Tibby and I spent four days on Lamu Island from 24th October 2020.
The island is part of the Lamu Archipelago of ten inhabited islands close to the north coast of Kenya. We did a quick visit to the island thirty five years ago and have been meaning to get back.
Wikepedia tells us that ‘Lamu Island is about the size of Manhattan and has a population of about 250,000 who are mainly Muslim. Lamu Town on Lamu Island is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited town, and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa. It is believed to have been established in 1370. From 1506 Portugal controlled Lamu until 1652 when Oman assisted Lamu to end Portuguese control. Lamu’s years as an Omani protectorate to the early 19th century mark the town’s golden age. During this period, Lamu became a centre of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as trade. Many of the buildings of the town were constructed during this period in a distinct classical style. Aside from its thriving arts and crafts trading, Lamu became a literary and scholastic centre. Woman writers such as the poet Mwana Kupona – famed for her Advice on the Wifely Duty – had a higher status in Lamu than was the convention in Kenya at the time. Lamu’s economy was based on the slave trade until abolition in the year 1907. Other traditional exports included ivory, mangrove, turtle shells and rhinoceros horn, which were shipped via the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and India.’
Today Lamu Island is a tourism centre with a number of low level hotels. Many foreigners have bought properties in Shela Village (and a lesser number in Lamu Town two miles away) and have then extended their houses, often by adding floors. Generally they have respected the traditional building styles and their renovation work has supported the construction industry including the maintenance of traditional skills.
Lamu Town is the main centre and is a mix of African and Arabic cultures.
Shela Village is two miles from Lamu Town and is a smaller, more relaxed place very focused on tourists. One can walk from the village to the town, but otherwise one catches a boat. There are only five motor vehicles on the island and two of them are ambulances, one for people and one for donkeys. There are 3,000 donkeys on the island and they transport most goods that need to be moved.
We stayed at Peponi Hotel in Shela Village. The hotel has been there since the 1960s and is a wonderfully comfortable place to stay at. From our balcony we watched the world pass by on the beach.
Manda Island is part of the Lamu Archipelago. The island is different from the other islands in that, except for a soil covering, it is comprised of dead coral. This means that water is scarce on the island because water does not store in the coral. I visited the island and went to the ruins of Takwa Town. The town was founded around 1500, and probably abandoned around 1700 and had a population of 2,500 people. It has been suggested that the town was abandoned because they could not find enough water to maintain the population. The mosque is the best preserved of the buildings.
On the way back to Lamu Island my guide took me to the coral cutting village. The principal activity in this village is cutting bricks of dead coral in quarries. These are the principal bricks used in the area because they are very hard yet allow walls to breathe. Inevitably there is a continuous business of ferrying water to this village.
In recent years a few hotels and a few private holiday houses have been built on Manda but their existence was only possible because they laid a pipeline from Lamu Island to supply themselves with water.
We did a sunset sailing cruise on a dhow which was a lovely experience.
From 15th October 2020 I travelled 1,200km over five days from Arusha to Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti Game Reserve and Lake Natron in Tanzania.
When I quote prices, I use the original currency. At the beginning of my trip the exchange rates to the GB pound were: South African Rand 21.50, Tanzanian Shilling 3,000, and US$ 1.3. I have used these rates throughout this report, irrespective if rates changed or the actual conversion rates differed.
This is a story of great sightings, but reader beware, it is also a story of my incompetence. On two occasions I blundered into a situation which I might have avoided if I had been more professional.
I had driven my car and trailer from Cape Town to Tanzania in February and March 2020 and had left them in Moshi, close to the Kenyan border. I returned home as the world locked down over Covid-19. Unlike most of the world, Tanzania did not go into lockdown. Their president said that they should pray instead, and I have met people who have told me that Tanzania was saved from the virus by God. Statistics of the impact of the virus in Tanzania are not available but what is clear is that most people are living normal lives with no serious health problem. The country has been affected by the lack of revenue from tourists. Tanzania has not imposed any restrictions on entry, which with the apparent low level of virus induced illness, is causing tourists to now return (as I have), albeit in far reduced numbers. I have stayed in campsites and hotels where I have been the only guest or where occupancy is less than 10%.
Tanzania has taken an extreme view of the tourists they want in their national parks. Unlike South Africa there is a small domestic market for the parks. Overlanders and self-drive tourists are also small in number. The real market are foreign tourists who are prepared to pay sky high prices for the safari experience. They either fly from location to location in small planes or drive in on organised safaris. To maximise revenue the government has leased concessions in the parks to lodge operators and has introduced the most expensive park entrance fees in Africa. This makes the safari experience very expensive for self-drivers like me (when compared to the other countries I have visited) and has meant that I have been strict about how long I have stayed in a park and been very conscious of not overstaying the 24 or 48 hour period. The daily fees that I paid with only myself in the vehicle, including VAT, are as follows:
Locals, quite correctly, pay a small fraction of these charges.
In a fight against corruption government officials are not permitted to accept cash. For foreigners this normally includes border charges, game reserve fees, traffic fines and even Covid-19 tests. In an ideal situation the relevant office has a credit card machine and payment is made quickly. This generally happened at the game reserve gates. Often, they have a credit card machine but no internet and so payment must be made elsewhere. The payee is given a transaction reference and ideally a payment or deposit is made at a nearby bank in the government’s account, using the reference, with a receipt then issued which is accepted by the official. If no bank is available, then payment can be made at a money changer or approved store. Most transactions quoted by government officials to foreigners are quoted in US dollars but are then actually charged in Tanzanian Shillings, often at a disadvantageous rate.
Besides government, hotels and western supermarkets almost all transactions are in cash including diesel, tyre shops and mechanics. The largest note in circulation is 10,000 shillings which is only worth £3.30. The effective maximum that can be drawn from an ATM per transaction is TZS400,000 which is £132. As a result, the traveller must make multiple ATM transactions in a city to carry huge bundles of notes into the country where no ATM will be found. Even more galling is that the local banks charge one 2.8% of the withdrawal amount as a service fee.
Elections will be held on 28th October for the presidency and General Assembly. Although the president has waged a war on corruption he is viewed as being repressive and careless of the rights of the people including charges of vote rigging. There appears to be a reasonable chance that the election may bring about a change of government. As a result, the political parties are fighting for peoples’ votes. One way that is achieved is using trucks fitted with large speakers that tour the streets spreading the message of their party. I spent a few hours, when I first returned, preparing my vehicle at the place where it was stored. A funeral was taking place over the road and one of these political loudspeaker trucks assisted with the funeral by broadcasting hymns. However, as soon as the funeral was over, such a large gathering of people was too much of an opportunity to not take advantage of, and so a political broadcast quickly replaced the hymns. Even now, on 22nd October, as I write this in my hotel room, I can hear competing trucks passing down the road trying to get their message to the people. (The election was won by Tanzanian President John Magufuli , with a landslide victory of more than 84% of the vote, which surprised many.)
Preparing to travel
I flew into Kilimanjaro Airport from London via Doha and Dar Es Salaam and was met by the taxi driver, Shabani, who took me the hour to Kilimanjaro House where my car was stored. The car had been left for seven months, which was longer than I had planned because of Covid-19 and I was sad to see mould on the seats, a flat front tyre and flat batteries, even though they had been disconnected. Shabani was recalled in an unsuccessful attempt to jump start my battery. Shabani then took me and my battery to an ‘engineer’ in Moshi who quickly declared my battery dead. That required us to buy a replacement which, when fitted, got the car going. I left some hours later than planned.
I now had to rectify that fact that I was not up to date with my payments of road tax. I had tried to pay for twelve months road tax when I entered the country but had been limited to three months. I was warned that the Revenue office in Moshi would become aggressive when road tax had been underpaid so I followed the car storage owner’s recommendation to travel an hour east to the Kenyan border at Holili. After some toing and froing, I found the correct office with an amenable official to correct my situation. There then followed agony as a transaction that should have taken twenty minutes took two hours. As far as I was concerned, I wanted to complete a single transaction of paying road tax for the period from last expiry to January 2021. My view was too simple as the official decided:
I should pay road tax for the trailer as well – transaction count doubled to two
The payments should be separated between the past and the future – transaction count doubled to four
Even though I was not leaving the country, my Carnet de Passages, for both the car and trailer, should be closed off as of today, and reopened going forward – transaction count doubled to eight.
I could not pay at that counter but needed to pay elsewhere, four payments in all, and return with receipts – transaction count increased to twelve.
Instead of completing a transaction he flitted between them and was interrupted by official and personal telephone calls, action on the TV on the wall (which I could not see), passing people and the need to print huge amounts in a room elsewhere. When he returned to the paperwork he would forget where he was in the process and redo and recheck. There were seven people in the room, three of whom were seated at desks who were working on papers, and four who appeared to be juniors or apprentices. The latter were left to their own devices and spent most of their time on their phones. At times all seven people were on their phones.
Eventually he declared that the point had been reached where I should pay. He then noted that as it was close to the 18h00 closing time, the payment clerk at the desk across the hall had already left for the day, so I should pay at the bank counter close to the exit. There the bank clerk was cashing up and was not going to allow me to threaten her departure time. So, I was sent 150 metres out of the border area to an exchange bureau/local store where payment was made on the second machine offered. I hastened back to customs hall to find that my official had gone to prepare for his departure. He returned, and when he realised that the juniors were about to leave before him, he created work for them. I emerged with my correct paperwork as daylight disappeared, with a 115km journey to Arusha ahead of me in the dark, on a road busy with cars, motorcycles, cycles, pedestrians, frequent 50km per hour speed restrictions and countless speed bumps. I was conscious that the connection to my trailer was defective and so I had no rear, brake or indicator lights on the trailer which was dangerous. Having had the previous night in planes I arrived exhausted at my Arusha hotel at 21h00, with a big consolation that the restaurant was still open.
The next day I:
Drew two million shillings in five ATM transactions
Found an efficient mechanic to repair the connection between my car and trailer to reinstate my trailer lights
Had my front tyre puncture fixed
Bought an additional spare tyre (to replace the tyre lost in Zambia)
Had the car and trailer washed
Shopped for food, water and wine
Filled my car with diesel
Had my shoes and boots cleaned (three pairs for TZS6,000 (£2) – ‘paid too much’ according to the hotel receptionist!
