We celebrated the Belgian National Day like the rest of the country and went abroad. How strange it is that I must now go overseas (or technically underseas) in order to find a place where my language is readily understood. I do love catching the Eurostar, only minutes from our home and so quick and easy to London. Plus there are no views out the window to give Adrian an excuse to wake me up.
Russel, Adrian and I met up with Luke, Shyla, and Suma. Sadly Suma wasn’t permitted to join in the road trip, and was sent to a kitty hotel for a few days. Last time they had a pet-sitter come to the house everyday Suma meowed so much the landlord worried that Luke and Shyla had died in their apartment. She is one talkative little kitten.
Then we were off, heading north to Wales. We stopped in Bath for a few hours, admiring the Roman strucutres that were built around the only thermal springs in the United Kingdom. Sadly we were not permitted to dive in, but it was fascinating to walk through the ruins of ancient temples and imagine the lives of its visitors throughout the centuries.
Then it was off to find Hole-in-the-Wall, a tiny town near Ross-on-Wye, down a very long narrow road edged by tall hedges in the middle of the night. If we did not have GPS, this would have been a disaster. It took us longer than expected, but we arrived safe and sound at around midnight. Why were we staying at Hole-in-the-Wall, an isolated activities centre for teenagers? When my mother and I lived in Fowey, Cornwall in 1984, my best friend was a girl named Laura. Through the magic of Facebook we managed to find each other again.
Laura generously offered us cheap accommodation and a guided tour of the area. The five of us had to sleep in bunk beds in a giant dorm, but luckily we did not have to share it with any 10-16 year olds. The next morning she and her boyfriend showed us the “beauty spots” of the area, including a lookout where the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had set up some scopes where we could watch some nesting Peregrine Falcons. We also spotted a tiny hedgehog out on some important business in the rain.
Back on the road, we drove up to Snowdonia in Wales. The countryside was really beautiful, filled with pastures with sheep and cows. Adrian said that the sheep here weren’t as cute as the Icelandic sheep, and Russell did seem a bit mystified that we would call out “sheep!” whenever we spotted one of the little creatures outside the window. The main export of Wales is slate, and the grey outcrops provided a bit of shelter for these animals during the intermittent rain.
The next day we set off to explore two of the great castles of the United Kingdom, Caernarfon Castle and Conwy Castle. They were both very pretty. In Caernafon I climbed to the top of the tallest tower and learnt about the Princes of Wales. It was so strange to read about King Edward on one wall, and then see the broadcast of the crowning of Prince Charles on the other. With the walls of the great castle crumbling around me, it was so odd to realise that we still have a monarchy and I am still ruled by a Queen.
In Conwy it was fun to walk on the city walls and visit the smallest house in Great Britain. The tiny place was very impressive – a fireplace and kitchen downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. Sadly it has been declared unfit for habitation, as it would have been a fun place to stay for a night.
Then a long drive back to London. Adrian wanted to walk through his Mum’s hometown of Wolverhampton, but I declared that we could only drive through it on our way to Cadbury World in Birmingham. We didn’t have time for the whole “world of chocolate” experience, but we did manage to explore the largest Cadbury store in the world. After all that gourmet praline rubbish of Belgium, it was a delight to be surrounded by so much delicious purple. I managed to find the only place in Europe that stocks Creme Eggs outside of Easter, as well as a luxurious bath robe in my favourite colour.
On our last day in the UK Luke and Shyla went back to work while the rest of us we went off to experience a bit of British culture before our train departed that afternoon. I’m not sure how successful we were in this – as we ended up watching Bruno, flying in the London Eye, and eating at TGI Friday’s. However, we all had fun and it was a good way to farewell Russell before he departed on his 36 day bus tour of Europe.
Edit: This was the last time we saw Russell. He passed away unexpectedly on 30 May 2011, at 34 years of age.