A Year Ago Today
A year ago today (July 31, 2014) we opted for a day at Chislehurst Caves rather than a very long trip to Biggleswade.
Chislehurst Caves, Some Shopping and Biggleswade Postponed
Biggleswade Postponed Indefinitely
Today was the day we had scheduled for a trip to Biggleswade, the town where the Wells family comes from.
Geoff’s grandfather ran a large store there – Victoria House. We researched this and found that, although Victoria House is still standing, it has changed hands and purposes several times.
Biggleswade, and Victoria House, were where Geoff’s Dad grew up as the baby of a family of nine kids.
I guess we hadn’t really checked how to get to Biggleswade by train before leaving Canada. Geoff found that it was a long trip – three hours one way – and an expensive train trip to boot, even with our 30% discount.
Although it would have been nice, Geoff said he didn’t really remember Biggleswade much. So we tabled this excursion until our next trip to the UK. On our next visit, we plan to do more traveling around the country. This time, the focus was on visiting places within easy reach of London plus Bath and Stonehenge.
While researching things to do in London and area, Geoff came across Chislehurst Caves and thought it looked interesting. Apparently it’s quite a popular attraction and yet it is something that Geoff had never heard about even though he grew up just outside of London. And, at only £4 each, it was one of the cheapest attractions we planned to visit.
Getting to Chislehurst took three separate trains but we weren’t on any of them for very long.
As had become our habit, we walked into Longfield, getting quite adept at dodging the traffic on the winding, narrow roads and coming away with minimal scratches from the hedges that were so close to the road that they seemed to make it even narrower – and bit more harrowing on some of the curves.
But we made it to the train station reasonably unscathed and told the agent where we wanted to go. He printed our tickets and not only explained the changes we would have to make but printed out a trip itinerary for us that would help considerably as we made each change.
Three Trains to Our Destination
Our first train was the one we would normally take into London’s Victoria Station, however, we would be disembarking at Bromley South this time – the last stop before London.
At Bromley South, after checking the departure boards to make sure we chose the correct platform, we boarded the train to Petts Wood. That one actually sent us back the way we had just come for a time before making a curve to the right.
Getting off at Petts Wood, as our itinerary indicated we should, we again checked the departure boards to find the platform for our train to Chiselhurst. The signage is relatively easy to understand and the trains are very reliable.
We didn’t have long to wait for our train and were in Chiselhurst less than an hour after leaving Longfield, even with so many changes.
Tour of the Caves
The entrance to the attraction, complete with restaurant and gift shop, was not far from the Chislehurst train station and fairly easy to find. Following the signs, we walked through a small downtown area with a pub, a convenience store and a couple of chippies (fish & chip shops).
When we arrived at the reception are, where we could buy our tickets, we learned that the guided tours went every hour on the hour. That meant we had about 40 minutes to wait. The small gift shop didn’t even take five minutes and we weren’t interested in the restaurant, so we spent most of our waiting time on some benches just outside the entrance to the caves.
At the allotted hour, the doors to the entrance opened wide and our guide emerged to announce that the tour would begin momentarily.
Just a couple of minutes later he gathered our group together, accepted our tickets, and led us down a sloping tunnel into the caves.
Actually, the first thing we learned is that these weren’t really caves at all. They were actually a series of tunnels cut into the chalk. The tunnels, now interconnected, were actually mined in three sections over a very long period of time. One section had been mined by Druids (making this part almost as old Stonehenge and they used antlers and their mining tools), another by the Romans and the third in more current times.
Complete and Utter Darkness
Many of the people in our tour, us included, were issued kerosene lanterns for the tour. However, in one section we were encouraged to experience complete and utter darkness. Our guide took all of our lanterns and wandered away to allow us to experience something that many of us have never had the opportunity to experience.
It was quite interesting. No matter how much we tried to peer into the darkness, there was only darkness.
However, the experience was somewhat ruined when a couple of people in the group decided to open their cell phones, breaking the darkness for the rest of us. There’s always someone, isn’t there.
World War II Sanctuary
During World War II, the caves were used to house thousands for people to give them sanctuary from the bombings. You can still see some of the tunnel designations so the inhabitants could find their section. It was like an underground city even containing a hospital and a school.
We would certainly recommend taking the tour and felt we got value for money at this attraction.
