Archive for the ‘England’ Category

Leah and Maria have taken the kids out for breakfast this morning to their new found favourite breakfast place, Stacks, who have delicious breakfast potatoes that all the kids love.  So here goes, I’ll try to catch up on some blogging.

We’ve read some fantastic books on our travels.  Bede has devoured the Artemis Fowl and Wimpy Kid series earlier in the trip, followed by the Percy Jackson series more recently.   We’ve tried to read books relevant to each place we travel as our bedtime books.  In Africa we listened to Born Free, Living Free and Forever Free by Joy Adamson.  I loved these stories about Elsa the lion as a kid and the boys really enjoyed them.  We were thrilled to discover that our new friend Maggie was born in Kenya and knew the Adamsons and had even met Elsa.

We didn’t find books about Cambodia that were suitable for the kids to read but we’ll keep a look out when we are home from our trip.  We were able to find lots of books about Italy and had read plenty before embarking on our trip, which allowed Bede and Emmett to “recognise” some of the famous features at Pompeii and in Rome.  I had not expected to find that we learnt even more about the Romans in England but this certainly did happen when we visited Arbeia Fort, where we picked up this little book.

It follows the story of an 11 year old captured by the Romans in Northern England.  We read about the process of building a Roman road, the one in the book eventually becomes Hadrian’s wall.  Emmett was fascinated by the descriptions of Roman and Celtic armour and weaponry.

In between chapters of other books we’ve also been reading these:

My only complaint is that they are LONG fairy tales, with no chapters, so I find myself reading for hours, to Emmett’s great pleasure but to the detriment of sleep and my blogging!  It’s good to meet the characters of Irish mythology though and imagine them in the places we traveled in Ireland.

We have also been finding about about Robert the Bruce in this story:

Bruce spent many years on the Islands on the west coast of Scotland, where we traveled, so we could imagine the bleak terrain described in the book very well.   I also liked the way this book began by discussing the differences between fact and myth and mentioned through the book which parts of Bruce’s life were certain to be true and which were likely to have been embellished over time.  Being six, Emmett was also fascinated by the ways myths can be “lies” or “not true” and yet can be true in our imaginations.

Meanwhile, both Leah and Bede have been reading books with labyrinth in the title, which I found amusing, but Leah says hers is not as good as Bede’s.  Bede had just finished this Rick Riordan when I took the photo and managed to convince me to buy the fifth book in the series by paying me the difference between hardcover and softcover price (it’s not out in softcover yet).  He then read it overnight the night we left Vancouver and left it in our room along with the other books photographed which we’d finished with.

I’ve had more reading time this year than during most of the last ten years when I’ve been combining rural general practice with heavy on call commitment with parenting little kids and often studying for post graduate qualifications, which has meant most of my books have been rather dry medical tomes.  Unlike all the other house officers in my first year of medicine I was parenting a teeny prem baby and so was even more sleep deprived than the average new doctor and never quite fitted in reading “House of God” the 30 year old American story of the intern year of medicine.

It’s a pretty macabre book, but doctors can develop fairly warped senses of humour and I certainly recognised many of my colleagues in this book.  The list of medical specialties graded by lack of interaction with the actual patient was hysterical.  I happen to prefer the kind of medicine where one does know one’s patients but I may still need to copy the list to refer to on challenging days in general practice!

I also read the “Life of Pi” which linked into our travel quite well as Pi explores three major religions: Christianity, Hindu and Islam and we have spent time in countries shaped by each and all of these this year.

I also have my suspicions that surviving and even thriving after six months on the world highway with 3 kids may be almost as much of an odyssey as surviving alone in a liferaft with a Bengal tiger….

Vancouver Aquarium


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One of our final adventures in England was a trip to this museum.  Bede literally danced down the street “Emmett, can you believe we’re actually going to Roald Dahl’s house, I’m sooo excited”.  I was pretty excited by this after he had not exuded much enthusiasm upon actually getting to some of the other places he really wanted to see earlier in the trip.  My personal most memorable Bede lack of enthusiasm moment was in Egypt upon arriving at the pyramids when the Egypt mad kid sits in the van and says “I’m not getting out, it is too hot, I can see them from here”.  He actually loved going deep into the great pyramid of course but his starter motor has often taken a bit of getting going!

