Thursday, 18 April 2013

Day 335 – A long drive. (England, Scotland)

On our way from Dover to Grady’s house boat we were jammed up on London’s motorways (although the traffic situation in London is really just not as bad as everyone would like to believe and we get quite frustrated with such complaints), when we spotted a maroon Nissan Patrol in a neighbouring lane trying to get a good look at our vehicle. They were doing that dance thing where they hang back so we could catch up, then move in directly next to us and let us go ahead a little so they can see the back of the car, staring sideways at us as we pass. We know this manoeuvre as it’s been made on us many a time before, and it’s not as if we’ve never used it ourselves. In fact once we realised what they were up to we began doing the same thing to them, as there was something on the cover of their spare wheel mounted on the back door that caught our attention. The number plate was from the UK, but the wheel cover read “DUNCAN NISSAN, AUSTRALIA’S BIGGEST PATROL DEALERS, VICTORIA PARK, 9262 5111”. Was it an Australian vehicle that had been driven there and re-registered? Or shipped over? Or was the wheel itself imported for some reason and it was just a coincidence? Or maybe it was just a cover they’d acquired and we were reading too much into it. But they had been staring at us first! It seemed a bit coincidental that the one other car on the road that was particularly interested in us had the details of an Australian car dealership on their back if it wasn’t related. We wound down our window and tried to call out to each other over the noise of the traffic, but all we managed to ask was where they were from, to which they responded in a perfect London accent “Uzbekistan”. We still have no idea what their story is or why they had advertising for Duncan Nissan from Victoria Park on their spare wheel, or even what it was that they were particularly interested in about us.

When we left London we were heading straight to Glasgow, leaving early in the morning and intending on arriving that evening. Ideally we would have had at least a few days to meander through England and Wales, not to mention the chance to visit some of my family, and earlier in the trip we’d even toyed with the idea of detouring to Ireland if we had time. We’d prioritised our time elsewhere though and now unfortunately we only had seven days until Ben was flying out of Glasgow so we really didn’t have any time to spare. However we decided to make one short stop on the way up to visit the RAF Base in Benson, near Oxford. My great grandfather was a photo reconnaissance pilot in WWII and he was declared missing, assumed to have been shot down in September 1944. But it wasn’t until 1992 that remains of his spitfire were discovered near Oldenburg (Bremen) in northern Germany and my family, most notably my grandmother, his daughter, were filled in with more of the story and able to find out a lot more of what actually happened to him. In 2011 a replica of the spitfire was mounted at the entrance to the RAF Base as a memorial to my great grandfather and others in the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) who were killed flying solo and unarmed in their Spitfires over enemy territory. My family were all invited as guests of honour to the opening ceremony in 2011, but living on the other side of the world doesn’t lend itself so well to attending such events so it was very special for me to be able to pay my respects. For more on this visit my grandmother's website:

The drive from London to Glasgow which is about 700km was one of the longest drives we’d tackled in one day on the whole trip. The only other places where we would have travelled further in a single day were Australia when we had to make a dash for the pushed forward shipping date (Blog Day 10 - The desert, the outback and thetropics), and China where our plans were turned topsy turvey because of the badly timed closure of Tibet, meaning we had to drive 6,715 km in two weeks instead of the 3,400 or so we were supposed to travel in three weeks (Blogs Day 87, Day 93, Day 94, Day 117 and Day 118). Although we covered a lot of distance over the whole journey, we did do it over a year for the point of not being in a rush and to be able to stop in places and not drive 1000’s of kilometres every day. For the majority of the trip we also didn’t have the opportunity to cover these sorts of distances on a daily basis, as the quality of a lot of roads we travelled on meant that even when we drove for eight or ten hours, we’d only cover a couple hundred kilometres anyway.

This was one of the few days on which we took turns driving, the only other times being when we had extra people in the car, whether wanted or unwanted, so it was less comfortable for the passengers such as when we had Lui in China (un-wanted: Blog Day 118 -The Incompetency of NAVO: Part 2 - Our sub-par tour guide), or Josje and Remco in Kazakhstan (yes, that means we had six in the car so we really needed to switch seats often, but they were definitely wanted: Blog Day 138 – How an afternoon searching forflamingos became six days in the desert with some hitch hikers). The reason we switched around on this drive was different though: it was so that we could all share in the drive that would take us to Scotland. We got off the M6 for the border so we could stop and take a photo or two, though unfortunately it was dark by the time we got there and all of our cameras were beginning to struggle under the workload they’ve been given this year, so our photos at the “SCOTLAND welcomes you” sign in Gretna Green aren’t brilliant, but we can see where we are and that’s the main thing.

Gretna Green is a village on the Scottish side of the border which was made famous when Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was brought into play in England and Wales in 1754. Under the act it was necessary for brides and grooms to have parental permission under the age of 21, whilst in Scotland it was still permissible for boys to get married at 14 and girls at 12 without their parents’ consent. As a result there was a swell in young English and Welsh couples fleeing to Scotland to tie the knot, and as the first village accessible from England Gretna Green was a convenient place for these “runaway marriages” to take place. Since that time the laws in Scotland, England and Wales have changed many times causing rises and falls in the trends, but to this day Gretna Green is a very popular place for weddings, especially for English couples. Directly opposite the “SCOTLAND welcomes you” sign is the cottage which historically was used for these ceremonies and the facts are proudly painted on the stone walls. The side of the building facing Scotland reads “last house in Scotland marriage room” and the wall which faces England reads “first house in Scotland marriage room”. Another sign boasts that over 10,000 marriages have been performed in that marriage room.

Our next stop, and the last one before Glasgow, was for dinner in the village of Moffat. Glad to be in Scotland and desperate to experience Scottish cuisine at its finest we found a chippie (a chippie being fish and chip shop, not a carpenter as any Australian readers might think) and indulged ourselves in a haggis supper and Irn Bru each. Scotland at its finest.

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