Arranged through the hotel to have a Covid test, on my return, to allow me to get into Kenya.
On my way out of Arusha I stopped at the farm home of Manfred and Maria Lieke to look at their storage facilities for cars. They have lived for fifty years in Africa but are currently selling their agricultural equipment business with a thought of retiring to Germany. They are therefore reluctant to commit to long term parking but agreed that I could park there until January. They have several storage buildings and car ports. Their facilities seem better than those I was using in Moshi and it is certainly more convenient to park in Arusha than Moshi.
I then had an easy run on good tarmac roads to the Lodoare Entrance Gate where I was the only party entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I paid my entrance fees and entered at 15h00. The road beyond is a gravel road which climbs up to crater rim. I had to be careful to avoid the racing game drive vehicles exiting the park, presumably to lodges outside the gate. I set up camp at Simba Campsite A where the only other residents were a group on a mobile safari.
I was up early and leaving my trailer at the campsite, I proceeded cautiously through the cloud sitting on the crater rim, to the Seneto descent road, beginning my descent at 07h00.
The Ngorongoro Crater is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. The crater, which formed when a large volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago, is 600 metres deep and its floor covers 260 square kilometres. Estimates of the height of the original volcano range from 4,500 to 5,800 metres. The crater floor is 1,800 metres above sea level. The Ngorongoro volcano was active from about 2.45 to 2 million years ago.
For those who know the Pilanesberg Game Reserve in South Africa, that is also in a caldera about twice the size of Ngorongoro. The main difference is that the sides of Ngorongoro are far higher.
Approximately 25,000 large animals live in the crater. Although thought of as “a natural enclosure” for a very wide variety of wildlife, 20 percent or more of the wildebeest and half the zebra populations vacate the crater in the wet season.
The volume of tourists in Tanzania are dramatically reduced now and so I only saw about 25 vehicles in the five hours I was in the crater. All the vehicles were game drive vehicles from lodges on the rim of the crater or just outside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I understand that in a normal peak season 150 vehicles generally descend each day. Traffic is somewhat controlled by the high access charge. I paid US$295 to access the crater plus a charge for the Conservation Area. There are separate one way descent and ascent roads which require four wheel drive but are not really a challenge. As you can see from the photos the landscape is varied. I saw a wide range of animals including lions with the biggest manes that I have ever seen and a pair of mating ostriches.
This is a unique game reserve.
I summited on the Lerai ascent road at 12h00, picked up my trailer at the campsite and travelled 82km to the Naabi Hill exit gate of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area which is also the entrance of the Serengeti National Park. The road is reasonably good but corrugated gravel. I was conscious of the time because I needed to exit the NCA by 15h00 or pay for a further 24 hours. This time restriction means that few people explore the Olduvai Gorge archaeological site, where remains of Zinjanthropus, the world’s first humans, were discovered by Dr Louis and Mary Leakey over 50 years ago. I reached the gate at 14h30 where an efficient service relieved me of the fees for the next two days.
The park covers 14,750 square kilometres which makes it a similar size to Hwange and 75% the size of Kruger. It is, however surrounded by five other game reserves and game management areas in Tanzania as well as the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The park comprises the almost treeless plains in the south, the Western corridor of black clay soil which includes the Grumeti River and its forests and the Northern Serengeti of open woodlands and hills, ranging from Seronera in the south to the Mara River on the Kenyan border.
The Serengeti is not easy to drive to and is expensive to visit. The principal reason to visit the Park is to experience the migration of 1.5 million white-bearded (or brindled) wildebeest and 250,000 zebras. This migration is not to be confused with the migration of birds where they fly a long distance and stay at their destination for many months. This migration never ends and is a continuous 800km clockwise movement. About 500,000 wildebeest are born in February in the south east Serengeti plains when the rain ripened grass is at its best. The animals move through the Western Corridor and cross into the Masai Mara in Kenya in July and August. The migrating animals are then not seen in the Serengeti until they return from Kenya in October and November in the north east and make their way down the eastern side of the reserve. About 500,000 wildebeest die during the migration from thirst, hunger, exhaustion or predation. The most spectacular viewings are the crossings of the Grumeti and Mara Rivers in the northwest of the Reserve but that is also the point when the animals are at their most stressed. At other times the animals can be spread out in an area up to 100km long and 20km wide so one is likely to see herds of a few thousand every few kilometres in the relevant areas, rather than a single gathering of 1.5 million animals. Such a large gathering of animals makes for easy hunting for predators.
At this time of the year the migrating animals are returning from the Masai Mara and re-entering Serengeti in the north-east of the park.
It was 50km to Seronera, but I deviated from the main road on to smaller tracks. I saw two lions next to the road and a herd of elephants at a distance but otherwise the plains were empty.
Seronera is the headquarters of the Park and the main area for accommodation but do not envisage it to be a confined camp like Skukuza in the Kruger Park. The Park HQ, filling station, staff accommodation, campsites and some lodges are spread over a 10km wide area. The filling station had run out of diesel and I was directed to another station about 5km away which appeared to be mainly used by official vehicles and staff, but which filled me up. I set up camp at Nyani Campsite which was relatively busy.
Day 3 – Seronera, Serengeti via Lobo to Kogatende and back to Lobo 346km
The main road north from the central hub of the park at Seronera to Klein’s Gate in the northwest is slightly wider than a car and is in a reasonably good condition for a four wheel drive vehicle with the exceptions of surprising humps, dips and occasional broken bridges. All the other roads in the north are two spoor tracks with driver formed bypasses when the main track gets too wet or too bumpy. Often there are bypasses of the bypass.
I drove up to Lobo where I had a camping reservation but detoured into Lobo Wildlife Lodge. The lodge was built in 1970 in the style then of 75 rooms over three floors. I knew that it was quite run down but it still has a rack rate of $540 per room. The hotel seemed deserted, but I walked through an empty door and called out and eventually someone responded. The hotel had no guests, so I was able to negotiate a rate of $120 for dinner, bed and breakfast. I left my trailer at the hotel and departed there at 10h30 knowing that I had eight hours before darkness fell.
I did a 2.5 hour, 80km drive north west to the Mara River at Kogatende. I was now surrounded by animals. I was passing through the location of the migration and came across herds of a thousand wildebeest and zebra. It was difficult to adequately photograph the scene. I saw huge herds of buffalo and many elephants. I crossed the causeway across the Mara River but became concerned that some of the going was becoming challenging and that I was too exposed.
I returned across the Mara and drove into the airstrip where fifty people and guides appeared to be waiting for planes. I tried and failed to find something to eat. As I headed to my vehicle, I was approached by a couple who told me that they were from the Tanzanian Tourist Organisation and wondered if I would be prepared to be interviewed by a team from Clouds TV. Their website describes them as: ‘Clouds TV’s mix of locally produced dramas, soaps, and reality shows mixed with hard hitting news and insightful lifestyle productions has made Clouds TV a favourite in Tanzania amongst the youth which makes up 60% of the population’. I am not sure if my interview was intended for the ‘reality show’ part of the output or the ‘insightful lifestyle’ segment. I was duly interviewed and have no idea if any of the interview was ever broadcast. The original couple also introduced me to Michael Shirima, the founder and chairman of Precision Air. I should have taken his mobile number, which might have been useful a few days later, when Precision Air cancelled my flight without telling me.
I then made the mistake of following tracks east along the Mara River. I had not looked carefully enough at the map and accepted a guide’s view that I could follow the Mara River, turn right and would return to the main road. THIS IS A FUNDAMENTAL ERROR WHICH I SHOULD NOT HAVE MADE! Ninety minutes later I was very lost when the skies opened, and a huge storm turned the tracks to mud. The confusion was that game drive trucks wander all over this area so one minute there is a clear route taken by many vehicles and then it splits and splits again, and then sometimes stops at a place where the guides take their clients for a picnic. My satnav would tempt me with a route that starts a distance away and when I head that direction the route retreats. I had long stopped taking photos. Worryingly, as it rained, water entered the car from the roof above the steering wheel so suddenly I was getting wet. I reached for a towel and focused on my greater dilemma of being lost. I stumbled across a remote and basic mobile safari camp. The guide told me that the ‘main road’ was three minutes away and that it would take me directly to Klein’s Gate. When I expressed some hesitancy, he said he would lead me to the ‘main road’. On the way there he veered of the track which confused me until I saw that a dozen lions were lying on the track. After ten minutes he stopped at a two spoor track and declared that this was the main road and that if I followed it I would get to Klein’s Gate in two hours, most of that time in the dark. I was dubious of my ability to keep to the main track for all that distance. I decided, and he agreed, that the best course of action would be to return to Kogatende (which is not much more than the airstrip) but even that proved challenging. The route in red is from my satnav and shows how I meandered. I got back to the real ‘main road’ as it got dark and then had a 2.5 hour hard drive back.
As I drove, I wondered why I could see a thousand lights of a distant town and then I realised that I was being watched by 500 wildebeest. A little while later I had to stop quickly because two huge lions were drinking from rainwater pools in the road. I was pleased that I had negotiated a bed in the Lobo Wildlife Lodge so when I arrived there at 21h00 a warm, if unappetising dinner and a lukewarm shower awaited me.
I travelled 150km from Klein’s Gate in the north east of Serengeti, close to the Kenyan border to the village of Engare Sero on the shores of Lake Natron. My research had told me that this journey would take between six and seven hours. I met a Polish couple at Klein’s Gate. They were the first private vehicle I had seen since entering Ngorongoro three days previously. Besides Parks and logistics vehicles all the vehicles I had seen were lodge game drive vehicles. This couple had just arrived from Engare Sero and the journey had taken them seven hours.
The first 50km to Wasso took me three hours averaging 17km per hour. There had once been a decent road, but it has had no maintenance for years and erosion does huge damage in Africa. There are diversions around huge ditches in the road. Some bridges stand as monuments with all soil around them washed away so that the bridge cannot be used. Cattle, sheep and goats use the roads more than vehicles. On two occasions on a diversion I could not see the way forward and had to exit my vehicle to work out that I needed to backtrack to find the correct way. The advantage of travelling so slowly is that it is easy to interact with the local people and so I have a few interesting photos. I was sorry that the Maasai Honey shop in Ololosokwan Village was closed but was later fascinated by their website at www.maasaihoney.com. At one point a truck approached transporting water in 5,000 litre tank, tied to the back which was splashing out over each bump in the road. I do not how much was left by the time it reached its destination. Somewhere on this route my driver side bonnet hinge broke but my bonnet remained in place because of extra pins that I had fitted two years ago.
