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.
Day 11 – Via Happisburgh to Wells-Next-The Sea – 41 miles
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.
Day 29 – Bowness-on-Solway and Windermere
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
Springhill Farm, Seahouses, Northumberland – Relatively basic 6/10
Hotel du Vin, Newcastle upon Tyne – £119 per room per night for two nights – a disappointing stay with poor service
Slaley Hall, Slaley, Northumberland – £182 per night in a superior king room plus breakfast per night for two nights – an even more disappointing stay with terrible service and poor-quality food
Park Cliffe, Windermere, Cumbria – £70 per night for two nights – good facilities on an attractive site in a great location 8/10
Ashbourne Camping and Caravanning Club Site, Nr. Ashbourne, Derbyshire – £39 per night – very busy, crowded site with unhelpful staff 5/10Back to the Travels index