For all you 'Streamers out there who are in the UK, I'm thinking of organising (and I use that word in the loosest sense) a bit of a get-together. I'm not going to call it a rally, since that has implications beyond the capabilities of this poor soul.
It will be in Wiltshire on and around the weekend of 28th/29th March. If anyone is interested, contact me (sooner, rather than later) through the "About Us" link (just up there on the right).
We've been spending some time in Brighton. We really like it there.
It is a busy, cosmopolitan city, with a thriving art and music scene. It is architecturally diverse, with grand Regency hotels rubbing shoulders with stunning contemporary apartments. And of course, there is the simply bonkers Royal Pavilion.
The town centre seems to have (so far) largely escaped the recession, particularly the twisting maze that makes up "The Lanes." The homogenous high street stores are thankfully absent from the Lanes - every shop is an inviting boutique offering anything from designer jewelery to extreme sport gear, comics to vegetarian shoes. And veggie cafes and restaurants. Lots of veggie cafes. Brilliant. The best is Terre a Terre, winner of the Vegetarian Restaurant of the year umpteen times. If you're ever in Brighton, and even if you're not a veggie, go there. It is a gastronomic wonderland.
The great attraction of Brighton is, of course, the sea front, which welcomes eight million tourists a year!
Having travelled the entire South coast from Land's End to Dungeness, we have been constantly disappointed by the lack of effort taken by seaside towns with their sea fronts. It isn't enough to have an attractive beach if it backs onto a housing estate or a lumber yard. So often a town has wasted the opportunity given by a beautiful beach. We've even seen blocks of flats on the sea front, constructed in such a way that not a single apartment has a clear view of the sea. We've seen sea fronts where half the shops are boarded up, and the other half sell chips or tat. Brighton has got it pretty much right. There are, or rather were, two piers. Palace Pier has all the usual suspects - amusement arcades, candy floss stalls, kiss-me-quick hats and even a small fun fair at the end. All topped with festoon after festoon of flashing lights. Everything you could want from a seaside experience. The sadder West Pier has been the victim of several fires and collapses, and despite being one of only two grade 1 listed piers in England, there is only a skeleton remaining
The town has expanded Westward, gradually becoming a thin strip of conurbation, like an overgrown tide mark, reaching through Hove and Shoreham to Worthing, Goring and beyond. In contrast, a little to the East on a bleak and blasted heath (at least it felt that way on the cold, windy day I saw it), lies the monolithic Roedean School. The school of choice for the daughters of the wealthy and titled (Roedean is the UK's most expensive boarding school), a compulsory entrance qualification is being called Perdita or Verity or Daisy.
Beyond Roedean and its neighbour (the delightfully named Rottingdean), lies the fascinating little town of Peacehaven. The town itself shows no visible signs of its fame from the road, it looks like any other small town with a main road running through its heart (sad). Off the beaten track, however, the truth is clearer.
Peacehaven was the brainchild of Charles Neville, an entrepreneur who, in 1916, bought the land from the local council (dirt cheap) and offered small plots of the land as runner-up prizes in a competition to name the new settlement. The newspaper which ran the competition sued (and won) Neville, since the "free" land was only available on the payment of a sizeable "conveyancing" fee. The law suit actually brought so much publicity that Neville managed to sell even more plots and made a fortune. Since most of the purchasers had little money, and since this was in the days before such things as Building Regulations or Planning Permission, for many years the plots were occupied simply by huts, shacks or old railway carriages. Today, the tiny plots have enough space for a two-bedroom bungalow without a garden. Incidentally, the winning name was actually New Anzac-on-Sea, though that lasted less than a year when the disaster at Gallipoli prompted its renaming to the current one.
The other claim-to-fame of Peacehaven is that it is the Southern most point in England through which the Greenwich Meridian passes before reaching the sea. A small monument (commissioned by our friend Neville in 1935) marks the point, although the point has moved - they have had to re-position the obelisk twice because of cliff erosion. I don't hold out much hope for those sea-front bungalows. A little plaque on the monument helpfully lists the distances to such places as Rangoon, Fredericton and Pietermaritzburg. It is interesting to see that Dublin is 45 miles closer than Edinburgh.
A little to the North and West of Brighton is the imaginatively titled Devil's Dyke. This is a geologically interesting steep sided dry river valley cutting through the South Downs. I emphasise the geological interest because I couldn't see anything else remotely intriguing about it.
The Victorians, however, thought it was brilliant. they went to the effort of building a fairground, two bandstands, an observatory, a camera obscura, a funicular railroad and a cable car. I can only assume that all those things got bored and left, since nothing now remains except for a few concrete lumps. The origin of the name is much more interesting. Apparently, the Devil decided to dig a trench to flood the Sussex Weald to the North with the sea from the South. He intended to do the work in just one night, and would have succeeded if his digging hadn't woken an old woman, who lit a candle which in turn caused her cock to crow. The devil, thinking dawn was coming (and being strictly a night-shift worker) fled. Arf-a-job.
Back in the Iron Age, a hill fort occupied the ground above the dyke. They went to the trouble of stripping all the soil from the hill top revealing the white chalk beneath, just to impress the neighbours. The hill fort has now been replaced by a dreary red-brick and concrete pub which wouldn't look out of place behind a bus depot. From the top, the view stretches as far as the eye can see, which on the day we visited, wasn't very far. Apparently, the painter Constable considered this view "the grandest in the world." I can only assume that a: he never visited Devil's Dyke on a bitterly cold, windy, overcast, drizzly day like we did, or b: he didn't get out much.
