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Exploring ENGLAND: Uncovering the Must See Landmarks and Sights - Part 1 - Our Great Britain series.

Updated: Apr 22

Ancient castles, thatched cottages, historic pubs and dear friends.

A perfect recipe for holiday happiness!


Well, at last!

This trip has been over three years in the making. Thanks, but no thanks, Covid.

Thrilled to be finally going after all this time, and the main reason was to visit

a few different friends, that we have met over our recent years of travelling.

Our 'extended travel family' is what I call them,

and we were very excited about visiting

the UK branch of this unique family tree.


And if you've read my previous blogs, you'll know us enough by now

that we'll throw in a seven week road and rail trip to do so!


It had been a journey just to get here this time. A long one. But a happy ending.

We have retired!

YIPPEEEE!


So, just the day before we stepped on the plane, it was Trev's last day at work. We've sold up, and are freeeeee! Also, it's just 10 weeks since he had a new knee put in.


We were ready...ready to be held up for the rest of our lives

going through the Xray at airports.

Bless.

Trev's a new man, and what better thing to do, than to travel long haul,

walk hundreds of miles and climb a gazillion steps.

Who needs physiotherapy?

Go to Great Britain!


This was a self planned holiday this time. No tour company, no travel agents, no cruise, just me at the computer for a good month or so, booking every hotel, train trip, car hire, and maybe the odd 'Outlander Tour'... I left no stone unturned, as I didn't want to waste half our day in a new town

looking for a place to stay, or driving past a fabulous site I didn't know about,

only to find out later that missed something special. I even checked opening times and days for certain castles for instance,

as some are closed later in the season.



What I did do, was to research and listen to hours podcasts via this amazing site; https://uktravelplanning.com/about-new/ , and I would highly recommend it if you are planning a trip to the UK. Invaluable information and tips, links,

and even help with your itinerary if required.


That said, all good plans have to be flexible, and ready to throw out the door.


But that comes later, in Scotland.


Here's where the fun of my planning began, and a lot of it was a surprise to Trevor. He had been so busy leading up to this trip, that he left it all to me. On it.


But before we hit Britain, we get to visit a life long friend who lives in Dubai,

and manages an incredible Arabian Horse Stud just outside of the city.

It was great to catch up with Bec, and as she's a Rugby league fan like us,

or perhaps even more passionate...we got to watch our team win in the footy finals with her,

at an Aussie styled and owned pub, pretty much all by ourselves.


Colours on, game on, go the boooooys!

Visiting exquisite Arabian horses is always a delight for me,

and Trev got to enjoy the massive private car collection housed there too. Win-win!


The middle photo of the mares with their native saddlery on, was a print hanging in their stable block. A very proud image of their magnificence.




The hotel I had chosen for our brief stay, was a pearler. The world's tallest hotel, the Gevora Hotel, and our room had a view of the Burj Khalifa. I couldn't take my eyes off it as I was lying in bed. It was magnificent! The building that is... Cheeky...;)





And when you get to the end of this whole three part adventure,

you'll see I booked a cracking hotel view for our last night too. A wee gift to ourselves.


---


Departing Dubai, refreshed and de- jet lagged,

it was time to crack on with our UK adventure!


So, in stark contrast from the previous two days,

our first three nights was going to be staying on a long boat,

hidden in a leafy canal, pretty much in the heart of London.

Perfect!



Challenging as it was for our airport transfer driver to find this place in the dark,

we were blessed to have the lovely owner of this quaint Air BnB experience, Alejandra,

waiting for us street side, to show us the direction away from life in the city,

down to the peace and tranquility at water level.


Trev was scratching his head, wondering what the heck I have gotten ourselves into! Rest assured, as the trip ahead unfolded, my choices were exciting,

very different, as you can see already, bang on. Phew!

What an extraordinary experience, and such a charming and unique way to start our journey. We had three relaxing nights booked on this puppy, named 'Emma'.

From here, it was just a quick seven minute walk to Angel tube station,

where we just pay-passed our way around London Town with ease.


Angel? Me? Haha, not likely!


Time to find the pillow Trev, tomorrow you'll need to put your skates on...

We have huge plans.


---


Next morning saw us hit the trains, taking four different ones, to meet our dear friend Tom, (whom we shared a safari car for 3 days in Africa with his lovely wife, Harriet, back in 2019),

and before we knew it, we were in front of the incredible Windsor Castle!

I should think of better words for 'Wow'.

