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Trip Report Touring UK: Portsmouth, Liverpool, Newcastle, Yorkshire, Cambridge Sept '12

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This trip was a change of pace from our usual overseas travel – normally we stay put in one place for several weeks at a time. We had just spent a month in France, and embarked on this circuit so we could trace some family history details.

We hired a car from Avis – previous experience hiring from them has been faultless, so we opt for tried and true rather than bargain prices in this instance. Fortunately DH was very happy with the VW Golf they upgraded us to, although I found it a bit disconcerting that the engine stopped whenever we stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. It was a diesel, and made to do this - as soon as you put your foot on the clutch, ready to change gear, it magically started up again! It was extremely economical on fuel, so that was a bonus with all the distance we covered in these 14 days.

First stop out of Heathrow was a two night stay in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth describes itself as ‘the great waterfront city’, and the waterfront and harbour are most attractive, with the Spinnaker Tower standing majestically above the harbour.

Our visit to the Naval Dockyards Museum in Portsmouth proved to be very worthwhile. I had searched all available documents in the National Archives at Kew, to try to find out how my great grandfather had travelled to Australia, with no success.

The librarian at the Dockyards was most helpful, and was able to give an explanation as to how he had managed to travel on a naval vessel for this voyage, even though he wasn’t in the navy.

She said that around the time of the 1880s there were civilians who got to travel on naval vessels. Apparently the ships captain was sometimes given an allowance for victualling the crew for the voyage. Depending on what food was available, he would work out an allowance of food for each man on board, then calculate whether he could manage to feed an extra mouth.

Any passenger was given a lesser food allowance than the crew members, and was also required to pay for the cost of his meals. The librarian's comment was that as his father had served in the navy, and we hadn't been able to find him on any other passenger lists, then it was highly likely GG had been on that voyage, just the way that family oral history had it. It was wonderful to be able to put that piece of the family history puzzle in place.

The cost of entry to the Museum included a cruise around the harbour – very interesting and a lovely way to spend an hour or so. We next did a tour of HMS Victory, the ship Nelson fought the battle of Trafalgar on. It's incredible that the ship is still standing, although I gather that a great deal of it has been replaced over the years. Once again family history was involved – GGG Grandfather .had just started working at the naval dockyards on Gibraltar when Victory was taken there after all the damage caused in the battle of Trafalgar. So quite likely he, as a 14 year old could have been involved in some of that work.

We could easily have spent a full day at this museum, but further history hunting meant we must continue to Minstead instead.

The tiny village of Minstead is located in the midst of New Forest, a very pretty area across the Solent to the west of Portsmouth.

Ms Garmin took us on a Cook's tour of this forest; we discovered that most of the population live in rather grand houses, keep horses, and let them wander all over the roads. So this, combined with tiny English lanes, and the occasional vehicle coming the other way, made for interesting driving, I can tell you!

Anyhow, we finally came upon the church, and what a little gem it was! It was as though time had stood still inside - all looked to be hundreds of years old, and a really unusual design and layout. The lynch gate at the entry even had a long ledge to lay a coffin on as the pallbearers stopped to open the gates and pass through. We found GGG Grandmother’s very pretty headstone just where it was described to be, and were surprised that there were several other couples wandering through the gravestones as well. Later we found out that Sir Conan Doyle is buried there, so perhaps that was their pilgrimage.

Our next stop – Liverpool- was on the route because DH had it on his list of ‘must see’ places, and it made a convenient stop between Portsmouth and the Yorkshire Dales.

We decided to stay on the southern side of the Mersey, at New Brighton. Our Travelodge had magnificent harbour and ocean views, and was virtually brand new. We had chosen to use Travelodge for most of our accommodation, because previous experience with them had been perfectly adequate for our needs – clean, comfortable beds, good bathrooms being the main criteria.

Unfortunately experience has now taught us this isn’t always so – the standard of accommodation varied from excellent (New Brighton and York Central), to downright grotty! In future we’ll take good note of on-line reviews before we make a booking, I can tell you!

Public transport from New Brighton was excellent, meaning the car could stay put for the two days we were there. There’s a new shopping / dining area, with buses directly into Liverpool running very frequently.

Our choice for dining both nights at New Brighton was Prezzo (3 Marine Parade); we enjoyed their Italian menu so much that we also hunted out their restaurants in York and Cambridge.

Because we only had one day in this city, we took the hop on hop off bus (with live and very humorous commentary) seeing the sights. We also took a ferry trip, and of course they played Ferry 'Cross the Mersey' onboard!

The village of Port Sunlight, is worth a visit; it’s a small village beautifully laid out. This Lever village was built in 1800s by owner of Sunlight soap production factory to house his workers.

I’ll continue next with our time in Yorkshire Dales, Newcastle etc

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