England. Heading north.


    The M1 crawls north. Five lanes, yet still there are too many cars.

    Hold-ups ahead make the A1M more attractive.

    The flatlands stretch in every direction.

    The curiosity that is the chain of Pulse and Cocktail Lounges. They’re not seen anywhere but on this particular road. I assume they’re seedy. I dare not research them for fear of what cookies will deliver to my future search.


    Every room in Min’s dad’s house is many times bigger than the van. 

    The luxury of space. 

    We stretch out. 

    We wander in awe.

    And we eat like kings. Gill’s never empty larder feeds us all that we could wish for.

    The Red Shed. Wakefield Labour Club.

    The Hepworth Wakefield.

    A cultural oasis in a challenged town. 

    The Hepworth Wakefield. It rarely looks like this.

    Wakefield grew rich on wool, then coal. Fine York stone manor houses dot the surrounding countryside, but since the decline of coal mining the city’s importance has waned.

    This red brick town was never pretty. But it was the birthplace of sculptor Barbara Hepworth. The rough moorland all about influenced her work, even after she moved to Cornwall. 

    In 2011 The Hepworth Wakefield was built to house a collection of her works.

    The Chipperfield Architect’s building isn’t immediately easy to love. It sits on a bend of the River Calder in the cloth and grain conservation area. It challenges us with irregular forms, rather like Hepworth’s work may once have done. Where Hepworth used curves, Chipperfield used angles.

    Inside it’s a different story. From the inside the precision of the building, its continuous poured concrete floor, its massive windows, all collude to create a sense of calm that renders the rough and ready world outside more interesting, more appealing. The architect understood that. There’s an upholstered bench perfectly placed with its back to the exhibits inviting us to gaze upon the disorder beyond.

    The beauty and the beyond. Forms and towers.

    To see so many of Hepworth’s works in one place is a joy. Each is its own entity and few were designed to sit alongside others, but nonetheless the whole works well. 

    Unfortunately the café was closed – I had looked forward to a quiet hour there.

    The conservation area. More real than most.


    We forge on.

    Through County Durham, our own land of Prince Bishops (as Wurzburg last Sunday, but rather cooler). 

    Past Newcastle.

    Into Northumberland. England’s least populated county.

    The gentle rolling hills stretch forever. There are many sheep, there’s Britain’s largest forest, some fine country houses, but not a lot else.

    St Wilfred’s Church, Kirkharle. Simplicity in its perfect northern setting.

    We won’t make it to the coast this time, but the beaches of the far north-east are some of the best in the country.

    With Rick at The Beresford Arms life continues pretty much as normal, with a little more separation. There’s fine food, good beer, and plenty of chat.

    The Beresford, Whalton. All change again now.

    Each of our stops is too short. It takes time to find the rhythm, to overcome the initial rush of catching up, and to settle into more productive conversation. 

    On both Northumberland nights the temperature outside the van dropped to 4°. On Tuesday morning the show began rolling south.

    Angel of the North.

    In Romania I stayed awhile in a beautiful artist’s colony, a resting place for angels.

    Gateshead is nothing like as calm, but does have the mother of all angels.

    Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North spread its 175 foot wings in 1998 to general uproar from the people of the region. The same people who now love and respect their icon.

    We have driven past many times.

    No Angel. Gormley in the North.

    This time with perfect blue skies to offset its Corten palette we stopped to wonder, and to click off photos. Its scale is indicated by the guy at its feet, and the tower block behind.


    The cathedral, built between 1160 and 1547, mostly in the Plain English style has little of the excess displayed in places we have visited lately. 

    What it has right now though is the Wing and a Prayer exhibition.

    During the Covid times 10,000 written dedications to individual key workers across the region have been folded into origami angels, now suspended from on high.

    A Wing and A Prayer. Ripon Cathedral.

    It’s serene. Beautiful. Poignant.

    Ripon is where Minty lived for many years, it’s still her sister’s home. The small city has delighted me since my first visit nearly 25 years ago. 

    I lodged at Rebecca’s while working in York. I could happily live in Yorkshire again.

    Best sausage roll ever! Appleton’s. Ripon.


    Rab, Becky, Rebecca. Minty’s sis was a dedicated couch potato until her early 40s when suddenly she found the release of sport. She played Rugby. She ran marathons. She lifted weights. A few years on and she’s the fittest girl I know. So I challenged her to a North Sea swim.

    Rab and Dave have a home in Saltburn, the north east coastal town built by Victorian industrialist and brick maker Henry Pease. 

    With grey skies and in light drizzle we left for the beach on Wednesday morning. On the beach it was dry, but a keen wind was blasting walkers with horizontal sand. Swimming was not on many people’s minds.

