Z for Zooming Back to Oz

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Z
Goodbye to England

Before I tell you how I farewelled the class and the staff and how we cleaned the house from top to bottom and how we took a taxi to Heathrow for £100 I will mention an article in Wollongong’s local newspaper, The Illawarra Mercury, about my exchange. There used to be an educational supplement once a week and the editor asked me to send pictures and information about my experiences when I could. They found Carol at my school and asked her to participate. Much to her embarrassment she made the front page of the supplement, dripping wet and emerging from the surf at Wollongong’s North Beach. She told me she had to go in and out of the water many times to get the photo just right.

The following list of pluses and minuses made it into the article uncut. It was written earlier in the year so I have to tell you that I did eventually find the fish and oyster sauces in the supermarket.

Good things about England:  

   •     the house is small so easy to clean and easy to heat.  We are never cold inside, but it’s a different story outside.  We don’t really miss not having a larger house.  House is beautifully decorated.

   •     area is quiet because we are next to a graveyard

   •     short walk to High Street and Chasewater Park

   •     we have a good little car – a Ford Focus (pale green) and cheaper than expected. GBP6,600

   •     people have been very friendly.  We had a lunch with the school principal (Trish), the first Sunday we were here, at a popular country pub.

   •     we’ve also had dinner at Carol’s parent’s house. (Carol is the teacher I’m exchanging with).

   •     half term holiday – after six weeks flat out it’s great to recharge the batteries.

   •     European wines make an interesting change.

   •     meat is affordable (in small quantities) but we’ve been told we can’t eat salmon because of high number of carcinogens.

   •     we are close to a significant number of tourist attractions, Stratford, Warwick Castle etc

   •     television is full of DIY, real estate, travel, antique and relocation programs –day and night- couldn’t work out whether to put this in good or bad list.

Australia is in the news daily because of “I’m a celebrity-Get me Out of Here”. I don’t watch it (nobody does), but we all know about it. Actually John watches it and I mark books and catch glimpses to see who’s been sent off.

   •     John says, “close to art galleries, museums, gymnasium, parks and good shopping”(except can’t find fish and oyster sauce for my stir fries).

   •     Birmingham – a great place to visit, full of great shops and magnificent canal side eateries and bars.  Well, they look good – haven’t been inside yet.  It’s a bit quiet because of winter.

   •     snow – makes everything look pretty but roads are terrifying as a result.

   •     sailing – can walk to sailing club but not inviting in mid-winter.

   •     clothes- some good deals in the January sales.

   •     school dinners – again not sure if a plus or a minus

   •     good ideas about organisation at school to take home

   •     half term, Easter, half term, summer, half term, Christmas

   •     Proximity to Europe – going on 7 day whirlwind tour of five countries at Easter.

•     John says the variety of cars is keeping him entertained (small things……)

Not so good things about our experience so far

   •     weather – mostly cloudy and damp but I have been surprised to see sunny days with blue sky. They are even colder than cloudy days.

   •     showers – how I long for a power shower

   •     food – I miss fresh seafood and Leisure Coast Foods at Fairy Meadow.

   •     very busy roads with speeding cars and speed cameras every 100 yards (I have only driven once)

   •     school – enormous amount of paperwork and accountability (testing) and fear of inspection, losing job etc.  Low morale.  However planning is great.  We do it together at the computer, print it out and there is the program, done.  A lot of it is a repeat of last year’s work, so programming is easier than Oz.

   •     schooldays are long.  To those who are not teachers 3.30 may not seem a late finish time but talking almost non stop from 9 until 3.30 is a long time (hence my laryngitis).  There is no release from face to face so all planning, marking etc is done after 3.30.  Most teachers go home about 5.00 and then work all weekend.  I was determined not to work weekends but had to just before parent interviews.  Teachers here seem much more stressed than Oz.  The school is losing two teachers because of a drop in numbers so everyone is thinking “will it be me”?

   •     kids can’t play on grass in winter because it is too muddy

   •     restaurants are expensive.  In the posh ones you are charged for water, sitting down and even breathing.  Cheaper restaurants have very ordinary food (and people smoke in them)

   •     no barbecue

   •     local cake shop has inedible food – just went there to get morning tea but came back empty handed

   •     TV programs indicate that moving to Spain, Italy, France etc is everyone’s dream.  Australia is too far and too hard to get into.


As you know, the barbecue situation was resolved, the laryngitis went away, the paperwork was all completed on time and we spent nearly every weekend exploring Britain. Looking back I am glad I did it but would never do it again. I could have applied to do an exchange to Canada in a few more years but decided that the next time I travelled overseas it would be on a holiday.

We returned to Britain in 2012 for the wedding of a friend’s daughter. Of course we had to call in on Carol and her parents. We recalled the day Alan and Barbara drove us to see the Air Show. We had a late start and were caught up in a massive traffic jam as thousands of others were going to the same place. We gave up, had our picnic in a lay by and visited another historic “pile” we hadn’t seen before. I think I might have enjoyed it more than the Air Show!

Sadly Alan passed away last year. We will never forget his cheerful manner and desire to make us feel welcome in a strange environment.

As for the “interested one”, he stayed in London when Carina returned to Australia, but not for long. Now they are married with two children and live in Sydney, Australia.

My exchange teacher, Carol, came to Australia for a visit and not long after announced that she too was getting married. She still lives in the same house in England but has made quite a few alterations.

John’s father sold his house while we were away and with the help of John’s brother and his family, moved to a comfortable villa so that when we returned all the hard work was done.

Cameron moved house twice while we were in England. I had to laugh when he wrote that they rotated the bedrooms so that each had a few weeks in the master suite before moving back to a smaller room. He did get to visit England eventually and went on one of those “Under 30” tours of Europe a few years later.

I only stayed in teaching for one more year. In whatever country you teach, the job is stressful, although it certainly has its rewards. I missed the group planning sessions, the wealth of material available for our topics and the predictability of content. I arrived back at the time of the rollout of the new HSIE (Human Society and Its Envornment) syllabus so the first (pupil free) day of school in 2005 was spent writing new units of work. Did I really want to do this? I decided I didn’t and although I enjoyed my last year of teaching by the end of the year I was ready to leave it all behind and join my husband in the glorious freedom of retirement.

Back home again enjoying the warm weather

Y for Year of Living Differently

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Y

This is the post where I write about all the things that didn’t go into the other posts but are still saying, “include me!”

