- Category: Steve's Blog - 2010
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"I saw her tail” James exclaimed. “I saw her, I saw her”. My son insists he has seen the monster of the Loch from the battlements of Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. My only doubt is that with each retelling he seems to have seen more and more of the monster.... funny that! [he is only 3 after all]
After just 4 days in Edinburgh we decided to head north for a few days. The Caravan Club site was full for the next three days and we had to find somewhere else to park our home, so Inverness seemed as good a place as any to visit. As it turned out we had a day of blazing sunshine to circle the Loch and spend our time looking for Nessie.
We had come to Scotland to pick up our Registration papers and insurance certificate for the car, and our Caravan Club memberships. The car documents are important to have if travelling in Europe. Without them you can run into serious trouble if pulled over by the police. Unfortunately only the Caravan Club was reliable and our registration and insurance certificates had not arrived.
Our official address in the UK is with my father’s-cousins-daughters mother in law... I think! Regardless of how we are linked, Molly has been excellent help for us and aside from picking up the documents, we were very keen to meet her and introduce ourselves properly.
Molly lives near the University which is adjacent to the old town water supply. That water supply was filled in as the city grew around it and is now magnificent parkland in the heart of the city. Edinburgh itself is equally impressive in the summer sunshine. The stone buildings and the hustle and bustle is all over seen by Edinburgh castle perched high above.
“Who owns the castle?” we asked. “Does the Queen stay there?”, “Oh no... it’s Ours!” replied Molly with some delight. That reply highlighted the fact that we were in a different country. Part of the UK, but we were in Scotland, and that is something of which the Scots are justifiably proud.
[I was reminded again some days later when a Welshman told me he would support England in the World Cup because “We aren’t playing”. It may be a United Kingdom in some respects, but in others it is an island of different countries. I recently been told some English shopkeepers don’t like accepting Scottish pounds!]
Now, I know I’ve said this in other pieces on this blog about other places we’ve been too, but Scotland, in the week we were there, is just fantastic. It was everything and a bit more of what I’d imagined. The highlands are postcard perfect [even if not that high], the lowlands so green it hurts your eyes and the cities feel like they are just the right size.
On top of that there was Loch Ness. During the of our visit the Loch went from a sunny, splendid place nestled between the mountains, to a brooding and vaguely threatening waterway as the weather turned dark and colder. The sort of place portrayed in those second rate mystery style documentaries about monsters of the deep.
As we drove around Loch Ness the history of the region seems to jump out at you. While some buildings are relatively modern, others are clearly from hundreds of years ago. On the site of Urquhart Castle there is a history of settlement that dates back around 1000 years. The small point the castle sits on is a natural vantage spot to see both up and down the Loch. The ruins of the castle are under the control of Heritage Scotland and it’s one of the areas main tourist attractions. It’s also the place the “Monster of the Lake” was first recorded many hundreds of years ago.
Unfortunately after just a week in Scotland we had to head south again the catch the ferry to France. We have managed to secure a month in Normandy House sitting for a British couple who have been based in France for the best part of 20 years. 4 weeks in a cottage a few hundred years old feeding chooks and looking after the vegetable garden is very appealing after 2 months on the move.
While France is calling leaving Scotland was something we wanted to really do. We both loved the place and want to see and do much more there. I am determined to climb Ben Nevis, and we both want to stay for a few days at John O’Groats at the very northern tip. There are Highlands to explore and there’s the Hebrides and the west coast.
We have resolved that after our stint in Europe we will catch a ferry straight back to Edinburgh and spend a fair bit more time there before heading down south again. By the time we get back it will be the end of summer. But the light will still last until late into the evening and maybe that will allow James another glimpse of Nessie’s tail.... or head... or whatever bit saw believes he saw.
- Category: Steve's Blog - 2010
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"Go On... try some!?!" she insisted. "Go on, it's beautiful". Carol was determined to get us to try one of her pork sausages. The only problem was that they were Pork and Black Pudding sausages. It's a risk you take when you accept and invitation from your Caravan Park neighbours.
"I will if you will" I told Jo. "Errr-ugh" was her short reply. But a welsh grandmother is a hard person to refuse so we both loaded our bread roll with a sausage, squirted some sauce onto it and tucked in.
