This trip wasn’t quite “spur of the moment”, but we’d actually intended to go to New Zealand. So how do you start by planning a 2-week trip to NZ and end up in England and France for 4 weeks instead? You contact a dodgy travel agent who, fortunately, gives you the wrong bank account number so your NZ deposit bounces back into your account then, a few days later, you see a really cheap deal on flights to Europe, manage to get an extra 2 weeks leave and book your seats with a reliable travel agent.
I had been 2 years earlier with Mum but Stu hadn’t been since he lived there for a year as a child, so we had a short time and some very specific things we wanted to do. This meant that we would have to do quite a bit of driving and miss some of the usual tourist highlights.
Up until now, we hadn’t been rushing … a few days in London and a visit to Oxford.
The crazy part starts here.
Sunday 30 August – Chipping Campden to Harrogate:
Up to our usual standard, we were the first ones in to breakfast and away by 8.30. I have come to learn that we must drive some B&B owners crazy with our early starts.
Although we have a fairly tight schedule, there’s always time for Stu to take a detour when he sees something interesting … and for me to navigate us out again. But mostly we stuck to our plan.
Despite all the advice against it, we went to Nottingham Castle. We should have listened to the advice. The display about the History of Nottingham had good intentions but didn’t quite do it for us. The Castle was redeemed by the Mortimer’s Hole tour which did explain a lot about the history of the Castle.
After lunch at The Castle pub over the road – soup for me and salad for Stu – it was off to Sherwood Forest where we walked to the Major Oak. It was the Bank Holiday weekend and there were lots of activities and lots of people. The archery display at the Major Oak had just finished but we made up for that by finding the longbow lessons so Stu could loose 15 arrows in Sherwood Forest. He was one very happy little boy. He even managed to kill a few balloons.
I love Sherwood Forest, especially when you find a spot away from the other tourists. I can feel the stories come to life.
Our accommodation tonight was at The Grafton Hotel in Harrogate. Not actually what I would call an “hotel”, more of a guest house or a slightly more upmarket B&B than we usually frequent. It was nice to have a bigger room with space to move in the bathroom. As this was just an overnight stop we didn’t spend any time looking around the town, just walked down to the Ascot House Hotel for a nice dinner.
Monday 31st August – Harrogate to who knows where?
As you’ll gather by that heading, we had no plan of where we were going to stay tonight but a few “must sees” on the Bank Holiday Monday. This last day of summer was cold and wet.
Breakfast didn’t start ’til 7.45 so of course we were the first ones there. Some nice little touches here but I don’t know if I could justify the extra cost for every stop.
Heading for Whitby via Goathland, the A169 was complete madness – so busy. We stopped at Saltergate Bank and the Hole of Horcum. Nice views but uncomfortably windy.
Goathland, or for fans of Heartbeat – Aidensfield, is as pretty as I remember but oh so crowded on a holiday. We parked at the hotel and had a pint then stayed for lunch. Even now when we watch reruns of Heartbeat we’ll say, “That’s our table”.
They let us leave the car at the pub while we walked around town (ha, we didn’t have to pay for parking) then we drove down to the pretty railway station (also used in Harry Potter) and finally, a bonus to the holiday weekend – the steam train was running. We didn’t ride it but did enjoy seeing it.
Our intention was to go to the James Cook Museum in Whitby then drive as far south as we could manage and find some accommodation. The best laid plans …
Whitby was even busier than everywhere else we’d been and we couldn’t even find a car park. In the end we gave up and headed out of town to find somewhere to stay so we could come back in the morning.
Our mystery destination ended up being Robin Hood’s Bay. What a beautiful little town. Despite the crowds we felt like we’d made a little discovery and we managed to find a room with a view of the bay at Raven House B&B. After a walk to the old town and the sea wall we had dinner at the pub which was right next door to the B&B. Monday night turned out to be quiz night and we teamed up with some locals to lose. Or, at least, to not win.
Tuesday 1st September – Robin Hood’s Bay to Coughton:
In contrast to yesterday, the first day of Autumn was absolutely beautiful. Cool and breezy, but a perfect cloudless sky.
