Northumberland, Durham, North Yorkshire, Pennines, Yorkshire Dales, Derbyshire, Leicester, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Kent

The next thing on our must-do list was visit The Angel of the North.  We had previously seen this huge statue while we were on the bus to Edinburgh last Christmas, and had determined then to go back in our own time and find out more about it.  She stands on the south side of Newcastle-on-Tyne on the east coast of England, near the border.  It was a long drive down that far and when we got there it was pouring but we weren’t disappointed.  It is so impressive to be standing at her feet, looking up.  She was created by Antony Gormley in 1998 and is Britain’s largest sculpture standing 20 metres tall with a wing span of 54 metres, that’s almost the wing span of a jumbo jet.   She’s made of 200 tonnes of weathered steel and has an external skeleton of “ribs”.  150 tonnes of concrete were poured around steel reinforcing to form eight piles sunk 20 metres in the ground, on top of which they poured another huge concrete slab with 52 three metre long bolts embedded into it on which the Angel is attached.  Impressive all round.  I took great delight running around under her in the rain for half an hour or more!

The Angel of the North with the angel of the south beside

Hadrian’s Wall is 120 kms long and on average 3 – 6 metres wide, depending if it’s built in stone or turf, and was built by Roman soldiers started way back in 122AD.  The Romans were here for around 300 years all up.  They had slowly but surely subdued the English but the Scottish peoples were such a troublesome lot that they decided to erect a wall to keep them out of their conquered lands. The wall travels from the coast of the Irish Sea to the North Sea on the other side.  Obviously, the wall is not intact anymore but there are great chunks of it still proudly standing as well as the ruins of many forts still to be explored. 

The treasures found under the rubble of the old Roman forts along the length of the Wall are amazing.

The Romans liked to heat the officers’ houses with underfloor heating systems. The actual floor was on top of these piles

It’s amazing to see how much has survived over all these years

Notice the perfectly shaped join

Looking up the hill at the remains of one of the forts you can see they were quite sizeable, housing around 1000 soldiers

What’s left of the Wall is pretty impressive. It’s about 3m wide at this point and as much high

I never really considered how large the Roman Empire was

England is full of really quirky things:  we drove through a tiny village with a couple of houses and a pub.  The village is called Once Brewed, the pub was called Twice Brewed!

English hedgehogs are a protected species now

We had to travel in a south-easterly fashion from the last section of Hadrian’s Wall,  slowly heading towards Sheffield.  We were driving through the Peak District which really is the back country and quite different scenery to the usual English variety.  We could clearly see where the old lead, zinc or iron mines were, dotted around this countryside, by the colourful tailings left behind.  I can never figure out why they don’t spread these out and cover them rather than leave them as odd little mounds here and there, unable to be cultivated.  Driving over the Alston Moor is really rather high, 747 metres at the top and although the grass looks scrappy and thin the beef cattle and sheep looked in excellent condition.   Down in the valleys the pasture is lush and there’s evidence of the hay or silage they have recently harvested.  Having your animals indoors for a good proportion of the year means each farm needs great stocks of preserved feed in store.  I read recently that they spray the grass with a fungicide which allows the farmer to still harvest the hay with up to 25% moisture, which seems very odd to us Kiwis.  Mind you, there’s so much cut hay just rotting in the paddocks and fit only for ploughing back in, as the summer has been so wet, records show it’s the worst in 100 years.  Dry stone walls are everywhere, matching all the houses and farm buildings.    We were driving through where the Pennine Way meanders, a very famous part of the country for ramblers and mountain bikers.  It goes on for 430 kms and is so popular, often the farms supplement their income offering B&B services for these hardy people.   Reportedly, 12,000 long distance walkers or bikers and 250,000 day walkers use all or parts of this trail each year. Once through the Peak District then on through some of the Yorkshire Dales,  this is really beautiful and quite different once again.  I decided that I really needed to stop the night at a Club Campsite and wash and dry a mountain of clothes and also try to use up several hours of prepaid campsite WiFi.  This is the first time in the month that we have actually paid for accommodation.  We have really got the hang of this free loading but in just a few days we were off on a 10 day guided tour of Israel and I needed to have clean clothes to pack.

