On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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Bucks Early May BH

Friday 3rd May
We left Рlater than planned as usual Рand had a pretty good trip up, stopping once for a comfort break for all concerned  and arrived at our destination at about 1:30 in a short but sharp shower. Within the hour, though, it was bright sunny again. Our destination was Laurel Cottage Рa CL in Ivinghoe Aston, not far from Leighton Buzzard. And what a delightful site it was! We had a warm welcome from the owner who suggested that we might prefer a grass pitch in the upper field rather than the hard-standing we had booked. He was right. We did. For most of the remainder of the day we had that upper field to ourselves.

We whistled through the set up work and soon had the kettle on and the boys pegged out to play so that we could relax. It was lovely. Nothing but birdsong. Utter bliss.

“Our” field

One of the hard-standing pitches

The info hut and produce stall

It showered on and off all afternoon but we needed to get some provisions for an impromptu boat trip tomorrow. Well it would have been churlish to be so very close to the Grand Union and not spend some time afloat, wouldn’t it? It was a bit on the dear side, but as I said to Paul – we’ll be a long time dead, so we went for it. We also managed to persuade some pals to come along. I do love a spur of the moment plan!

The rain was torrential by the time we reached Waitrose in Leighton Buzzard and so Paul’s plans of walking the boys whilst I shopped were scuppered. But it didn’t take too long and soon we were off. As we were near Linslade (Leighton and Linslade are interlinked, being a parish currently and formerly an Urban District) we thought we’d pop in to The Globe, an old canal-side pub haunt of ours from the late 80’s early 90’s. Also known – by us – as “The Globule”. It hasn’t changed much and we stayed for ” a swift half” as my Dad used to say. Happy memories of my Dad, in his cups, singing from atop the bridge parapet. He used his Cavan O’Connor Irish tenor voice, although he was actually a bass. Always a delight! His favourite song was “I’m only a Strolling Vagabond“. How we laughed, how we loved him.

By the way – it’s a good job we went when we did as I now note it is closed for renovation (for spiffing-up and grooming– spot the musical reference here! Click the link for the answer.)

Paul also had his interview (c 1995) for his MD job at C-Map, aboard my dad’s half-fitted-out narrow-boat “Sam Gunter”. Unconventional, but it worked – he got the job! The C-Map “Boss” and his lady friend then came to a dinner cooked by my step-mother “Nanny” Lynne, where they both sampled rhubarb crumble for the first time. And loved it! It may have been the crumble that swung it? ūüôā

This was a trip full of nostalgia. My Dad and step-mum used to manage a boatyard – Willowbridge Marina – on the Grand Union, between Stoke Hammond and Fenny Stratford and we had such happy times there. We announced our engagement there, and then our pregnancy there, my brother got married there (first time round)¬† and George spent many happy times there during school hols as a little lad. He enjoyed helping lovely Charlie, the gardener, and I have such sweet memories of him toddling off, “to work”,¬† holding Charlie’s hand . We loved Willowbridge days, where they stayed until they retired, before moving aboard their narrow-boat Sam Gunter, to be live-aboards.

We meandered home to our van via the Three Locks at Soulbury – another pub that we occasionally frequented and also Great Brickhill where our favourite pub, “The Duncombe Arms”, was located. Many great evenings there. Alas it is a pub no longer.Some of the famous code breakers who worked at the famous Bletchley Park were billeted there during WW2. The billiard room apparently became a social club of Bletchley Park.

The Three Locks

The former Duncombe Arms

Then we had a drive along the “new road” where our friend, Michelle,¬† did a ton in her new Porsche.¬† We saw the very much unchanged and quite notorious (in those days, anyway) “Lakes Estate“. We also got a glimpse of Willowbridge and then the lay-by, known as “Randy Mandy‚Äôs” lay-by (long story!) where Paul fell in. The last thing we saw as he submerged was his fag-packet! He was utterly determined that he wasn’t going to waste them. It was a bit like the sword in the lake but with 20 Red Band instead! We noticed that the roads round here have changed a lot, though!!

It rained heavily in and off during the evening and through the night. We had an early night as we were all tired and we always get a pretty early start with these pesky pups!

Saturday May the 4th (be with you)
We all slept well – especially the pups and we actually had to wake them up at 6:45. As I was getting breakfast I noticed that the car door had been left open all night! Paul had omitted to close it on his last trip to fetch a puppy crate. Oops! No real harm done though.

We set off at 08:30 for Tring and Cowroast Marina. The origin of the name Cowroast is not actually as tasty as it might sound. It is widely thought that it is a corruption of the name Cow Rest – a place where cows rested on the way to market – and nothing to do with what you might eat on a Sunday.

They (Anne and Gray Robertson) were already there and we were soon loaded up, briefed and off towards Marsworth. It was a bright day, very warm in the sun but with a biting and very chilly when the clouds masked the sun. But we were on the canal! Who cared? ūüôā

Paul started the morning walking the pups on the towpath and – predictably – “Terrible” Ted was the first to fall in! Grass grows over the edge of the canal bank but Ted didn’t yet know this. He walked boldly out, only to find that his legs were suddenly walking on air! A rather damp learning experience but he was unscathed by it all. As he was walking along, Paul managed to take a great shot of a Kingfisher – usually just a flash of blue. Zoom in – it’s really sharp.

We soon arrived at Marsworth Top Lock where the short Wendover Arm branches off the main line. It’s a very pretty canal, quite rural and currently under restoration. We turned at the current terminus and headed back, arriving back at the Junction in a heavy hail storm! Short lived and quite entertaining!

Wendover Arm finger-post

Evidence of hail

More evidence of hail

It was a good job it cleared up as as it was time to tackle the Marsworth flight. We set off, with Gray at the helm and Paul and I doing the locks. Big, heavy Grand Union locks – it’s been a while –¬† but well maintained so no big deal.

As we approached the third lock we noticed a poor heron with a badly broken wing.¬† Heron’s are normally pretty shy but he was unable to fly. All he could do was shuffle a bit further away. Poor thing. I wondered what his chances of survival were and whether the volunteer lock-keepers might be able to help him out.

It was nearing the time we needed to be thinking about turning round so we stopped and had our lunch by the reservoir. It’s one of a string of four, collectively known as the “Tring Reservoirs“. They are all teeming with wildlife (they are an SSSI) and much used, recreationally, by the locals. Their raison d’etre is to feed the Grand Union.

Lunch over, we turned (or winded) the boat. No need for a winding hole as the GU is wide and our vessel was a  mere 38 feet. We set off back up the locks, this time with me at the helm, Paul and Gray on lock duties and Anne on dog-sitting.

We had soon cracked them and were on our way back to the yard – past the beautiful Bulbourne Yard. It is the site of a former lock-gate building workshop (still in use as late as 2003), but sadly now disused. It’s future looks almost certain to be a residential redevelopment, hopefully retaining as much of the character of the Victorian buildings as possible. I find it rather sad, but what can you do? Interestingly, an episode of Call the Midwife was filmed there.

Bulbourne Yard – now disused

As we were going back up the flight, we saw a chap carrying the poorly Heron. Obviously taking him to a place of safety where he might hopefully be healed.

We stopped after a while for our sweet treat – Victoria Sandwich cake with fresh strawberries and cream. A match made in heaven. And British strawberries, to boot – the first of the year. Lush.

All too soon, we arrived back at the yard, said goodbye to Anne & Gray and set off. The boat had had to be returned by 4.30 and we’d had such a lovely day, we felt very sad to say goodbye. But there was quite a lot of day left. We decided we’d have a walk on Ivinghoe Beacon, which is the highest point of the beautiful and vast (5,000 acres) Ashridge estate.

The bluebells were spectacular and we and the boys both enjoyed our early evening walk.

