On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Holmbury Hill, Surrey


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Rivermead – nr Micheldever 2-4 Feb

We set off about 3 pm, with Paul on phone-manning duties as usual. Arrived about 4.30 – just a few last rays of light,  although we note with good cheer that the days are actually slooowly getting longer. Hurrah.

The directions to Rivermead  are quite specific and, when I phoned to book, the owner of the CS (David) was most emphatic that they should be followed to the nth degree. After our experience with “Uncle Paul’s bend” in the summer) we were more than happy to do this. The site is in the small hamlet of Weston Colley, just outside Micheldever. It has five pitches overlooking a meadow with the River Dever as the boundary. I imagine it’s a tributary of the Test as it looks very similar; clear, fast-flowing and laden with watercress.  We were advised not to attempt to eat it due to the leaching of – ahem – cow effluent. Noted!

Rivermead is a “CS”  (Certified Site – for Caravan & Camping Club members only – max 5 pitches).  It’s a lovely spot with all the things you’d expect or wish for (a posh toilet, fresh water, waste disposal (all types), lovely views and hard standings). And it has none of the things you don’t really need (if you’re us!) like a clubhouse and kids play area. Aside from the owner’s caravan, we were the only people on site tonight. Lovely.

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The posh loo

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On site

It was pretty chilly and we got set up as quickly as we could so that we could get in the warm and snuggle down for the evening. We had dinner ready to cook and no plans to go out and were soon comfy with a cuppa. It’s amazing how quickly the van warms up, considering it’s not heated at all most of the time. We passed the evening watching the box and then retired to bed. I had put a hot-water bottle in the bed to warm it up and was glad I had. This is obviously a very peaceful location, and other than the rain on the roof, we had expectations of a quiet night. Sadly Mr Boy R. Acer ( or Hannu Mikkola, as we dubbed him) had other ideas! He did circuit after circuit – slowing down by the caravan field before accelerating noisily into the “90 left” just past the field. We lay there in the dark, waiting for him in the end – we could hear him for miles, it seemed. Luckily, he got bored and knocked it on the head by midnight! Hallelujah!

Saturday arrived – grey and rainy, as per the forecast.  Not a disaster but a bit of a shame as it would have been nice to have a walk around. As it was, we went out in the car and embarked on a tour of the small towns and villages in the area.  Snowdrops everywhere. I was reminded of the Tennyson (I think?) poem about Snowdrops, which makes me feel strangely wistful.

The Snowdrop

Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!
Ever as of old time,
Solitary firstling,
Coming in the cold time,
Prophet of the gay time,
Prophet of the May time,
Prophet of the roses,
Many, many welcomes,
February fair-maid!

 

There are some really lovely churches in the area and we also spotted the village pump in Preston Candover. Photo opportunity!

We stopped for coffee in Whitchurch – Kudos Coffee – and very nice it was too. Archie was lucky enough to be bought one of their Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits. He seemed to like it, although it didn’t really hang around long enough to be sure! They do lots of yummy tray bakes and cakes but we managed to resist their charms.

We particularly liked the very beautiful St Mary Bourne and stopped to take this picture of fighting hares atop one of the picturesque thatches.

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We finally ended up in Andover where we nipped into Waitrose for a few odds and ends. We then popped to The Range (for me) and Maplins (for Paul) and ate our (very late) lunch in the car park! Classy! My man knows how to show a girl a good time, eh?

After the nipping and popping was done, we made our way “home” and spent the remainder of the afternoon/early evening, putting together a plan for the next year or so, which involves (among other things) downsizing and a decrease in working hours for Paul. Really quite exciting stuff! As we were working, we noticed that we were going to be joined by a motor home this evening. And – when the owner popped in to bring us some eggs – he mentioned that another two mohos were also expected. Busy suddenly!

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The site from another angle

The evening passed in the usual manner – although we now have an Amazon Fire stick and can catch up on our favourite Netflix shows too. The rain seemed to be easing and it looked as if we might have a finer day on Sunday. Before dinner, we had some prawns as a starter and a while later I felt itchy all over and discovered than I had had an allergic reaction. A little consultation with Dr Google revealed that shellfish allergy is quite common and that people spend their lives quite happily eating prawns, when bang! They react. This seemed to be what had happened to me. I took some antihistamines (always have some in the First Aid box) and by bedtime my skin seemed to have settled down a little. Phew.

It was a lovely quiet night – we half-imagined that our friend with the car might show up again but not tonight,  thank goodness.  We slept until about 9 and then got up for our usual Sunday breakfast, eager to taste the free range eggs from the site. Reader, they were delicious, with huge, intensely orange yolks. Paul said that he felt that they tasted like eggs used to taste when he was a kid. We had  forgotten our trusty egg-topper – a gadget to which we had been introduced by my brother. It does just what its name suggests. It takes the tops off boiled eggs! Efficiently and neatly. Highly recommended. And, as we are avid boiled egg fans, an essential for our batterie de cuisine! I think we may need a caravan one!

It was a lovely day and David ( the owner) had mentioned that there was no hurry to leave  and we were welcome to take our time. This is one of the things we like about smaller sites like this – much more relaxed about departures, whenever they can be. As it happened, we had done everything we needed to reasonably early and we had one or two things to do at home (I have a whole week of work ahead). By coincidence,  we rolled off site on the dot of midday – the time most bigger sites require you to leave (some are even 11 am) which usually feels a bit rushed. A lovely relaxing weekend and we very much plan to return to this lovely little site.


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Chew Valley for New Year 28-12 to 21

Thursday 28th December

We’d had a day to recover and clear up from Christmas and it was time to up steadies and make our way down to the West Country for the New Year. We keep our van on the drive at home and had been sleeping in there since Christmas Eve (we had family staying) but it was still great to be getting away. We have done this for several years now and it has become part of our festive seasonal routine. I think I look forward to it as much as I look forward to Christmas, these days. Having dealt with all the left over meats by freezing them, we packed all the other goodies (Cheese mountain!) into the van and set off. We had chosen Chew Valley, one of our favourite “Tranquil Parks”  (Adult only)  sites for this year’s trip. It had been on our list of sites to visit for some while and we couldn’t wait to get there.

