can't have him make us come all the way via Liverpool to not go inside the damn stadium!

Right, off to bed with us as we will need to be up and at-'em early to go back to Liverpool then on to Edinburgh via the Aquarium of the Lakes near Lake Windermere.

The Tor, Broadway Tower and Warwick Castle....with a little shopping thrown in! (Wed 19/11 at 9pm)

Juliette: Well I think this entry will be a combined one written by myself and Crispin...we are writing the blogs for each day even when we can't access the internet somewhere so that when we do we can still give an accurate update for you to read and us to keep as a record.

Today we started out early and went for a walk from our Caravan Park to "The Tor" - this is supposedly where Merlin is buried (no, not Merlin the golden retriever monster, Merlin the magician!). By the way, our Caravan Park (The Old Oaks) was awesome - great facilities and so nice and quiet. Anywho, back to the walk...we walked up the so called "footpath" (which in my opinion should have been called a MUDpath as it was just a muddy track) and stopped at the old oak trees (Gog and Magog) which are supposed to be remnants from an old druid path. After that we headed to The Tor, managed to take a wrong turn, then got on the right track but ran out of time so decided just to head back for the park 'cos we didn't really want to walk up the big hill to The Tor anyway. We trecked across some fields (again labelled as footpaths), scared a few of the resident cows and finally got back to the Caravan Park.

Crispin: After a quick shower and breakfast, we headed for the campground's shop/reception, to use the internet. Unfortunately, they didn't have any USB connections, otherwise we would have uploaded some photos and updated the blog. Juliette checked her emails, checked the bank accounts, and we had a look for directions to Broadway Tower, Shakespeare's birthplace, and Warwick Castle.

Juliette: Looks like it will be me finishing this off as Crispin has retired to bed - it's only about 9pm here but we have been up since 7am and driving does make you tired. Crispin has been doing a wonderful job with the driving, it's taken him a while to get used to the clutch but that is normal when you are driving a new vehicle and apart from the incident with the rear light (which could have happened to anyone) we haven't had any accidents. I certainly would not have the confidence to drive a vehicle like this so I am very proud of him!

Right, now where were we up to....oh yes, my favourite part - shopping!! We left the Caravan Park and headed back to Shepton Mallet to Tesco's as Crispin really needed a new jacket and some shoes. So, three quarters of an hour later we left with 2 new jackets for Crispin (one rain and one leather), a new pair of shoes for him and a pair of slippers (Mr Grumpy slippers lol!!). He also got a remote controlled Supreme Dalek - no, not the two foot high one from yesterday - a much smaller and cheaper version!

After all that shopping we headed off to Broadway Tower which Crispin had found on Wikipedia. It was a lovely day today so we got a great view over several counties and got a few souvenirs. Broadway Tower was a folly built by a very weathly man who it seems didn't have anything better to do with his money.

From Broadway Tower we headed to Warwick Castle, which was not originally on our itinerary but Crispin's aunt and uncle had recommended it and it was on the way. We got to the castle right on 4pm and just made it in - the castle is open until 5pm but they do not allow any new entries past 4. It was a little stressful getting there as Betty confused us and we went round the block a couple of times but we got there in the end and we were glad we did! An hour was just long enough to have a good walk around but you could easily spend 2-3 hours there. We did the walk up through the towers and along the castle walls which gave you a great view and was not too hazardous even with the very narrow spiral staircases which were not well lit. We then went inside the castle and saw some very realistic figures acting out some of the parts from long ago. It certainly was very impressive and I'd have to say my favourite part was being able to walk up the towers and along the castle walls. More souveneirs from the gift shop and then we headed to the camp site - Hollyfast Caravan Park - for the night.

We did miss Stratford-upon-Avon today but are intending to head off a little earlier than planned tomorrow morning so that we can have a quick look around the city centre and Shakespeare's birthplace before heading to Liverpool.

I still can't get over the fact that it starts to get dark here at 4pm and by 5/5.30pm it's pitch black!

Well I am starting to fall asleep myself now so off to bed with me as we have to be up around 7am tomorrow morning.

Stonehenge and Bath (Tue 18/11, 8pm)

We arrived at Stonehenge, and could still hear the Army firing off artillery on the plains. Then again, we were only 5 miles from the campsite.

I wasn't really ready for Stonehenge. I was expecting a bunch of rocks in the middle of an English field, but once we were there, and came out from the subway passage to see them for the first time... it took my breath away.