Lunch At The Local Chippy in Chislehurst
After our tour of the Chiselhurst Caves it was lunch time and we checked out the local chippies. In one of them Geoff noticed they had a menu item called Rock. He asked if it was Rock Salmon – that’s actually eel, but Geoff has fond memories of it from his youth.
The proprietor, who obviously wasn’t British, assured him that it was.
Geoff’s memories of Rock Salmon are of it being white and flaky with a large bone running down the middle. He decided to go ahead and order it even though it was one of the pricier items on the menu. And, apparently, the price didn’t include the chips – they were extra.
Sadly, Geoff was disappointed as the fish (eel) was rather mushy, with a much smaller bone than he remembered, so he found the meal somewhat disappointing.
On To Petts Wood
We decided that we would spend some time at each place we needed to change trains, just to explore. The next stop was Petts Wood. It had a cute little downtown area with a lot of small shops including several charity shops displaying donated, slightly used, items. It did take us long to walk the entire downtown area and then get back to the train station for the next leg of our journey.
The next stop was the station at Bromley South. This proved to be a much larger community with a street market happening selling all manner of items including clothing, shoes, fresh veggies and more. We spent a lot more time exploring this town.
Search For An Electric Kettle
Up until now we have being purchasing our morning coffee from the restaurant at the resort. As it is only instant coffee, and costs £1 per cup, we thought we’d try to find an inexpensive electric kettle so we could make our own coffee each morning. Two cups (at least) per day and £1 each over 16 days adds up pretty fast. But we had no idea how much a kettle would cost, so we stopped in a few stores to find out. Another criteria was that the kettle be small and easy to pack so we could take it with us when we moved on.
About the cheapest kettle we could find was almost £20 and much too large.
As we continued to wander around we passed a charity shop that not only sold used furniture, but used electrical appliances as well. We decided to have a look.
On the shelf, next to the large electric kettles, were TWO compact travel kettles that were actually dual voltage, so, with the proper adapter, they could be used on 110 volt, too. Not only that but they also included the original booklet, two small cups, a measuring cup and a plastic container to store the coffee (they all fit INSIDE the kettle to save space). They were also certified as working and were only £3 (the cost of 3 cups of coffee bought from the restaurant). SOLD!
Bromley South also had a very large 99p Store (kind of the equivalent to our dollar stores).
After our score of an electric kettle we would now need instant coffee, sugar, powdered creamer and whatever else struck our fancy.
We got exactly what we needed including a UK three-prong plug to a Europe 2 pin adapter so we could use the kettle on the rest of our European trip, if needed.
Oh, and a few other items made their way into our basket as well.
Shoes For Geoff At The Street Market
One of the stalls at the street market was selling slip-on, leather flip flops and Geoff actually needed a pair. He found some he liked and actually ended up buying two pairs.
Back To Longfield
The last leg of our journey, of course, took us back to Longfield from Bromley South and we still had a lot to do there.
Pick Up Our Laundry
The first stop was at the local cleaners to pick up the laundry we had dropped off a couple of days before. It was ready and waiting for us and we were pleased with the results.
Geoff’s Modeling Career
When we were in Longfield a couple of days earlier, the local hairdresser had a sign outside saying they were looking for models for their students and that would include a free haircut. Well, Geoff was ready for a haircut, so we stopped in and inquired.
Sure enough, they needed models for their students on Thursday at 6pm and there would be no charge for the service. Geoff had signed up to be a model and he was now waiting for his haircut.
The students were all supervised, of course. The student assigned to Geoff had never given a haircut before and she was closely supervised but did an amazing job. As a matter of fact, both Geoff and I believe that it was one of the best haircuts he has ever had. He was certainly glad he had volunteered to be a model.
Dinner At Monroe’s
We decided to have dinner at the local restaurant – Monroe’s. They had an outdoor patio, as well as indoor seating, and a Marilyn Monroe theme going on. They also had daily specials at what seemed to be a reasonable price.
I can’t remember exactly what we had that evening but we were impressed with the quality as well as the price and were determined to return.
Back To The Resort
After picking up a few groceries, we grabbed a taxi and headed back to the resort for the evening, with our prized possession of a new (okay, used) kettle and the means to make our own coffee the next morning.