Roald Dahl Museum

Not for Roald Dahl though!  Notes to the mothers for future reference, if you can see kids tourist attractions outside of school holidays this might avoid the huge numbers of people all trying to enjoy the place with you!  The crowds are exhausting for us Kiwis, who find a different beach if there’s more than 50 people on ours…

Florence dresses up

And Emmett...

And Bede!

The Museum and Story centre was really well designed, with great activities.  The kids liked sitting in the chair Roald Dahl sat in to write and hearing about other famous children’s writer’s habits.  We are not currently growing any aspiring writers so Bede and Emmett were more interested in seeing the personal effects they had read about in “Boy” and hearing more about Roald Dahl’s life.  Florence enjoyed the craft room and they all enjoyed dressing up.

Make believe

We spent the night with our new friends after the museum and had a lovely dinner and lots of fantastic make believe with knights and kings and assassins!  Florence really took a liking to 3 yr old Alex and still chatters away about him.  Bede discovered he does like blueberries went we all went berry picking the next day.  Then we just had one hotel night before we headed to Vancouver.

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We went to Roald Dahl’s house I really liked that it had a section on all the children’s books and it had a craft area.  There was a sweet-making class but we weren’t there for the next available slot so we couldn’t do it.  There were televised with other great authors including JK Rowling.

After that we went to Jo’s house, they arrived just after we did!  We had a kingdom game where Jacob was the king, I was the captain of the royal army, Emmett and Toby were guarding the king and me and Jo were also assassins.  We slept overnight at their house, Emmett slept in Jacob and Toby’s room and I slept in Jo’s room.  Me and Jo woke up at 6 o’clock and went for a bike ride round the block, then came back and played on the computers and club penguin together.  After that we went for a long bike ride along the common.  When we got back from that Maggie and Leah cooked pancakes for everyone.

Jo and I played with the lego and we all went and picked heaps of blueberries.  According to mum they were really cheap, they were 5.95 a kilo and in Sainsburys they’re 19.95 a kilo.  We’re going to miss Jo and his family, they better come on a trip to NZ!

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As Bede has said we explored both a Roman Fort and Bede’s World this week.  Arbeia Roman Fort is in South Shields at the far end of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England.  This place is fantastic!  We happened upon a day with archery demonstrations and Leah and the boys lined up eagerly for a turn!

Bede Arbeia Fort August 2010

Emmett Arbeia Fort August 2010

Archery Arbeia Fort August 2010

Bede and Emmett had a long discussion with some Roman soldiers about life in the fort and discovered that despite supposedly protecting Britannia from the Barbarians, Roman rules were fairly barbaric, girl babies and illegitimate children were killed at birth, women were treated very badly and life was brutal.  It was a cold day after a rainy night and this really brought home how uncomfortable and bleak life must have been in the muddy, cold barracks.  I know why the soldiers slept 4 to a bed now – it would have been the only way not to freeze – and we are here in summer!

Arbeia Barracks August 2010

Bede enjoyed the large display of falconry birds – he’s hankering after a Peregrine Falcon.  I was more interested in the lovely knot garden full of traditional herbs.  Emmett and Florence had a great time with the miniature catapults which have been well photographed so we can attempt to recreate one at home.

Catapult Arbeia Fort August 2010

Freaky Falcon - Bede would know what it really is...

Herb Garden Arbeia Fort August 2010

We could hardly drive past somewhere called Bede’s World!  I was very impressed at the carefully thought out museum that made the quite academic life of the Venerable Bede accessible and interesting to our Bede and to Emmett.  The boys were fascinated by St Bede’s scientific knowledge – he was aware the earth was round and that the orbiting moon caused the tides and even discovered the concept of latitude, although he called it something else.

Bede's World August 2010

Calculating dates Bede's World August 2010

Bede’s writing about Anglo-Saxon Britain is the best record of this part of English history and the museum has a working Anglo-Saxon farm.  We’ve been discussing the option of getting a little bit more than our 1/4 acre of land when we go back to NZ and Bede, Emmett and Flo wandered around the farm talking about when we get “our pigs” and “our horse” – the adults were more imagining a creek, two trees and a rope swing in our future…

The Skinner-Vennell Round the World Family Trip Pose

Today we packed up and returned our camper and headed south in a rental car.  We managed to give much of our extra gear (no longer needing sleeping bags, bedding and many of the toys acquired while campervanning) to other campers before dropping the last off at a charity shop and posting 8kg of special things back to NZ (watch out for 4 parcels coming surface mail Norah and Papa).   Bede went in and offered our duvet to a charity shop as the previous one wasn’t able to accept it due to rules – the man at Red Cross said he’d happily pass it on to someone who needed it but that it had to be brought in by an adult as he thought Bede might be playing a prank!  Bede thought this was hilarious!

