With about 2 inches to spare on either side, Vince was able to get LandShark down their driveway and the kids were thrilled to meet Marcus's and Polly's three children. Given our so called "historic" 1922 home back in California, it was fun to live in what I would call a truly authentic historic house. Marcus's and Polly's home was built in the 17th century in a tudor style and has sloping floors and ceilings and several spots where one has to duck to get through a doorway. Their house has tons of personality and charm.
|Originally in the 1600s, these were 3 separate cottages and over time, one of the owners connected them into one dwelling.|
|These were the cutest pigs. And smart too. They seemed to be escaping every couple of hours and making their way into the house; they knew exactly where their food was stored.|
|Sarah helping take down the bunny run before the storm.|
That afternoon, at the recommendation of Polly's parents, Vincent and I set out to check out Bicester Village which is an outside mall with exclusive stores. It's something akin to the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. There wasn't a parking spot to be had so we continued on to the town center of Bicester instead. We had lunch and then checked out a few shops. I bought another pair of charcoal gray jeans at a charity shop at a remarkable £3.30 and then bought a matching cashmere at the Edinburgh Woolen Shop for £55. Voila, I now had a new outfit.
That evening, Vincent and I made dinner for everyone and then started packing up to leave the next day.
On October 29th, it was time to depart and make our way to the Briarfields Motel and Touring Campsite (£26/nt) just outside of Cheltenham. We needed to get settled there because Paul and Vincent would be leaving on the 30th from Heathrow to San Francisco for 12 days while my Mother would be coming here. The Briarfields had a perfect set up; we could park LandShark for the whole stay and not have to move when the time came for James and I to dump tanks and replenish fresh water. It also had a motel on site where Mother could rent a room.
We arrived a little after 3pm and spent the evening at the campground. Paul and Vincent focused on packing while I prepared homework for two weeks and tried catching up on the blog.
On October 30th, we all drove to Heathrow to say goodbye to Vincent and Paul and hello to Mother. Vincent had some business to tend to back in the Bay Area and Paul had to get his braces adjusted. (Yes, a long way to see an othodontist; I'm sure they have them in Europe...) These two also cleverly timed the trip with BlizzCon, a 2-day event which is the hottest thing ever for those into World of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo and the like. On-line tickets for this convention sold out in less than 2 seconds; I kid you not. Crazy.
The drop-off and pick-up at Heathrow was executed without a hitch. The drive took about an hour and a half each way so it was about 2pm when we finally returned to Briarfields. That afternoon, Mother took some time to unpack and get settled while I took Sarah and James to Over Farm near Gloucester, which was holding some sort of a Halloween celebration during the week. I was concerned that Sarah and James would miss out on Halloween and be rather sad about that. (Or, to put it another way, I would have been sad about missing the opportunity to go trick or treating when I was young.) While the British have started celebrating Halloween in some ways over the last 15 or so years, their efforts are still a long way off from North America. Yes, you'll see Halloween candy in stores and Halloween decorations, cupcakes and cookies for sale, however the British still don't generally go trick or treating. If they do, there seems to be a heavy emphasis on the "trick" part and there are many people who board up their house in fear of hooligans messing with their property. Anyway, thanks to the Briarfields owner/manager, we found Over Farm. They offered inflatable slides and jump houses, a ferris wheel plus a few other kiddie rides, pumpkins for sale, a zombie paint ball run and some seriously scary activities for older teens and grown ups.
