Stevenage – London

14 Mar

Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, West Midlands, London

Dennis came back to get me after my three days alone in Chalfont St Peter.  What long days!  Other than taking a walk each day there was not much to do but catch up on the blog and talk nonsense to the cats.  I was very glad to see him come up the drive!  He had not been faring much better as he had the flu and was quietly recuperating.                                                      

... and a crocus. All these flowers are so short by NZ standards. Maybe 6 inches of snow two weeks earlier had something to do with it!

On the way to Stevenage the motorway goes directly under a huge shopping complex!


an Iris...

The new housesit in Stevenage was an hour’s drive away.  And what a beautiful place it was!   The house was originally a rectory  with a large church at the end of the garden.  Nowadays, the house was divided into three homes, all with large gardens and the church was now completely separate.  The part we lived in was large and roomy, with several lounges, kitchen, office, conservatory and wine cellar downstairs and all the bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs. The gardens were gorgeous as well.  Lots of herbaceous borders, architectural box gardens with water features, a comprehensive veggie growing area, a covered soft fruits garden, a wisteria walk, an all-weather tennis court  all set in around 4 acres of lawns and grass land.  The trees were tall and stately, with many specimen trees round about.

Notice the church in the background

Looking out the kitchen window.

I don't recognise these beauties.

Three squirrels lived in the garden as well!

And they open in the sun… Big beds of these look spectacular

The drawing-room

Notice the huge oak trees behind the tennis court


 The church has a chiming clock that went throughout the night.  It reminded me of my childhood in Nelson with the bells ringing the same tune as the old Nelson Post Office clock.  The only trouble was that the clock displayed the wrong time!  Once, while taking Elsa for a walk, we wandered past the church and I noticed that on the sign beside the church, the cellphone numbers for the two ministers were listed.  So I took the opportunity to text them that the clock was wrong and so the bells were ringing the wrong time as well!  I didn’t hear anything as a result of my texts but lo and behold the following day I was overjoyed to realise that the bells were peeling at the correct time!!

 We were responsible for Elsa, a Rhodesian Ridgeback.  A lovely dog, who took a

The church was built in 1883

shine to Dennis.  She is very tall, which I forgot to take into account, when I left (just for a moment!) the 3 chicken breasts I had cooked for dinner on the bench.  I heard a strange sound and turned around to find her just finishing off the last one!  She only had to stretch her neck a bit to reach!

This fox was in the Stevenage Museum. Whenever I've seen one for real I either haven't got my camera with me or I'm too slow

We enjoyed watching the three squirrels in the garden, as well as the male pheasant and his two mates. The owners had instructed Dennis to be careful when letting the dog out into the garden.  There is a family of foxes living at the bottom of the property and they didn’t want Elsa to do them any harm!  Also they have small deer called muntjacs, (also called Barking Deer) visit the gardens.  They sort of cough!

Once again at the Museum, a Muntjac. I've not seen one only heard it!

The only badgers we're seen have been the result of roadkill!

Beautiful male pheasant

Dennis spent two full days fixing the motorhome.  He replaced the exhaust system and the exhaust manifold.  What a difference that has made to the sound of the vehicle, we can even have a conversation while driving uphill nowadays!  That and other modifications have also helped with the fuel efficiency, it was running at 18 miles per gallon when we bought it and it’s now 25 miles per gallon.  With the price of diesel here, any improvement is appreciated!

My handy husband! Saving us a fortune

Stevenage is what they call a “New Town”.  There has been a small town here since before the time of the Doomsday Book, 1086.  It is 50kms north of London and it was the perfect site for travellers to stop for the night.  In 1800, 21 stage coaches arrived every day, so the old town is full of pubs and inns.  During the Second World War there were huge parts of London that were completely destroyed.  After the War ended it was decided that New Towns were to be built to accommodate the misplaced residents. 

personalised number plates are very few and far between (I've maybe seen 5) but someone has personalised this Smart car!