Traffic was not too bad and we stopped once for a comfort break for the dog and a coffee for us and arrived early afternoon, with daylight to spare. Chew Valley is at Bishop Sutton – a Somerset village, and the nearest bigger town is probably Keynsham ( spelt K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M for those old enough to remember Horace Batchelor on Radio Luxembourg!)  and pronounced Cane-sham.  Quite interestingly, Bishop Sutton, is an ex- (as recently as 1929) coal-mining village. It has a pub, a shop and post office and even an Indian Restaurant. And of course our caravan site. It was well sign-posted and easy to find and we were soon reporting our arrival to reception.

Now for the treat! They ask you to unhitch on arrival, hook your van up to a tractor and then site and level it for you! We have never experienced this before. All you have to do is put the steadies down and hook-up electricity and services and you’re done!  You leave the car in the car park – once you’ve unpacked all you need. Then you just need to put on the heating, make a cuppa, eat a mince pie (or other delicacy in season) and relaaaaaxxx. We like! Oh and we were presented with a nicely wrapped Christmas gift (a Chocolate Orange) and another nice touch I omitted to mention was that we got an email from them just before we came saying “looking forward to seeing you”! Likewise.

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Siting and levelling

And relax was just what we did for the remainder of the day. And the site looked very pretty at night – lots of Christmas lights. Many people had bedecked their vans with festive illuminations, too, as you can see below.

 

Friday 29th December

Well that was a Cold, Haily, Windy Night and no mistake! Actually it was just wind and heavy rain and we were snug as, but I’ve always liked the song (Steeleye Span – Please to see the King  -Track 2). Even with ear plugs in I could hear the rain! We had a slow morning but eventually headed out to suss out the lie of the land and to replenish our victuals (no cheese required!).

Our first destination was Chew Magna – a very pleasant little village that actually seems to have a thriving heart. The Chew, by the way, refers to the River that runs through the valley, and Chew Magna is/was the most important of several similarly named villages in the area. The Chew is a tributary of the Avon.

As we were driving to our next destination, we encountered an usual sight. A pair of (I think?) Rheas, in a field. They are a long way from home (South America). They were quite friendly and very inquisitive.

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Rheas – not very easy to photograph!

We passed through Compton Dando (nice name!) and thence to Keynsham, where we visited the Waitrose to pick up some fresh stuff and grab a coffee. Our tour then took us on the Bath road, and we decide to have a late lunch at The Blathwayt Arms, a nice-looking, dog-friendly pub overlooking the race-course.  We shared a baked Camembert (cheese again!), which was delicious.

Thus refreshed, we made our way home, via Bath, to our cosy van for a snooze. We stopped for a quick look (the light was fading) at the Canal leading down to the centre of Bath. Some happy memories of these locks.

Saturday 30th December

Well that was a Cold, Haily, Windy Night and no mistake! Are you seeing a pattern here? I didn’t get a great deal of sleep as the caravan was battered by the wind and there were a couple of gusts which made my heart beat faster. It truly felt like we left the ground, briefly! Luckily we survived with no harm done but I felt pretty groggy!

It was a grey and blustery day, with a louring and sullen sky as we set out, late morning. No cycling today. We popped in to Chew Valley Lake, which is very near the site. The Lake is actually a reservoir (opened in 1956) which supplies Bristol with its drinking water. Unlike other lakes we have visited, there is no provision for an off-road cycling (or walking) circumnavigation, which seems a shame. Lots of dog-walkers though, on the trails that are there.  Bristol Water don’t seem too encouraging of such an idea, judging by this article, although there is progress towards one. Anyway – as I already said, it was not a cycling day as it looked like it would pour down at any minute, so not an issue.

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Chew Valley Lake

We thought we’d go on to have a look at another local lake –  Blagdon Lake. This, too, is  reservoir, again owned by Bristol Water. From my reading, it seems to be a a bit of a mecca for fisherman.  There is a visitor centre – Blagdon Pumping Station and Visitor Centre – but this is sadly not open at the moment due to “works” (according to Bristol Water)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avoncliff_Aqueduct. This is a shame, because it looked pretty interesting and has a couple of old steam-driven beam engines.

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Blagdon Lake

Hunger reared its ugly head and we dropped in on the Plume of Feathers in nearby Rickford for a bowl of soup. The Soup du Jour was Mushroom and Anchovy. Yes. Reader it was not pleasant.  I note that their website could do with an overhaul, as the Christmas Menu for 2013 appears in the news section! It has a pretty location by a stream,though,  and I imagine it’s pretty popular in summer. I saw an advert for a Mole Catcher in the local magazine, which amused me. You don’t see that very often in our neck of the woods!

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We noticed a very interesting building on the way in to the village by a pond, and stopped to take a couple of photos. It transpires the pond is Rickford Pond, and the “interesting building” is a former Baptist Chapel – now a Masonic Lodge.

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We realised we needed to buy some more dog food as we had used the last the night before. We decided  to go to Cheddar to make the purchase as it gave us an opportunity to see – once again cos we love it – Cheddar Gorge.

Sunday 31st December

Well that was a Cold, Haily, Windy Night and no mistake!  Again. The rain was particularly heavy – almost monsoon-like. Not that I have ever experienced a monsoon but it was how I imagine it would be!

We had a bit of lie-in as we had had such a(nother) disturbed night and actually did not go out until  about 2 pm. The weather was, again, not up to much. Still not cycling weather and we were starting to wonder why we had bothered to bring them!

Because the weather was so rubbish, Paul devised one of his “misery” tours. We passed a most beautiful country house. Sadly it was closed but it was Iford Manor, which holds a Jazz festival in the summer. It was a nice photo opportunity.

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Iford Manor

We also passed through Freshford, which is the most beautiful village imaginable. All beautiful houses in honey stone and quintessentially English. Interestingly, the village featured in and filming took place here, for famous Ealing comedy.   “The Titfield Thunderbolt“. Also noteworthy is that this film was the first Ealing comedy to be filmed in Technicolour.

Our route took us through Bradford on Avon and thence to Bath, very pretty at night (for it was now dark) and a good re-fuelling location.  We arrived home and settled down for the evening, hoping that fireworks would not be too big an issue – although Archie’s hearing seems to be less acute than it was. Certainly the firework season, which has hitherto been pretty traumatic for him, passed reasonably peacefully this year. We did hear them nearby but Archie didn’t turn a hair, which was a relief.

