On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells


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Sad news 13th Jun 2018

It is with a very heavy heart that I announce the passing of of our adored travelling companion, Archie the Border Terrier, after a short but sharp illness. We will miss you so much little one.  There have been and will be many tears at your passing and our travels will not be the same without you. Life was more difficult for you towards the end, with cataracts, deafness and your body starting to let you down. But not as difficult as our lives will be without you. The tears are flowing as I write this. You were the best dog any one could ever have wished for. Night night pupskip.

The Rainbow Bridge

inspired by a Norse legend

By the edge of a woods, at the foot of a hill,

Is a lush, green meadow where time stands still.

Where the friends of man and woman do run,

When their time on earth is over and done.

For here, between this world and the next,

Is a place where each beloved creature finds rest.

On this golden land, they wait and they play,

Till the Rainbow Bridge they cross over one day.

No more do they suffer, in pain or in sadness,

For here they are whole, their lives filled with gladness.

Their limbs are restored, their health renewed,

Their bodies have healed, with strength imbued.

They romp through the grass, without even a care,

Until one day they start, and sniff at the air.

All ears prick forward, eyes dart front and back,

Then all of a sudden, one breaks from the pack.

For just at that instant, their eyes have met;

Together again, both person and pet.

So they run to each other, these friends from long past,

The time of their parting is over at last.

The sadness they felt while they were apart,

Has turned into joy once more in each heart.

They embrace with a love that will last forever,

And then, side-by-side, they cross over… together.

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A very young Archie

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One of the last pictures of our beloved boy. 9/6/18

 


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Twilite Leisure, Banbury 8-10 June

Friday 8th

We had viewings on the house and set off right in the middle of one so it was all a bit chaotic, but we were soon trundling up the A34 as we have so oft done before. This weekend was our “Bob & Barb” weekend. Regulars will recall that we met them on our RV trip in Canada back in 2012. We became firm friends and generally meet at least twice a year, now,  to spend some time together and have a good catch-up.

They generally arrive on site well before us as they are fully retired but their journey had not been the smoothest (five and a half hours from Worthing. Oops). They did beat us there, but only just.

“There” was the Twilite Leisure Caravan and Camping Park, which is handily located exactly opposite Twyford Wharf, where we had a day-boat booked for Saturday. It was very easy to miss the site entrance, which could do with some additional signage, we thought. Luckily, we had hired a boat from Twyford Wharf last Autumn so we knew roughly where it would be.

It is an attractively landscaped site with some interesting (ex) industrial buildings. Notably the spotless shower block, which has been built inside an old-brick kiln. Very enterprising.

We got settled and had tea (a CREAM tea for some! Not me. I’ll leave you to guess.) and got nattering. B&B are very easy company and we get on like a house on fire. There is always plenty to talk about. And laugh about. 🙂

It was my turn to cook the Friday evening dinner and I had pre-prepared a Smoked Fish and Spinach pie, which we later ate with some lush Purple Sprouting broccoli. Yum. It was so warm we sat outside for our first course, although as the sun went down the air chilled and we went inside for dessert. Barb provided an array of desserts. And cheese. We went to bed stuffed!

We retired early as we had a reasonably early start the next day – although Bob had got up very early indeed and we found all the previous evening’s washing up done and dried and deposited outside our door when we got up. How nice!!

Saturday 9th

Up early to have breakfast and pack our food, drink and bits and pieces for our day on the boat. Usually there is a short drive to pick up the boat but today, it was walkable! Even with all our gear. The handover was swift and we were soon off towards Adderbury and beyond, heading south on the lovely Oxford Canal.

The weather forecast had not been too promising, predicting an overcast day but it was so much better than anticipated. The countryside looked summer-fresh and it must have been mating day for damsel flies as they were legion! The dog-roses were particularly pretty, too. It was very much a case of being glad to be in England now that (meterological) summer is here (to knowingly and defiantly misquote Robert Browning!).

 

Bob is a natural at the helm and we whistled through the locks, all three of them,  including the unusual diamond shaped weir lock just near Aynho, where the River Cherwell nudges the canal and disappears through a lovely brick-built weir.  This lock has a fall/rise of just 1foot (or 30 cm for younger people among you!). Thence onward to the winding hole that lies just before the impressive Somerton Deep lock. So-called because, yes, it IS deep. In sharp contrast with Aynho weir, it has a fall/rise of 12 feet, which makes it the 16th deepest lock on the waterways. In case you are wondering,  the deepest lock we have ever done is Bath Deep lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal, which is a whopping 19 feet 5 inches (5.92 m) deep. And that is not even the deepest! That crown falls to Tuel Lane Lock on the Rochdale canal at 19ft 8 1/2 inces (6m) deep. It must be said that both locks are cheating a bit, because they were both originally two locks, rebuilt as one.