We drove further through the Ashridge Estate to nearby Berkhamstead to pick up a few things I had forgotten. We saw a deer on the way. I was left with the impression of the woods being so full of bluebells it was like they were clad with a blue haze or mist. It was a really memorable sight and photos just don’t do it justice.

Sunday May 5th

A nice leisurely, Sunday morning kind of a start today. We had a plan Рcycling! Another first for the boys. We popped in to Tring for a coffee and spotted what looked like a Banksy.  I suspect it is more likely an attempt to clone a Banksy, but pretty nonetheless.

We took a look at Wendover Woods, but decided it might be a little hilly for for our first foray. Thus – change of plan – we decided to do one of the many “red ways” in Milton Keynes. When the new town was designed (in the early 70s) they really looked to the future and built – alongside the town – a network of dedicated traffic free (thus safe) cycle/footpaths to enable easy non-motorised transit around town.

On the way, we popped in to Willowbridge to see what it was like after so many years had elapsed. Well – it’s not the place it was. Dad and Lynne kept it very smart but it looks less – hmm. Don’t want to offend the current owners but I guess I’d say less cared for. Messy. Past its best. Sad.

We also had a quick drive through Bletchley noting that one of our less favoured pubs – The Plough – had been turned into a mosque. In researching for this article, I note that it was not the most popular decision. For my money, it was a not-very appealing modern pub – as you can see in the pics here – and as it had failed as a pub, I don’t have a problem with it. Bletchley High Street – never the most attractive place – seemed little changed. As we drove through towards Central MK, we both felt that the area had “grown into itself”. More greenery and just generally more established.

We plumped for Great Linford, a pretty little spot on the GU through MK that still retains the pre-MK development village look and feel. We parked and saddled up, with the boys in their back-packs.

We were cycling back towards Bletchley, parallel with the towpath. Now we have been through this stretch on a boat many times but we had never noticed the Brick Kilns that are canal-side (although screened by trees). Beautiful structures. Bricks were formerly big business in the Bucks/Beds area and the famous London Brick Company was a big presence just over the border in Bedfordshire.

Sadly, after having been restored in the 80’s they are now in need of more repair. We cycled a couple of miles, trying the boys running alongside the bikes, which is something they need to get used to doing. Varying degrees of success!¬†As we cycled along, we noted an increase in fairly permanent looking moored boats along the canal.

After a few miles, we stopped and had our picnic lunch and the boys had theirs and then we retraced our steps. It had been a bit stressful but, as another first for them, it had not been a complete disaster!

We set off in the car again and decided we would return home via the Ashridge Estate once more and to make a visit to the rather wonderful¬† Bridgewater Monument in the Park. It seemed that most of the people in the surrounding area had the same idea! We eventually found a parking place though. The boys met loads of dogs and people (as usual). Paul climbed the 172 steps while I waited with the dogs. It’s very pleasant here, with a cafe, and an NT shop, too. Also an ice-cream van. I’ll leave you to guess the outcome of that?

The visit seemed appropriate as our weekend had had a very canal-based theme to it, so far,¬† and Bridgewater is one of THE big names in canal building. He once owned the house and 6,000 acres of the Ashridge Estate. From the top of the monument you get a view of the splendid neo-Gothic Ashridge House, commissioned by the Earl in the early 1800s and now a conference and wedding venue.¬† It’s also reckoned that, on a good day, you can see to Canary Wharf. Today was not that good day.

Then it was back to the van, with two tired boys, for supper and a movie and a good night’s rest.

Monday 6th May
Today was a day for visiting our other less canal-orientated old haunts.  We set off for Dunstable Downs. I though it worth a mention here that Buckinghamshire Рin common with some other counties Рhas a tradition of decorative village signs. This one in Dagnall is a fine example and shows the Whipsnade chalk lion plus a Red Kite,  the rather striking All Saints Church and Рof course Рthe pub.

We arrived at the Downs – only to find that it was pay parking, and since we only really wanted to “poke our nose in” we turned in and then right back out again. We had called in here as this was where we had taken Dad for his 60th birthday. He had always wanted to fly in a glider, so we got him a flight at the London Gliding Club. he loved it and we all had a great day out. Kind of odd to think that I am now older than he was when he took his flight.

We popped in to Luton town centre in search of a coffee but came away empty handed. It was a bit grim, to be honest. We finally found one (Costa) inside a Next at a nearby retail park.

Next port of call was Toddington, in search of the Sow and Pigs pub. Alas, another casualty of cheap beer and wine from the supermarket.

Next stop was Woburn – a beautiful Bedfordshire village. It was caught up with protesters as we went through. They were campaigning for an end to trophy hunting and we tooted our support as we passed. We decided we’d pay for entry to the Gardens at Woburn Abbey but sadly dogs were not allowed entry, so we had to find something else to do. We got a glimpse of some deer in the Deer Park as we drove away.

Next stop was Aspley Guise – smaller than I remembered and I can’t actually recall why the name stuck in my head.¬† But it did! Must ask Lynne. We then pressed on to the nearby woods, where we had a really nice walk with the boys, meeting lots of other dogs again, including a really lovely young Border Terrier. All good for their socialisation and people were very kind in letting a couple of over-exuberant pups mingle with their beloved dogs.


We gave the boys their lunch after their walk and then set off to find some for ourselves. We came across the Flying Fox and it looked quite popular so we thought we’d give it a go. It may have been an off day but our Fish Finger sandwich was distinctly lacklustre. Shame. I threw most of mine away. The boys enjoyed their Dog Beer – called Bottom Sniffer. Yes really!

We set off for home, stopping for an ice cream to make up for the disappointing lunch.¬†Most people were back to work tomorrow and we had “our” field to ourselves, so we had fun cycling round with boys off lead.

We spent the rest of our late afternoon/early evening  doing a bit of packing in preparation for our departure tomorrow morning, watched a bit of television and then had another early night.

Tuesday 7th May
We were up and having breakfast by 07:30 and left the site by 09:00 to sound of a woodpecker. A delightful site – we may well be back!

Our next trip is at the end of May, when we are off to the Forest of Dean for a few days.


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Easter in Devon 18-22 April – and introducing two new members of the family

Thursday 18th
We set off – as is often the case – a little later than planned. We weren’t at all sure how this journey would go as we have extra passengers. Meet Bill & Ted – our new Border Terrier pups.

 

Bill (L) and Ted (R)

This was their first long car journey and we expected that it might be eventful, We had chosen our travelling time to fit in with their sleep routine. They are usually up an hour or two before they have their morning nap. This can often last two hours and we were lucky that they were popped into their crate and they slept for a good couple of hours before we thought it was time to let them have a pee break, a stretch of their legs and some water. It must be said that the lay-bys that accompany the route down to Devon are generally pretty foul – rubbish bins overflowing even before the BH weekend. And rubbish and the smell of pee lurking in the air. Not very nice!

It was lucky that they seemed quite happy in the car, as the traffic was awful and it took us roughly 5 hours. We had stopped another couple of times to feed and water them (and us!) but we were all glad to arrive at out chosen site for the weekend – Galmpton Touring Park.

We checked in – paying an extra ¬£32 for the dogs (we didn’t know we’d have them when we had originally booked) and were shown to our (fully serviced) pitch. It was a great location – just near the dog-walking area and with a lovely river view. We were very happy. We staked the boys out (another first for them) and they played (and fought!) happily whilst we got set up, had a cuppa and a relax. The weather was glorious and looked set fair for the entire weekend. Lucky us. Damp memories of last Easter in Dorset “flooded” my mind. Boy – did it rain!