What I can report is that it's not a flavour I'd go looking for. Even with the sauce and the bun and the margarine and pork you could taste the black pudding.... but it wasn't too bad, especially considering my food tastes have two basic rules. "I don't do Offal, and I don't do feet" I had firmly told Carol.
We were based at the Bridgenorth Camp ground and this was our third night in the caravan. Steve and Carol and their three young charges were our direct neighbours. Catharine, Christian and Keiron. Despite Steve and Carol only being our age they are the grandparents of the three children and their permanent carers.
What those children have missed out on with their parents, they have easily made up by having their these two take them in. They are an inspiration in the way they handle the children and the way they take their lot in life in their stride. Carol has had to give up work and Steve took a new, and less enjoyable job for the extra money. Despite the downside, the love and care in that family is obvious from the moment you meet them.
That afternoon was our first social introduction to the caravan life. It was by any measure a lovely way to spend the evening. We sat out the front of the vans with a smoky barbecue sharing cheese and wine and ....... black pudding sausages.
While the adults ate and drank, the children dodged Caravan Park traffic on their bikes and scooters. The traffic was tolerant and most drivers even waited for the kids to get off the road before driving past.
Living in a van is not something I imagined ever doing, and while I hate towing the thing, dragging our aging box on wheels behind us like a bunch of homeless wanders, once we are set up and the kettle is on and we've said “orright?” to the neighbours, it really is an easy and cheap way to live.
So far we have dragged this blessed box from Bridgenorth to Edinburgh, and now onto Inverness. We are a bit hampered with site availability because this is the busy time of year, but it does mean we keep moving. The parks are great, the facilities first class and most can be booked online. It's just the driving from one to the other that gets me.
Driving on a Motorway is an exercise in concentration in just a car. The speed limit is 70mph, but many drivers are doing 80 or more. To overtake you need to keep a good idea of what is coming up behind, and how fast it's coming. It can be frightening even in our racy little V6 wagon, so imagine throwing 1000kg of caravan into the mix.
The van gets blown all over the place like the proverbial "mad woman's sh*t" and at 50 or 60 mph that gets a bit scary. When a truck overtakes at 70mph and a theres a Barina in front doing 50mph and the cross wind is blowing the van to the right but the truck is pushing it to the left and you are closing in on the Barina and there is nowhere to go.....argh... I hate caravans!
But... when you are sitting with a Welsh couple you just made friends with, eating freshly cooked barbecue food, drinking some local wines and sitting in the afternoon sun watching the children play, mostly happily, together, the caravan life has a lot going for it.
- Category: Steve's Blog - 2010
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On our first night I wandered down the road to see what the local pub was like. I bought a beer and asked if I could have a look at the menu. The food looked great [more on that later]. Homemade pies, seafood and local game dishes and all of it for about 12 pounds a dish. It was then I looked in my pocket and realised after buying the beer I only had 10 pounds 43 pence to my name.
I had my beer and figured there was always tomorrow night, but tomorrow night turned into a week we'd all rather forget.
We'd come to Armscote village to stay in a cottage for a week, just six miles from the birth place of William Shakespeare. The cottage was great, the tiny village everything a Cotswold village should be. But Emily had brought a flu virus along for the ride.
Emily was the first to be hit. In Newquay she'd come down with a raking cough and a stream of stuff from her nose. By the time we landed in Stratford Jo had the palsy and was bedridden, Emily was ever so slowly getting better and it was just starting on James. I was managing to hold it off.... just.
Being sick in a foreign country is not fun, even when you speak the language. The drugs are different and you don't know a doctor and homesickness can set in just as quickly as a flu virus.
With everyone sick it gave me a bit of time to try to have a proper look at buying a caravan, something I'd been putting off. We've come to the conclusion that a caravan is better for us than a Campervan. With a campervan we’d have to pack up every day to go anywhere, even for bread and milk. The van will allow more freedom, and with an awning, more space.
