WARNING… Contents of this blog may induce serious drowsiness… do not operate a moving vehicle while reading this post! Many of the comments I’ve made here were primarily to remind Dorothee and I of our trip when we look at this again next year, so it is filled with serious minutia. Proceed at your own risk!
- See a part of Europe we hadn’t previously traveled
- Visit past Hawaii neighbors of ours who now live in their native Edinburgh, Scotland
- Catch up with our good friends Dietmar and Britta, from Munich, who always seem to be able to rendezvous with us anytime we’re in any reasonable vicinity of Germany.
- Attend the Goodwood Festival of Speed, said by many to be the mecca of automotive enthusiasts
Armed with this basic plan, and a shoebox full of GB pounds sterling, we left Austin on July 1 for our initial London destination, arriving the next morning after an all-night long flight. Our plan was to use the “tube” for public transportation from Heathrow to our hotel location in the Kensington area of downtown London, then “hire” (that’s rent in the king’s English) a car when we were ready to depart London for other parts of England. (The $16/day fee for entering central London in a private vehicle was also an inducement to use public transportation).
True to the plan, we found transportation from the airport to be simple and inexpensive to arrange. I had a very quick lesson in left-side traffic just as we emerged from the tube station in downtown London. In true Texas fashion, I checked to the LEFT for traffic, then stepped into the street, only to have Dorothee shriek, and grab my arm, pulling me back onto the curb just barely out of the way of oncoming traffic from my RIGHT! Word to the wise… when walking, driving, cycling, or just window shopping in England, ALWAYS look both ways… it’s easier and safer than trying to remember which way traffic might be coming!
It wasn’t long before the 4 of us had hit the streets, in search of the ultimate London tourist experience! We made the basic rounds… Buckingham Palace, London Bridge and the tower, and then spent quite a long time in Westminster Abbey. This incredible structure houses the graves of many British notables down through the years since the year 1066!…. the present structure was amazingly begun by Henry III in 1245, and has been the site of all coronations since then, with 17 monarchs buried there, along with some 3,000 other souls according to church history!
But, mostly, our time in London included a long walk through Kensington park:
and checking out the other sites around London. London is clearly a very expensive city to live in. It is rare to see a single family house in the city proper. Most ‘residences’ are row houses, or even segments of multi-floor row houses, and prices for even the humblest accommodations are truly mind-boggling. That being, it has the appearance of a very prosperous city… the streets are filled with new Aston-Martins, Bentleys, Rolls, Lamborghini’s, etc!
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at a local pub, doing what we do best… table for four!
For additional London-specific pictures of our trip, please CLICK HERE Our 2 initial nights in London passed quickly, and on July 4th we bid so long to Dietmar and Britta, picked up our rental car, and headed for Scotland.
A word to the wise… if you’ve never driven in a left-hand traffic country, you’re in for a treat. First, of course, there’s the somewhat awkward of driving from the right-hand seat, and shifting with your left hand instead of right (yes, most European rental cars have MANUAL transmissions). Fortunately, I had a little bit of an edge in that department thanks to our own “Nigel” ’59 Jaguar which has right-hand steering. Additionally, there’s the specter of the ubiquitous ’roundabouts’ all over England (well, much of Europe as well). Virtually every intersection of 2 crossing roads, even in the tiniest villages, is served by a circular roundabout, rather than our standard 4-way stop or traffic signal. Sometimes there are 3 parallel lanes within the roundabout… if you stray into the outer lane, you may be forced to turn out of the circle before reaching your desired turn!
Then, there’s the whole mental exercise of remembering which lane to use when turning, and, finally, on the highspeed motorways, you have to be reminded that the FAST lane is to the far RIGHT, not the left as we are used to here. All in all, driving in this environment can definitely increase the pucker factor! Somehow, miraculously, we managed to survive all these obstacles and got our rental car back to London in one piece at the end of the trip.