After we had recovered sufficiently from the arduous journey, we set off out again to familiarise ourselves with the area and do a bit of exploring. Our first port of call was along the lane by the site, which led down to the Greenway ferry. This ferry goes to Dartmouth and beautiful Dittisham (pronounced Ditsam by the locals) just across the river. It’s a foot ferry and dog friendly so we thought we’d come back another time. Greenway, by the way is the former home of famous author, Agatha Christie. Now owned by the National Trust. We then made our way to Dartmouth, via the lower ferry from Kingswear, Dartmouth’s twin, across the River Dart.

“Ditsam”
The Ferry Boat

Parking in Dartmouth is always tricky but we struck very lucky. A parking space beside a pasty shop and a branch of Seasalt. What could be better? I saw a lovely dress and resolved to return when I had a little more time. We managed not to succumb to the pasty on this visit!

We walked along the front and saw 8 Bells – the B&B where Mum and Uncle D had stayed on our last trip to these parts, back in 2008. The boys encountered seagulls for the first time and we met more than a few dogs and people who all wanted to say hello to the boys. This was a foretaste of what was to come! We also met a delightful little girl who was entranced by the boys – who behaved very well with her. She had the most infectious laugh and was clearly delighted to have met them. It was lovely to watch.

8 Bells B&B

We were hungry, dinner was waiting at home (lasgane – yum!) and so our last port of call was Tuckenhay, where we knew there was a lovely pub, right on the Dart (and have visited before). We stopped there for a drink and a few crisps, watching the cormorants, ducks and other birds as they made the most of the river and the beautiful evening. The Maltsters Arms was as beautiful and as popular as ever. Once owned by chef, Keith Floyd, it is an idyllic spot – and actually set not fully on the Dart but on the Harbourne River – a tributary of the Dart, at Bow Creek.

We were very envious of a party – complete with two Norfolk Terriers – who arrived at the pub by boat. What better way, eh? We drove home via Totnes, stopping briefly at The Waterman’s Arms in nearby Ashprington for a photo opportunity. WE noticed that the river was very high and very picturesque. The journey home was redolent of garlic as we brushed past it in abundance along the narrow Devon lanes.

Bow Bridge

We returned home to Galmpton, put the dinner in the oven and took the pups for a walk round the grounds. They drew more admirers. We are quite the proud parents! As dusk fell, all we could hear was sheep in the neighbouring field, the “kraark” of an occasional pheasant and the odd dog bark. Bliss. And what a view. And as night overtook the twilight, we saw a full moon, peeping from the tree-tops. I think we are going to like it here.

Good Friday 19th April

The pups had practiced sleeping in the van, as my brother and family had been staying last weekend. We always use the van as overflow accommodation and so we knew they’d be alright. They awoke around 7-ish and we soon had breakfast for all on the go.

We had spent yesterday evening planning and booking today’s adventure – a “Round Robin” trip, from Totnes to Dartmouth by river, thence to Paignton by steam train and home from Paignton to Totnes on an open top bus. A lot of firsts for those pups!

The tour departed at 10:10 from Totnes, so we set off in plenty of time, having packed everything we thought we’d need in our backpack. It was a beautiful morning and we arrived in good time – although paying for parking and collecting our tickets was a bit of a ‘mare.

Soon we were settled on the boat, near some very friendly dog-loving ladies who loved the boys and exclaimed at how well-behaved they were. The Dart is tidal up to Totnes, so leaving on time is pretty important. It was a lovely cruise of about an hour and a half. Some images from the trip follow

The boys snoozed most of the way and we saw lots of wildlife including cormorants, herons, egrets – even a couple of seals. We loved it.

We arrived in Dartmouth with a little time to kill before we caught the train, so went to buy some lunch for us. We had been to a bakery many years before with my Dad and had our very first Homity Pie. We headed off and found that the bakery was still there and still making them. Paul had a massive Cornish Pasty and I had a Homity Pie – lunch sorted. We mooched about a bit more and I bought a couple of soft toys for the boys to murder. Ruined a charity shop’s Easter display but money’s money!

Homity Pie

We caught the foot passenger ferry to Kingswear, from whence the train departs and waited on the platform for a first glimpse of the train. Our previous dogs (Fred and Archie) had been very afraid of steam trains and we wanted to avoid this if possible with these boys. As the train drew in, we gave them treats and praised them and they didn’t turn a hair. They were quite happy on the very pretty 30 minute journey along the coast too, bless them.

We arrived in Paignton, where we did not intend to stop and transferred to the bus station for our journey back to Totnes. Three new modes of transit in one day and they took it all in their stride(s).

It was another pleasant journey, with good views across the countryside. Once back, we had the obligatory ice-cream – rum and raisin and coffee for me and double honeycomb crunch for Paul – and the tips of the cones for the boys. Bad habits. Bad parents.

We returned to the van and all of us had a snooze before waking up for a cuppa and a Hot Cross Bun (us) and some water (them). And then it was out for another, early evening explore. This evening’s destination was firstly Broadsands Bay, where the boys had a their first ever paddle.

We then went for drinks at The River Shack in Stoke Gabriel – again on the river. We had a drink and soaked up the atmosphere before heading home. The menu looked fab but we had a meal waiting for us at home, so,
after drinks we returned home for dinner – fish and chips and mushy peas (home made). Gotta have fish on Good Friday. .

Easter Saturday 20th April

Today’s destination was Salcombe via Dartmouth, where I made a quick return visit to Seasalt and came out with a delish new summer outfit. Love the colours!

We drove up the coast, passing the site where we had stayed in on our 2008 vist at Stoke Fleming and thence via Blackpool Sands to Strete Gate beach, where we stopped for a very good coffee (at The Lime Coffee Company) and a play on the beach for the boys. They had a slight altercation – not of their making – with a seemingly ownerless and quite aggressive dog but came out of it unscathed.

After our break, we pressed on down the coast via the famous Slapton Sands – virtually decimated by the Beast from the East but now repaired and back to normal. Slapton beach was used by US forces as a rehearsal for the D Day and an interesting tale involving a Sherman Tank can be found here.

There is a wealth of wildlife at Slapton Ley – a large lake – which is separated from the sea by a thin strip of shingle, as can be seen in the picture above.

Paul had an urge to find the tidal road and ford we had found near East Portlemouth on our 2008 trip, so we set off in search of it. The lanes are so pretty with spring flowers of all varieties and the sunshine made everything look so fresh and verdant. Spring is such a heartening season and it promises so much – but doesn’t always deliver!

We eventually found the very ford where we had stopped and taken photos and it seemed only right to do so again. The boys were happy to stretch their legs too.

We thought we might catch the foot ferry from East Portlemouth to Salcombe and had a long, windy and ultimately frustrating trip to find nowhere to park. That was that idea scuppered. The only option was to drive to Salcombe via Kingsbridge (it is the other side of the estuary and this is the only crossing). Our route took us through South Pool, a very pretty village, where a quintessentially English duck race and Easter Bonnet competition was taking place. Delightful. There was an army of stewards guiding traffic through the narrow main street.

Easter Bonnets in South Pool

We eventually arrived in Salcombe – the perfect Spring weather and traffic had already indicated that this was maybe not the greatest idea and the town was heaving with people making the most of the holiday weekend. We struck very lucky and found a place to park for an hour. Progress through the town with the boys was – as now seems usual – very slow. Everyone wanted to greet them. All very good training and very lovely for us proud parents – but we were HUNGRY! I was hankering after a crab sandwich and we found the very place. The Crab Shed. Two rounds made freshly before our very eyes. We went and sat on the quay and watched the boats as we ate them. We fed the boys too so we were all satisfied.

Time to make our way home. We went via Dartmouth, taking the Higher Ferry this time, for a change. This is a much bigger ferry. I actually prefer the lower ferry. It’s cosier. Time for a snooze.

