Donna’s English Channel
a journal of my eleven and a half days of living like a local in South England
I always feel so fortunate and blessed when I have a chance to travel anywhere. But this summer I was feeling especially blessed when I had a chance to return to England, one of my favorite places, even if it was just my second time to go there. I joke that I have been a “closet” Brit since I was 12-years-old and I met my mom’s good friend, Jackie, who was from England. I was fascinated by what I always thought was such a lovely accent.
On our first trip to England in the fall of 2004, we spent about a week in London and saw most of the typical touristy places: Buckingham, Kensington and St. Jame’s Palaces, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We strolled through: Regent’s, St. James, Green and Hyde Parks. We saw the Diana Memorial, Peter Pan statue, Serpentine Lake and Speaker’s Corner. We went to the London Zoo, strolled through Harrods Department Store and enjoyed the Portobello Street Market and we can say we have been to Notting Hill. We took a tour of the city on a double-decker bus, rode on the Tube and waited on Platform 9 3/4 while waiting for a train at the Kings Cross station.
Back to England, summer 2018
So, for this more recent trip in the summer of 2018 I decided I wanted to see parts of England I didn’t get to see the first time. I also heard that there were going to be two royal weddings in 2018 and wanted to plan my trip to be in between the two weddings. My thought process was it would be a little less crowded.
Not that I would have objected to a royal sighting or two. But the odds of actually getting close enough to shake their hands or get a picture is so slim, it’s not worth the trouble of waiting for hours in a crowd. I would rather be sightseeing and get better views of the royals on TV. (plus, I think they spend most of their summer in Scotland, so it was unlikely I was going to have any royal sightings, anyway)
On this trip, I was able to stay with friends. Since I had seen so much of the city of London during the last trip, I asked to see and do things outside the city that I hadn’t done before. By staying in their house, I was able to experience life as a local.
Living life as a local started for me on the way home from the airport when we stopped at a local garden center. What an awesome center. There were so many plants to buy and other fun stuff that I didn’t need. If I had been at home I would have left with a cart full of stuff, so it was a good thing I was in England on holiday! We stopped in the cafe for a cup of tea before we left the shop. Yep, I was back in England!
I got settled into my temporary home, freshened up and then we went back out to for some local sightseeing in my friends’ home town, Chichester, West Sussex. We toured the Chichester Cathedral and strolled through the city, browsed in some shops and topped off my first day with an ice-cream cone.
Thanks to the combination of lots of walking, fresh air, sunshine and staying up until a normal bedtime for England, I was able to fight off jet lag. After a good night’s sleep, I woke up on Sunday morning refreshed and ready for a full day of adventure. It was raining, but that didn’t bother us!
For this rainy Sunday morning we took a drive to Portsmouth. As we entered Portsmouth my friends explained that after World War II many of the buildings that had been destroyed during the war were replaced by buildings that were faster and easier to build, which is why much of Portsmouth isn’t “pretty-looking.” I didn’t think it was an “ugly” city at all. But, as we got into Old Portsmouth I could see that Old Portsmouth was a little more picturesque and “English-looking.”
We found a parking place and began walking. The rain was coming down at a pretty good pace by now and the extremely high winds pushed us along. The spectacular waves were so high that they were crashing over what they call the “hot walls” by the beach.
Our walk took us to Spice Island, through the Round Tower and Square Tower, continued along until we were almost to the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.
The weather apparently kept a lot of people at home for the day. But of the few of us who were out, a few tried fishing and others were like us, walking and enjoying the views. My friends pointed out that as you walk around Old Portsmouth, look down. You can follow the chain link all around the city. While we walked we also saw ferries going to and coming from the Isle of Wight. Our problem was that due to the gray, rainy day, we almost couldn’t see the Isle of Wight.
Emirates Spinnaker Tower
Isle of Wight ferry
We did get out of the rain for a bit and ducked into a cafe for a tea/coffee break. We found that our rain jackets had done very little to keep us dry. We all were soaked.
We continued our walk for a little while after our break. The rain had subsided but the high winds continued on. We stopped to see the Bonds of Friendship memorial to Australia and England. We also saw a plaque on the wall next to the the Square Tower that is dedicated to the men, women and children who were part of the second colony sent by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1587 to what was called Virginia at that time, but is now North Carolina. And the final memorial we saw was the The Pioneer Statue. The statue is dedicated to the Europeans who left their homes and created a new home in America.
After we got back in the car, we drove along by the shore and soon realized it was not such a good idea, as did the visitors who had just gotten out of their car. At that moment, a wave jumped over the wall and crashed on the street, soaking the pedestrians and splashing all over the car.
Despite the weather we had a great time. But it was nice to get back home and out of the rain for the rest of the day.
