Category Archives: United Kingdom

A Heroine For the Ages

Thursday, September 12, 2019 – Bamburgh, UK

Written by Jim

As is probably evident by now, we are easy hooks for a great lifesaving story. When Mike from A Bit About Britain published a story in June about a heroine lifesaver along the Northumberland coast, we knew we had to squeeze the stop into our itinerary.

Bamburgh is a quaint little town in northeast England that lies adjacent to the North Sea. That body of water is legendary for it’s ferocious storms and it’s deep history. Vikings sailed here, the Dutch built dikes to keep it out, and Germany tried to conquer the world through it in World War II, as the North Sea is their only connection to the ocean.

Towering high over the hamlet of Bamburgh is the villages’ namesake castle. The Normans…who I am a descendent of through my French Canadian ancestry…built the core of this massive edifice a thousand years ago. I’ll let you know if I’m able to ever trace back to this lovely piece of real estate. 😉

What would seem long ago to those of us visiting from America, an event took place within the castle’s view in its relatively recent history. On September 7, 1838, a gale forced the steamer Forfarshire onto a rocky island a few miles offshore from Bamburgh, breaking it in two. A 23 year old woman by the name of Grace Darling, daughter to the lighthouse keeper on nearby Longstone Island, spotted the wreck and saw that there were survivors scrambling onto the rocks. She and her father rowed a mile out to the wreck in a 21 foot coble, as time was of the essence. While her dad disembarked to help the eight men and one woman, Grace kept the boat steady in the heavy seas using only the oars and her will. They brought five of them back on the first trip, then Grace stayed behind at the lighthouse during the second trip out.

Thus, another legendary figure took her place in the annals of the North Sea. Newspaper accounts made her famous, but time was not on her side. A mere three years later, she died of tuberculosis.

Grace is buried in the churchyard next to St. Aidan’s Church.

Her effigy above her tomb is fittingly holding an oar.

After a visit to her grave, we stepped inside the church.

The present building dates from the twelfth century, but St. Aidan built the original structure here in 635. He passed away leaning against a wooden beam that survived two subsequent fires.

That Y-shaped beam supports the ceiling high above the baptismal font.

After visiting the church and Grace Darling’s grave, we headed to the beach to dip our fingers into the North Sea.

The pathway through the dunes was thick with beach grass.

The shoreline was wide open and calm, far different than the night Grace and her father rowed out to save those nine souls. We walked a half mile up the beach to the other end of the castle and back to our waiting motorhome. A nice way to top off a worthwhile visit to an English heroine’s hometown.

Next up, the first of several posts from Scotland! Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

To read A Bit About Britain’s eloquent post on Grace Darling, click HERE.

Y is for York, D is for…

September 18, 2019 – York, UK

Written by Jim

A long departed family friend used to love to visit the Cabela’s store in Dundee, Michigan, Art…a big kid at heart…would delight in telling us, “I always park in Lot D, as D is for Dummies!” How does that relate to the UK, you say?

Well here, D is for Diesel! No sooner did I pull up to the station and start pumping fuel from the green handled nozzle than I realized that I was putting petrol…gasoline…into the motorhome. Seven liters went in before I got it stopped. My heart sank. Pumps in the UK have black handles on the diesel and green on the unleaded…opposite of what is back in the States. I should have remembered that from visiting the BP stations in the US, which buck that trend. Yes, the B in BP stands for British. Second mistake was driving across the road to a large parking lot. Just turning the key enough to have the dashboard lights engaged the fuel pump and introduced the gas into the engine. If this ever happens to you, only turn the key far enough to unlock the wheel. At this point, I’m thinking that I ruined the engine. I called Just Go and they asked if I was in a safe place. I told them I was. They then proceeded to call a mobile fuel repair truck. Diana walked to the grocery store around the corner and grabbed all she could carry.