Ten cities were planned and these were to be built someway out of London, hoping to relieve the overcrowding in the city.  Stevenage was the first of these New Towns.  A Corporation was set up by the Government to design and implement the town and surrounds.  They ran Stevenage for 40 years before an elected Council took over.  The pedestrianized town centre was the first purpose-built traffic-free shopping zone in Britain.  They have made such a good job of catering for cyclists.  All intersections have the cycle ways completely isolated from the vehicular traffic.  The industrial area is all located in one section of the town, as are all the entertainment businesses in another.  The architecture is obviously dated now, it’s amazing how buildings built before the wars are so beautiful but so many of the ones built after are somewhat drab!  Town planning started in 1946 and the Queen officially opened the Town in 1959.  Government subsidies enticed businesses to come into town assuring the town grew steadily.  British Aerospace used to be the biggest employer but now GlaxoSmithKline is.  The Vincent motorbike comes from Stevenage as well.

A typical roundabout in Stevenage. The lower area is dedicated to cyclists and pedestrians.

Throughout our travels in England we have been surprised how many designated allotment areas there are!  Most people live in villages, towns and cities and have very little in the way of their own sections.  Even if you live in a semi-detached house you have only a small parcel of land, not nearly enough to have a decent veggie garden.  So there are allotments all over the place!  Even in the midst of a busy city.  Some sites are quite huge including chicken coops!  I can imagine that in summer there would be lots of competitions between the various allotment tenants.  Yes, they are tenants – they are charged rental for their sites.  

150 allotments on this site in Oxford

Looking for a Church to worship in each Sunday, when you are travelling around ,is a bit hit and miss really, but we found a brilliant one in Welwyn Evangelical Church, ten minutes drive away.  They were surprised to see our motorhome drive up and park beside the Church.  They were so welcoming, it really was quite humbling.  They shared a fellowship tea before the second  service, which we were invited to as well.  They have a Theological College attached to the Church offering 6 month live in training courses.  The bulk of these students are missionaries in the Eastern European countries and also Spain and Italy, so when we left Dennis had quite a few contacts in these countries, if our travels take us that far.
We had been booked for three visits for this house sit property.  The next one was due over Easter and then again in July.  The owner (whom I never met) mentioned to Dennis that she wasn’t sure whether she could spare the time from work to take Easter off for a holiday, so we left her a note asking for confirmation asap so we could plan our own itinerary.  Our calendar was filling up with more house sits as well and we were wondering when we could drive further afield to explore more of England.  A day or so later she let us know that she had decided to stay home after all – that left us with almost two weeks before our next house near Birmingham.  So with that news we planned to make the most of it and travel around Wales.  Before that could happen, however, we had to go and meet with the new house sit owners’ and their two dogs, at their request, then back to Rob’s to collect some mail.

I've told you about London water before - this is what's left after a black instant coffee!

Can't believe how many huge Garden Centres there are in England! This peach tree is $NZ91.98!!!

We left Stevenage with two days spare before our appointment in Lichfield, just north of Birmingham. 

Nice to see a change in the colour of brick around Turvey, on our way to Birmingham

Dennis was very keen to visit Northampton as this is the fine  footwear manufacturing capital of the world.  He was especially keen to buy a pair of Loakes (quality men’s footwear specialists) from the factory.  We went through a fascinating Shoe Museum and finally found the correct factory and shop.  There are about five different companies, including Barkers and Churchers.  Unfortunately, they did not have a size broad enough for Dennis’ feet!  He will need to order them if he wants them.  He did notice however, that the factory shop prices were more expensive than ordinary shops in London!

My favourite. Heel-less shoes! They have a metal bit coming out the back, with a leather sole covering.

Worn by Whimsical Walker, a famous clown 1870-79

High heels, anyone?