But, Wow.


Windsor Castle at sunset. Not my shot, a great pic from the net, but unfortunately, there was no photo credit to share.




And to have Tom, (who is a retired Scot's Guard), and who, might I add, had the extreme honour of standing vigil at the Queen's coffin, as she lay in state at Westminster Abbey...

by our side, telling us stories and anecdotes that no-one else would hear on any tour...

we were in great hands. But not before a cinnamon scroll, hey boys?


A full day out enjoying this extraordinary castle and it's long history...

but we eventually made our way back to town,

as we had a booking that evening.

I confess - We are mad Great British Bake Off fans. Like, mad keen.

And guess what? They have a mock up tent in London (two, actually),

and are known as The Big London Bake,

and you can spend a few hours there,

knee deep in sponge mix, icing and sprinkles,

to compete with a bunch of other mad keen crazy fans,

all vying for the honour of winning Star Baker. I'm sooo down for that!



Too funny, and I found it impossible to resist the challenge.

This month's cake challenge was to make a 2D comic cake...

so here is a pic I found online for inspiration...

and now compare it to our creation at the end.

Hahaha!


NAILED IT!


Hey, give us a break - we still came third, and had soooooo much fun!

How's that for our first full day in London? Tomorrow is going to be even bigger!



The following morning was a wander through the stunning Westminster Abbey,

followed by an Historical walking pub tour,

which was at least three informative and thirst quenching hours,

starting by the fabulous St Paul's Cathedral,

and ending us up in the Covert Garden district,

which was perfect.

You see, we had tickets for the Lion King,

at the most beautiful Lyceum Theatre,

and that was just nearby. Another jam-packed day!



Westminster. Amazing. First time we were here it was closed for a private function. Stephen Hawking was being interred. This time we saw his resting place. Right next to Isaac Newton. Most appropriate. Geniuses.

What an incredible man.


Moving on from the resting place of geniuses, bless, but our Pub Tour beckoned,

and it's really worth doing something like this too. It's so interesting hearing the stories behind the city,

in the back lanes that are so steeped in history.

We met a lovely young guy on this little walking adventure, an actor,

(hiya Nicolas)

who is in the upcoming Ridley Scott film, 'Napoleon'! We struck it off so well, enjoyed some bevies and delicious scotch eggs,

and we hope one day to meet up again, but meanwhile,

we'll look out for him on the big screen.


Cheers, Big Ears!

I love St Paul's cathedral. Last visit here we climbed to the top,

where those people are in the photo on the right, at the top of the dome. It was amazing.

Moving on, Nicolas walked us to our next destination, The Lyceum Theatre. We bade our farewells, and I'm sure we'll stay in touch.


Did I mention that Trev needed his skates?

And he had a new knee? ;)

Another huge day, he's smashing it, it's full on yet so fulfilling. We never do things by halves.


I just adore the Lion King, I have the music in my Spotify library, hopeless, I know...

but I think we both may have nodded off at times

during the performance. Can you blame us?

We were finally sitting down, it was dark, comfy,

and perhaps we were a tad tired. Sleep when you're dead, I say!



Tomorrow we leave our cute little boat,

we'll be having lunch at the famous Borough Markets,

after a little meet and greet first by Buckingham Palace...

(no, not who you might think. We aint THAT special, haha!)


But not before a few more photos around the delightful canal

we have called home for the past three nights.


How's the serenity?


Meeting Tom the following morning, he manoeuvred us to a lesser known spot,

to witness the Changing of the Guard as they leave Buckingham Palace,

and head back to, ahh, wherever they go? ;)

Sorry, I should know... Tom's friend was there that day, Robbie, so he met us for a hello, and a photo or two. As you do... It was brilliant.



It must have been lunch time by now...

I think it always seem a fair time to eat when you're on holidays,

so we headed over to the most wonderful of choices...

Yup, wow. Just wow.

SOOOOOOO crowded, and the paella stand must have had a queue

that was at least 30-40 people long. No wonder, check it out!


Tom and I both settled on the 'home shot' (wow) venison burger,

whilst Trev wrapped his chops around some prawns and scotch eggs. We also picked up some wickedly scrumptious donuts for dessert tonight,

along with wonderful prosciutto and an assortment of fresh cheeses

for our picnic in a couple of days time

at the beautiful Hever Castle.


This market is definitely a must do.

