Visiting the UK

Although the year 2016 has today, Sunday, already matured for a massive number of ten days we do not hesitate to wish all of you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR. May all your reasonable wishes come true!

We’ve visited the UK during the Christmas and New Year-period by using the Euro Tunnel (‘le shuttle’), leaving the continent on the 24th of December 2015 and returning the 3rd of January 2016. One has to inform the tunnel-authorities about one’s identity in advance -comparable to travelling to the USA- which created a fairly quick check-in procedure. Therefore we were able to catch an earlier train than anticipated.

This is what it looks like inside the train. On the way back we travelled on the upper level of a wagon especially designed for private cars. Our rented car is seen here inside a wagon designed for buses and lorries. Of course some of you have noticed that we rented a Peugeot 2008 1.6 diesel ‘blue/hdi’ break – capable of carrying loads of luggage. We consider cruise-control the most important, closely followed by diesel for fuel. This one had it all, one could say: all my (the driver’s) favourites, hence AMF.

The ‘evacuation recommendations’ are reproduced by four languages, based upon the little flags on top of them being: English, French, Belgian and German. Belgian? Belgian? We’ve never heard of a Belgian language before! (One’s never too old to learn something new.)

Our first and, no offense meant to the dear friends to follow, most important visit of course was the one to our son and his English sweetheart, living in Hersham (Walton-on-Thames), near London. We have been with them during Christmas and boxing day. Here we’re having a walk on boxing day in a Surrey wood, close to where they live. The picture lacks one of us – obviously the photographer.

This is what happens during the Christmas and New Year period: spending valuable time together while having, for instance, an extensive buffet.

On Sunday the 27th we left Hersham. Our next destination was south Wales where a dear friend of ours, from our narrowboating-era, lives in a village called Magor – halfway Chepstow and Newport. We were in no hurry and decided to have an overnight stop somewhere in the charmingly Cotswolds. Our choice had been the Bell Hotel in Faringdon because (a) it is a pub/restaurant too, (b) the Cotswolds proved to be hugely popular, causing not too many possibilities (in our preferred price range).

Here’s the front of the Bell Hotel. It proved to be exactly what such an old building, from the 17th century, promises: all doors and windows are different and inevitably made to measure, the floors are seldom level and every other two-odd yards there's a sign ‘mind the step’, creaks are to be heard everywhere, in short: it’s one thousand percent British and we love it! Our room was the second window from the right on the first floor (second for the Americans). The dinner was s**t, the (English) breakfast just heavenly. There’s often a choice between two single beds or a double one. We chose the latter and regretted that dearly. When our male half turned, the female half was launched towards the ceiling – do you recognize? (The male half never notices anything, he’s just unconscious.) Next time we’ll have two single beds, that’s for sure!

On we went, the next day, Monday the 28th, towards Wales. Of course we had to cross the (Mouth of the) Severn - Britain’s longest river by the way (354 km/220 miles). We used the Severn Bridge, carrying the M48 motorway. The bridge is seen here from the Welsh bank of the Severn. The total length of this impressive bridge is almost one mile, 1,6 kilometers. For more information, see Travelling from England into Wales requires a toll of £ 6,50 (£ 6,60 since the first of January).

That day we arrived at the Ibis Budget hotel at Newport. Cheap, indeed, only £ 42,00 for two nights. One cannot expect a lot for that money but it was actually more than sufficient, apart from an indifferent receptionist and the noise of the A4. The breakfast was good, though. Our friend wanted to ‘sacrifice’ her own -and only- bed for us, but this was obviously a far better solution.

We visited some different places during our visit, one of them being Chepstow’s (ruins of its) castle, beautifully situated next to the river Wye. It’s clearly visible that the river is a tidal one. Chepstow has been the hometown of our friend for many years, being the reason of our visit. We had a very good Indian dinner that evening in a restaurant at Magor, where she is living at present. We never made it inside the castle; first a garden centre’s after-Christmas sale, followed by the inevitable pub and the shops of Chepstow, consumed all the available time.

  • Coming back to the Severn Bridge, our friend’s granddad was a ferryman before the bridge was built (1963-1966). She therefore possesses a number of pictures from that time, even one that depicts Bob Dylan(!) as well as herself in the fifties, when she was a little girl – and allowed by her granddad to steer the ferry when circumstances allowed for it. Three pictures back the landing-stage that is visible on this one and...

