The adventures of Jasper Part 1.
16.04.2012 - 09.05.2012 12 °C
Well the big van tour has well and truly begun and we’re loving it! There’s no better feeling than being free out on the open road; not knowing what you’ll see tomorrow or where you may sleep tonight; being able to pull-over for lunch when you find a great view or detour past a cidery on the way just because you can!
Our venture through the UK was great… well except the weather which practically rained non-stop from the moment we landed back in the ‘don from Austria until the weekend before we left! And they call that spring??
Arriving back from Austria we spent one last week in London; just enough time to pack our things into Jasper and make sure we had everything set to go! We were lucky to score one nice day that allowed us to tick off any of those “must see” London landmarks. We checked in with the queen, rubbed a furry hat and ran after one of the historic route master busses, finishing our day off with a battered sausage, chips and curry sauce in the park. Doesn’t get much more London than that :-)
To save us a bit of cash along the way we decided we’d become members of one of those grey-nomad organisations and joined The Caravan Club! Turned out the club sites weren’t at all ‘our scene’. We we’re at least 20 years younger than every other member on site which was obvious when you looked around and we we’re the only little camper surrounded by big expensive motorhomes and plush caravans – Jasper was definitely the coolest looking kid on the block ;-)
Meeting people on a similar journey to us was unlikely… actually meeting anyone at all at these sites was hard as we found most people seem to enjoy their own company preferring to sit inside the security of their own caravan with their cuppa and the daily paper coming out only in the morning to empty their w/c container.
That said, we got a good discount on pitch rates and because the sites are aimed at our high-life living retired folk they had much nicer facilities meaning a clean loo and hot shower were always guaranteed. Happy days :-)
Getting the van insured turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. As we soon found out that of 15 insurance companies called, only 2 were willing to insure us . We looked into the process of trading our Aussie licenses for British ones but even that wouldn’t work as most companies won’t insure a UK license holder for the first 2 years without a guarantor… hmm. With not a lot of choice we were left to choose from the only two companies who would deal with foreign drivers. Here were our options:
• Down Under Insurance – offered 3rd party insurance only as they refuse to insure a vehicle more than 20 years old (ours in an ’88). The upside was the policy would cover both Joel and I to drive the van.
• HIC – offered full comprehensive insurance though this came at a whopping cost of £1600 (that’s $2400! And only 6 months cover), and as if that wasn’t lame enough they refused to list me as a driver on the policy because I had a measly accident in Joel’s car a couple years ago.
So, to insure the van at an exorbitant price and have Joel as the sole driver OR go with the 3rd party option and get to share the role in the captain’s chair but risk something happening to the van and losing a lot more money in the long run? After a short conversation with my risk mediating father the choice was clear and with our tail between our legs we parted with the cash and got him insured.
With our new caravan membership, insurance for Jasper and a full tank of fuel we hit the road. First port of call on the touring circuit was Brighton; a lovely sea-side town in the south of England known for its stoney beaches, one of the oldest operating piers in England and a whole lot of corny souvenirs with slogans like “to Brighton up your day” :-)
Not even a full 24 hours into our adventure we’d already managed to find ourselves in a rather large spot of bother! Our last week in London had been a pretty wet and miserable one so when we awoke on our first day of the trip to a cool but sunny morning our spirits were high and things were looking up (or so we thought)! Filled with hope Joel rolled out the awning and set out a couple of camp chairs while I fried up a couple bacon & egg brekky rolls, yum! After breakfast in the sunshine the two of us got ready, jumped on our pushies and, being the hopeless pair that we are, left our campsite all set up (awning included) while we rode into town for a wander round the pier.
As fate would have it, whilst we were out enjoying the castles and pebbled beach front of Brighton the horrible weather picked up again and a wind storm blew through the town destroying, well nothing in its path, except our awning! Why we had thought it would be okay to leave an awning up while we were out is now beyond me but at the time I thought that’s just what you did – set up your campsite once and you’re good to go?? The wind literally tore one side of our awning (mount and all) straight out of the roof of the van leaving behind two bolt sized holes in the side of our fibre glass roof and a bent and shattered awning. Of course we were still out enjoying ourselves and were none the wiser… yet.
Arriving back at the van and seeing a half supported awning hanging off the side of our van was heart breaking! We both could have cried, well actually I did when I realised just what a costly mistake our naivety had been (our new awning set us back $600). The awning was completely warped and beyond repair. Instead of spending the rest of that afternoon chilling out with a drink or two, we spent the next couple hours removing the last remaining fragments and washing down a dirty roof where an awning once was fixed. Fail!
The worst thing about it all is you can’t just wander down the closest store and pick yourself up a new awning willy-nilly so our only option was to order in an awning to a store in Manchester and go ‘verandah-less’ for another couple weeks.
Continuing west along the coast line our next stop on the map was Littlehampton, a town practically knocking on deaths door with the average age population pushing 95+ as well as some other interesting town folk about. The place was weird! From the jerry springer parents arguing outside a dingy lunch bar over who’s turn it was to take the kid (nice!), to those stereotypical mums with prams; think a mix between our ‘Rockingham mums’ and those classic Walmart folk you find in forward emails and you’ve got it! The place was mullet and track pant central – everywhere you turned people were cranking that killer 80’s doo whilst rocking out in their unwashed Adidas trackies. Even the owner of the local deli was odd. As soon as he realised we were both Australian he started singing the theme song to Neighbours then said, and I quote: “it’s such a lovely program!” Hmm??
