It’s amazing how just a couple of years of not being able to travel internationally feels like a lifetime. Especially when the dearest to us don’t live in the same country.
Finally though, I was able to fly back to the UK for a quick two-week trip to see my folks, celebrate my dad’s big birthday and get a cheeky bit of travel stuff in at the same time.
And as much as it was a chance to see my parents, my sister and a couple of our closest friends while still trying to be cautious with Covid, it was also a chance for me to plug back into some of the stuff I’ve missed about England.
Expect plenty of countryside, takeaways and some of the best of British pubs in this Edition. Incidentally, Christina didn’t come with me for this trip, so excuse the crappy photos! We’ll both be heading back to Europe very soon though.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
After an interesting flight via Singapore—I’ve almost forgotten what I’m supposed to do, plus a fairly decent nose-bleed surprise at Heathrow (it’s been a while since I spent that long at 35,000)—I’m back at my mum and dad’s motorhome.
They sold the family home and have been living in this beautiful machine since 2016, and have been living their very best lives. This is about as typical as it gets with this crazy pair.
Mum loves getting up on the roof and Dad’s made friends with a local pheasant. A pheasant, by the way, that I will grow to loath thanks to his constant early morning klaxon calls… though that’s nothing compared to the bastard partridge that sounds like a car alarm.
First port of call—after obligatory week-long hugs of course—is the local chippy.
There’s nothing quite like fish and chips from the UK. Perhaps it’s the potatoes, perhaps it’s the way they cook them free in the fryer rather than in baskets… whatever it is, they’re different. And by that I mean I could eat my own (exponentially expanding) body weight in them every day.
You might also note that I have two deep-fried hockey pucks on my plate. These are in fact battered cod roe. It’s a polarising product and as it turns out, one that’s only available in the south of England. I have northern mates who have never heard of it and our trip to the Midlands, which you’ll read about in a minute, turned out to be a no-roe zone too!
Today, Mum, Dad and I go for a stroll in the north Essex countryside. Essex has had a pretty bad rap over the years, but it actually has some really pretty bits to it.
This walk is called the Flitch Way and is an old rail track that’s been converted into a cycle and hiking track. It runs from Bishops Stortford to Braintree, a total of about 27 miles (43km) through some of the loveliest British countryside.
After a few photos in pairs, we finally settle on a selfie, which I think has worked out well. Just away from the Flitch Way Trail, we stop by the river for a sit down.
Dad’s legs haven’t been great recently, which is why you might notice the walking stick. A stick, by the way, that’s so heavy, it’s more tiring to walk with it than not. But that’s my dad for you. The good news is he’s getting better all the time, so hopefully he won’t need his wizard staff much longer!
But here’s the business end of my trip: birthdays!
My dad and I almost have the same birthday–only one day apart–so it’s good to be able to celebrate together. Plus it’s an important one for him: the big 7-0.
We’re still being quite cautious with Covid, so we’re not visiting too many people while I’m in town. But two (maybe I should say four) friends I can’t not see are our besties Clare and Dave and their sweet dogs Flo and Ruby.
It’s a beautiful day (in spite of a disappointing FA Cup final that we’ve just watched) and we all enjoy a bit of time in our friends’ garden. The dogs are extremely excited to see us too, but they eventually run out of steam. Such sweethearts.
Today, we’re visiting the Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens, a beautifully arranged park that’s been running since 1888.
It’s not that big but there are so many different types of trees and flowers dotted around the space. And each tree has a QR code you can scan to read more about it. Funny how QR codes have come into their own since the pandemic.
This is Roscoe, an Akita Inu. He lives next door to Mum and Dad, and while his owner is out at work, they take him out for a bit of a walk each day.
He’s a real gentle giant, and it’s sad to see him looking so lonely during the day.
(Ed. a few weeks after this, during the terrible heat wave that broke records in the UK, Roscoe bit my dad’s hand–it was a reaction thing rather than malicious, but because he’s a big dog, it did some real damage. Dad’s ok and he’s taken responsibility for the whole thing so nothing’s happened to Roscoe, but there’s a chance that his owner will move away now.)
We’ve decided to go away for a few days to the East Midlands to a tiny village called Corby Glen. This is the market square, which still operates as a market place once a year, is home to Britain’s longest running sheep fair.
It was started as a livestock market by Henry III on 26th February 1238. Usually though, it’s just a handy car park!
Corby Glen is a beautiful little old village, with mansions, stone cottages, a 12th Century church, flower-covered fields… all the trappings of an English country hamlet.
I go for a bit of a stroll around town to see what else I can find and I’m rewarded with some truly beautiful sights. The fields surrounding the village are awash with cow parsley in full May bloom.
There’s something about exposed beams in pubs that make it for me, and a pint of local beer–Rutland Osprey from Grainstore Brewery–is just the tonic.
But this is the real reason we’re in the East Midlands: probably the most famous apple tree in history.