Prices in England deserve some discussion: At first glance, if one mistakenly assumes that pounds equals dollars, everything seems on a par with the US… For example, petrol (gasoline) goes for about 1.20 quid per liter or around 4.80 pounds per gallon. Unfortunately, the current US$/ GB Pound exchange rate is almost exactly 2 for 1. i.e. you’ll be paying $2.00 US for each pound you spend… That makes gasoline just shy of $10/gallon, enough to make you seek out the most economical car available!
We left London around 11:00 AM bound for Edinburgh. We had learned last-minute that our friends, Frances and Tim, had planned a big welcoming party for us that evening. Amazingly, the distance from London is just around 400 miles (that distance wouldn’t even get you Austin/El Paso!), and the motorways were pretty good once we left London proper. After enjoying the incredible Scottish country side on our way up,
we did, in fact, finally roll into Edinburgh just before 8:00 in the evening, with party in full swing. Fortunately, 8:00 is just late afternoon in summertime Scotland, as the sky doesn’t get completely dark until almost 11:00 at night, so the party continued on for hours, and we had the pleasure of meeting a number of interesting people from the academic community.
Tim is a recently retired astronomer who still does research at a small telescope right in Edinburgh. Frances is confined to a wheelchair due to a long battle with MS, but she is still quite active, including currently working on a post graduate degree in Japanese language studies.
We learned to our surprise that the nice estate of J.K. Rowlings, author of the Harry Potter series, was just one block from our own nice B&B. Additionally, another author, Alexander McCall Smith, whose fictional series are based in Edinburgh, also lives just a few blocks away. I happened to have picked up one of those books for the flight over, and it was interesting to be reading about streets and neighborhoods that I was walking down!
It was pretty rainy the one full day we had in Scotland, so Dorothee took advantage of the window seat to do a little relaxation at Tim and Frances flat:
The next morning I woke up in our quaint little Edinburgh B&B about 3:30AM in the morning, wondering why the street light was so bright outside. A quick glance revealed that it was becoming daylight! This is the one pleasant aspect of living so close to the Artic Circle (59 degrees to be exact, compared with our Texas latitude of about 29 degrees). Useless factoid: Rome Italy is about the same latitude as New York City. NOW we understand why northern Europe can be so cold in the winter!
July 7 found us back on the road and heading south toward our ultimate destination on Britain’s southern seacoast. We took our time, followed back roads, driving past Oxford, and then and finally winding up in the medieval city of York, where we spent the night and had opportunity to do a bit of exploring around city central the following morning:
York (as well as Bath, below) is quite a tourist city due to its historical architecture, so getting into and out, and finding a parking place or place to spend the night can sometimes be frustrating.
The following day found us spending time in the Roman-era city of Bath site of, who would have thought, public hot spring baths and beautiful Roman structures built during the occupation:
As we headed on down the road, with no particular evening destination in mind, we realized we were just a few miles from fabled Stonehenge. I had always wanted to see this, but have to say I was seriously disappointed. I suppose from pictures I had imagined the stone structures to be much larger than they actually were, and perhaps to be in some pastoral, remote location. Well, in fact, Stonehenge IS in a fairly rural area, but it sits in a field just 80 yards or so from the highway. Here’s the deal… you can pay about $20 each at the parking lot on the other side of the road from the site, which gives you the privilege of walking through a tunnel underneath the road, then up to the site, but only within 30-40 yards, as the actual site is roped off. Or, you can just park, scoot across the highway, stand at the fence, and take pictures of the structures from there. We opted for the latter, and here’s the result… check another attraction off the list!
Three major destinations in a single day was enough, so we checked into a non-descript hotel in a non-descript city of Andover to recharge our batteries.
