This is not quite how I thought that this blog would operate. In the past this has been for the exclusive use of Kruger Park trips. However, a number of you have asked about our recent trip to UK so I will share our experiences with you. If this is not really of interest to you please move on and know that Kruger reports should start flowing again in January.
Our third son, Gareth, and wife Sarah are now resident in Lincolnshire. On 10th September their firstborn, James, made his entry and of course we had to make the trip over to be with then during this momentous time in their lives. Initially we thought of travelling up into Scotland and then across to our friends in Germany but costs led to a rethink.
So on Friday, 16th September, we boarded a Virgin Atlantic flight in Jo’burg and flew direct to Heathrow, London arriving at 5am the following morning. Thence by the Underground to Kings Cross. I muse how this has hardly changed from fifty years ago when I first rode on this incredibly efficient transport system. At Kings Cross we wait a couple of hours for our connecting train northward to Lincoln and I have time to note the cleanliness, efficiency and order – something that we Saffers so appreciate. At 10am we are speeding through the countryside aboard one of these amazing trains that seems to be effortlessly moving at 160kpm – which I suppose will make the Germans and Japanese chuckle. After taking a connecting train, we we finally reach Lincoln at midday, everything timed to the minute. We are met by Sarah’s Dad, Gordon, who drives us to Bardney, a little village, some 20kms south-east of Lincoln.
This incredibly flat area of England was once flooded by the sea but was drained long ago by a network of canals and drains. This allowed for vegetable and grain crops to be grown on this most fertile of lands – surely the bread basket of England.
We then joyously meet the real object of our trip, Gareth, Sarah and baby James.
What a blessing are these grandchildren and little James now makes that number six.
We meet too Pete and Kath Atkins who have so kindly mentored and cared for Gareth and Sarah whilst they have been in England. This remarkable couple have converted an old 16th century farmstead into a home named Lindisfarne and consisting of the Barn and the Stables. We spend our first night in the latter.
Sarah’s parents, Gordon and Judy, have already been in attendance for a week, up from Devon and tomorrow, Sunday, they return home. We are going to give G, S & J space for a few days whilst we are going to be taking off in Sarah’s car for a while.
We set off early heading westward across England. Our destination is Chester near Liverpool in Lancashire. How typical of England is the scenery along the way. Green leafy lined roads with glimpses of lush green fields set within their hedgerows. Every so often our road crosses over one of the many freeways heading to the north and despite it being Sunday, these are choked with heavy vehicles. Our 200km journey takes us all of three hours and I am struck by the courtesy of the Brit drivers. So considerate and polite unlike their aggressive SA counterparts.
We reach Renette’s cousin Gail, husband Kevin and daughter Jenna mid afternoon. They live some 10km outside of the town amid the forests and tranquility that is rural England.
We are taken on a drive from where we look across to the mountains of Northern Wales and then northwest towards nearby Liverpool. Kevin and Gail take us for a walk in a 1000 acre forest and the sight of single girls walking their dogs along secluded pathways tells a story in itself. Goodness but rural England has a lot going for it.
But time is short and after a lovely evening of reminisces we set out for the Lake District after breakfast, We take the M6 motorway to the north and after an hour or two turn off westward towards Windermere. Sluggish pheasants are often to be seen ahead and often as a pile of feathers. Today is Queen Elizabeth’s funeral and the country has come to a total stop. Everything including petrol stations is closed and flags fly at half mast. We arrive at picturesque Windermere where we will spend the night and wander about the quaint streets.
In 1973 I can remember visiting Sawrey where Beatrix Potter wrote her lovely children’s stories. Then, one could just walk in and out of the house at will. Not so now. With Beatrix Potter now so popular in the US and Japan, one must book and join a queue to get in. A friendly maintenance man, Rob, tells us that we cannot access the place as it is fully booked which is disappointing for Renette.
Leaving Hilltop Farm behind us, we cross over Lake Windermere on a ferry.
We now leave the Lake District and head east into the Yorkshire Dales. Some of you may have enjoyed the books written by James Herriot, a vet who became famous for his writings some fifty years ago. We have both shared and enjoyed these oh so enjoyable stories which were set in these Dales and one could say then that our visit is part of a pilgrimage.
Upon entering our first dale near Hawes, we stop for a coffee and note a sign asking us to pay 4 GPD to view “the highest waterfall in Great Britain”. A little investigation tells me that the height of this waterfall is all of 30m and a trickle at that. Which rather sums up Britain. No spectacular natural wonders but rather a subtle, soft beauty. We keep our money in our pockets and set off to explore further.
We turn left and take the road over the Buttertubs Pass down into the Swaledale valley.
Of course a feature of the Yorkshire Dales are the stone walls that demarcate the fields and stretch from the valleys up the hillsides to the fell tops. I read that the estimated total length of these walls in the Dales is about 8,000Km’s – a mind boggling achievement for a time when there was so little mechanised help.
We wind our way down the valley crossing over many stone arched bridges along the way. At Reeth we pause awhile, then retrace our steps before climbing over Grinton Moor to the adjourning Wensleydale. The roads here are all tarred but single tracked winding between the stone walls. With our way blocked by a large truck, I reverse to find space to allow it to pass and am amazed to see it is a Bidfood truck, an SA food company that has interests in UK (and of which I own a few shares).