 

We turned at the winding hole, although being short, we did not really need the width. Which was just as well as a boat had annoyingly moored just north of the turning “arc”, which would have made it tricky for a longer boat.

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Paul spotting the lunch stop!

We had spotted a pleasant spot for lunch, overlooking the beautiful Oxfordshire countryside and, now we were on the return leg of our journey, we moored for lunch. Quiche (rather tanned as I had left in the oven too long, but nonetheless tasty) with a delicious Greek salad, prepared by Barb. A very nice lunch indeed.

We called in at lovely Anynho Wharf for ice-creams and then continued retracing our steps in the lush HOT afternoon sun. We had noticed a sharp decline in Archie’s ability to get about both on the boat and ashore. He needed help. It highlighted his age and the ever-present thought that that he won’t be around for ever. But we still have him for now and he does seem to still be enjoying his boating.

 

All too soon we were back, handed over the boat and made our way back to the site where our vans were. Time for a G&T! And then it was time to get spruced up for dinner at a local hostelry.

I had booked the Red Lion in Adderbury, and as we sat down and ordered both Paul and I realised – almost simultaneously, – that that this was the pub where we had eaten lunch some 15 years ago, when we went to view Archie and Freddie, with Sue and Paul,  as very young puppies. They were born in Sibford Gower, which is not too far away. We actually took Arch to see his birthplace a few years back. He wasn’t bothered!

We had a nice meal and then made our way home. We had a trip round this beautiful Cotswold village and also to Kings Sutton, another attractive village. Many beautiful houses and privileged people.

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Kings Sutton Church at sunset

Back at the van, we had coffee and more chat and then eagerly hopped into bed. It had been a long day in the fresh air!

Sunday 10th

Another nice day but, sadly, time for us to go home. We had breakfast and another last coffee with B&B. They were staying another night and planned to cycle into Banbury town along the towpath (perhaps not such a good idea in hindsight, as it was not without incident – including a puncture and even a couple of falls; one with rather damp consequences).

We bid them a fond farewell, they cycled off and we packed up and set off on our journey home.  Another lovely weekend in their company. And only 17 days until we set off for our summer break. Woo hoo!

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Lady Heyes Caravan Park, Frodsham, Cheshire 24th – 27th May Plus Crick Boat Show 27th- 29th May

Thursday 24th May

I had booked this site (Lady Heyes)  so very long ago (early 2017) as demand for pitches, complete with their own hot tub is – not unsurprisingly – high! And it was in a part of the world that neither one of us has explored,  so we were really looking forward to it. Although perhaps not to the journey but time would tell. As it was a bank holiday weekend, I think we made the right choice to set off on Thursday. We rolled off the drive just after 09:00 and arrived at our destination at around 15:00 – including a couple of stretch and comfort breaks, for us and Arch, so not too bad, really. The M6 was – by and large – pretty reasonable traffic-wise. We do wonder what the cows make of all the traffic, though!

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It was a really beautiful day and we were excited to finally see our pitch with its really quite private hot tub. Larks! We had to sign forms and get a lesson on operating it but it wasn’t too complex.

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We had a quick cuppa and then set off on an orientation trip. On the way to the site we had spotted the River Weaver (or the Weaver Navigation), so we popped for a quick look round Frodsham ( whose famous residents include Gary Barlow (who was born there ) and Daniel Craig (who lived there at the Ring o’ Bells pub as a child), before heading off to the waterway. It was BIG. A really big boat (trip boat The Daniel Anderson) and high bridges – maybe one day we’ll give it a go, who knows?

As it was such a lovely evening, we thought we’d pop and have a quick look at the nearby  Anderton Boat Lift – a marvel of Victorian engineering which lifts boats down from the Trent and Mersey Canal to the River Weaver below (and vice-versa). Archie (our elderly Border Terrier) had a great time. It was out of commission for quite a while in the 80’s and I have never been up or down it. That’s definitely one for the Canal bucket list.

 

We were peckish by the time we had finished looking round and so we made our way to the pub where we had dinner booked – The Tigers Head in Norley, just south of Frodsham.  Thursday night is Steak Night so, of course that’s what we had, with all the trimmings. It was pretty good. Then it was home to our hot tub and fire pit. What fun!

After this, we retired quite early, as it had been an early start.

Friday 25th May

Lovely peaceful night and I awoke early. I didn’t want to disturb the boys, so I grabbed my towel and shower accoutrements and went off to check out the shower block – of which I had heard good things (award-winning). Had a lovely shower and then settled down for a read until the boys were ready to get up and carpe that diem. Arch always used to be eager to get out and start enjoying himself, but these days he prefers to snuggle in bed as long as he can. Sad to see him getting old.

