Travelling Again

22 Feb

Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, London
I forgot to mention at the end of the last blog post that we treated ourselves to a concert!  We travelled from Chalfont St Peter down to Salisbury, a two-hour drive each way, to attend The King’s Singers fundraising concert in Salisbury Cathedral.  And what a treat it was!  Six men singing a cappella a wide variety of songs, folk songs, hymns, a latin number and comedy pieces.  This has been a real highlight for both of us.  Please view the link on YouTube to gain appreciation of their diversity of songs and wonderful talent.

The concert was well attended.  We had to queue for three-quarters of an hour in the frost to gain entry into the Cathedral!!  It was the farewell concert for one of their members and they were fundraising for disabled children.  My favourite was “Lullabye – Goodnight, My Angel”.

Waiting outside Salisbury Cathedral in the frost!

We met up with Rob, Esther and Seth before going on to St Helen’s.  Rob had arrived back in London that week, from visiting with his sick father in NZ.  We hadn’t seen Rob since early October 2011, so it was great to catch up with him again.  Esther and Seth had taken the bus down from Edinburgh.  Seth was due to fly out to NZ on Tuesday evening to attend his sister’s wedding in Oamaru and Esther was planning to stay with us in the van until Friday.  
The four of us travelled back to Chalfont St Peter by train to where the van was parked up.  By this stage it was very frosty, you’re talking -5 degrees C.  When we were all seated in the van, I was mortified when Dennis couldn’t get it to start!  This was the first time we had ever had any problem with it, most embarrassing!  Esther suggested we push start it, I thought she was joking but no, out we jumped and Seth, Esther and I did manage to push it and gather enough speed for Dennis to get it going.  I was so pleased to have had two others to help me, the vehicle is so heavy there would have been no way we would have been able to consider doing this otherwise.   We had done a recce of the surrounding area around Chalfont St Peter for a suitable camping spot earlier and now drove there for the night.  The following morning Seth and Esther were off on the train back into London to take in some sights together.  When I say they were off that did entail Dennis driving them back to the train station in Little Chalfont.  And once again, the van would not start!  But no worries, the pushing team got it underway again.  Dennis spent a good deal of that day sorting out the issue of why it wasn’t starting.  We had to go to several garages before the problem was solved.  The battery was fine but it turned out that the glow plugs needed replacing.  The van obviously runs on diesel and when we first bought it I thought that was great as that fuel would be the cheap version.  Unfortunately, it is in fact the opposite!  Diesel is usually 8-10p (16-20cents) more expensive than petrol!  Just as in NZ the price varies from station to station and from day-to-day.  We have paid 1.369 – 1.459 per litre ($NZ2.738 – 2.918per litre) of diesel!   Along with expensive fuel we keep being surprised by what else the English expect you to pay for…..some public toilets cost 30p, and worse still, 50p for compressed air at the garages!

Quite a shock to discover the price of diesel in England. The most expensive in the EU apparently

You'll be relieved to know the water is free

We are really noticing the lengthening days!  It stays light now till 5.30p.m. which isn’t nearly as bad at 4.30p.m.  The weather forecasters on TV are predicting a drought this summer, as the southern end of England has had next to no rain from autumn onwards.   We have been very impressed with the blue skies, you often hear how dull English weather is but we have been blessed with overall great weather.  Actually it does seem to be cloudy more often than not, but nevertheless fine.  It is unusual for us in NZ, when we have frosts to also experience wind as well and frosts are no guarantee of sunny weather as they are back home.  I guess the ambient daytime temperature is way down, often no more than two or three degrees C and so yesterday’s frost has not thawed completely before tomorrow’s frost comes around.  The ground has been frozen for weeks now.
Esther accompanied us to Windsor Castle.  We enjoyed the walking tour around the grounds, though the guide was a young chap just starting out, and was not as entertaining as some.  Unfortunately,  you are not allowed to take photos inside the castle.  The day was bitter but the Castle, Chapel and other buildings were well heated, so you spent a good deal of time putting on your coat, gloves, hat, etc and taking them off again once inside the next venue.  The entrance fee included an audio tour for the interior, which is also a great way of learning about all the history, paintings and exhibitions on show.

The Queen's living quarters are being renovated at present

Spot the cabbage tree?