Jane Austen’s House Museum
Our next outing took us to Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire.
We started our tour by watching a film about Jane’s life. She grew up in a family with eight kids, six boys and two girls. (like Jane, I also grew up with 6 brothers and 1 sister)
We took a tour of her house and gardens. At the end of the tour adults and kids can play dress-up and try on clothes from Jane’s time.
Jane Austen’s House:
The Gardens at Jane Austen’s House:
Weald and Downland Living Museum
The 40-acre museum has historic buildings for you to tour, including a 17th century watermill and a Tudor kitchen. They have regular presentations and seasonal presentations of what life was like for the residents of South England that spans a 1000 years.
As you go into the buildings you might see a cooking demonstration or speak to the knowledgeable volunteers who are available in the buildings to answer questions and to explain in detail about what life was like for people who lived there.
The museum also has seven beautiful gardens that have been recreated to represent how gardens would have been from the early part of the 16th century through the late 19th century. The vegetables and herbs are lovingly cared for by gardening volunteers.
I enjoyed views of the beautiful countryside as we strolled from building to building and we stopped to say hello to the cows resting in the pasture and to the horses, including the new foal that was sticking very close to its mom. We had a lovely walk through the woods and stopped to explore along the way, including the Hambrook Barn, which offers activities for the whole family. You can dress up in period clothing and play some traditional games.
The museum also offers classes on traditional crafts and rural trades.
After all the walking, you can sit and enjoy a nice picnic lunch near the millpond or enjoy lunch from the outdoor seating area of the waterside cafe. Watching the ducks as they scramble for bits of bread thrown into the water is fun entertainment while you eat.
Before leaving the United States I told my friends that one thing I did want to do was to see a castle or two. Sooooo, they planned a castle day!
We went to Arundel Castle, https://arundelcastle.org/ which is the home of the current Duke and Duchess of Norfolk.
It is in the town of Arundel, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arundel, in West Sussex.
After walking up tons of those narrow, winding staircases, we reached the Keep way up at the top of the castle. The views of the river, the town and the countryside, are enough to forget about all the stairs you had to climb up, until you have to go back down! As you climb up you also catch glimpses of the private part of the castle where the Duke and Duchess and their family live. I tried to picture what it would be like to actually live in a castle. I probably would need one of those maps they hand out to tourists so I could find my way around!
As you stroll through the castle you will see rooms such as the Baron’s Hall, the private chapel, the room where Queen Victoria stayed when she visited and the library, which seemed to be a favorite among castle guests. I overheard most people point out their favorite seat if the library was theirs. The library is so huge that it could have easily accommodated everyone who was touring the library at the same time we were.
Once we were back outside the castle we saw the gardens and took a walk through the Fitzalan Chapel. We enjoyed a nice walk along the grounds as we made our way back to the town, stopping for a closer look at the fast-moving River Arun. We walked through town and we stopped at the Tea and Biscuit Shop on High Street where I purchased some tea to take home.
Pictures from Arundel Castle
Our castle day wasn’t over yet. After leaving Arundel, we went to Amberley Castle, in West Sussex. http://www.amberleycastle.co.uk/
The centuries old castle is now a hotel and they also can be booked for weddings, meetings and special occasions. Enjoy a nice dinner or traditional English afternoon tea.
We had a reservation for afternoon tea that included finger sandwiches, scones, sweets and of course a nice selection of tea. The food and service were excellent and after tea we enjoyed a couple games of croquet.
Well, by this point it was Thursday. I had arrived on the Saturday before, so I was inching up on being in England for a week. My friend suggested maybe a nice long walk out on the beach, if I would like that. If I would like it? Yes, of course, I would love a nice long walk on the beach!
So, off we went, to the beach!
We went to West Wittering and there was a big, beautiful, sandy beach!
We parked the car in the village and after a nice long walk through the countryside, we arrived at the beach. The tide was way out, which created a larger beach than normal. We started off on the dog-friendly part of the beach, with plenty of dogs taking advantage of the friendly beach.
Dogs playing at the beach
We spent most of our time walking on this beach, enjoying the beautiful, sunny day. As I do with any beach, I searched for shells, sea glass and good skipping stones. No luck finding sea glass or good skipping stones, but I did find one shell to take home.
We walked to the end of this part of the beach, did a sort of circle around the back of the dunes and eventually came out to the people-only part of the beach.
The beach was filled with a brightly colored mix of towels and umbrellas. There are a dozen or so tiny beach huts that sit up on the hill, overlooking the beach. Visitors can rent the huts for the day to store their beach gear. No sleeping in the huts, please!
Excited toddlers looked like world-class sprinters making a mad dash across the sand, toward the water as parents heroically raced to catch-up and grab their children before they got to the water. Some parents and children worked together to build the perfect sand castle while other families splashed happily in the sea. Some folks were content to read a book or people watch.