Mon 1st Jan 2018

Happy New Year – and a peaceful night all round! And the forecast was good too. A cycling day, at last. We had stumbled across a cycle path, based on an old railway line, that runs from Bristol to Bath, which has a well-designed, interactive website. The path is tarmaced throughout (so hopefully wouldn’t be a mud-bath after all the recent rain). Our nearest point of access was Saltford, so we made our way there and set off. As is often the case, the path is near the canal and we got some lovely views as we cycled along. Not many boats on the move though, maybe because it was NYD?

The cycle path is a tremendous resource and very well used – walkers, cyclists, runners, dog-walkers, families. It’s really good to see. The surface is good too – a few puddles, but no mud. Excellent! It’s about 8km from Saltford to Bath city centre and we thoroughly enjoyed the ride, passing a few locks, a beautiful bridge and then – sadly – the cycle path was closed – less than half a kilometer from the town centre, due to high river levels. Annoying! The rest of the way was on roads, so we decided to give it a miss. We sat and had a drink and then commenced the return journey.

We eventually arrived back at the car park. We’d had a great ride, Archie had had a great run and we had also worked up an appetite for a late lunch. There is a pub (The Bird in Hand) right by the access point to the track, but I had seen a signpost earlier, to a canal-side pub and we decided to make for that. This was the Jolly Sailor which has a prime position right by Saltford Lock.  Bet it’s heaving with gongoozlers in the summer. The pub doesn’t have a website, but it does have a Facebook page, so I’ve included a link for those who use it. It was a nice meal – nothing special, but a bit pricey, I thought. Before we left, we took a few photos of the lock. The water was very high indeed – almost over the top of the lock moorings. It made us look forward to a time when we’d return here by boat, hopefully.

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Sunshine at last!

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High water!

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Lock entrance

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Cormorants on the weir

We made our way back to the van to do some packing. Paul was working on the 2nd, so we had an early start to get back in time for that. On the way back to the van, we called in at Avoncliff aqueduct, where we had been by boat earlier in the year with our great friends Sue and Paul Rogers. More happy memories and it was interesting to see it from another angle.

It was probably the wettest, windiest New Year break we have ever had and the weather prevented us doing as much as we might otherwise have done. But that didn’t stop us enjoying it at all. It was actually a nice opportunity to relax and read, eat cheese, make more memories and just be. Chew Valley is a lovely site with great facilities. Well worth all the positive reviews and we’ll definitely head back one day. We currently have no plans yet for 2018 but that will be rectified shortly, no doubt.

 

 

 

 


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The Old Oaks 17-20 November – for the Glastonbury Carnival 2017

Friday

The Old Oaks is one of our favourite campsites – we initially visited back in December 2009, for our first annual “Wrapping Weekend”, where we take all the presents we have bought, wrapping paper, tags and trimmings; and bottle of Baileys to a campsite and have a lovely weekend, wrapping the presents on the Saturday evening, quaffing Baileys and making fun out of a bit of a chore. This was back when the Old Oaks stayed open all year. It closes now – after the carnival until March. And it has just won Campsite of the Year, I believe? Well deserved.

Anyway. Paul had been away at the annual Marine Electronic Trade Show (METS) in Amsterdam and flew back on Friday morning. I picked him up from the airport and then we came home, loaded up and set off at about 1.30 pm for Glastonbury.

We had lunch on the journey and had very few hold-ups, arriving just before sunset. We  quickly set up on our fully serviced pitch and were soon sat down, cosy and warm with a cuppa in hand. We had a quiet evening, reading and playing cards, after I had made and Paul had cooked Pizzas – from scratch – on our Cadac. They were delicious – ham, mushroom and gorgonzola, topped with grated mozzarella. Yum!

We were both tired and so retired to bed by 10 ish.

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Sunset set-up at Old Oaks, Glastonbury

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Pizza being cooked

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Fato a Mano!

 

Saturday

After a lovely quiet night (owls!) we awoke refreshed and raring to go. We had a cooked brekker – again courtesy of the Cadac. I love the fact that you can cook outside with no stink/grease in the van! After a couple of coffees and a relax, we set off for a look round Wells. We have been before but it’s such a lovely place and with Market Day on Saturday mornings, it’s worth another visit.

We started with a coffee in a very pleasant little cafe – but not before I’d bought a couple of Christmas presents in a cute shop – Saint & Gray (lovely scarves and bags – must …resist…..). I had hardly walked a dozen steps from the car park before I’d made that first purchase! And then straight into another, well-stocked fabric and haberdashery shop for some lovely Christmassy fat quarters (in tasteful shades of grey ) to make myself a Christmas rag wreath. I was really motoring on the shopping front!!

After coffee we strolled up the High Street and round the market square. Loads of lovely smells. One fruit and veg stall looked particularly good, and was selling lots of really traditional old apples and pears. Paul said they looked a bit manky – he’s too used to perfect, waxed and polished supermarket apples. These looked like proper, unsanitised apples to me. And they had romantic names – like Egremont Russet,  D’Arcy Spice and Laxton’s Fortune. They smelt quite wonderful and reminded me of my childhood. Not a watery, tasteless Golden Delicious to be seen in those days.

We had a quick look at the famous bell-ringing swans (it’s true –check it out!)  and the at the Bishop’s Palace and then bought some delicious looking pasties for our lunch and made our way back to the van. We were being picked up by coach to go to Glastonbury for the Carnival, later in the afternoon. We had a comfy (snoozy!) afternoon and then got ready to go. Half way through the afternoon, Paul suggested we stayed another night (they had a special offer on) and I jumped at the chance.  He went and paid and it was settled. I love an impromptu decision!

The pick up was at 4.30 and rain was forecast. Boo! The coach deposited us right in the town centre (before all the roads closed in preparation for the procession) and we were left with a couple of hours to fill, before the pre-procession started at 6.30. We had a wander round and finally settled in a cafe – beers for Paul and coffees for me. The rain had started. And so it continued throughout the entire evening.

We found our viewpoint and settled in for a long wait. We had taken the opportunity to book tickets for a buffet in the Abbey Tea Rooms, which we could use as a base for the evening. But we could not go there until 8 pm, so we had a couple of hours of standing in the deluge. Luckily we had brollies, good rain-wear and walking boots, so it could have been worse! We had also thought to bring the backpack we use for Archie when we go road cycling. So we tucked him in there. Not sure he was very keen but we kept the rain off him with one of the brollies. Spirits among the crowd were high, despite the weather and this helped to make the wait more bearable.