Tonight we visited Brixham on our evening drive out. We went for a pleasant walk around the Battery Gardens where we (but not the boys!) saw many rabbits. Well worth a visit.

Easter Sunday 20th April

Another lovely day and we were aiming for Dartmoor. Our last visit had been a little disappointing as it had been very foggy. No such problems today! We drove via Totnes, taking a quick passage through the town to see the sights.

We then meandered around the steep and windy lanes – taking turns at will, just for fun. And then – oh calamity! – we took a very innocent looking lane. It was clearly marked on the map but turned out to be a bit of a disaster!. It was very steep and riddled with massive potholes. If we’d been in a 4 wheel drive – such as Dolly Disco or Kitty Kia – they would have eaten it. But Vicky Volvo is a little less rugged. We ended up reversing for quite a way and then performing a 96 point turn in a gateway. Oops! We kept seeing this guy dressed quite formally for walking the lanes. He had a massive Mexican style moustache and seemed to be stalking us! This may have been him.

We eventually made our way to Harford, where we set up our chairs, walked the dogs and generally relaxed for a couple of hours. We staked them out and they enjoyed foraging for crud to eat, including twigs, bracken but largely rabbit droppings. Monsters! They loved it though!

It was a blissful spot and we even heard a cuckoo, which made my heart soar, as it seems so much rarer these days, as they are, very sadly, in decline. This is probably as a result of changing methods in agriculture, lack of habitat for the host birds (they are nest stealers!). They have always been the harbingers of summer, arriving from Africa, where they spend the winter. My childhood memories, where it is always summer, seem to be punctuated by the cuckoo’s call.

We passed a happy couple of hours here and the sun was so strong, I later realised I was actually sunburnt! In April!

We reluctantly returned home, via Totnes, where another visit to Steamer Quay yielded yet more Ice Creams.

Our last evening saw us making a last visit down to Greenway Quay for a last look at the river and walk for the boys. We had had a very pleasant stay in Galmpton and were not looking forward to grappling with Bank Holiday Monday traffic, but it had to be done. NB – no chocolate was consumed on this day. What’s going on????

Easter Monday 21st April

The boys woke up early, we packed up, traffic was awful, we got home eventually. Not a lot more to say really! It was nice to be home and we unpacked, mowed the lawn, put the washing out and finally relaxed. Until the next Bank Holiday, in a couple of week’s time, when we’ll be returning to Buckinghamshire for a trip of reminiscence and – hopefully – towpath cycling with the boys. Watch this space!

The boys and their Easter Gifts


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A Weekend Close to Home 15-17 February 2019

It seems a long time since our lovely break in the Cotswolds at the tail end of last year/beginning of this, so we were really happy to be spending a weekend near lovely Chichester. Especially as it really seems as if Spring is in the air.

I had chosen a stay at Concierge Camping as a surprise and a sort of Valentines treat for Paul although, typically, I could not keep the secret in!! We had an “Emperor Pitch” – which is a fully serviced pitch PLUS. And what a plus! More later.

Friday

We set off, late afternoon, as it was so close and arrived at our destination in around half an hour. The site is nominally located in West Ashling – about 5 miles from the town of Chichester. A word of caution – you can get to the site by taking the first left (on the B2146) after you have crossed over the A27, but this is a very narrow route and – we are told – is often overgrown in the summer and may cause scratching. It is better to proceed to the next left at the T-junction and follow the road (Ratham Lane) until you reach the next junction, where you turn left. See map below.

We got a friendly welcome at the very smart reception and were soon driving round to our pitch – Augustus – yes, they are all named after Roman Emperors. It was a beautiful evening so we resolved to pitch up as soon as poss and then pop back to reception for coffee (Nespresso) and a piece of Victoria Sandwich. We also needed to buy some wood and fire-starters for the wood-burner. For the pitch comes with a massive Safari tent, complete with facilities including a fridge/freezer, dishwasher (I know right!) and sink unit with granite worktops. Also a dining table (which would easily seat 10 people) plus a log burning stove with small oven and hot plate. Did I mention the coat rack? Or the Nespresso machine? Or the 50″ TV? And free wi-fi. It was A-MAZ-ING! Npow – I know the purists among you would probably say “Well – that’s not camping!”. Well I disagree. It’s camping to the MAX!! As you know – we are not fans of fancy-schmancy sites, preferring really quite basic ones. But this is something rather special and was such a treat. We were very excited.

We had a quick look round the tent (and tent hardly seems the right word for the structure, to be honest) and then finished our set up, and popped over to reception. There is a fridge with local beers and champagne, plus local produce, plus chocolates etc. and a bar. And every morning, you can buy fresh Viennoiserie for your breakfast, too. We had a nice chat with the owner and a very nice coffee and cake. We bought some beer and some logs and some Twizlers – a “green” form of fire-lighter, made from natural waste wood, and set off back to the van. Reader – this was a weekend in February and I had overheard the chap turn someone away as they were full that weekend. Not surprising – even though it’s not cheap.

We lit the fire in the Tent and then Paul popped over to the shower block to shower and shave, as he had an early start the next morning. He came back full of admiration for the shower rooms – of which there are four. They are very hi-tech. When empty, there is an arc of green LEDs around the door-frame which, when you enter, turn to red, so that people can see at a glance that they are engaged. There is a basin and shower cubicle, with bench. All in granite. The shower is a rain-forest style with an additional handheld head for those hard to reach places. Perfect. And – to accompany you while you shower – there is a SONOS speaker (a Play:1 for the geeks among you!) in each each cubicle. They opened in 2015 and it’s hardly surprising that they already have won a clutch of awards – including a recent and prestigious Campsite of the Year and also a Loo of the Year. I’m going on a bit aren’t I? But you would too,. Honest!

Anyway – dinner followed and an early night. There is very slight “road roar” from the A27 nearby but nothing excessive and we had a peaceful and restful night.

Saturday

Paul wanted to rush back home to play Walking Football, which is his new passion. For the uninitiated, it is a game for senior players (over 50) which outlaws all running and allows no contact between players. It also has over-head height restrictions and indirect free kicks which help to ensure that it can be played with less risk of injury. It was conceived in 2011 and is gaining popularity all round Britain and there are also clubs in Europe and further afield – even one in Vancouver and as far away as Sydney.

He arose quietly (but still woke me up) and set off, so I got up and went to the ablutions. We had friends coming over for dinner and by the time her arrived back on site, I had showered, dried my hair, put on my make-up and made some (delicious!) fresh Pineapple Salsa to accompany the Chicken and Chorizo Quesadillas which were to be our starter, plus some Banoffee Tartlets for dessert.

He quickly showered again and then we set off for a visit to Chichester itself. We parked in North Street – just opposite the old flint ex-Council building, that is now a branch of Jack Wills. We walked up to the top of the road before making our way back, calling into a nice variety of charity shops, where I made a couple of purchases – including a nice vase to put some flowers on the table for this evening’s dinner. We also pressed our nose against the windows of the amazing Cafe Paradiso, which was absolutely buzzing and which had a fine array of goodies, from which we managed to tear ourselves away without succumbing.

We popped into Lakeland, where I bought a dog bone shaped cookie cutter for a future project and some re-usable bowl covers (to avoid using so much cling-film). They are great – although they look like the old-fashioned plastic pants that used to go over a terry nappy! They are still plastic, but multi-use, which is better, but still not the best thing for the planet. I did have some beeswax ones, which are compostable, but they are quite expensive – especially when “someone” who shall remain nameless, but whose initials may contain a P and and S, throws them away after use.

Then it was coffee time, and we popped in to Luckes, and this time did NOT manage to avoid the goodies. By the time we had finished our coffee, our parking was up, so we returned to the car. We popped to Homebase (more logs) and Sainsbury’s (flowers) and then back to Turner’s Pies in East Gate Square for a Cornish Pasty (Paul) and a Cheese and Onion Slice (me) for our lunch and then it was back to the van.

