We weren’t sure what to expect when we went to England and rented an RV to travel around, but it sure wasn’t anywhere near what happened. We went with the plan to test out how it was to drive around and explore in a small motorhome. It was one thing that we thought maybe it would be a part of our life after RVing in the US. The thought of driving around on some skinny country lanes was a daunting so to not test it out if we really decided to make a commitment to this as our next micro life would not have been a good idea.
Our trip over was uneventful after we Ubered back and forth to the airport and back to the camper when I realized I forgot my phone back at the camper. Was this a sign of things to come? I never forget my phone. We did enjoy the food in the Quantas lounge as we always do. Kat’s airline status really makes a nice difference when we travel because of upgrades and lounge access so we can eat and drink for free between flights.
When we arrived at Heathrow we got a ride from Kat’s parents and had a cup of tea before we went to dinner at her brothers house. We were headed out the next afternoon to pick up our camper. We borrowed some bedding and little necessities from Kats parents and bought some groceries to be ready to go when we picked it up. It was a drizzly day, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. We picked up the camper and after a short tutorial we headed off to our first night out. It was about a 26 foot RV that we rented from a company called Just Go. There were some differences other than size from our Shady Lady. The cassette toilet, which is a little box you take out and carry over to a dump station to empty, the fact that you fill your own propane tank at stations, there are no water hookups, you just fill the holding tank and use that and when you empty the grey tank you just pull the camper over a drain in the ground and open it up. We were a little shocked when we were told to turn the propane off at night and whenever you aren’t using it. If it was to get really cold at night we were going to be screwed. Luckily, the weather in England doesn’t seem to change much in temperature from the days to nights. Maybe a few degrees, but not like in some places we’ve been where after the sun goes down the temperature can drop by about 20 degrees.
We had a pretty nice first night in a very dark campground in the middle of the woods. After an easy setup of just plugging in the electric cord even though it was in the dark, we walked down a tiny, dark country lane to go out to dinner at a close pub. We tried to be a little safe by wearing the safety vests that came with the camper, but there weren’t too many cars on that little road anyway. The scariest, but most exciting part was the big birds that would fly out of the trees as we passed by. I now suspect they were owls because of a nighttime experience later. While walking home I told Kat it was a bit creepy walking down that dark lane in the misty fog. Her reply was “It’s just England”.
Our first days adventure was to be attending the RV show at the National Exhibition Center in Birmingham. We didn’t get there as early as planned because in the morning we were still dragging a bit after traveling. That changed quickly because I drove to the show and I could tell Kat was a bit on edge. I think it was mostly because I kept saying out loud to myself to stay on the left side of the road. The show was just ok. There were some cool features we hadn’t seen before, but after awhile they all start to seem the same. I really liked the canopies that expanded your outdoor space once you came out of your camper. There were some really huge ones with separate rooms and everything. Most of them were setup with blowup posts, which looked easy and sturdy. It makes a lot of sense to have those in England since the weather is rainy so much and otherwise you would be trapped in your camper all of the time. We left after about 4 1/2 hours there checking things out.
We had about a 2 hour drive to get to our next night’s stop. It was to be in Cirencester in the camping area of a pub. We were planning on making a quick stop at the grocery store on the way. Well, now it gets exciting…. as we were going up a little hill we lost the power to accelerate. Kat put on the Hazard lights and we limped along for a bit, but this wasn’t good. At one point we just pulled over as far as possible and had the hazard lights on, but it was a busy and narrow road, so we decided to just restart the engine and try to get to a safe place. The engine stopped acting up enough to give us the confidence that we could make it to our campsite. The engine light still reminded us something was wrong. This was similar to what our truck had done a few times. What are the odds that it could happen to us again in a totally different vehicle?
We got to our campground and called the rental agency and the RAC. The Royal Automobile Club is like AAA. When we finally talked with them they said they could have a guy come check out the camper at about 10 pm. Well, we kind of figured it could make it a very long night and it would not be much fun for anyone to be looking at the engine in the dark and rain. Yes, it was still raining. We made an appointment for him to be there at 8am. Meanwhile we had dinner with our friend Ber who lives nearby and who we were hoping to camp with that weekend down at the beach.
Thames Head pub camping was good. Who wouldn’t want to park in a nice field behind a pub? The staff was super nice and very accommodating. I did notice how young they were and still they seemed to be in charge of the place. Maybe I am just getting old? Kat pointed out that it is a young persons job since they are only paid regular wages and no tips, so it may not be a lot of money with long hours. When I worked as a waitress in a bar I did it for the tips I could make. It would not have been worth it otherwise.
I like the restaurant/pub system in England. You usually order drinks and food at the bar and then go sit down. They bring your food, but generally you go back to the bar for more drinks or any other food you want and to pay right there. No tips are needed and if you pay up front you can just leave, no waiting for your server to come back. Nice! Especially if they get busy because you didn’t have to wait for them.