We next visit the Bolton Castle which was built in the 13th century and which has remained privately owned BY THE SAME (SCROPE) FAMILY TO THIS DAY. When it comes to history then the Brits have every reason to laugh at us Saffers whose largest city, Jo’burg, was founded in 1886. Rather I keep quiet about their waterfall.
Our destination for the night is “The Wheatsheaf Inn” at Carperby in Wensleydale. It was in this same inn 81 years ago that James Herriot and Helen spent their honeymoon.
A really beautiful day dawns and after breakfast we travel about the area.
The third televised series of Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” was recently shot in the town of Grassington in another dale to the south. Knowing that only a typical Dale village would be selected for this honour, we decide to travel there and are well rewarded.
We have our usual cappuccino and again grumble to ourselves that the English cappuccino cannot compare with ours in SA. The English also have the annoying habit of sprinkling chocolate over our coffee and we learn to ask them to desist. Today I ordered a scone and was almost served with a fishcake until the confusion was rectified. We travel eastward leaving the dales and heading for Thirsk where the Herriot Veterinary practice was actually situated.
We spend the night in The Golden Fleece Inn situated in the central town square. An elderly lady tells me that she has lived for forty years in Thirsk and that “Siegfried Farnon” regularly treated her cat.
Thursday and Friday, 22/23rd
A call from Gareth informs us that Grandparenting duties are to be resumed. As I collect the car in the carpark a group of uniformed pupils pass by on their way to school – all openly smoking. Oh dear, I suppose this is a part of England that we are not seeing.. So we leave Thirsk and travel southward back to Lincolnshire amongst the heavily congested traffic on the A1 freeway. The UK’s economy may be teetering but the number of heavily laden trucks on the roads suggests activity to me. .
Back in Bardney we find all is well with baby James, Gareth and Sarah. We take up residence with Pete and Kath Atkins this time in the main Barn house. This remarkable couple have made a superb home out of a derelict farmstead and we are treated royally therein. Pete is a historian and takes us to the remains of an abbey that stood in Bardney in the 600’s which for us Saffers is quite difficult to comprehend. It becomes apparent too how community minded are Pete and Kath. One of their creations is the “Open Door” cafe in the middle of the village that provides employment for some and an outlet for the baking skills of others – all for no profit.
Gareth has spent some time teaching in Lincoshire. However, he also has a passion for cricket and what turned out as a pleasant pastime is now central to his life. He is now “YouTubing” his English Village cricket fulltime and with already 55,000 followers he is making more than he was teaching. This is all rather new to us old-timers but as the old adage goes “Nothing ventured, nothing gained”.
The first of Gareth’s weekend cricket matches takes place on Saturday at Woodhall Spa some 20Km from Bardney.
Gareth has one of those days when the ball hits the middle of the bat and he reels off a really classy 57 runs. Sadly this does not prevent his side going down.
On Sunday the cricket match is at Aisthorpe just north of Lincoln and this is a very different venue. The field is fashioned out of undulating farmland and the pitch is a real “cabbage patch”.
As far as the cricket goes, as so often happens after the heroics of yesterday, Gareth early on faces an impossibly lifting ball and is out for nothing – but his team still wins comfortably.
Gareth and I leave the ground and soon in the fading light, we experience a puncture. This should be no problem except a stubborn anti-theft locking nut will not budge. And here the English character shows itself. Four of Gareth’s teammates in their cars, park behind Gareth and vow not to leave him until he is sorted. This goes on for a good hour but it is Sunday evening and the chance of telephoned help diminishes all the time. Eventually the teammates must go but not before a police car takes up their position behind us. Eventually, we trundle the car into a nearby parking bay and leave it there for the night whilst kindly Pete Atkins comes all the way from Bardney to rescue us. All rather stressful but the English folk could not have been more considerate and helpful.
We drop Sarah off at the Lincoln Maternity Hospital for running repairs and then head back to Aisthorpe to rescue the car. A helpful mechanic has the wheel off in no time.
Today we are going to do some real touring with a rapidly strengthening Sarah acting as tour guide. We are heading for Lincoln Cathedral and no GPS is required to find it. Perched on a low hill, it is visible from miles away. Parking nearby we make our way through the old city streets and then through an arch.
The sight beyond just takes one’s breath away. The vast front facade of this great structure soars above us and as always I just marvel at the fortitude of those who went before. How did they without motorised equipment manage to produce something so colossal? I for one am mighty proud of my heritage.
After morning tea in the Cathedral cafe, we move to the adjacent Castle built by William the Conqueror beginning in 1068. So fascinating is this castle and its rich history that I know if I lived in England I would become immersed in its past.
After an outstanding morning we leave the castle, have lunch and then return home to Bardney.
All too soon our flying visit comes to an end as today we fly home to SA. At 2.30pm Gareth drops us at Lincoln station where we take the superb trains to Kings Cross, the Underground to Heathrow and then take off on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Jo’burg.
My lasting memory of the trip (after meeting young James (Jimmy)) was the courtesy, kindness and helpfulness that was showered upon us around England. From our Bardney hosts, shop assistants, train staff, Inn hosts, policemen, cricketers – everyone could not have been more warm and caring towards us. And the driving standards I experienced just reflected this – considerate and able to a man. I am well aware that less pleasant facets exist in modern UK but all I am saying is that we encountered not one negative incident throughout our trip.