The procession was awesome – in the very truest sense of the word. The work that goes into building the floats is unbelievable – as you can see in the pictures. And they are full of people, doing choreographed routines. Those people worked so hard! You would never have known they had done it all the night before in the neighbouring town of Wells! They must have been soaked and frozen to the bone, but they performed with gusto. Respect to them. They were amazing.

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The West Country is famous for its carnivals and some (e.g. Bridgwater ) date all the way back to the 17th Century. They are actually related to the Gunpowder Plot/Guy Fawkes, but today are more about raising money for charity. Information about the circuits can be found here.

About 8.15 we made our way across to the Tea Rooms. It was packed out. I guess the impact of the bad weather was that everyone wanted to get in out of the cold and rain. There wasn’t a seat to be had. Very disappointing The buffet was plentiful and the hot drink was welcome though – even though we had to juggle with plates, cups, brollies and dog.

The procession takes about 3 hours to go through and we eventually made our way back to the coach at about 10:15. We hung up all our wet stuff and fell in to bed. What an amazing evening. So impressive. I’d thoroughly recommend a visit. We will definitely return.

Sunday

We woke up quite late –  to sunshine. Typical. But we had an extra day. How lovely. We agreed that we would buy food from a supermarket for our unplanned supper tonight, rather than go out to eat and would thus factor that in to the end of our day.

It was a beautiful day and, after a very late breakfast, we set off. Our first port of call was Street – home to the Clarke’s Shopping Village. With Christmas in mind, I thought it might be worth a visit. It’s also dog friendly – they claim that 90% of the shops are, which is good news. Sadly it was absolutely heaving (what did I expect??) and we decided to give it a miss after all. We saw some lovely views on our way there, though.

 

We had spotted a monument on the hills, and a little research showed that it was dedicated to famous seaman, one Vice Admiral Samuel Hood – after whom the famous WW2 battleship HMS Hood was named. We set off to have a look for it and finally found it. It’s an impressive edifice and has quite an interesting history. We were glad we had made the effort to take a look.

Our next hour or so was spent exploring the Somerset Levels – which became quite famous after the floods in the winter of 2013/14. We were hoping to see (although not really expecting to) some Cranes, which are slowly being reintroduced to the UK after being hunted to extinction a few hundred years ago, What a sight that would be. Perhaps another day. We did see many birds of prey – largely red Kites –  but beautiful to see, nonetheless.

We made our way back to Glastonbury and bought our provisions for our supper and then repaired to the van, which was looking lovely in the sunshine. We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing and chatting through a project of which more news in a future post. We’d had a lovely weekend with a bonus day and are now looking forward to our next trip away – maybe a wrapping weekend ?  – although December is already looking busy. So unless we can squeeze one in, our next trip may well be after Christmas for our traditional New Year break. We are off to Chew Valley, near Bath this year. Bring it on!

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New Alresford for the Alresford Show – 1-3 September

Having been to the Alresford Show last year and having thoroughly enjoyed it, we decided we’d make a weekend of it this year. We found a campsite – The Spinney – on the outskirts of the small town of (New) Alresford itself. And it was a great find. Just off the road but tucked away from sight. We chose a pitch and, luckily, we had that entire side of the site to ourselves all weekend. There are no frills here and yet there is everything you need. Hook-up, water and somewhere to dispose of rubbish and waste – of all kinds! It’s a little gem of a site. Just the type we like – relaxed and few rules. The site does not have a full website, but it does have a Facebook page and I have included a link above for those of you who use it.

It was a beautiful evening and after we had set up, we popped out for a drive because we needed some cash. New Alresford is a very pretty little town with an abundance of pubs/restaurants and tea-shops. It’s the sort of place you feel Jane Austen might have felt at home. It has some interesting independent shops and is well worth a visit. It also has a Co-op in case you have forgotten something vital. And don’t get too bogged down by the “New” appellation! It’s been around since around 1200! Famous for the Watercress Festival – which is held in May (the weekend of the 20th in 2018), it’s also home to the terminus of the The Mid Hants Railway aka the Watercress Line. Also worth checking out. Incidentally, it’s called the Watercress Line because Alresford is one of THE places for growing the stuff. The line made it possible to swiftly transport it to London for sale in Covent Garden in the mid-19th Century.

We returned the van to cook our dinner. As we often do in the van, we were using GOUSTO for our evening meals. Fresh ingredients, with everything required to cook a delicious meal with step by step instructions. We love them. And you get the recipe cards to keep and make it using your own ingredients. It’s not cheap, but cheaper than a meal out. We’d definitely recommend. Tonight’s dish was Sticky Hoisin Pork with Cucumber Pickle. Absolutely delish! If anyone wants a voucher to try it, contact me through the blog.

It was a rather lovely sunset (photo does not do it justice) and we had a pleasant evening watching the box, before retiring.

Saturday dawned fair, and we left in good time to join the inevitable queue to the show. The parking is very well organised, though, and we were soon making our way in to the show. First stop – coffee! We watched the stunning heavy horses as we drank our coffee. And then the craft stalls! I bought myself a new bracelet from Boat House Studio, who are based in our home town of Portchester and who are a particular favourite of mine.  I also bought some lavender for a craft project. There is a big lavender nursery (Long Barn) just outside town which has a very pleasant cafe – again well worth a visit.

We then sat and watched the very entertaining Alresford Ukulele Jam play in one of the arenas, and then the novice show jumping, which we really enjoyed. Those tiny little girls being so brave. We had a plan to meet our friends Bob and Barb who were attending for the day with their family and planned to stay in touch by mobiles. The signal wasn’t great but we agreed to meet a little later.

These events always remind me of the John Betjeman poem “Hunter Trials” I think it’s called?:

It’s awfully hard luck on Diana
Her ponies have swallowed their bits
She’s fished down their throats with a spanner
And frightened them all into fits

That’s all I can remember of it but it always makes me smile.