It's not far from the Tower Bridge, and if it's a food,

it will be there, I reckon. And so will we! Trev's version of foodie heaven.



Departing London now, we get a homestay with Tom, Harriet and their

adorable son for a couple of nights. As it happens, not nearly long enough.

Such a gorgeous young family, and we have really cemented our friendship for life,

over wonderful home cooking, perhaps the odd bevvie or two, and plenty of laughter.


---


Today's visit, is to King Henry VIII's digs no less, the incredible Hampton Court Palace. Known as a 500 year old 'Pleasure Palace', it's most definitely is worthy of your time. I had to grab this shot from the net, as without a drone, there is no way to capture it all,

let alone from a phone.


One word?

Massive.


And so amazing inside and out, and yes, unlike Windsor Castle,

you are free to take interior photos. I guess that's perhaps because it's an historical sight, rather than a working Royal Palace?


We loved it.


The display in the armoury room, was nothing sort of overwhelming, really. Rows of muskets, circles of hand guns, swords, knives, you name it,

any weapon from days of old, were mounted spectacularly on the walls.



And who doesn't love a little dress up? Had to, sorry, not sorry.



That's exactly what Henry VIII did!


As I am a sucker for great gardens, ponds, fountains and immaculate lawns, I was busting to head outside.


I wasn't disappointed.



Again, time for lunch, and instead of grabbing an Uber into town,

we noticed there was a water taxi on the river next to the castle. And it was just about to leave.

AND we were the only ones to be onboard.

Perfect.

AND, even better, we were going to enjoy a whole hour,

pottering along what I found out was the Thames...

"No way", I said to Tom..".Yes, way!"he replied.

I was cheeky saying,

"So, you only have one river, hey?"...

(The hide of us colonials uttering such a thing!)


We got to have a great sticky beak at some beautiful river front properties,

before arriving at our destination of Richmond. Found a pub, and Trev got to order his first 'Bangers and Mash'! With onion rings. Tom and I again agreeing on soft shell crab burger with chilli jam.

Yum! Happy days.


Now I'm not one of those who post photos of menus much, or if at all...

but check out this one...so worthy, and for a pub! My-o-my, if only we had menus as

fabulous as this where we live!



What a great day!


---


Happily, the following day Harriet was able to join us, and we all headed off

via deer lined parks, to visit the delightfully pretty, Hever Castle. I'd never even heard of this place, until I was listening to those podcasts on the

UK Travel Planning site. Very glad I did! And I think it was a new visit for Tom too, so that's a bonus.


At Hever, besides the gorgeous castle, they are renowned for their beautiful gardens,

statues and lake, so many people just come here and picnic.

You can buy a ticket just for the exterior, and suit yourselves if you wish. We did both, as we aren't going to be back, so it's absolutely worth an explore inside.


Afterwards, we took our time strolling around the park-like surrounds,

threw 'Pooh sticks' off a bridge,

dodged the water sprays on a maze,

and chowed down on the yummy cheese and meats we bought from the Borough Markets. THIS, is living.



'Pooh sticks' was a new one for me.

You can image my surprise when Harriet suggested we do this...

considering their son has just started potty training! Cute. I think Trev chucked in a branch. Not competitive at all...


And this is what happens when Tom doesn't crouch down to meet the rest of us...!


Check out the swivel neck on that swan. Tip...don't get too close!


And there comes the end of our all too brief stay with these gorgeous people. Looking forward to seeing them again on our travels, or theirs...(Jamaica?) Thanks guys! xx


Onto a train to Southampton. Next stop?

Staying three nights with the fabulous Pete and Shaz,

who have featured in I think three of my past blogs. The last one being Paris.

It'll be super to catch up after all this Covid time off.


Isn't it funny, that when you're at home, sometimes all you want to do is dine out? But when you are away, all you sometimes yearn for is

home cooking and banter around a dinner table.

That's what we had the past few days, and tonight was no exception.

Pete's daughter Beth and son in law Ian, came over to catch up with us too,

as they visited us in Australia a few years back,

and it was brilliant to reconnect. This is favourite part about travelling. The people we meet, and consequently stay forever in touch with. We could've talked till dawn, but eventually turned in 'cause guess what? We have another big day tomorrow!

What's new? :)




---


Today we head down to the docks, and take the car onto the ferry,

to go across to the wonderfully scenic, Isle of Wight.

Another wow place.