Queen Victoria's satin wedding shoes 10 Feb 1840

For some reason the Shoe Museum had a knitted lion as well. I CAN NOT find 100% knitting wool in this country!


One of Dennis’ famous impromptu stops took us to visit the Battle of Naseby site.    This was during the first civil war between Parliamentarian and Royalist forces in 1645Cromwell led the winning side.  This country is so full of history and when you have a well-read Dennis with you, you actually learn quite a lot!

The Battle of Naseby Obelisk

A few miles up the road we kept seeing this obviously man-made mountain between the trees and fields.  So off we went to find out what it was and it turned out to be the tailings of an enormous granite quarry, called Mt Judd.  Just a few minutes down the road there was another mountain and quarry, not quite as big but still impressive!

This looks strange - we must investigate further

It's hard to get the scale of it! There's a chap fishing down there and you can just see his vehicle

In hindsight, I think the new people wanted their dogs to meet us!  Walking into their house we were confronted with two English Bull Terriers, who were very frisky!  They look like what I would call a “pig dog” in NZ.  Quite ugly and frightening!  Anyway, after five minutes or so my heart stopped beating quite so rapidly and the dogs settled down and accepted us!  The owners were pleased with them and us and we said our farewells for the time being.  We drove back down to Stevenage as I had left my jacket at the other house sit(!) and then drove down to High Barnet.  This was the furthermost tube station from London, in that general area, we could find.  As we can no longer go into the Low Emission Zone with our van, we needed to find a park before the Zone starts and take the train and bus to Rob’s on the other side of London. It just so happened that that tube line was closed due to planned upgrading work on the train line!  Each weekend they close one or two lines to further the improvements.  This now meant an extra half hour bus ride to where the next available train station was…When we came to that station we had to wait another half hour for the train.  Dennis found someone interesting to talk to in the meantime.  Six times an announcement can over the speaker system warning everyone: “The next train is a non-stop high-speed service!.  Stand clear of the yellow line!  This train will NOT be stopping at this station!”  Then the next minute WHOOSH  – the train was so fast I was so startled to think that it did not slow down one little bit!!  While we had been standing, talking with this gentleman, a retired  proof-reader of the Guardian, we had seen a dead pigeon lying near us on the station platform.  When the first of these high-speed trains went by, the pigeon was sucked under and deposited at least 20 metres down the track!  Dennis reckons the train was doing 100-120km/hr.  It was so scary!  Of course by the sixth time, it was less so and Dennis just forgot to move back behind the yellow line!  The next minute the train’s LOUD horn was sounded for his benefit and yes he did move back in time!!!  It took us five hours to get to Shooters Hill and we were pleased to be able to use Rob’s lovely little house again.

Dennis from time to time just cannot resist the urge to try another Fish and Chip shop.  We have been thoroughly disappointed a few times now but anyway he thought he would try again.  But this particular shop seemed to fry everything else but not fish and not chips!  So he came back to the van with a container of Octopus Rings…. I had one and it was DISGUSTING!  A rubber band dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried would have had more appeal!  Yuk!!  Needless to say, Dennis finished the lot.

And look at all that fat that escaped from the octopus rings!

The bronze statues have a plaque:

“In gratitude to the people of Britain for saving the lives of 10,000 unaccompanied mainly Jewish children who fled from Nazi persecution in 1938 & 1939”

Bronze statues in the Liverpool St Train Station

Before attending St Helen’s 6 p.m. service again the following day we walked for miles around London City.  We listened to about five or six people at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, especially enjoying the hecklers, and just wandered around streets we hadn’t been to earlier.  Spring has certainly arrived, with warmer temperatures (up to 18C one day), and a selection of spring bulbs opening up here and there.

This old Church had an outside pulpit as well


A hotel along Park Lane with one green corner. Very odd!

And the Muslim man was the heckler, in the end the crowd told him to get his own soap box!

The crocus beds around Hyde Park were gorgeous! Why don't NZ councils use them, I wonder?


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