As I approached the small town of Wasso I was amazed to see a new tarmac road. I discovered that a new 200km tar road is being built from Wasso through Sale and Engare Sero to meet the B144 tar road running from Arusha to Ngorongoro. The first question that arises is whether such an expensive road is needed. Population numbers are low in the area and while a better road is clearly necessary that could be a properly maintained gravel road. It then becomes clear that the road is being built by Chinese contractors and that China is probably financing the work as part of their Belt and Road Initiative which makes it attractive to today’s politicians. I fear that future generations may rue the expense when they must repay the loan.
The second question that arises is why build the road from the point that is furthest from the existing tar road. All the supplies need to come from Arusha and hundreds of trucks are making bad roads worse whereas if they started building the road from the existing tar road, they could use the newly completed road to supply the road construction beyond.
The new tar road is only about 12km long and not yet open to the public. The whole road may well take ten more years to be built. I decided to focus instead on the unfolding views as I dropped into the African Rift Valley towards Lake Natron. I was intrigued to see that a view of mountains looked like a dragon in repose.
At some point during the day it rained and water, once again, cascaded onto my steering wheel.
The map shows my route as recorded on my satnav. Unfortunately, it provides no information about the villages en route. It took me 6.5 hours to do the route.
On arrival in Engare Sero I negotiated a good last minute walk in rate at Maasai Giraffe Lodge but was horrified, later, to find that $42 taxes were then to be added.
Day 5 – Lake Natron to Arusha 231km
I had coffee and rusks at 06h00 and then departed with a guide to Lake Natron to see the sunrise and the pelicans.
Wikipedia: ‘Lake Natron is a salt or soda lake in the Gregory Rift, which is the eastern branch of the East African Rift. It stretches south from just across the Kenyan border to Engare Sero in Tanzania. The lake is a maximum of 57 kilometres long and 22 kilometres wide. Except near Engare Sero it is difficult to access. It is less than three metres deep. Air temperatures at the lake are frequently above 40 °C. High levels of evaporation have left behind natron (sodium carbonate decahydrate) and trona (sodium sesquicarbonate dihydrate). The alkalinity of the lake can reach a pH of greater than 12. The surrounding bedrock is composed of alkaline, sodium-dominated trachyte lavas that were laid down during the Pleistocene period. The lavas have significant amounts of carbonate but low calcium and magnesium levels. This has allowed the lake to concentrate into a caustic alkaline brine. Most animals find the lake’s high temperature (up to 60 °C) and its high and variable salt content inhospitable. The lake is the only regular breeding area in East Africa for 2.5 million lesser flamingos, as well as many pelicans.’
The skyline at the southern tip of the lake is dominated by two volcanoes called Ol Doinyo Lengai (Mountain of God) and Gelai. (As the crow flies these volcanoes are 70km from the Ngorongoro Crater.) For the last thirty years Ol Doinyo Lengai has been in a state of near-continuous effusion and mildly explosive eruption of lava from vents inside the crater, sometimes overflowing over the rim.
I was lakeside to see the sun rise behind Gelai which was a beautiful sight. There were few flamingo present but thousands of pelicans.
I was accompanied by Isaya Melesi, a 26 year old Maasai guide. (The Maasai area extends from Kenya south to Arusha in Tanzania with the Maasai population being 1.2 million and 800,000 in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively.) He told me that he had completed four years of secondary school and attained his O (Ordinary) levels. He told me that he had then worked as a security guard for a family in Arusha so that he could complete a one year Tourism Certificate during which he learnt English. He aspires to earn sufficient to return for another year and complete his diploma which will hopefully get him his preferred job in government. His current savings are all going to pay the dowry of twelve cows for his 18 year old bride to be next year. Unlike some more modern people in Southern Africa, a cash alternative is not an option, and he must deliver the cows. He already owns four cows, hopes to acquire six more in December and hopes that his wife’s family will be prepared to wait for the last two cows. Cows normally cost about the equivalent of £100 each but drop in price to about £83 in December. He told me that while school is free, parents must still pay for uniforms and books and with the school year beginning in January many people sell cows in December to fund these items. Lots of cows for sale reduces the price to his advantage. When they marry, his wife will move from her home, 100km away, to his father’s home in the nearby village. He did acknowledge that he and his betrothed were modern in that they had chosen each other and had not had a marriage arranged by their parents. He told me that carrying a stick was a sign to all others that he is a Maasai and that he feels quite naked without one. He told me that the traditional Maasai robe is the Shuka and that after their circumcision, young men will wear black for several months. All other adults will wear a bright-coloured Shuka, predominantly red; red symbolizes Maasai culture and it is the colour believed by them to be able to scare off lions even from a great distance.
When we first arrived, before dawn, at the parking area, a woman was in place offering beaded jewellery. When we returned an hour later nine women were ready to sell me their goods. I asked Isaya to tell them all that ‘the early bird catches the worm’ which they laughed at, as I bought some trinkets from the original woman.
When I had unhooked my trailer on the previous evening, I had noticed that the tow bar was separating from my rear bumper. Isaya accompanied me to the village of Engare Sero and guided me to a man who did welding. John and Dennis (presumably English names because white people cannot pronounce their real names) tackled the task with enthusiasm. They crawled in the dust under the vehicle and began jacking it up at the base of the tow bar, in an attempt to use the weight of the car to close the new gap between the bar and the bumper, before welding it. That had limited success, so they supported the vehicle by inserting a pipe from the ground to the end of the tow bar. That extra leverage of 30cm did the job. That brought home to me that the extension that I had fitted to the tow bar (to allow the trailer more space on corners) had created extra leverage, when the trailer is connected, and which was probably the cause of the current break. With the metal tear closed the area was welded, I paid TZS60,000 and I was told to return if I had any problems. Thirty minutes later I returned as the weld broke the moment that I connected the trailer.
Further investigation revealed that the tow bar had also broken the original weld to the chassis. This break was located next to my secondary fuel tank. The fuel tank was drained and removed, the tow bar was welded back to the chassis, the fuel tank was replaced, and the tow bar was securely tied to the bumper with two additional poles welded to both. I wandered through the village while the work was being done. I negotiated with Dennis that I would pay an extra TZS100,000 plus they could keep the thirty litres of diesel drained from my tank. (I had realised that there was no filling station in the village. John and Dennis fetch diesel from Mto wa Mbu (110km away) and then decant it into one litre bottles which they sell to motor bike drivers.) I left the village four hours later than I had planned.
I was accompanied by Dennis, who was carrying two forty litre bottles, who saw this as an opportunity to replenish their diesel stocks at Mto wa Mbu. Isaya had also asked me to give a lift to Mto wa Mbu for his friend, Alan.
Ten kilometres from the village the road suddenly became very sandy. We could see that a truck was stuck in the sand 200 metres ahead. Dennis directed me to take a diversion and then told me to wait as he checked out the route ahead. He reappeared over a small rise and indicated that I should follow the track of other vehicles over the rise. AT THIS POINT I SHOULD HAVE CHECKED OUT THE ROUTE MYSELF RATHER THAN RELY ON SOMEONE WHO PROBABLY DOES VERY LITTLE DRIVING. I crested the rise to find that on the other side tracks went in all directions. Within 30 metres I was stuck in the sand. Dennis decided that we could be pulled out by an Oxfam Land Cruiser that was helping to pull the truck out of the sand. We all went over to the truck to assist. To my amazement the Land Cruiser was using his winch to pull the truck out of the sand. All my 4×4 training told me that a winch should only be used to pull the host vehicle out of a stuck situation and should not be used to pull another vehicle! Nonetheless with ten of us pushing the Land Cruiser pulled the truck out of the sand with his winch. The Land Cruiser then moved to my vehicle. I wanted to deflate my tyres and use my tracks, but Dennis was having none that. The winch was connected, I engaged low ratio of my four wheel drive, many people pushed, my wheels spun, and I did not move. Twice more this exercise was repeated with lots of shouted instructions, but still the vehicle did not move. Dennis and I agreed that we should disconnect the trailer from the vehicle. Huge manpower lifted the trailer off the tow bar. We turned to allow the Land Cruiser another chance, to find that the driver had had enough, and he was departing despite all entreaties. The crew and passengers of the truck decided that all hope was lost, and they abandoned us. A passing game drive vehicle refused to risk his vehicle in the sand.
And so, we went back to basics. We used the high lift jack to lift the vehicle and pack stones under three wheels. I insisted on placing my wheel tracks to provide a route out for two of the wheels. I also insisted on deflating my tyres. When all that was in place a huge truck stopped. We fitted a tow rope and the truck pulled me out without any difficulty. I reversed back to where I had been, and we reconnected the trailer. The truck pulled both out without any difficulty.
The truck driver offered to stay with me until we had cleared the next lot of soft sand, but we were delayed as I inflated my tyres. I could not understand what they were saying in Swahili, but I am sure that they were saying that the deflation of the tyres was a waste of time!
The truck was on a constant Ferris wheel route to Arusha to collect supplies for the road building near Wasso. He stayed with us past the next soft sand and then, after receiving something for his efforts, left us in a cloud of dust. I had lost two more hours.
I had planned to stay at Tarangire National Park that night and do a game drive in the evening and in the morning but I now realised that, having lost six hours during the day with vehicle issues, I could no longer get to Tarangire in the daylight and that my best course of action was to return to Arusha.
We eventually reached the B144 tar road near Mto wa Mbu at 18h30 as daylight was fading. I tipped my travel companions and bade them farewell and then drove a further 110km in 2.5 hours in the dark. My third night of African night driving in ten days – completely against all safe driving advice. I was delighted to arrive at my Arusha hotel at 21h00. The end to an exciting trip.
My priority in the morning was getting a COVID-19 test to allow me entry to Kenya. The front office manager of my hotel had agreed, before I left on my trip, to take me for my test. We walked ten minutes from the hotel at the Clocktower to a tent in a field at the back of the Mount Meru Regional Hospital. I needed to have my passport with me. I was told that there is only one testing laboratory in the country and it is a government one in Dar Es Salaam, so all the Tuesday samples were sent overnight to Dar. Worryingly the form I completed did not ask for my email address.
