The cruise that became a road trip! – take 1 - England
So here we are again! ... When my friends and I heard about the new cruise company called Ambassador Cruise Line, we booked the maiden voyage in early April 2022, sadly the cruise was delayed by a few weeks and we couldn't do anything else than cancel because of work obligations ... SO !! We did a road trip trough Southern England instead! The reason for this was very simple, we had booked ferry crossings and one night in a hotel already, to cancel and refund all this would have been much trouble and a holiday gone.
Our trip began on day 1 (like most trips ... lol) when I drove about an hour from my home in Zonhoven (Belgium) to Eindhoven (Netherlands) to pick up my 2 friends, then drive back to my place where we would spend the night. The next morning we left very early to drive about 3 hours to Calais (France) where we checked in at the ferry-terminal for our crossing to Dover on the Isle of Innishmore (Irish Ferries).
The ship is nice to sail on with enough outside deck space and several seating areas including restaurant and bar. We sailed on relatively calm channel this morning and arrived in Dover to see the AidaLuna docked on the other side of the port. By now it was time to get back to the car and drive off the ship like I have done many times before … it's starting to become a routine!
We decided to skip Dover this time and go to Rochester instead, a town I had never visited before but wanted to for a while now.
The main building in this town is of course Rochester Castle, dating from as early as 1087 (start of construction). We spent most of our day in this calm town as all of us are very interested in history and antique shops, this town has more of them than anywhere else I 've been. By late afternoon we drove on to Gravesend where our cheap hotel was booked for the first night (convenient because we originally needed to board the cruise ship in Tilbury). We checked in, freshed up and went out to find dinner and plan the next day as we hadn't booked anything in advance. We decided to go to Southampton the next day and booked our hotel for that evening.
This morning we woke up, packed our bags again and made our way down South, we stopped as early as we could to refuel and get some breakfast in one of the many convenient and reliable service stations, the biggest advantage of British highways! Our first stop of the day would be past Southampton at Hurst Point, a place I had been before but I never actually visited Hurst Castle, a mighty fort built from 1541 to protect Englands South coast from invading armies. The fort is vast and built in phases, the current situation is a result of many rebuilding programs up to World War 2. Sadly part of the seawall has recently collapsed due to coastal erosion but the inner wall is still standing. The fort contains 2 lighthouses, both served as lower lighthouses for the lighthouse standing outside the fort, although both lower lighthouses are inactive by now, the higher lighthouse is still operational to this day and I managed to catch it in near perfect light conditions.
We walked all the way back to the car (it's a pretty heavy walk to get here) and drove to Southampton to visit the Solent Sky museum before it would close down for the day and admired the history of aviation in the Southampton area, an area where giant flying boats once dominated air travel, sadly those days are gone since bigger land-planes and jets took over the aviation industry. The museum however has a fantastic Short Sandringham as its main display, the huge plane reminds us of the glory days when big passenger airliners would land on water and float to their docking piers to load/unload passengers and cargo. After this great visit, we went to our hotel for a fresh-up. The evening was still young and we went out to find dinner and plan the next day, we decided on Bristol for the next 2 days.
This hotel booking included breakfast, easy when you 're on a road-trip, so we took our time to have breakfast and pack our bags, we left the hotel and went to Town Quay where we met a long time friend who 's also an ocean liner fan. We wanted to see the Bolette (the former cruise ship Amsterdam of Holland America Line), cruising for Fred Olsen cruise lines these days, she was docked in Southampton near Mayflower Park and would leave today late afternoon so we had some time to kill.
Netley Abbey offered a short photographic trip for us, the ruined building sits in a natural landscape, creating a sort of romantic but surreal setting at the same time, the ghost story surrounding this building gives it some extra chills!
In this area nothing much is happening but we managed to find one place that offered a small lunch and tea or coffee. We went back to Southampton in time to park the car at Mayflower Park and wait for the Bolette to leave the cruise terminal and sail past us, this was our last photographic point of Southampton as we made our way to Bristol.