After lunch and a bit of a relax, we carried on with prepping for dinner, doing everything we could do in advance, so that the evening ran smoothly. Our friends, local showbiz couple Peta and Steve Reading were scheduled to arrive at 7:30. We had asked them to keep the evening free, told them to wrap up warm (just in case) and informed them that they were coming to a venue near Chichester, but gave them no more details. They were intrigued. And we gave them half the postcode around mid-afternoon and the remainder at around teatime. Just before they were due to leave home, we gave them some additional instructions and asked them to ring as they turned into the lane leading towards the site. Paul would be waiting for them.

We had lit the fire a little earlier to ensure that the “Tent” was nice and warm and – to our horror – managed to set light to the heat-proof gloves provided for dealing with the stove, which had been left on the hot-plate. It turns out that they generate a great deal of acrid grey smoke! So we had to open every orifice of the – by then – lovely warm tent to let out all the smoke. This discovery was made at around 7:10 but luckily it warmed up again pretty quickly.

Our guests arrived and were offered drinks. They were enchanted with the tent and the venue in general. We were trying out a new (to us at least) mixer for rum – Schweppe’s 1783 Muscovado. We used it over ice with a squeeze of and a slice of lime and it was really rather tasty!

The first course was the Quesadillas, which we cooked on the Cadac. They went down very well. This was followed by steak (a tad undercooked – initially – for some tastes) again cooked on the Cadac and accompanied by Parmesan Polenta chips and a rocket salad. I made the mushroom sauce for the steaks on the hotplate of the wood-burner, which was handy. And then came the Banoffee pie.

After dinner, we retired to the easy chairs, which Paul had picked up whilst he was back in Portchester (along with some proper plates etc, as there was a dishwasher). It was a cosy and warm evening and our guests eventually left at around midnight. We quickly piled all the stuff in the dishwasher and closed the fire down and retired. What a lovely evening.

Sunday

After another restful night, we arose, had brekker and finished clearing up in the tent. The owner popped round to remind us that we needed to be off site by midday. We fessed up about the gloves and he was lovely about it. We offered to pay but he would have none of it. I said it must happen a lot and he told me that it had happened only twice. And both of those had been that very weekend! Would you believe it?!

We finished packing up and were rolling out of the entrance at about ten to twelve. And home before 1! Marvellous. Would we come again? You betcha! It’s a great and really quite different model for camping and seems to be very successful. We loved it. It’s also child and dog friendly and has several ” Safari Lodges” that sleep either 4 or 6 people. They are very luxuriously appointed and would be great for a family birthday or suchlike. I think you could, henceforth, describe us as big fans of Concierge Camping. We highly recommend a visit and will definitely return. Book early though, as it is very popular.

Our house is on the market (and has been for some while) so planning ahead is a bit tricky. But we have booked for a break down in Devon at Easter and will try to squeeze in another weekend away before then, if at all possible.


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Twixtmas 2018 – 28 Dec 2018 to 1st January 2019

I’ve probably said it before, but what a revolting expression that is, eh? It refers of course to those lost, dead days between Christmas and New Years day, where we all stumble around in bloated bewilderment. Those odd days before the shock of how much we actually spent and how much weight we have put on hits us.

I think you can gather that I am no great fan of Christmas these days. It has lost its sparkle for me. We all have way too much stuff and too much disposable income. I look back to the Christmases of my childhood with misty eyes. In retrospect, it all seemed so much simpler then. And it didn’t start way too early as it does today, thanks to the evils of TV and capitalism. Thus it’s a big bah humbug from me. I am also not a fan of enforced merriment on New Year’s Eve. This may all be due to my advancing years but I am, simply put, over it.

For the last few years we have gone away to spend the period somewhere quiet and – preferably – away from fireworks, because of poor Archie, who was terrified of them. But he is no more. Miss him terribly.

Friday 28th

This year we chose a spot in the Cotswolds, just outside the regency spa town of Cheltenham. It’s a part of the Cotswolds which we have not much explored. We chose a CS (a small, private site) in Gotherington, home of the famous Prescott Hill Climb and the Bugatti Owners Club. The CS – Pardon Hill Farm – has just 5 pitches, all of which are fully serviced (constant water and drainage) and boasting a flat level, hard-standing with beautiful views over the hills. And all this for only ¬£16 per night. Perfect.

We left home at around 10:15. It was the first outing for our new tow car. I say new but it’s actually a 10 year old Volvo V70 with 123,000 miles on the clock. We set off a little tentatively but we needn’t have worried. She (Vicky the Volvo) did the job with ease. We arrived – after victualling stops – just before 3 pm but missed it on our first pass. Manoeuvring a caravan on narrow country lanes is no mean feat anyway  – hats off to cool-as-a-cucumber Paul  – and thank goodness for Prescott (which was closed) into the entrance of which we turned in slight desperation! We had to unhitch to carry out the turn around but this was swiftly accomplished and we were soon heading back the couple of hundred yards to the site. It really could do with a little more obvious signage. We were both looking out for it and also going slowly but still missed it. No real harm done, though and we were soon setting up and settling down for the evening.

As we were setting up, we heard a steam whistle and the lovely sound of a steam train. The line for the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway ran along the bottom of the field! Excellent.  We often have a quick orientation outing when we first arrive on site but neither of us felt like moving that evening. We had a lovely meal – one of my favourites of the Christmas period – of cold home-baked gammon, egg and chips. Lush! Followed by an early night. We were lulled to sleep by the soft hooting of an owl and rudely awoken in the morning by the harsh “crarks” of a couple of pheasants!

Saturday 29th

After a windy night (which had nothing to do with sprouts, thank you!) we set off for the Cheltenham Park and Ride at the Race Course. Very efficient it was too and we soon arrived in town.

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Lloyds Bank

We had a good look round the very large shopping area and a delicious lunch in Yo Sushi and then made our way back to the P&R and the car. We made a quick visit to Cook, to pick up a couple of meals (Salmon and Asparagus Bake and Steak and Kidney pie – both delicious) and then set off again.

The plan was to visit pretty little Winchcombe via a pleasant B road type of route (aka  one of Paul’s Misery Tours). Our route took us past Brockhampton Park in Sevenhampton. Not to be confused with the Brockhampton Estate in Herefordshire, which is managed by the National Trust. This is a beautiful old house, built in the 1600s and now – after being acquired and stripped by asset strippers in the late 70s – divided into flats. Probably a casualty of Inheritance Tax/Death Duties.

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Brockhampton Park

Winchcombe was busy, but we managed to find a space to park and set off to explore. I had not found anything I wanted to buy in Cheltenham but there were any number of lovely little shops in Winchcombe, including the lovely Emporium Gift Shop, where I was forced to part with some hard-earned cash! We also had a coffee (tea for Paul) and cake in Food Fanatics cafe. I had a piece of Mincemeat Shortbread (you can watch out for that next year!). And then it was home to our cosy van for the evening. More trains, more owls, more pheasants.

Sunday 29th

After a delicious breakfast of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, we set off for Tewkesbury. It was a lovely sunny morning and the drive through the beautiful countryside was very pleasant. We visited the Marina (of course!) , which is set at the junction where the Avon joins the Severn and the Abbey (although not inside as it was Sunday) and then popped down to Lower Lode, a favourite mooring for my Dad and my stepmother, Lynne in their boating days.

Tewkesbury is famous for its role in the Wars of the Roses in 1471. A decisive battle was fought here not far from the Abbey. We were amused to see, during our perambulation about town, an ancient helmet hanging from a sadly run down house. I thought perhaps it was from the Civil War but that maybe wrong? Although there was definitely fighting around Tewkesbury at that time. Anyone? Check out the hole (left hand side), though! Rust or a direct hit, I wonder?