It was on to the livestock. The show is a proper old-school agricutural show and there is plenty to see – three arenas, plus stalls and food and drink outlets. You can even buy a tractor. It’s such a great day out. It had got quite hot so we stopped for a quick G&T. No ordinary G&T though. It was locally brewed Watercress Gin – served garnished with it and grapefruit. By gum it was good! Just what the doctor ordered. I’d happily have spent the remainder of the day there! The company – Winchester Distillery –  brew several great gins – not cheap but good for special occasions rather than guzzling (as we are wont to do  – on occasion!). We saw a great idea for a garden bar at the gin stand.

Rustic bar idea!

Looking a bit sheepish?

Pigs!

We had – just for fun – entered Archie in the “Best Veteran” section of the dog show. Fresh from his 4th place at the Cirencester Show, we thought we’d show him again. There were 16 dogs in the class and they were paraded and the judge chatted to the dogs and their owners. Imagine our surprise and – yes – joy when our old boy (a 15 year old Border terrier) was awarded FIRST PLACE! We were so chuffed for him. A silver cup and 2 rosettes (a First and a Best Veteran) and lots of kudos for him. Just lovely.

We had lunch (very late!) after this – a delish posh fish finger sandwich, which slipped down very well.  And then it was time for a quick meet up with the Shorters. They were there en famille and it was good to meet their daughters and grandchildren of whom we have heard so much over the years. It was late afternoon by then and the heat had taken it’s toll on us but particularly on Arch and we decided to go back to the van for a snooze.

After our snooze and a well-earned cuppa, we popped out for another drive and decided to have dinner out and save our other Gousto meal  (Cheesy Chicken Piccata with Spinach) for the next day.  We rang the nearby Tichborne Arms and they squeezed us in. It’s a really lovely, very dog friendly pub, with a friendly ambience and, tonight,  we had struck lucky!  Steak and Kidney pie was on the menu (which changes often). And it was a great choice. A proper pie with good pastry, tender steak and large chunks of kidney – rather than the tiny slivers you get in a commercial pie. We loved it, and Archie enjoyed the left-overs (it was a big portion, served with plenty of fresh and well-cooked veg).

We returned to the van and it was nice to think that we did not have to rush off the next day. Normally Sunday means that you have to pack up and be off site by midday, which although is not really a rush is sometimes a bit too early. We had spoken to the owners the day before and they said there was no rush at all to leave the site and that any time was good with them. How very civilised!

Arch and his silverware

Sunday was soggy. It rained pretty much from late evening Saturday onward. We had a nice (rare) lie-in, the usual eggy breakfast and then read and dozed and and relaxed until about 3 o’clock. We were home and unpacked by 4.30. A perfect weekend break. Think we might give the Watercress fest a go next May and stay here again.

Looking forward to our next trip which – as I write – is probably not going to be until our trip to Glastonbury for the Carnival in November, staying (again) at the lovely Old Oaks. Unless we can squeeze in another weekend before then, that is? Ever hopeful.

 

 

 

 

 


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Somerset – Aug 25th to 28th

This trip saw us off to Wimbleball Lake on Exmoor (nearest town Dulverton) in Somerset for our annual get away with our niece Evie (11) and nephew Lenny (7). This year was unusual in that we were just back from 2 weeks in Italy with them, but we quite like them so it wasn’t an issue!

We had planned to get away by 09:30 and I noticed, as we drove down the hill, that the time was 09:31. Not bad, considering the amount of stuff we had had to cram in (two excited children, a dog and two excited adults, four bikes, a boat, and outboard, a large leisure battery, food for a small army and entertainment for us all).

It was not the best journey (although I have had worse!) but it was a bank holiday weekend and so to be expected. It allowed us the opportunity to take a few (pretty poor!) pictures of Stonehenge!

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The last bit of the journey was pretty hairy as we had (foolishly it turns out) trusted the satnav to get us there. Fail! We knew that the site was very rural, so naturally the roads might be a little tricky, so were mentally prepared. The road we were sent along, however, was particularly narrow and steep and there was one bend that was pretty much a hairpin – just the place where you don’t want to meet anything – let alone a large red lorry! Oh crikey! Paul was amazing and kept his head as he reversed the van back down the steep bend. There were a few anxious moments, as you might imagine (although we kept it light as we didn’t want to worry the children) but we got there, thanks to Paul’s steady hand. A couple of minutes later, still marvelling at Paul’s prowess and unflappability,  we pulled onto our allotted pitch. That was one big phew! The bend, which can be seen circled in red on the map and in the photo below, has since been dubbed “Uncle Paul’s Bend”.

Lake map

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Uncle Paul’s bend – so much worse in reality!

I think it’s the first time we have been caught out like this, which in all our years of caravanning isn’t too bad. We’ll probably be a bit more careful in future!

As mentioned, it had been a  protracted, 5 hour, journey (rather just the 3ish it should have taken) and the kids had endured it very well, bless them. We were glad it was over, though, so that we could get on with our holiday. The kids were, as usual, very helpful with the many little jobs that need to be done at set-up, so we finished in good time.

A quick cuppa to restore Uncle Paul’s shattered nerves while the kids got an ice-cream and had a cycle round to get acquainted with our home for the next three nights and then we got our bikes out, too,  and set off to explore. We cycled down to the lake and set off in an anti-clockwise direction towards the dam.  Wimbleball is actually a reservoir and, in addition to the camping, there is a nice cafe, a sailing club, archery, wind-surfing, SUP and more.

You may recall that last year was a bit of a washout regarding Lenny and cycling, but he has just learned – almost overnight  – and was so keen to get cracking. Archie was his usual exuberant self, despite his age. He really does love a bike ride. The path has a good surface and also has some good but short inclines, to get the blood pumping though the veins. We arrived at the dam and the kids and Paul climbed down to the water’s edge to throw stones. We evetually retraced our steps and arrived back at the caravan. Considering he has only just got to grips with cycling, Lenny did very well indeed, cycling around 4.5 k in all. Go Lenny!

 

We arrived back at the van and prepped the veg for tea and then set off in search of a phone signal. There is no service at all for quite a way, but we arrived in pretty little Dulverton and found a good signal, so that we could phone the kids’ Ma & Pa. That done, we went back to the van for tea – a pre-made Cottage Pie (with hidden peas) , with broccoli, carrots and runner beans. This was pronounced “yummy” and soon disappeared. Then it was a visit to the play area, a bit more biking and a dog-walk, a few games of OB (as it is known in our family but also known as Switch), and then bed. For all of us! We find it easier to go to bed and get up at the same time as them.

