I hate that feeling of needing a vacation from a vacation, but that’s how it always feels like when I come back from a holiday trip.  Since we wanted the kids to enjoy a normal holiday, we went out of town for a few days.  It was nice to come back and find out that my registration for a license has been approved.  I still have to complete an identity check, but in the meantime, I can scout around for a job.  We also have some landlord issues that need resolving and hopefully that can be accomplished before our lease runs out.  Anyhow, for the next few posts, I hope to get some pictures of some of the things we enjoyed recently.[ad#ad-1]

I’ll start by talking about High Rocks in the Tunbridge Wells area.  They are located in the Rusthall Commons area.  At one time, the commons were just open areas of land that were used for grazing, but over the years, houses have sprung up and many areas have become overgrown with vegetation.  However, there are some natural rock formations that have survived.  But, in order to keep them in good order, it is now run by a trust, and admission is charged.  Yet, it appears that the gate is not always manned, so some people might be able to sneak in.  We have never been ones to take those kinds of risk.

There are walking paths around the rock formations, as well as stairs and bridges to get to the top and across from rock to rock.  Various groups of rock climbers were taking advantage of the nice weather on the day we visited.  Apparently, there are rock climbing guides and High Rocks was included, with hints on how to climb the rocks.  These are not huge rocks and some of the climbers only used their hands and feet to get to the top; but there are some that are higher, requiring some ropes.  The kids imagined themselves as climbers and went up some of the smaller rocks.

There were several inscriptions on some of the rocks, dating back to the 1800s.  Of course, many visitors marked their names on the rocks as well.  But, we were on the look-out for an inscription from the 1700s.  We never found it, but we believe we located the right rock.  It was called “Bell Rock” because legend has it that if you threw a stone into it, it would make a sound like a bell ringing.  However, it is believed that it no longer makes that sound because of moss, damp and various other natural processes.  The inscription was left by a visitor, whose dog fell down the rock and died.

There was a rock called “Toad Rock” because it supposedly resembles a toad – you really have to use your imagination.  The other rocks used to be given other names as well, with respect to objects they resembled.  We’ll need to get some sort of guide book from the library.  In times past, there were huts set up between the rocks for hikers and climbers, but most of them are now lying in ruins.  There was even a tea shop set up in one of the huts, but it is gone.  A rhododendron maze attached to the rocks area is now overrun.  Despite all this, the area does serve as a very nice backdrop for a picnic.  There was even a wedding reception taking place while we were visiting.[ad#ad-1]

Which brings us to the pub.  It appears that the reception was being catered from the High Rocks Inn, which is also where you need to go for tickets into the rocks.  Thankfully, there was a large public car park for visitors and it was free.  The inn is located across the street from the rocks and it has a beautiful garden.  And while you’re up there, you can see the Spa Valley steam railway making trips up and down from Tunbridge Wells to Eridge.

We have yet to explore the historic parts of Tunbridge Wells, such as the chalybeate springs and the Pantilles.  That will be for another day.

Don’t you just love it when your car breaks down?  It’s happened so often in the last few days that I’m ready to get a new one.  Only one problem.  We can’t afford to.  It our only car and if we don’t have it, we can’t get anywhere.  The problem with living in remote areas of the villages, you need a car.[ad#ad-1]

My husband thinks he’s diagnosed the problem.  We have a crack in the pipe between the coolant and the engine.  At least, that the glaringly obvious diagnosis.  Whatever else is wrong remains to be resolved after this issue is.  Unfortunately, we can’t get the part for him to fix it himself.  However, our local mechanic thinks he’ll get it in by tomorrow.  Thank God for trustworthy local mechanics.

In the meantime, the mechanic has wrapped the crack in duct tape.  We Americans fix everything with duct tape, so we couldn’t laugh at his methods.  We’re also carrying extra gallons of water in the car.  It’d be so easy if we didn’t have to drive everywhere.  I guess I should be glad we’re expecting rain.