It looks as though we were never home except to sleep but even before the weather warmed up John had bought a charcoal barbecue for the backyard and was inviting some of my staff over for a meal. M, who used to drive me to school, recalls John attempting to cook steak with snowflakes falling on his head.  We had to move the whole thing to the carport to finish cooking.

I sent this to Carol to show how “warm” it was. I was freezing.

Carol had a lovely garden and we enjoyed watching the flowers appear in the spring.  I can honestly say it was the best spring I had ever experienced.  Each new flower or bud that appeared was a welcome sign that one day it would be warm again.

Not far from where we lived was a stately home called Shugborough, belonging to the Earl of Lichfield.  We visited twice, once on our own and later with our friends from Australia, Michael and Adrian. Shugborough Hall is situated on the edge of Cannock Chase.  It was given to the National Trust in 1960 in lieu of death duties. Lord Lichfield retained an apartment in the Hall until his death in 2005, the year after we visited.  Apparently his apartment is now a gallery exhibiting some of his photographic works.

Shugborough Hall

We enjoyed walking through the manicured gardens, admiring statues, watching wedding photos being taken, marvelling at the Morris dancers and exploring the canal and its interesting bridges.

A quick stop in Lichfield had our friends investigating the birthplace of Samuel Johnson and the home of Erasmus Darwin followed by tea in a 1550 tea house.  As keen history buffs they were delighted to walk across Bosworth Field where the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses took place in the 15th Century.

1550 tea shop in Lichfield

John’s brother Jim called in for a short visit prior to our flight to Majorca.  We showed him Castle Ring on Cannock Chase. It is thought to have been occupied by an ancient Celtic tribe known as the Cornovi. Now it is a circular area of raised earthworks but interesting just the same. We walked across part of the Chase in the cool autumn air and fired up the barbie for dinner that night.  He treated us to lunch next day at a cosy inn near a canal but I’m still searching for its name and location.

Aerial photo of Castle Ring courtesy of ‘Cannock Chase SAC Partnership’ cannockchase.org.uk

The local Chase Sailing Club opened up in the spring and we were invited to take an Enterprise for a sail thanks to the efforts of Alan, the father of our exchange teacher. Chasewater is a reservoir created to feed the Wyrley and Essington Canal in 1797. Now the 90 hectare body of water is used for sailing, waterskiing and more recently paddleboarding.  We enjoyed our sail but were glad to get out of our wet clothes, have a hot shower and be dry and warm.  Although John was a keen sailor at home he didn’t take to sailing in England which might have been something to do with the weather.  

We were also invited to a night of bowling at the sailing club. We attended with Carol’s parents but I was wondering how a bowling alley could be set up in a sailing club.  To my surprise there was only one wooden alley with ten skittles and three bowls.  They can be hired from the portable Skittle Alley Company in Dudley.  We each took a turn and to my relief I not only scored well but I won a box of chocolates.

Bowling night at the sailing club

Every weekend was a surprise.  I would come home on Friday night ready for a magical mystery tour.  John decided he wanted to find the head of the Thames.  It doesn’t have a fixed location as sometimes the springs dry up and the river begins further along its course.  A field to the north of the A433, Trewsbury Mead, has the highest located springs.  They were dry when we visited but that didn’t matter.  We sat on a style to eat our picnic lunch (too many cowpats on the ground) and ran for shelter in a sudden rainstorm, conveniently finding the Thames Head Inn, where I drank cider, my usual drink in an English pub.

We drove on to Oxford, “city of dreaming spires”.  The city is compact so walking around it is easy.  We enjoyed recognising the Radcliffe Camera and the Bridge of Sighs but mainly loved soaking up the atmosphere of this university city.

Another weekend we were visited by our longtime English friend Barbara, who lives in Australia but would visit England every year to catch up with her father.  We spent a whole day driving to the Cotswolds, visiting Chipping Camden and Lower Slaughter before returning to Chasetown.  She still talks about the lunch of soup and toast, cooked on the gas stove and eaten in the shelter of a barn wall, out of the wind.

A brief tour of the Cotswolds

When I was about twelve years old I remember reading about Stonehenge in a National Geographic found in a doctor’s waiting room.  I decided then I had to see it for myself.  That idea was reinforced when I read “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” at high school. Imagine my delight when listening to the headset as we walked around those ancient stones to hear a quote from “Tess”.

The next pillar was isolated; others composed a trilithon; others were prostrate, their flanks forming a causeway wide enough for a carriage and it was soon obvious that they made up a forest of monoliths grouped upon the grassy expanse of the plain.  The couple advanced further into this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

“It is Stonehenge!” said Clare.

Unlike Tess, we couldn’t lie on a warm, dry oblong slab and sleep until dawn as the whole of Stonehenge is fenced off from destructive visitors and we can only walk around its perimeter. John had visited in the 1960s and had the privilege of clambering all over it but obviously it was suffering from too much love and needed to be protected.

As I looked out the window of our Travel Inn in Portsmouth where we stayed that night, I could see the Isle of Wight in the distance.  Our plans to catch a ferry were thwarted by the weather as it was abysmal.  We were cheered a little when we found a non-smoking pub.  

Of course, Portsmouth is of great significance to Australians as it was the departure point for the First Fleet; 11 ships crowded with prisoners, leaving on the 13th May, 1787 for Botany Bay. While there was little reference to this world-changing event in Portsmouth, we found a sculpture called “Bonds of Friendship”.  It is a chain with only two links, locked so tightly together it is inseparable.  It symbolises both friendship and bonds but I thought it also represented the chains the convicts wore around their ankles.  There is a matching one in Sydney which I made a point of finding upon my return.

This photo of Portsmouth is courtesy of Tripadvisor

After our return from Scotland in the summer holiday we took a day trip to Chester.  What I found amazing about this beautiful city was a “dig” taking place in the town centre.  Every time a new building is constructed, the layers beneath the ground hold so much history. 

 It was a Roman fortress in the 1stcentury AD and you can walk around the red sandstone Roman walls which still exist today.  The Rows is a shopping district of Tudor-style half-timber buildings. Maybe that was the Roman Amphitheatre we could see being excavated on the day we were there. The River Dee flowed strongly underneath the Queen Park Bridge. So many places to see and so little time.

Tomorrow in Z we are going home. There are still places I have left out. John says, “What about Coventry, the ruined cathedral and the car museum?” but I have done enough. We are leaving England behind and flying for 24 hours across the world, back to our secure little life in Wollongong. The big adventure is nearly over.