Evidently, this is a ‘thing’ over here, as people have businesses that take care of this sort of issue! The repairman says that 200,000 people a year put the wrong fuel in their vehicles in the UK. My guess is the lion’s share of them are American tourists grabbing the green pump handle. The repairman drained the tank and fuel filter, added new diesel fuel and a can of additive. About two hours and £272 later, we were on our way. No muss, no fuss, no damage, no problem…other than a lighter wallet. Just Go called us back about an hour later to make sure we were OK, which we were. Onward and upward to York!

Our campground in York was situated on a bus line, so getting downtown was very easy. That meant we got our first ride ever on a double-decker bus! They were spotless going in both directions. We had wanted to see the interior of the York Minster, but our earlier fuel issues got us there too late.

Another masterpiece of stonework. The first church built here was a wooden structure hurriedly put up in 627. This one was completed in 1472 after hundreds of years worth of work. That was 20 years before Columbus sailed for America!

This window is the largest medieval stained glass portal in the UK. We will have to see the light coming through it on a future trip.

The other thing we wanted to see in York was The Shambles.

This is a fourteenth century collection of buildings that used to be the meat market in York.

Many people believe this street was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter film series. It sure looks like it! It’s filled with tourist shops and…

…The Shop That Must Not Be Named. A perfect spot to pick up your wizard wear.

That wraps up our trip to York. Next up, we head north to a place that Mike from A Bit About Britain introduced us to earlier this year. It involves the North Sea, a castle, a maritime heroine, and a saint. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Just Go Explore the UK

On Monday morning, we had set up a trip to pick up our motorhome with our first London Uber driver, Dhanashekar. He was so helpful to us the first trip, we knew he would be perfect for the trip up to Just Go motorhome hire on the north side of town. He even carted our luggage into the building for us upon arrival.

We were happy to find the people at Just Go to be wonderful and the facility to be spotless. Our motorhome appeared to be brand new, even though it had a full summer’s use and 16,000 miles on it. After a familiarization tour, we spent a half hour or so moving in. With that, I climbed into the drivers seat and we were off!

Driving on the opposite side of the vehicle was a bit strange at first, but a helpful post and video by the RV Geeks when planning the trip left us no surprises when we headed out. After a day or so, it became second nature. We stopped to get groceries and headed to our pitch, which is what they call a campsite over here.

Diana proceeded to make us a delicious spaghetti dinner. Pardon the pile of stuff on the bed, as we hadn’t totally settled in yet.

You can see the great layout we have: a full bed and bath in the back, huge fridge and freezer, kitchen with oven, sink and hob (range), a big table and front seats that swivel. Tons of storage too…all packed into 22 feet of length! Four huge skylights that open, plus one in the bathroom. It even has solar.

Our first full day on the road took us to Lincoln. Our goal there was to see the Lincoln Cathedral.

Our little Scout slid into this car park just fine. A word on the car parks: While researching for the trip, we found that most of these have a low clearance bar across their entrances. That most likely is to prevent people from using them as overnight facilities. We scoped out the ones that do allow motorhomes before we left the States (that’s what they call the U.S.) so we weren’t fighting that battle once we got here.

To get to the cathedral, we had to walk the northern perimeter of the Lincoln Castle, which was a nice stroll by some really quaint buildings.

It was on that stroll that we caught our first glimpse of our destination, Lincoln Cathedral. At that moment, to our delight, the bells started ringing. Construction on this beauty was begun in 1072. For 238 years, beginning in 1311, it was the tallest building in the world. Interestingly enough, the building it surpassed was the Great Pyramid of Giza.

At that time, it had a lead-clad wooden steeple nearly as tall as this central tower that gave it that title. That spire was lost to a windstorm in 1548.

The gargoyles are so amusing.

This one is leaning on a lead downspout. The building is covered with them, no two sculptures are the same. It is believed that they ward off evil spirits.

When we visited, Lincoln University was holding their commencement in the cathedral. Until that was over, we were only allowed to see the rear portion of the interior.