On Wednesday afternoon I received a reference number by text which I needed to use for a $50 equivalent deposit. By late Thursday afternoon I had heard nothing more and returned to the hospital to find the testing centre closed. (I then saw the advertised times as Mon to Fri 08h30 to 15h30 and Sat and Sun 10h00 to 14h30.) A notice gave the number of the overall coordinator (presumably for that hospital) Warda Kaita as +255 713 819 450. She promptly emailed me my certificate. It is not clear how I would have received my certificate otherwise. There was a suggestion earlier in the process that an online register at all airports would have all the results 72 hours after testing but I do not know if that is correct and if it is, if they will then print a certificate needed at one’s destination. I can add that there has been little sign of the virus on my travels in Tanzania with no one except airport officials and hotel staff wearing masks.
I parked in a back lot of the hotel and unpacked the vehicle and trailer, hung out wet items to dry, threw away what was not needed and repacked. I returned to the car wash and the shoe cleaner. I then dropped off both the vehicle and the trailer at Zee Suleman, the owner of the Pitstop Service Centre, for him to service both and attend to a list of issues, including replacing my bonnet hinge. I had also noted that the tongue coupler of neck of the trailer was bent.
I bought my 2010 Toyota Fortuner in 2014 with 76,000km on the clock from a single owner who had only used the car for commuting. I paid R300,000 (£15,000 then) for the Fortuner and another R200,000 (£10,000) on extras including new front and rear bumpers, extra fuel tank, tougher springs and shock absorbers, all terrain tyres, a second spare wheel, roof rack, winch, drawer system, fridge, camping equipment and recovery equipment. This was a cheap way to get an off-road vehicle. I know now that it was probably the wrong way. Toyota consider the Fortuner to be an SUV and even though it has four wheel drive and low range, they do not classify it as an off road vehicle like Land Cruisers and Prado’s. While the chassis is the same as a Hilux it is just not as tough as a Hilux. When I was in Maun, I had difficulty getting Fortuner parts because they are seldom seen there. Most people there drive Land Cruisers. I have done over 100,000km with the Fortuner which probably includes about 25,000 on bad roads and tracks. My Fortuner has incurred a lot of damage and after every trip I need to do repairs. I have been lucky that I have never had a mechanical failure in a remote place.
I have had my personal curse of my bonnet hinges breaking. Several Toyota service managers have told me that they have never seen a broken Fortuner bonnet hinge, and yet, I go through several hinges on every trip. I suspect that I incurred damage to the frame of the vehicle by overloading it with a very heavy roof box in 2016 on a trip through Botswana and Namibia. I now carry a larger stock of hinges than any Toyota dealer. Two years ago, I had two pins fitted at the front of the bonnet so that when both hinges have broken the bonnet is still held on the vehicle. Zee expressed the view that the pins were creating a tension in the bonnet that might be aggravating the situation. He investigated further than anyone has before and sent me disturbing videos. (I have tried and failed to upload the videos here.) They show that the frame of the vehicle, under the windscreen has come apart. This cannot be solved by fitting new parts because it is the core frame that is damaged. He is quite comfortable that he can weld the frame together again. I hope that he can.
I mentioned to Zee that water was entering the cab above the steering wheel. He started investigating the windscreen and remarked that most of the sealant around the windscreen was missing. And then in an incredibly scary manoeuvre he lifted the windscreen away from the frame! I had no idea how long the windscreen had been loose like that. Sealing and securing the windscreen was added to the task list.
As the worklist was going to take several days Zee agreed to finish the work and drop the Fortuner and trailer off at the home of Manfred and Maria Lieke.
Tanzania to Kenya
There are normally four or more flights each day from Kilimanjaro Airport to Nairobi but when I booked online, I only had a choice of one Precision Air flight at 06h50. My taxi driver, Steven, collected me at 04h00 from my hotel and expressed surprise that international flights had resumed from Kilimanjaro. When I was dropped at 05h00 at the airport it was in dark, but the security staff raised themselves and scanned my luggage. All check in desks, including those of Precision Air, were unmanned and no staff, who knew anything were to be found. Precision Air’s calling centre number told me that my call was important to them and that they would be happy to help me from 07h00. Tanzania Air came to life and checked in arriving passengers. One of their staff gave me a local mobile number for Precision Air which was not answered. The Precision Air website seemed to indicate that there were no flights to Nairobi today from either Kilimanjaro or Dar Es Salaam. By 06h00 I concluded that my 06h50 flight was cancelled. I consulted Mr Google who told me that it was 150km to the Namanga border with Kenya, and a further 150km to Nairobi, all of which should take six hours. Steven, suspecting that I would not get my flight, had not left the airport, and agreed to take me to Namanga for $75. Soon after 07h00 Precision Air returned my call to their mobile number and told me that they were rerouting me via Dar to Nairobi which I would arrive at by 18h00. I declined their offer and asked for a refund. On arrival at Namanga my COVID-19 negative certificate was certified by a Tanzanian official without reference to any other source – a useless job. I quickly passed through a quiet border post although the Kenyans insisted on seeing not only my COVID-19 certificate, but also my receipt for payment of the test. Presumably, this was their way of ensuring that the certificate was not a forgery. I emerged from Immigration to find that Steven had called his local Kenyan taxi driver friend, who was more adroit at bargaining, and agreed to take me to Nairobi for $100. I arrived in Nairobi by 12h00, far faster than flying via Dar. I am still waiting for my refund from Precision Air.
I learnt my lesson about cancelled flights so a week later I tried to confirm our flight from Nairobi to Cape Town, I called, emailed and chatted with Kenya Airlines without any success. I went to the airport to find that our flight had been cancelled but that they could deliver us to Johannesburg instead. When I asked for a pro rata refund, given the shorter distance, I was told that the fare to Johannesburg was now 60% more expensive than what we had paid, so I should consider myself lucky!
Descriptions of Accommodation
The assumption is that decent Wi-Fi was available in the bedrooms at hotels at no cost unless mentioned. Both lodges agreed a discounted rate for a last minute walk in.
Simba A Campsite in The Ngorongoro Conservation Area. $30. Very basic
Lobo Wildlife Lodge, Lobo, Serengeti National Park. $120 dinner, bed and breakfast. No wifi. Horrible food.
Maasai Giraffe Eco Lodge, Engare Sero. $70 dinner, bed and breakfast plus $42 local taxes. Pleasant.
Description of my vehicle and equipment
I drive a three litre, diesel 2010 Toyota Fortuner which I bought in 2014 with 76,000 km on the clock. At the beginning of this trip it had done 175,000 km. I have added the following: ARB front bull bars, Fortuner bash plate, Safari snorkel, enhanced coils, springs and shock absorbers, secondary battery system, 72 litre built in extra diesel tank, Rockshockerz purpose built rear bumper and carriers for two spare wheels reduced now to one wheel carrier), Front Runner roof rack, a pull out awning fixed to the roof rack, Front Runner stainless steel/aluminium camp table, two diesel jerry cans and a 60 litre Engel Combi fridge/freezer.
For when I get stuck, I carry a box of towing and snatch ropes, a high lift jack, two other jacks, an ARB portable compressor, two Desert escape sand tracks, a 9000-winch fixed to the front bumper, a spade and an Iridium 9575 Satellite Phone. I also have a C-Track tracker on the vehicle with the ability to send a mayday message (although did not know how to do it, when I needed it).
The Echo Trailer was bought in 2018 and did a return trip to Livingstone via Botswana in that year. I did not use it in 2019. The reason to use the trailer is so that I can accommodate more than two people on the trip. There is not enough space in the Fortuner to carry four people, all their luggage and all the camping equipment that is needed. The trailer has two cubic metres of general storage, a kitchen compartment containing crockery, food and a two plate gas stove, two gas containers, a 120 litre water tank, two diesel jerry cans and a bed on the roof with a tent that opens up over the bed and extends to the side of the trailer. I took the trailer to Tanzania so that it would be available when I travelled with four people in the area on subsequent trips. I did not need the trailer for this trip and should have transferred the few items I needed from the trailer to the Fortuner, and left the trailer behind.
Whenever I can, I stay in hotels or self-catering units, but if these are not available, I am ready to camp in relative luxury with an Oztent RV5 tent, camp bed, one sleeping bag for temperatures down to 7⁰C and another for temperatures below that, Oztent Goanna chairs, a selection of pots, pans and cutlery, braai grid and a sixty litre tank of fresh water.
Accommodation for the 4 nights on the trip
Diesel. I travelled 1,179km, consuming 180 litres, with an average consumption of 6.5 kms per litre. The average cost per litre, in £pence, of diesel, in Tanzania was 64p
Fees to enter national parks
Total of above for five days
Excludes: meals not included in hotel cost, tips, vehicle servicing, repairs, insurance and storage
Tibby and I travelled 1,750 miles around England in 32 days in August and September 2020. We travelled up the east coast of England, almost to the border with Scotland, followed the course of Hadrian’s Wall and returned to London via the Lake District and the Peak District.
We hired a six berth, seven-metre-long Fiat Ducato motorhome from Just Go.
Unlike all our other trips we decided not to plan every day of our holiday before we left. That had given us the freedom to stay longer or move on more quickly. However, it had meant, travelling in the peak season, that many campsites, boats on the Broads and some tourist sites had been booked up. The latter have also been affected by Covid-19 which had resulted in visitor numbers being rationed.
Covid-19 was a feature of our trip. It was difficult to travel abroad so a trip in the UK made sense. Restaurants, tourist places and camp sites were open but with reduced access or special rules. Most museums were restricting numbers and required prebooking and then some facilities within some museums were closed. Soon after we returned, areas that we had visited, including Newcastle, Tyneside and Northumberland were placed under limited lockdown because of the virus.
This was a wonderful holiday. While we have previously explored a lot of England, on this trip we visited many places that were new to us or renewed acquaintance with places that we had not visited for many years. The countryside was beautiful. The weather was kind to us. We enjoyed travelling in the motorhome and lived very well in it.