X for Xmas is Coming

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter X

When the other teachers started talking about the Year 3 musical “Joseph”, I realised the year was coming to an end.  To my relief I was designated “Wardrobe Mistress” until it dawned on me I had to find costumes for 70 or more children. Not to worry, there was a room full of costumes because like everything else, this had been done before.

I have never participated in a nativity play or religious musical in an Australian school but we practised our carols and spoke our lines until the big night arrived. Parents and teachers alike enjoyed watching the 7 and 8 year old children re-enact the story of the birth of Jesus.

Meanwhile other Christmassy things were happening. Birmingham was having its annual Frankfurt Christmas market which ran from 18 November to 22 December. There were over sixty stalls spread out over Victoria Square selling candles, glasswork, ceramics and of course, Christmas decorations.  We were more interested in the German breads and pastries as I had had my fill of beer and Frankfurters while we were in Europe. The canals were ablaze with lights as decorated boats moved slowly along.  Live music added to the atmosphere.  Birmingham was looking its best.

Before we left for home we had to sell the car.  We took its photo for the advertisement in the Auto Trader. It appeared on Friday with the catchy title “Leaving for Australia”.  A man rang that day and paid a deposit of £100, agreeing to pick it up the following Friday.  That suited us as M, who usually gave me a lift to school, was at camp all week. John drove me to school so he could keep the car during the day.

We had just returned from a walk around the lake.  It was about 3 degrees and we were well rugged up.  We were amazed to see people sailing dingies in that temperature.  The lake was very high as it had been the wettest year for many years (just our luck).  One of the local sailors told us the dam wall could break because of the extra pressure on it (it last broke in 1792).

Chase Sailing Club Image from BBC West Midlands

Carol’s parents, Alan and Barbara invited us over for a buffet meal.  Carol’s sister Helen and some other family members were there.  After the meal we played bar-room skittles which kept us entertained until after midnight. Helen gave us  tickets for the evening Ghost Walk in Lichfield. I quote Councillor Ian Pritchard, “As the nights draw in and the temperature drops, this is the perfect time to discover the dark and mysterious side of Lichfield – if you’re brave enough”.

On a cold night we visited the guildhall prison cells, heard the history of the Market Square burnings, looked for the ghost supposedly lurking in Dam Street and the Close and left knowing more about Lichfield’s history than we did before.

Checking our tickets for the flight home we realised that to qualify for our cheaper fares we had to be home within twelve months of leaving. That meant leaving the day after school finished and no stop overs on the way home.  We changed our tickets so we would be home for Christmas. Barbara and Alan were very concerned that we would miss out on an English Christmas so we celebrated at their place a week early, enjoying the roast turkey and plum pudding in a more fitting environment than Australia in the middle of summer.

Early Christmas

As our time in Chasetown drew to an end we decided to walk around the village, taking photos of the shops and pubs.

The school staff were having their Christmas party at the Golf Club. Someone must have spoken to the band because we were on the dance floor when the band began to play ” I come from a land down under….” I must admit tears came to my eyes. I really was missing home.

The staff Christmas party

It was hard to believe that soon we would leave our English home. There were regrets but as I wrote in an email to a friend:

Nevertheless the BBQ in the courtyard at home on a balmy summer’s evening is very inviting and we are looking forward to the beach, the restaurants in Wollongong and of course seeing our family.  Carina is returning from England in April, in time for John’s 60th.  We are also looking forward to putting the boat in the “warm” water, taking the van for a holiday and I am relishing a year back in the Australian education system.

W for Warwick Castle, Wales and Whitby

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter W

It took three attempts to visit Warwick Castle, even though it was only 70 km away.  Carina had been there on her Rock Eisteddfod tour in 1998 and told us we must go.  It was a lovely sunny, cold day when we arrived and perfect for walking around battlements, climbing towers and visiting dungeons and torture chambers.  

Outside Warwick Castle

Originally built of wood by William the Conqueror in 1068, it was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century.  During the hundred years war the façade opposite the town was refortified to give it its current appearance. At the time we visited, the castle was owned by the Tussauds Group so as you can imagine, the recreation of historic figures and traditional scenes was excellent.  Twelve apartments were open to the public with authentic furniture and wax figures depicting a weekend party in 1898 hosted by the Countess of Warwick and included the future Edward VII as one of the guests.  In 2003 Warwick Castle was recognised as the “best castle” in the Good Britain Guide.

Everywhere we went the name “Capability” Brown kept popping up.  He was responsible for redesigning the gardens at Warwick Castle from 1747 to 1760, giving them a more “natural” connection to the River Avon.

Old ruined bridge built 1373

Unlike its rival castle, Kenilworth, it suffered little damage in the Civil War (it was on Cromwell’s side) and has been maintained and rebuilt over its long life. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit and our lunch at Vanilla in Warwick which I wrote was “quite inexpensive and edible”.

Wales was on the must do list as it was only a short distance to the border from where we lived.  On a sunny Saturday morning we drove to Llanberis where we intended to catch the train to the top of Mt Snowden but decided against the £20 fare. We took our little gas burner, cooked soup and made toast by a rushing stream in the Llanberis Pass.  It had recently rained and water was pouring off the hills everywhere but it kept dry for our picnic.  

Lunch at Llanberis Pass

We had a pub meal in Dolwyddelon that night after exploring Betws-y-Coed.

Our B&B. See the castle on the hill.

 Our B&B featured a ruined castle on the property which we explored in the morning.  We felt like the “Famous Five” as we had the castle to ourselves!  

After a three mile walk around the estate we drove to two National Trust properties (as we are members).  The first was Ty’n-Coed, a former tenant farmer’s cottage which contained years of collected items from generations past. The property included a riverside walk where we ate apples off the tree and picked blackberries.  

Tenant farmer’s cottage now a type of youth hostel owned by the National Trust.

The next property was Ty Mawr where a man named William Morgan was born.  He translated the bible into Welsh at the request of Queen Elizabeth 1.  The story of his education and childhood was fascinating and the cottage was just beautiful, nestled in a secluded valley far from crowds.  We met about four people at each spot, just enough to have a conversation.  We had spent a lot of time in towns and cities and I was just loving our weekends in more remote places.  

We had another picnic of soup and toast again on Sunday on top of a hill near Ty Mawr before visiting our third national trust property, Powis Castle, near Welshpool.  One of its claims to fame is it was built by a Welshman, not by the invading English.