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The Lower Lode

We then set off for Gloucester Docks. This was a bit of a disappointment We had overnight-ed here about 15 years ago on our way down to the end of the Gloucester and Sharpness canal. It had probably just started to be “gentrified” then but still had a bit of charm. Now it is really and truly gentrified. Or ruined as I like to call it. Horrible new Outlet Shopping centre with lots of chain eateries. That said, we did lunch in Carluccios!

Sunset at Gloucester Docks Aug 2004

We had a larger than usual lunch as we planned to snack on the Cheese Mountain we had brought with us from home that evening.

We were off, that evening – after a beepy,  to Sudeley Castle  (final resting place of Catherine Parr)  to the Alice in Wonderland-themed “Spectacle of Light” – and what a spectacle it was. We had a brilliant time and would suggest a look at the video in this link to get a real flavour of what we saw – our pics hardly do it justice.

It was unseasonably warm – hardly any need for a coat (I wore a gilet) but a hot choc and doughnut break was still essential. And then – cheese beckoned. Followed eventually by bed. No cheese nightmares for me!

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Monday 31st

To the Race Course again – but this time for a ride on the Steam Railway. The line has been restored by volunteers from Cheltenham to Broadway. They have even built a brand new station at the terminus, which opened earlier this year. The station had the effect of doubling the number of passengers!

We boarded the train with great excitement. The carriage we were in very much reminded me of a train trip I had done with my mother when quite young. We went down to Plymouth on the train to see Dad (who was then in the Navy) and the main thing I remember was having dinner on the train. I recall feeling very grown up.

We looked out at the beautiful countryside – especially as we passed through  Gotherington station, in the hope that we would catch a glimpse of where we were staying, but the line is down in a cutting then,  so all we got was a glimpse of muddy bank.

I couldn’t help but also recall Stevenson’s famous poem “From a Railway Carriage” which I learnt as a child:

Faster than fairies, faster than witches, Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;

And charging along like troops in a battle, All through the meadows the horses and cattle:

All of the sights of the hill and the plain fly as thick as driving rain;

And ever again, in the wink of an eye, painted stations whistle by. Here is a child who clambers and scrambles, all by himself and gathering brambles;

Here is a tramp who stands and gazes; and there is the green for stringing the daisies!

Here is a cart run away in the road, lumping along with man and load;

And here is a mill and there is a river: Each a glimpse and gone for ever! R L Stevenson

I remember particularly liking the mention of “lumping along” – an expression which I still use to this day. I am a bit of a “lumper” myself! I guess steam railways have a very nostalgic effect, especially on those who are old enough to recall the “Golden Age of Steam”, as I am.  I remember the steam trains at my local station and playing dare on the footbridge as a train went through. You had to stand there all through the billowing smoke, without flinching or screaming. Maybe not very daring by today’s standards but it certainly seemed it then! It was pretty exhilarating.

We stayed on the train at turn round and headed back to Cheltenham and then picked up the car and quickly drove back to Broadway as we wanted to visit the Tower.  We had a quick and quite late lunch in the town and a wander up and down. It really is a beautiful town. with some lovely shops. We were particularly taken with the Deli and I hanker after a stay at the Lygon Arms one day.

And so – as the light faded (although I swear it’s getting dark later!) we made our way back to the van for our last night before returning home. We stayed up until gone midnight , which was a surprise as I wasn’t sure I’d make it earlier in the evening! My last task of the 2018 was beating Paul 2-1 at Cribbage. A fitting end, I feel.

Jan 1st

We’d had a nice, relaxing break after the madness leading up to Christmas, Vicky had done us proud and there was a shiny New Year to start on. I wonder, as I write, what this year will bring. Our plans are currently on hold as we can’t seem to sell our house. Let’s hope the market picks up and we can embark upon the new life we had planned. It seems we shall be keeping the caravan a little longer than we had anticipated, so look out for more adventures in the following months. Already have a trip booked for February. Never one to let the grass grow!


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A quick catch up – it’s been a while!

22nd to 25th November

We made a repeat visit to the lovely Orchard Bank near Yatton because Paul had some business to do at HQ. We decided that we’d also go to Bath Christmas Market and make a weekend of it.

It was lovely to arrive on the Thursday evening. We’re not generally returners, but coming to Orchard Bank seems to feel a bit like coming home. We even got “our pitch”.¬† Funny to feel so territorial.

Paul went off to work on Friday morning and I settled down to do some work on the forthcoming Christmas Show I was producing and then I got a phone call. It was my friend Heather, who lives in Yatton and who is the sister of my dear friend Linda. She was free and would be popping in to see me. How lovely!¬†And she arrived with a treat from the renowned Pullin’s bakery in Yatton. Doubly welcome! We had a nice chat and then she went on her way and left me to my work.

I had a beepy in the afternoon and then Paul arrived home from work. We popped to Yatton for a couple of things we needed and grabbed a quick coffee at the aptly named “That Coffee Place”. Then it was home for dinner and an early night.

Saturday morning saw us up early, ready for our trip to Bath. We were going by train from Yatton and it seemed like a bit of an adventure. I love a train journey.¬† We had to change at Bristol Temple Meads¬†and as we boarded the next train there was a person handing out Brownies. How very civilised! I don’t recall that happening on my daily commutes of old!¬† Then it was a short hop to Bath Spa station. This station was clearly seriously geared up for the influx (and indeed the outflux), with queuing systems and a leaflet on the services especially for the Christmas Market. And people were pouring in to the town! Trade was brisk and it was a short step to the Market. Everywhere was bedecked in its Christmas finery and I felt the first real twinge of Christmassyness.

I have visited before but Paul was quite overwhelmed at the sheer size of it all. It was a grey and drizzly day (grizzly?) but they even had laid on some snow. It was very pretty but does not photograph very well, hence no evidence of it. There was stall after stall all around the town and our noses were assailed by the smells of mulled wine, sausages, cinnamon and other good Christmassy things. And there was plenty to ooh and ah over.

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Our first stop was for coffee at the very pretty Sweet Little Things tea room on Lower Borough Walls.¬† It was one of those days where you have to dress for inclement weather but, the minute you go inside, it’s like you’re in a sauna. Suitably refreshed, we wandered round the market for a while until lunch beckoned. Now that was a real challenge! Everywhere was inundated with people. They get over 400,000 visitors to the market each year and I reckon half of them were there that day!

We eventually decided on Bill’s and joined the queue to be seated. It didn’t take too long. We had the Sauna effect again, though! It was a relief to sit down, in truth and we enjoyed our lunch. Then it was out to the market/shops for another hour or so, before we decided we’d had enough. We walked back via Pulteney Bridge, overlooking the much-photographed Weir, remembering the very happy times we had spent there, visiting by narrowboat and thence to the station. It was about 3 pm and seemingly a good time to leave as the queuing system was starting to be enforced. We hopped on the train, canal-spotting as we made the return journey. Last Christmas, whilst staying at Bath Chew Valley site,¬† we had cycled along the disused railway line and we spotted that too.

We relaxed for the evening and then packed up and returned home on the Sunday morning, feeling a little more like Christmas was on the way than we had before our visit.


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The Spinney – for the Alresford Show – 30/8 to 2/9

Thursday 30th Aug

This was our annual Evie and Lenny weekend, which had had to be re-arranged due to Paul’s work commitments. It was originally scheduled to have been on the August Bank Hols weekend and we are actually glad that we didn’t have them with us, in the end,¬† as the the weather was rather less than sparkly.

