The trip to UK was being planned for several months. The whole idea was to be able to give our family a nice holiday somewhere. Initially we decided to go somewhere within India, but we eventually decided to do UK instead.
So, on July 15 at 5:00 am we all (my mother, Mikku’s parents, Mikku’s sister and the three of us) left from AC 140 in Salt Lake. We had two vehicles, one a Qualis and an Ambassador and we drove through a slightly rainy morning to the international airport in Kolkata. The checking in was smooth except for the fact that we had to reorganize our bags to meet the weight requirements. Had some coffee after immigration and then cleared security and this was a breeze since Tinku (Swati’s sister) had a friend doing the security detail. All bags went through without any questions (including a scissor in one of our bags!!). The flight was actually very pleasant. The India group was in seats 33 abcd and three of them had diabetic meals, we were in the World Traveler plus of BA. The flight was quite empty and so people in the back could stretch out and sleep. I highly recommend WT plus (am doing this blog sitting in WT plus now). They offer first service meal, and so you have a decent choice of meals, the cabin feels less crowded and the leg space is more with a nice foot rest. Good for longish trips. What would make this better would be dedicated check in desk at the airports (Virgin does this, so I always prefer Virgin over BA) and dedicated bathrooms on the plane (again Virgin is better; actually I have decided to avoid BA whenever possible since Virgin is certainly better on all counts). The flight to London arrived on time and we went past immigration and customs with no issues. The immigration officer turned out to be of Indian origin and was quite pleasant. The bags all arrived OK and we were out in the Terminal 4 arrival area fairly quickly. Bebo was certainly excited to have the entire family traveling with him. I ordered two cabs from Millennium Cabs and they arrived in about 20 mins. We split up and loaded the cabs and went off to the Courtyard Marriott at Slough (the cost is about #25 and if you drive take M4 west towards Reading or Slough and then get out on Junction 6 and go round the roundabout heading towards Slough and then at the next round about go right towards Chalvey and the hotel is to the right, if you are coming from Terminal 4 of Heathrow, it is best to get on M25 North and then get on to M4 West to get to this hotel, BTW, the other Marriott in Slough is off Junction 5 from M4). The check in at the hotel went smoothly and after we had all settled down I had to get the car from the rental place.
I had rented a 9-seater vehicle (Ford Tourina also known as Ford Transit) from Thrifty. The Thrifty location in Slough is a #5 taxi ride from the hotel. If you are driving, get on to Bath Road and at the Three Tuns Pub round about go away from the Town Center and you will see Leigh Road after two lights on your right. Turn right into Leigh Road and then right again into Ajax Avenue and the Thrifty car rental is to your left after about a block. The Transit was large, very large, and it was a stick shift and it ran on diesel (which is more expensive than gas in UK, was about #0.935 per liter which works out to about $6.5 per US gallon at the current rate of the dollar. It took a while to get used to the vehicle. In the meantime, had been in touch with Bhaskar and he was scheduled in at the hotel at 6:30. After picking up the minibus came back to the hotel and rested for a bit (was mostly drinking Bells scotch) and then headed out to pick up our friend Mitra Barun Sirkir (MB) and family from the airport (Terminal 3, easily reached from M4 east). Got to the airport and the minibus antenna was too tall for the parking lot, but was able to manage. Had a couple of drinks at the airport. It took a while for MB and family to come out and so was a little bored. In the meantime, spoke to Dipankar Bhattacharya (Bhatta) who was on his way to the hotel. Bhaskar was already checked in. Eventually collected up MB and family and was back at the hotel about 8;30 pm. Mikku had wisely taken the rest of the family to dinner. The CBS group (MB, Bhatta, Bhaskar and me) spent some time drinking in the bar. MB’s family was tired so a last minute change of plan was done and MB got a room at the hotel (they were supposed to go and stay at Bhatta’s place) and the kids were packed off to bed and while my family also hit the bed, the four guys and MB’s wife, Rupa, all moved to Bhasker’s room and we worked on the bottle of Famous Grouse Scotch I had picked up at duty free on the plane. Eventually around 11:00 pm we realized some food would be good. So we decided on room service, but the hotel room service was already closed. Bhaskar ordered a delivery of kebabs from a local kebab store. I am not sure what happened but the amount of kebab that arrived was enough to feed twenty. And there was just kebab and bread and nothing else! So we did the best we could and eventually I gave up around 12:30 pm (I was up for 24 hours since I had gotten up at 4:00 am Indian time) and went to bed. I believe the party was on for a little bit longer.