It really was a quiet night – no noise at all, except the odd owl and some snoring from you-know who! We all awoke around 8 pm and arose for breakfast. It was a fine day, thankfully, as our plan was to do some boating this morning. Breakfast finished, we packed all we needed in the car and set off to the water-sports area. This is just a short way up the road, but too far to carry the boat.

This was the first outing for our new high speed pump. It is both an inflator and a deflator – made light work of the inflation, and we were soon (although probably not soon enough for the kids!) ready to launch.

We spent a good couple of hours exploring the lake and the kids were keen to steer it themselves. We had such a great time. The lake is large enough that you don’t have to worry too much about other boaters/sailors/boarders and they had fun turning circles and generally going wherever the fancy took them. They even had a go at rowing – not quite so successful!

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We all worked together to pack the boat away, when we had finished boating. The pump was brilliant at deflating – which had hitherto been a bit of a nuisance – and the outboard still had plenty of life left in it. Great purchases, both recommended.

We returned to the caravan for lunch, by which time it was heading towards mid-afternoon. We took a drive to Minehead, had the daily ice-cream and popped in to the local Tesco for some more milk and more cash. We then returned to the van. It was cycling time again!

This time, we went clockwise round to the bridge under which Evie had steered earlier. It was a lovely early evening and we felt lucky to be there. IMG_3456

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We returned from our bike ride and set off once more for Dulverton, where we had spotted a handy chippy. A quick call to the ‘rents and then we joined the queue for the chippy. Being Saturday night, it was pretty busy and we had a 20 minute wait, so by the time the food arrived we were all pretty ravenous.

We opened our packages and – despite having asked for plenty of salt and vinegar – there was none. SO disappointing. The kids food was fine but Paul & I repacked our grub and we beat a hasty retreat home to apply a liberal dressing of said condiments. Sadly, by the time we got home it was all a bit soggy and, to be honest, I wish we hadn’t bothered. Not a great success.

After dinner there was time for a little more fun before, once again, we all retired.

Another quite night and we were soon up, washed fed and dressed ready to go out. The morning’s plan was to visit Tarr Steps. This is a “clapper” bridge – a type of ancient river crossing (or prototype bridge), made with local stone. Tarr Steps is the longest clapper bridge in Britain, apparently.

We went through a ford on the way there, which Lenny, in particular, loved. We had to turn round and go through again, so that he could get a picture. We were also spotting ponies and other livestock on the moor and these all involved more photo opportunities.

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It seemed that everyone else had had the same idea as us, and the car park was heaving. We eventually found a space though. We had put the beach shoes out to bring but had forgotten to pick them up, so paddling was done bare foot. Archie had a particularly nice time, barking at a Springer Spaniel, who was more of a water dog than he is. He rarely barks, so can only assume he was barking out a warning about getting wet?

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We had an appointment with steam at 2.30 in Bishop’s Lydeard and set off, eating lunch on the way there in the car.

We arrived a bit ahead of schedule and popped in to the Bishop’s Lydeard Mill and Rural Life museum. Sadly we didn’t have time for a proper look round but there was time for an ice-cream (or chocolate cake, in Evie’s case!). It looks well worth a proper visit. Maybe another time?

We set off for our train ride on the West Somerset Railway – which is the longest heritage railway in the UK, at over 20 miles long. We couldn’t take the dog so it was just me and the kids, Paul would meet us the other end, in Watchet, our destination. This would take about an hour.

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It was a pretty trip through the lovely Somerset countryside, but once they had got ever the initial excitement and done their activity sheets , I think they were a tad bored, so I was quite glad we weren’t going all the way to the terminus in Minehead!

Paul took a video of the train at one of the crossings and we can be seen at 27seconds – albeit not too clearly!

We had a walk round Watchet. Paul and I had a cream tea while the kids had another ice-cream (yeah, I know but we were on holiday!).  It’s a pretty little town with a cute harbour and was quite busy on this lovely summer Sunday. We saw the statue of the Ancient Mariner and were interested to find that Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived nearby and was inspired to write the poem by a visit to Watchet harbour.

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Back in the car and, as it was on our route home, we decided to see if we could spot the train at its various crossing places. Sadly, it was not to be. We were held up at one road junction and it was just enough to make us miss it. Each time we arrived at a crossing, we had just missed it. It was fun looking though and when we eventually gave up, typically, we heard the train arriving at where we had just left. Doh!

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Train Spotting

We arrived back at the van and, while I made the dinner, Paul took the kids out for a last cycle ride. One of the things I have really enjoyed about the site is that it is safe and child friendly and we were able to allow them a degree of freedom to roam alone which, as they are children who live in London, they may not be able to do very often.

Dinner (Cheesy Tuna Pasta Bake) went down very well. I had a lot to live up to, as Mummy’s version is a firm favourite and mine is quite different as it has tomato sauce. It was much enjoyed and I was honoured to have the title “Aunty Kay’s Pasta” bestowed upon the dish and given the freedom to make it again. I has a proud!

After dinner, they were let out to the play area while we did some prep for the off tomorrow. It always goes way too quickly.  As the sun started to set, we played a few games of Dobble – which is the best card game EVER in my opinion. We actually played it quite a lot after the kids were in bed when we were in Italy, it is so enjoyable.  Yep. We sure know how to party!

We had quite a noisy last night. There was a big gathering of people on site celebrating a special birthday. We very much believe in live and let live, but there is an unwritten rule when camping about noise at night. Sometimes it is 10 pm , sometimes it’s 10.30 but there is a time to keep the noise down. Clearly this did not apply to our revellers, as they were chatting and laughing in full voice well past 11.30. And these were not kids, who could probably be forgiven a little. These were people who should have known better.  A bit inconsiderate but thank goodness for ear-plugs!

We were up early, packed and on the road by 09:00, in anticipation of another long and tedious journey but we were pleasantly surprised to be home in good time, with very little in terms of delays. It is customary to teach the kids a new song each year and this time it was that good old Children’s Favourites standard (remember Stewpot?)  “Lily the Pink”. That kept us entertained for quite a while! And JoJo drove some of the way home, which took some of the burden off Paul!