    “Fancy a swim Rab?” “No chance KC!” Saltburn with Dave.

    After a few miles stanked across the beach, and no mention of our swim, I wondered whether my foolishness had been forgotten. Whether we were to let each other off the hook.

    Silly thought.

    Before we got back to Henry Pease’s pier we stopped on the wet sand, stripped off, and began the long run down to the cool brown murk of the North Sea.


    It wasn’t awful.

    We survived.

    After the inevitable tangle of getting back into our clothes with wet skin we felt the rush. The rest of the day was destined to be good.

    We were rewarded with that most English of delicacies that I have looked forward to on many occasions. Sea front fish and chips. Racing to get them eaten before the bracing wind whipped away all hint of warmth. God they were good.


    All our family stays are in twos this time. 

    After our two nights in Ripon we forged south in glorious autumn sunshine, the trees beginning to turn, the grasses rich in well watered green.

    The motorway helped us eat the miles. I’m still delighted to notice UK number plates.

    North became Midlands, and now the Midlands too are behind us.

    The ancient town of Tewkesbury is best known for its flood scenes. Every few years the nearby rivers Avon and Severn burst over their floodplains and into the town, wreaking havoc through the pretty medieval town.

    Tewkesbury Abbey.

    There’s far more to it than floods though. The town has 350 listed buildings, 30 intriguing little alleyways, a fabulous abbey. There’s a surfeit of pubs many of which looked inviting. There’s a rowing boat ferry to one of them. Tempting, but after 6 nights with Minty’s family a dry night was in order.

    There was plenty to photograph, half timbered houses, the river scenes, the pretty sheep, but this morning the rain fell heavily and nothing looked its best.

    The Lower Lode Inn. You’ll need a bigger boat.


    Much that you learn on a journey is personal, this week I have also learned to love England all over again. The country is in a mess. I’m horrified at the direction that’s planned. Yet still this place is a good place to be.

    There’s tremendous value to being somewhere foreign where you’re learning and absorbing all the time. What we get in England that’s so different is the ability to understand nuance, the subtleties of what’s happening around you (even though we might not like it). Conversation is important and it’s only coming home that you realise how exhausting it can be forever trying to translate and generally misunderstanding.

    Chatting freely, even with masks, has been fun. We’ll get used to it and stop noticing soon, but I’m holding on to it while I can.

    Tewkesbury. In the rain.

    On travel.

    Travel is not about the distance covered. It’s what you learn along the way.

    My early trips involved thousands of miles, countries driven through but hardly seen. 

    When we set off on this odyssey we covered far too many miles as well. That changed dramatically when we arrived in Crete, determined to explore the island over a longer period. The lockdown made it easier. Few residents of Koutsounari (where we were impounded) will have seen as much of the immediate area as we did. When we couldn’t drive we explored by bike and on foot.

    I’m sure you learn more travelling alone, but travelling in a couple you have someone to share your discoveries with and to make them real.

    A holiday abroad is not travel, but unfortunately that’s all most people have the opportunity to do. If more of us understood our neighbours across the water I’m convinced more of us would wish to embrace them rather than distance ourselves.

    Crete. Explored. From Minty’s “Our Travels”.


    A German I met asked if we were heading home. I said yes. He replied that England is getting further away. I wanted to weep.


    Well, there are various projects that are all in the air just now.

    I plan to blog monthly, incorporating journeys taken with thoughts on Cornish life, I’ll return to highlights of this journey too.

    These 30 months on the road, living outside, absorbing Europe in a way that few have the opportunity to do, have been an incredible privilege. 

    Incredible? Yes, in its true sense. It feels like a different life. Perhaps a parallel life that we were able to step into for a while, rather like stepping through the wardrobe.

    We will do it again. It will be different. It will be another stage of life lived to the full.

    Stage One. Started May 2018.
    Stage Two. Started April 2019.
    Stage Three. Started October 2019.
    Look up to God. Tewkesbury Abbey.
    “I’m not cold.” Fish, chips, mushy peas.
    Polly and her nemesis. Cooper Naylor. Saltburn.
    The Angel Of The North. Man for scale.
    The Angel of The North. Towerblock for scale.
    Donated by the Inland Revenue! Offered by BH lieu of 12 years tax arrears.
    Form (and figure).
    Welsh Whiskey. Northern Man. John Cooper.
    Early days. Minty had hair. Polly had none.

    It has been a delight to receive so many comments (1349 + far more emails) along the way. Committing more than a day a week to writing comes easily most of the time, but when it’s hard it’s the comments that keep me going. Thank you.