Unfortunately, you can't get up close to the stones. There's a pathway marked out around the henge: at its closest, it was about 20 yards. (There was one of those 'new Druid' loons who had set up a protest outside the entrance, demanding the fences be taken down around his sacred site. There looked to be half-a-dozen of Wiltshire's finest keeping an eye on him.) But even then, the sense of age emanating from the place... you couldn't help but be awestruck both by its age and the engineering that was involved in moving the stones hundreds of miles, then assembling the massive jigsaw puzzle with mathematical precision.

We stopped by the gift shop, and picked up a few souvenirs (the first ones of our trip, apart from photos). Grabbed a bite to eat from the Stonehenge Cafe, and headed for the van.

The next stop was Bath. The Lonely Planet guide warned of Bath's horrific traffic problems, and its notorious one-way system. Fortunately, our AA map showed the locations of several Park + Rides (places where you can park your car for free, and catch a bus to the city). When we found the P+R to the south of Bath (at a place called Odd Down), the entrances were all protected with barriers preventing vehicles over 2.2m from entering. Unfortunately, the van is 3m tall. We ended up parking in a suburban street (creating a bit of a traffic bottleneck), and walking back to the P+R.

We sat on the top deck of the P+R double-decker, and had a good view of the city as we approached it. The bus dropped us in the middle of the city (and I'm really glad we didn't try to drive in!). While trying to find the Roman Baths, we stumbled across a pet shop... so now the dogs, the cats, and the fish all have pressies from the UK.

As a tourist centre, Bath's pretty well sign-posted, and we fairly quickly found our way to the Roman Baths. Our Great British Heritage passes were handy again, as they gave us free entry into the baths (and into Stonehenge, too). The baths also have a 'route' through the building. Along the walls were plaques with numbers: you punch the number into the audio wand you pick up at the entrance, and you can listen to a description of the history and meaning behind what you're looking at. You go in across a gallery overlooking the Great Bath. There were several statues of famous Romans, and I'd already photographed Julius Caesar and Claudius before I saw the plaque telling how the statues only date back to the late 19th century.

After a lap around the gallery, you descend into the museum. Through windows, you catch glimpses of both the Great Bath and the hot spring, in amongst the displays of the various artifacts that they found when excavating the site. As you'd expect of a geothermal site, the smell was pungent and the temperature was on the warm side. We were only ambling around, and I'd started sweating by the end.

Like Stonehenge, the Baths amazed me not only with the antiquity -- no 2000-year-old Roman baths in New Zealand! -- but the fact that the drains still worked, despite being buried around the 7th century CE by rampaging Christians. Without any human intervention, the springs had happily filled the baths, and the overflow taken away to the Avon River.

Another trip to another gift shop, and more souvenirs collected, and we were off to find a shoe shop -- Duo Boots -- that Juliette wanted to have a look at. Fortunately, the woman in the gift shop was able to give us good directions (unlike the woman in the pet shop who thought we meant Boots pharmacy!) Juliette found a pair of the right size, and of a style she liked, and voila! 110 pounds later, and a large box to squeeze into the luggage.

After that we ambled back to the bus stop for the ride back to Odd Down P+R. The bus arrived as we got around the corner, and on the trip back, we amused ourselves by reading the rubbish in a tabloid paper we found on the top deck. Finally, we got back to the van (all secure, no problems) and set the GPS for the village of Wick (near Glastonbury) where we were spending the night.

The trip wasn't too much of a problem -- no more bits broken! -- although we were worried about finding a place to do some food shopping. Apart from a small pork pie and a scotch egg that we'd bought in Abingdon, there wasn't anything aboard. Fortunately, Tesco's annouce their presence with all the subtlety of, well, me and halfway to Wick we pulled into their carpark (taking up two bays). We found all we needed, including a bubble bath in a Dalek shaped bottle (which I was rather proud off, even when the people behind us at the checkout plonked a two-foot high remote controlled Supreme Dalek toy onto the conveyor belt).

On the road again -- Betty (my nickname for the female-voiced GPS, after "Bitchin' Betty", the voice warning system in American military aircraft) didn't even complain too much about the detour -- and we found the campsite (the Old Oaks Touring Park) with only one mishap (turning right about 150 yards too early, and ending up in some farm's driveway).

We're settled in now. The food's stowed away, and the van is starting to feel more homey, though we're really missing the pets at the moment.