|The ferris wheel was the best ride. Sarah and James were the only two riding so the operator put them on and left them going around for at least 5 minutes.|
|Sarah and James had a great time on the Noah's Ark obstacle course. Here again, they were the only two in there so played around for about a quarter of an hour.|
|The people manning the inflatables were great. Technically, kids were only supposed to play on a given inflatable for 10 minutes but there were so few kids, that one could stay until one got tired and wanted to move on.|
|Sarah enjoyed the hundreds of ducks congesting the waterways. Bourton-on-the-Water is sometimes referred to as "the Venice of the Cotswolds".|
|For the kids out there, the Motoring Museum is home to Brum.|
|Had to have the photo in the carriage at the entrance to the museum.|
|A spiffy Jaguar XK140, 1956.|
|As we were living in an RV, I was interested in the evolution of the caravan.|
|The museum had, I believe, 3 caravans. This is a peek into one from the 1920s.|
|James and Sarah attempting to mimic the smiling face in the car behind them.|
|James did a pretty good job of capturing the character.|
|Ever wonder why the British drive on the left? Here's your answer. Now I just need to find out why so many countries switched to driving on the right-hand side of the road.|
|I had to pony up some serious sweets to make up for the lack of trick or treating.|
|At about 35 seconds long, the Ghostar Coastar had to be the world's lamest ride. Sarah wanted to do it a second time but I just couldn't shell out another £2/rider.|
|Going down a steep slide in the dark adds a lot to the thrill factor.|
|Both James and Sarah tried out the bungee trampoline. Apparently it "hurts" a lot. The experience probably satisfied their curiosity and they won't ask to try it again.|
With the propane problem simmering in the back of my head, I decided to take Mother and the kids to Avebury. It is a prehistoric open-air museum and dates to 2800 BC. It is described, by some, as bigger and better than Stonehenge (and six centuries older) but without the crowds and, for us, it was much closer than Stonehenge.
When we arrived, we started with lunch at the Red Lion (there's that popular name again), which is a rather grubby pub but is the only food option in the village. Our meals however were surprisingly better than expected given the look of the place and given the proprietor's monopoly on food service.
|The Red Lion pub in Avebury.|
|A glimpse at the 1,400 foot wide Avebury Stone Circle dating back to 2800 BC.|
|Another view of the Stone Circle.|
|Mother took this picture of Sarah and I walking along the Ritual Procession Way, a double line of stones leading to a long-gone wooden circle called the Sanctuary.|
When we arrived, we went to the Oriel Restaurant, located on the lower level, for a bite to eat and then we all pretty much separated to see the sections in which we were interested. The museum has a nice collection of paintings on the upper floor covering artists from the 16th century to present day. It also includes paintings from Welsh artists depicting scenes of Wales. Sarah walked around with me and she stayed pretty much engaged throughout.
|In the Welsh paintings section, one could build their own landscape scene.|
That evening, when James and I were closing the front slide on the driver's side of LandShark, we heard a loud craaackk. Uh oh. Well, it wasn't the tv breaking; this time it was a lower cupboard door that was left slightly ajar. The door knob got caught and as a result we almost snapped the door in half. So later that evening I wrote Vince to bring back some crazy glue with him when he returned from the US...
On November 3rd, we went to the Sung Eucharist service at Gloucester Cathedral. Gloucester Cathedral was the most welcoming cathedral we had been to yet in the UK. The ushers were so welcoming and, at the back of the cathedral, they provided activities for children which Sarah embraced. The sermon was very good (not many Reverends would incorporate Yoda from Star Wars into a sermon covering All Saints Day) and the only complaint I could make is that the acoustics were poor, making it difficult to hear well.
|Gloucester Cathedral has a beautiful stained glass window on the western wall.|
|One of the most stunning features of Gloucester is the cloisters on the north side of the main cathedral. This photo illustrates one of the beautifully detailed hallways.|
|The courtyard within the cloisters is another lovely feature of the cathedral.|
|Down in the crypt: That pillar in the foreground was placed about 1040.|
We then did a little shopping and headed back to Briarfields as James and I had to face the task of refilling our water tank with fresh water and the less appealing job of emptying the gray and black water tanks. Up until this point, Vince or Paul had always done these jobs, Paul most recently as he's done it to earn extra cash.
In life, any dream scenario, like traveling around Europe for a year, will have its downsides. And when you're camping, it's dumping tanks which, for us, needs to be done about every five days. James and I managed pretty well without a hitch. The most annoying aspect was that a neighbor took great interest in the fact that James and I were doing this RV maintenance (did we look like novices?) and hovered during the process, inserting his commentary about how we could improve upon our techniques.
On November 4th, we woke to 50 degrees inside LandShark. It was glacial that previous night. I doubled my comforter but was still cold. I tried wearing a wool cap but it just became annoying as I'd turn my head but the cap would remain stationary. At 3am, Molly got up and piddled on the carpet in protest. Good fodder for a comedy but not so funny experiencing first hand in the wee hours. I tried to encourage Molly to snuggle up in Sarah's lower bunk, but she'd keep jumping out and returning to her bed, shivering all the while. Mother fortunately had an extra duvet cover to offer us later that morning for the coming nights to help us out. (She was nice and toasty in the Briarfields Motel.)