The next day (July 16) I got the brood ready by about 9:00 am. Given the time change everyone was ready and up early. We all ate breakfast at the hotel and MB cleared out the bags from my minibus. Went up to Bhasker’s room for a bit and then slowly loaded up the bus and after some pictures outside the hotel, left from the hotel about 10:00 in the morning. The car behaved well, and it took me just a while to get used to the vehicle. Once I was familiar with the car was able to do up to 95 mph on the Motorways. We took motorways all the way up to exit for Sandip’s house. Sandip (my cousin) lives in Stoke on Trent which is a place just off Junction 15 off M6. It was a nice drive up to that place. We stopped a few times at the MOTO and Marks and Spencer’s rest areas (incidentally, all the rest areas have a Traveloge hotel connected with them which makes things simpler in case one needs a night’s rest). Finding Sandip’s house was no problem. He has a really nice home – a detached house with a lovely garden. We rested there for lunch, which was a really well done fusion spread by Rimi, Sandip’s wife. The spread included vegetable Samosa, shrimp something, salmon sandwiches, chicken tandoori and an excellent cake in addition to many other things. We took some pictures of all the families together and headed out. We had a really nice stop there. We then proceeded back on M6 north going towards the Lake District. The lie of the land was changing quickly as we crossed through the Midlands and then into Cambria with its rolling hills (fells) and valleys (dales). Eventually took the exit for Kendall at Junction 36 now going west towards Windermere. Had spoken to the lady (Mrs. Allen) about picking up the key and she gave directions to our rental house too.
I had rented the Bellman House though a company in Britain called Cottages4You. They have a large range of cottages across Europe. The cost for the Bellman House worked out to about #15 per person per night with the group we had. That is certainly better than any hotel room. The Bellman House is reached by taking the A road from Junction 36 towards Windermere. Once in Windermere there is a Booths store and the Windermere station to the left. At that crossing take a left into Windermere town. Stay on that road until you see the Windermere police station to the left (after about a mile and half). Continue on this road and you will see signs for A5074 to Lancaster, turn into A5074 and follow this road until you get a sign saying hidden driveway (this comes about 4 miles after you have gone through Bowness and taken the left on A5074 where the Rumors Pub is). The farmyard and the pond can be seen from A5074 and comes to your right; there is a sharp right hand turn (downhill) that leads into the farm area. The first set of houses belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Allen who also look after Bellman House. After we spoke, she followed us to the house (there are two gates that need to be opened and then closed after passing through them) and she gave us the key to the house.
The house itself was about a couple of centuries old.
Like other houses in Cambria it was a whitewashed stone house with wooden interiors. It was connected to the older part of an unused barn and there were two rental sections to the house. We had the larger section (and we had some very disgruntled neighbors in the other section). Our portion of the house included a living room (with fire place and TV/Video) a kitchen (all utensils and appliances once could need) and a dining room (with fireplace). There was a back exit which I could never open! The upper level had three bedrooms and one bathroom (not connected to any bedroom). The largest bedroom had a double and a twin bed; the other two bed rooms had a double bed in each. There were provisions for electrical heat. Obviously with seven people one bathroom seemed insufficient. However, just outside the main door there were ladies and gents showers and toilets. These bathrooms are typically used by the people in the mobile homes on the farm (there were a few of them too), but to ease the pressure on the single indoor bathroom, I used the outside bathroom throughout the trip. Behind the house was a nice private garden and the entire place was overrun with sheep and sheep droppings. Also, connected to the house there was a room that had the washer and the dryer which we used extensively. Once Mrs. Allen had switched on the fridge, she left and we began to settle down. We then decided to get the dinner organized. Tinku, Bebo and I went out to Booths to get some groceries. Unfortunately the store closed on us we were unable to walk in. So circled back towards Windermere was a little lost but eventually ended up at the Coop grocery store in Windermere. Bought some unnecessarily expensive groceries and headed back to the house. Mikku prepared an excellent dinner and we all ate and called it a day. The surroundings were cool quiet and hilly and the silence was only disturbed by the sheep which was all over the place. Bebo had a lovely time chasing the poor creatures all over the place.