Just where the moor blends into the Dales

Alston Moor doesn’t look like it would support sheep and cattle but it does

Being up so high they need long markers on the side of the road when it snows

A welcome distraction in the Yorkshire Dales

In the morning I carried on using the prepaid WiFi uploading photos onto the blog, knowing that this will be the last opportunity as we won’t be using the services of the Caravan Club again.  It certainly has been good value to become members of this organisation a year ago and I would recommend it to other travellers to the UK.   My self-made deadline to pack up the motorhome and be away changed several times during the morning and we didn’t end up leaving the site until after lunch, because I just wanted to download ONE more photo.   We thought we might make it to Malcolm and Janneke’s place by about 3p.m. so I texted Janneke telling her that we would be there by 4p.m.  I thought it was safer to err on the side of caution, you never know, and arriving a bit early was preferrable to getting there late.  We had to navigate through some large cities, without the aid of our TomTom and oh dear me, what a nightmare.  Coming up to large, complex intercessions, coming off one motorway and then joining a new one, sounds easy, even looks easy on the map that you looked at not two minutes ago, but when faced with the real thing in real time, with split seconds to make new decisions I failed miserably!  Dennis would prep me beforehand and I was certain that we were to take the second exit on the right in half a mile’s time and then when you come to the end of the exit, turn left.  But for some reason when he followed my instructions perfectly, I realised just that split second too late it was actually turn right at the end of the exit lane.  Turning left meant that we were on our way in the opposite direction than intended and on another motorway with the nearest exit some miles further down the road.  This happened not once but three times and with all the coming and going we were four hours late getting to Janneke’s!  By the time we found their place (I had phoned her and explained how my blood pressure wasn’t feeling too flash) we both were wrecks and needed a couple of big, slow breaths before meeting my cousin and her husband, whom I had not seen for 40 years.  But it was wonderful when we did get there.  We had so much to catch up on and spent the evening talking ten to the dozen.  Before retirement Malcolm had managed the Severn Trent Water scheme which supplies treated water for a vast region of  Central England and was one of the biggest systems in the world.   It was so interesting to listen to all his stories about his work.  Some of the reservoirs which were under his management had been the practice sites for the Dam Busters during WW2, they also used them in the Dam Busters film and he had been keen to take Dennis to see them had we but arrived on time. He was recently on local radio with Peter Jackson talking about the new movie.  That was disappointing that we had restricted ourselves to such a short time of visiting with them, after me being too keen using the WiFi and then losing our way so badly.    

Not the best photo you’ve taken, Dennis, but it’s the only one of Janneke and Malcolm I’ve got


Malcolm kindly gave me a not too detailed map, explaining how to get us back on the motorway heading south to London, which was a real bonus.  Things were going to be tight, time wise that day as we had to get to the outskirts of London, where Dennis needed to jump on the Tube and travel right into the Piccadilly Circus to visit our bank for Israeli Shekels.  We’re with the Clydesdale Bank which has a partnership relationship with the BNZ back home, the only trouble is that it’s a Scottish bank with only one branch in London and nowhere else in England which we didn’t know when we signed up.  In Scotland they are everywhere and while there Dennis tried to buy some cash for our trip to Israel but as they are classed as an “exotic” currency he would need to order them and they would take four days to get to Edinburgh.  Of course at that stage we were about to head south again so he ordered them and had them delivered to the London bank in Piccadilly Circus.     Then we had to drive to Gerrard’s Cross to pick up the last of Dennis’ prescription meds for his cholesterol and finally drive around the M25 and down to the Tour Operators place at Otford where we would park the van for the next 10 days, while we’re off with 40 others on this Israeli bus tour.   So it was a quick trip into and out of London on the Tube for Dennis, while I packed our bags in the van.  Everything went smoothly until we arrived at the Pharmacy in Gerrard’s Cross.  At this point I will mention that Scotland has been the only place where Dennis has been able to get an appointment with a doctor, just to pass on the script from NZ describing the medications required and then pick up the meds from a pharmacy with NO trouble!  The medical service in Scotland is entirely free to the locals and to people with a UK Visa, thank you very much to the Government of Scotland.  Other than that, every two months Dennis has had one problem after the other in England, either the doctor not wanting to see him, the doctor charging like a wounded bull, the pharmacy not accepting the idea that a New Zealander can lawfully pick up medication in the UK, the medicine not in stock, etc., etc., and finally on this busy day the pharmacist said that the repeat prescription was invalid as the time had lapsed, which was a complete fabrication as the date was clearly stamped on the proper form and they had previously promised it would be available on that day.  But, as they have the power and even after some discussion, Dennis came away with nothing.  They recommended a visit to the A&E nearby, who recommended another afterhours doctor somewhat nearby who only wanted 50 quid for his signature, the long and short of it was that Dennis came away empty-handed.   A note to all intending to travel aboard – talk nicely to your doctor back home and try to get enough medication to last you the entire trip.  This has been a constant source of trouble for Dennis and a real nuisance.  Finally, we found the correct address in Otford at around 10p.m. and settled down for the night all set for the exciting days ahead.  Well, almost all set.  We had not been able to figure out how we were going to get from Otford to Heathrow by 1p.m. as Otford was not on the Tube system. Earlier in the day I had resorted to phoning Rob and asking if he wouldn’t mind picking us up in the morning and taking us back to his place and from there we would make the two-hour journey by bus and train as usual.  Rob, being his helpful self, agreed and we would see him around 8 a.m.