Powis Castle

However, during the Civil war it supported Charles I and so was captured by Cromwell’s men. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660 it went back to its owners, the Herberts.  By 1784 it was falling into ruin but Henrietta Herbert made a very strategic marriage to Edward Clive, eldest son of Clive of India.  Money could now be poured into repairing the castle.  I thought it was interesting that Edward’s son, also named Edward, was shot and killed in a hunting accident by his own second son.  The fourth Earl married Violet Lane-Fox, who transformed the gardens into the “most important and magnificent in Wales” (Elisabeth Whittle, garden historian).  Unfortunately she was killed in a car accident in 1929 and her two sons died in WWI (1916) and WWII (1943).  That meant George Herbert had no heirs on his death in 1952 so he bequeathed the castle and gardens to the National Trust.

Magnificent grounds of Powis Castle

Apart from the memorable gardens I specifically remember the Clive Museum where many items collected as loot during battles in India are on display.  Apparently their existence is now quite controversial but in 2004 we were less aware of the links between country house collections and colonialism.

Statue of Captain James Cook in Whitby

A bonus Bank Holiday (long weekend) gave us time to visit Whitby and the birthplace of Captain James Cook.  John has always been a great fan of Cook and has over time visited many of the spots where he planted the British flag as well as the scene of his death in Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii.

View over Whitby

Basing ourselves in a lovely B&B just two blocks from the harbour we set off to find the places Cook had lived.  Although we didn’t go to East Martin, where he was born, we found a statue of him at 8 years of age in Great Ayton where James’ father secured a job as foreman at Aireyholme Farm.  Here he attended school where he learned writing, arithmetic and had religious instruction.  The schoolhouse has long since gone but was rebuilt in 1785 and is now the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum.

John next to his hero

We then moved on to Staithes, a fishing village where Cook worked for William Sanderson, a merchant, haberdasher and grocer but his time there only convinced him that he wanted to go to sea.

Village of Staithes at low tide

It was then that Cook moved to Whitby and became an apprentice to the ship owner John Walker.  We climbed the stairs to the attic which Cook would have shared with other apprentices.

Cook worked and slept up there at the top

Working on coal ships that travelled between Newcastle and London he rose to the rank of Mate.  In 1755 he was offered the position of Master of the Friendship but left instead to join the Royal Navy.  That is the end of Cook’s connection with Whitby but he would have returned to visit his family.  We found the grave of Cook’s mother Grace Pace who married James Cook senior.  She is buried near five of her children.

Perfect setting for Dracula

Whitby is also known for being the setting of Dracula.  In the book he runs up the 199 steps to the abbey in dog form after his ship is wrecked.  The author, Bram Stoker, was staying in Whitby while he researched  Vlad the Impaler in the local library. Bits of Whitby can be found in the novel, including names from the gravestones near the ruined abbey.

The graveyard that inspired Bram Stoker

We thought we would eat at the famous Magpie Café, known as one of the finest fish restaurants in the area.  The queue out the door was so long we gave up and ate elsewhere.

We gave up waiting for fish and chips

As we drove south we spent a few hours in York, admiring The Shambles, with its overhanging timber-framed buildings dating from the 14th Century.  The name is derived from an obsolete term for an open-air slaughterhouse and meat market.  Although the butchers have now vanished there are still meat hooks hanging outside. Now there are a mix of restaurants, bookshops and a bakery, among others.

We are winding down now.  It is not long to the end and yet there are still so many places to go. What does X hold in store?  You will find out tomorrow.

V for Visits From Our Daughter

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter V

It was unfortunate that Cameron was unable to leave his new job and spend a few weeks in England but we did have a few other visitors, especially our daughter.

Carina would catch the bus from London to Birmingham where we picked her up after navigating the notorious Spaghetti Junction approaching the city.

On one occasion we drove to Haworth where the Bronte sisters lived.  In 1998, on a previous trip to England, we had driven from Aberdeen to York and then on to Haworth, arriving just as the Parsonage closed for the evening. I sat in the cemetery next to the church where Charlotte, Emily and Branwell lie. I was probably overwrought because I had arrived late but I wept as the sadness of the family’s loss pressed down upon me in that gloomy setting.

It was a sunny, cheerful day when we drove to Haworth with Carina, a fellow  Bronte fan.  This time we were able to go inside the Parsonage and take as much time as we wanted. Thirty nine years after it was built in 1778, Patrick Bronte was appointed to the St Michael and All Angel’s Church in Haworth, arriving with his wife Maria and six children. The following year Maria died of cancer and her sister Elizabeth came to run the household until 1846 when she too died. In 1824 the four oldest sisters left home to attend the Clergy Daughters’ School at Cowan Bridge.  The following year Maria, the eldest came home to die at age 11.  Shortly after Elizabeth aged 10 met the same fate. Branwell, the only boy, died at the age of 31 of TB, after developing a dependence on alcohol and opium, Emily died of TB aged 30, Anne at age 29 and Charlotte at 38 in the early stages of pregnancy.

Carina in front of the Bronte Parsonage

What must it have been like for Patrick Bronte to lose his wife and all his children while he lived on to the age of 84, cared for by the husband of Charlotte?

It is astonishing how much work they produced in their short lives. Charlotte is best known for her novel, Jane Eyre, Emily for Wuthering Heights and Anne for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall but they wrote many other books and poems.

Wandering around the Parsonage gives you an idea of what their life must have been like.  Their treatment at boarding school amounted to child abuse.  Patrick regretted sending his children away but thought at the time he was doing the right thing by their education.

The bunting is going up, the windows are being taped and the ration cards are at the ready as the Severn Valley Railway prepares to host its hugely popular Step Back to the 1940s Weekend.

Advetisement for the step back to the 1940s weekend

On another visit from Carina we travelled to Kidderminster to catch a train on the Severn Valley Railway to Bridgnorth.  It was the annual 1940s Revival event where many people who love dressing up looked the part for the occasion, wearing WW2 military uniforms (Allies and the enemy), pin stripes, polka dot belted dresses, head scarves and hats. 

At Kidderminster a large display of second-hand goods near an air raid shelter invited people to replace their bomb damaged furniture.  The entire railway was transformed into a rose coloured snapshot of wartime Britain, with activities, re-enactments and entertainment along the way. Bands and singers performed on platforms at each end of the 16 mile line.  A cinema sign advertised “Gone With the Wind” and further down the track “Winston Churchill” was kidnapped by the nazis from the steam train in a battle re-enactment.