When the RAC mobile mechanic came in the morning he checked the engine codes, looked over the engine and made a call. After that he told us we would need to take it to a Fiat dealer to have them look into it in more detail. So, we took the drive down to the closest Fiat dealer in Gloucester. Before we left we emptied the cassette toilet, which was pretty easy to do and definitely took a lot less time than emptying our tanks. When we got to the garage they took the camper right in to get started and told us it would be a couple of hours so to go ahead and go for a walk if we wanted. They suggested going down to the docks where there are restaurants and shopping, but to be sure to check out the Cathedral along the way.
As we walked to the docks we did go by the Cathedral, but there were graduation ceremonies that kept us from going inside to check it out. I found it weird to be having graduation ceremonies in October. We did beg at the door just to step inside, so we got a quick peek, but didn’t get to explore like we normally would have. It was the site of a lot of filming for Harry Potter so that was a bit of a bummer that we didn’t get to go see more of the inside. Not that we watched many of the Harry Potter movies, but still it was disappointing. The outside of it was pretty impressive though. The docks were ok, very new warehouse building renovations with restaurants and outlet shopping. The warehouses that had been turned into apartments in the area looked like they would be cool places to live. I bet in nice weather that would be a fun area to hang out. The walk to the dock was not too far and there was a wall from an old Church that was still standing and some graffiti art lining the walls along the path that we took.
We had lunch and waited a few hours before we decided to go back and see what was happening with the camper. We were told they did reproduce the problem and had a call into the Fiat hotline to wait for instructions on how and whether or not to proceed. There were a lot of phone calls back and forth to find out what the next steps would be. There certainly was a lot of red tape and communication issues between all the different parties to get things done. We ended up going across the street for coffee while we waited some more. Finally, it was getting late and the garage was preparing to close, so we returned and needed to find out what was happening. It turns out the EGR/Turbo system was the problem. When we were having problems with our truck we had suspected that this was what was wrong. Turns out it wasn’t since it was just a short on the wiring harness, but what are the odds this was what was happening? Really weird. So the parts needed to be ordered from Italy and would not get to the garage until maybe Wednesday. Even if they had been able to fix it without those parts there were repairs that needed to be done to keep the warranty valid and they would keep the camper there no matter what. They would need parts for that too and were closed over the weekend. It looked like we were not going to get the camper back anytime soon and our rental was only until Thursday, so we had to find out the options we had to continue our trip.
The RAC was very helpful although it took a lot of calls between Just Go, the RAC and Fiat. The option they suggested before we found out about the parts was that they would put us up in a local Gloucester hotel with a rental car for the weekend. Whenever we mentioned this to people later they just raised their eyebrows in an apologizing way. I took it to mean that Gloucester was not a desirable place to spend the weekend. After the timeline for the parts arriving was discussed we got them to agree to rent us a car and a hotel down in Cornwall where we had planned to be over the weekend and pay for the any hotels as we traveled. We really wanted the RV experience though, so we asked Just Go to give us another camper. Well, they had a smaller one available, but we would have to go get it since they had no one to bring it to us. We were at least 3 1/2 hours away from their office and all of our stuff was in the camper, so how was that to happen? We opted for the rental car and hotels to be paid along the way. Right as the garage closed a rental car was delivered to us and so we packed up all of our stuff and left. We went to stay the night at Ber’s house with her and her family.
Our weekend camping trip was cancelled because Ber and her husband, Steve didn’t really want to sit in the rain and wind in their camper with the kids. Storm Brian was expected to peak over the weekend down in that area. So, we booked a hotel for Saturday and after a nice visit we left the next morning to go see what we had planned to see, but staying in hotels (B&B’s) instead. We went down to St. Austell on the South Coast in Cornwall. We wanted to take a walk and check out the town a little, but the rain from storm Brian was not going to allow us to do that. So, we stopped in a pub to see if it would let up and allow us to get outside for a bit. Nope, that didn’t happen.
Sunday morning we left Charleston St Austell and headed to check out The Eden project. It was pretty cool that the location in the beginning was a tin mine that was cleaned up and transformed into the botanical gardens we saw. The Eden project is two domes and some outdoor gardens filled with different types of plants. The intention of these are to show the relationship between people and plants. There is one dome that is a more desert or Mediterranean style and the other is a rainforest. The rainforest dome was my favorite because you get to see real banana trees, fruit trees of other types, coffee plants, cashew trees, and so many more food source types of trees and plants. The little birds wandering around were pretty cute too. Both domes and the outside garden are very educational in showing where foods and products made from plants like rubber really come from.
