An Englishman At Home

An Englishman At Home

After our amazing “Roman holiday” just a few days earlier, this trip to the UK was always going to struggle to match the highs that Italy provided.

Certainly from a weather perspective England cannot hope to compete with the seemingly never ending Italian sunshine – and it never really tried! We were in the UK for 10 days this time around and only a couple of those gave us sunshine & warm temperatures.

There’s a saying in England that locals often use when talking about an English summer that goes something like this, “Oh, summer? Yes, I think we had that last Tuesday!”

Still, we weren’t here for the weather. The main reasons for this visit was to spend a few days with my youngest brother, Greg, his wife Jini & their 12 month old daughter Lana (whom I had seen the previous October but Iris was yet to meet).

LONDON

We flew into Heathrow from Frankfurt, where Greg picked us up & took us back to their lovely home in the Horley countryside. Our first day was spent catching up on our respective lives & making up for lost time with Lana by giving her as many hugs as is possible without causing upset!

The next few days were spent with leisurely mornings & pub lunches! Our only excursions being to Windsor Castle & to Dover – both of which were really interesting.

Windsor Castle is still a Royal residence but has many areas open to the public. The day we visited the Queen was not in residence (so we didn’t have a chance to catch up for a cuppa!) but there was plenty to see & do. It’s certainly a popular spot!

Too many photo opportunities to mention – my favourite being able to do some “Cannon surfing” – a sport I have taken up in earnest since arriving to Europe in 2015!

Dover was another day out (after a lateish breakfast) – we actually had a walk through some of the old WWII tunnels that were used as a communications HQ & where the first installations of British RADAR were established to provide advance warning of approaching German Luftwaffe bombing raids.

Also had a chance to pop into London (Horley is on the outskirts, a little over an hour away by train) to have lunch with an Australian colleague, Josh Smith, whom I have not seen in over five years & who Iris has never met!

We had lunch in a quaint London pub before heading into Leicester Square where we were to meet up for dinner with another former colleague whom I worked with during my travel industry years in the 1980’s. He had just made it to London from Italy & was staying a few days before heading home to Australia. Iris had not met him before either, so it was good to catch up! The evening went by so quickly &, in what seemed like minutes not hours, we were bidding each other safe travels as we headed to the Tube station to make our way back to Greg & Jini’s.

Four days flew by & it was time to say a sad cheerio to Greg & Jini (& the adorable Lana). Back to Heathrow to pick up a hire car which we would be using for the rest of this trip.

 

DORCHESTER

Next stop, Dorchester, where we are going to be attending the wedding of one of Iris’ colleagues in Frankfurt, Ian.

The drive from London was pretty straightforward – I am familiar with the area as I used to live in Southampton in my teens (before I moved to Australia). Only took us a couple of hours to make our way to our accommodation – an AirBnB in a suburb/town just outside of Dorchester itself, called “Poundbury”. It’s an entirely new housing subdivision that is completely built in the classic Georgian style.

Apparently, it was a project that Prince Charles championed (he is a major landholder in the area). It seemed almost surreal to be driving around this Georgian looking estate – I almost felt like I was on a movie lot!

Once Iris & I had introduced ourselves to our host & got our bags inside, we headed straight out to meet up with some of our friends who were also attending the wedding at a local pub, “The Brewhouse & Kitchen”. Had a really nice meal in surroundings that only Ian was familiar with as the rest of us were “Outsiders”!

The following day is the big day of the wedding. Ian & his wife Jenny have only been in Germany for 12 months. They were actually married in Malaysia 18 months earlier but Ian’s family in the UK were unable to attend – so this was more a “Celebration” than an official wedding. They held the event at the local Town Hall function centre. Whilst parking was nightmare (there wasn’t any!), the venue was gorgeous.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t kind & the planned gathering pre-ceremony at the local rose gardens had to be abandoned due to rain. Plan B was the Town Hall reception rooms so we went straight there & consoled ourselves with some alcohol!

It was great to meet Ian’s family – & Jenny’s! Her parents & her brother (with his wife & two children) were there & the afternoon & evening was great fun!

The next couple of days Iris & I spent exploring the local sights & countryside. We first of all went to West Bay, famous in England for two things – being a part of the “Jurassic walk” region (so named because of all of the dinosaur bones that can be found in the area) & for being the location for the TV series, “Broadchurch”

It was blowing almost a gale the entire day but I was determined to walk along the beach & along the famous cliff which featured in the Broadchurch TV series – Iris was less than impressed! All she wanted to do was find a cosy pub & get out of the cold wind. She kept muttering about the irony of the term “English summer”.

