I really didn't want to go to England. Scotland, yes, but England never held any real appeal for me, so I was somewhat disappointed when our long-awaited trip to Europe was going to be Great Britain and not Germany as first planned. After all, Germany was exotic, and I'd been there and knew what to expect. What had I heard about England? Bland food, boring people and no mountains. Boy, was I wrong!

Traveling Through Great Britain:

a diary by Kathie Courtney

January 29, 1999 - February 14, 1999


The trip was unexpected. We certainly hadn't planned to spend thousands of dollar bipping off to Europe, but what's life without some serendipity? Sometime in late fall, we received coupons in the mail from Northwest Airlines for $298 airfare to Europe if we went before March 31. We looked at that, looked at each other and started planning. Scott's parents had RCI time-shares, after all. Maybe we could get them to sell us a week. At Les Pletcher's birthday party, we mentioned our plan and before we knew it, the four of us, Penny & Les, Scott and I, were planning a joint vacation. After talking to Linda and Ed, we decided to go for two weeks instead of one, with the help of an extra week from Scott's sister-in-law, Kathleen. Now we had two weeks! Germany was the destination. Linda got on the phone with RCI and we learned to our disappointment that nothing was available in our time slot. Most Germany RCI resorts are in the Alps and this was prime ski season. (As it turned out, also prime avalanche season!) OK, backup plan. "Scotland!" I yelled in Scott's ear, and voila, Scotland it was. Since we had to fly into Gatwick Airport, why not spend the other week in England. OK, that was possible. I was unenthused. England was going to be boring, but Scotland, now, that would be cool! We knew Les would be OK with this and Penny seemed happy, so that was that.

Penny got on the Internet and started looking for car rentals and cheap hotels for our last night in London. She found both. All of us started planning. I found guide books and Les came up with maps. I contacted a gent at the Sutton Hoo excavation and made arrangements to visit there. Les got us ferry information for the Orkneys. Scott kept all our feet on the ground. Penny even arranged shuttle service to and from Cleveland airport so we didn't have to leave the car for two weeks. Everything was falling into place.

Day One: January 29-30, 1999 - We Leave

On January 29, after work, we were set to go. With everything packed, we drove to the Pletchers only to find a white, stretch limo in the driveway. This was our "shuttle service" to the airport. We arrived in luxury and checked in with no problem. Connections through Detroit weren't bad and the flight from Detroit to London was long, although relatively empty. Scott finally found a seat to stretch out on and got some sleep. Since he was planning to drive, that was a good plan.

We couldn't wait until we finally flew over British soil. True to the English weather, the country was socked in with dense cloud cover so our first glimpse of England was the airport runway. Gatwick was very nice, modern and not all that crowded. Unfortunately, the rental car agency, was about as far from our gate as the airport allowed, including a shuttle trip from one terminal to another. Our Alamo rental ended up a National and after some negotiations by Les and Scott we had a large car and two drivers. Penny and I wisely opted to leave the driving to the guys.

Scott was our first driver and got us out of the airport and into London traffic with great courage. He did a fine job. Lefthand driving on narrow roads with hard-to-decypher signage was more than I was willing to take on. Worst of all were the roundabouts. "Why did it have to be roundabouts?" You see, Great Britain doesn't have stop signs at intersections. Instead, there are traffic circles with roads branching off. In the country, this is fine. No stops, no fuss. In town, however, it's a nightmare. Three to four lanes of traffic, jockeying for position, trying to figure out

which branch of the highway will take you to where you want to go. (There are no compass directions, only city names. A good map is essential.) In any case, we were soon out of London and headed north to the Barnsdale Country Club, our RCI resort on the Rutland Water.

england04 About ten miles out of London, I got the shock of my life: England was gorgeous! Even in the fog and rain, which greeted us our first day, and in late January, it was green and beautiful. The highways were somewhat smaller than our monsters and so clean. There were no billboards to spoil the scenery and no real suburbs. Once out of the city, you were into miles of rolling farmland. Ancient hedgerows, just about ready to sprout, divided fields. In the distance, you could see towns and villages with church spires rising out of the fog. I began to eat my words.

About an hour north of London, we decided to find a pub for lunch. We got off the highway and drove through a small town, finally finding a nice, modern pub. We were about the only guests that time of the day. Scott and I went for the fish and chips immediately and were not disappointed. More like whale and chips! The folks in the pub were friendly and very helpful. (You order pub food at the bar!) If they thought we were stupid Americans, they were kind enough not to say so to our faces.) Surprisingly, the food was great. Myth #2 up in smoke, followed my myth #3 as the guys at the pub gathered to chat with Les and Scott. OK, I gave up. England was not ugly, did not have bad food, and the people were friendly and nice. Three hours into the trip and the bad press was flushed down the loo.

althorp04 After lunch, it was still relatively early. I looked at the map and tried to find something to do so that we wouldn't "waste" one of our precious days in England. Penny and I put our heads together in the back of the car and spotted Althorpe on the map. Hmmm, Princess Diana's ancestral home. That certainly interested Penny and I thought it would be neat too. Scott curled a lip and Les was silent on the subject, so we started to give directions. It's plain to me that the family doesn't want tons of visitors, because this site was not well marked. After several wrong turns and false tries, we found the estate. It's only in the summer, but we were able to peek through the gates and spot the house from a distance. Missed the lake, however. It's a beautiful estate reached along what seems miles of groomed country roads. Overhanging trees made tunnels and stone walls lined the road. Truly this was postcard England! The fog and mist seemed to add to the sadness of the estate. About a mile up the
england03 street was a tiny village with a typical English churchyard. The stones seemed to range from very old to very new, telling us that this was an active parish. Along the winding roads were little villages, each with gray, stone row houses tight to the edge of the sidewalks. These wound through the towns, clean and neat, with small shops and pubs on nearly every street. Once, when we were trying to find Althorpe, we topped a hill only to be confronted with one of these villages. Riding down the center of the street was a beautiful horse, the rider in no hurry to give up the road. We waited, watched and snapped a couple of pictures. If you're going to be a tourist, you might as well make the moments count.

timken Towards late afternoon, the long day began to catch up with us. With only a short side trip to find the Timken England plant in Dustan, we headed for Rutland. Past Leicester, we drove and drove. There was literally no civilization around other than farms. What were we getting into? Finally, we turned into the Barnsdale Country Club with it's gatehouse and small condos dotting the shores of the lake. Very pretty. The main building was an old, grey, stone manor house hotel. We parked the Vauxhall and piled into the lobby. Gorgeous with oriental rugs, polished woodwork and country English decor. After a few moments, we learned that our rooms were in this building. We schlepped out luggage out of the car (Now we know why it's called "Luggage." and climbed the stairs. The sign on our door read "Fitzwilliam Suite." Ooooo, hoity toity! Jaws dropped as we opened the door. The long hallway led to the living room, complete with fireplace, three sofas, stereo and TV. The elevated dining room contained a complete Queen Ann table and chairs in a bay window overlooking the lake. The kitchen
barnsdale01 was small with all the appliances and a breakfast set. Off the hallway were the three bedrooms, two of which had private baths, and the third full bath. Les and Penny and a nice room with a view of the courtyard and a private bath. Ours was huge, with a closed-off fireplace, writing desk, and again, a private bath. Truly luxurious living, something to which we easily grew accustomed.

It had been a long first day, but one full of wonderful sites, friendly people, new experiences and lots of laughs. This England-thing was going to be all right!

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