I slept in the living room and was up at about 5:30 am on Sunday (7/17). Since I was using the bathrooms out doors (with nice hot water and I was not rushed since no one else was using that place!) I went off and got ready. Then as the others came awake, I began to prepare the traditional English breakfast (which I continued to do mostly every morning). This was made up of bangers, bacon, potato, fried tomatoes, toast and baked beans with boiled eggs, toast or potato cakes and juice and tea. Everyone had a hearty breakfast and I managed to kick off the fire alarm every time with all the frying. We completed breakfast by about 10:00 and then headed out. It was cool (about 17 Centigrade on the average) but sunny. We drove over to Bowness on Windermere and bought the all day pass for the Windermere lake cruise. The tickets were for about #12 per adult for unlimited use of the ferries. I then dropped off the brood by the pier and went and parked my bus. We took the 11:15 launch from Windermere to Lakeside on the south side of Windermere Lake (which is the largest lake in UK). It was a small but pleasant launch and we had coffee on board. Earlier in the day, I had made coffee at the house too and had sat in the garden and had worked on my book before getting breakfast ready for all. This actually became a routine for me since I got up early and had time to get some work done on the book before getting started with breakfast. Anyway, Lakeside was a small village (which incidentally did not have any batteries for sale, and my camera was low on battery!) where we walked up to a small pub and I had a Stella while others drank some coffee. Then took the large steamer (Teal) back to Bowness and we got off the boat and walked around the pier area. The weather was really nice and we hung around there and then had lunch at the Lakeview café. Everyone ate fish and chips and Mikku and I shared a chicken tikka masala. We strolled around the lakeside watching the swans and the ducks and then took another launch to the north tip of the lake which is the village of Ambleside. This is a larger town and we took a bus from the pier to the center of the village (it was #1.50 per head). Like other Lake District villages the center of town had little stores and cafes. We hung around there for a while and then strolled along the main road to head back to the pier. We walked past nice cottages with a myriad of flowers that excited everyone. We eventually stopped for coffee and beer at the Log House café and then took the launch back to Bowness. It was getting to be about 6:30 and so we then all walked over to the car (Bebo did some rock climbing and had an ice cream on the way back) and then we drove back to the house. After dropping everyone off, I went back to the Coop in Bowness to get groceries, it was closed, so had to go to the one in Windermere, which was open but with nearly empty shelves. It was pretty dismal and so got what I could and was back in time for Mikku to prepare a really nice dinner for all of us. It was a good day and eventually we were all in bed by about 10:00.
The next day (Monday 7/18) started off as a slightly dreary and wet day. Anyhow we decided to head out towards the Western side of the Lake District. Took the road down south and stopped at the little market town of Broughton in Furness. There was a little grocery store there where got some fruits and peas. Then walked to the town square and had a cup of coffee at an inn. All through the trip we developed a nice way of ordering and sharing the food to get maximum advantage because the group from India found all the proportions too large any way. We then drove up the coast and headed to Muncaster Castle outside of Ravenglass. This was an old grand home of a royal family and the house has now been converted into a museum although some of the original family still lives in the house. The grounds have been converted into a lovely garden with a special section on Himalayan vegetation. We walked around the garden then entered the house and saw the museum. My mother needed to use the bathroom and the people were nice enough to let her into the private part of the house and use the bathroom there. We then walked over to the cafeteria area and there had a lunch of sandwiches. The place also had a special refuge for owls from across the world. So we visited the owl sanctuary and then headed back to the car. Drove on to Ravenglass hoping to get to the coast but only saw the low tide water. Then drove back towards Bootle and found the turn off to the beach. It was sunny and cold and we parked by the beach and we walked down to the water’s edge and Bebo was able to touch the Irish Sea! We then drove back to Windermere and we all went to Booths. This time we were able to do a good grocery and got stuff for the rest of the week at a reasonable price finally. Eventually returned to the house and Mikku again prepared an excellent dinner.