We gradually made our way uphill toward the tiny huts and out to the parking lot, where we got back on the path that led us to the village and our car. As we walked away from the beach we noticed a never-ending line of cars heading to the beach car park and passed plenty of pedestrians and bicyclists on their way to the beach.
We drove a short distance to a local yacht club for a nice, relaxing lunch.
On the way home, we stopped in Chichester at the Novium Museum to see the Moments in British History exhibit with all the display items made from Legos. The Big Ben was my favorite piece.
My solo trip
I ventured out on my own for a solo trip from Chichester to Stratford-upon-Avon.
My friends helped me buy the right train ticket and made sure I knew all the stations where I would switch trains. With warm hugs good-bye, and a confident, “You can do this,” they dropped me off at the station.
I rode the first train to the London Victoria station where I switched to the Victoria Line going north on the Tube. (light blue line) I rode that for 2 stops, getting off at the Oxford Circus station. I switched to the Bakerloo Line going north. (brown line) I rode that for 2 stops and got off at the London Marylebone station where I switched back to a regular train. I rode that train to Dorridge and then switched to another train that was going to Stratford-upon-Avon.
Since I was unfamiliar with the system, I was a little nervous at the thought of riding trains and switching so many times. But I also was excited and looking forward to my solo adventure and stayed positive as I told myself I can do this. After all, I reasoned, if my mom was able to hop in her car while she was in her 50’s and 60’s and drive from Michigan to Texas or wherever her grandchildren were, I knew I could manage a train trip.
I am not afraid to ask for help when I need it, and I certainly asked a lot. Everyone I asked was so nice and helpful. And I asked everyone from fellow travelers to conductors and station employees. Many went out of their way to help and to put me at ease. It also helped that the trains all announced the next stop and the stops also scrolled across the electronic information board inside each car.
Once I was on board the first train and relaxed a bit, I enjoyed the trip through the countryside. My friends told me I would see both Arundel Castle and Amberley Castle from the train. And, as promised, I saw both castles, lots of sheep and cattle.
Since I am a “people watcher” by nature, I found myself wondering about the people getting on and off the train as we stopped at the stations along the way. Who were they? Where were they going? Were they visitors like me, visiting friends and family or were they locals heading out for a day’s adventure or had their adventure ended and they were on the way home?
Sometimes from the snippets of conversation you can’t help but overhear, you can figure out if they are locals or visitors and why they were riding the train that day. Based on the tidbits I overheard that day, the most common groups of passengers were Moms with their teen-age daughters and friends, shopping for back-to-school clothes.
When I arrived at the London Marylebone station, I had to watch the board that would announce which platform my train to Dorridge would depart from. While I watched the board, I saw an elderly woman sitting near me on a bench. My first thought was that she looked like a “real-life” Miss Marple. Just as that thought crossed my mind, “Miss Marple” pulled an actual china tea cup out of her suitcase and she began sipping what I hope was tea!
Our platform was announced and I hurried to the train along with my fellow passengers. I found a seat and as I got comfortable a woman from Queensland, Australia sat next to me. We chatted most of the way until her stop at Warwick where she was going to visit her long-time friend. I changed trains one more time at Dorridge and boarded the train bound for Stratford.
I checked into my hotel, then walked to the downtown and the waterfront. I walked along the River Avon, took some pictures and then I noticed a small boat getting ready to board passengers for an evening cruise on the river. I bought a ticket, climbed on board the boat, and settled down for a nice relaxing evening cruise.
With about 14 or so passengers, our captain took us on a nice slow ride on the river. Ducks and geese swam up to the boat, in the hopes of maybe getting a treat thrown at them from the boat. People on shore waved to friends and family in the boat. I enjoyed the views of the buildings and private homes along the river. On both sides of the river were what I found out later are called narrowboats. The owners live on the boats. And they also take small groups on river cruises. On the day I was there I saw dozens of the boats tied up on either side of the river.
Most of the houses along the river were beautiful. Some had almost a whole wall made of windows in order to enjoy the view of the river.
Pictures from the river cruise
Fountain in the park
I took another walk by the river on Saturday morning after breakfast, then I went back to the hotel to pack and get ready for my return adventure on the trains.
I received a warm “welcome home” from my friends and they pointed out that I am a pro now and proved that I would do very well traveling on my own.
I had been in England for a week. My trip was winding down, but we still had plenty of more adventures planned.
Sunday, a day of rest
Sunday was a day of rest for all of us. It was a very hot day and we decided to just stay in the house and take a break from all the walking in the heat. We read and watched TV and movies and just enjoyed a relaxing day “at home.”
