At long last our blog is fixed and we can resume sharing stories from our travels with you. First up - touring England - off the beaten path and in places you probably wouldn't normally go to, but are brilliant (as they say). Our time in England has been driven by 2 things - where our friends live that can host us, and when they're available for a visit. To be honest, I didn't do any research about England or what we should see and do. I've personally decided to approach this leg of our journey with a hearty go-with-the-flow attitude.
Southend & Kent
We spent our first few days in England in Southend-on-Sea with a former co-worker of Jon's, Jim, and his partner Kieron. Kieron and Jim were fabulous hosts and not only introduced us to Southend, its pubs and the wonders of Tesco (England's super large and cheap grocery store - for which we have so much love), they took us on an amazing day out and about in the County Kent. We visited stately homes, a castle, old medieval cities, had an incredible afternoon tea in a garden and experienced a true countryside pub.
We spent time playing board games, cooking and baking (so nice to bake after being on the road!) and I fell in love with what I now believe to be the best television show (despite it being for kids) - Horrible Histories. We had such a wonderful time relaxing in a town we certainly would not have gone to.
Peterborough, Nottingham, Cambridge & March
Our next visit was to a university friend of Jon's, Dan, who lives just outside of Peterborough in the small village of March. The land is much more flat north of London, with green farmland stretching for miles. It's lush and beautiful.
Our first full day took us to the famous city of Nottingham - yes I thought the same thing at first as well - Robin Hood! We decided to go on a little Robin Hood adventure - the snapshots of which you can view on our new YouTube channel (where we'll feature our new vlog - hooray!). Nottingham is much bigger than I would have imagined. I must have still had an image in my head of little village below a castle. Not so. What is amazing is that there are hundreds of caves carved out of the sandstone beneath Nottingham. We ventured into 8 or so of them and got to see the oldest (and therefore most significant) underground tannery in the UK. Hard to believe it's underneath a shopping center.
Our Robin Hood finding mission took us to Nottingham Castle - only to find out that there's no castle left. Boo hoo. But it was a great view of the city - and again, probably not somewhere we would have gone! Walking down Maid Marian Way was kinda funny.
We also took a day trip to Cambridge, home of the famous university. Cambridge is stunning - I can't believe people go to school there! We enjoyed another day of incredible weather walking the old city and musing at the people punting on the river (pushing boats through the canal - it looks silly when you can't see their legs).
Our final venture in the area was a night out on the town...of March. March is actually interesting, in that it used to be an island surrounded by marshes, and has evidence of Roman settlements (thank you wikipedia). What we discovered also is that it is home to 3 fabulous pubs, all of which have character. I'd never heard of March, but in the spirit of going to places you'd never go - this was a really fun and interesting stop along the way. Thanks for the fabulous stay Dan!
On to Welwyn Garden City
Next stop was to see friend of mine, Esther, whom I haven't seen since 1997. Esther welcomed us into her lovely flat in Welwyn Garden City just outside of London. Another unexpected gem, old Welwyn is one of the more charming villages we've seen, complete with old tudor buildings, a tiny canal and flowers covering old stone houses.
Being so close to London, we couldn't resist spending a day in the city. With 6 hours in London, we managed to visit 2 incredible museums - the British Museum of Antiquities and the Tate Modern Museum of Art. The British Museum was absolutely amazing. We'd been to the Museum of Antiquities in Cairo - but wow, the British Museum has an incredible Egypt collection. Plus - we got to see the actual Rosetta Stone. Not bad. I've also been continuing my Harry Potter kick by seeing Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross among other sites. Yeah, I'm dork.
Up to York
Moving on from Welwyn (thanks Esther for an incredible visit!) we stopped over in York for a night. What an amazing city! Complete with a walled old center, incredible cathedral and apparently lots of ghosts as it's touted as the most haunted city in England, this was a good stopover. We even made a second video about what to do in York with 16 hours or less.
Newcastle, Durham & Hadrian's Wall
After York we continued our journey north to stay with another wonderful college friend of Jon's, Rob, just outside of Newcastle. We're just a few days here so far, but we've already seen the beautiful old city of Durham (whilst enjoying a free music festival in which Rob played - well done!) and made a day trip to see Hadrian's Wall. Built in 127 AD it was the official border between what is now England and Scotland (they didn't exist back then). It crosses the entire width of England at this point - 70 miles. We were jealous of the people hiking along the wall.
The landscape is different that far north - rolling hills, but less trees. More exposed rock and more topography. I hope we get to see Scotland, and some of the coastline. This is how I imagine it.
After I reflect on this it really makes me realize - by golly we've seen a lot in 2 short weeks in England! I can't have even imagined venturing through these little towns, villages and sights, especially having done no preparation for it. But it's been really charming and wonderful to spend time with friends and get to know the area. Can't wait for more!