The many highlights included the towns of Cambridge, York and Lavenham, Ely and Lincoln Cathedrals, Alnwick Castle, Chesters and Homesteads Forts on Hadrian’s Wall and nearby Corbridge, Holy Island, the boat trips on the Norfolk Broads and Windermere and the walks to and near Robin Hood’s Bay and Wells-Next-The Sea. Restaurants 21 in Newcastle and Fodder in Harrogate were the best, albeit very different.
We stayed with our friend, Ronelle, in York for three nights, stayed five nights in three hotels and stayed 23 nights in ten campsites.
Day 1 – London to Comberton, Cambridgeshire – 67 miles
We picked up the motor home the day before and brought it home to pack. Packing took far longer than we expected as we tried to make sure that nothing was forgotten. We left London on 12th August 2020 in a sweltering heat and crawled out of London on the north circular. We stopped at a Tesco supermarket and bought a Coke Zero for £1.20 and six pieces of chicken thighs for £1.80. How can chicken be produced for this price? Unsurprisingly the chicken was disappointing when we barbecued it that night. We arrived at Highfield Farm Touring Park near Comberton and set up the motor home and followed that with a BBQ of the aforementioned chicken on our new Weber Q1200 gas barbecue.
Day 2 – Day in Cambridge – went in by bus
There was rain overnight which ended the heatwave but resulted in an overcast day. We spent the day in Cambridge. Melissa guided us (£35 for two) around the city explaining the 800 year relationship between town and gown, the way the 33 colleges are part of the fabric of both the university and the city and telling us stories about buildings, people and customs. We could not enter any of the historic buildings, because of restrictions arising from Covid-19, but we marvelled at the absolute beauty of the city.
Day 3 – Ely – 51 miles
Incredibly heavy rain overnight. We were snug in our motor home. Etheldreda the daughter of Anna, king of East Anglia founded a monastery at Ely, north of modern-day Cambridge, in 673. Work on the present Cathedral began in the 11th century and the monastic church became a cathedral in 1109. Tibby and I visited the cathedral today (£25 combined tickets for two) and marvelled at its beauty. We love stained glass and so also visited the Stained Glass Museum on an upper gallery of the cathedral. What a delight!
Day 4 – Imperial War Museum, Duxford, Cambridgeshire – 21 miles
Duxford Airfield, eight miles south of Cambridge, was built in 1918 for the Royal Airforce and was used by them until 1961 except for a period from 1943 to 1945 when it was an US Airforce base. During the Battle of Britain in 1940 an average of sixty Spitfires and Hurricanes were dispersed around Duxford and RAF Fowlmere every day. Douglas Bader was based at Duxford for most of the Battle of Britain. The Imperial War Museum acquired the airfield in 1977 and it is today a branch of the museum principally focused on war airplanes and is the largest aviation museum in the UK. Duxford houses the museum’s large exhibits, including nearly 200 aircraft, military vehicles, artillery and minor naval vessels in seven main exhibition buildings. Major air shows are held at the airfield regularly. Tibby and I visited the museum today (£32 for two). This is a perfect place for plane geeks but can be overwhelming for the less informed visitor. The displays include Spitfires, a Hawker Siddeley Harrier, a Panavia Tornado, a Eurofighter Typhoon DA4, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, a SR-71 Blackbird, a Consolidated B-24 Liberator and an Avro 698 Vulcan B2. Duxford Aviation Society preserves and maintains the Civil Aviation Collection. Especially notable aircraft in the collection include a de Havilland Comet which made the first eastbound jet-powered trans-Atlantic passenger flight on 4 October 1958, and Concorde G-AXDN 101, a pre-production aircraft which achieved the highest speed of any Concorde, making a westwards trans-Atlantic flight in two hours, 56 minutes. The aircraft are squeezed into the hangers making it difficult to get a photo of any single aircraft. This was an interesting day and we left knowing a lot more.
Day 5 – Lavenham, Kentwell Hall and Saxmundham, Suffolk – 112 miles
We took part in a walk for the South African Breast Health Foundation. We were thrilled to support Tibby’s niece, Jenna, who was key in organising this event. We walked for all breast cancer sufferers but particularly for Tibby’s sister, Paddy, my sister Liz, our dearest friend, Ronelle and of course, for Jenna. And deep down, we walked for Tibby’s sister, Gale, who died in 2014 from liver cancer. I achieved over 30,000 steps; and then rising somewhat later in the morning… Tibby did over 16,000.
Lavenham is a village in Suffolk. Lavenham prospered from the wool trade in the 15th and 16th centuries, with the town’s blue broadcloth being an export of note. By the late 15th century, the town was among the richest in the British Isles, paying more in taxation than considerably larger towns such as York and Lincoln. The town’s prosperity at this time can be seen in the lavishly constructed wool church of St Peter and St Paul, which stands on a hill at the top end of the main high street. The church, completed in 1525, is excessively large for the size of the village and with a tower standing 141 ft (43 m) high it lays claim to being the highest village church tower in Britain. During the 16th century Lavenham’s industry was badly affected by Dutch refugees settled in Colchester, who produced cloth that was cheaper and lighter than Lavenham’s, and also more fashionable. Cheaper imports from Europe also aided the settlement’s decline, and by 1600 it had lost its reputation as a major trading town. This sudden and dramatic change to the town’s fortune is the principal reason for so many medieval and Tudor buildings remaining unmodified in Lavenham, as subsequent generations of citizens did not have the wealth required to rebuild in the latest styles. Tibby and I visited the village today and marvelled at the beautiful buildings. (With acknowledgement to Wikipedia.)
Kentwell Hall is a stately home in Long Melford, Suffolk. Most of the current building facade dates from the mid-16th century, but the origins of Kentwell are much earlier, with references in the Domesday Book of 1086. We visited Kentwell Hall later in the day. We could not view the inside of the house but enjoyed the gardens and were enchanted by the Tudor characters playing music, weaving baskets and portraying other professions from that time.
Day 6 – Aldeburgh, Suffolk – 17 miles
We drove along the coast from Thorpeness to Aldeburgh and then walked the length of the Aldeburgh High Street, deviating to buy splendid rib eye steak from the butcher. We took our bicycles off the motorhome and cycled to the Martello Tower, which is a Landmark Trust, and then cycled through town. We returned to Marsh Farm Campsite, barbecued our rib eye steaks and then walked around the campsite lakes as the sun set.
Day 7 – To the Creek – 79 miles
Our friends, Ronelle and Bryan, spent many holidays at the holiday cottage (which they called the ‘creek’)of an aunt of Ronelle’s on the River Orwell near Shotley, south of Ipswich. We had heard so much of their love of the area that we were inspired to drive down there, see the neighbourhood and eat fish at The Butt and Oyster in Pinmill. We understood why they enjoyed it so much.
We visited the Suffolk coastal town of Southwold. It was a wet and windy day, so Southwold did not look its best. We enjoyed the pier, the esplanade with 300 beach huts, the cliff overlooking the sea and the High Street. The beach huts are seldom sold but one was on the market recently with an asking figure of £145,000!
We bought an unusual pendant of a hoopoe for Tibby. We both went to the same primary school in Bryanston in South Africa. Hoopoes were often seen in the neighbourhood and were the subject of our school badge.
At the centre of the town is Tibby’s Green and nearby is Tibby’s Way. There is also a Tibby’s Triangle and a Tibby’s View. We know that any Tibby will be an important person but do not know why the Southwold Tibby was important.
An important resident of Southwold was George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. When he was an adult and trying to make his way as a writer he stayed for many years with his family in Southwold. His name was actually Eric Blair. He took his surname as a writer, from the River Orwell that flows through Suffolk.
I met Gary Doy, who is a fisherman based in Southwold. He told that he had been a fisherman all his life. As a youngster there would be three fishermen on a fishing boat. Now he operates his boat, Crofter, by himself. Most of the actions on his boat result from him giving instructions on his computer. He gets up at 03h00 each morning in the summer and goes out on Crofter until about 11h00. He then sleeps for two hours and in the afternoon sells his fish from a stall in his garden for three hours. His boat cost him £150,000 with a further £20,000 for other equipment including his computerised equipment. He told me that he barely makes a living after expenses. He tries to catch more expensive fish like sole and lobster, but he needs his son to come out with him once a week when they raise the lobster pots. His son has little interest in becoming a fisherman. Gary expects to sell his boat in a few years’ time when he retires. He will need to sell the boat with his fishing licence because he believes that the boat has no value without the licence. He is hopeful that the UK leaving the EU will result in British fisherman, like him, getting bigger allowances, as he says that the British fishermen are currently only entitled to 10% of the catch in the English Channel. He told me that the Dutch fish with huge trawlers and are entitled to, and take, most of the catch. I am not sure that the Dutch will withdraw easily. They have a long relationship with Southwold. On 28th May 1672, the Dutch navy fought a battle with the English navy based In Southwold. 3,800 men died. Both sides claimed victory. I suspect that when the trade relationship with the EU is finalised, including the fishing arrangements, both the British and the Dutch will claim that they are the losers.
Checked in to Caister on Sea Holiday Park north of Great Yarmouth
Day 9 – Great Yarmouth – 27 miles
Today was principally an admin day booking accommodation, seeking a day boat for tomorrow and dropping our laundry off. We drove through Great Yarmouth but could not get enthused to walk around.
Day 10 – Norfolk Broads – 20 miles by road, more by boat
The Norfolk Broads comprise 120 miles of navigable waterways located between the sea and the city of Norwich in the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, England. They include seven rivers and 63 broads (or lakes) but only thirteen broads are navigable. While the rivers have always been in place the broads were largely created by the flooding of medieval peat excavations. The Broads are tidal, especially the waterways close to the sea. The areas either side of the waterways are now a National Park. The Broads are a popular place for boating holidays with 10,000 boats licensed, including a huge boat rental industry, offering boats with cabins for weekly hire.