Believe it or not, this is the back….

…and this is the area where the choir sits. While we were in this area, we spied a woman dusting. When Diana mentioned to her how nice it was to see everything being so well cared for, she said “I just like to polish and shine.” Westminster Abbey could learn a thing or two from her. Lincoln Cathedral was spotless and smelled good too! Listening to the hoots and hollers from the graduation ceremony made it feel alive and current, not just a part of history.

While we were there, the pipe organ played at the end of the commencement. It reminded me so much of how my mom could lift the roof off a cathedral when she played the pipe organ. I think she was smiling down on us as we enjoyed the moment.

Once the organist was finished and applause faded, we were allowed into the front of the building.

The view looking straight up into the central tower.

Looking from the main entrance towards the center of the church. The organ sits directly under the central tower in the middle of the cathedral.

This baptismal font dates from the 12th century. It is one of seven surviving Tournai marble fonts in England. Can you even imagine the generations that shared the rite of baptism in this jewel? It is mind boggling.

Next up is a trip to York. Harry Potter fans might find that one interesting. We even had a slight hiccup on the way there, which you will definitely want to stay tuned for. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

London Wrap Up

Our four day stay in London gave us a nice flavor of what the city has to offer. In this post, we will detail our last couple of days in this worldly place, along with our observations of a few of the differences between the United States and the United Kingdom’s cultures and ways. We hope you enjoy the tour!

On Saturday morning, we had tickets to tour Westminster Abbey. This is the church where Princess Diana’s funeral was held. Having seen a fair share of cathedrals in our day, we expected this to be the spit and polished pinnacle of what had experienced in the past.

The building dates back to the 1060’s, so it’s age far surpasses anything we had ever been in. It is downright ancient. The first thing I noticed when walking through the doors was not the soaring ceiling, but the musty smell that can only come from a thousand years of existence. Spit and polished, it was not. But moving beyond that, it was spectacular. One thing that stood out to us was the sheer amount of people who have been buried or commemorated inside the edifice. The number is currently in the vicinity of 3300 souls. Almost every corner of the building is filled with memorials, statues, tombs and such.

Photos were not allowed inside, so we grabbed a few appropriate ones from Pinterest. As you can see, some of it felt a bit cluttered, taking away from the openness usually experienced in this type of building. The halls were loaded with famous Brits: names like George Handel (Hallelujah Chorus), Issac Newton, Mary-Queen of Scots, Edward the Confessor, Rudyard Kipling, C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. The sheer volume of recognizable names was mind boggling. We paid extra for a tour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, which occupy the upper levels of the church.

That ticket afforded us a tremendous view from behind the high altar, back towards the front of the building. Somewhat of a narrow feeling, but spectacular in its own right.

The only grave that is not allowed to be walked on is the one for an unknown British soldier who was killed during World War I. The stone is surrounded by red poppies, reminiscent of the ones that the American Legion pass out on Veteran’s Day in the U.S.

We really enjoyed our visit to this amazing church.

Afterwards, we made our way around the corner towards Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, otherwise known as the Parliament building.

Unfortunately, this is the view we had of Big Ben. As a matter of fact, much of London is under scaffolding. The entire skyline is filled with tower cranes.

We did get a peek at one of the clock faces though!

We also had a front row seat for a Brexit demonstration in Parliament Square Green. We really didn’t want to stick around for that too long, as it seemed a bit raucous.

From there, we headed up to the British Museum.

This large facility houses a great many of the world’s treasures, clocking in at over eight million works. It was the first national public museum to ever be established, and has free admission (a £5 donation is suggested). Our goal here was to see both the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles.

The Rosetta Stone is the only remaining piece of a larger tablet that allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was actually the same decree issued in three languages: hieroglyphics, Egyptian demonic, and Greek. Knowing the Greek allowed translation of the other two languages.

While there, we also saw the Elgin Marbles, which are the carved panels off of the gables and roof perimeter of the Parthenon in Greece. We were so fascinated (and tired) when we looked at them, we forgot to get photos.