Time for bed, methinks...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Noisy morning (18/11, 10am)

Woke up at 7 to the sounds of ravens. By 8, the army had started up with artillery on the practice range on the Salisbury Plains.

They're still going.

Oh, and the people here have a golden retriever, so Juliette's had her 'triever fix.

Not much more to do. We're heading off to stonehenge shortly, then on to Bath and Glastonbury, where we'll spend the night.

Long day (Monday 17/11)

Had a proper breakfast at the B&B -- muesli, fruit salad, juice, coffee, scrambled eggs, ham and mushrooms.

Taxi ride to Oxford was much better. Phil helped us load up the luggage, and got us to the Oxford bus station, dodging gridlocked traffic, for 5 pounds less than the last one. He gave us his card, and we'll call him to get us back to Abingdon on 1 December.

The bus was already waiting, so we shoved the luggage underneath and five minutes later, we were on our way back to London. The weather wasn't marvellous -- a good English drizzle -- so there wasn't a lot to see. This bus was also the opposite to the one we had taken to Oxford -- the heater only seemed to warm the air a few inches from itself, so I was cold the whole way in. (Juliette reckons it was because I was sitting directly behind the bus's door.)

Got to London about 11:30. We had originally planned on taking the train to Harpenden rail, and the people from Just Go would pick us up, but with the amount of luggage we're hauling, that wouldn't really be practical, so we decided to catch a coach to Luton Airport. Just Go were only too happy with this, as it was easier than getting to Harpenden.

Again, the trip was okay, about 90 minutes with drizzle all the way. Got seats in the middle, so trip was a little warmer. Had a bit of fun trying to find the taxi rank at Luton airport, where Just Go were picking us up, but got there eventually. Met Nick, one of the owners of Just Go, who had lived in New Zealand from the mid-1970s to the early-1990s -- though he makes regular trips to NZ. We had a good natter about NZ politics on the drive to Flamstead.

View Larger Map

Got to the Just Go depot about 2:45, and got given a tour of what is our home for the next two weeks. It's roomier than I thought it would be -- a bit bigger too. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive, but it's relatively easy to handle, and with the help of the onboard GPS, we found our way to Salisbury cathedral, and then to the campsite at Orcheston. Of course, nothing is ever smooth, and I managed to knock off one of the tail lights trying to manoeuvre through a narrow archway. (Probably about 16 pounds to repair, according to Just Go.)

Arrived at the campsite about 8pm, unpacked a few things into the cupboards, so we could stow the bags in the storage compartment underneath, in bed by 10. Scotch egg and fruit salad for dinner.

Meeting the Family (Sunday 16/11 at 11pm)

Well we had a lovely dinner at Joy and Fred's again and got to meet Richard (Joy's oldest? son), Tracey (Richard's partner), Antonia (Tracey's daughter), Sophie (Richard's daughter) and Richard junior (Richard's son). Quite a lot of Crispin's family in one room - trust me!! Pictures are already attached to the photostream.

Crispin was able to download some old family photos he had of his grandparents (Joy's parents) and their children when they were younger from his Flickr account to Joy's computer which was great as she did not have copies of these pictures. We also e-mailed copies to Yvonne (Joy's daughter) and I taught Joy how to attach photos to e-mails :o)

It was a great night and Joy had already found homes for the New Zealand picture book (Craig Potton photos), paua shell and glass koru

figure we had given her and Fred yesterday - it was lovely to see them already on display :o)

I really like Joy and Fred, they are very easy to talk to and we all got on marvellously straight away, no awkwardness at all - and as Joy said to one of her friends over the phone this afternoon - it's like we have known each other for ages!

Well best away to bed now at we need to be up early in the morning to repack everything and have breakfast before we head out to get a taxi to Oxford around 9am.

Good night all, or morning as it will be in NZ.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Family Dinner

We went round to Joy and Fred's for dinner again today, anf finally met some more of the extended family. Joy's son (my cousin) Richard came round, and brought his partner Tracey and her daughter Antonia with him. Later on, Richard's children Sophie and Richard Jr. arrived.

Spot the difference (Sunday 16/11 at 1pm)

This morning we got up a bit later (around 9.30am), had showers, breakfast and another walk around Abingdon.

Crispin has taken some more photos of our B & B which we found out from Joy last night is on one of the oldest streets in Abingdon. The floors certainly are creaky when people are walking around upstairs but it adds character and we certainly both managed to get a good nights sleep even though the bed is only a double (helped that we didn't have to share with copious furry friends lol).

