Friday 28 September 2018

FAMILY REVIEW: England (and Wales) - PART II


This was a spur of the moment decision to go here. We had some free time between our final house sitting and next hotel check in.

We went via one of the main bridges that has a toll. It cost £5.60 in total. You only have to pay to go to Wales and not back into England. There are ways to get into Wales without a toll but this was faster for us. There are not many other tolls around England - although we did come across a small bridge we had to pay 5p (10c) to cross which was totally worth it just because of how weird and awesome that is!

England is quite flat, with a lot of farms for wheat and barley growing. You can see the flat, harvested farms everywhere.

Wales, is full of trees! Well, the part we saw. Trees everywhere! And it was beautiful driving into Wales and seeing all their signs in both English and Welsh! Loved it!

We only had an afternoon there so chose to go to Cardiff. We stopped at a Park and Ride in case we couldn't navigate through the city for parking and it was the best spontaneous decision we made because it was super easy to get into town and back to our parking.

The Park and Ride we chose was Cardiff East with a bus directly into town. It costs £5 for a car and more than one passenger and this includes the ticket to and from town.

To buy your Park and Ride ticket, you need to download their app Cardiff Bus and everything is on there - with payment via credit card. Once you find the right ticket for the right Park and Ride, you get a pass for the day with a QR ticket for you and your travel party (and car) to scan on the buses when you go to the city and back again. It was a pretty easy process.

Cardiff was... rainy. But they also have a beautiful city centre, paved for pedestrians with a shopping strip to Cardiff Castle. Not extremely busy but still hustling and bustling. Well looked after and felt very safe.

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Apparently Cardiff Bay is also beautiful but we didn't make it there but if you're there, the locals recommended it to us so please go for us!

Cardiff Castle is also there! We went as far as the entrance, took our photo in the rain, then left.

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I liked that Cardiff was a clean, safe city; had a well organised transport system; their signs were in both English and Welsh and that I could hear the locals talking to their children in Welsh! If only NZ were at their pace...

We enjoyed Cardiff a lot and wished we could have explored Wales a lot more than we did but were also glad we made the spontaneous trip there in the first place!

HIGHCLERE CASTLE (aka Downton Abbey)

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Clearly I chose to go to this place. We bought tickets for this visit before we even left on the trip! Keen.

Highclere is only open to the public during the summer months or for more expensive openings spread out throughout the year.

Booking the summer tickets can be done either in advance (pre-booked) or walk up.

Pre-booked is guaranteed but it means you need to book a specific date and session. And yes, we had planned our trip that meticulously that we knew what date we would be there - that far in advance. Nerds.

Walk up is exactly that. You can walk up and get tickets from the ticket office. However, not 100% guaranteed. If it has reached its capacity, they can turn you away. Not likely but it is possible. They recommend buying tickets to the earlier sessions or later sessions if you are buying through this method.

They do not release summer tickets until around December before the upcoming summer. For the summer opening, there are 4 types of tickets:

Castle, Exhibition and Gardens £23
Castle and Gardens £16
Exhibition and Gardens £16
Gardens Only £7

We bought the Castle and Gardens tickets which meant we could go on the walk around the castle and stay on the garden grounds for as long as we wanted - well, until they closed.

There were no photos allowed inside the castle (although Hadrian did see someone take a sneaky photo and alert me to it in his not-so-quiet inside voice).

20180819_142111The castle was as beautiful as I imagined it to be. What was interesting is that the family who own it still live in it when it's not open to the public or the filming of the show (now movie coming soon) so you will see old period pieces of furniture and books mixed with more modern furniture and modern books. One highlight was seeing this man dressed as a butler from the show who was not working there but was taking a tour just like us. He was in full butler gear and all by himself. It was both amazing and weird!

The exhibition was downstairs where - if you watch the show - the kitchen would have been and actually there was a running kitchen/cafe down there. They had an Egyptian exhibition and the line was long. We were ok skipping that exhibition as we had just seen one in Greece.

The gardens were beautifully looked after and a lot of people were around eating and just enjoying the sights. We even saw a couple in a deep sleep on the grass... to the point where it went beyond just a sleep and the guy put his hand down his pants. Get a room guys - not an open space outside a castle!
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They have two sets of toilets outside the castle (one of which was one of the best public toilets I have been to - even better than Buckingham Palace public toilets) and they have about 3 or 4 different eating places and a gift shop.