I had mentioned to Shazz ahead of our visit, that I'm really into photographing lighthouses,

thatched roof cottages, and I wanted to see the attraction known as 'The Needles'. And that's exactly what we did. The Isle of Wight is a lot larger than you'd think, and it takes time to get around,

so I would advise if possible, to do this by car, rather than public transport.


I look like a Hobbit!


This rock formation is one of the world's most photographed, so says the internet;

And why not?

It's fabulously unique!


Whilst it is made of chalk, it's surprisingly erosion resistant.

If you get here, try to allow yourself time to take a boat ride out there, weather permitting, and at sunset, even better,

and I'm sure you'll get some great photos!


The second image is by 'Alfie in The Air' photography.


But the best part I reckon, is enjoying the very steep gondola ride down to the beach.

This, I first saw online and thought "You betcha, I wanna do this!"


This is Alum Bay, and its sands are so incredibly coloured.

So much so, that you can fill your own jars up with an assortment of sands at the visitor centre, and take a piece of the place home with you, legally!




Leaving this delightful location, we motored on to find me my lighthouse. You see, I am on a quest.


I have been photographing lighthouses during our more recent travels around the world...

I only wished I started years ago, but as they say; it's better late than never. And I'm really looking forward to the one at Dunnet's Head,

right at the very top of Mainland Britain. But that's part of my Scotland blog.


I plan to create a coffee table book of them all, and it's really stemmed from

the fact that the very first photo I ever took,

on my mum's old camera back when I was about seven,

was of a lighthouse.

Way off in the distance, but I was proud of my efforts not to blur it. On film of course, so you never know until you've had them developed.


So I thought that'd be a nice photo to have on the inside cover, scrapbook style,

of where my passion for photography all began.


NEXT trip to the UK, I'm going to investigate where we can stay in one!

Ireland looks the go. They have heaps. How amazing!!!


So, here we are on the Isle of Wight, at their most famous lighthouse,

besides the one on the end of the Needles;

this is St Catherine's.


A fair walk down the hill, so I left the other three up the top chatting,

whilst I nicked down through blackberry covered hedgerows,

to get my shot.

As the zoom on my phone was pretty ordinary, I ended up walking right down to it,

albeit, it was closed. But that's OK, plenty of chance for photos over the fence.


Originally, a lighthouse here was built back in 1323,

however this beauty has been standing proudly here since 1838. And freshly painted too.

Nice to see them loved.


Moving on, we found some crazy narrow laneways to manoeuvre the car,

followed by a steep, skinny track to wander down between some houses,

to arrive at the shore line.

A quick stop for refreshments,. and I get to see another lighthouse. This is, coincidentally enough, called...'Steephill Lighthouse', and you can stay there too!



And then another pub for lunch!

Not hard to take at all, especially in this beautiful Autumn weather!




My first UK fish'n'chips and mushy peas, and what more appropriate place to have them,

than the Isle of Wight seaside!


And finally, we arrive at the quaint little town of Shanklin. Famous for their thatched roofed houses and tearooms.

Happy days for these little Aussie travellers! And just in time for an icecream before we drive down to the ferry

to head home after a wonderful day.

Holiday calories, they don't count, right?




Looks like fairies could live here...

Circa 1690!


And that was our day on the Isle of Wight. Highly recommended.


---


The following day, we headed off to Winchester, once the capital of England,

and home of the fabled King Arthur's Round Table.

But not before we turned on the telly, to record the Australian Rugby League Grand Final,

which was to be broadcasted live around 9.30am, local England time. (Not the kind of time you want to watch the footy, beer in hand...) And seeing that our team,

the Brisbane Broncos were playing, we were keen to watch it when we came home. I was intent on no spoilers that day! That's later.


We're off to Winchester!


For my non-UK friends here, any town with 'Chester' in its title; ie: Colchester, Winchester, Dorchester, even Chester itself, means it's of Roman origins.

So much history everywhere you look around the UK anyway, I reckon. It's fabulous...except of course if you find a scrap of old pottery or roman coins as you dig in your garden, and your place becomes listed...;)


Winchester is as gorgeous as they come. Old Roman archways, cobblestoned streets,

The Great Hall where you'll find King Arthur's Round Table,

the OUTSTANDING Cathedral - honestly, it rivals Westminster Abbey,

and lastly, The Wykeham Arms Pub, where you'll get THE BEST Sunday roast on the planet!

Sounds like a great day out, hey?

It is!


And what better way to get there, than in Pete's convertible. Too bad about the bad hair!