Our next overnight stay was to be just outside of Padstow which is known as a little fishing village. There was no one at the B&B when we stopped by so we just went into town to see what was happening. There were a lot of people wandering about mostly eating ice cream and chips (fries), lke the English people seem to do a lot. We considered going to the lobster museum, but weren’t quite sure if we really wanted to, so we skipped it. We also saw the Rick Stein cooking school. We watch his show a lot and had seriously considered taking an all day cooking class, but it was pretty expensive, so we thought we would save the money for something else. We called the B&B and after a bit we headed over. Super nice people and they did a good job renovating such an old Mill. Our room was fine, kind of cute. I was happy to see we had our own bathroom. I’ve never stayed in a B&B and was not sure what to expect, but I liked it. The room was about the same size as the room the night before at the Pier house Inn. It felt a little more solid and potentially quieter, which it was.
We went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant for a Sunday carvery dinner. A carvery dinner is almost like a one trip buffet, but the line starts with a guy carving meat for you. You can have lamb, pork, ham or beef and then after you get your meat you fill your plate with veggies, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. You pile your plate as tall as possible with deliciousness. Then you just eat and wish you had room for more.
A stop to see Tintagel Castle was in our plans for the next day since it was on the way to our next stop in Lynton. The castle was one of King Arthurs. It was way up on a cliff overlooking the water and there used to be about 100 buildings scattered up there, but time, weather and war has taken its toll and turned it all into ruins. It was pretty impressive to see while we hiked around. We had to be careful walking because it was really, really foggy with a light rain and we didn’t want to end up tumbling down into the water way down below. We walked along the cliffs to go see a church up on the hill which at first we couldn’t even see until we got up close. Of course as after we got back to the car it had pretty much cleared up and was a beautiful site.
We stayed at another B&B in Lynton which was up the hill from the beach. Across the water was Wales and maybe on a clear day you might be able to see it, but no such luck for us. Lynton is another cute little town and we were able to walk around a bit to see it. The town is nicknamed Little Switzerland of the UK and with good reason, it did remind me of a Swiss village. On the drive to Lynton we had decided we wanted to ask the Camper rental company for a refund and we would just go and stay with Kat’s parents the rest of the trip. We made a list of reasons they should give us a refund when we called to ask. When I called the lady we were dealing with was very understanding and apologetic. She listened to what I had to say and said she would need to get approval, but would call me back. She called back about 5 minutes later and said, yes, they would give us a full refund. Wow! I never guessed it would be that easy and really expected to have to push the issue. Needless to say we were very happy with their understanding and the refund! So, although we didn’t get the vacation we wanted, we did get to go to the places we wanted, stayed in some pretty cool B&Bs and it was all paid for with no questions asked. The only money we were out was the cost of meals (except the breakfasts at the B&Bs) and fuel. To celebrate we had a delicious dinner before heading back to our room.
On the way to Kat’s parents house we were able to go to Stonehenge. I had never been so Kat and I stopped by on the way to her parents house. Cross it off the bucket list! It was pretty much as I expected and I was happy we got to go, except for the hundreds of people taking selfies. It has to be one of the top selfie taking places in the world. We had a nice walk across the very green fields there and back from the visitor center since the rain had finally stopped. Kat’s parents were happy to have us back a few days early and since they had just moved into a new house there were some little jobs they could use help with to keep us busy. We helped clean up the yard, put some boxes in the attic for them and went shopping for a dining room table at Ikea where of course we had to have meatballs for lunch. We had a nice walk into town one day with a stop at a pub for lunch. Pubs are mostly just restaurants that also serve beer- I don’t want to give the impression that all we did was drink in pubs all throughout our trip. I took a walk later in the week along the canal and there were a lot of fisherman along the banks participating in a fishing contest. The most interesting part about that was how they fish. They use these really long telescoping poles that extend all the way to the other side of the canal. First they attach a little bucket full of bait like worms and dump it into the water. Then they retract the pole, attach a hook and drop it into the same spot to hopefully catch a fish. The amount of gear they haul around requires little wagons on wheels, so it’s a pretty intense setup. Gone are the days of string on a stick. We also got to spend some time with Kat’s brother and his family. That is a feat in itself because they are so busy all the time with the kids’ activities. I was hoping to go see the house where Downton Abbey is filmed, but it is only open on certain days for tours and according to the internet you can’t even really see it from the road or the walking paths near it. So, we went to see Basildon Park which has a big country house you get to walk through. The grounds are pretty big and after a short walk we stopped for Tea and biscuits before the little cafe closed. I was able to imagine what Downton looked like, so I was happy and it was really thoughtful of Kat and her parents to take me there.
So, all in all even though it wasn’t quite the trip we had planned on it was a nice visit to England. Looking ahead at the nice weather back in Las Vegas where we left the camper it was nice to know we would be warm and dry soon.