Highclere Castle was another highlight in England!

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We nearly missed seeing this. The timing didn't seem to work with what we had already planned and booked. We were trying to find a way to squeeze it in but the further we went past it, the further away the chances were getting.

But, Nathan said Stonehenge is pretty high on his bucket list - as high as the Acropolis! So we had to make it work.

20180825_063700Luckily, our house sitting family were coming back a day earlier than we had planned and it gave us an extra day to fit in what we thought we wouldn't be able to! So we drove backwards (to our planned northward trip), woke up really early in what felt like a winters morning but we were still technically in summer, drove through little English country towns for an hour each way to make it to Stonehenge.

Guys, we were not going to pay to get into Stonehenge. We had a plan. A free plan.

If you want to pay to see Stonehenge, there is a carpark about 20-30 minutes walk from the actual site. It is where the official carpark for Stonehenge is. Then you have to pay to go in which apparently you get an audio guide with as well.

However, our free plan consisted of parking on a small side road in a place called Larkhill, walk down a free pathway for 10-15 minutes (10 when it's cold and you want to warm up) and you see a beautiful view of Stonehenge for the last 10 minutes of the walk.

Then you can walk through a free pathway passage that takes you approximately 50 metres away from the stones itself and about a metre from the pathway that the paid visitors have to walk down to get to the stones.

Sure, we didn't touch the stones but we saw a sunrise view of the stones with very little tourists there* and it was for free... and with less walking.

Some people have gone to the free view fence as well but they have parked at the official carpark and walked the longer distance (someone did it that morning we were there as well). I think our trick was better and easier - thank you to past visitors of Stonehenge for sharing this free plan with those who seek it aka us.

* We were at Stonehenge at 7am. It does not open until 9am. Yet, a bus arrived full of tourists (higher paying tourists?) and they ruined our empty view of Stonehenge.

Our Free Plan in Detail

Find the corner of Willoughby Road and Fargo Road in Larkhill, Salisbury.  Here are the coordinates on Google Maps.

Park anywhere by the sign on the corner of those streets. Do not turn down Fargo Road - stay on Willoughby Road and park at the end of it. While still being on Willoughby Road with Fargo Road ahead of you and turning left of where you should be, look ahead to a gravel road behind a gate and road cones (Google Maps shows the gate as open but it may not be all the time). Even with the gate closed, you can still walk down that gravel road.

Walk directly down that road and follow it for 5 or so minutes until you come over a small hill and see the Stonehenge in the distance. Stare at the Stonehenge in awe as you continue walking down that same road (there are no other roads off it) and walk to the end of the gravel road you're on until you see where the paid tourists would walk - taking pics along the way.

IMG_2702Once you're at the end of the gravel road, you'll see that there is a path that cuts through some grass not far from the sheep staring at you. It will look like you can't go there and that it's private property, but it's not and you can. Walk on the gravel footpath through the grass around the little mound that is there until you get to a wire fence that is 50 metres away from Stonehenge all the while seeing that on the other side of the wire fence is where the paid tourists walk to enter Stonehenge.

You are so close yet you're seeing it for free! And you didn't have to walk as far to see it and you didn't have to pay for parking either (because parking in the official carpark if you're not paying to see Stonehenge is £5). You're welcome!

SIDE TIP: You can take drone shots of the Stonehenge IF you stay on the free side of the fence. Security will make sure you stay on that side but will not tell you that it's not allowed as the free side of the fence is public property. Anywhere past that fence line is prohibited.

We recommend seeing Stonehenge whether paid or unpaid. Beautiful sight to see - especially early in the morning.

Another highlight in England!


We spent a week in Newcastle and guyssssss... the Geordie accent is just as difficult to understand as you may have heard!

I had to laugh when down the Subway ordering line, Nathan was asking the server to repeat herself over and over again when she kept asking him if he wanted onions - but pronouncing them oon-ions instead of unn-ions.

Newcastle city was a beautiful city. Another paved area for pedestrians, well looked after and safe city to be in. Public transport is easy and efficient. They have a metro that goes directly to the airport and to various places that are divided by zones. Buy whole day pass tickets at the machines at the station, easy peasy. For two zones, it costs £4 for a whole day pass ticket. Accurate, live update on when trains arrive.

