UK, week 1

Back in December 2016, Amy and our middle daughter Emily began making plans for our Summer 2017 travels, with the main criteria being that we go overseas. Thanks to Scott’s Cheap Flights, they discovered round trip flights to London for less than half of last year’s Hawaii flights, so we all agreed this was the place to go. The next few posts will document Amy’s and Em’s fastidious planning, and our resultant family travels abroad.

uk-week-0

We started on Sunday with a bus trip from Indy to Chicago…

…and then a subway from downtown Chicago…

…to Chicago O’Hare International Airport:

So, about Amy: she broke her foot 3 days prior to our departure. This turned out to be the best travel hack ever, however, as we were whisked past the commoners through security and got to board our plane early. If you ever want the VIP treatment at the airport, just show up with a cast and crutches. (If you need to stay honest, go ahead and break your foot).

Everyone was very excited about flying on a 747, so I didn’t have the heart to tell them this heavy beast would never fly:

But fly it did, and 6 hours later we were looking over the cheery, sun-soaked city of London:

So…how hard could driving in the UK be?

Turns out it’s really hard to undo three decades of American driving experience, but each day is getting better. What at first felt overtly suicidal has settled into a manageable discomfort.

Most of us had gotten only a couple hours of sleep on the plane, but it was morning in London — we still had the whole day ahead of us. Our first stop of the trip was in the town of Oxford:

After Oxford we visited the infamous Stonehenge. It was a strange mixture of awe (seeing something so iconic) and humor (thinking of the Stonehenge scene from Spinal Tap.)

At the end of the day we made our way to our first Air B&B in Tedburn St. Mary where we’d spend the next 3 nights.

Tedburn St. Mary is pretty small town; this is the main strip:

But there are two pubs and a little grocery store where we scrounged up enough food for dinner that evening:

The next morning, Amy and I went to a larger grocery store to stock up on food for the next few days:

I thought I’d try a little local breakfast fare. PSA #1: If you try Weetabix, go easy on the milk else it will turn into a soupy mess.

The next day we set out on a driving tour of Dartmoor National Park. This was a random break in the hedgerow along the road where we could admire the rolling English countryside.

About the roads of Dartmoor…

*ahem*

Many of these roads are only the width of one small car, yet they are two-way. And the speed limit is 60 mph. There’s an ever-so-slight bulge in the road every 1/8th mile or so to allow cars traveling in opposite directions to negotiate a pass. So when on-coming vehicles encounter one another, the drivers have to figure out who should back up to the nearest bulge in the road.

Me backing up to the nearest bulge in the road:

We eventually came upon the town of Chagford and stopped to take a look around:

We stopped at the local hardware store hoping to find suitable “wellies” (short for Wellington brand rubber boots) for our up-coming volunteer gig at an organic farm.

I was enamored by this old creepy graveyard but have since realized all of the graveyards in England are old and creepy. Every one.

The sheep of Dartmoor just don’t care:

The distinctive landmarks of Dartmoor are its tors. These piles of boulders that emerge from the otherwise smooth landscape served as the inspiration for the Sherlock Holmes story The Hounds of Baskerville.

They are also fun to climb on:

Even for the hobbled among us:

The next day we set out to see some castles of Cornwall:

This was also the first we’d seen the ocean on this trip. I keep forgetting England is just a big island.

Tintagel Castle was built in the 13th century and is where legend says King Arthur was conceived (eww). Time has not been kind to this castle…

…but it was a great spot for lunch overlooking the ocean:

Also in Cornwall was Launceston Castle built in the 12th century:

The top provided a really nice view of the surrounding town of Launceston:

I was hoping we’d see castles that were a little more intact, but these fixer-uppers were still very cool.

Our Air B&B accommodations in Tedburn St. Mary were quite simple: just a guest bedroom in an otherwise occupied house, with a mini fridge and microwave in the closet. The family was super nice, and I enjoyed hearing the chatter of local family life (homework and bedtime routines, grocery deliveries, morning school pick-up, etc.)

A nearby house sporting a thatched roof — not an uncommon sight ’round ‘ere:

After leaving Tedburn St. Mary on Thursday morning, we made a stop at Exeter University. My girls were hoping to get authentic sweatshirts, but they found the apparel selection in the campus bookstore to be a bit underwhelming.

Amy and I like our coffee in the morning, but I’ve had to accept that half-n-half is not something they put in coffee here. We get weird looks when we ask, and the answer has so far been “sorry, we don’t have cream — just milk.”

Meat pie for lunch:

A farmers market in downtown Exeter, so Amy was happy!

A recommendation we’ve consistently received has been to visit the town of Bath, so that’s where we headed on Thursday afternoon. We got there later than we wanted (parking was a nightmare), but were able to catch the tail end of the last walking tour of the day:

Bath is a charming town steeped in history, and I enjoyed spending the afternoon there. But honestly, all of the towns we’ve stopped at or driven through so far feel right out of the middle ages.

That evening we landed at our second Air B&B, this time in Bristol:

And this time with a full kitchen, and the whole place to ourselves:

It was really nice to enjoy a home-cooked meal at a real table:

Tomorrow we head deep into rural England for several days to volunteer on a farm in exchange for food and lodging. Details to follow…

 

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