Here is a photo from Guide London that shows the detail of these pieces. They date back to around 600 BC. There is quite a bit of controversy over Great Britain having them, and Greece is campaigning to get them back. We will leave the arguing to them, only to say that they seem a bit out of context in the middle of London. Quite a bit like the Wright Cycle Shop and Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory being located in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. We did enjoy seeing them though.

Sunday found us heading to two places with possible connections to Diana, which she is still trying to piece together the details on. Diana’s grandmother’s maiden name was Shepherd. Back in the early 1700’s, Edward Shepherd developed a small square just north of Green Park called Shepherd’s Market.

Today it is a small collection of shops and cafes. It sits a few steps from the current Saudi Arabian embassy. It was nice to be able to walk through an area bearing a familiar family name.

We also went to see the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. The latter actually has a connection to her father’s side, a man by the name of Lawrence Halstead.

Lawrence was the Keeper of the Keys at the Tower of London in the 1600’s. He would’ve been involved in the nightly ceremony of locking the front gate by candlelight, a ceremony that still takes place today. We tried well in advance to get tickets to the event, but it was sold out. Seeing that this is where the Crown Jewels are stored, his job was quite important.

Next to the Tower of London sits the iconic Tower Bridge.

What a stunning piece of architecture! Seeing photos of it in the past, I imagined it to be bigger than it was. It was quite compact, and took just a few minutes to walk across. Still, what a treat to be able to do that. Interestingly enough, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge is actually older than this structure.

Our last stop was the Victoria and Albert Museum. Again, a free museum housing a huge amount of worldly treasures.

This is one of Leonardo da Vinci’s small notebooks, circa 1500 or so.

They had a special exhibit on photography, which included an impressive display of cameras from over the years.

Here’s a couple of blasts from our past. On the left is a Kodak Instamatic, complete with flash cube. I had a Kodak 104 version of this. My sister had the camera on the right, a Polaroid Swinger. Remember the TV ad? Meet the Swinger…Polaroid Swinger… Sorry if you remember it, as you won’t be able to get it out of your head for the rest of the day. :). We wrapped up our visit to the V&A with a snack in the courtyard.

What a great place to hang out for a bit and enjoy the day.

So, how did we get around London? Well, we started out on foot. During one of our first excursions, we looked for a public restroom and were told to use the one at the Green Park Tube (subway) station. Remember, we are veteran subway riders in NYC, so we thought nothing of it. Seeing the dirty conditions of the restrooms and station in London (worse than NYC, in our opinion), we decided to use Uber to travel longer distances. That service worked exceedingly well for us. It was entertaining to converse with the drivers, most of who were Middle Eastern or from India. One spoke very little English, but he had a great Motown playlist coming from his speakers. Nothing like navigating the streets of London to the Four Tops. :). A word on those restrooms: they charge 50p (equivalent to cents in the US) to use the dirtiest facilities we have ever seen. One would think that money could be used to clean and maintain them. Our recommendation is to make sure you use a restroom at any museum, restaurant or retailer before leaving.

Also, here are a few things that we found different than what we are used to in the US. Of course, driving on the opposite side of the road stands out. That doesn’t translate into walking, though. Where we tend to walk on the right side of the sidewalk (like we drive), the British left hand driving doesn’t carry over to their walkways. One of our Uber drivers likened the disorganized manners of those hoofing it as spaghetti. That pretty much sums that up! :). Furthermore, as a result of the ancient age of London, the roads don’t have a lot of order to them. No grid patterns here, folks. That actually is somewhat charming, and it all seems to work just fine. Yes, the roads do have lines painted on them, but they are hand painted and are all a tad confusing to us.

And one last word about our flat. As I said before, it is located in a row of 1920’s era buildings in Knightsbridge/Chelsea.