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We have never seen so many things with Hadrian's name on it. Hadrian Road, Hadrian Hotel, Hadrian's Pet Hotel, Hadrian's Lipbalm. It was everywhere.

Heading towards the water is a must.  At Tynemouth, where the river Tyne opens to the sea are the ruins of a many-century-old Priory Castle set on a hill at the end of a beautiful township. There is also an amazing panorama of Tynemouth beach. It was a beautiful summer's day when we were there. But don't let that fool you! The water is icey!

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Beautiful and large statue! Free to visit, free to park.


One of the main reasons for coming on this trip was to see this wall. We had promised Hadrian that one day we will take him to the wall that carries his name! Little did we know at the time that there are so many things in his name and the wall was just one of them.

Hadrian's Wall spans across the entire country of England as a border to keep the Northland Scots out of England - which was under Roman rule at the time.

Over the years, it has deteriorated and now there are segments of it spread across the northern border of England.

There are various places around Newcastle and towards the western end of England that have places to stop and visit along the wall that are paid sites but there are also segments of the wall that are free to stop and see.

And actually, there is a walking trail across Hadrian's Wall. When driving along the closest road to the Wall, you see a lot of "Hadrian's Wall Trail" pathways everywhere and we saw a lot of backpackers walking this trail.

We weren't prepared for walking that trail so did the touristy thing and went to a paid site that had a large segment of the Wall as well as a fort.

Housestead Fort and Museum

Open from 10am to 6pm. But if you want to take a drone shot early in the morning without anyone around, you can still walk up to the wall and fort but you cannot enter the fort during closing hours.

Cost: £7.80 per adult / £4.70 per child. Family price (2 adults, up to 3 children) £20.30 - which is the same price for 2 adults and 1 child!

Carpark is not free. It costs £3 for 3 hours. It won't take you longer than 3 hours to go through this site. There is a machine there and you pay before you leave. They have a camera system that recognises your licence plate number as you enter and leave.

Toilets are at the shop and at the museum at the top (although that toilet is a portaloo).

There is a bit of walk up uphill to the fort and wall from the main entrance and shop. It takes about 10 minutes on a gravel path through sheep filled fields where they can go anywhere, including past you, and where their poo can also be anywhere, including around you.

At the museum at the top of the hill (where the portaloo is), there is a place to watch a short movie about Hadrian and learn more about the fort. We heard his name being said by so many people around us that our Hadrian was always turning around!

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You can wander through the fort and around the wall for as long as you like. We enjoyed this part of the Hadrian's history.

Hadrian's Wall Trail Segments

There were segments of the Wall along the walking trail where you can stop and walk along that part of the Wall. We stopped at just one so it was just the Wall and nothing else. Worth it!


After Newcastle and Hadrian's Wall, we headed out of England and into Scotland.

We fit a lot into a month in England and through the month, we stayed in ten different accommodations before our next month-long stay! It was hard and tiring... and it made us realise how grateful we are that we can take our time through this trip. That even though this was a jam packed month, we knew there was an end to it coming up and a month stay was just around the corner.

England (and Wales):  Out of all places we've been so far, you made us miss home the most! We will return and explore more in the future!



H: It was very nice. It was cool that everyone spoke English compared to the other countries where they spoke some language we didn't understand. And I also like the accents; they were easy to understand and it wasn't hard to figure out what they were saying. I liked seeing Hadrian's Wall and Stonehenge, also Buckingham Palace; was one of the best things we did in England. I liked the times when we were dog sitting, that was really nice and gave us a chance to relax, and not have to leave every day and come home exhausted. Although I didn't pay for fuel and stuff like that, I didn't like that if the price tag said "£1" it actually meant "$2". That wasn't good at all.

N: With all the similarities to New Zealand and Australia, it’s easy to forget you’re in Britain.  Driving through the green countryside (right hand drive, on the left hand side of the road) is reminds us so much of home.  It’s been a blast so far with the the rural country summer, dog sitting, watching British TV, visiting the queen, the ancient Roman sites, the ancient Britonic sites and modern London city. There is an endless variety of things to see and do.

T: Loved it all - even the week in accommodation with only pasta cups! Loved the weather, the people were fantastic, the transport was awesome, the landscapes like home. So glad we signed up for house sitting and met with two local families and lived amongst it all. Highlights were Buckingham Palace and Highclere Castle. Did not like the exchange rate though... England, you were also expensive, yo!


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