I have to admit that I’ve been putting it off. My concern is towing the thing through Europe. Driving a RHD car on the "wrong" side of the road while towing a caravan is something I find more than a little daunting. I’m not scared of towing; I've towed lots of things over the years. I’ve towed boats, box trailers, cars, a 2 ton generator and once a gigantic advertising billboard along the Great Western Highway mixing it with the B-Doubles. None of that worried me, but a caravan in Europe does.
After just a couple of days I did find a van to buy that fits the bill. It’s a 4 berth with a big awning and by Australian standards quite cheap. We have managed to set ourselves up with a comfortable modern station wagon and a caravan for about $8500AUD. To try do get the same in Australia would set is back around 10-12 just for our car.
While I was sorting all of this out Jo was getting slowly sicker. So sick she got to the point of really needing to see a doctor. She couldn’t breathe properly and was starting to get anxious as she struggled for breath. The only place open on a Sunday morning was twenty minutes away at the Warwick hospital
After a quick inspection by the doctor the children were cleared of anything serious, but after listening to Jo's lungs the doctor sent her off for lung X-rays. Thankfully there was nothing there to be worried about and we were sent packing with a prescription for antibiotics and doctors orders for more bed rest.
All of this meant that despite being about 100 metres from the Fox and Goose Hotel there was no way we could get there for a meal.... so instead one sunny afternoon I did something most fathers only get to do once their child is 18. I took James for a beer.
The hotel is a very different proposition to an Australian country pub. The Bar area is quite small and cosy and across from the bar is the restaurant. At the back we discovered the gardens [not a "Beer Garden" but an actual garden] which had a jumping castle for the kids. Instant bliss; A sunny warm English afternoon, a beer in hand and a happy little boy jumping like his life depended on it.
It took a few more days before I got Jo to the hotel. By that stage she was getting much better so we all headed off to sit in the garden and to let the kids expend some energy on the castle. It was also a chance to soak up a bit more late afternoon sun. On that trip we decided that we would make it there for dinner the following night.
I write this just an hour or so after that meal..... A meal that shares first place for all the meals I've had on this trip so far.
Up to this point my favourite meal has been a dish in Hanoi simply called Vietnamese Noodles. That dish was much more subtle than a Chinese style or Thai style stir fry. They were just superb.... and now they have their equal, although very different dish.
Tonight I fed on an entree of Fried Goats Cheese Tartlet, followed by a homemade Lamb and Leek pie with New Potatoes. I can still taste it. I can still smell it. I can still feel it in my mouth. I want to go back and have more of the pie for dessert or maybe breakfast. I want to have Vietnamese Noodles for an Entree followed by Lamb and Leek Pie.... I want to put back on the stone and a half I've lost on this trip all in one go!
If you ever come to Stratford Upon Avon, Armscote is just 6 miles to the east. It's not even on some maps, but the Fox and Goose is worth seeking out. If you do come tell the publican that I sent you there.... he'll have no idea who I am, but if enough people tell him "Steve told me to come!" maybe if I present myself one day and tell him "I'm Steve", he might throw in a complimentary piece of that pie.
- Category: Steve's Blog - 2010
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By Jo McInnes
Good grief! I never thought in my wildest dreams I would be travelling around in a caravan. In fact, growing up I was always very derogatory towards those who had their holidays in "trailer parks". Here I am though sitting in a 1996 four berth caravan with an awning out the side... and I'm having a good time!
The caravan leaves a bit to be desired though. I used to have stroller envy, now I find I have caravan envy. There are some serious "outfits" that pull into these parks. Caravans and motorhomes with all the mod cons - microwaves, LCD TV's and huge beds. Our's has a gas leak.
In all seriousness though, considering the last few weeks have been fairly stressful with having the flu and trying to find accommodation and transport for the four of us, it's quite nice to finally be able to relax and enjoy our holiday. We spent a couple of weeks in great little cottages, firstly in Newquay (Cornwall) and then in Armscote (Stratford), but that was becoming a little expensive and I was really getting a bit worried about how long we could sustain this type of holiday lifestyle.