There is a kitchen here and a washing machine so we have taken the opportunity to wash some clothes. We had to supply our own washing powder so we went to Somerfield's again today to get some. When we were looking for a supermarket yesterday we got all excited as we saw a Woolworths but Woolworths in England is not like Woolworths in NZ, which we discovered very quickly....we walked in and saw some drinks etc so thought, yes this is looked good but then turned the corner discovered that Woolworths in England is a lot more like Farmers in NZ lol...we were in luck though as Somerfields was just next door and this IS a supermarket.

Crispin is currently looking through the Britain heritage pass book to mark places we want to go, and of course as we bought for the British Heritage Pass entry to all properties in the book is free - it's well worth the money we paid for them!!

We are about to head over to Joy and Fred's again (I am typing the blog now but will actually update it once we get there - as we have no internet access from the B & B) and we stopped at the lovely patiesserie just a few doors down and got a lovely chocolate meringue cake to take for dessert tonight.

Joy and Fred got married here in Abingdon about 23 years ago and the church is still here - take a look!

Tomorrow we head back to Oxford - at least the taxi ride should be less stressful this time - then coach back to Central London - hopefully the coach will not have oven aspirations again! Then we will head to Harpenden where the Just Go company ( will pick us up and take us to their depot to collect the motorhome :o) We are not sure if we will get a coach or train to Harpenden, coaches here are much cheaper than the train and obviously all our luggage is much easier to handle when we can store it under the bus.

Right, well better get ourselves organised to head to Joy and Fred's, for what I am sure will be another delicious dinner!

Sweetie :o)

Abingdon Adventures! (Sat 15/11 at 11pm)

View Larger Map

Well the first half of today was definitely challenging!!

We managed well getting to Victoria Coach Station for our bus to Oxford and no real dramas there....but the bus left late, the heating was on way too high and the bus was full so by the time we got to Oxford we well and truely wanted off that bus!!!

We managed to find the taxi stand relatively easily - it cost about double what I expected but with 3 large suitcases there was no way were we going to try and manage on a public bus. The taxi ride was where the fun really began...the taxi driver and Crispin had a bit of a miscommuncation and for some reason the taxi driver thought that once he got us to Abingdon town centre we would be able to give him directions from there and of course although we could give the driver the address he was Oxford based so had no idea where that was. Luckily he had a map and after much frustration we managed to get to where we needed to be...and even more luckily (although we were 2 hours later than I said we would be) someone was still here to let us in (the owners are not normally around in the afternoons).

The Bed and Breakfast ( is lovely, and much less cramped than the hotel, so we were very pleased to finally get here and settle in.

With all the above goings on the other concern was that we had been trying to call Crispin's aunt and uncle (Joy and Fred) since Friday afternoon when we arrived in London and there was still no answer when we called several times on Saturday morning and the afternoon. After a little shopping and a quick walk around Abingdon central we decided to just head on over to Joy and Fred's and see if they were there. Just as well we did this because it turned out something was wrong with their phone and they were wondering why we had not called them!

Anyway, we managed to get the phone sorted and had a wonderful afternoon/evening with Joy and Fred and a lovely dinner. It was great to finally meet them both and for Crispin to be able to talk about his grandparents with Joy. Tomorrow night we are having dinner with them again and Crispin's cousin Richard is coming along with 2 of his children - it is so nice for us to be able to meet them too and we are both looking forward to it :o)

Crispin is already fast asleep but I seem to have adjusted much more quickly - though I do tend to have slightly off sleeping patterns anyway so I'm probably more used to it.

Well best away to bed myself - Lea you were right, this blogging thing is addictive!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Good Morning

Well it is 7am here in London (8pm in NZ) and I am wide awake and have been for an hour!  

Slept well last night, though we both were a little hot so so far no need for the thermals!

Crispin konked out about 2 hours before me last night - I think I managed to get a little more sleep on the plane than he did :)

We are both going to have showers, repack bags - now we have posted all the packages we had we have some more room in the big duffle bag and would like to compact down to 3 large suitcases (rather than 3 large and 2 small) to make the trip to Abingdon a little less complicated - then go down for breakfast before we head to Victoria Coach Station to get the bus to Oxford (the bus was a much cheaper option than the train) and then we will get a taxi from Oxford to Abingdon.