Arriving at Bridgenorth we explored this fascinating town.  It was a royalist stronghold but in 1646 Cromwell’s Roundheads arrived and demolished the castle which survives today, inclined at an angle of 15 degrees.

I wouldn’t park there

There is a High Town and a Low Town linked by a funicular railway as the town is situated on the slopes of a narrow valley through which the River Severn runs. Although the Castle Hill railway is well over 100 years old, its use of water and gravity for propulsion was changed to electricity in 1943.  New cars containing up to 18 people were installed in 1955.  The other way down is by using 200 steps or by roads which greatly increase the distance travelled.

After exploring the town we returned by train to Kidderminster, picked up our car and drove Carina to Birmingham, where she caught the bus back to London.

At the time Carina was enjoying her job as a PA for Unilever.  She was asked to organise a conference at Cliveden, an English country house in Buckinghamshire currently used as a five-star hotel.  It is famous for being the setting of the notorious Profumo Affair in the 1960s when it was owned by the Astor family. Her six flatmates stared in wonder as she was picked up from Shepherds Bush by a chauffeured limousine.  After the event was over she retired to her room exhausted and rang for room service.  I still recall her calling us to say, “I’m sitting in bed eating lobster and drinking a milkshake”.

Carina admits that she saw more of England on her visits to our house than at any other time. On her first visit we explored Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire.  Built from local red sandstone, it showcases five centuries of castle architecture.  Oliver Cromwell did his best to ruin it in 1649 as he feared it would be used as a military stronghold.  The stone Great Tower is thought to have been the castle’s earliest surviving structure, built around 1120.

Kenilworth Castle

We also took her to the Black Country Museum in Dudley which “tells the story of the creation of the world’s first industrial landscape”. (Trip Advisor).  It was formed in an area including an old railway goods yard, disused lime kilns, an underground canal and exhausted coal pits.  It is close to the site where Dud Dudley first smelted iron with coal turned into coke instead of wood charcoal (1622). Like Ironbridge, it lays claim to being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

Black Country Museum

The highlight for us was the trip on the Dudley Canal and through the Dudley Tunnel’s historic limestone mines and caverns.  A teenage boy on our boat was shown how to “leg it” and moved our boat along the tunnel with the use of his legs.

Workshops, mills, forges and other equipment have been rescued from demolition sites and are in full working order. Houses, shops and public buildings have been dismantled and rebuilt to create an early 20th century village.

Back to Ironbridge

Of course we had to take Carina to my favourite place, Ironbridge.  After crossing the bridge, poking around the local shops and looking at the remains of Bedlam furnace we drove to the Blists Hill Open Air Museum.  Looking at the current website it appears to have developed considerably since we were there in 2004 but we found it interesting just the same.  Many buildings have been added to the original ones on the site and it is now called The Blists Hill Victorian Town. The original Madeley Wood Company blast furnaces produced pig iron from 1832 to 1911.

Blast Furnace Ruins

The Hay inclined plane linked Blists Hill with the River Severn via a short stretch of the Shropshire Canal.  Box shaped tub boats were taken up and down the plane using full and empty boats as counterbalances.  A small steam engine kept it all under control.

The Hay inclined plane

We also saw the half scale model erected by BBC Timewatch in the year 2000.  They used the same methods indicated in Elias Martin’s painting and successfully installed three ribs.  Much was learnt about how the bridge was constructed, with techniques based on timber joining techniques such as dovetails, wedges and mortise and tennons giving the bridge greater flexibility.

Model of Ironbridge construction

We also spent a day in Birmingham with our daughter, exploring the shops and squares, posing in front of the “Floozy in the Jacuzzi”.  I have read that in 2013 the fountain began to leak and so the whole thing was filled with soil and plants.  There are plans to restore it to its former glory by 2022.

Officially named “The River” but to everyone she was “The Floozy in the Jacuzzi”
The Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham and “The Floozy”

Carina was to return to Australia three months after us.  As for “the interested one” only time would tell.  More on that later.

U for University Visit with Exchange Teachers

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter U

We became good friends with some exchange teachers from Northampton who were originally from Newcastle, NSW.  They invited us to their home in Northampton for the weekend so immediately after school finished on Friday we jumped in the car for the 100 km journey which we expected would take about an hour and a half.  Somewhere along the M1 there had been an accident so we came to a sudden stop, along with thousands of other cars.  Darkness fell and still we barely moved.  We rang our hosts saying we would be late for dinner.  Later we rang to say go ahead and eat without us.  At 10.00 pm we parked in their street and thankfully crawled out of the car and in through their front door.

The house in Northampton

They had an unusual house.  You walked inside directly from the footpath.  Then you had to step down as the street was higher than the entrance to the house.  Our hosts brought us offerings from the oven and watched us while we ate.  It was not long before we were off to bed but not before discovering the bathroom and toilet were downstairs while the two bedrooms were upstairs.  We thought our house was small but this one beat it by a mile.

The next day we were to visit the university city of Cambridge. W planned to meet an ex-student of his who had almost finished a PhD at Cambridge.  Her topic was “The Education of Queen Elizabeth 1 and Edward 3”.  She had access to the exercise books of the two children which had been carefully preserved.  They could only be accessed wearing gloves and only for a very good reason.

Trinity Bridge, Cambridge

Feeling very privileged we were given a tour of Trinity and Kings College.  We listened to the choir practising in the King’s College Chapel, watched people punting on the River Cam outside Trinity College but the most amazing sight of all was when we walked into the town.  A small group of young people were gathered around an object.  It turned out to be a man in a wheelchair.  We realised we were looking at none other than Stephen Hawking, the famous theoretical physicist who made significant discoveries concerning black holes, gravity and quantum mechanics while battling motor neurone disease.

B and Linda with Oliver Cromwell and his wife

The next day saw us visiting Ely Cathedral and Oliver Cromwell’s house in Ely. Lunch was at Foxton locks before we went our separate ways to our respective homes and another week of work. W’s wife, B, was the exchange teacher but W had opted to do some casual teaching in a high school.  More recently he was offered some teacher’s aide work in a primary school which he really enjoyed.

Foxton Locks

B and W returned the visit and fortunately were able to eat a meal with us on the Friday night.  Next morning the plan was to drive to the Peak District. We took a picnic lunch which we ate sitting on the grass in the grounds of Chatsworth House. In 2005 this stately home was used in the TV series of Pride and Prejudice as Mr Darcy’s residence, Pemberley.