The next day (Tuesday 7/19) it started off being another rather dreary and wet day but it got really nice later in the day. Anyhow after the customary breakfast we headed out of the house and took the road towards Kirkstone Pass. This is one of the better known mountain passes in the Lake District. On the way we were held up by a large group of sheep being taken to market by the shepherds and the sheep dogs. The roads were incredibly narrow and trying to drive that mini-bus over fells and dales with U-turns and switchbacks along 14% and 20% grades was a sheer nightmare but was able to do it without any mishaps! The road leads to Ullswater where we stopped for a little bit. Then drove by the lake and went up towards Keswick. Being a wet day we decided not to get out in Keswick (there was some convention going on, so decided to avoid the town) and went along the side of Derwent Water and stopped at the Loder Falls. Had a beer at the Loder Hotel (to use their parking lot) and then walked up to Loder Falls. Then drove on to Grange and ate lunch at a restaurant there by the river. Again shared food to not waste food. After the lunch at Grange drove around the lake and came back to Keswick and headed out along the lake towards Grasmere. Drove through the village of Grasmere and then to Dove Cottage where William Wordsworth had lived. Mikku and her mother went to the cottage while the rest of us rested at the café where I had a nice hot butter scone and tea. Bebo was getting tired and it was quite rainy. Eventually after Mikku and all were back we drove back to our house and I lit nice crackling fire in the fireplace given it was a cold and wet day. Mikku again made a fabulous dinner.
On Wednesday 7/20 we decided to head out for the day trip to Edinburgh. We ate the customary breakfast and were able to leave a little earlier than normal. The first part of the trip was on motorways and then after Abington had to get on an A-road that took a while. Bebo was beginning to feel unwell and so we had to stop often. Eventually reached Edinburgh later than I had wanted. Found a temporary parking spot on George Street. We parked there and ate lunch (Bebo was feeling quite tired and down). I had meanwhile scoped out the area and so after lunch drove the group to Waverly Bridge and I parked the car on the other side of the river at the bottom of East Market Street. Walked back to Waverly Bridge and bought the tickets for the hop and stop bus tour. Got on the bus at Waverly and hopped off at the other end of Princes Street by St. John’s Church. Walked into St. John’s and then walked through the park back to Waverly Bridge. Saw the fountain, the street mimes and generally enjoyed the area but Bebo was still feeling ill and refused to eat. Again hopped on the bus and got off at the castle end of the Royal Mile in the old town of Edinburgh. Walked around some, had coffee, stopped at the gift shops until Bebo was really down. So got back on the bus and then stayed on the bus all the way back to Waverly. Bebo was totally washed out and fell asleep in the bus. The tour took us by the palace (the queen was visiting that day) and the other main areas of Edinburgh. After we reached Waverly Bridge I got the car and as we drove out of Edinburgh got caught in a terrible traffic jam and after some diversions was able to head out. Bebo, unfortunately threw up and so we had to stop again for cleaning up. Eventually did a straight drive back to the house (the total round trip was nearly 350 miles) and had to carry Bebo back up to bed. He was totally drained out. In spite of it being late Mikku made another really nice hot dinner and we finally went to bed pretty late.
On the 21st, Thursday Bebo woke up with a fever. It was decided that Mikku and Bebo would stay back at the house and the rest would go for short trips. First, we drove over to the East and went to the market town of Kirkby Lonsdale. This is on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and had a small Market going on. Visited the market and then walked around stopping at the antique shop and then at the chocolate shop. We then headed back to the house to check on Bebo and Mikku. He was still pretty down so we decided to leave them at the house and I took the group over to Bowness for lunch and then some shopping. Again hung around Bowness and the shops. Had lunch in Bowness as well. Eventually back to the house early. Everyone was tired and so decided to give them some rest. Mikku made dinner. Bebo also was starting to feel a little better but stayed in bed all day.
Thankfully on Friday, July 22, Bebo felt OK. We did a late start that day and left the house around 11:30 am. Went directly from the house back towards Keswick. This time took a slightly different route and went on the other side of one of the lakes. Got some majestic views of the lakes and fells and took some nice pictures. Bebo was much better too and that helped. Eventually reached the outskirts of Keswick again and had lunch at the Twa Dogs Inn. After lunch started on the treacherous drive up to the Whinlatter Pass. It was really nice and eventually crossed back along the even more treacherous Newland Pass to drop back into Keswick. Drove on from Keswick to Kendall. Unfortunately everything was closed in Kendall but stopped by the Abbey and took some pictures. Bebo was again getting tired and so decided to get back to the house. Lovely dinner by Mikku again.