We spent the rest of our afternoon in the Littlehampton caravan park patching the holes in our roof… well Joel did. I leisurely acted as an extra hand when beckoned upon and other than that drank cider for the rest of the afternoon hollering out words of encouragement as Joel set to work – he’s quite the vandyman ;-)
Come morning we packed up as quick as we could as hit the road again heading south-west through the beautiful countryside of the Cornwall Shire. We were fortunate to score an afternoon of sunshine as we drove through the rolling patchwork-like hills, windows down, iPod up loud and the two of us singing at the top of our lungs all the way to Penzance/Lands End – the very west tip of England.
We made it to Lands End just in time for sundown, then after dinner and a pint at the first and last pub on England’s west we found a nice side street to park down and set up camp for the night. As soon as we woke in the morning we piled into the front seats and drove down to the beach finding the perfect spot to park up and cook breakfast; overlooking a castle on top of an island just off the coastline. Now that’s what I call breakfast with a view!
An important side note; has anyone ever noticed the size of British seagulls?? I swear they take steroids there, they’re huge!
Anyway, from Penzance we made our way north through Devon, another lovely part of the country to drive through with its thin winding roads lined with well-manicured hedges the entire way. We paid a visit to a local cidery in the morning (arr.. late morning of course), before arriving at the infamous Stonehenge in the afternoon where we marveled at the great pile of rocks (from outside the fence) as the heavens poured down from above – a true English experience!
Soaking wet and tired, our next move was to find a nearby campsite and settle ourselves in for the night. We found a small caravan site in Longleat… and what a weird and wacky place that turned out to be.
All night we’d been hearing strange animal noises crying out from nearby. One kind of sounded like a howling dog… but not quite, and at one point I could have sworn I heard a lion’s roar from just past the treeline! Turns out, after speaking to the reception the next morning, we happened to be camped right on the border of a safari park. Those strange animal noises we’d been hearing were the sea lions living in the waters just beyond our van and a lions roar was probably bang on the money too – exciting!
As we found out, the caravan site was located on the grounds of Longleat House; an old English stately home set in over 900 acres of private parkland. The estate is owned by some crazy aristocrat by the name Alexander Thynn who’s known to many as a politician, an author and a prolific painter, (specializing in the arts of kama sutra). He has a wife, two children, immense personal wealth (he’s ranked something like 359th richest man in the world), more than 70 mistresses (which he refers to as his wifelets and has them housed in little cottages across the estate), and to top it off, pet lions! Seriously?? So since inheriting the house after his father passed in ’92 he’s spent his crazy millions building large hedge mazes and the first ever safari park outside of Africa.
Guess where we spent our day :-)
The Safari park was pretty cool. You get to drive your own car through the enclosures while playing a cd which acts as your guided tour through all the attractions. We managed to get right up close to the giraffe, zebras, rhino’s and many non-safari animals like cute hairy camels. We fed some deer; had monkeys climb all over our van causing mayhem to poor Jasper as they tried to remove any loose enough objects (lucky for us they escaped with only a few rubber stops off the bike rack!); and drove through lion, tiger and cheetah territory where Joel broke all the rules and wound his windows down to get a better photo. All in all an entertaining day out!
Next destination was Bath, a town that’s name actually reflects its world heritage landmark, an ancient roman hot spring bath, which sounds cool in theory but in reality it was actually rather boring. Bath itself is a very stunning city worthy of a least 2:26mins of touring time. There’s a house that used to belong to an author by the name of Jane Austin, some of you may have heard of her, she wrote some books.
We made a stopover that night in Bristol to catch up with a friend we made in Russia. He took us on our own guided tour of Bristol, hopping from pub to pub until the ungodly hour of 0730 the next morning when the sun was well and truly up and ready for a new day! We managed a couple hours kip in the back of the van and made it up in time for a late 1 o’clock brunch, then it was back on the road heading north towards Manchester where we would finally pick up our newly ordered awning – yippie!
With the new awning in our possession we made our way to Blackpool for the weekend; a small coastal town in England’s North West riddled with an endless number of amusement parks, arcades, fairgrounds, mini casinos, snack stalls, fairy floss, souvenirs, neon lights, you name it! The place was a hive of entertainment… only strange thing was it seemed practically deserted. Behind the beach front where all the entertainment took place almost everything was closed. Doors were barred shut, street lights were dim, atms all out of order and random old folk would curse at Joel as we passed them in the street… it was like walking through a dark alley only it was across an entire town! Nevertheless it was a fascinating place and we found this sweet little curry house, (the only establishment open after 9pm), which sold us an awesome late night feed which included an authentic madras for me and a 1kg mix meat kebab for Joel, (literally 1kg of chicken tandoori and doner meat with minimal salad and lashings of chilli & garlic sauce – Joel was in heaven!)… Blackpool really knew the way into our hearts ;-)
Our last couple days in England were spent in the Lakes District. We took full advantage of a few gaps in the rain and finally set out to install our sexy new Fiamma F45S awning. With a bit of sanding, painting, drilling, gluing, screwing and swearing we were done! A new awning, bliss!
To celebrate we spent our final afternoon in England basking under the shade of our new awning with a fresh jug of Pimms (or two) to reward our hard efforts.
Next stop Scotch… I mean Scotland :-)
Sitch Pub score at the end of England:
Joel - 65
Renée - 47