After such a beautiful day yesterday, the forecast was not so good for today. I had always fancied a visit to Alderley Edge and so we set off in a light drizzle towards “the golden triangle”. This is an area of Cheshire, much loved by WAGs and made famous by the awful “Real Housewives of Cheshire”. The Beckhams, the Rooneys and even Ronaldo have all lived within the area. It is bounded by Wilmslow at the apex and Alderley Edge and Prestbury in the lower two corners.

Wilmslow was actually the first placed we reached. It’s a pretty town – also known as the home of Umbro sportswear. We weren’t tempted to stop though. As we drove through the lush Cheshire countryside, I recalled from my geography lessons that Cheshire was famous for dairy-farming (Mr Bradley would be proud to know) and one can see why. You may be interested to know that Cheshire cheese was once the nation’s favourite, before being taken over by Cheddar.

We arrived in Alderley Edge (average house price just under £700,000 compared with Fareham at £320,000 and nationally around £230,000) and parked in the Waitrose car park. Well we did need a few bits – as usual! We then had a walk round and I had a good poke around the charity shops. My best find was a Coccinelle  – an upmarket (ish) Italian brand – handbag for £50. Even though I love a designer handbag, I didn’t buy it. They’re not really my style.

We have noticed – on our travels – that there are many fine and imposing churches in the area and the one in Alderley Edge is no exception. After the Edge, we pressed on to Knutsford – named after King Canute, he of the failure to stop the tide coming in story, that every kid knows (or maybe not these days?). His bones apparently are in Winchester, by the way. Nowadays, it’s allegedly home to comedian Sarah Millican. We didn’t see her.

It’s another pretty market town with some lovely buildings and looked very festive as we drove through. The weather was not conducive to much exploration, although it did look to be improving. We thus decided to press on towards finding the Trent and Mersey canal – location of many a happy holiday. We passed one of the imposing gates to Tatton Hall on the way. We’ll save a visit until next time.

 

One of the other things Cheshire is famous for is salt. Very handy for that salty, tangy cheese! In fact over-zealous salt-mining (since Roman times)  has been the cause of much subsidence in the area. As you pass along the T&M you can still see piles of salt on the bank and one of the most famous old workings (Lion Salt Works)  has now been turned into a museum.  And Northwich has – even in this century been given aid to stabilise the old workings.

Anyway – it was to the “The Salt Barge” just opposite the museum that we repaired for our (late) lunch. Which was – OK. We passed some flashes – small lakes/meres caused by salt or lime workings – on the way there. They are now a fantastic resource for wildlife and recreation. Much like the canals, their industrial beginnings are now to our advantage.

Next we stopped at a couple of marinas to get some idea of how easy casual moorings are to come by and the costs thereof – for a “future project”. One of them  – Venetian – we have visited quite a few times by boat, but the other is relatively new, we think? Venetian is on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal – which is currently the victim of a serious breach and which must surely have had a bad impact on their trade.

A hot-tub, cuppa and perhaps a gentle snooze beckoned, but not before we had popped to have a quick look at the famous Bunbury Locks – a staircase lock, which causes a few puzzled frowns and scratched heads when people first encounter it. The signs are very useful for first-timers!

 

Bunbury

As you can see – it was still a bit grey and overcast but that didn’t stop us having a lovely warm, bubbly soak! Which we repeated after dark, just because we could . The rules dictate that you are out of it by 10.45, which I think entirely reasonable.  It’s very pretty at night,  with a variety of colours to choose.

 

Saturday 26th May

Another grey day, so we decided we’d go and have a look at the mighty Mersey before a cycle ride round the Delamere Forest.  But first – a full English, cooked on the CADAC. De-flipping-lish – and plenty left over for our sandwiches for tomorrows trip down South. Note the omnipresent and ever-hopeful canine!

Suitably fortified (OK – well stuffed!) we set off for the Mersey. Well one thing led to another and we eventually ended up in Birkenhead, where the ferries across the Mersey ply their trade. It’s quite an exciting waterfront and we took plenty of pics – of which a selection below.

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The Liver Building

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Ferry

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HAMILTON SQUARE – Birkenhead

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Birkenhead Priory

We made our way back up the estuary and stopped at Eastham – site of one of the earliest crossings of the Mersey (since the Middle Ages) for a coffee. There is a cafe in the former ticket office and a very friendly and knowledgeable chap runs it.  He is obviously –  and justifiably – very proud of his heritage. Eastham was, by all accounts, quite the place to go in Victorian times, with pleasure gardens and even a zoo! Apparently the bear pit can still be seen. Sadly it’s heyday was many years ago, now. But it’s pleasant spot and has been designated a Country Park.

