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A Grand Tour with Rebecca and Kevin PDF Printable Version E-mail


 1st to 13th JUNE 2015


Margaret and Barry Williamson, with Rebecca and Kevin  


Click: Some Pictures from the Tour 




We first met Rebecca and Kevin in September 1997 in Alexandroupolis near the Greek border with Turkey and Bulgaria. At the time we wrote:


“Met a young couple in a VW Combi on the site, Kevin (from Leicester) and Rebecca (from Australia) Watts, and gave them an evening of coffee, talk and digestives. They'd driven here via Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria and would leave tomorrow to explore Greece and Crete, then hope to sell the van and fly to Australia where they will settle. They were keen scuba-divers, on which we were no help at all, but we did give them a (very) 'Rough Guide to Greece' and the Camping In Greece booklet. Bulgaria is now visa-free, but they were charged a disinfectant tax, a bridge tax and an environment tax (all in US$). Romania still demands a transit visa. They reported no problems other than the primitive campsite facilities and bumpy roads and said they felt safe there.”


We were on our way to Turkey and we parted after only one evening together, but sLe_Tour_(05).JPGomehow we kept in touch. During the last two of our three journeys in Australia, in 2002 and 2005, we visited them in their house-on-stilts high (below right) in the tropical rain forest, 20 miles inland from Cairns in northern Queensland. During our 2005 visit (based on a hired motorhome travelling from Perth to Brisbane via Tasmania and Cairns), this talented couple (above left) developed the framework for our website: www.magbaztravels.com.


In the ten years of its life, Rebecca and Kevin were Le_Tour_(07).JPGever on hand to help solve technical problems with the website as it grew to include hundreds of articles, thousands of photographs, countless links, 650 positive readers' comments, and contributions from 75 other long-term long-distance travellers by motorhome and/or bicycle.


When we heard in early 2015 that they planned to come to England, as part of a one-year journey through Europe, we immediately invited them to join us on our journey visiting existing friends and former homes in North Wales, Lancashire and Yorkshire, while our motorhome was being serviced.




To see Kevin's photographs of this part of the Tour, click:




Collecting an Enterprise hire car from just round the corner, we left our Carado motLe_Tour_(09).JPGorhome (left)  for its service at Brownhills Motorhomes in Newark. We then drove to Swannington in Leicestershire to collect Rebecca and Kevin from the home of Kevin's parents.


First night at Shrewsbury. Evening walk from The Birches B&B, over the bridge into the historic centre in a loop of the River Severn for a pub meal. Saw the Tudor houses, Castle and Abbey, through heavy rain.


Next day to Ironbridge. Parked at Coalbrookdale, visited the Tar Tunnel, crossLe_Tour_(10).JPGed a footbridge to walk the 2-mile riverside path to the famous Iron Bridge over the Severn (right), erected by ironmaster Abraham Darby.  Walked over the world's first cast-iron bridge (completed 1779) with its toll house listing the original charges for carts and animals. Coffee with a view of the bridge at a busy pork pie shop, displaying a pork pie wedding cake (prices start at £90 for two tiers!) Return walk to Coalbrookdale.


On to Wales via English market town of Oswestry. Climbed the medieval castle mound in the town centre, as well as the windswept Iron Age hill fort at Old Oswestry.




Three nights in the Welsh Border town of Chirk, staying at Berwyn Guest House. VisLe_Tour_(10a).JPGited the hamlet of Pandy (where Barry once lived) with a 'Fulling Mill' that became a pub, then a glass studio. Climbed uphill from Glyn Ceiriog to visit our dear old friend Angela at Bronydd, the former slate mine, and walked her dog Holly through the woods and around the mine entrance. Drove to Pistyll Rhaeadr (left, with Rebecca, Kevin and Margaret) for tea and scones byLe_Tour_(11).JPG the river, handfeeding chaffinch and robins, before a walk to the highest waterfall in England and Wales.