The charity shop pile

We’re off to Roald Dahl’s house tomorrow and then to play with our Wales camping trip friends who happen to live near London.  We’re getting excited about meeting up with both old and new friends in Vancouver very soon!

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Today, we went to Hadrian’s wall first thing in the morning and there was an archery activity there.  Of course I had to have a go and it was 1 pound 50 for 3 arrows, Emmett and I got 6 goes each.   Emmett got 5 points and I think I got about 10 points, Leah got a bulls eye and popped the balloon.  After that we went up an old fort and at the top there was a Roman soldier and his squire, there was some armour, some swords, spears and daggers and also wood and catapults and lead ammunition for the catapults.

After that we went to Bede’s World, the reason we went there was because I was named after The Venerable Bede, he was a monk.  He was the first person ever to work out that the tide was caused by the moon.  His teacher was called Benedict which we all find funny because my uncle was called Benedict – Ben for short.  There was an Anglo-Saxon farm there too, we ate some beans and peas but best of all we found some blackberries!

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On the 230m zip wire


Tarzan swing


The VW gets towed


A Devon Road - thank goodness for GPS


Eagle Owl

Very big ginormous owl- Not

Harris Hawk - the type that I am going to get







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What a weekend we’ve had!  We left Berrynarbor in our camper heading for Exeter to get a spare wheel which had not arrived on the camper.  Upon arrival it turned out the place the camper owner said would have a spare for us had never stocked wheels for this camper nor heard of him!!!  Made a few phone calls to wreckers to hunt down a wheel then found the nearest campsite to Exeter.

Bede became super excited after arriving at this campsite when he discovered it was just down the road from Haldon Forest “Go Ape” which is a franchise that allows people to climb on high ropes courses in native forest tree-tops.  He has been finding these brochures all over England and finally managed to find one close enough to where we were staying to go.  Children under 16 have to take an adult so I found myself wearing rockclimbing gear and climbing into the trees with him the following morning.  Good thing I used up all my adrenalin in the morning because the afternoon was a little bit hair-raising.  Meanwhile Leah, Emmett and Florence explored Haldon Forest, including an awesome natural playground and Emmett hired a bike and did some Mountain Biking.

Following “Go Ape” we headed off the the Tetherton Town Fair because they were having a “Birds of Prey” show and Bede’s latest interest is in Falcons and other birds of prey.  This is where things got interesting.  The clutch in our fateful camper suddenly stopped working on a busy roundabout, which had three pubs on the corners around it.  Given that smoking inside is now illegal in Britain this meant I was able to rouse several men with goatees and shaved heads to push us out of the roundabout.  The kids were thrilled to be driven to our next campsite in a towtruck with the camper up on the back.

So tonight will be our last night in the grey and white camper.  After two and a half weeks of mucking around with this camper we just want to get on with our trip and we are not prepared to risk anything further going wrong with the camper or to wait any longer for more repairs or vehicle swapping.  So we’ve arranged to hire a similar (but much newer, flasher) camper called “Blanco” for the next few weeks and we’ll be meeting him on Wednesday (in Shrewsbury so we get to see lots more of England tomorrow on our way to pick him up).  In the meantime we’ve got a Skoda for a rental car, to Leah’s chagrin!

This afternoon after ringing 50 camper hire places to find one with a rental still free for a the summer and then finding a rental car we could drive one way to Shrewsbury we headed off to explore Dartmoor in the Skoda.  We had a Devonshire tea while in Devon, which was on my list of things to do here (lots of clotted cream Lisa).  Then we found a lovely miniature pony farm that had a playground only for kids OVER 1.1m and 6 years, to the boys’ excitement!  The ponies and donkeys were friendly and cuddly with lots of babies so Florence was in her element.  And tomorrow they are having a falconry presentation so we’re going back in the morning!

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