Now we carry our home on our back and we can go pretty well where ever we like. At present we're in Edinburgh and tomorrow we go and visit Nessie at the Loch for a couple of days. We'll come back to Edinburgh again before making our way back down south. We have to catch the Ferry to Caen (France) from Portsmouth on the 14th June. I'm so excited that we're going to be house sitting a place in Normandy for a month. It will give us a chance to stop and experience normality for a while. I'm also really looking forward to doing odd jobs like feeding the chooks and watering the garden.
James and Em are coping quite well, although they can be fairly trying at times. Both are developing incredibly. Em is talking so well we can understand almost everything she demands - and boy does she demand! She is a classic kid with a wickedly cheeky personality and is as stubborn as hell (just like her father). I really miss my mother's group though. I desperately want to ask what stages their 3 year olds are up too and make sure I'm not the only one nearly tearing my hair out!
James has a new trick. When he eats something he doesn't like he stores it in his cheek... sometimes for an hour (no exaggeration!). The amazing thing though, is that he can continue to eat, bypassing the stuff stored in his check and adding to it when he comes across something he doesn't want to eat. I've found pods of fully chewed and partly digested food in the oddest places!!
All in all though, we are finally doing ok. I'm finally starting to look forward to going places and doing things and not wishing I could go home... oh, that's right, I forgot....we don't have a home, we sold it to come here
- Category: Steve's Blog - 2010
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If I thought Ho Chi Minh was everywhere in Vietnam, Uncle Ho has nothing on George Orwell and his fears of a society under government scrutiny. In England the cameras are everywhere. They track cars, control speeds, read number plates, read faces and impose themselves into every corner of the country that we've been so far.
The overuse of CCTV is a real eye opener. You quite literally cannot wander down the street without being tracked and photographed. Nobody seems to mind or notice until you ask them about it. Then you discover that the locals hate it. Several say it's too great a price to pay for a secure society that is really no more secure than most western communities.
"Do they work?" we ask our driver on the way from the airport. "Do they stop crime?" He just laughs and says "Not for a minute". He says the crime goes on regardless and gives a few recent examples of things that have happened. He also regales us with tales of people who have beaten the cameras with fake car rego for years on end.
I do wonder if the system can tell who I am? Street cameras have facial recognition and if you are in the system, the cameras tell the police who you are and your exact location. Because I have an older passport I'm not sure if my face has been put into the system or if I show up on the computer screens as a mystery man. I just hope I don't look too much like a local criminal.
Somewhere I didn't notice the cameras was St Michaels Mount near Penzance. Penzance is of course the home of the pirates in Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera The Pirates of Penzance. The town does trade on its fame, but is also a lovely industrial port town and local centre. The High Street is a maze of shops and side alley's befitting a town of this age and history.
Just along the coast and in view from our lunch table is St Michaels Mount. The site has a recorded history dating back to the 8th century, with the monastic buildings dating to the 12th. Apparently it was once 5 or 6 miles from the sea. Now at low tide you can walk from the mainland along a stone causeway.
The site is magnificent and the climb up the mountain is worth the strain. The main buildings sit atop a sharp hill with 360 degree views. As castles go it has all the prerequisites; battlements, cannons, towering walls and the odd secret passage.
While Jo and I want to take our time reading the sign boards and inspecting the castle, James and Emily have other ideas. They want to race from room to room, touch everything and yell short sharp howls in any room which has the slightest echo. The challenge of two small children in a place like this does take a little of the gloss off, but as I say, it's worth the effort.
Our other main outing has been to the very bottom of the UK... The locals call it Lands End, but I think Arse End suits it better. The spot has shops and cafes and telescopes as you'd expect, but it doesn't feel too touristy. It does feel appropriately windswept and end of the worldish with a ragged coastline and steep cliffs.
Once again while Jo and I soak it up and take in the view and soak up the idea that we are standing on the other side of the world, it's lost on the children. They are more impressed with the shape and colour of the rocks on the pathways. They've collected several, all as presents for Mum.
We've been using a farm cottage near Newquay in Cornwall as our base for the last week. It's a godsend to have a small house with separate rooms and acres of grass for children to run and roam. The Property is gearing up for a Pony Club event this weekend, and sadly we won't be here to see it. We are off to Stratford Upon Avon on Friday morning for another week in another holiday cottage.