Next day four bikes hired from Annwen of 'Hire Cycles 2 Go' were delivered to the guest house. The men's cycles had 12 gears, the ladies' only 5 (and of course a shopping basket). At least they weren't pink! Despite bum-numbing saddles and Kev's detachable handle bars, we rode a total of 24 miles (Chirk to Swallow Falls and back) along the Llangollen Canal, involving two aqueducts (right, the Pontcysyllte aqueduct) and 2 canal tunnels in each direction, plus an electric-wheelchair-bound chugger (charity mugger) blocking the towpath at Llangollen.


Chirk was memorable for meals at the Chirk Tandoori (Indian restaurant) and the Poacher's Pocket (canal-side pub). The Berwyn Arms in Glyndwfry also fed us well.




Through the Mersey Tunnel from Birkenhead to Liverpool for a stroll along the newLe_Tour_(12).JPGly restored Waterfront (left), past museums and galleries to the Liver building and the substantial stone offices of Cunard Lines, Lloyds Insurance etc. Many tall ships were in dock for a festival.


Next stop Leyland, to visit the British Commercial VehLe_Tour_(12b).JPGicle Museum inside the former Leyland factory, with everything from steam-driven vehicles to historic trucks and buses to the 1980's Popemobile with bulletproof glass. Also called on Paul Hewitt, who built our bicycles (right) - and Bradley Wiggins's Olympic wheels!


On to Cleveleys near Blackpool, for 2 nights at New Shades Hotel on Beach Road. Margaret was born here and grew up at Wave Crest, one of the boarding houses that lined Beach Road in her young day. Now only New Shades remains, the rest turned into flats or care homes, and Beach Road Primary School has become an evangelical church.


We shared the breakfast room with the driver of a coach parked in the road. He'd brought a busload of men from Stranraer for a weekend Stag Party in Blackpool, where they were staying in a somewhat different establishment. The journey from Scotland (normally 4 hours) had taken him 7 hours, stopping at every service station as the drinking started on departure!


Bec & Kev took tram rides, south into Blackpool and north to Fleetwood. The home of Fisherman's Friend, Fleetwood is generally dismissed as a run-down fishing port, with a ferry over the River Wyre to Knott End, a large indoor/outdoor market and not a lot else. Unfair – it has an interesting museum and a pleasant quiet promenade with boating lakes etc. Admittedly the pier burnt down (but there are still three at Blackpool). Fleetwood Grammar School, with more memories for Margaret, now lies under a housing estate and an Aldi supermarket!


We also enjoyed award-winning fish & chips at Seniors in Thornton near the 18th century Marsh Mill, before a walk at the Wyre Estuary Country Park, spotting Oyster Catchers on the mudflats. Another surprise was the excellent service and good food at the new Wetherspoons in Cleveleys, jam-packed on a Saturday night.




To see Kevin's photographs of this part of the Tour, click:




Then Shard Bridge (no longer charging a toll) for the over-Wyre route to Lancaster and acLe_Tour_(13).JPGross the Pennines to Wensleydale, where we sampled many a cheese at the dairy/shop/cafe in Hawes.  On to Hardraw Force (left) to walk up to England's highest single drop waterfall, followed by tea and scones at the café. Over the Buttertubs Pass to Swaledale, pausing at Tan HillLe_Tour_(14).JPG: at 1,732 ft (528 m) the highest pub in England, regularly cut off in winter.


North to Brough for a blustery walk round the castle ruins (right), then via Middleton-in-Teesdale, Barnard Castle and Eggleston to Skeeby, just south of Scotch Corner. The Travelodge on the A1 here was surprisingly peaceful, with a convenient Little Chef next door for supper and breakfast.




To see Kevin's photographs of this part of the Tour, click:




The next stage, across the Vale of York and southern North York Moors to NeLe_Tour_(14a).JPGwtondale, took us through Carlton Miniott, where John of Autogas Leisure fitted our motorhome's refillable gas system (left) a year ago. On to Thirsk, where Barry might have bought a Harris Tweed cap at the gentlemen's outfitters until we saw the price tag! We turned off the Sutton Bank road to park at Kilburn (home of the Mouseman oak furniture) and scaled over 100 steps to the White Horse – a Victorian chalk picture on the hillside. Rewarded by a magnificent view of the Vale of York below, while gliders took off from Sutton Bank above our heads. 