Victorians knew how to build to last

On the motorways there is always plenty of warning about the Low Emission Zone but in townships once you see the sign it is almost too late. Turning right here and you’re liable for $NZ200 per day

The following morning we were waiting patiently and Dennis said, “Shall I phone him, he may have slept in?”  to which I confidently replied ” Don’t be silly.  When have you ever known Rob to sleep in?  He’ll be stuck in traffic and here soon.”  But at 8.40a.m. we received a call from a very groggy sounding Rob, he had slept through his alarm and just awoken horrified!  He would be there ASAP and resolved to run us out to Heathrow so “No worries!”   In a little less than an hour he arrived, chirpy as ever.  Being confident that we had plenty of time now, we stopped for coffee along the way.  Dennis and Rob always have very animated discussions when together, ranging from cars (boring), politics (less boring), religion (engaging) to future plans.  The M25 is a ring road surrounding London 117 miles long, often called Britain’s Largest Car Park!  You would think that on Saturday mornings this would be a free-flowing piece of road but no, all four or five lanes were full, and what with Dennis and Rob talking flat-tack about the riveting subject of cars, Rob managed to ignore the Heathrow  turnoff completely.  I was sitting in the back trying to interrupt them but they ignored me as well, with the result we had no option but to carry on driving until the next exit and do a big loop back.  We had maybe an hour of spare time at Heathrow before the arranged meet up with the Tour people, but when we left the motorhome this morning we had a comfortable four hours to get there.  We later established that Rob spent 3/4’s of his day on the M25 before he got home again!
An interesting fact about England  and the chronic overcrowding problems has come out in the latest census.  The Government were alarmed that they had 500,000 more people living here than they realised  and that on an average day another 1,000 people arrive to stay.  The population is steadily increasing by 7% per annum in the past decade, twice that of other EU countries, with the majority of mothers being foreign-born.  They are clamping down on English language schools and institutions which seemed to act as a front to allow foreigners free entry on Student Visas, closing down a College recently and causing an uproar.

Interesting what you see on the motorway this is a 1920 something Bugatti

We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the UK and have taken to the life of a traveller really well.  We have parked the van for the night in some interesting places and all for free:  on beachfronts, beside rivers, in supermarket carparks, McDonald’s carparks, in residential streets, beside huge trucks in truck stops alongside the motorways, in a defunct hotel’s carpark, under a railway viaduct, on wharves and in Park and Ride carparks.   Dennis bought a 25 litre Jerry can which has enabled us to be more flexible. The van’s own water tank contains only enough for about three days, plus the can makes filling a lot easier.  We drive around with an eagle eye for a suitable tap, it’s amazing but many petrol stations do not have one available and those that do, you often have to pay for the water.  But with our aversion to a rip off and between Dennis’s  Scotch and my Dutch blood we seem to manage!
I do have one regret though in all our time on English soil we have never spotted a badger, other than the flat ones along the roadside or stuffed ones in Museums.