Cotswolds, Brighton, and London, July, 2013
Mark and Vicki shipped their RoadTrek to Europe in May, 2009 and are now in their 29th month of European RVing. They will return to the US in November. Their website is TheRoadGoesEverOn.com and their blog is at www.roadeveron.blogspot.com
Our first stop in Wales was at Chepstow to see the remains of the Chepstow Castle (Wales Trust). If you have already seen or are going to see other ruined castles in Wales, this could be a skip. Just north is Tintern Abbey of the famous Wordsworth poem fame. It is always a striking ruin, run again maintained by the Welsh Heritage. Though the Heritage site does not allow overnight parking, the next door pub is part of the wild-camping site and allowed us to stay in their parking lot.
Gloucester is a modest sized town, and we were lucky to find a car park very close in where we could park for 5lbs for 24 hours. The main streets have been pedestrianized, and it is a pleasant walk to the famous (and only a voluntary donation) Cathedral. We also walked over to the Blackfriars Abbey remains but they really aren't much. More interesting was The New Inn where Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen and where you can still get a room or a pint today. We had lunch at the Fountain where Mark had a fabulous, giant fish and chips and I, yummy barbeque ribs at very reasonable prices.
Since we hadn't been in a campground for two weeks, we made reservations to stay at a Caravan Club park in Tewkesbury as the site is right next to the Abbey Church and town. Washing was a reasonable 3lb per load, too. The Abbey Church is 900 years old and wasn't torn down during the Dissolution as the town bought it from Henry VIII to be the town's church. The churchyard is full of stupendous old trees as an added bonus. The town has many, many 16th century Tudor buildings and lots of antique stores. It wasn't even listed in our Rough Guide but we certainly enjoyed spending a few hours there.
We left midday and headed east into southern Cotswolds. First stop was Chedwich Roman Villa ruins, part of National Trust. Single lane track used by tour buses too for 7 miles but better visibility than some. We took a tour with a volunteer and were surprised at the extent of the mosaics and bathing complex. Yes, we have seen better, but seeing things in situ has its own interest. Turns out there are remains of 50 Roman villas in the Cotswolds alone. Most sites are kept covered up as it costs too much to protect then from the weather once uncovered. We had hoped to be able to spend the night since it was not a great house but “no overnight parking.”
Headed the short distance to Northleach, a large village that is not as touristy as most. There is a wonderful dollhouse store there carrying handmade and antique houses. It is only open Thursday to Saturday though, but I enjoyed just looking in the windows. Fancy a 1925 Georgian townhouse for $2500 or a Cotswold stone cottage for $1100 complete with thick walls? We had visited the church in 1979 and did several brass rubbings as they have one of the best collections in GB and they don't charge.
Didn't see anywhere to spend the night so headed to wild camping site just east of Bourton on the Water. It looks sort of like it was a layby at one time but now partially blocked off. It is about ¾ of a mile outside of town but there is not room enough to turn around for a 7m vehicle so you have to back out onto the road. However, this was not a problem as the traffic became very slight after 8. We backed into a corner so cars could get by and several parked there off and on as we stayed three nights. Mark called it Boredom on the Water. It is very touristy with nearly every building a gift or tea shop, but it was a nice place to relax.
We had debated whether or not to go to Chastleton House near Stow on the Wold, but since even Rick Steves mentioned it, we gave it a go. Finished in 1612 by a wealthy Royalist family, the heavy fines from Cromwell's time destroyed the family's finances and they never recoverd. Over the next 400 years they managed to keep the house but sold off all but 20 acres. A few conveniences like heating and a cookstove were added in the 19th century but basically the house was unaltered with much of its furniture intact when the Trust got it in the 1990s. The Trust did not restore the house but just made it safe and stopped the various kinds of rot, water damage, beetles, etc. We enjoyed it very much.
Our next wild camping spot was actually a National Trust rural scenic car park called Dover's Hill. It is on the Cotswold National Walking Trail and so a fine place to do some walking. We confined ourselves mostly to the mile walk to Chipping Campden. Campden, as it is locally called, has an interesting church and I think it's a better stop than Bourton. We had a lovely shaded spot and the police drove by the first night—stopped in front of the camper for less than a minute—and then drove on.
A short drive brought us to Hidcote Gardens, one of the finest 20th century gardens in England. The house is not open but the gardens are arranged in “rooms” and very extensive. It takes 12 full time gardeners and dozens of volunteers to maintain them. There is a tennis court and croquet lawn to supplement time walking in the gardens. We didn't have time to do Upton Park house and couldn't stop at the wild camping spot in Stratford as a River Festival was in progress. We decided just to drive to Upton and then look further on for a place to stay and double back. Mark spoke to the ticket person and they said we were welcome to spend the night in the car park. First time for everything as overnight parking has been strictly forbidden at every other Trust House we have been to. No shade but flat and quiet. But then at 6 am came a persistent knocking on the door—the head gardener insisted that despite no signs, that we should not have stayed the night and had to move on within the hour. Yuk! We spent the rest of the morning in a layby 3 miles further on and went back to the house for the 11am opening. Ever heard of Shell Oil? This house was built for the man who started it and the house and furnishings are certainly reflective of his millions. Best of all is the art collection including a Bosch—recently authenticated by the National Gallery, a Holbein, Van Dyke, Gainsboroughs, etc., etc. A very worthwhile stop.