After unpacking, it was still hot and sunny so we finished off our little holiday with a dip in the pool. Probably the last one for this year, which has been a good one pool-wise.

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The perfect end to a lovely weekend. And we sang Lily the Pink all the way to Guildford the next day, to return the kids to their Mummy, who was eagerly awaiting their return. She told me that they had many tales with which to regale her and a rendition of Lily, of course, during their journey back to London. Here’s to next year.

Our next trip is a little closer to home – to Alresford for the Alresford Show. Bring it on!

 

 

 


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Devizes C and CC Site for a day on the K and A – 14-16 July

Friday 14th July

It was our friends’ big birthday year (50!) and we had got them presents to open “on the day” but the real gift was a weekend away with us in the van.

They did not know, but we had also booked a day boat on the Kennet and Avon canal as a surprise. These friends – Sue & Paul Rogers – always used to come away on my Dad’s boat with us every summer and we know they love their canals, so we hoped they’d be pleased.

They came over to us at at 2pm and we set off for Devizes (although they had no idea where we were going, of course!). It was a beautiful sunny day and we arrived at the Devizes site, where we had visited once before with them, and got set up. I had requested a specific pitch, and whilst they could not accommodate that request, they put us on a very pleasant pitch, backing on to the canal and with a fair degree of privacy. We got the sun shade out and settled down for a cuppa.

Our thoughts turned to alcohol and we popped into Devizes to get some supplies. We had a few drinks while we waited for dinner (I had pre-made a lasagne) to heat up and then we ate our dinner. During the evening, we told them where we were going the next day and we all went to bed reasonably early, so that we could be in Trowbridge by 09:30 to pick up the boat.

Our pitch

Relaxing

Arch relaxing too

Sat 15th July

We arose at 08:00 and had breakfasted and got ready, including packing the picnic and tea & coffee making kit, by 09:00.

We had hired the boat from ABC Boats at Hilperton Marina. Things have changed! When we arrived, I paid the security deposit and we then had to sit and watch a safety video – even though we are all experienced boat handlers. But then I guess, anyone could say that and if they had shown us the video, I guess they were absolved in the event of an accident. Such litigious times we live in, eh?

Anyway – we were soon away on the good ship “Cheers”. We had brought our bikes along on board. We wanted to give Sue & Paul a little time to themselves on the boat and also to get a little exercise for us and Arch.

Odge

Arch

Moind the Boikes

Wonder what I was swearing about?

Suzi – turning right?

The first (and only) lock of the day was the one at beautiful Bradford on Avon. It’s a lock we have done quite a few times and is always both a pleasure and a pain. There are usually a fair few gongoozlers, but the lock passes under the main road through the town so crew have to be very careful.  Today was the day of the Canal Fete and there were stands and a live band and someone had crocheted lots of pretty thing to adorn the lock surround. It was a real hive of activity – even more than usual!

Yarn Bombing 1

Yarn Bombing 2

The lock safely negotiated, we decided to get the bikes off and go for a cycle. Archie was very excited – despite his age (just a few days short of his 15th birthday) he loves a good run with the bikes. We left Paul R at the tiller and set off. The towpath through the town is well used and it was very busy as we started off, with people strolling, bikes, pushchairs, more bikes and dogs. Lots of dogs! The crowds soon thinned out, though, and we enjoyed our ride. As we were off the boat we took a few photos of the boat’s progress.

Broadside

View from a Bridge

After a while we re-boarded and pressed on towards the next big landmark, the Avoncliffe Aqueduct,  where the canal does a big dog’s-leg over the Avon itself and the main Bath to Westbury train line. There is a good  aerial photo of it here.  One of the Day Boats in front of us made rather heavy weather of crossing it, which slowed us up a bit – not that there is any point in rushing anywhere on the canal! But they were more intent on boozing and they let us overtake very shortly after that, which was a relief.

We hoped to get roughly to the Dundas Aqueduct before we winded the boat (canal-speak for turning round)  but in the end, we winded shortly before that and pulled over for a very tasty lunch (Scotch eggs, pork pies, quiche, home-made potato salad and salad).  We were joined at lunch time by a stowaway duck.

Quackers!

After lunch we re-traced our steps, back across the Aqueduct, where there were some signs of exuberance, and back through the lock – where we stopped for a lovely ice-cream, as it was now quite hot!

Dropping off crew

The Avon

Suzi – being exuberant

Motley Crew

There were still lots of people about at the lock and the band played on. We had a brief look round the stalls and – as mentioned – bought some refreshments and then continued our journey back to the boatyard.

This chap needs locking up!

In the lock

We arrived back at the boatyard a shade early, so went past for a while and then winded again, to maximise our time on board and then we dropped the boat off, collected our deposit and made our way back to the campsite. The campsite has commissioned a handy fish and chip delivery service and, as we had planned a fish and chip supper, this seemed like by far the easiest thing to do – especially as it meant that no-one had to drive. And they were yummy! We spent the evening chatting and laughing and drinking before retiring. All of us were pretty tired,. It’s the fresh air of course!

Sunday 16th July 

There was no real rush to get up this morning and we woke up and had a cuppa, before our gallant chef (Sumps) cooked us a full English. The picture below really doesn’t do it justice,  as we also had eggs and tomatoes. And toast. It went down very well. More sitting about ensued and then it was time to clear up and pack up, sadly. Weekends have hardly got started before they are over, it seems.

Nearly full English on our Cadac

WE were off site before 12 and home by about 2.30. Another great trip on the canal with our besties. Happy 100th Birthday, you two! And here’s to the next trip away in the van, which will be with our niece and nephew – off to Exmoor this year.

 

 


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Cirencester C and MHC site for the Cotswold Show – 30 June to 2 July

 

Friday 30th June

Quite a short hop in comparison with our last trip. A mere 2 hours up the A34/M4/A419 and we were there. We had read that the site  was difficult to find but we had no trouble at all. It has to be said that the access road could do with a bit of a make-over. It is very uneven with a few large potholes but, taken slowly, it presents no real issues.  Check-in was swift and welcoming and we set off round the site to look for a pitch. It is a big site and pretty full, but we soon found one that suited us and were quickly set up with the obligatory cuppa in our hands. And relaaaaax. I love that feeling.