Our courtyard featured these large maple trees. Definitely a nice view to look out on. We were just a block from the V&A and were convenient to many of the sights in the city. Being able to eat all of our breakfasts and a couple of our dinners there worked well for us. Small grocery stores were located close by, so no worries on getting food. Our host provided us with several breakfast items, along with laundry detergent and soap. We were even able to do our laundry in the flat, giving us a fresh start for our trip. We were extremely happy with our accommodation choice.

And what is up with those doorknobs in the middle of the door?

It has to do with symmetry. With the jumbled state of the roadways in London, order and balance has to be established somewhere! On the practical side, it makes the door a lot harder to open and close.

And what on earth happened to my iPad plug? That is actually an adapter to fit the British 230 volt system. Apple iPads and iPhones are dual voltage, so no need to convert, other than the adapter. Exercise caution with your laptops, curling irons and such, as you may need a converter.

That wraps up the London portion of our journey. Monday afternoon, we Ubered up to get our motorhome north of town with our first driver. He was extremely helpful to us in arranging that. We will begin to detail that portion of our adventure in our next post. Be sure to stay tuned for that. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

First Tastes of London!

Well, the time has finally come to take the exploRVistas entourage overseas! On Wednesday, we made our way to Chicago O’Hare to catch our British Airways flight to London Heathrow.

We caught a red-eye out of the Windy City at 9 PM, arriving in London almost 8 hours later. That translated to after 10 AM in the UK. We would like to say we slept on the 747 on the way there, but the seats were as cramped as if we had been flying on a commuter jet. Oh well, at least my gluten free meal was good! Couple that with a bottle of wine and we made do.

We even were lucky enough to get to climb down a flight of stairs with our carryons when we arrived at Heathrow. Hmmmm….

Moving on, we grabbed our bags and headed to our Airbnb in a cute little black taxi.

This was our first taste of traveling on the opposite side of the road from what we’ve seen our entire lives. Our driver was excellent, the cab was spotless and the trip from the airport was quick! Our accommodations are located in a series of 1920’s era flats, close to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Everything was pretty much as we expected it would be, with our host stocking our refrigerator with plenty of goodies. 😊. We made our way to a local pub for dinner.

Diana had fish and chips…

…and I had a bunless burger with fries. Everything was delicious.

Friday found us heading towards Buckingham Palace, as we had 2:30 PM tickets to tour the state rooms. We decided to walk there, a distance of a few miles or so. First stop was to Harrod’s Department Store, as we had heard that their food hall was an outstanding place to grab lunch.

To say that Harrod’s is outstanding is really putting it mildly. The displays are the best we have ever seen in any large retailer.

And it really dazzles at night! But back to lunch. We purchased some take-away salads (to go) and headed to Hyde Park to find a place to eat them.

A park bench by the pond did just fine…especially once the pigeons figured out we were eating veggies and left us alone.

We then made our way to Buckingham Palace. The Queen is currently in Scotland for the summer, so the building is open for tours.

Photos were not allowed inside. We marveled at the extent of what we were allowed to see, from the ballrooms to the room where the Queen bestows knighthood on her subjects. Tours were pretty much self-guided (with the aid of headsets and a mobile audio tour device). Docents were stationed throughout to answer questions.

The gardens out in front of the palace were gorgeous. So colorful for so late in the summer.

This is what the rear of the palace looks like. The Queen holds her garden parties on this lawn each year. What really amazed us is the amount of infrastructure that is in place for the summer tours that all disappears before she gets home. Elaborate displays, gift shops, rest room buildings…all of it is taken down in two weeks time. Admission fees are used to help cover the cost of the palace maintenance.

And wait….did I say the Queen was in Scotland???

By golly, they all showed up to explore the vista with us! Diana is displaying her best Queen face, keeping with her British ancestry. 😐

That wraps up or first impressions of the UK! We have a few more days in London before we head out in our rented motorhome. Be sure to stay tuned for all of that and more. Until next time, safe and happy travels to all!