I drove to pick them up, together with Uncle D (who had been staying at Bruce & Mel’s for a couple of days) and we met at the usual venue – Guildford Cathedral on Thursday afternoon. The arranged time was 2 pm and I drove into the grounds and parked, swiftly followed by Bruce. Very handy. We loaded up with all their bits and pieces and drove home, after dropping off Uncle D.

George had very kindly given up his bedroom for the night for Lenny. George would be sleeping in the van and Lenny was very excited to have a double bed to himself. Poor Lenny was finding it hard to be in the house and going away in the caravan with Archie. He really did love that dog.

After dinner (perennial favourite meatballs and Spaghetti) we went out for a trip down to Southsea and rocked up at the fair – which is not what it used to be but pretty amazing through a kid’s eyes. But it closes at 8 pm these days! What’s that all about? We went on the Big Wheel all together and then we split up – Lenny and I on the Roller Coaster and Evie and Uncle Paul on the Waltzer. Then we bought pots of 2p coins and had fun on the cascades. Lenny learnt that fairgrounds are not very fair. A hard lesson.

And then it was back  for hot chocolate and bed. Lenny went out like a light and Evie followed soon after.

Friday 31st Aug

Paul did the breakfast shift and then I took over while he worked. We wiled away an hour or so with TV and games and then we popped out to see Sue and her new Puppy РLulu.  Lulu was very excited to see us and I think she was a bit much for Lenny! Luckily, Sue and Paul have a new trampoline and they both enjoyed playing on that while Sue and I had a catch-up.

On the way home for lunch, we popped into to Sainsburys. As is traditional, the kids had packed unsupervised and – as is always the case -there were obviously missing items. Just pants this year. Most years it’s pants AND socks. I think their parents use it as an opportunity to refresh the kids’ underwear drawer –¬† for free!! We also bought comics – to tide us over until Uncle Paul could finish work.

Then it was home for lunch and a short wait until it was time for them to help with the hooking-up process. Lenny was allowed to use the motor mover, which he seemed to enjoy. And then we were off. It’s less than an hour to New Alresford – although we took a slightly dodgy route down a narrow lane! Don’t ask! But we had visited The Spinney last year, too, and were soon set up and the kids were very helpful again, with Lenny helping Uncle Paul with the steadies and Evie going off to fetch the water.

The people opposite us had a drone and were flying it which afforded us some amusement. There were a couple of other vans there, but plenty of space for Lenny to kick a ball around (with out any fear of damaging other units) and he and Paul spent some time doing that. But soon there was more work to do.

We had bought a new “event shelter” after a tip-off. They were reduced to ¬£12.95 and looked too good to pass on, so this was a first outing for it. Useful if we want to cook outside and it’s raining. The kids helped us erect that and then it was time for them to cook their dinner. Sausages, smiles and beans for them, mash for us. I think they enjoyed the process and were overjoyed to have potato smiles as a treat. Poor deprived kids!

While I washed up, Paul and the kids walked into town to pick up the one thing we had forgotten. I have now forgotten what that was! But it doesn’t matter, they enjoyed the walk.¬† When they got back, Lenny wiped up and then we played a game of “Say What” and then it was time for all of us to go to bed – a process which took at least half an hour, maybe longer. We read for a bit and then it was lights out.

Saturday 1st September

Well¬† – we weren’t expecting that! No-one stirred until gone 8 o’clock. How lovely! We are used to an early start with them but this was really quite civilised.¬† We had breakfast and then set off for the show. We parked and walked through to the site and started looking at all the stalls. Lenny spotted some finger-less gloves which he ABSOLUTELY had to have, despite attempted persuasion otherwise. We saw some Giant African Snails – which only I had the nerve to hold (look at Len’s face!) and then made our way to the climbing wall and Lenny had a go on that – he’s the right build for climbing. Then the kids had a milkshake, while I queued for coffee.

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Unbeknownst to the kids, we had arranged for George and Beth to join us for the day, so that the cousins could spend a rare day together,¬† and we met up with them, before touring the livestock section. By now it was very hot indeed! We stopped in at the petting farm and talked to turkeys, chatted to chickens, gossiped with goats, dallied with donkeys and then¬†cuddled a few furry things. Finally the kids both had a go at milking – kinda…

We then moved on through to the sheep, where I showed Lenny just how deep a sheep’s wool was (and thus how hot they might be) then cattle, then pigs and then we were all thirsty so we went for a drink and a sit down.

Beth and I had frozen cocktails which were amazing. We ate our picnic and then set off again. Daredevil Lenny wanted to go on the scary looking slide thing , so we took advantage of some seats in the shade while he climbed up and threw himself off a tall thing.

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Evie and I then went and watched the Donkey racing (hilarious!) while Len took a few photo opportunities and had a go on a ride simulator (of sorts!).

We were all boiling hot and decided to decamp to New Alresford, where there is a nice ice-cream parlour/ tea room. But first there was a few vintage cars to pose by.

It was a good decision. The Tiffin Tea Rooms have a great choice of cakes and some lovely ice-cream flavours and we were soon all tucking in.

After that, we said goodbye to George and Beth and went back to the van. We decided to show the kids how to play Petanque with Paul coaching Lenny and me coaching Evie and we all had a fun game. I can’t actually remember who won, but it didn’t really matter. Paul and Lenny went off to play more football while Evie and I read for a bit and then it was time to get ready to go out. We were off to Pizza Express for dinner. It was a very pleasant meal and we enjoyed just sitting and chatting. I noticed how grown and confident my lovely Evie had become when she went off to the loo all on her own. Even a year ago she would have wanted someone to go with her. Lenny has always had that confidence, bless him.

We went back to the van and played a game of Beetle. I think Paul won that too! And then it was the bedtime routine  Рwhich seemed to go on a bit Рbut we were soon all snuggled in bed. I think all of us were tired because it went quiet quite quickly!

Sunday 2nd September

We awoke at a reasonable hour and set about making Blueberry Pancakes. I use a very simple Jamie recipe that just uses cups, so there is no need for scales and other complicated equipment – although a whisk does come in handy. If there are only two of you – use a small teacup and for four use a larger mug. It’s so easy.

Recipe

1 cup SR flour

1 cup of milk

1 egg

Punnet of blueberries

Whisk all the ingredients together before adding the blueberries. Use a hot surface – a frying pan would do – very lightly greased. Pour a circle(s) of batter onto the hot surface – they will spread a bit, so remember to leave a gap between them. They are usually cooked one side when you can see dimples/holes in the raw side. Flip them over and cook that side until it has the right shade of brown for you and serve. I serve with maple syrup but the choice is yours.

The kids seemed to enjoy making the batter and cooking them – and they certainly enjoyed eating them! They went down very well indeed.

After brekker, Lenny did some more boules practice – declaring it his favourite game after football. He looked pretty good after a bit of practice. And then it was more football for the boys, while Evie and I started gathering up their bits and pieces and packing them ready to return them to their parents. It had all gone way too quickly and we had had such a lovely time. We gave them lunch and snacks for the journey and off they went.

We had decided that – for speed – I would stay and tidy up the van while Paul ran the kids back to Guildford. I was so sad to see them go. Look forward to spending more time with them soon. It didn’t take Paul long – straight up the Hog’s Back to Guildford. I had only just finished cleaning and tidying when he arrived back and we quickly packed up the van and were home in time to have a bit of a relax, before the next week kicked off. I’m not currently sure when our next time away in the van will be, so keep a look out for our next adventure.

 


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Bristol to Wales 23-27 August

Thursday 23rd

We’re back at Orchard Bank – it’s been a while! We did all the tasks that required us to nip back home on Wednesday and made the return journey today, at about 18:30. We drove through the heart of Bristol this time and it was nice to see all the sights. It was also lovely to see our van safe and sound when we arrived. So grateful to the owners of the site for keeping a lookout. And it kind of feels like home, somehow?