On July 9 we had reservations in what would become our ‘home away from home’ for the next 5 days: A little B&b in the tiny coastal village of Bosham. Since our checkin time wasn’t until the afternoon, we decided to check out a WWII aviation museum at Tangemere Airfield, now closed, but an active coastal base during the war. It turned out to be surprisingly well presented… several actual British Spitfire aircraft with the magnificent Rols-Royce Merlin engines, but accompanied by a lot of artifacts and history. After a couple of hours, and fully educated on Britain’s air war, we found a nice little seaside restaurant to contribute a few more US dollars to:
After lunch, we made our way down to Bosham and presented ourselves to our hosts, Annette and Chris Jones. Here, for the next 5 days, we were treated royally, including the standard “full English breakfast” each morning (typically includes: cereal or porridge, yogurt, fried ham [known as bacon in England], fried egg, broiled tomato, toast, and, of course, tea!)
Our hosts grew up in the town of Bosham, have lived there all their lives, and have operated this one-guest-at-a-time B&B in their home for some 29 years. Interestingly, in Bosham, there are no street numbers. Instead, each house has a NAME, and that’s how mail is addressed… in our case: Good Hope, Delling Lane, Bosham!
We couldn’t have asked for a more stereotypical English coastal Village than Bosham. Yes, they REALLY DO have thatched-roof homes here.
The entire village must have consisted of some 100 houses at best, and we were able to cover every street in just about an hours walk. Fortunately, right down the block from our cottage was the Berkeley Inn, a perfect British pub.
Like most English villages, life here centers around the church. This 17th century one here was really spectacular, and placed just adjacent to a canal which runs right through the village, once powering a mill right at the ocean’s edge.
Of course, Bosham is a coastal village, and, as such, much activity centers around the bay where it is located. The water in this bay recedes significantly at low tide, leaving many boats high and dry, and then flooding the ocean-side road at high tide!
July 10 arrived a perfect sunny day in England, with temperatures to dream of for us sun-baked Texas summer refugees. The maximum temps throughout our trip were in the high 70’s, so we enjoyed a nice respite from summer heat. Our plan was to meet up (again) with our friends Dietmar and Britta, who were flying in a second time from Munich to London, then taking the train to Reading (pronounced “redding”). Our foursome’s intended destination for the day was the home Steven John a British airline pilot and his wife Meg, whom we’d met on a previous occasion in Munich.
Dorothee and I decided to get an early start so we could check out fabled Brighton Beach. We found the Brit definition of beach is somewhat different to ours, most all the beaches consisting of pebbles, not sand, and strictly for viewing, not swimming (brrrr). Many of the coastal beaches have these little permanent beach gazebo-thingies built along the road edge, where owners can sit and view the ocean and be protected from the cold wind! At Brighton, we also had the opportunity to watch a cricket match:
To view other pictures from the English countryside, CLICK HERE.
Right on schedule, we found ourselves in Reading, and, amazingly, Dietmar called us on his cellphone (his “handy” in German-speak) just as we were attempting to negotiate the tightest parking garage imaginable… turned out they had just arrived via train, and were only 2 blocks away. We retrieved our good friends, and headed off the Steven and Meg’s incredible home in Speen. Their home is a converted old school house, centuries old, and located just adjacent to an ancient cemetery, church, and Benedictine monastery.
On our arrival, Meg was still at work, so Steven took all of us out for lunch at a great little canal-side pub not far away. The food, beer, view, and friendship was great!
After lunch we walked along the canal a bit, and examined several hand-operated canal locks. We learned that there is a whole maze of canals that cover England, and you could actually make your way from the southern coast all the way up to Scotland given enough time and gas. Long and narrow canal “barges” ply up and down these canals, mostly for sightseeing or pleasure. Many people actually live permanently aboard one of these unique crafts. We had a long conversation with one such boat resident, who was temporarily tied up near the pub. He told us he had retired, sold his home, and lived exclusively on his boat.!
Here’s one of the locks. To operate, the barge pilot pulls his boat into the lock, then uses a special handle-lever to open the gates on one end, and close those on the other. Apparently there are many,many locks that a boat owner has to negotiate to get anywhere.