Breakfast didn’t start ’til 8.30 so we went for a walk but were still back, packed and ready to eat by 8.00am. Our hosts took pity on us sitting looking lost and served us a little bit early.
Whitby was less frantic than yesterday, though still busy. But we managed to find a park and headed to the James Cook Museum. Throughout this trip, many British people seemed surprised that we were so intent on visiting this museum. We forget that it isn’t common knowledge – or at least doesn’t immediately spring to mind – that it was him who claimed Australia for Britain. Or, as us oldies were taught in school, “discovered” Australia. There was no mention in those days of the original residents who had discovered the continent 60,000 years earlier.
The museum was well worth the visit. I particularly enjoyed the texts of some of the letters and the writings of Joseph Banks. We spent a couple of hours there then went for a walk through the old town. Stu is a fisherman so, of course, we had to go to a tackle shop because it was there. They were selling 1-pound pirks which seem to be some bizarre type of sinker.
We decided it was time to leave so we could get as far south as possible. But of course we didn’t make it easy for ourselves as we kept getting sidetracked. Instead of taking a direct route we drove down the coast through Scarborough. It didn’t appeal to us as much as Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, so we were glad we didn’t stay there last night.
We stopped for lunch at the New Crown Hotel at Bridlington. The meal, when it eventually came, was nice. But they had the world’s slowest service and the most unwelcoming barman.
Then we drove … and drove … and drove … until about 6.30pm when we started looking for a bed. We found a room at the Throckmorton Arms at Coughton. The bed wasn’t too comfortable and the steak wasn’t great, but we enjoyed chatting to the locals. We love that you can take your dogs into pubs in England. We had to laugh when the barman asked us where we had come from that day. “Whitby,” we said. “Whitby in Yorkshire?” he asked, as if it was the end of the earth. If only they’d realised how far we could have driven if we’d done nothing else. Australians do understand distance.
Wednesday 2nd September 2009 – Coughton to Cannington:
A trip to Morrisons to buy some food and some some pens for Mum. And to burn some photos … at the dry cleaners, for heaven’s sake. A stop at a farm shop before going to Snowshill Manor, only to discover that it didn’t open until 12, so we went for a drive around some of the local villages, stopping at The Plough Inn at Ford, Temple Guiting for a cream tea.
Back at the Manor at 11.30, only to find out that they had timed tickets and we couldn’t get into the house until 12.20. This gave us the chance to walk around the gardens for a while. The house was as good as I remembered and Stu enjoyed it, as I knew he would. The collection holds at least 22,000 items but they’re not finished cataloging it yet so may well be more.
I really like this collection. It’s incredibly eclectic and contains items which are hand made or which would have disappeared for ever if they hadn’t been saved here. And there’s no labels, so you don’t always know what everything is, which is actually the idea. You just appreciate them for themselves. But there are helpful guides who will give you some information if you ask. The biggest problem I have is not being allowed to touch all those lovely timber objects.
We headed off on another “drive as long as we can” mission. We made it as far as Cannington in Somerset where we found a nice looking pub but, although there were people there, it seemed to be to be closed so we gave up. We ended up at The Friendly Spirit, named after its resident ghost. The staff were friendly enough but the locals seemed a bit stand-offish, but we booked 2 nights. Our room was in the extension rather than the pub itself and was pretty ordinary but it did the job … just.
Thursday 3rd September – at Cannington:
Since we were already installed in our accommodation, we could have a long day and know where we were staying. Last night we decided to go to the Maritime Museum at Appledore that’s marked on the map, then down to Clovelly.
The road through Exmoor Forest had the highest hedges we’d seen and on both sides of the road so, in an attempt to at least see some of the scenery, we turned north towards the coast. It was a cold, wet and windy day but the scenery was lovely and we saw wild ponies and groups of loony walkers. The rain stopped long enough for us to take a few pics then sent us scurrying back to the car. One day I’d like to have the right gear for this type of weather and come back and do some of those walks.