We did end up finding a great pub where we had a nice counter lunch before we headed off to Weymouth for some more sight seeing. The coastal roads here boast some fantastic ocean views, so we stopped along the way a few times to take advantage of the photo opportunities.

We spent some time at Nothe Fort, a coastal fortress that has been converted into a maritime museum before finding a great fish n chip shop on the river in Weymouth where we had an early dinner – delicious!

Next day we took a look at Maiden Castle – the name is a little misleading as it’s actually more of a hill fort, not “Castley” at all. Interesting though. So was the “Keep”, a former armoury that has been converted to a military museum which records the areas contributions to the various British Army regiments & campaigns – I even got to dress up as a “Redcoat”!

After that it was back to our lodgings where we prepared ourselves for the next leg of our journey. Tomorrow we are off to Cardiff in Wales!

WALES

After breakfast we packed the car & headed west, it takes a little over two & a half hours to drive to Cardiff from Dorchester – we drove straight through, only stopping for a light lunch& arrived to our AirBnB a little after 3pm.

We are spending three days here, which should give us plenty of time to see what the area has to offer.

Of most interest are the castles for which Wales is famous, thanks largely to King Edward, who built quite a few & remodelled many more in a show of strength to the locals as to who was in charge!

Cardiff Castle, must be the only castle that is so close to a modern city centre & this provides some great contrasting views of the modern versus the old. We spent a few hours here exploring the buildings & grounds – all of which are in very good condition. The castle grounds also house a small military museum (yes, another chance to dress up was taken!), as well as different buildings which illustrate the 1,000 plus years that the castle has been around. It was handed back to the people of Cardiff by the then owner just after WWII.

Interestingly, you can even see the Millenium Stadium from the top of one of the castle’s old towers & looking out over he grounds to the city is amazing as your mind struggles to rationalize the old buildings with the new city skyline – it’s a bit surreal!

Rom there we went to Castell Coch. This is a 19th-century Gothic Revival castle built above the village of Tongwynlais about 30 minutes from the city centre. Although it is a “Modern” castle you would think it was built in Medieval times, it is that authentic.

Our last castle for the day was Caerphilly Castle & that was truly spectacular! Large moat (still containing water) several building battlement lines, some ruined towers (where old foundations have given in to the ravages of time) & one tower that had not collapsed but was at a considerable angle – you felt that just one slight push would be enough to topple it.

On the approach to the main entrance In the castle grounds is a modern sculpture of a dragon, positioned to look like it is sleeping. Very realistic & a great backdrop for a photo.

Tonight we headed out to a local pub for dinner, it is part of a chain but the food is cheap & the atmosphere is great. I indulge in a couple of pints of the local cider – delicious! Iris sticks with her Rose wine.

Our second full day in Cardiff we head down to Cardiff Bay, a popular spot with both locals & tourists which features a marina, shops & a host of restaurants & cafes. It is also home to the Dr Who Experience – an aircraft hangar sized building which has been set up as a museum on all things to do with the TV series “Dr Who”.

As an avid SciFi nut & long time Dr Who fan (I can remember watching the early episodes in 1964 & being terrified of the Daleks!) it’s a must do for me. Iris, being the trooper that she is, agrees to tag along with me. It does not disappoint, between exhibits of actual screen used props, Daleks & TARDIS consoles from years gone by I was entertained for hours. They also feature a live action “Experience” where you are involved in trying to stop the Master from taking over the universe!

Aimed at the younger generation it is still fun and very well done. Unfortunately, the whole exhibit is to close within a month of our visit so you can no longer see all of this – I’m just glad that I got the chance!

Tomorrow we will be heading to London as our England journey comes to an end. We manage to fit in lunch with my cousin Anne (she lives in Barking on the outskirts of the city) which is always a pleasure. She is a retired schoolteacher so her & Iris always have plenty of things to discuss!

After lunch we head to Heathrow. Luckily, we had plenty of time up our sleeve because returning the car was a nightmare! Due to some extremely poor signage (read that as none!) I ended up travelling incircles trying to find the drop off centre, only to end up at the wrong depot & have to back track to the right one, which was only a few hundred metres from where I had dropped Iris off with our luggage!

Thanks to a really nice check counter woman, who allowed Iris to check in both hers & my luggage, I was able to run in and grab my boarding pass & we made the flight – but only just! Iris was panicked that she would be travelling to Frankfurt without me!

So, we may have had poor weather (for a summer stay anyhow) but we didn’t let that stop us from having a really good time – more experiences to add to our ever growing list on this European adventure we have been on since July 2015

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