We also stopped for the day to see the Ashmoleon Museum at Oxford. Only one of the Park and Rides admits campers for the day but you have to halt at the bar and go over to the station to have them lift it. There is no charge to park and the bus was reasonable but it is closed on Sundays. The Ashmoleon is a remarkable place that has been closed for renovations the last several years. Really strong in archeology collections and English painting and all free.
From here we headed for London and the Caravan Club at Crystal Palace. We had made our reservations months in advance as both campgrounds are completely booked on weekends and for summer. We spent the night near Uxbridge at a free pub stop at the Horse and Barge on the canal. N51.58655 W0.48731. Though really a suburb it still took us almost two hours to cross a quarter of London the next morning. We bought a week's pass for the metro and bus system and spent our six days at the National Gallery, Victoria and Albert, Tate Britain, and a new one to us—the Wallace Collection. All are free, and we have come to love the V and A and were surprised at the fine collections at the Wallace—including many furniture pieces bought from the French government that belonged to Marie Antoinette. We also arranged to meet up with the owner of the Paris apartment we intend to rent from May to July next spring. He works for the BBC and the two bedroom apartment in the 11th was the absolute best price we could find. He also told us he would refund our deposit if we couldn't come and he was able to rent it. We arranged to meet him again in two weeks to sign the rental agreement and give him the sizable deposit. We were both relieved at not having to send thousands of dollars in deposit to someone in Paris that we hadn't met.
Our daughter and granddaughter flew into Heathrow July 17 for a visit so we spent the night before in long term parking lot 4. This is the only lot without height bars and there are a few spots that will accommodate a 7m camper. GPS is N51.45543, W0.45455. It is a stiff 22 lbs for the first day but at least we could spend the night and avoid the campground charge. Basically over the next week we traveled back to Oxford with a swing through the Cotswolds again, ending up in Brighton staying in Caravan Club parks every night. Highlights included the studio tour of Harry Potter—expensive but wonderful if you liked the books and films—I thought the additional audio worthwhile, but allow at least 3 hours.
We spent a day at Blenheim Palace. If you stay at the Caravan Club park there you get a significant discount. It is about 1k to the House and also there is an Adventure Park for children with a train that two year old Penelope loved. The pedestrian gate closes early and we didn't want to walk through the village as it was out of the way. We thought we could just walk out through the auto exit but after a trudge past the Adventure Park a sign said no pedestrian exit. We spoke to a gardener who said there was another path out through the Blandon village. We couldn't find it and ended up at the auto gate—now a good 2k from the “correct” way back to the campground. While deciding what to do, a Land Rover came roaring across the lawns and an older man jumped out and said hadn't we seen the no pedestrians sign and where were we going. We explained that we were staying and the campground and hadn't seen the sign until we had already walked way out of the way and were looking for the path the gardener had suggested. Of course, by now we recognized that this gentleman was the 87 year old Duke of Marlborough himself, as his picture is displayed in several places in the house. He said the path was quite a ways off and let us go out the auto gate. The campground was just 1 block to the left. Quite a unique experience.
Another Caravan Club site we liked was at Longleat. Again you can get a large discount on a 1 or 2 day ticket to visit the House and/or Safari Park when you stay there. The campground is only a few blocks from the House and you are allowed free access to the grounds, gift shops, and restaurants during opening hours. We only strolled around and bought food for the deer herd which was a huge hit with Penelope.
We had purchased advance tickets to visit Highclere Castle where Downton Abbey is filmed. It is really only open to the public in July and August and tickets sell out months in advance. However we learned that they usually have extra tickets on site in mid afternoon—especially on weekdays. They don't allow photography but Mark got a few shots for the blog and of course lots outside. In the garden we caught the Earl talking with his gardener. Several visitors asked for photos with him but we left that to the English.
Along the way to Brighton we visited Jane Austen's home and Monk's House, the home of Virginia Wolf. Great sites for retired and current English teachers. In Brighton our daughter took the train to London and we spent three days with little Penelope riding the electric train, playing on the pebble beach and touring the very flamboyant but smallish Royal Pavilion. Again we stayed at the Caravan Club park but that is very pricey in high season. Other options would include the road to the campground, where we spent the night four years ago, or the road right on the beach east of the pier. If you go the free route you may have to get there early or late as the road is also parking for the sports fields. The beach road is 15 lbs for all day until 8 pm and then free. There are other roads a bit further east that are only 5lbs for street parking. Apparently this is all fine with the locals as there were no signs and lots of campers doing it. Brighton is a bit tacky but worth a day or two if you have never been.
Now we are off to London for a few days until we take Rebecca and Penelope to the airport. The weather has cooled off a bit and we have only had one day with rain in three weeks—really wonderful actually.