This is Sir Isaac Newton’s family home. And the tree in the foreground is indeed the tree from where the apple fell that inspired his theory of gravity. It’s still alive!
Maintained and operated by the National Trust, Newton’s house is a popular tourist attraction, and the guided tour you have to do to go inside the house is well worth taking.
Our guide is so knowledgeable and explains a lot about why they’re certain this is indeed the tree, as well as taking us through the house itself.
It’s amazing to think that this tree has stood here for 400 years, and still flowers and produces fruit each year.
This is where Sir Isaac Newton was born and grew up. He came back here from university and stayed for a year because–get this–there was a pandemic in process!
But while he was back home, he came up with the concept of gravity as well as a number of other groundbreaking theories that are still in use today.
Inside, the house is decorated with furniture that is from the period that Newton was alive. The attention to detail is to the National Trust’s credit.
In Newton’s bedroom, there are artefacts around the room like a prism for splitting light (one of his experiments) and his mathematics book Principia, which is still a major source for mathematicians today.
Not far from Corby Glen, Newton’s house–Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth is absolutely worth visiting. The area is so pretty and the manor house and its surrounding buildings is full of history and curiosities.
There’s even a science room, where many of Newton’s experiments are displayed and his theories put into practice.
And yes, there’s a resident cat!
One of the rooms–I think it may have been part of the stables–is also a cafe and book store.
For us, we want something more substantial so we head out of Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth in search of the highly-rated (and recommended by locals) Cholmeley Arms in Burton-le-Coggles up the road.
This pub is a cracker, with all the trimmings you’d expect in an old country inn. The food, beer and service are impeccable, and the rooms on offer if you’re looking for somewhere to stay look great too. Think we might look at this one the next time we’re in the area.
But back in Corby Glen, we decide to investigate the local art gallery–the Wolloughby Memorial Art Gallery in fact.
As it turns out, this lovely building and its grounds are in fact a library, which was was formed and endowed by Lord and Lady Ancaster in memory of their son the Hon Timothy Gilbert Heathcote-Drummond-Willoughby, who was lost in a storm in the Mediterranean Sea on the 20th August 1963. It was dedicated and opened on 29th October 1965.
Art on display now is by two women: Lyn Lovitt and Saria Monsen-Elvik. Some beautiful work here.
I really wanted to buy one of the black and white screen prints in the bottom right of this pic, but it was impossible to freight it to Australia.
And here’s a different kind of artwork.
For those in the know, you might also call these ‘aliens’ or ‘alien faces’. To others it’s a tea cake, or even squashed fly cake!
To the uninitiated, it’s simply an eccles cake. Christina’s worst nightmare, this puff pastry piece of magic is packed full of currants. This wonderful specimen is from the cafe under our AirBnB called the March Hare Tearooms. Check it out.
Our trip to the East Midlands has come to an end, but not before an obligatory strangely named village shot! Bitchfield is really small–we drove right past it the first time–but its name sure packs a punch!
As we drive back south, we pop in to Rutland Water Nature Reserve. This wide expanse of wetlands is home to many species of bird, but most excitingly a nesting pair of osprey and their chicks.
This live video feed is on 24 hours in the visitor centre like an avian Big Brother show.
One more milestone I’ve been missing from not being back in the UK for so long: a classic Chinese takeaway.
Thankfully there’s one right down the road from Mum and Dad’s, though you probably wouldn’t think it was a Chinese restaurant from its name: Palm Trees! But whatever you might think of the name, the food here is off the charts.
Today is a strange old day. Mum and Dad are moving from their motorhome. They’re selling this beauty and moving into a caravan with a huge awning to give themselves more space. We’re taking a bit of a break from packing for a cheeky beer and a sit down.
They moved into Oscar their amazing German-built Dethleffs Globetrotter XLi in 2016 and have been living the best lives ever since. It’ll be sad to see this incredible machine go, but things move on.
Almost to mark this farewell, nature is putting on a show for us tonight. This electrical storm even has the sheep in the field next door bunkered down! Never seen lightning like this in the UK before.
It’s almost the end of my stay back here in England, but it’s been lovely to see these crazy cats again after so long.
It’s also been so good to be able to help them move. It was a lot more work than any of us thought it would be.
It seems fitting that our first dinner in their new home should also be one more box ticked for me being back in Blighty: a really good Indian. Thankfully, there’s also a spectacular curry house in nearby Rayne called Voujon. Lordy, the food’s tasty here!
Just before I head to Heathrow and sit down for 24 hours, there’s still time to take a drive through this iconic countryside. This could only ever be England, couldn’t it.
My flight home is surprisingly ok. And as I fly out of Singapore, I’m once again startled at how busy the waterways around this freight thoroughfare is. Look at all those container ships!
I’m going to miss these guys, but hopefully it won’t be too long before I see them again. Love you, Mum and Dad. x