  • ...was used by the ferry(-traffic) is still in situ, unused, which proves its quality, keeping in mind the river’s tidal range (around 15 meters, 50 feet!) and subsequently strong currents. The second picture of the ‘ferry-era’, shows pedestrians and a car leaving the ferry. We asked our friend about the waiting-times. She explained that the times to wait were not that long, as there were three or four ferries on duty at the same time.

The view from underneath the bridge to the north-east. No further comment needed…

…and to the south-west. In the foreground the old landing stage with traces left by the high tide. The Second Severn Crossing (see is visible in the far distance. We used this one on our return journey back into England. When travelling from Wales into England the toll is … zero. Logic and efficient, when thinking about it.

Next destination: Bristol, where we arrived on the 30th of December to be with our dear friends L. and S. and family during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – in their home we mean. They are always exceptionally welcoming. (It’s the unexpected effect of a simple encounter on the Thames at the end of the 2011-season. We’re still utterly surprised about what such a seemingly insignificant event can do to, well, in this case the four of us.) Our friends live in the Westbury Park-area, a suburb of the city. Travelling to the centre is best done by… bus. Unexpectedly we were able to use our bus passes. We like to think we deserve them, based upon our unremitting Anglophile-ness.

Bristol offers a lot to see. For more see The four of us choose, apart from sightseeing the city, to visit the M Shed ( One of the many attractions is a work of Banksy, a Bristol underground artist – real name: unknown, date of birth: unknown (1974?), birthplace: unknown. More about Banksy on Very interesting indeed! This work is named ‘Grim Reaper’ – stencil on metal. The text in the museum reads ‘Banksy is one of Bristol’s most notorious and controversial street artists. One night in 2003, he tagged the side of the Thekla (a party-ship, ed.). According to the artist, “The harbourmaster painted over it and the club threatened to sue… I went out and hit it again in the hope I could lure the harbourmaster out for a full custodial sentence…” The result was this stencilled image of the Grim Reaper. Stencilling creates powerful imaginary swiftly – a medium allowing Banksy to stay ahead in the cat-and-mouse game with the authorities.’

The M Shed has different means of transport on display, too. This one catched our eyes in particular as our male half’s grandmother -on his father’s side- used exactly the same vehicle in the fifties (maybe also the beginning of the sixties) of the last century. It was a great joy for us, grandchildren, to stand in front of her on the platform – or, better even, being the driver oneself. Nowadays we have the (electric) mobility scooter. Progress!! (Less fun though.)

We said goodbye to our Bristolian friends on the first of January and were able to visit our son on the way back. Unfortunately his sweetheart was absent - even: abroad. The next day we left for Folkestone, from where the train towards France departs. We just wanted to be near to the tunnel, to avoid possible delays. We had booked the Carlton Hotel which, for some reason, sounds a sort of stately. That is exactly what it looks like when seeing the pictures of the out- as well as the inside on the Internet. Let’s be honest though, what’s to expect for a mere £ 31,00? To make things absolutely clear, we are looking for a bed to sleep in – it’s as simple as that…

…as is shown by this picture of our room. We could walk next to the bed – just. Later on we were asked for a review. One of the questions: ‘Did your room look similar to the one as shown on the Internet’, or something similar. Without a bad conscience we’ve answered ‘no’. Anyway, no misunderstandings here, it was all right, apart from the old fashioned ‘horse blanket’ on the bed. And skipping the undrinkable coffee (we had milk and juice), the breakfast was good enough.

After arrival our sea-view (yes!) offered this spectacular picture. The rain, forced by the hurricane-like wind, directly from the sea onto the front of the hotel, easily passed the chinks between windows and grooves. (We hope this is understandable English…) We survived – and we, well the male part of us two, could even watch ‘Match of the Day’ that evening! (Gary Lineker became slightly grey-haired – had not seen him in years – what does that say about us, one wonders??????)

A glorious next morning, Sunday the 3rd of January. No wind, no rain, a calm sea combined with a pinky sunrise. We’d say: the UK was left on a high that morning. It was absolutely great and, for sure, not the last time! See you next week – we hope.