We chilled for a while and then popped out to Cirencester town centre for a quick look round as we knew we would not have time on Saturday. It is very pleasant and looks to be quite a thriving centre, with few of those tired, closed-up shops that you see in so many town centres today.  It has a rich history and – in Roman times (when it was known as Corinium Dobunnorum) – it was the second largest city (by area) in Britain. On the outskirts of the town, there are the partially excavated remains of an Amphitheatre.  It was/is home to such diverse luminaries as Pam Ayres, Cozy Powell and Dom Joly. Also home the Royal Agricultural College  (now a University)  which was the first of its kind in the English-speaking world.

We also popped to Waitrose for essentials – i.e. Marmite! Thence back to the van and a bit of telly before bed. The site backs on to Cirencester College, where a leaver’s ball was being held. There was a faint noise of bass/drums but nothing to keep us awake. I woke later in the night and it was very quiet indeed. Not so quiet at 7.30, when some very inconsiderate and noisy people decided to start chatting quite loudly nearby. I do find that very bad mannered. We would never speak above a whisper so early but others clearly don’t care! Rude.

Saturday 1st July

Pinch, punch and all that! Can’t quite believe we are over half way through the year. It seems to have flown by. Today we were being joined by our old friends Bob & Barb. They were originally supposed to be there with us last night but had to change their plans last minute. We usually try and pitch next door or at least close by, but that had seemed unlikely last night, as we watched a stream of people who arrived after us driving round, looking for somewhere to put down their steadies. We were thus surprised – when we finally emerged from the van – to find that the three pitches closest to us had been vacated. I quickly texted our chums to let them know which pitch we were on, hoping that they could nab one of them.

We had agreed that we would go on to the show ahead of them and rendezvous when they arrived, so we set off on our bikes. The site is adjacent to Cirencester Park, which is where the Cotswold Show is held, but we thought we would have to go the long way round (hence the bikes). We noticed a stream of people walking by the site exit and they were all clearly on their way to the show. So we followed. It was a great short-cut and – to be honest – we didn’t really need our bikes after all, but no harm done.

We presented our tickets and chained our bikes to the fence and bought a show guide. It is quite a big show and there was loads to see. But first things first – coffee! And very nice it was too. One of our first sights was the beautiful Hook Norton brewery shire horses. We chatted to one of the grooms and he said they still make deliveries by horse to four pubs locally (to them in Oxfordshire). Beautiful creatures and so lovely that they still keep the tradition going.

We also watched a display of hawking in one of the show rings. We then made our way round to the traditional rural skills section, where we watched the Blacksmith and saw some traction engines and fascinating agricultural machinery.

Twankydillo

Mobile sawmill

The engine that drives the sawmill

Lister Type J engine (1617) – powering a “Bentle Root Chopper”

We watched a bit of the agility competition on the dog ring and then passed onto the fur and feather and livestock section. More alpacas! Such pretty creatures, but also ducks, chickens, geese, ferrets, pigs, rabbits and so on.

From here we passed on to the Hawkeye Falconry stand. Based in Ludlow, they are very knowledgeable and the birds are obviously very well looked after. We saw a live gyrfalcon which was a bit of a thrill. A while back, we had been involved with a production of Neville’s Island, for which one of the props is a dead gyrfalcon! Sourcing that was a challenge but, seeing the live one, I think we had a pretty good likeness!.

 

A live Gyrfalcon

Our prop

Shortly after this, we =got a call from Bob & Barb. They were here! We made our way back to the entance to meet them. By this time, we were feeling a little peckish and – as we were right by the food tent (part of the Food Festival) where you could buy anything from licorice to game pies, via cheese (lots of cheese) we decided to grab some grub. We had a slice of medal-winning “Ploughman’s Lunch” Pork Pie – which had cheese and chutney in it. Delish! And Barb had fixed her sights on a cider, so it was ciders all round (although I had water). As we were eating our lunch the parachuting display was taking place.

Action man!

Lunch over, we set off again. It was very warm by now, and we nearly tripped over a chap who had clearly imbibed a tad too much cider being griddled by the hot sun as he snoozed off the effects. Oops!

There were numerous stalls to poke around and so much to see, but as we were passing the Dog Ring we overheard the announcer saying “Any more entrants for the Best Veteran in Show class?”. Paul decide he was going to enter with Archie. A few tense minutes passed and our lovely 15 year old Border terrier (Archie) was awarded a green 4th place rosette and a small prize (dog biscuits).  He was robbed, of course, but we were so pleased and very proud of our veteran pup!

We went for a cuppa and a sit down after that excitement. Arch was beginning to flag (and so were we to be honest). It was hot and we had been there 6 hours so we thought we’d go back to the van. Bob & Barb stayed on as there was still stuff for them to see. It was a relief to get back – although I noticed that my bike was not working properly. The power unit would not turn on. Miffed. It’ll have to go in for a check-up when we get back. But we sat down and had another cold drink and then all of us had a snooze. When we woke up Bob & Barb were back and they came over for a cuppa and to make plans for the evening.

I had a table booked for 8 pm at a pub called the Crown in Frampton Mansell. We had a wash and brush up and drove off just after 7. We took a slightly longer than necessary route as we had hopes of spotting the Sapperton Tunnel on our way. This is a dilapidated but apparently restore-able (if expensive) tunnel on the the defunct Thames and Severn Canal. It was not to be. But we did appreciate the beautiful countryside in the early evening sunshine.

The view from the Crown

We arrived and parked in the large car-park, having passed the very impressive village church, which research tells me is a “Neo-Norman conventicle church”. Yes. It’s built of Cotswold stone and rather beautiful though. The Crown is a delightful pub and very dog friendly. I had plucked  it from the Internet and it was a lucky find. Nice food, well kept beer (I’m told) and very welcoming. We had a lovely meal in great company. We went back to Bob and Barb’s Motor home for a spot of cheese and biscuits and a coffee before bed. Quite tired!

Sunday 2nd July

We had to be off site by midday so we got up, had brekker and packed up. Bob & Barb (being properly retired) were staying on another couple of nights and were understandably keen to make the most of the day, so we shared a last cup of coffee before they set off on their bikes to explore. I must admit to being a tad envious. But we had plans for the evening (feeding Linda Mary) and so we left the site just before midday and made our way home. A lovely weekend and only 2 weeks before we are off again. Can’t wait.