Then a glimpse of Byland Abbey through the railings (English Heritage, closed Mondays) beforeLe_Tour_(15).JPG driving back to test the car on the 1-in-4 switchback road up Sutton Bank, stopping for tea and a bite in the Sutton Bank National Park Centre at the top of Hambleton Hill. On via Cold Kirby and Old Byland to Rievaulx Abbey (right) (English Heritage, open). The custodian explained that the National Trust (which Bec & Kev had misguidedly joined) was for buildings with a roof, while English Heritage looked after those without, of which there are many Le_Tour_(15b).JPGUp North. Obviously, folk are tough in Yorkshire and roofs are for soft southerners! The Abbey was splendid, its history thoroughly explained by the audio guides and an indoor exhibition.


Next a late afternoon drive round Bransdale to Cockayne and Gillamoor, then another climb up to Rosedale Chimney and down at a maximum gradient of 1 in 3 (perhaps the steepest road in England) to Rosedale Abbey. The back road (left)through Lastingham to Cropton and past the Surprise View took us to Newton-on-Rawcliffe, home of our good mate Brian.


To see Kevin's photographs of this part of the Tour, click:




We used Brian's caravan to camp for 3 nights behind the White Swan pub in Newton, Le_Tour_(18).JPGdining there with him on the first evening. Next day took us to the east coast via Malton, Wharram Percy and Wetwang, to visit Bridlington, Flamborough Head (café by the lighthouse), North Landing and the RSPB Reserve at Bempton Cliffs. The cliff-top walk here had a series of viewpoints (right) over England's largest sea bird colony and we came at nesting tiLe_Tour_(17).JPGme. Thousands of birds were sitting on eggs or raising chicks on the precarious chalk cliff ledges: pretty Kittiwakes, noisy Herring Gulls, smart Guillemots and Razorbills. Lower down were the magnificent Gannets, Britain's largest sea birds with a wingspan of 6 feet, sweeping in like a squadron of Concorde aircraft. But best of all – though least in number – were the delightful Puffins (left), a first for us! We even spotted a fluffy Puffling (what a super name!) Returned to Newton via Filey and Scarborough, then through Dalby Forest Drive to Pickering for more fish & chips.


To see Kevin's imagesphotographs of this part of the Tour, click:




Bec & Kev had a day out in Whitby, travelling on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway fromLe_Tour_(19).JPG Pickering. We waved them off in a cloud of steam from the record-breaking 'Sir Nigel Gresley' engine (right). Their home above Cairns in Queensland is a short distance from Cooktown where the Whitby captain James Cook and his crew spent several weeks repairing the Endeavour after its grounding on the Great Barrier Reef.


After the couple returned on foot, climbing up out of Newton Dale from Levisham Station, we ate with Brian in the caravan, then we all visited his son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Rachel, at Cropton where they are leading busy lives: working, raising 3-year-old James and rebuilding a house from the ground up.




After breakfast we bade farewell to Brian, who came to collect his caravan, helped by little James and Dotty the Dog. Then it was south past Malton, a detour through the grounds of Castle Howard to Slingsby, and down to Sheriff Hutton, where we parked to walk the public footpath skirting the castle ruins which are on private land.


Next via Bulmer Bank to Kirkham Priory (left) (English Heritage, open), in its loveLe_Tour_(20).JPGly setting by the River Derwent. The enthusiastic custodian tried hard to enrol us, or at least sell us a woolly blanket. Asked if she was on commission: 'No, just excited to have visitors!' Rebecca recalled playing here as a child and we went on to find the house where her grandparents had lived in the nearby village of Westow.