We continued on, resisting the urge to try a Bakewell tart, until we came to the town of Castleton. W had planned for us to do The Cave Dale Walk and the climb to Mam Tor which is something we would never have attempted on our own.  The views as we walked along the path and up Mam Tor were spectacular.  I have to thank W for sending me photos taken on that day, complete with labels.

The town of Castleton
Climbing the style
Talking to the dry wall builders
View towards Castleton

Our third rendezvous with our friends was in Birmingham.  W was keen to visit the Back to Back houses. Only open to the public in July, 2004, after their restoration, four houses are decorated in the style of different eras. There was an 1840s house, as well as 1870s, 1930s and 1970s. Built in the early 1800s the houses contained families who worked from home.  Occupations were button making, woodwork, glasswork, leatherwork, tailoring and jewellery making. By 1900 the ground floor had been converted into shops and some upstairs became workshops. In 1966 the houses were declared unfit for habitation and all the residents moved out.  Fortunately the buildings were given a Grade 2 listing in 1988 and restored for visitors to see what life was like in the “good old days”.

We enjoyed a meal in Birmingham with our friends and said farewell as we all prepared to make the most of the last few weeks of our year in England.

T for Taking a Tour

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter T

The next day we were taking a tour, “The Best of the West”.  Setting alarms on two mobile phones and ordering a wakeup call we were determined not to miss our bus.  We needn’t have worried.  An argument in the next room and uncanny light flashes in the window had us awake for much of the night.  At 7.00 am it was pitch black but it was light by 8.00 am when we left for  Bus Stop 12.  Unaccountably there was no Bus Stop 12, only 11.  A number of people gathered on the opposite side of the road, some going to Inca markets, some to Marineland but none where we were going.  A Trans tours bus arrived so I went over to ask the guide.  Both he and the passenger getting on spoke German, so I thought – not our bus.  A few minutes later Juan (the guide) came over to get us.  It was the right bus – he just spoke Spanish, French, German and English.  In fact all commentaries were in Three languages and we were sure the French and Germans got more information than we did.

Although we travelled over some of the roads we had traversed yesterday the guide drew our attention to some interesting facts.  On the plains mainly almond trees grow, while in the mountains the olive trees flourished.  Some of the evergreen trees were carob but we were unsure whether the leaves or the carob beans were used to feed the cattle.  The carob bean itself was used to counterbalance gold and so was the origin of the word carat.  I also learned that a missionary born in Petra (Saint Junipero Serra) left for California to convert the heathen in 1749.  We observed people collecting something in the fields and were told they were looking for snails coming out after a shower of rain.

The Inca Markets are famous but we only saw them from a distance.  Our first and only stop was a leather factory outlet where we bought a wallet for Cameron and a key ring for Carina.

The most exciting part of the day was about to commence.  The clouds looked ominous as we climbed into the Serra de Tramuntana.  Almond trees gave way to olive trees, planted in incredibly labour intensive rock terraces up the hillsides.  Below us in a valley we saw Monastir de Lluc where anyone can go for a quiet Mallorcan holiday.  The monastery was founded in the 13th Century although the current buildings were mainly built in the 18th Century.

Sa Calobra (The Snake) is a 13 km road of hairpin bends reminiscent of Macquarie Pass on steroids.  One loop is so exaggerated that the road passes under itself in a knot.


We were to catch a boat to Port Saller at Cala de Sa Calobra.  There are about five restaurants and bars serving identical self-serve food pictured outside the establishments.  Delights such as spaghetti (canned!), fish and chips, sad looking salads and meatballs simmering in large metal trays all looked decidedly unappetising.  John opted for fish and chips but after the two cream topped cappuccinos and deep fried seafood yesterday I was looking for something healthier.  I unwisely chose some cheese, prosciutto and a bread roll, most of which I wrapped up and took home as ingredients for a Spanish omelette that night.

The main objective before departure was the Torrent de Pareis (River of the Twins).  The coastal path becomes two tunnels through the rock walls, emerging on the pebbly river bed.  As the pebbles approach the sea they become smaller.  I collected a small cream coloured pebble as a souvenir.

The boat trip to Port Soller began in heavy rain.  We followed the coastline and had an enjoyable albeit bouncy trip, seated in the covered, open air stern section.  A woman near us hung over the side of the boat the whole trip but most people survived  with lunch intact and shouted cheerfully at each big wave.

After following a shoreline of steep rocky cliffs we arrived at the cream and brown town of Port de Soller.  Then it was a matter of being herded along with hundreds of other tourists for ten minutes to the 17th Century Railway station (obviously not originally built for trains).  Things were looking up when we bought a pretzel shaped cake from one of the renowned bakeries and had a really good coffee minus the cream.

By Mikael F Flickr A Beautiful Journey

Our coach number was 637 and we clambered on board, looking forward to the next stage of the trip.  As we climbed the hills out of Soller we passed orchards of oranges, lemons, almond and olive.  After the first tunnel Soller was below us on our right and the next tunnel put it on our left.  The narrow gauge railway was built in 1912.  A total of 13 tunnels took us through the mountains and down to Palma.  In one very long tunnel we felt as if we were racing downhill, almost out of control.  It was with great relief that we saw daylight and the train slowed down, before plunging into another tunnel.  We didn’t actually go into Palma but left the train on the outskirts where all the coaches lined up to take the tourists home.

The trip back was across the dry interior and we pulled up at Cala d’Or as the sun was setting in a blue sky.  As I had some ingredients all we needed was some eggs, tomatoes and an onion to cook a Spanish Omelette and drink some red wine.

Our last day was quiet.  We could have hired a car and driven to Palma for the day but instead opted for coffee, newspapers, some souvenir shopping and a walk to find a new beach, Cala Egor.  It would have been a beautiful beach except for the two ugly high rise hotels flanking the inlet.  One had already closed for the season leaving an untidy mess of beermats and empty sugar packets labelled Marina Hotels as well as the inevitable cigarette butts.

Walking across the front of the hotel we found cement paths and steps marked PRIVATE.  It didn’t stop teenage boys from jumping off rocks into the water.

The food had been ordinary so far so we planned to have a special meal on the last night.  Reading through my Berlitz Pocket Guide I discovered a glowing reference to Can Trompe in Avd Belgica.  The young man in reception seconded that opinion.