After lunch, and back at Steven’s house, he called up and arranged for us to attend a short prayer service at the Benedictine chapel just blocks down the street. Turns out that the “order” of monks residing at this particular location has dwindled over the years to the point that there are only 4 left! They have a beautiful residential area, as well as their own chapel. Including the 5 of us, there were 7 in attendance for prayer, and 3 of the monks.
Late afternoon was spent in the garden of Steven and Meg’s beautiful home, and then we were treated to a great meal that evening.
After dinner, we bid farewell to the pilots, left Dietmar and Britta in the hands of Steven, and made our way back to our “home” in Bosham.
Friday morning, July 11, found us up at the crack of dawn, eager for the first of 3 days at the Goodwood Festival of Speed. We’d heard on the radio to expect huge traffic delays, so we decided to try to beat the crowds to the festival. Sure enough, even though Bosham is some 10 miles or less from the Goodwood estate, a long line starting forming not too far from our departure. But first, a little bit about the Goodwood Festival:
We’re told that Lord March, current owner and resident of Goodwood Estate, inherited a financial mess some 15+ years ago… property taxes alone were threatening to jeopardize ownership of this incredible estate. An automotive road race track had been in use for many years since being built shortly after WWII in 1948, but had fallen on hard times, and closed its gates to motor racing in 1966. The current “Earl of March” conceived the idea of a festival of speed around 15 years ago, to raise money to pay property taxes. He was a motorsport enthusiast himself, and persuaded a number of top-name drivers and cars to show up for the first festival.
The primary focus of the event is a 1.2 mile one-way track with numerous turns. Throughout the 3-day event, cars from every era of racing and street cred race up this track (literally UP, and the end of the track is at the top of the hill overlooking the estate). Grandstands line the track on both sides for spectating.
Over the years this event has grown to be one of the premier autosport events in the world, with some 100,000+ attendees annually. There are many auto-related vendor booths, along with incredible displays by all the major auto manufacturers. Ticket holders have complete access to all the paddock areas, giving an up close look at exotic automobiles ranging from early 1900’s racing vehicles, right down to last year’s Formula One cars.
Thus, today, Goodwood Estate is truly financially stable and making a mint from the various activities and festivals available throughout the year… this includes Horseracing, the Goodwood Revival (a vintage race car racing event held on the old, restored round track), golfing, a hotel, outdoor art gallery, and even an airport (site of a WWII airfield).
In addition, a rally car circuit has been constructed through the forest at the top of the property, and world-class rally champions race their multi-hundred-thousand-dollar vehicles through the forest.
We found 3 days were not really enough to fully cover all the action going on at Goodwood, but we did truly have an overwhelming dose of everything automotive!
A few favorite pictures from the event are shown below.. but, before you go, be sure and checkout the exciting video from some past events on the GOODWOOD WEBSITE. In addition, the full set of favorite pictures from Goodwood can be viewed by CLICKING HERE.
Stirling Moss above, driving an Aston Martin DB3
The last day of the Goodwood Festival also marked our last day at “Good Hope” cottage in Bosham. The following morning, we took a short detour to Portsmouth Harbor, checked out some early sailing vessels, then headed on up the motorway back to our final overnight in London.
Just around the corner from our London Hotel we stumbled onto a nice little jazz supper club, and made reservations for the evening. The group turned out to be an all-female jazz trio, who entertained us during dinner.
In true musician fashion, I went up and spoke to the group at the break… Turned out, two of the members had been to Austin before and played there… And, ironically, the pianist told me her husband was playing later the same week at Antone’s in downtown Austin!… To complete the circle, after we returned, I got together with a drummer I know, and he mentioned what a great group from Britain he had seen at Antone’s on Wed. night! 6 degrees of separation!
On to our last dinner: Our little supper club served truly “local style” Scottish fare, so I had to take the plunge and try the much-maligned Scottish “Haggis”… a kind of blood sausage made from, apparently, all the leavings on the floor!
By July 16, we were safely back home in our quiet rural environment..full of good memories and happy to be back in a land where there is plenty of elbow room!