On Monday we set out for Brighton. Energetic. Busy. Beautiful. Fun. I have heard some people describe it as the “Coney Island” of the United Kingdom.
My friends told me a lot of people come down from the northern counties to spend their summer holiday in Brighton at the beach and I certainly could understand why. I even saw Darth Vader, apparently spending his holiday there like everyone else.
I loved the views as we strolled along the pier. There is a funfair at the end of the pier with rides for all ages.
Brighton has what appears to be hundreds of narrow streets and I believe we walked down them all.
We did some shopping, stopped for lunch and of course, ice-cream. Then it was time to go home and rest up for our next adventure.
A few pictures from Brighton
Back to Portsmouth and Southsea
Tuesday. My last full day in England. We spent the day back in Portsmouth and Southsea. The weather certainly was a lot nicer than the first time we were there with all the rain and high winds.
We stopped briefly at the Canoe Lake Leisure Limited for a cold drink. We sat out on the terrace where we were able to watch some tennis matches. As a matter of fact, my friends were able to watch some of the female tennis players play at the Leisure Club before they went on to Wimbledon.
From the leisure club we took a short stroll to Canoe Lake where we stopped for a few minutes to watch families out enjoying a beautiful day at the park. With a playground, picnic areas, benches for people watching, boat rentals and a nice, wide path with lots of room for pedestrians and bicyclists, there is something for everyone.
We continued our walk and soon we were to the sea. We stopped at the D-Day Memorial, built to honor the young men who left from that area and headed into battle on the D-Day beaches in France.
D-Day Memorial, Southsea
We strolled out on the Southsea Pier, bought the requisite order of chips and found a comfortable seat on a bench that offered great views of the beach and people. We saw fisherman, couples and families all enjoying the beach and the pier. We saw a man drying out his money by laying it out on the pier after successfully retrieving his wallet from the water after he dropped it there.
Immediately, I noticed a big difference between the Southsea Pier and the Brighton Pier. Both Southsea and Brighton offer a lovely beach, a pier for strolling and rides. But if peace and quiet is what you are looking for, then Southsea is where you want to go for your summer beach holiday. If you are looking for excitement and energy, head to Brighton. I think if I were going to choose one for a week, I would choose to stay at Southsea, but maybe take a day trip to Brighton. The rides on the Southsea Pier are geared for young children while the rides at Brighton offer rides for all ages.
After we finished our chips, we started walking again.
Pictures from Southsea boardwalk and pier. There is a ferry arriving from France.
We walked from Southsea to Portsmouth, back along the hot walls, to the Spinnaker Tower like we did the first time. What a difference a few days makes weather-wise. On our second walk the water was calm and the waves were not jumping over the hot walls.
Pictures from our second visit to Old Portsmouth
The sea was much calmer than on our first visit. On our first visit the waves were so high that they were jumping over the walls you see in the distance.
One more trip!
Wednesday morning, time for one more trip before going to the airport
Playing “Poohsticks” in the 100 acre wood, a.k.a, Ashdown Forest
Wednesday morning we set off in search of “Pooh Corner” so we could see the 100 acre wood and play “Poohsticks.” The 100 acre wood is located in Ashdown Forest, East Sussex.
We started off at “Pooh Corner,” a shop dedicated to Pooh and his friends. The shop is located in Hartfield, the home of A. A. Milne, author of the Winnie the Pooh books. I found some gifts for my grandchildren and for myself, too! Before heading out to play Poohsticks you can get a “a little something” and tea from Piglet’s Tearoom and Garden.
We picked up our instruction sheet with the rules for playing Poohsticks, then got back in the car for the short drive to the car park near the bridge. We read that you’re supposed to provide your own sticks, so, you will see many people walking around in the woods, searching for a stick that is sure to be the winner in Poohsticks.
The bridge is about a 20 minute walk from the car park. The path was mostly shaded, which made it comfortable for walking on a hot summer day.
Well, after our great walk to and from the Poohsticks Bridge and after all three of us lost the game because all of our sticks got caught up on a support beam underneath the bridge, we were ready for lunch on the way to the airport.
Over fish and chips, we chatted about all the places we went over the last 12 days. It was a great holiday for me. If I had been on my own I’m not sure I would have seen as much because much of it I didn’t know about and also because although there are trains to take you almost everywhere, I think getting around by car probably was the better choice.
We started off with a long wish list of things to do and see but we all knew time wasn’t going to allow us to see everything on the list. I am always flexible while on holiday because even the best plans are subject to issues that come up. But, that is okay. I am not disappointed at all with the trip. I always file the things I don’t see under the heading, “Next time.”
I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to England this year and super blessed to have such good friends that they were willing to take time off from their schedule to take me around south England.