Although tapas wasn’t on the menu we were advised that a selection of starters would give us the same result.  They were served two at a time and complemented each other perfectly.  First came green olives, hot bread rolls and aeoli.  Shortly after the whitebait and sauteed pimentos arrived.  This was followed by mussels mariniere and grilled or sauteed vegetables (eggplant, tomato, mushrooms and zucchini).  Finally we had chicken croquettes and spinach gratin.  That constitutes a perfect meal to my mind.

S for Skase Chase

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter S

Our last half term holiday was scheduled in October when the weather was decidedly wintry.  While I went off to school each day John researched all the warm places we could go for a week and settled on Majorca.  Our only knowledge of this Spanish Island was that Christopher Skase had departed Australia owing huge amounts of money and lived a millionaire lifestyle in Majorca until his death in 2001.

Flying over Majorca in our Monarch two engine airbus we saw a long, mountainous, green island.  The sun was setting but the air was deliciously warm after the cold chill of England.

John’s choice of accommodation was in Cala d’Or on the south east coast of the island.  Our apartment consisted of twin beds pushed together, a kitchen, dining/lounge and a balcony looking across the road to a car and bicycle hire shop.  We didn’t get a pool view but judging from the screams and smoke from the pool area maybe that was just as well.

Feeling hungry after our strange breakfast/dinner on the plane we walked along the street for pizza and garlic prawns with an inexpensive but good dry white.

Next day the weather was perfect (25 to 27 degrees).  We quickly donned our swimming costumes and took the short walk down to the beach.  Although small it was clean and sandy, resembling a large swimming pool, beach at one end, rock walls on each side and the Mediterranean Sea at the other end.  We swam out to a small buoy and chatted to other English tourists in the water.

At 12.00 midday we had a meeting with our Cosmos representative, Andy (we never saw him again).  He explained the various tour options but we decided against them all, at least for the time being.  We were given a glass of sangria and met another couple who had flown from Birmingham just as we had.  From what we could gather we were the only Australians in Majorca or at least on Cala D’Or.

Our daughter rang to tell us she had lost her PA job with Unilever.  While she was holidaying in Greece her temporary replacement had been given her job.  As Carina was returning to Australia in March 2005 the company preferred someone who could stay permanently.  So she was busy registering with various employment agencies to see what was available.

Meanwhile we decided to take the little road train to Cala d’Or.  It meandered along streets of newish whitewashed villas and apartments until reaching the town which consisted of row upon row of open-air restaurants.  A larger beach than ours, the Cala Gran looked spectacular with its clear blue water and yellow sand.  Catching the train back we opted for a prawn lunch on our balcony and a swim in the hotel pool. That evening we wandered down to the marina to admire the boats and choose a restaurant for dinner. After a busy six weeks with my new class it was paradise to just relax.

John’s maxim is to get to know the area you are in before heading off to explore new territory so next day we bought ingredients for a picnic lunch and walked to the fort on the headland where we had a fine view of the marina and Cala d”Or Beach. We continued along a road lined with grand houses.  The cliffs in front of the houses had holes for removable ladders  so the residents could lower themselves into the water, and more importantly, get out again.

Walking in the opposite direction along the beaches we discovered Cala Esmeralda and spent a long time people watching.  We became concerned when a child of about five, wearing just a towel, seemed to be alone.  She tagged onto one family, only to leave them after they climbed a hill.  Eventually she found her own family but they showed no concern over her disappearance for about twenty minutes.

I was to regret the fact that we did not swim again at these wonderful, calm beaches.  Little did we know that the weather would deteriorate and become cool and windy.

We slept in until nearly nine oclock after being woken at 2.00 am by a group of singers at the roundabout outside.  John jumped up to check and said there were about eight women and two men.  They sang “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and were quite harmonious.  At least I had that impression as I woke from a heavy sleep.  John had vaguely mentioned cycling to Porto Petro but when I enquired in the morning I heard “hire car” before he rolled back over to sleep.

John booked a car at the desk and in fifteen minutes we were picked up by a mini van and taken to Autos Roig Renta-Car on the outskirts of Cala d’Or.  In our little Fiat Pinto we headed north to Porto Cristo, resisting the urge to drive in to the many little beaches along the way.  You can’t keep John away from a marina so we sat contemplating the boats while we drank a cappuccino.  No food is required as the usual froth is replaced by whipped cream.  Delicious but evil.

Driving inland we came to the town of Petra which was very different to the resort towns.  The narrow streets were lined with stone and cement rendered buildings, two storeys high, with shuttered windows and stout wooden doors. A very old church was under restoration.

Heading back to the coast we saw a sign to Son Serra de Marina and entered a long drive towards the sea.  It was a fairly new development with a marina at the end but had a run-down neglected air about it.  At Ca’n Jauire we asked for tapas but the waitress didn’t understand so we ordered stuffed mussels, deep fried shrimp and calamari, tomato salad, bread, beer and aqua mineral.

Somewhere just before Port de Alcudia we found a beach vastly different to our Cala d’Or.  The approaches were reminiscent of the Gold Coast and the beach was long, covered in deck chairs and little umbrellas looking a little the worse for wear.

Heading back inland towards the centre of the island to the town of Sineu we found it full of interesting architecture.  The first thing we noticed approaching the town was the parish church of Mother Mary.  This large ancient church has an impressive bell tower with seven levels.  There is also a graveyard full of mausoleums and a former palace which is now a nunnery.  Sineu was once one of the most important towns on the island and many buildings from past golden eras remain.  Nine roads radiate from the centre of the town and we were on one heading to Sant Joan.  Although it was a large town, the shuttered houses in the narrow streets looked as though many might be empty.

After returning the car we were back at our hotel La Mirada.  Walking from the foyer to our room, past the pool, we ran the gauntlet of smokers.  We would hold our breath until we reached the stairs and then run up the two floors as the lift invariably never worked.

We had not been over impressed with our food in Majorca, feeling that the English tourist influence had had a detrimental effect and tonight was no different. Our pasta meals were only just edible although the English woman at the door tried hard to convince passers by it was a genuinely good restaurant.

Tomorrow we would explore a very different and spectacular part of Majorca.

R for Revolution (Industrial)

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter R

The happy circumstance that deposited me in the Midlands opened my eyes to the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.  I suppose I had equated it with the large cities of Birmingham and the flood of people from the country to the city so I was surprised to find Ironbridge in Shropshire was acknowledged as the place where it all began.  The Ironbridge Gorge is in a beautiful part of the world but it was the concentration of deposits of coal, iron ore, clay and limestone near the surface and the location on the River Severn for transport that made it a centre for industry.