That day, we headed to Bath where we met a cousin of ours for lunch. Our cousin, Elizabeth, and my Mother are of the same generation. I had stayed with her for a weekend way back in the early 1980s. We went to yet another Red Lion pub and had a good lunch. Elizabeth and Mother pulled out their respective family trees and spent a good hour or so discussing various branches of the family.
After lunch, we dropped Elizabeth back at her home and we proceeded to the city center. At a minimum, I wanted to drive by some key landmarks. We first drove by the Royal Crescent and stopped to take a photo.
|The Royal Crescent was built between 1767 and 1775 and has about 30 houses|
|Pulteney Bridge can be seen down the Avon River. It has been compared to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence as one of the world's most beautiful bridges, with shops built into it.|
The interior of the Abbey is the work of Sir George Gilbert Scott, who from 1864 to 1874, completely transformed the inside of the Abbey to conform with his vision of Victorian Gothic architecture. His most significant contribution was the replacement of the ancient wooden ceiling over the nave with a spectacular stone fan vaulting.
|For the visitor, one of the most marvelous aspects of the Abbey is that it is heated by the hot springs.|
|A view of Bath Abbey main entrance from the Roman Baths and Pump Room.|
That day we decided to drive to Oxford to see some of the colleges. James opted to stay in an unheated Landshark, keep Molly company and do laundry. (The boy really didn't want to go to Oxford.)
When Mother, Sarah and I arrived in Oxford, we had lunch at a wonderful French restaurant, the Pierre Victoire Bistrot. Mother and I both had been underwhelmed with the English pubs and the switch to French cuisine was welcomed. Even the French house wine was a huge improvement over what was available in pubs.
|Delicious meal at the Pierre Victoire Bistrot. Sarah consumed an entire baguette on her own; the bread and butter were so tasty.|
When we returned back to LandShark, James and Molly were snuggled reading in 60 degrees F. Not bad really, as far as chilliness goes. James had also completed 3 loads of laundry which was a big win for me.
On November 6th, we woke again to 56 degrees inside LandShark. It was another day promising rain. How do the British stand this weather? Given Mother's limited time here, we had to press on with sightseeing and pretend it was all good. I wanted to attend the bonfire and fireworks hosted by the Fire Service College in Moreton-in-Marsh that evening (we had to see how the English celebrate Guy Fawkes Day) and so I decided we'd see more of the Cotswolds.
We first set off to drive through Burford. We had driven through it the previous night and it looked lovely so I wanted to go back in the day time. It was raining heavily when we arrived so we more or less just drove through and went on to Stow-on-the-Wold which is described as an antique mecca.
After visiting several shops in Stow-on-the-Wold, we stopped for tea at Huffkins Bakery and Coffee Lounge. The pasteries and baked goods were delicious. James had an apple cream turnover (scrumptious), Sarah had a chocolate eclair and Mother and I had warm scones with clotted cream and jam (the best scones I'd had in the Cotswolds). Huffkins had a number of books that children could read while waiting for their parents to finish up their tea; Sarah loved this and quietly immersed herself into several books while we were there.
|Sarah couldn't finish her eclair. Too much whipped cream. Fortunately, Mother and I could step in and help her out.|
Mother had success at the Edinburgh Woolen Mill store and walked out with a navy v-neck cashmere. (£55 and slightly better quality than what we can get in North America). I found Sarah a pair of slippers (early birthday present) and some Walkers shortbread cookies for the frequent famished passengers on our daily road trips.
We arrived back at the Fire Service College just before 7pm and were able to park in a good spot where Mother could watch the bonfire and see the fireworks from the car. It was very windy with a heavy mist, certainly not weather that any sensible person would want to stand in for an hour and a half. The upside was that the air temperature was warmer, meaning in the 50s as to the 40s. I wandered around with Sarah and paid £2.50 for her to do a game with a guaranteed prize (Barbie doll) and then bought food for everyone. The bonfire started at 19:30 and was huge. At about 100 yards away, we could feel the heat and, with the strong wind, hot ambers were flying over the spectators. Crazy Brits.
|With the boys' underwater camera, I couldn't get a good shot of the fireworks (tho I tried a hundred times). In this snap, the bonfire can be seen still blazing in the bottom left corner while the fireworks are set off.|
I decided not to drive too far that day and chose Cirencester as our destination. One of the women working in a Stow-on-the-Wold antiques shop the previous day recommended the Corinium Museum as worth visiting and engaging for children. Cirencester was formerly the ancient Roman city of Corinium almost 2000 years ago; it was the second largest city in the British Isles, after "Londinium" (London).
