Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Spring has Sprung

2 April
Catsfield, East Sussex

The less that is said about our delayed departure from South Africa the better. It is so easy to let a bad experience spoil a fantastic trip. So we will just let the horrors of the inefficiency of Cape Town Airport remain a problem for the good citizens of Cape Town. Our delay was no fault of our carrier Qatar Airways. One of the ground crew at Cape Town (the one with the ping pong bats) waved our plane into the wrong landing area and so the plane hit the terminal. Shades of “Flying High' and Leslie Neilson, we thought. This was compounded the next day by the extremely inefficient national carrier South African Airways with whom we were re-booked to continue our trip to the UK. Ok. Enough is enough. We are over it and the great experiences we had in this amazing country far outweigh the difficulties of our last couple of days.

So, here we are camped in a paddock in East Sussex. Our recently hired campervan is probably the most modern and comfortable we have hired in our many camping adventures. Tonight, at least, we have fifty channels of digital television, a close to full-size refrigerator, water heater and all the mod-cons that we only dreamed of when we first hired a van in Europe back in 1987.

This is our first real van visit to the UK since that original '87 trip. We passed through in 2001, but the expense at that time (35p to the $) limited our stay to less than a week. With the current strong Aussie dollar putting prices here on par to, or even lower than at home, we are making hay while the sun shines.

Following a quick visit to family in outer London, tracing the footsteps of Geoffrey Chaucer and his band of pilgrims, we headed off to Canterbury. Chaucer and his bawdy band followed a well-worn path to the tomb of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was murdered in the cathedral in 1170. Obviously, much has changed since the time of Becket's murder and Chaucer's pilgrims' journey to this magnificent example of medieval architecture, but the cathedral still draws thousands of modern day pilgrims (tourists!) who were out in force on a warm and sunny spring day.

This is the first time we have travelled in Europe outside autumn/winter. Crowds are already getting to us, but the spring flowers and the first flush of green on the trees is, so far, making the crowded streets and slow traffic bearable.

After a long walk along the White Cliffs of Dover and a slow drive through the sunny Kent countryside, we are now settled in a farmer's paddock outside Catsfield, but not before we bogged our van getting onto the field. That's camping, folks!

4 April, Chichester

Sun shone down on us most of the past couple of days, still a weak spring sun, but enough to bring out the locals. After one of the coldest winters on record, the cabin-fever infected Brits are really enjoying the first flush of spring. We have visited a few National Trust properties, including the almost perfectly preserved medieval castle of Bodiam, the imposing Arundel, seat of the Norfolk dynasty and the country seat of the Dukes of Northumberland, Petworth. The locals were out in force with their special walking staves and backpacks - just the thing for a stroll on a level gravel path for a km or two. Walking is a very serious business apparently.

We had forgotten just how crowded the UK is. The South-East is particularly densely populated, with narrow roads and hedgerows that scrape the side of our van as we cringe on the left shoulder to avoid on-coming vans and trucks. Consequently, we are now without one driver's side mirror, a victim of that one branch that didn't give way to our left side 'hedge- trimmer'.

We are making very slow progress at the moment, enthralled by the many beautiful villages and towns with their Tudor half-timbered houses framed by trees and bushes in full flower. And the daffodils are just gorgeous, popping up all over the place. Wordsworth would be in daffodil heaven.

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