In my previous entry on obtaining a UK driving license, I reflected on my experiences with the UK Driving Theory Test.  In this third and final entry in the series, I will talk about my recent experiences with the UK Driving Practical Test.

After passing the theory test you’ll be issued a pass certificate.  With this certificate you can proceed to book your practical test online.  You’ll need your certificate number and a credit card to pay the GBP 56.50**.  Fill in the details and you will receive written confirmation of your booking within a few days.  You should take the written confirmation along with your theory test pass certificate and both parts of your driving license with you on the day of your practical test.

You will also be required to take an additional rear view mirror to the test so that the examiner can see traffic behind the vehicle during the test.  These are available at Halford’s for about GBP 5.00.

Before getting in to the car, the examiner will perform a basic eye sight test by asking you to read a car registration plate that is about 20m away. He will then ask you two basic questions related to either vehicle safety or basic vehicle maintenance.  I have read in preparation materials that there are about 13 questions that the examiners select questions from.  My experience indicates that this is not the case.  The questions I received were not in the question pool commonly thought to comprise the entire set.

Usually, one question will be a “tell me” type  question (for example, tell me how you would check that your indicators are working), the other will be a “show me” type question (for example, show me how you would operate the high beam lights).

Only then will the driving part of the test begin.  Without going in to all the ins and outs of the test, suffice it to say that examiners are looking for an overall safe standard of driving.  Be sure to use your mirrors, and practice the MSM and PSL routines when driving.  The test is about executing safe driving in the recognised manner.  I cannot emphasise this aspect enough.  If you hold an American license then you may well have many years of safe driving behind you.  However, this does not mean you will waltz through the test with ease.  You must have a thorough understanding of the recognized aspects of safe driving as taught by British instructors and specialists.

The examiner will usually take you round a selection of roadway where you will encounter many standard obstacles (such as roundabouts, schools, mini-roundabouts, crossings, dual carriageways etc.).  Bear in mind the test must be carried out within the allotted 40-ish minutes.

During this time, the examiner will also ask you to pull over several times, sometimes to check the way you pull away from a stationary position (pay particular attention to your blind spots!) and other times to brief you on an impending manoeuvre.

You will be asked to execute two of the recognized standard manoeuvres.  These are:  left reverse round a corner, turn in the road (sometimes called the three point turn), reverse in to a parking bay and reverse parking (parallel parking).  Optionally, you may be asked to perform an emergency stop. I have heard it said that this is less likely if there is the slightest hint of damp on the road surface, or fog.

I read (and then later confirmed with a qualified driving instructor) that if the examiner wants you to perform a reverse park in to a bay, then it must be performed in the car park of the test center.  If your test center does not have sufficient space for this then you will not be asked to do this manoeuvre.  Likewise, if you are particularly weak on this manoeuvre then you might want to scope our various nearby DSA test centers to see which of them do not have sufficient space for this manoeuvre.

At your earliest opportunity, learn as much as possible about the recognized British way of teaching driving.  Learn and practice religiously the MSM and MSPSL methods.

The DVD I referred to in the previous entry ([ad#co-1]) has a very useful section on the driving practical test. It has video clips showing the correct way to perform all the manoeuvres and scenarios you will be expected to know for the practical test. It also has an entire mock examination filmed. I found this particularly useful.

A week before my test, I booked a two hour slot with a local ADI driving instructor and did a condensed mock driving test.  This was a very useful experience as he was able to identify several areas of weakness that I needed to be aware of if I were to pass (as I did at the first attempt).  Most instructors charge about GBP 20 to 25 per hour.  If you are not going to pay for a course of lessons, then I certainly recommend putting out the GBP 40 or 50 to do as I did.

If you pass, then the instructor will issue you with a certificate at the end of the test and your license should be with you within 3 weeks (about a week in my case).  If you fail, then you can request a full debrief with the examiner in order to ascertain where your major weaknesses lie and you must wait at least 10 days before re-taking the test.

** EDIT: On April 1st 2009, the fee for the practical part of the driving test went up to GBP 62.