    23 Replies to “England. Heading north.”

    1. gillian cooper says: Reply

      Hi guys
      Really good to see you twice
      The house is quiet again after a very nice weekend
      Good picture of John did not see you take that KC when you have a minute would you e mail it please
      Back to the rain and cold today
      Hope goes OK when moving back to your house
      Hugs to Polly miss her!!
      Stay safe
      Luv D&G

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Gill.
        I think the whole country is dripping today.
        Great to see you both.
        The photo will be on its way.

    2. We can’t believe we’re not going to see any more photos of Sunny beaches and incredible images of things we’ll never see. Welcome back to the UK and look forward to the book 🙂 All the best Louise and Dave.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Ah, I’m sure I’ll sneak a few pics out over the coming months to keep everyone’s spirits high.
        Thanks for your notes over the journey.
        We’re due back in St Just on Tuesday, I’m excited and nervous in equal measure.

    3. Happy days. Wonderes,,, we wish you good health and happiness.thankyou for sharing your experience.. We long for the day we can travel again…

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Sandra and thanks for your notes along the way.
        I admire your spirit and I’m sure you’ll find a way.

    4. Annette Armitage says: Reply

      Wakefield was also the birthplace of your Northern friend!
      Sounds like you’re glad to be back…..

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Well it is good to be back. It’s in a few weeks when we’re used to everything that I suspect it’ll get difficult and our feet will start itching.
        Ask me in December!
        Thanks for writing.

    5. It’s been lovely…hurry up and go again

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you.
        We hope to hit the road again before Brexit truly kicks in (largely as taking the dog will be easier), but there are plenty of variables that may derail that plan.

    6. Well, at least to me England has got closer during this 2 1/2 years!
      Big smile!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        That’s a lovely comment!
        Thanks Margret.
        Have a great holiday. I hope it’s better weather there than here.

    7. It was a pleasure, as always, to welcome you to my warm humble cottage, even if the fire was out of commission, happily now restored! I look forward to St Just at sometime in the not too distant future and tasting the recipe we had for dinner on Sunday. I would never suggest that you would not jump into the freezing sea, remember St. Ives in December? Many more blogs to come.

    8. Gillian Fawkes says: Reply

      I don’t believe it we drove past that very pub on Thursday on route from Cumbria in an attempt to keep off the A1 for as long as possible. The roads over the moors are a dream but not for someone the size of Archievan we imagine. What an adventure you have been on and hopefully will continue in the not too distant future. In a strange way all the more memorable due to the current health crisis. Take some time to enjoy home again and keep us posted! Gx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Were you in a McLaren? One blasted past as we pulled up at the pub.

        This afternoon we’re on Dartmoor in heavy rain. It’s not quite the romance of Greece, but it’s still fun.

        We need some van work done in Plymouth in the morning and then we can tackle the final leg of our odyssey.

        We have to have had one of the best lockdown experiences. Even though ours was more strict than most it was a blast.

    9. Time is thickest on stage 3 😉

      Travels to be continued , I am warmed for you that you are finding delight in own country reviewed anew through your nomad eyes .

      First winter in a while without sun ? Good luck with Minty on that xx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Minty is already talking about lightning the fire and we’re not home yet!
        That novelty will wear off then she’ll be yearning for sunshine.

    10. I know I shall miss hearing of your adventures, the post coming, blogs to be read and edited for printing to send to mum and book orders to organise but it has been even better having you here this weekend.
      Enjoy this winter by your snuggly warm fire whilst you dream and scheme anew. No doubt there will be plenty to keep you occupied in the making of your valley residence.
      Happy days in the far reaches of West Penwith!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you and thank you for your help and welcome.
        There’s lots to be done. We’ll be busy as bees for a while.

    11. Sarah Franklin says: Reply

      Welcome Home! I’m a bit late to this post, but it’s been a delight as always. What a fabulous trip, I can only imagine having such an adventure! Hopefully our paths will cross at some point in your travels as I’m likely to go far from (currently) sunny Didsbury at the moment. Sx

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Always good to hear from you.
        Well, we’re back in the house. It feels good as it’s all a new experience for now. 
        Having space to escape each other is good.
        Having space to cook is a revelation.
        That aside I’d leave again tomorrow given the chance.

    12. Welcome home both. We will miss our Saturday lunchtime reading !,
      Justine and Graham x

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        We thought of you when we were staying in Castle Cary, it was all a bit too rushed for a visit – but the time will come.We’re much happier to be back than we ever expected. Home is a wonderful thing.Saying that though, I’d head off again tomorrow given the chance. Instead of that I have a planning battle on my hands that’ll keep us entertained until Christmas.I hope life’s good for you both and that the high tiers stay far enough from your door.
        Cheers. KC

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