I am excited about meeting Crispin's aunt and uncle today, will be so nice to meet them in person and great for Crispin to get to spend some time with them.

The room here is ok but a little worn (cracks in the tiles in the bathroom, threadbare carpet n some places) but the bed was comfy and so we can't really complain.

Right best go and get organised!

London at last

After another 12-hour flight, and nearly 48 hours after setting out from home, we've finally arrived in London. The flight was comfy again, and a very smooth landing at Heathrow. Some fun-and-games trying to find the right bus -- one person from the bus coach company very helpfully sent us to the wrong place to get a bus to Victoria Coach Station. Fortunately, the coach drivers were more on to it and quickly sent us to the right place.

So, three hours after landing at Heathrow, we're standing on Buckingham Palace Road wondering which direction to go to get to the Grosvenor hotel. We figured it out, and struggled off in the right direction (ever tried pulling five trundler suitcases, when there's only two of you?). By 5pm local time, we're booked into the Grosvenor hotel.

A quick pop out to the post office to send off packages to various locations in the UK and Finland, stop by a local Starbucks, and back to the hotel for room service.

Tomorrow, off to Abingdon to meet Auntie Joy and Uncle Fred.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hong Kong!

Arrived safe in Hong Kong, got about another half hour before we have to re-board the plane.

Dramas with the flight from Welly: first, the plane was late arriving, so it was late leaving. We didn't start boarding until 30 minutes after we were supposed to have left. Then, as we're going through Gate 10, they stop boarding because of an electrical fault. So far, not building a lot of confidence. Then, once we're aboard, we find that the row we had to ourselves is filled with people from another flight who got shoved onto ours. 45 minutes after the flight was originally supposed to leave, we push back from the gate. The flight itself was fine, apart from being squished, and a little turbulence coming into Auckland. Finally, as we're waiting to get off the plane, I glance out the window and see the ground crew unloading a coffin!

Once we got to Auckland, we got to meet Sue, Dave and Yogi (piccies here and here). Sweetie loves Yogi, and Yogi seemed to like the toy we brought him (that blue thing in his mouth).

After spending a couple of hours with them (thanks for helping us to pass the time, and taking us to the international terminal!), pre-ordered our duty free (getting 20% discount on the alcohol, on top of the specials they already had) and boarded the 747.

[Note from Sweetie: Sharie -- two bottles of Absolut for $55 less 20%, Renee -- Feijoa 42 Below for $37.50 less 20%... ain't I a star!]

Only a few minutes late leaving Auckland, just before midnight. The flight was long, but comfortable (we had the middle row of 4 seats for just the two of us), with dinner and breakfast, copious amounts of water, and individual TV screens (Binky watched Tropic Thunder and The Dark Knight; Sweetie watched Hancock, Baby Mamma, and Madagascar). We both managed to doze for a couple of hours, but thanks to the anti-jet lag pills, we're feeling okay... so far.

Next stop -- London.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Cats to the cattery without (too many) problems. Milo still hates going in the car (hyperventilating, yowling, etc.), Chloe stills complains, and Otis couldn't care less.

Fish have clean water. Father-in-law only has to remember to drop in feeding tablets.

Bags all packed, with half an hour before the shuttle arrives.


Full itinerary for trip

If you're interested, here's the plan for the trip.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Levin and back

The dogs have been dropped off at Glenys' just outside Levin, and now the house feels really empty. :-(

All the cats are inside, and they can't get out so we won't have a repeat of the last trip to the vets, when Chloe decided she'd vanish, and we had to make an appointment for the following weekend. Milo's got a bit of cabin fever already, and picking on Otis, but it's only a matter of time before he gets a taste of his own medicine. Chloe, meanwhile, is colouring all our towels dark gray.

Last minute laundry, and time to start packing.

(BTW: Anonymous comments have been enabled, at Sweetie's request.)


I've added a set to my Flickr photostream here (link is also to the right). We'll try to keep it us updated as possible.

And yes, I know it's got a picture of Tressilick Park -- it's just a placeholder until I can get some proper piccies of our trip in.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Almost time to go

Last minute planning and preparation. Seems like there's a million things to do, and only time for the first thousand or so.

Last day in the office tomorrow, finish at 3:30-ish, then it's off to Levin to take the dogs to stay with Glenys, the breeder. They love it there: nice open runs, chance to spend time with their rellies.

Then it's back home to round up the cats (they'll be staying at Purrville) and start packing in earnest....