Saturday, July 23 was the last day at the house. We packed and cleared out by about 10:00. Mrs. Allen came and collected the keys. We drove straight through the Yorkshire Dales after a brief stop at a restaurant and reached York by about lunch time. There was a street festival going on in York and the place was really lively. We saw a brass band play and ate lunch at the Pizza hut. Walked over to the York Minster through the Shambles area and then walked back to the castle area. I had parked on Piccadilly and so we eventually walked back to the car and given that everyone was so tired decided to head out. It was a good two hour drive after that to Leicester. We stopped once on the way. Was horribly lost in Leicester but with Bhasker’s help was able to reach the Ibis hotel. It was a nice hotel but parking that vehicle was a real pain! Bhaskar came over and we walked with him to the town center for a nice dinner at the Opera House restaurant. It was Bhasker’s treat and also met up with Karen. Bebo and the family ate in the restaurant and Bebo threw up one more time, but was OK otherwise. He was certainly getting better. We got back to the hotel about midnight.
On Sunday July 24 Bhaskar directed us over to Belgrave Road in Leicester which is the Indian part of Leicester. We had a nice Indian breakfast of Dhokla and Dosa and it again was Bhasker’s treat. After that dropped Bhaskar off at the hospital and we headed out of Leicester. The motorways were packed and it was raining really hard. Nevertheless, we found our way to Arborfield near Reading where we visited the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Museum (Royal EME). Mikku’s father had served with the Indian EME and he had contacted the REME and they were kind enough to invite us all over for a grand tour of the extensive museum. They even showed us parts of the museum not open to the public including a painting that hung behind Hitler’s desk in his office. They have it in their museum now. It was really a treat and eventually Mikku’s father and the Director of the Museum exchanged ties of the Indian EME and the Royal EME and we headed out. Had lunch at the Bull of Arborfield and then headed back towards Windsor. Spent some time around Windsor Castle and then drove through Eton eventually reaching the hotel (Courtyard Marriott) in Slough.
The next morning (Monday July 25) started off rainy and wet as well I went down to the lobby for a coffee and the others started to get ready. There was a lot of left over cereals and stuff from the house so everyone ate that. There around 10:00 we left for London. It was raining really hard that day, but it started to subside as we got closer to London. Parked the bus in a lot close to Harrods and decided to walk down to Harrods. It was still quite wet. As we approached Harrods there were a lot of police sirens and they had shutoff the road in front of Harrods. Some kind of bomb scare. We hung out near the area for a while and then the police let us pass. We spent the morning in Harrods and had coffee there. Then we took two London Cabs (Srijoy’s favorite form of travel) and drove to Piccadilly had lunch at our regular place - the Garfunkels in Soho and then walled down regent Street to Hamley’s toy store. The older folks rested in the café and we went around the store. Then walked down to Oxford Circus and along Oxford Street before taking a bus back to Harrods. Now they have ticket machines for bus tickets but it is necessary to have coins and if no exact are put in then you loose the balance because the machines do not give any money back! Anyway stopped at a Sainsbury’s store and then for tea and scone and got back to the van then the drive back from London was pleasant and fast. After we got back two of my mother’s cousins (Kaju and Montu) who live in the UK came to visit. We had a nice session of good old catching up before calling it a day and ordering room service dinner.
This was now July 26 and the India group was to leave for Kolkata. I took the morning to print out some of the pictures from the trip at Snappy Snaps on High Street in Slough. Then went back to the van and saw had received a #30 ticket for improper parking. Had to pay it over the Internet eventually. Then back to the hotel and loaded up the car and all of us went back to line Slough City Center and hung out there for an hour before heading out to Heathrow Terminal 4 lots of construction on M25 after the M4 to M25 interchange. Also it is easy to miss the exit from M25 to Heathrow. Anyway, parked the van and had them checked in. If took a while to complete the check in process. After they were checked in, we went down to the Weatherspoons and ate lunch and then drove back to the Slough City Center to drop off Bebo and Mikku while I completed the car return process. Eventually back at the hotel, finished the packing, had room service and the trip was over.