England Sept’2023

England Sept’2023

Again, those Kruger fans for whom our recent UK trip holds no interest, please move on.

Now that our third son, Gareth, is permanently living in England, we have organised ten year UK visas for ourselves. Which literally means that we can now step onto the first available plane – which is what we virtually did. During our six week Kruger trip, we received a call from England and made our plans. On Tuesday, 29th August we boarded an evening Emirates 380 plane at OT Airport and headed for Dubai. Besides being the meeting place for so many air travellers, Dubai is also the meeting place of many viruses and within hours my throat is on fire. Dubai airport of course is something to behold – vast, immaculate and superbly organised. We catch a connecting flight to Stanstead Airport, London purely because it is closest to Gareth in Lincolnshire.

I am not sure that this was a wise move as Stanstead was surprisingly inefficient. We take nearly two hours to clear through Passport Control and then find that one of our suitcases has gone missing. After searching for another hour and a half, we finally find that someone had removed the case from the carousel and placed it unseen against a wall. So, by the time we collect our hire car, we are running very late. I may add that I just cannot sleep on planes so together with my sore throat and a thick head, I am in poor shape as we travel the two hours northwards. Thank goodness for SatNav which brings us safely to Bardney near Lincoln. And then a happy reunion with Gareth, Sarah and little James.

How beautiful is rural England and Lincolnshire in particular with its low lying, flat fenland. I constantly marvel at the history of the country and its incredible achievements. Like so much of England, Lincolnshire is criss-crossed by canals on which barges provided the transport for the Industrial Revolution – before the steam engine superseded them. How was it possible that Irish navvies, with only shovels, could build up these levees which stretch over such vast distances? Coming from indolent Africa, I am in awe of the endeavour that went into building our civilization.

This is a lock linking two canals a couple of Km’s outside Bardney

We are going to be spending a week with Gareth and Sarah and thereafter we will visit Sarah’s parents down in Devon. Then we will tour the South-West of England for a week.  You may remember that Gareth is playing cricket here and is “You Tubing” – a concept that is difficult for us old-timers to grasp. He already has over 100,000 subscribers and is fortunate to be able to indulge something that he loves so much. Saturday 2nd Sept and Sunday 3rd are cricket days and Gareth turns out for the nearby Woodhall Spa team which plays in the Lincolnshire league. He does very well this weekend and in perfect autumnal weather, he scores 83* and 45.

It strikes me that England should produce world beating cricket teams given the strong grassroots base that the game is built on over here.

We visit again the stupendous Lincoln Cathedral and go on a guided tour. These English tour guides are so good at explaining the rich history of the region.

Something else that the English are so good at are these animal farms that cater for young children. We visit nearby “Rand Farm” which suspiciously hints of an SA connection and where young James is introduced to a variety of farm animals – amongst them some “Boer Goats”.

On Wednesday, 6th September, we leave Bardney after having spent such a happy week. We set out on the four hour trip down to Somerset where we will be overnighting en route to northern Devon. Our hired VW Golf is really an amazing car and no longer the bottom of the range type of car that it used to be. We travel along choked roads and motorways past Birmingham, Cheltenham and Bristol and end up at Weston-Super-Mare where we overnight in an immaculate B&B. This rather strange name actually means “west town above the sea” and historically has been a popular seaside resort. After parking the car overnight in an open air carpark, we return to it next morning to find it strangely covered with sandy blotches.

I am a little non-plussed by this as England is not at all dusty and there was no wind overnight. Later in the day someone approaches me and volunteers the information that this is in fact the unusual phenomenon of “Sahara Sand”. This is confirmed in the news which explains that dust storms in the Sahara Desert reach up into the upper atmosphere from where the dust drifts northwards over Europe where it collects and falls in raindrops. I find this really interesting and was unaware of it.

Thursday, 7th          Britain just does not have the spectacular natural wonders of southern Africa – the Cape and KZN Mountains, Kruger, Vic Falls, the true deserts, the wild beaches. But what it does have is plenty of quaint, soft beauty and today we visit some of  this on the way to Devon.

The Quantock Hills and forests of Somerset.

Thereafter we travel along the northern Devonshire coastline until we come to the beautiful towns of Lynton and Lynmouth.

Lynmouth – so typical of the south-west England fishing villages

Here we come across a funicular – a cable railway that links Lynmouth and Lynton.

This  ingenious system was built in 1890 and is fully powered by water. The two cars are counter weighted rather like the cable car on Table Mountain. Upon reaching the top of the climb, a large water tank under the car is filled with water whilst the car at the bottom is emptied. Thus the weight difference drives the system and the lighter car rides to the top – whereupon the process is reversed. And this has been going on for  over a hundred and thirty years using no more than stream water to power it.

Thereafter in the late afternoon we proceed through Lynton to Lee Abbey, a few miles beyond. Lee Abbey is a sizeable Christian Retreat/Conference centre and Gordon (Sarah’s Dad) is the warden here. We are going  to spend three days with them. The road to the Abbey takes one through some beautiful scenery.

Valley of Rocks. It was at this exquisitely sited cricket ground that Gareth scored a century last year.