It could be a very small version of Scalextric, or, more unlikely, a gathering of more than one and less than three Airstreams.
We've met up with Andrew Ditton and his 532 in Sussex. Perhaps not hugely significant, relative to the huge meets in North America, but it's the first time since the gathering in August that we've managed to pitch next to another Airstream. And you have to admit that they look damned attractive together.
Which gets me thinking. I know there are other Airstreamers out there. I've met some. They really do exist. Wouldn't it be great if we got some more of them together? So if there are any Airstreamers out there who fancy a get-together, let me know. You can contact us through the "About Us" link on the right or leave a comment at the bottom of this post. I'm thinking of some time in the Spring, before it gets too busy everywhere. And not Easter weekend - that's just bonkers. Don't know where yet - that'll depend on numbers and how far they're all travelling. But let us know if you're interested.
Andrew will have to be there because we owe him a slap-up-feed.
There we were, a couple of weeks back, just minding our own business and wandering along the streets of Hastings Old Town. The first thing that happened (that is pertinent to this story, at least) was that we looked in the window of a little art gallery and saw a copy of the Airstream Europe brochure in a leaflet rack at the back of the shop!? We had to know, so we stuck our heads in and asked. It turned out that it was simply given to the owner by a friend who had a spare one. The owner liked them and kept it. Nothing too exciting there, but it was just the start of our Airstreamly serendipitous journey.
Only a handful of minutes later, I looked into the window of yet another art gallery (Hastings Old Town has a lot) and saw a familiar looking face. “Is that so-and-so?” I asked Tracey. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I’ll go and ask.” So, in she popped and asked. It turned out that I was right, and so-and-so turned out to be Andrew Ditton, Caravan magazine journalist and recent addition to the (unofficial and, as yet, non-existent) European Airstream Owners Club, having bought a 532 a few months ago. After a quick chat, we arranged to meet up later in the day and subsequently spent a very pleasant four hours nattering about caravans in general and Airstreams in particular into the small hours over a couple of bottles of red. Brilliant. We had such a great time that we’re meeting up in a couple of weeks in a caravan site on the Sussex coast. Two European Airstreams together! A micro-gathering! I know it’s unlikely (at such short notice), but if there are any other ‘Streamers out there who fancy a meet, drop me a line and I’ll send you the details.
Anyroadup, “where have you been for the last five months?” I hear you ask. “Why haven’t you posted anything here?”
Well, we haven’t had a huge amount of joy with the mobile broadband. It may be true that we chose the company that claims to have the best coverage, but they certainly haven’t covered any of the places we’ve been. While we’ve had some sort of signal at most places, more often than not it’s been slower than the dial-up connection we had ten years ago when we first got a computer. Sorry, but life’s too short to wait two hours to upload a photo. In fact, we’re still stuck in limbo, I’m just posting this (in the vain hope it doesn’t take forever) because a) the reason above (about the possible gathering), and b) because tomorrow marks the first anniversary of us picking up the trailer.
Yes indeedy, it’s been a year! And what a year it’s been. The world is a different place now. A global recession has appeared out of the blue, we have a new President of the USA, and with the demise of Woollies, the high street is never going to be the same again.
We had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for when we set off last January, but it has, quite simply, been the best year of our lives. We’ve seen more of this country than we thought possible. We’ve been to a handful places that we really liked, and more than a few places that we never need to set foot in again.
I don’t think that there’s any point in trying to fill you in on the last five months of travel, since it wouldn’t be that relevant or interesting, and most of it would read like a miserable weather report... It rained. A lot. In fact, for the whole of August it rained every day. I tried to convince Tracey that we needed to head South. Very South. Like South America. The Atacama Desert in particular. It hardly rained there at all between 1570 and 1971, and some river beds have been dry for 120,000 years. I’d have been happy if it lasted three days.
The weather more-or-less continued the same, while we more-or-less continued Eastward along the South coast. I think we’ve seen every major town (and many small ones) between Land’s End and Dungeness. To be honest, most of them weren’t worth the effort.
I was all up for heading for Spain for the winter, but the Pound decided to make a nose-dive against all other currencies (with the possible exception of the Zimbabwean Dollar), so that put paid to that idea. And finally, with the arrival of December, the rain stopped.
So, we’re still here in the UK. We’re still slowly wending our way around the country looking for the right place to stop. And we’re still blissfully happy.
Finally, then, I’d just like to say a quick Thank You or two. Firstly, to our parents, who have been incredibly helpful and supportive all year and, along with my brother and a couple of good friends, have dedicated a large percentage of their attic space to store all our “stuff”. Secondly, to the many people who have left encouraging comments on this blog. The counter on the site reads close to 5,000 hits, while the underlying total of all visits is over twice that. Staggering. When I started the blog, I just thought it might be a couple of friends and family might be interested, not the entire world. Thirdly, we couldn't have done this without the fantastic support from the team at Airstream Europe. They have always been there and always happy to help, no matter how trivial the matter. Fantastic.
Finally, I'd just like to thank Tracey for thinking that the crazy idea I came up with nearly a year and a half ago, was actually a good one. This has been the best year ever.
Stay tuned... The show isn't over until the silver trailer stops...