The Maritime Museum looked quite small and with an entrance fee of £1.50 we wondered how good it was going to be. No need to worry. It was fascinating. There was a section on immigration to Australia from that area. We were amused to see that to be eligible for immigration, applicants had to be of sober habits and good character. Doesn’t sound like anyone we know. They must have settled elsewhere. We also enjoyed learning that the area was used to test many of the gadgets and machines that were (or weren’t) used in the D-Day landings. There sure were some spectacular failures.
After lunch on the quay we had an ice cream from the van. Business didn’t appear to be too brisk but it’s a nice little spot and I can imagine it gets quite busy in the summer.
At Clovelly we rugged up against the weather. What a mistake! By the time we walked down to the harbour we were sweating. How the locals could still be getting around in three layers of clothes I don’t know.
I like this little town where the buildings are maintained using traditional methods and where goods are transported down the main street on wooden sleds – no cars. The effect is somewhat spoilt when you see the vehicles behind the buildings but it’s still quaint. I had, however, forgotten how hard the street is to walk on and how steep it is.
We walked along the “beach” to the waterfall. I hadn’t done that before and it was even harder going because of the loose stones. It was easier to walk on the smaller stones than the bigger ones.
The weather did the right thing by us – it started to rain just as we left the car park and headed for home. The room turned out to be rather damp and unpleasant but we weren’t moving. It was into the pub for a very nice dinner of a seafood platter for Stu and steak and ale pie for me. A couple of the locals even talked to us.
Friday 4th September – Cannington to Guildford:
We didn’t do particularly well today. I had hoped to be in Portsmouth early but we slept in and then proceeded to take the scenic route in a large circle, ending up in Taunton. No wonder I couldn’t find any of the towns we were going through on the map. I was looking at the wrong road.
When we eventually got to Portsmouth, we were just in time to see an impressive display by the Red Arrows. It lasted about half an hour, which put us even further behind schedule but was worth it.
I knew the Mary Rose display was going to be closed this year for three years, so was pleasantly surprised to find it was still open. I can’t explain why but I love this ship and was happy to see it for a second time.
We had lunch while we waited for our time slot for the tour of the Victory. Stu enjoyed this but was disappointed not to be able to spend more time and poke around a bit. It’s seems that in the busy season they churn the groups through every 10 minutes.
The Mary Rose Museum was even better than I remembered. Along with the ship itself, this is my favourite thing. I loved being able to handle some of the timber and artifacts from the ship.
To top off our geographically challenging day, I discovered I hadn’t brought the maps I’d printed to get us to our friends’ place where we were staying tonight. We headed in the general direction then phoned when we got close and they guided us in. It was a nice change to have a home cooked meal and spend a pleasant evening – especially as Australia won the one-dayer.
Saturday 5th September – Guildford to Dover:
We had a fair bit of mucking around today without really achieving much. The main thing we wanted to do was to see if we could find the house in Tunbridge Wells where Stu’s family used to live. No luck with that, despite spending quite a while driving up and down the road, but we did find the school he used to go to and the park where they used to toboggan.
Lunch at the Chequers Inn at Goudhurst was very nice and everything was home made. This town seems to have an abundance of gastro pubs – seafood, Italian and Thai as well as the one we went to. I wonder where the locals go for bangers and mash or a steak and ale pie.
We eventually made it to Dover and drove around for quite a while looking for affordable accommodation. We checked in at the County Inn, a somewhat dubious-looking establishment, though the staff were very good. We thought about visiting the Castle but it was mainly the war time tunnels we wanted to see and there were no more tickets being issued that day so we gave it a miss.
We found a pub with a bit of life. Maybe the first couple we tried were more for locals. Anyway, we sat outside and started chatting to 3 people who were on their way somewhere. They started buying us drinks and wouldn’t let us return the favour. We all played pool and sang karaoke till one of the party (not either of us) was evicted. That was probably a good thing as it was getting pretty late and we still hadn’t had dinner. We found an Indian restaurant that was just about to close but was happy to serve us and had an excellent and very cheap meal.
Too late to bed … again!