We had successfully traveled a distance greater than 20% of the Earth’s circumference (5,461mi/8,789km) the day before. Now it was Sunday – Day 2 – and we were up with the sun at a positively ridiculous hour, ready to get this party started. Today we would see Stonehenge. Not on TV, not on Wikipedia – in real life. But first… breakfast!
The Full English
Everyone knows the Brits love their fish and chips (chips being french fries, pommes frites, etc.), but they are also known for a delicious breakfast fry-up referred to as the “Full English.” We weren’t downstairs ten minutes before Cat and Andy were in the kitchen, frying up a storm. Eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, mushrooms, and tomatoes, sometimes black pudding/sausage (which is coagulated blood, by the way, and the only really scary thing I saw on any menu and did not try).
The sausage was more like finely ground bratwurst than what we get for breakfast sausage here in the States, and the bacon was back bacon, so it wasn’t the thin, crispy goodness we’ve come to expect domestically, either, but rest assured, mates, this is something you can order up with confidence and quickly come to crave. Bacon is bacon, and we all love bacon. This meal was freaking delicious and I will definitely be looking to make it a few times a year back home.
Cat & Andy
Now might be a good opportunity to introduce our gracious hosts for the UK leg of our adventure. Cat Lund is head of operations at Rockingham, Europe’s fastest road circuit. She’s also @fastestcat on Twitter. Her fiancé, Andy Rowe, is a seasoned rally driver and professional driving instructor. Andy had to work most days we were there (more on that later), but Cat made a point of taking the entire week off to play tour guide and ensure that at least a couple Americans got to experience the real Britain.
How did we come to know these fine individuals so willing to up-end their routines to enlighten, educate, and entertain us? Well, technically, it all started on Twitter, but we’ve also talked about rally with Cat right here on Gearbox! If you rally, you might want to check out their story.
The weather outside is
The weather was a bit dreary. Cool enough to wear a jacket, cloudy and grey, light rain on and off – perfect vacation weather for Phoenicians like ourselves! Truly, Vanessa and I were looking forward to this weather, as we’d not seen any rain in Phoenix in months and the monsoon season, which now brings more humidity than rain due to urban sprawl and heat island effect, was bearing down on us. We can do with a lot of heat, but only when the humidity is below 15% or so. We found the cold, wet weather wonderful, much to Cat and Andy’s chagrin.
Since the driving conditions were a bit sketch (and my understanding of British traffic law even moreso), I opted to put the ASX keys in Andy’s capable hands for the day. This allowed me to see what he did, when he did, where he did on everything from the motorway to the narrowest of country backroads. We were on our way to Stonehenge – and I was getting a basic driving lesson from a true professional in a brand new vehicle I can’t buy at home. Oh yeah, and did I mention it was gloriously cold and rainy! Wo0t!
Over the river and through the woods, we bound over hill and dale until – all of the sudden – one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world came into view on the left. It was Stonehenge. Was it built by aliens? Was it built by Druids? Was it a calendar or sacrificial altar? I couldn’t tell you. All I can tell you is, like anything truly remarkable, seeing it on TV or computer doesn’t do it justice.
It’s roped off to keep shitheels from further damaging it, but there’s a path all the way around it, and you just walk around and look at it. It’s not gigantic by any means. It would fit on a single Midwestern residential lot, I suspect, but it’s the history of the thing. Archaeologists estimate Stonehenge was created 3000-2000BC – some 4,000-5,000 years ago. Think about the oldest man-made thing you’ve ever seen. For those of us in the United States, that might be 200 years old. For our friends in “the old country” (aka: Europe) it might be 1,000 years old. Stonehenge is 3,000-4,000 years older than that. Crazy, huh?
After Stonehenge, we pointed the satnav toward the nearest castle, which turned out to be Devizes Castle. Sweet! Unfortunately, it’s not a tourist attraction. Turns out it’s a private residence for an interior designer who does a lot of work for high rollers in Dubai. We drove up to the gate and took a peek inside, but left before the security guard could tell us to piss off. Maybe we’re in the wrong line of work.
We drove through all kinds of small villages, past cottages with brand new thatched roofs, and even several tank crossings, as we passed through the Salisbury Plain, which has an active, live fire training ground for the Royal School of Artillery, part of the British Army. We didn’t see any tanks, but there were flags flying at several of the crossings, which suggest it would have been unwise to venture down any dirt roads off the motorway.
Our backroad, Sunday drive lead us to a small village on the Thames River well outside London. It was quiet and quaint and all that. We walked through an old, overgrown cemetery, where most of the headstones dated to the early 1800s. Many had trees growing so close to the stones that you couldn’t read them, suggesting the dead now reside in the trees. A neat thought, anyway.
Chippy (not Tschippi)
It was getting late. Not that we could tell, considering the sun doesn’t seem to set until well after 10PM over there, and found ourselves in a small pub on the bank of the Thames. It was the perfect opportunity to try fish and chips. Of course, they didn’t have fish, only fish cakes, but I tried them anyway. It wasn’t particularly memorable, but Cat and Andy said it wasn’t that great and we would find another “chippy” where I could get the real thing.
PRO TIP: In the UK, chips are french fries, so a “chippy” is a place to get fish and chips. (Crisps are potato chips, by the way. Even if you watch enough Top Gear to know this, it’s still hard to practice when you’re there.)
One of the weird things you notice when travelling abroad is how everything – no matter how far away – seems close enough you can probably fit it into your schedule. You have to keep these thoughts in check, though. I’ve never been closer to Dublin – and the Guinness factory – but it was still almost 7 hours’ drive from where were staying in Northampton. It’s tough to know you’re *this* close, but just can’t quite make it.
PRO TIP: Relax. You can always come back. (You probably already want to by this point.)
As the light was fading, we found ourselves driving through Oxford, past university buildings and student apartments; most with expensive cars parked out front. They might have strict academic requirements, but I highly doubt there are many middle-class students attending the likes of Oxford. Pretty town, though.
The Malt Shovel
We made Northampton just after dark, which meant it was nearly 11PM. It was straight to the pub, which was within an hour or so of closing. They had the real, Czech Budwesier on tap, but I opted for a local pint. It was called “Silverstone Pit Stop.” Imagine that. I was sitting on the back patio of The Malt Shovel, a proper English pub drinking a pint of bitter named after a world famous race track just up the road. When I asked who made it, the waitress had to get a book from the bar. There’s probably all of ZERO chance of being able to get some in the States, but I’ve found their website and dropped them a line to see if it’s possible!
PRO TIP: There are an almost infinite number more local brews available in Europe than in the States. If you enjoy a good pint, consider taking a pocket notebook with you to jot down names and information on your favorites so it’s easier to try and track them down when you return. You might also remember to snap a picture with your camera, too.
Back at the Abbey
After a couple pints, the bar was closing and we were out of steam, so it was back to the Abbey for a good night’s sleep. All-in-all, we were on the go from just after 5AM until nearly midnight. Come the morning, we would be venturing into central London; underground and on the water. See you tomorrow, then!