30 March-1 April: Old friends and new toys

Author: Mr A

Location: London Heathrow Airport, Harby, Nottinghamshire, UK

In September of last year whilst travelling in the US, we started to dream about spending a longer chunk of time in the UK and Europe. After months of planning we have turned that dream into a reality and stepped of the plane from Sydney into a “fresh” (a euphemism the Brits use for bloody freezing) spring day at Heathrow.

The flight had been an extra long one, delayed out of Sydney with no explanation, diverting around Pakistan airspace and dodging storms over Turkey. We choose not to spend our fixed income from super and rent on business class airfares, we see too many other things that compete for our dollars and give us more pleasure. So it was the squishy back of the plane for us. A uneventful flight except for a young fellah who had to be threatened with the police to quieten him down, and that threat was delivered on when we arrived at Heathrow with 3 burly London metropolitan police officers escorting him off for what would no doubt be an unpleasant start to his UK stay, Qantas staff taking it all in their stride. What a job these cabin crew do. Cleaning up the poor aim of guys who refuse to sit down, dealing with the unruly and the far too spoilt folks with endless complaints about the wine (no, I didn’t! – we decided to sneak in an AFD (alcohol free day) on the trip). With that drama out of the way, we finally got to end over 25 hours of plane time and step out into the arrivals hall.

We were met by a guy I have known for over half a century, since the first year of secondary school, and he had driven all the way down from near Lincoln though the night to meet us. Friendships that have spanned that amount of time take on a quality that is so different. You have seen each other through so many phases of your life, you are known intimately for what you are, good and bad. So our piles of luggage were loaded (74kg of it!) and we were whisked off for a few hours more sitting on our bottoms. Arriving at their quintessential English country village of Harby, we were both reminded of all the things we love about our old homeland. The smell in the air at this time of year is quite unique, a blend of freshly mown grass, a tang of manure, it triggered so many memories, smell being our most powerful sense.

Looking across the fields towards Harby
Glorious tulips
Beautiful spring flowers everywhere

Their house is affectionately referred to by the village as “the manor”. I remember visiting the land when they first purchased it. Since then they have turned that patch of overgrown blackberry bushes into a house you would not be surprised to see on Grand Designs. John has been in the construction industry all his life as a civil engineer, while Catriona has impeccable taste and a brother who is an acclaimed architect. A great combination! When you see your friends who have struggled through some tough times and worked their butts off to create their dream home, now enjoying the phase of sharing it with friends and family, its truly heart warming.

Blossom at dawn
Back patio and garden

The first job on the list was to collect our new e-bikes, chosen on line and never seen in the flesh. I have to give mention to the dealer who has sourced the bikes and provided such great service, OnBikes Electric Bikes – brilliant service indeed. So a busy couple of hours in our friend’s garage assembling them and we are ready for our first ride. What beauties they are don’t you think?

John helps with the assembly

From the high end e-bike producers in Germany Riese and Muller, these machines will serve in place of a second car. Taking a motorhome into town centres inevitably ends badly.

A handy shared path for our maiden ride
Having lots of fun!
Mrs A has the blue bike, contrary to this photo!

They fly along, although in the UK (as in Australia) they are limited to 25km/hr when the motor will cut out. Really that’s plenty of speed for us. Why electric? Well neither of us is good on hills for different reasons, and we just find we decide to use a bike a lot more if we know we can make the hills without arriving for dinner all sweaty and breathless. Carrying shopping also becomes easy, important when parking your only vehicle in a town centre is problematic.

A key part of the plan to travel in England and Europe relied on us having a motorhome, for a variety of reasons. If you are relying on booking accomodation that really ties you down to where and when you travel. Also you are forced to eat out all the time. You spend a good part of your time searching, booking, moving into and out of places. All those hassles disappear to a large extent if you have your accomodation with you.

So we had decided to buy rather than rent, based on the economics of the length of time we plan to tour for, and the pleasure of being an owner who can customise and kit out their home as they wish. We decided we wanted something as small as possible, but still fit a decent bathroom with toilet and shower. So we settled on a make and model we wanted and started searching, almost immediately realising that only one or two of them were coming up secondhand a year. So when one did appear last December, we took the plunge. The dealer was also conveniently close to our friends near Lincoln, who kindly went to check it out and gave the thumbs up.

Monday: So the day had finally arrived to pick it up, on April Fools Day quite worryingly! We decided to go left hand drive as we plan to spend more time in Europe than the UK, and its a manual. So a little anxious about then getting used to driving it on UK roads, we set up to view our purchase in the flesh for the first time. What a beauty he is.

Our new home!

The handover and briefing on operating it couldn’t have been more professional. We have been so impressed with how the staff from Fuller Leisure had conducted themselves with us. The modifications we had done were all done right. We wanted to be able to travel independent from powered camp sites, so have installed solar panels, extra battery, a bit of kit to accelerate charging from the alternator, USB points and converted the gas system to LPG (every country we would visit uses different bottles).

We finally drove away at lunch time, and immediately I took to driving it. It has an enormous panoramic window which gives a great view of what other traffic is up to. Positioning the vehicle on the road (its a bit wider than a car at 2.2 metres) I found easy from the left hand side. My sharp eyed co-pilot was able to help call out all clear at roundabouts and junctions. So we made it back to Harby in one piece, mission accomplished!

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