We spent the day on the Broads today. That is not as simple as it sounds when one has not booked in advance at the height of the holiday season and when Britons who cannot travel to some of their favourite places abroad, are holidaying in the UK. I called twenty-two boatyards yesterday to be told by all of them that they were booked up until into September. One boatyard, Herbert Woods, however, advised that they offered five boats each day on a first come first served basis, and that normally it was sufficient to join the queue 30 minutes before the office opened, to get one of these boats. We arrived an hour before the office opened and were fourth in the queue and got our boat for the day. Herbert Woods is a big boatyard. One of their staff members told me that Friday is a changeover day for hire boats and that today they had fifty boats returning from hire, being cleaned and then going out again. To achieve that, all boats have staggered return and departure times during the day. Nonetheless it seems like quite a logistical challenge,
Yesterday the Broads were as calm as a mill pond. Today there was a warning of high winds. We exited the boatyard and promptly did a pirouette with the boat. Having regained control, we left the boatyard village of Potter Heigham on the River Thurne heading towards its confluence with the River Bure. There is a top speed limit of 6mph which is reduced to 4mph through villages. Tibby was expecting a boat with a cabin and a toilet. Instead we got a thirty-year-old, twenty-foot boat with incredibly uncomfortable seats and a top speed of 5mph. So, we had plenty of time to enjoy all the activity on the banks. Most of the time one is in the countryside with reed banks. The housing in the villages is, unsurprisingly, concentrated along the riverbank with the houses varying from basic buildings (but bigger than Southwold beach huts) to huge beautiful houses with boathouses that are small houses in themselves. The local estate agent, Waterside, is advertising everything from a two-bedroom waterside bungalow with a 33ft long mooring in Potter Heigham for £250,00 to a seven-bedroom house with 2.2 acres and a 50ft long boathouse on Oulton Broad for £1.65 million. Mooring plots vary from £20,000 to £175,000 (the latter with a day cabin).
We passed by the ruins of St Benets Abbey which had its heyday a thousand years ago. A windmill was later built in the ruins of the Abbey. We wanted to have an early lunch in Ranworth but as there were no available mooring places, we pushed on to Horning for lunch at a riverside establishment. We had managed to moor ourselves with little difficulty but some of the larger hire boats were somewhat challenged to moor in the wind, with plenty of miscommunication between captain and crew. Horning is a pretty village, elongated along the river with some beautiful houses and a few interesting shops.
On the way back the cap of our captain blew off her head, so the crew turned the boat to recover it. We were so focused on the floating cap that we allowed the wind to push us into shallow water where we grounded. Lucky Bob did not have to worry for too long because the second boat to approach us was a police boat of the Norfolk Constabulary. The first thing they did was to ground themselves. They had a pole to push themselves free. They then tied up alongside our small boat, and with their superior power, pulled us free. With us tied alongside they progressed up the river for about a mile to where the river widened. With their blue light flashing other river traffic kept their distance. This was the first time we reached the speed of 6mph. We were released from police custody, our propeller seemed to be unaffected from its grounding, so we waved goodbye to our new friends and headed for Potter Heigham and the end of our Broads’ adventure.
Our visit to the Broads reminded us of a few days we spent on the Broads in 1984. Ian, a yachtsman friend of ours, invited us to join him and another university friend of Tibby’s, Elizabeth, in hiring a traditional sailing barge. Sailing on the rivers is a challenge but we had Captain Ian.
As we drove through Norfolk it struck me that there were a lot of churches. The county is flat, and again and again one could be next to a church and see another in the distance. Norfolk has the largest concentration of medieval churches in the world. Almost a thousand of them were built and today some 635 are still standing. Many of them were financed by the wealth associated with the wool industry and there was a lot of rivalry between individual parishes, and even individual merchants in the same village, as to who could build the biggest church.
Besides the sheer number of churches, another feature of several of the churches that we saw in Norfolk and Suffolk, was that they had military graves in their churchyards, which are cared for by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Researching it further I found that there are 428 CGC grave locations in Norfolk and 333 in Suffolk, most of them in church graveyards. The ones that we saw were principally graves of navy personnel, where the name of their ship is included on their gravestone.
We headed north along the Norfolk coast. Happisburgh (pronounced “Haze-bruh”) is a small pretty village on the north-east corner of Norfolk, with a population of 1,400 people in about 600 houses. It has an interesting lighthouse, a lovely church but an unhappy edge. Although now a coastal village, Happisburgh was once some distance from the sea, parted from the coast by the parish of Whimpwell, long since eroded away. Historic records indicate that over 250 m of land were lost between 1600 and 1850. The receding cliff line, prior to the construction of a rock embankment, claimed at least one house per year plus significant quantities of agricultural land.
Day 12 Wells-Next-The Sea to Barney – 20 miles
We spent the day in and near Wells-Next-The-Sea, a small village of 2,000 residents, on the north Norfolk Coast. The town has been a seaport since before the fourteenth century when it supplied grain to London and subsequently to the miners of the north east in return for which Wells was supplied with coal. It has been a fishing port for over 600 years. In 1337 it is recorded as having had thirteen fishing boats. The town boasted up to twelve maltings, having in 1750 contributed a third of the exports of malt from the country, mostly to Holland. These activities have now largely disappeared, and tourism is now the major activity.
Early in the morning I did a twelve kilometre walk along the 2km dyke to the deserted beach with 200 beach huts and then through the forest to the quiet Holkham Hall Estate before returning to Wells. Tibby and I walked through the town to the Quay area and watched young boys catch crabs. We then mounted our bicycles and repeated the trip I had done earlier, although now the beach and forest track and Holkham Hall Estate were busy with people on holiday. A jazz band was playing on the lawn at Holkham Hall. It was easy to be happy on holiday in such a lovely place.
Day 13 – Holt – 17 miles
We spent a few hours in Holt which is a pretty village with up market shops and coffee shops. Pleasant.
Day 14 – Via Burnham Market to the Lincolnshire Wolds – 99 miles
We woke to rain beating on the roof of the motorhome. The rain eased a little allowing us to explore pretty Burnham Market, a single street village with twenty up market shops and delis. We had hoped to visit the Royal Estate at Sandringham, but it was booked out for weeks ahead. We stopped for a short while in Kings Lyn for an audio man to explain our radio configuration to us and then headed over very flat country to the very slightly hilly Lincolnshire Wolds. The wind of Storm Francis was howling as we arrived at our campsite and we joined others to help a woman and her three children, whose tent was in danger of blowing away. We rocked all night with high winds.
Day 15 – Via Lincoln to Harrogate – 118 miles
We visited Lincoln Cathedral in the town of Lincoln, Lincolnshire. The county is flat, and the cathedral was built on the only high ground for miles around, so it is visible from a far distance. Work commenced on the cathedral in 1072 and over the years it was damaged by a fire, earthquake, storm and bad workmanship. There were additions or major repairs every century resulting in the huge magnificent building we see today, which, in terms of floor area, is the fourth largest cathedral in the country.
The Cathedral is the custodian of art from nearly a thousand years including stained glass windows, statues, wooden trusses, murals, a tower clock and more recently, fifteen wooden sculptures.
High on a pillar in the Cathedral is an engraving of an imp, turned to stone by an angel for misbehaviour according to legend. A local jeweller, James Usher, gained the rights to make copies of the imp. He gave a silver imp tie clip to the Prince of Wales in about 1905, who later attributed a fortunate happening to his ‘Lucky Lincoln Imp’. That comment caused high society to order huge numbers of the Imp jewellery making James Usher a rich man. He left his wealth and his collection of fine clocks, watches, porcelain and paintings to the City of Lincoln to establish an art museum.
Two reproductions of the Imp are found in Lincoln College, Oxford. The title of the college’s undergraduate newspaper is ‘The Lincoln Imp’ and it is also the mascot of the college boat club, an image of which is used to decorate the oars and jerseys of the men’s 1st VIII.
Lincoln City Football Club are nicknamed ‘The Imps’. An image of the Lincoln Imp appears on their crest, and ‘Poacher the Imp’ serves as club mascot. The Lincoln Imp also lends its name to the Gibraltar club Lincoln Red Imps F.C., and Lincoln Hockey Club share the nickname and crest design of their footballing counterparts. The Lincoln Imp is the badge of No. LXI Squadron RAF.
In 1953 Duncan Grant was commissioned to decorate Lincoln Cathedral’s Russell Chantry with a set of murals depicting St Blaise, the patron saint of wool workers. The mural unveiled in 1959 remained private for several years, possibly because Duncan Grant chose to put a little too much of his own life onto the walls, being reopened for public view after restoration in 1990. The murals were painted at a time in British art history when mural painting was far more likely to occur on secular or municipal buildings and it is partly this that makes Grant’s chapel murals a rarity.
The Stations of the Cross refers to a series of images depicting Jesus on the day of his crucifixion and accompanying prayers. The stations grew out of imitations of Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem which is believed to be the actual path Jesus walked to Mount Calvary. The object of the stations is to help the Christian faithful to make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation of the Passion of Christ.
William Fairbank has created fifteen wooden sculptures which tell the story of the traditional account of Jesus death, depicting each stage, or station, along the road to the place of crucifixion. The images are formed within the natural and carved shapes and colours of different timbers. The Forest Stations are on semi-permanent display within the Nave of the Cathedral.
I spoke to Jean who had just finished arranging the sunflowers. She told me that the normal congregation was about one hundred and that they were delighted that the Cathedral had reopened after lockdown and that they could now worship in the building again.
We then had an easy drive to Harrogate.
Day 16 – Day in Harrogate – 12 miles
We were camped at the caravan park at the Harrogate Showgrounds. Next to the caravan park and also owned by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, is a deli and café called Fodder, which produces wonderful food. We started with breakfast there.
We dropped laundry at a laundrette and then walked from there into Harrogate, spending money at the Orvis store on the way. The town became known as ‘The English Spa’ in the Georgian era, after its waters were discovered in the 16th century. In the 17th and 18th centuries its ‘chalybeate’ waters (containing iron) were a popular health treatment, and the influx of wealthy but sickly visitors contributed significantly to the wealth of the town. We were charmed by the many pretty buildings, which derive from recent centuries, rather than older periods.
Day 17 – Rain all day in Harrogate – stayed put
It rained all day, so we read, planned the trip ahead and did admin, only popping out for lunch at Fodder.
Day 18 – Brimham Rocks and York – 46 miles
After breakfast at Fodder we collected our laundry. On a drizzling Saturday afternoon, we visited Brimham Rocks, eight miles north west of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, on Brimham Moor in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The site is known for its water- and weather-eroded rocks, which were formed over 325 million years ago and have assumed fantastic shapes. There are nineteen groups of rocks with names like Noonstone, Great Cannon, Smartie Tube, Idol Rock and Dancing Bear. This is a delightful collection but what was even more delightful, despite the weather, were the sounds of happy children exploring, calling and having lots of fun.
