Brighton, Stonehenge & Bath, England
From London we drove to Brighton, arriving near nightfall. We had emptied out all the food in the van, knowing that it wouldn't be in our possession much longer, forcing us to eat out for dinner. The only decent-looking eatery near our overnight car park was a Chinese buffet restaurant, which was jam-packed with Chinese people (I guess that’s a good sign). The range of Asian food on offer was phenomenal, however I am ashamed to admit that I loaded up on the Western options: fries, hash browns, lemon meringue pie and cheesecake. I did taste the Chinese options too; the only thing I steered clear of was a giant bowl of MSG that we could pile on our food. I can't imagine that making an appearance at a Western-food buffet.
With our bellies stuffed full we headed back to the van for the daunting task of packing all of our stuff into backpacks and suitcases. We didn’t realise how much junk we had accumulated throughout the year as we emptied all the little hidey-holes in the van. Then, for the final time, we went to sleep in Prince Albert Talbot.
We woke to the sound of seagulls the next morning, a sound we hadn’t heard in many months. It reminded us of beaches in Melbourne, a place we would be before too long. A quick stroll into Brighton brought us to the Royal Pavilion, a former palace for the Royal Family. The impressive front facade gave a grand backdrop to the popular ice rink situated out the front. From there we wandered through the Lanes, a series of small, interconnected laneways that were lined with tiny cafes and jewellery stores. It was cute but we weren't interested in shopping - we had enough crap to haul back home with us as it was.
Brighton Beach in Melbourne is one of the most popular beaches in the city, with a sandy shoreline housing colourful beach boxes. Brighton Beach in England really didn't compare. Firstly, anything that is covered in pebbles probably shouldn’t be called a beach. Secondly, it had none of the natural charm or appeal of its Australian counterpart. Not surprisingly, given the weather and those awful pebbles, it was almost deserted. We made the obligatory walk along the pier, through a games arcade and out to the rides, which honestly didn’t look that stable sitting on the end of a long, rickety jetty. Most of the rides weren’t running, no doubt due to it being low season and the fact that no one was around. It felt a little like a fun fair that had been abandoned decades ago and left to the mercy of the elements. I presume it would be a different story in summer.
Leaving Brighton we headed for Bournemouth to pick up our hire car. I didn’t appreciate having to drive another manual vehicle, but I loved accelerating at a rate comparable to other cars around us as well as driving up hills faster than a snail's pace. It is disconcerting being so close to the ground though.
We drove the van and the hire car to Danny’s cousin's Miranda's place, in Poole. There, we emptied our van of all our half-packed up belongings and dumped them in the hire car, before Miranda and husband Mark took us out for a lovely Indian dinner.
The following morning was spent cleaning the car, which was far dirtier than we expected (even though we had cleaned it only days ago). After a final vacuum it was then off to Lymington to drop off the van to its new home. The man who had bought it on eBay was a used car salesman, and had the detestable personality of a used car salesman. We sat through his BS, collected our money, and said an emotional farewell to the Prince. It had been an unforgettable 10 months living life out of a campervan, but I didn't mind leaving the 'travelling gypsy' life behind for a while.
After leaving Lymington we drove to Stonehenge, where we were charged a fortune to walk in a wide arc far away from where the actual stones lay. The rocks were quite sizeable, I guess, but the whole site was not as large as I was expecting. Overall, it was a giant disappointment. We also tried to visit Avebury, where the largest stone circle in the world is located (and it was free), however it was almost dark by the time we arrived and unfortunately we couldn’t see a great deal.
We stopped in Bath for the night and found a decent hostel to stay in. I don't remember the last time we stayed in a hostel, but the hassle of having to find accommodation each night is something I am glad we had avoided this year by having a home on wheels. The streets of Bath were lit up with Christmas lights, and the Bath Abbey was shining brightly. After dinner at a pub we headed back to the hostel, where we listened to church bells for over an hour. I'm sure it would be incredibly annoying if you lived nearby.
When we awoke at 7 a.m. it was completely dark, and light didn't start appearing in the sky until 8 a.m. It was probably a good thing that we were not normally early risers. The hostel served up a substantial breakfast, which was far better than the stale toast we usually ate in the van. We then checked out, loaded our luggage in the car and headed out to explore Bath.
First, we walked up to the Royal Crescent, a semicircle of upmarket, monotonous apartments that looked a little dated and fairly uninspiring. The Mini Europe Village in Belgium had a replica of the Royal Crescent so we thought it must be worth seeing, but I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about. Nearby was The Circus, where more stately buildings lined a roundabout. My impression was the same.
Next we visited the Bath Abbey, exploring the small but decorative interior. The ceiling was embellished with carvings that looked like giant sea shells, which seemed out of place in this city that was nowhere near a coastline. Next door were the famous ruins of the Roman Baths, after which the town is named. A couple of the baths had hot spring water bubbling away, a vibrant green colour that contrasted against the beige stone building. Most of the site contained artefacts discovered in the surrounding area, which didn’t interest us at all, but the ruins themselves were fascinating. In my opinion, the Baths were far more interesting than Stonehenge or the Royal Crescent, and made this detour on our travels back to Cornwall worthwhile.