England - Round The World Tour 2 2003 Day 147
Wednesday 6th August
The past several days at Annie’s house was a bit of a diversion but still very enjoyable nevertheless. Yesterday, we took the kids to Hampton Court palace for the day. It was like stepping back in time with actors dressed in period pieces walking around the grounds entertaining the public. We were even treated to an audience with the queen and had to look for clues to unravel a plot against the monarch’s life. Harry found one of the clues and was awarded some silver coins for his ‘bravery’. There are plenty of palaces, stately homes and castles dotted all around the British Isles and we intend to visit many of them during our UK sojourn.
With the ‘thrill’ of blowing out one of the brick’s tires still fresh in my mind, I decided to err on the side of caution and took the van to get the remaining three tires replaced this morning. It was quite a challenge for the engineers to get the back wheels off. They too had to let the air out of the tires before they would squeeze out. After about an hour and a £10 tip later, all tires were finally replaced and we were back in business.
We left Annie’s house shortly after five this afternoon and set off to parts unknown. Even though we’ve been in the UK now for about a week, today marked the first real day of our British Isles adventure. We’ve now left the safe haven of my various brothers’ and sisters’ homes far behind and for the first time have to fend for ourselves with just the brick to sustain us. We headed West in the general direction of the South West of England with the intention of reaching Wales in a couple of days. En route, we decided to change the plans - now there’s a bloody surprise. Instead of travelling to Wales, we will now be spending a few days in the Devon, Cornwall and Somerset area before returning back Essex to see Ree-Ree. Although Ree-Ree has visited from Australia several times in the past ten years or so, we’ve somehow managed to miss her just barely each time around. This time I will make sure. It will be the first time in over fifteen years that I will have seen her.
To a large extent, we are just travelling around the country aimlessly. Today, however, we at least had a good idea of what we wanted to do. We were going to pass Stonehenge this afternoon and so we made this the first stop on our back yard journey. Much like many of the places we will visit, Stonehenge is one of those places that I’ve never visited even though it is just a couple of hours drive away.
The student identification cards that we picked up in Cairo came in handy at Stonehenge as it enabled us to sign up for a year’s membership in ‘English Heritage’ at a significant discount – more than paying for the cost of the cards, in fact. With this membership, the entrance to Stonehenge was free of charge – as will now be the case for many more places of interest that we will stumble into as we navigate around the country.
Stonehenge itself is an amazing site and there is definitely an eerie, mystical, atmosphere about the place. There were about fifty or more other visitors wandering around, including one woman sat in the neighbouring field in a yoga position apparently meditating. Although an ankle high rope enclosure prevents anybody from getting too close to the stones any more, we walked all around the collection of aligned monoliths and listened enthusiastically to the recorded monologues on the hand-held audio listening devices that we were each handed as we entered the site. Stonehenge still harbours many secrets and scientists and historians alike struggle to explain its true meaning.
After contemplating the secrets of the world’s most famous henge for the afternoon, we rode off again into the sunset in search of where to park for the night. We headed for a nearby country village called Orcheston where a small camp-site would offer us a safe haven, not to mention an electricity hook-up, showers and a convenience shop. We put the brick’s systems to the test and everything went pretty well - mostly. The one annoyance that it looks like we will have to put up with is the water furnace. Shortly after it was installed, we ran into a problem with a safety relay tripping due to the water becoming too hot. I thought we had the problem fixed but the valve had once again tripped and I had to remove the entire front assembly before I could reset it. This is something I’ll have to keep an eye on as we travel. The new microwave/grill, however, seemed to work just fine and Sandy whipped up a nice chicken dish for the two of us.
The British countryside is awesomely picturesque and it was a real pleasure to navigate around the winding country roads through the rolling hills. Perhaps we will try to avoid the major motorways in favour of the pretty country lanes throughout our journey – after all, there’s really no point in rushing.
Stonehenge is apparently just one of several historic monuments in this region of the South. Tomorrow, we will examine more closely the books and brochures from our English Heritage welcome pack to see what other gems we can uncover before moving on again.