We then drove to York to stay three nights with our friend Ronelle. We parked our motorhome in the lane behind her house. It was a great joy to spend time with Ronelle. This was the first time that I had returned to her house since her wonderful husband, Bryan, died last year. At the time I wrote the following:
‘Bryan Smith 25th February 1950 – 14th July 2019
Our beloved friend Bryan Smith died on Sunday after three years of illness.
A great joy in life is to become friends with people and then stay as active friends all your life. Tibby Carr Stodel and I have been blessed with such a friendship with Bryan Smith and Ronelle Smith. We met Bryan and Ronelle in 1985 at a dinner in a flat across the road from where we now live in Hampstead, London. From that first meeting grew a wonderful, deep and caring relationship despite the fact that we seldom lived in the same town at the same time. On bank holiday Monday 28th May 1990, the weather was glorious, and we had a wonderful day at their first house in Muswell Hill having a BBQ and enjoying being together. We had many other similar days together, but that day was notable because our son, David, was born the next day.
Their two sons, Sam and Tom, were slightly older and the same age respectively, as our children and so we moved through the different stages at similar times. The first of the photographs is when they visited us in Holland in about 1991 and the second and third photos were taken when we spent a week together at a Landmark Trust building, Field House in Minchinhampton in about 1992. In later years we stayed together at other Landmark Trust properties, including Sackville House in East Grinstead and The Old Parsonage at Iffley, Oxford with Nick Pillar, Bryan’s friend since school, and Sarah, and in December 2017 at Beamsley Hospital near Skipton, North Yorkshire. We sang our hearts out at a few tribute concerts at Wisley Gardens near Guildford. We have celebrated big birthdays together with a notable gathering being at Ackergill Tower in the far north of Scotland in August 2013. We have spent time with each other and our larger families in Cape Town. They showed us York and Yorkshire. In 2017 and 2018 we were on holiday together in Padstow in Cornwall. Spending time with Bryan and Ronelle has always been a joy.
We met Bryan after he had been a rock star, but we will always associate any memory of him with music. He always had a guitar handy and was happy to spend hours strumming to himself. The early success that Tom is having with his music has been a great joy to Bryan.
Bryan and I did not agree on a number of subjects including religion, politics and food but that never got in the way of us being close friends and enjoying wonderful times together. Bryan could be outspoken and outraged on subjects that he felt strongly about, but he also had a gentleness about him that I envied.
Bryan’s rock and the centre of his life was Ronelle. She encouraged his dreams, loved his music and laughed at his jokes. He loved having the beautiful Ronelle on his arm. The two of them supported each other through some very difficult life experiences and devoted huge energies in supporting his father in the last years of his life. They prepared two wonderful sons for life in the world. Ronelle has cared for Bryan throughout his period of illness despite her own health difficulties. Later this month on 28th July they would have been married for forty years. Our love, concern and care overflow for Ronelle at this very difficult time.
Bryan was a yoga instructor and followed the principles of Buddhism which brought him an inner peace. He believed in reincarnation and I hope that he is happy where he is now.
Bryan was a beautiful person, in every sense of the word beautiful. He was very special to us. We will miss him hugely and our lives will be immensely poorer without him.’
Day 19 – Cycled in York
This was a relaxed day with Ronelle including a cycle ride through York.
Day 20 – Cycled in York
I rose early and on a bank holiday Monday explored a quiet York. The city was founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD. It became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Deira, Northumbria and Jórvík. In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading centre and became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England, a role it has retained. In the 19th century, York became a major hub of the railway network and a confectionery manufacturing centre, a status it maintained well into the 20th century. The buildings and walls of the city tell the story of its history.
Later we cycled to a pub lunch.
Day 21 – Scarborough and Whitby – 73 miles
We planned to leave at 10h00 but eventually left at 14h30 as a flat battery delayed us. The motorhome people sent the RAC to assist but they took so long that we eventually organised a local mechanic to jump start us. We liked the view from the cliffs over Scarborough although the town was less pretty.
Our campsite was a few miles outside Whitby.
Day 22 – Walked from Whitby to Robin Hoods Bay – driving 17 miles
We walked 10km (6.5 miles) from Whitby Abbey to Robin Hood’s Bay on the England Coast Path within the North York Moors National Park. It was a beautiful sunny September Day and the walk, and the world were wonderful. After the walk we explored Robin Hoods Bay and had fish and chips for lunch.
We caught the bus to Whitby and walked through the town, crossed the River Esk and enjoyed Church Street before ascending the 199 steps to collect our vehicle from the Abbey car park.
Day 23 – Great Ayton and Seahouses – 136 miles
We visited Wendy and Simon Wakefield, in Great Ayton, North Yorkshire. We have known each other since Tibby, and Wendy were at university together. We talked about children and careers and children and life plans and children. Great Ayton was also the place where Captain Cook grew up. There is a museum, a replica of the monument at Point Hicks, Australia where land was first sighted on his voyage and a memorial of his parents’ house which was transported to Australia.
After a delightful lunch we travelled easily along motorways and good roads through the Tyne Tunnel to Seahouses on the north Northumberland Coast.
Day 24 – Alnwick – 61 miles
We explored the coast down to Amble and then visited Alnwick Castle (pronounced ‘Anick’). The first parts of the castle were erected in about 1096 to guard a crossing of the River Aln. The Castle was purchased by ancestors of the current Duke of Northumberland in 1309 and has been in the family since. Northumberland is far from the rulers in London and so there was little to stop local feuds nor to stop plundering Picts crossing the Scottish border, thirty miles away. It was, therefore, important to have a castle to protect one’s freedom and assets. Over the last nine hundred years the Castle was extended and changed several times. As the violence of neighbours decreased, the family changed the nature of the Castle, after 1750, to become their northern home. We did a tour of the state rooms (where the family move to from London in the winter) and marvelled at the beauty of the craftmanship and magnificence of the art on display. Photography is not permitted inside so the interior photos below were taken from publicly available sources. The Castle has featured in 41 movies and TV shows including Black Adder, Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. It was a great joy to visit such a beautiful building which has been cared for so well.
Day 25 – Holy Island and Newcastle – 85 miles
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. The island measures 3 miles by 1.5 miles and comprises approximately 1,000 acres at high tide. The nearest point of the island is about one mile from the mainland of England. It is accessible, most times, at low tide, by crossing sand and mudflats which are covered with water at high tides. These sand and mud flats carry an ancient pilgrims’ path, and in more recent times, a modern one-mile long causeway. Lindisfarne is surrounded by the Lindisfarne National Nature Reserve, which protects the island’s sand dunes and the adjacent intertidal habitats.
The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded in 634 by Irish monk Saint Aidan, who had been sent from Iona off the west coast of Scotland at the request of King Oswald. Lindisfarne became the base for Christian evangelism in the North of England. Northumbria’s patron saint, Saint Cuthbert, was a monk and later abbot of the monastery. At some point in the early 8th century, the famous illuminated manuscript known as the Lindisfarne Gospels, an illustrated Latin copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, was made, probably at Lindisfarne and the artist was possibly Eadfrith, who later became Bishop of Lindisfarne. It is also speculated that a team of illuminators and calligraphers (monks of Lindisfarne Priory) worked on the text.
The monks of Lindisfarne fled the island in 875 as Danish forces approached. The monastery was re-established, in its current position, in 1093 and lasted until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1536.
Lindisfarne Castle was built in 1550 and stones from the priory were used as building material. It is small by usual standards and was more of a fort. The castle sits on the highest point of the island. It was transformed into a residence in 1901 and is now a museum, run by The National Trust, but not open in Covid times.
Tibby and I arrived at the start of the causeway at 08h55 which was the earliest safe time to cross. There is a visitor car park at the edge of the village, and one walks thereafter. It was a lovely blue, but windy, day and we had wonderful views of the abbey, church and castle from different locations. There are about 150 inhabitants and about sixty tourist beds. We had tried to stay overnight but all tourist accommodation had been booked several weeks before. Overnight stays in motor homes and tents are not permitted. Nonetheless, it was a special experience, followed by lunch at The Ship Inn and stocking up of mead before ensuring that we departed ahead of the incoming tide. We did not want to add to the list of vehicles caught by the tide when their owners ignore the safe crossing times.
Having got to within eight miles of the border with Scotland, we turned south on the A1 to Newcastle where we checked into the Hotel du Vin for two nights. Fortunately, they had a driveway where they allowed us to park our vehicle.
Day 26 -Newcastle by bus
I rose early and walked along the Tyne River through the heart of Newcastle and marvelled at the buildings and bridges. I was also intrigued by a memorial to the First World War.
We had decided that we would follow Hadrian’s Wall and spent the next four days exploring and following the route of the Wall.
Hadrian’s Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman empire for nearly 300 years. It was built by the Roman Army on the orders of the Emperor Hadrian following his visit to Britain in AD 122, ‘to separate the barbarians from the Romans’. At 73 miles long, it crossed northern Britain from Wallsend, Newcastle in the east to Bowness-on-Solway, near Carlisle, on the coast in the west.
The wall took six years to build. The first 30-mile eastern section was in turf 6 metres wide. The remainder was stone built with a maximum height of about 4.6 metres and a width of 3 metres. The wall had fourteen forts. At least fifteen thousand infantrymen were working on the construction at one time.
The wall was guarded by about 7,000 infantry and cavalry men, supported by camp followers. Over time settlements developed where complete families lived. The wall was actively manned to the end of Roman Britain, in the early 5th century. In the following 1,300 years, Hadrian’s Wall became a quarry for the stone to build castles and churches, farms and houses along its line, until the conservation movement in the 18th and 19th centuries put a stop to that. That means that most of the wall is no longer in place. However, significant excavation and conservation work has occurred and in several places there are sufficient walls in place to allow artistic representations to show how the forts and wall looked.
Most of the time life on the Wall was peaceful but there were several periods when the wall was attacked by the tribes from the north.
We started our exploration by visiting the Great North Museum just north of the Newcastle City centre. This had a hall devoted to the subject, but it seemed a bit old fashioned in its displays and lacked an overall explanation of the history and purpose of the Wall.
That night we had the best meal in a restaurant of the whole trip at a restaurant called 21.