We had stopped for a very naughty – and very rare – MacDonalds on the way, so no food was required. Just a quick coffee and then it was lights out for yet another early start.

Friday 24th

We had originally booked to stay at the next site – Llangorse Lake – from the Thursday night and had thus rung and arranged to arrive early today – because we could. It would also help avoid the Bank Hol weekend traffic – or that was the plan. So the alarm was set for 06:00 and we got up and packed the van and hitched up for a last pass through those blooming gates. I’m not really complaining – they are a necessary evil and would make it pretty hard to make a fast get-away. Although, I guess if you’re nicking a caravan, you’re not going to be too scrupulous about closing a couple of gates! But they might be a bit of a deterrent?¬† It’s a pretty tight exit actually! But soon we were on our way. We have really enjoyed this CL and will definitely stay again, should the need arise. We’d be glad to.

We planned to stop at the first services to grab brekker “on the hoof”, but sadly that plan went awry when we missed the flipping exit. I say we –¬† but as I wasn’t driving I was reading…. Ah well. The first opportunity (it’s not always easy stopping when your total length is around 12.5 metres!) to stop was thus at Morrisons in Abergavenny. The coffee wasn’t bad but I threw my pastry away half-eaten. Vile.

We pressed on and the traffic was not too bad (phew!) and we arrived at Llangorse at around 09:30. We set up and had a bowl of cereal and I had a bit of a relax while Paul did a bit of work. The skies opened and it poured down. We were under a tree, which makes the  rain sound worse somehow and the sound of large acorns bouncing on the roof only added to the noise! But eventually it cleared up and we set off out.

Llangorse Lake Campsite view

We thought we’d pop to Brecon for a look round but as we arrived it started to heave it down. We bolted into Costa and took refuge in a coffee until it passed again. I wondered if this would be the weather story all weekend. Brecon is a nice little town and we remembered our visit there some years ago with our friends Sue & Paul and our lovely dogs Freddie and Archie, both of whom we miss terribly. It was in August 2007, before we started caravanning, but I remembered that the site was called¬† Brynich. It seems it is now a Caravan and Motorhome Club site. We had a lot of laughs at that site in our tenting days.

A few views of Brecon:

We had hired a day boat on the Mon and Brec canal with Paul & Sue, and this fact leads me to our next destination Рwe popped to have a quick look at the canal and were lucky enough to see a boat in the lock. It was the trip boat from Brecon. The canal is an interesting size, being wider than the usual narrow canal lock width (such as on the Oxford Canal) which is 7 feet, but not as wide as the usual wide lock Р(such as on the Trent & Mersey Canal) which is 14 feet. The Mon & Brec locks are around 9 feet wide and their wide boats are, of course, built accordingly. So Рconsider yourself informed!! The canal runs adjacent to the very attractive River Usk, which is crossed by a packhorse bridge nearby, where my Lord and Master is pictured.

We then took a general tour of the area, mainly reservoirs – Talybont, Ponsticill¬†etc and they all looked pretty low on water after our very hot summer. We also had a lunch stop near Torpantau at the Old Barn Tea Rooms. Very pleasant and nice, freshly-made sarnies. After which we looked out for the Brecon Mountain Railway,¬†as we had spotted odd puffs of steam and heard a whistle. We got an all too brief glimpse and, sadly, you’ll have to rely on the pictures on the link above,¬† but we also saw a very attractive ventilation shaft for a disused tunnel at Pant Station. Sadly it was too late to take a trip but it does look well worth doing.

It took about an hour to get back home to the van and we had time for a quick wash and brush up before going out for dinner. I had booked a table at Hills, just outside Brecon. It’s a burger joint with wonderful views of the Beacons. We had a lovely meal and would definitely return if we were in the area again. We drove home and¬†settled down for the remainder of the evening, although it wouldn’t¬† be a late night, in view of our recent early rises. Or that was the plan. We were snoozing soundly when we were awoken by our new neighbours arriving back at their moho with their three barking dogs and loud “see you tomorrows” and lots of noisy laughter. Which went on a bit. There are rules on campsites¬† – usually no noise after 10:30¬† – which most people (including us) follow religiously. Not them.¬† I asked them to desist but they carried on regardless. We were not amused.

Saturday 26th

We awoke quite early (must be getting used to it?) and found ourselves moving around and whispering so as not to disturb our neighbours, who had not yet surfaced. I actually felt like making an unholy racket but that would have been childish and we are above that sort of behaviour. Mostly….

Today , we had planned to go boating on the Lake, but the weather looked more than a bit iffy and we didn’t want to take a wet boat home in the car so we abandoned that idea. We were quite late going out but we had a new plan. And a picnic!

The new plan was to go to the Red Kite Feeding station at¬†Llanddeusant. Feeding wasn’t until 15:00 and, although they ask you to arrive early, we still had some time to kill. Time for one of Paul’s delightful misery tours! We drove to Sennybridge – famous for being the home of the quirky X Factor contestant Rhydian (Roberts) back in 2007 –¬† and thence Trecastle and on to the beautiful¬†Usk reservoir, where I stopped for a chat with a friendly sheep.

Then it was time to drop down onto Llandeusant for Kite feeding. On the way we were stopped by a tractor crossing the road and what followed was a joy!. A procession of tractors – many of them vintage (much like me!) – and we really enjoyed watching them. There is a video of part of the procession here.

We arrived at the Kite Station and settled down to eat our lunch and await the Kite Feeding time. It was a fantastic display of aerobatics from the Kites – who eat on the wing. We were also joined by a couple of Buzzards (BIG!!) who eat on the ground. A great experience and one I’d recommend. We also loved the cat, who loiters with intent to pick up scraps too. So sweet and very friendly.

On the way home, we came across a VERY narrow bridge – with a gauge to check before you attempt to cross. It was pretty close. I wonder how many people have been caught out?

We called in on Brecon on the way back, as we had heard tell of an excellent ice-cream parlour. We were not disappointed. It (Llanfaes Dairy) was very busy indeed and the ice-creams were amazing. And there was very clearly an Italian influence, which is unsurprising as there is a long tradition of Italian emigrants setting up Ice-cream Parlours (and also cafes and fish and chip shops) in Wales. Indeed, the famous Berni inns proprietors emigrated from Italy to Merthyr Tydfil. This article about the diaspora is well worth a read.

There were so many flavours it was all a bit bewildering! I can’t resist Salted Caramel, Cinammon and Rum Raisin. So I had a three scoops and it was delicious. After this, we popped to have a look at the canal basin, which looked very pretty in the lovely sunshine.

We then made our way back to base where we relaxed for a while and Рeventually Рcooked a delicious meal, (pork with fusilloni and basil) courtesy of the amazing Gousto. Having washed up we watched a bit of TV before retiring Рhoping for a quieter night.

Sun 26th

We were not disappointed! A largely unbroken night’s sleep was afforded us. How nice! I say largely because I was occasionally awoken by rain and acorns but – after I put put my ear-plugs in – I snoozed until morning. And awoke refreshed

Today we were off to Kerry, near Newtown to visit my dear Aunty Vera. And as a bonus, my cousin Martin was over from New Zealand and we had a very pleasant afternoon catching up and reminiscing, as one inevitably does when one advances in years. We were also joined by my stepmother – Nanny Lynne and a good time was had by all. It was about an hour’s drive each way and – oddly and annoyingly – we took no photos, so you’ll have to believe that we went!

We filled up ready for our trip home the next day on the way back and then had a quiet evening.

Mon 27th

Home today and thus not much to report. Although Noisy Neighbours reared their ugly heads again. Boo to them! But we had a nice break and we’re away in the van next weekend too. Watch this space!