The Queen's very own Church within the Castle walls

Winter uniforms are a dull grey, not a patch on the natty red ones for summer

As I needed to do the laundry, we called in to a camping site in Oxford.  We are members of the Caravaning Club, which do have many camping sites dotted around the countryside.  Unfortunately, they are like much of the English tourism spots and are closed over winter!  In Oxford we could only find one site open but it wasn’t part of the Club that we belong to.  It is in fact owned by one of their competitors.  We found this site so bad!  The people were unbelievably unhelpful and the facilities were not a patch on what we are used to.  When I went to the laundry that night, it was roped off and I assumed that the owners had been painting in there during the day (he had been telling Dennis that he was renovating various things during the winter months).  The following morning I thought I would quickly wash and dry our clothes before we were due to leave but still the laundry was roped off!  When I inquired I was told that the building was in such bad repair that it had been deemed to be too dangerous to go in by an inspector!  I was furious!  We had come into the campsite only because of the laundry and then we couldn’t use it!  We should have been told about it when booking in and then we would have moved on to park up along the roadside somewhere.  The staff couldn’t have cared less.  I looked at using a local laundromat but they were planning to charge me $NZ25 for one load!
Even though the weather was bitterly cold, we took a walking tour around Oxford!  What a beautiful city!  Everyone knows about Oxford University, I guess, but I was unaware that it is so big that they had 38 separate Colleges which are part of the one university.  And most Colleges have their own chapel, which is actually a huge church, complete with pipe organ, etc, their own boarding facilities, with their own dining halls.  A number of the Colleges were used in the Harry Potter films, so the dining room in one seemed quite familiar.  The whole town is full of history and it seems like the city is entirely there to support the University.  Esther took us out for a most yummy late lunch of a pie, gravy, potato mash and mushy peas!  These pies and peas were the best we have tasted!  Mostly mushy peas taste like mush but these had a hint of mint and weren’t beaten to bits.  Very nice.

In two chapels music students were practising on the pipe organs. Impressive!

They knew how to decorate buildings way back when

Most Colleges have their own Chapels

JRR Tolkien was a Professor at Pembroke College

We raised our glasses to JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis and other members of the Inklings who met here each week

The following morning I woke to hear two little boys on their way to school discussing the reason as to why our motorhome was parked where it was.  One boy was instructing the other by explaining that we were trapped by the ice!  It turned out that we had developed a small water leak, probably from frozen hoses, under our bed and the slant of the parked vehicle meant that the water  was dripping out into the gutter, freezing as it did so.  There were stalagmites from the bottom of the van to the footpath!  It did look impressive!  We were sorry we had parked there in fact as we hadn’t realised while it was dark but behind the six-foot high fence, on the other side of the road, was the motorway, and we had roaring trucks throughout the night and an increasingly busy flow of traffic in the morning rush hour!

This photo was taken at 11p.m., by morning the icicles were connected to the pavement


That morning it was -8 degrees C!  When we had completed our ablutions, eaten breakfast and packed everything away ready for a day’s touring the van let us down again and this time there was no life in the battery!  We just heard a click!  What now?  With only three people left, Esther and I were not in a position to get this baby moving.  So Dennis called the equivalent of the AA to come and help us.  We waited over an hour for him to come with his jumper leads, but when he did show we were off in no time.  

We planned to travel up-country a bit and find The Uffington White Horse.  Esther was very keen to see this, as were we.  It’s a stylised horse, cut into the chalk hillside, that is 3000 years old!  At 374 feet long and 110 feet high it is very impressive.  It is a wee bit strange because the best view of it is in the air or way back down the valley at one or two particular places.  Standing right next to it or walking up towards it, it’s difficult to see the entire horse.  It is the oldest one of eight found in Britain.  It was very windy and very cold!  The radio told us it was -5 degrees in Oxford with the chill factor created by the wind included, and we were quite some way from there and 800 feet higher.  The view of the surrounding farmland, villages and rural scenery was spectacular!  This was the highest we have been in England so far.  The beauty of having a kitchen on wheels is that we sat and enjoyed the view while eating a hot lunch.  We were all nervous when it came to starting the engine again and sure enough it failed again!!  This time, so far away from Oxford, Dennis looked under the bonnet himself and realised quite quickly that the battery terminals were not actually secured to the battery but just resting in place.  Thankfully, that was a quick fix with a spanner and we were away, laughing!

You can just about make out the White Horse....


Esther trying to see it all in one go. Notice the frost

The view over Oxfordshire, notice how close the villages are to one another

Driving back towards London, Dennis surprised Esther by suddenly stopping beside a busy road.  She’s not used to him seeing something extraordinary out of the corner of his eye while driving, and just having to go back and look at what it might be.  This time we could walk back and read the sign and marvel at the Nettlebed Kiln!  They began making bricks, tiles and pottery on this site during the 1300’s and didn’t stop until 1930!  The surrounding area, rich in clay, sand, springs of water and native forests used for firewood, was the reason this site was chosen.

The Nettlebed Kiln

We were heading back to stay in a “proper” camper van site, not that far from the Little Chalfont railway station.  Esther planned to spend the next day in London, checking out some galleries before she was due to board her bus back to Edinburgh.  We love her company and happy disposition and she’s welcome to join us whenever she wants.  Sorry, Seth, you’re great company and weelcome as well!  It was obvious that this area had received some bumper frosts while we had been away, seeing a half-acre lake frozen over was telling!  One good thing about being plugged into the mains at the campsite the electric heater can stay on all night!  Mmmm.

I love the way they make these living fences. Each trunk is almost cut through and layered down, still growing but trimmed each year

After Esther left, we decided to explore more of the region on our bikes.  From now on I would wear two hats and two pairs of gloves.  We cycled along a section of the Grand Union Canal between Denham and Rickmansworth.  This section had four locks, which looked really interesting and picturesque.  We were surprised to see the canal completely frozen over, with canal boats locked in place alongside and even a swan walking on the ice!  After more than an hour of biking we came across a pub that was open and selling lunches.  We had passed three others that were closed for the winter, one pub or cafe beside each lock.  This particular one, The Carp and the Coy, sold us the most enormous pieces of haddock I have ever seen.  Very yummy but I could only eat half of mine and Dennis just managed to finish his! 