Back in 1709 a man called Abraham Darby first smelted local iron ore with coke made from Coalbrookdale coal.

Although the River Severn was an important trading route, it was also a barrier for travel around the area as the sides of the gorge were steep. An iron bridge was proposed, with a single span, and high enough for tall ships to pass underneath.

In 1776 his grandson, Abraham Darby III, was commissioned to cast and build the bridge. After a few hiccups work began in 1777 when the masonry and abutments were constructed.  The ribs were lifted into place in 1779. The bridge has 1,700 individual components which were all cast separately to fit together.  It was opened to traffic in 1781 and was the first iron bridge successfully completed.


In 1997, a watercolour by Elias Martin was discovered in a Stockholm museum, which showed the bridge under construction.  In the painting you can see a movable wooden scaffold being used as a crane to position the ribs of the bridge.  These had been brought from Darby’s foundry 500 metres downstream.

Elias Martin’s watercolour

The bridge has undergone significant maintenance over the centuries and was closed to all but foot traffic in 1934.  In 1956 there were even plans to demolish it!

Since we viewed it and walked across it in 2004 it has had a massive restoration costing £3.6 million.  It has also changed colour, reverting from blue-grey to the original red-brown colour.

It is hard to imagine Ironbridge in its industrial days but this painting by Jakob Loutherbourg shows the area called Bedlam and why it was likened to Dante’s Inferno.

File:Philipp Jakob Loutherbourg d. J. 002.jpg

Ironbridge is home to thirty-six scheduled monuments and listed buildings cared for by The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust and spread over a six square kilometre site. The Trust also operates ten museums which collectively tell the story of the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. We returned with our daughter for another visit later in the year and spent many happy hours in the Blist’s Hill Victorian Town.

At the time we were watching Fred Dibnah’s “Industrial Age” and “Age of Steam” on TV. A steeplejack from Bolton, he became a television celebrity as his infectious love of British heritage opened our eyes not only to George and Robert Stephenson but Thomas Telford and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Who is the greatest Briton of all time?  This is what the BBC asked the general public in 2002.  Not surprisingly, Winston Churchill was number one, but number two was Isambard Kingdom Brunel (I love saying his full name).

Brunel was born in Portsmouth and lived in London for almost all his life. Yet it is Bristol, which claims him as its own. Brunel gave the city its trademark Clifton Suspension Bridge and built its rail link to London. In Bristol’s harbour, his mighty iron steamship, SS Great Britain, arguably the forerunner of all modern ships, is one of England’s leading heritage attractions.

This brings us to our visit to Bristol one sunny weekend.  The SS Great Britain was being restored when we walked around it, wearing our hard hats.  On board some cabins were complete and a large open area was to be used for functions at a future date. The Great Britain was designed for the Great Western Steamship Company’s transatlantic service between Bristol and New York City.  While other ships had been built of iron or equipped with a screw propeller, in 1843, Great Britain was the first to combine these features in a large ocean going ship. In 1845 she was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic and took 14 days.

98 years later she was scuttled in the Falkland Islands. In 1970 the vessel was raised, repaired and towed back to the Bristol dry dock where she had been built 127 years earlier.

The Australian connection is strong. From the time of the discovery of gold in 1851 she operated on the England-Australia route for almost 30 years.  She earned a reputation as the most reliable of the emigrant ships. In 1861 she carried 143 crew, 544 passengers (including the first English cricket team to tour Australia), a cow, 36 sheep, 140 pigs, 96 goats and 1,114 chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. The voyage took 64 days.

Back to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. As Jeremy Clarkson said with his usual forcefulness, “Brunel built modern Britain and Britain built the world, which means Brunel built the world”.

Q for Queen’s Ship

#AtoZChallenge 2021 April Blogging from A to Z Challenge letter Q
A summer picnic in a lay by on the way to Scotland

With a couple of weeks left of our summer holidays we planned to see some of Britain while the sun shone warmly. We decided to head north to Scotland, but not as far as Aberdeen, where my ancestors had lived, as we visited there in 1998.

Our first stop was Durham, England, where we climbed the tower of the cathedral, giving us an excellent view of the countryside and the ancient town. Every cathedral we visited John thought was better than the last, but my favourite was Wells.  That night we stayed in an old stone farmhouse, complete with sheep dogs and black-faced sheep.  

Now in the days of smart phones and constant internet connection it is hard to imagine us arriving in Edinburgh not knowing that the Comedy Festival, the Fringe Festival and the Military Tattoo were all taking place.  We even found a room for two nights at a B&B close to the centre of town.

The atmosphere in Edinburgh was great but I wish I had bought tickets to some of the events.  We had ruled out the Military Tattoo as it was raining and umbrellas were not allowed because they blocked the view.

We caught a bus out to Leith, where the Britannia is berthed and went on a tour of inspection. Five decks of the ship are open to the public, including the Queen’s bedroom (only a single bed!), state dining and drawing rooms with the walls and shelves covered with gifts from kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers throughout the world. An on-board garage held a Rolls-Royce Phantom V state car. As the space was slightly too small the bumpers had to be removed and reattached every time it was used.

Four royal couples celebrated their honeymoon on HMY Britannia.  Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones in 1960 sailed the Caribbean, Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips in 1973, also visited the Caribbean but were met with storms and 20 foot waves, Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981 in the Mediterranean and Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986 travelling around the Azores.

In 1997 the ship was decommissioned as repair bills were becoming extremely controversial.  It must have been a sad day for the Queen as it would have provided a respite from her public life. The clocks on board are stopped at 3:01, the time the Queen last disembarked.

Consulting my book of Bed and Breakfasts I directed John to a remote Scottish farmhouse, once a hunting lodge, high on a hill overlooking valleys, streams, sheep and cattle. We drove and drove up and down hills and through wild valleys, with not a house in sight. John was despairing of us ever finding a bed for the night and I must admit I was pretty tense. Just as well for those long twilights in summer! After arrival and settling in we were directed two miles down the road to the tiny whitewashed village of Barr and a charming pub, where we had superb food washed down by a delicious Chilean white wine.

We scuttled home when we realised how much we were spending – over £100 a day, and that was just food and accommodation. It was a different experience to Europe and very pleasant to be travelling around the British countryside without freezing to death.