Day 27 – Segedunum, Corbridge and Slalely – 39 miles
We started following the Wall by visiting the museum at Segedunum in the appropriately called suburb of Wallsend. This was the beginning of the Wall and had a fort. An hotel had been built on the site of the fort and later demolished so basic foundations are all that remain. The museum was interesting.
We then crossed Newcastle to Corbridge. Corbridge existed as a Roman town before the wall was built and, in its position a few miles south of the wall, was an important staging post. A lot of the foundations of the town are still in place. The museum had an audio guide which brought things to life.
We booked into Slaley Hall for two nights for a stay of bad service and poor food.
Day 28 – Hadrian’s Wall – 64 miles
This was the crucial and most interesting day of our investigation of Hadrian’s Wall. We started at Chesters Roman Fort and the Clayton Museum. John Clayton was a lawyer and town clerk of Newcastle and inherited and lived at Chesters mansion in the 19th century. He became intrigued with remains of Chesters Roman Fort in his garden and started doing excavations which revealed a huge amount more of the fort. Over 47 years he bought five farms containing other sections of the Wall and carried out archaeological excavations. He was the man largely responsible for saving significant portions of Hadrian’s Wall. The small museum houses a huge amount of Roman stone carvings. English Heritage have done a magnificent job of creating digital reconstructions of the site, allowing visitors to understand how the Roman cavalry soldiers and their horses lived together at the seven-acre fort. The site includes the best-preserved military bath house in Britain.
We then travelled 8 miles to Housesteads Roman Wall which is more remote and requires a half mile walk from the road to the site. Being more remote it is one of the best-preserved forts on the Wall, helped by the fact that it was one of the farms purchased by John Clayton. It retains the foundations of its curtain walls and its double gateways as well as most of its interior core of original Hadrianic buildings – and it boasts the best-preserved Roman latrines in Britain. Here we saw the best example of the actual wall extending from the fort. It has a very neat finish which apparently arose from Clayton’s liking of order which extended to removing parts of the wall so that the top was a smooth finish.
We spoke to one of the museum staff who said that there were plenty of domestic tourists but that they were used to coach loads of foreign tourists who were completely missing. We noticed that, during the summer, there is a bus service running from Hexham Bus Station to Haltwhistle Rail Station stopping at all the main sites of Hadrian’s Wall in this area. It is appropriately numbered as the AD122 service. Hadrian gave his instruction to build the wall in AD122.
We finished the day at The Roman Army Museum which was comprehensive and well done but covered a lot of ground that we had seen at other museums.
The Wall ended in the west at Bowness-on-Solway. There is little that remains of the Wall in this area, but it completed our pilgrimage to visit the village. As we arrived a youngster with a pack also arrived, but he was finishing the walk after six days.
After lunch we headed south to the Lake District through Cockermouth and Keswick to Windermere, enjoying the beautiful views.
Day 30 – Windermere by boat and Hawkshead – 38 miles
As a child I was fascinated with the ‘Swallows and Amazons’ series of twelve books by Arthur Ransome. The books told of the outdoor adventures and play of two families of children. These involve sailing, camping, fishing, exploration and piracy. The activities took place mainly in the Lake District of England, with the first book taking place in 1929. The lake in the books is a fictionalised version of Windermere. To me the locations in the books were magical.
We have visited the Lake District before but enjoyed returning to it and spending a day on Windermere. We hopped on the MV Teal, a steamer built in 1936, at the southerly tip of the lake, at Lakeside, hopped off at Bowness for lunch and shopping and then continued, on a sister boat, to Ambleside at the northerly tip. Windermere is 10.5 miles long. Lots of people were messing about in boats. There were some beautiful lakeside houses and a surprising amount of new building. We picked up wonderful meat at F.W. Garside Traditional Butcher, later explored the less developed western side of the lake up to Hawkshead and finished the day crossing the lake, from west to east, on the ferry.
The Lake District National Park extends 32 miles from east to west and 40 miles from north to south, with areas such as the Lake District Peninsulas to the south lying outside the National Park. There are 23 lakes or tarns (small mountain lakes). All the land in England higher than 3,000 feet above sea level lies within the National Park, including Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England. Woodland covers 12 percent of the Park. 40,000 people live within the boundaries of the National Park and nineteen million visit each year.
The Lake District is intimately associated with English literature of the 18th and 19th centuries. William Wordsworth’s poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”, inspired by the sight of daffodils on the shores of Ullswater, remains one of the most famous in the English language. Out of his long life of eighty years, sixty were spent amid its lakes and mountains. Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey became known as the Lake Poets. Beatrix Potter, the author of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and 22 other children’s books lived most of her adult life in the Lake District, close to Hawkshead, on the western side of Windermere. She became passionate about land conservation and preservation of, not just places of extraordinary beauty but also those heads of valleys and low grazing lands that would be irreparably ruined by development. She was also an authority on the traditional Lakeland crafts, period furniture and stonework. She used her wealth, as an author, to acquire several farms in the area and restored and preserved the farms that she bought or managed. She was interested in preserving Herdwick sheep and the way of life of fell farming. When she died in 1943, she left 4,000 acres in the area to the National Trust which is still managed by the Trust today.
The Lake District has some of the best walking trails in the country, lots of boating and fishing opportunities and marvellous views everywhere. We should have stayed longer.
Day 31 – Peak District – 146 miles
It was an easy drive to Glossop where we entered the Peak District.
The Peak District is at the southern end of the Pennines and much of the area is upland above 1,000 feet. Its high point is Kinder Scout at 2,087 ft. Despite its name, the landscape generally lacks sharp peaks, and is characterised mostly by rounded hills, plateaus, valleys, limestone gorges and gritstone escarpments. The area, mostly rural, is surrounded by conurbations and large urban areas including Manchester, Huddersfield, Sheffield, Derby and Stoke-on-Trent. It is estimated that 20 million people live within one hour’s journey of the Peak District.
We enjoyed the views as we drove to Buxton and beyond to Ashbourne.
Day 32 – London – 156 miles
And finally, we headed home to London on Saturday 12th September 2020.
Our home and means of transport, as we did our road trip through England, was a motorhome that we hired from Just Go. It was a six-berth vehicle which was 7m (23ft) long, 2.35m (7.7ft) wide and 3.2m (10.5ft) high. It had a fixed bed over the cab, another at the back and potentially a third when the dining table was converted. It had separate toilet and shower compartments and had a three-plate gas hob, oven and grill, small fridge and a kitchen sink. It had a 100-litre water tank and a 10-litre hot water tank. It was a 2020 model so everything was new with conventional wall electrical sockets, USB sockets and blue tooth connection to the dashboard entertainment system. We also have a small TV and DVD player. We had a ‘leisure’ battery which was topped up when we drove, when we connected to an electrical hook up and from a solar panel on the roof. We also had a large gas bottle for the hob and gas boiler. The vehicle was well insulated and had heating. The underlying vehicle was a diesel Fiat Ducato with automatic transmission. We had a cycle carrier on the back holding our two bicycles. There was a relatively large storage compartment where we stored our tables, chairs, portable Weber BBQ and stocks of wine.
It was neither as big nor as luxurious as American RVs that we have hired. We lived very well in it with just the two of us. It might work as a six berth with small children but would be impossible with six adults.
All campsites we have used have electrical hook ups at each pitch and places to fill up with water, dispose of the toilet tank contents and dispose of the shower and sink water. Most campsites have ablution blocks, dishwashing sinks and washing machines. Covid-19 restrictions have meant that in some campsites alternate facilities in the ablution blocks have been closed off and washing machines have not been available. We did our laundry by using service washes at city laundrettes.
The campsites varied from ten to ninety pitches with most allowing plenty of space and a minority maximising the space so that we could hear the next-door parent admonishing their child.
We could park up overnight in public places that are not campsites and saw others do it. We did not do it. One eventually needs to return, after a few days, to a campsite for water and disposal of the toilet tank contents.
The vehicle was big to drive especially on narrow country roads with overhanging branches. One had to approach all blind bends on such roads with extreme caution. The biggest challenge was to find parking. Many town centre parking areas have height restrictions and even when we could enter, we used up two thirds of the space of four conventional parking spaces. A few times we had parked and been fearful that we would return to find damage from a passing car or a ticket for not parking within the parking space, but that did not happen. If we could not find a convenient parking space we parked further away and then walked, cycled or used a bus.
We have a history of using similar vehicles. Our first was a VW Combi panel van with only a bed in the back which we used mainly in Namibia in 1975. In 1978 we toured Europe for four months in an old VW Combi that had been converted well. My first company car was a fully equipped VW camper van with pop top roof, which we did not use as much as we would have liked but did a three-week trip in Ireland. We did two trips in RVs with our children: one in the Rockies from Calgary to Jasper and back and one from San Francisco to LA via Yosemite and Kings Canyon. And of course, we travelled in a Bedford truck, with twenty others, in 1979, from London to Kathmandu.
This vehicle was the biggest expense of the trip with a hire cost including a second driver and cycle rack of £5,838.
Highfield Farm Touring Park, near Comberton, Cambridgeshire – £28 per night for four nights – Big, green, lots of hedges, well organised, clean ablutions. In retrospect this was one of our best campsites. 9/10.
Marsh Farm Caravan Site, Saxmundham, Suffolk – £23 per night for three nights – Big, green, lovely lakes, no ablutions, miserable manager. The campsite with the best view. 8/10
Caister on Sea Holiday Park, Caister on Sea, Norfolk – £72 per night for three nights – A holiday park with a huge amount of accommodation on the beach. Good facilities but too busy 6/10
Crown Hotel, Wells-Next-The-Sea, Norfolk – £175 per night for a cosy room and breakfast – Our first escape from our motorhome 9/10
The Old Brick Kilns, Barney, Norfolk – £26 per night for two nights – Very busy, crowded and small pitches. Had to drive to see anything. 7/10
Three Horseshoes Campsite, Goulceby, Lincolnshire – £39 per night for one night – A field with basic facilities – 5/10
Harrogate Caravan Park at the Harrogate Showground – £25 per night for three nights – Excellent facilities including Wi-Fi. Two miles from the centre. 9/10
Lady Cross Plantation near Whitby, North Yorkshire – £31 per night for two nights – Nice rural park but one must drive to get anywhere. 7/10