The mushy peas were mush!

Part way back home, along the same path, I developed another puncture in the same wheel as last time.  This time Dennis walked with me, carrying my bike, until we came to the sealed road when he speed off to get the van.  I waited next to a Visitor Centre for a wildlife bird area.  They had a sculpture of a huge white heron and just as I was thinking that herons would have long gone to warmer climes, one flew basically over my head.  I wasn’t nimble enough to take a photo and I never saw it again. It was huge, far bigger than ours in NZ, maybe it wasn’t a heron after all.  

The Great Union Canal

Ice strong enough for a swan to take a walk

We decided to go back to the roadside park near Chalfont St Peter to stay the night before figuring out where we would travel to for the next week, before we were due to that same housesit.  We parked the van and each sat down on either

Along with beautiful, sleek, canal boats you also see some odd ones!

side of the dining table and both promptly fell asleep!   It is very unusual for me to fall asleep but I was so tired, we had been biking and walking for four hours that afternoon, I’m noticing I’m losing fitness.   We woke to find that it was snowing!!  Listening to the radio, we were a bit spooked to hear that Heathrow had cancelled a third of their scheduled flights for the following day, as they were predicting up to six inches of snow.  Dennis was worried that we would not be able to drive the van in the snow the following day, we were parked in a rural lane that would not be gritted and salted by the Council.  So we decided, all in a rush, to find a suitable, free,  parking place  near the railway station at Little Chalfont and head into Shooters Hill and stay at Rob’s place.  Rob had flown back to NZ, to be with his father, the day before the snow started.  And this is what we did.  Being so rushed we inadvertently left the power cord for the computer and both our phone chargers in the van!  Dopey!  It took nearly two and a half hours on the train, tube, bus and walking to get there but it was magical!  It was snowing all the way and by the time we got there it was probably two inches thick.  I have never been in snow like that before and was intrigued by the crunching sound it makes when you walk on fresh snow.  Not at all slippery and beautiful.  The following morning it was four inches deep and stayed that way for most of the week, thawing a little some days and beginning to ice up.  What a lovely warm house!  Thank you, Rob!

Shooters Hill

After the neighbour left her parking space

The Lady of Shalot - At the Tate Britain

We made the most of living in London and went in to Art galleries (National Art Gallery, Tate Britain), the Jewish Museum, Bank of England Museum, and Church at St Helen’s.  We followed an old London Guide Book directions to the Jewish Museum only to find that it had shifted!  That site still held a Jewish School though and I was astonished to see that they welcome non Jewish children, and actually had 80% of the role taken up with Gentile children, including Christians and Muslims!!  Once, when walking back home from the bus stop, we heard a woodpecker in a large tree in the park.  Try as we might, we could not see it!  We heard it often and stopped and wandered around the tree, gazing up in the branches but we never did find it, though it was exciting to hear our first woodpecker!
At the end of that week, we made our way back to Little Chalfont, and found our van covered in snow with a notice stuck to the windscreen!  I was sure it was a parking ticket but it was just a warning instead.  When you buy registration for your vehicle you get a “Tax Disc” which is just a paper circle with your registration details, that you have to display on the windscreen.  There’s an instant fine of $NZ400 for not displaying it!  As we have no fixed abode, I had asked for our new Tax Disc to be posted to Rob’s, it came during the week we were living there, so we had it with us upon our return.  The warning was for not displaying it, so we were very thankful that was all it was.  We were truly astonished to find that our indoor 30 litre water tank was frozen solid, as was the toilet and carrots and kumara sitting in a cupboard under the kitchen bench.  In fact, things sitting inside the turned off fridge fared better than items in the cupboard!  Dennis had thought to release the water pressure in the taps and so had saved having to do more repairs.  He had fixed the water leak prior to going to Shooters Hill.
The cats welcomed us back to the house sit and we learnt the sorry tale of the after all dead shrimp!  There had been six inches of snow here and the back garden was beautiful!  During the following week the village just down the road from us experienced the coldest night ever recorded in this region of England:  -18 degrees C!!  I now was very thankful for all that heating in that house!  And  the spa was pretty good too, on a deck partially covered in snow!  Dennis developed the flu while we were here but thankfully did not share it with me.  He left me after six days to start at another house sit an hours drive away.  We had an overlap of 3 nights in two houses.

The lawn at Chalfont St Peter

All the pools and ponds are frozen, with just the waterfall in the fish pond still flowing

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One Response to “Travelling Again”

  1. ron and Sandra Vandenberg February 26, 2012 at 9:24 pm #

    Hi yesd we enjoyed walking around oxford and Fiona was most impressed that she recognised buildings that were in the Harry Potter movies. Ron especially light the canal boats at Oxford.

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