Before visiting the Corinium Museum, we had lunch at Le Beaujolais, another French restaurant, on Castle Street. After a pleasant meal, we walked over to the museum.
|Entrance to the Corinium Museum: Definitely worth a visit.|
|The Corinium Museum provides several interactive areas for children. Here, Sarah is designing a mosaic and getting a feel for how detailed and time consuming these were to make.|
Despite the promise of more rain, I thought we should go to Blenheim Palace. Both Mother and I had been there at different times decades ago but I thought it would be a nice treat at the end of her trip.
|The only upside to the dark, miserable weather was that it helped to highlight the Christmas lights and decorations around the Palace.|
|As of November 9th, the Palace is already trimmed for Christmas.|
While we couldn't get a tight fit screwing our drinking water hose to the campsite hose bib (US vs UK threading), filling the fresh water was pretty straightforward. I did however have a bit of a hick-up preparing to dump tanks; when uncapping the gray/black water hose, water (the contaminated kind) flew out of the hose directly into my left eye. Aach! So I had to scurry off and wash my eye out with soap and water and then flush it out with allergy eye drops (the only drops I had). Mother also gave me her eye drops. Blah. That was horrid. Once I regrouped, James and I proceeded with emptying the black tank and flushing it out w/ gray water. When doing a gray water flush, James claimed he should no longer need to hold the black hose together. I was just in the midst of telling him it didn't matter what we're flushing through the hoses; he had to hold the black hose together (the connected green hose had a narrower diameter which put pressure on the black hose connections), when the black hose burst apart and water (the contaminated kind) sprayed all over James. Did I mention James was wearing Vince's jacket and I was wearing Paul's jacket? It was a pretty unpleasant experience. Anyway, when we packed all the hoses back up, I got a washing and drying token from the main office and James proceeded to wash the jackets, jeans and a few other things. No good deed goes unpunished.
The upside of the morning was that James, Sarah and I got to move into a room at the motel. We could look forward to two cozy nights and limitless hot showers or baths.
That afternoon, Mother and I drove to the Burford Garden Centre while Sarah and James enjoyed the indulgence of watching television for the afternoon in our motel room. Mother and I found birthday presents for Sarah. I also found a pair of Wellibobs which would be ideal for wading around in the muck on these rainy days.
|Loving the practical Wellibobs.|
Our outing that Sunday was back to Bath where we went to the Bath Abbey for their Remembrance Day service. During the drive to Bath, the GPS had a malfunction and so was only giving me a vague indication of what route to take. It was all fine until we got into the city and I had a hard time locating the Abbey. You'd think there'd be signs to the Abbey and/or Roman Baths (next door) but there was nothing. Anyway, after stopping to ask a taxi driver we found we were just 2 blocks away. I made a wrong turn into a bus stop (to let Mother and the kids out near the Abbey, as we were now late) and was told I'd probably get a £200 traffic violation ticket (recorded by a nearby camera). The day was starting out swell. Since my license plate was not registered in the UK, I rationalized that the authorities would have a hard time tracking me down to mail me the ticket.
Once I found parking and made my way on foot back to the Abbey, the service was well underway and I ended up having to sit at the back of the Abbey on my own. I tried to put the frustrating GPS glitch and potential ticket out of my mind. The choir was outstanding and the light shining into the Abbey was simply beautiful. The sermon was also well done and poignant for Remembrance Day. The Bath Abbey was a highlight. I hope to return to another service one day.
When the service was over, I met up with Mother, James and Sarah and we walked over to York Street to The Real Italian Pizza Company. It's worth a mention because it makes very good thin-crusted pizzas. The four of us shared two pizzas and that was ample. Our bill was less than £20 which I think was a pretty good deal for the area around the Roman Baths.
|The Real Italian Pizza Co. is a good option for an inexpensive meal near the Roman Baths.|
|A view of the Abbey from the Great Bath.|
|A view of the hot spring: The hot water in the spring rises at a rate of 1,170,000 liters per day at 46 degrees Celcius.|