Continuing our journey through the Wolds over Leavening Brow, we found our favourite cyclists' café in Thixendale had gone. However 'Coastways', a bikers' café on the A166 at Fridaythorpe, supplied excellent sausage baps and mugs of tea. On through Huggate, Middleton on the Wolds and Market Weighton to Holme upon Spalding Moor, where sadly we couldn't park to visit the historic hilltop church. Better luck in Howden, where we managed to stop and walk round the Minster (closed) in the successful search for ice cream.




Finally we left the quiet lanes and resorted to the M62, busy as ever, to exit 24 for Huddersfield and Halifax. We had a night in the Travelodge in Dean Clough, Halifax - part of what was once the world's largest carpet factory, Crossleys, using wool from the Yorkshire mills. It was a short walk into the city centre, where it was Curry Night at Wetherspoons (named after Percy Shaw, the local inventor of cats' eyes). Excellent value!


Next day, leaving the car on the Dean Clough Pay & Display, we walked into Halifax to see the Piece Hall, England's last remaining Cloth Hall. Disappointed that it was closed for renovation until the end of 2016, we strolled round the city centre past the Town Hall (by the same architect as the Houses of Parliament). Behind the Piece Hall we came across the Square Church (Victorian, originally Congregational), now restored and used as an arts centre/theatre/concert venue. The café/bar was open and we were lucky to meet the friendly young Manager, who showed us round and explained its history. Such chance encounters are the privilege of the traveller.


Driving on, we followed the canal to Hebden Bridge, another town where parking was impossible. At least we know our way round our next stop Huddersfield, where we lived and worked for many years. Lunch in Greenhead Park, sitting in the sunshine outside the Pavilion Café, was followed by a walking tour of Engand's largest town (not a city, it has no cathedral). We saluted the statue of Harold Wilson (minus his pipe) outside the railway station and bought Barry a cap at the indoor market. This is our kind of town!


The last excursion was along the Colne Valley to Marsden, to park (with difficulty) by the Le_Tour_(30).jpgcanal lock and walk along the towpath to Tunnel End (right), the start of the Standedge canal boat tunnel (England's longest, deepest and highest, opened in 1811) which runs for 3.25 miles under the Pennines to Diggle on the Manchester side. There is a Visitor Centre and café (which had closed at 4 pm) and electrically driven boat trips through the tunnel at weekends and holidays.


Up on the Pennines above Meltham (home of the former David Brown Tractor Factory), we drove via the Holme Valley and Holmfirth ('Last of the Summer Wine' country) to join the M1 motorway near Barnsley.




Our tour ended in our third Travelodge at Worksop, a short walk from the Millhouse pubLe_Tour_(32).JPG which provided both supper and an excellent cooked breakfast. All that remained was to return to Brownhills Motorhomes (aerial view left) in Newark on Trent. The motorhome was waiting for us, the Enterprise hire car was returned, Rebecca and Kevin toured the indoor motorhome showroom and admired (but did not buy) the stock. Then our Carado motorhome took us all to Swannington where we said a sad farewell to our good friends.


Suddenly alone after nearly two weeks of intensive travel, we prepared the motorhome for its next journey, beginning with the P&O ferry from Hull to Rotterdam and thereafter a route north into Scandinavia.


Conclusion and Highlights


A good time was certainly had by all, each with their own highlight. Margaret's was the Bempton Cliffs walk (puffins!); Barry's the nostalgia of the Yorkshire Wolds, such a part of his cycling youth out of Hull.


Recurrent themes were:


On the positive side for us: guesthouse breakfasts, Travelodge rooms, tea & scones and pub food, especially Wetherspoons, meeting old friends, the opportunities to meet and talk with strangers of every persuasion, and the pleasure of experiencing familiar places through fresh antipodean eyes. Rebecca's Android Smartphone was so useful that Barry bought one in Halifax and benefitted from an evening's intensive tutorial.


On the negative side: English Heritage fees, Pay & Display charges - and the impossibility of parking at any price in several locations. The more than usually errant antics of the SatNav.


Margaret Williamson

June 2015