While we were on the road, we had time to stop somewhere for some cheap dinner before passing by Stonehenge, we viewed this monument from a different angle than the usual tourist shots and in the evening sun it looked pretty nice. We arrived in our Novotel in Bristol late in the evening and went to our rooms for some well deserved rest.
Today there would be no major drive involved, we walked out on foot towards Bristol city center, our first and most important stop was the historic ship SS Great Britain, one of the first purpose built ocean liners in history, dating from 1843! Remarkably she managed to survive the test of time against all odds and returned to her birthplace Bristol to become a museum, she has been wonderfully restored, although her hull is riddled with holes caused by corrosion throughout the years so she has been permanently placed in the original dry-dock where she was built, her interiors have been rebuilt to their former glory and her masts and deck have been restored to the original configuration, the glass floor/roof of the dry-dock makes it look like she 's floating from the outside. Together with the permanent and temporary exhibitions in the surrounding buildings, this is a museum where you can spend several hours, especially when you 're very interested in ocean liners and ships in general. Over the next few hours we walked all over the city, found some nice places to find antiques or interesting stuff and had a good meal and drink. We went back to the hotel by late afternoon to refresh and talked about the next day, in the end we decided to go for one short photoshoot, the Clifton Suspension Bridge at night … before going to bed.
This morning as usual we had our breakfast in the hotel, Novotel is visibly a class higher than Ibis hotels and you notice this at breakfast and in the bar. We checked out and drove North to Aerospace Bristol, the place where many aircraft were built, including the Concorde, they have one of them, the G-BOAF in their collection, displayed in a separate hall and you can go inside as well. The museum has a vast collection of airplanes and related items on display about aircraft like the Bristol Brabazon and more British historic stuff, convenient for lunch as well as there is small basic restaurant inside. Once we left the museum it was up to me again to drive to our next destination, Oxford. We booked the Mercure hotel in Oxford, close to the city but still a good walk away, we went there anyway and since it was late afternoon we just browsed around the city center and its iconic buildings that are mostly part of the University.
The rest of the late afternoon we stayed in the city center and by sunset we walked back to our hotel where we enjoyed one last welcome drink (I 'm a Silver member at All Accor by now) before going to bed for our final night in the UK.
Our last day started with Mercure style breakfast in the hotel, a brand of the Accor group I have been appreciating a lot lately. Once we packed our bags we drove East, back towards London and on to Harwich, close to Harwich we stopped at a large Tesco store for some shopping, I usually take some typical British things home with me and Tesco supermarkets are easy, especially the larger ones as they have their own parking space and I can find all I need in one store.
We stopped at Dovercourt to see the iconic lighthouses, although they are protected and preserved for the moment, I wonder how long these lighthouses will be around, they are not open to the public unfortunately and are in need of urgent maintenance as well, clearly they are being neglected at the moment! We decided not to do much more so we parked at the waterfront near Halfpenny Pier and walked a short distance towards Harwich upper lighthouse where I flew the drone for the first and only time on this trip, most of the days there really was too much wind to even try flying a small DJI Mavic. We ended our trip at Halfpenny pier for some tea and a view on the lightship 18 and other ships and boats around Harwich and Felixtowe. The sun was slowly setting and we took it as the end of our trip trough part of England, so we went to the ferry-terminal to wait for the Stena ferry that would take us back to the Netherlands. After a wait in the check-in area where the lounge has convenient power outlets and free WiFi, we went through the check-in process and customs, then another wait in line before we were finally driving onto the Stena Britannica.
We went up to our cabin to dump our bag for the final night and went out to explore the ship, we quickly realised it was time for dinner and since we had a pre-booked voucher we went to the buffet restaurant for dinner, then some more walking on the public decks inside and outside, by then we were getting tired and went to bed for a pretty short night.
In the morning we woke up to a sunny day and went out to the restaurant again for breakfast, again with our pre-booked voucher. We packed our bags for the final time and prepared to go down to the car-deck and once docked, drove off the ship and went back home via Eindhoven to drop off my friends and then back to Belgium.