The Abbey itself is situated in the most picturesque of places above the cliffs of this rocky coastline.

All around England I am in wonder of the grandeur of so many of their buildings It seems to me that in the nineteenth century they were incapable of building anything pokey or shoddy.

We spend the most happy couple of days with Gordon and Judy, taking off to look at the local sights and then enjoying their company in the evening.

One of the many narrow tracks one travels on always hoping not to meet oncoming traffic. Here the road takes one down into a well wooded “coombe” – so common along the coast here.

Sunday, 10th        Today we bid our sad farewells and proceed westward along the coast. After enjoying such good weather, today we go through some heavy squalls which remove the last of the Sahara Sand from the car. These type of dull weather conditions are not conducive to scenic touring so we press on down to Bodmin where we overnight.

The next day we call at the very attractive St Ives. The springtide tidal range here is about 3.3m (as opposed to the 1,8m in SA) which is always very apparent in these UK fishing harbours.

As we continue, the weather brightens and by the time we reach St Just near Land’s End things are much more attractive. In my youth I worked on many mines in southern Africa and I was always aware of the famous tin mines of Cornwall. In true Brit tradition, they have turned these mines into an excellent museum which I spent a few hours looking over.

Again, I marvel that with the most rudimentary of machinery, mining extended 550m below sea-level and 2Km out under the sea. One plaque in particular caught my attention – that remembering Frances Oates – who started off as a lowly miner here on the Cornish mines and rose to later become Chairman of De Beers in South Africa. I note that his picture has been defaced, no doubt by a zealous woke adherent – making a stand against this wicked capitalist. Despite this, Frances Oates must have been an exceptionally talented man.

After leaving the mines behind us, we proceed to the mandatory Land’s End which of course is seething with tourists.

That evening we landed up in Falmouth at the only substandard accommodation that we experienced on the trip. Actually, the cheapest accommodation on offer in England is usually very acceptable, about 100 Pounds/night.

Tuesday, 12th      Our luck is in today as it is so important that we see the beautiful Cornish coast in good conditions. I may add that exactly 50 years ago in 1973, I toured here on a motorbike so the urge to come back has been quite strong.

The lovely town of Mevagissey
Small car ferries often take one across the many inlets along this coast.
Touristy Polpero which I remember so well from 1973.
We took a boat trip out of Polpero a short distance along the coast.

The weather then deteriorated and having already seen the best on offer, we rapidly moved eastward. As a diversion, we headed up into the moors near Plymouth. I may add that it was from Plymouth that the Grant family emigrated to Durban, SA in 1850.

Dartmoor Prison – even that is grandly built.

Next morning we press on into the county of Dorset and at Weymouth we stop off to stroll along the beach.

Near Weymouth is this figure of King George 111 riding his horse. Weymouth was his favourite resort.

Then on to Lulworth Cove.

Thursday, 14th              Here we are in a quandary. Should we push on and go to the Isle Of Wight or should we go to the Cotswolds. We decide on the latter and in two hours time we are there. A good central base from where to see the Cotswolds is Chipping Norton (Chipping means market town) where we are fortunate to find excellent accommodation. Just outside town is the farm – Diddly Squat. Some of you may know of Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear fame. He bought a farm here and has produced a great TV series recounting his very amusing farm experiences. He certainly has a large fan base as evidenced by the queues and the packed carpark.

Friday is a  beautiful day and we set out to explore. Of course the main attraction in the Cotswolds (rolling hills with sheep) are the quaint villages with their distinctive golden limestone walls.

The Slaughters – which strangely means marshy land (Slough).

At Bourton-on-the-Water we decide to buy an ice-cream and here again England provides surprises. Now you would think that you couldn’t be more unworldly than an ice-cream vendor. The fellow below was very well spoken and had travelled to KZN in SA and been to Hluhluwe (which he pronounced correctly) and  even dived to view sharks at Sordwana Bay. Extraordinary.

Sunday, 17th              We are starting to think of home and today we head for Guildford in preparation for our flight home tomorrow from Gatwick Airport. Quite by chance I book into the “Percy Arms” near Guildford and upon booking in, find that it is owned and run by Saffas. Furthermore, today SA play against Romania in the RWC and all the Bok regalia is out on display.

Percy Arms is famous for its traditional English Sunday lunch – roast beef and Yorkshire pud included. But on the menu I notice also Bobotie, boerewors, biltong, vetkoek etc. The place is packed and the lunchtime queue stretches to the back of beyond. The English love it. The poor host is a rather crestfallen man who is actually very good at his job. All is explained though when I find out that he is……. Romanian and has to endue much ragging from the rugby fans.

Monday, 18th            Before we head for Gatwick Airport, I have one more nostalgic call to make. In 1973 I worked on a farm near Guildford for three months – owned by Sir Freddie Laker – the Richard Branson of his time. What happy carefree days those were and it was rather sad to find the place rather run down.


Thereafter off to Gatwick where we pass our time before meeting our Emirates plane in the evening.

Again, what a lovely trip and how I love old England. Fortunately, our travels keep us away from the negatives of modern UK and we were privileged to enjoy such a pleasant time.