Our next stop (for this was turning into a full on expedition!) was Ellesmere Port  – not to be confused with pretty, sleepy Ellesmere in Shropshire. We had visited Ellesmere Port by boat so it was interesting to see it from a different perspective. It was very much as I remembered, being the terminus of the Shropshire Union Canal and also the site of the tail end of the Manchester Ship Canal, before it merges with the Mersey. It’s quite an exciting place to come by boat as it is also also the site of the National Waterways Museum, which we have explored in the past.

Time was ticking away now, and if we were going to do that bike ride in the forest, it was time to press on. We were still quite full from our breakfast, so had not bothered with lunch. It was a bit late to do the planned 7 mile Whitemore trail route, so we chose the shorter 4 mile Hunger Hill trail. Maybe it would help us work up an appetite for an ice-cream?

It was such a lovely ride. Once again we found ourselves wishing we lived closer to such a great resource. Archie had a great time although his enthusiasm and stamina have sadly decreased quite sharply in the last year. He still enjoys it but flags quite soon. In his youth he’d just run and run all day.

By the time we had finished our circuit, the ice-cream booth had closed. And we were SO up for it! Shame. Still – we stopped at the Delamere Station House Cafe Tea Rooms (very mixed bunch of reviews on Trip Advisor) and had a cream tea instead. Naughty but very nice! It’s a real working station on the main Chester to Manchester line. Feels odd sitting there in some ways – you’d expect to see a steam train but it’s a modern diesel that comes thundering through.

We made our way home and had a relax before starting some packing for leaving the next day. Later, I cooked a Chicken and Mushroom Risotto in my new Paella dish on the Cadac – delicious it was too. Although it was a bit beige – hardly a surprise, as all the ingredients actually are beige, but I usually put some peas in it at home – to cheer it up a bit.  And then it was a bit of telly and a hot tub  and shower before bed.

Sunday 27th May 

Thanks largely to our packing efforts last night, and a simple breakfast, we left the site by 09:45 – even after taking time to make sandwiches for the trip. Egg mayonnaise with sausage and bacon. Yum!! We will miss our hot tub and I’d definitely visit again – still plenty to see in the area. And it was such a contrast to the site where we had spent the early May bank holiday. We didn’t feel at all over crowded or hemmed in – even though trade was clearly brisk.

The journey down to our next site was not quite so smooth. For some reason, the M6 was shut near Coventry and we had to make a lengthy and slow detour on alternative roads. But we arrived by about 1.30 pm and got set up. Our new site was a small one – with no hook-up – in the village of Kilsby, situated between Rugby (Warks) and Daventry (Northants), but more importantly, just a stone’s throw from Crick, where we were attending an event the next day. It is called Shire View and my goodness, you could see why. It was approached by means of a bumpy and steep-ish track and surrounded by fields. Our nearest neighbours were sheep  and chickens and there was a beautiful panoramic view our over the lush countryside. Delightful.

I had been a little worried that it might be a bit noisy, as it was sandwiched between the M1 and M45 and also right on the West Coast Main Line, but there was only a little road roar and Kilsby is the site of KIlsby Tunnel (2,400 yds) and thus we were also protected from train noise. You pass one of the tunnel’s recently renovated ventilation shaft on the track up to the site. We were very pleased to be there.

We were not alone – there was another seasonally sited caravan (not occupied) and a camper van (occupied) on 2 of the 5 pitches. But it still felt roomy. Set up was achieved and then we went out for a quick explore, as there would not be time the next day. As neither of us had ever been,  we decided to aim for Rugby, home to the famous Rugby school and – of course, the birthplace of Rugby Football.

Rugby School

A Rugby pitch – in Rugby

Rugby School motto

I had not realised how central the school is, imagining it on the outskirts of town or even in countryside. It has some fine buildings, but the beautiful main building is not easy to photograph. We went for a walk round and found – to our intense joy – a proper Italian gelato shop. This called for a stop. Maia Gelato is a fairly new addition to Rugby town centre, which in common with many other town centres today, looks a little tired. We sat outside and enjoyed our delicious ice-creams – although the experience was a just slightly marred by a strong smell of urine from the alleyway just nearby. Shame.

Yum! Salted Caramel.

That stinky alleyway!

 

On the way back, we popped to Crick to check out the location of the Boat Show we were scheduled to attend the next day. There had been a lot of rain, locally, and it looked a bit muddy, so we resolved to wear walking boots.

The air was quite sultry and as we arrived back at the van, we could hear the vague rumble of thunder and thus followed and hour or so of constant rumbling as the storm approached (as demonstrated in the video above). I have never known anything like it. As it drew nearer, one crack of thunder was so loud the caravan actually shook! Luckily, Archie is now a little deaf or else he would have been terrified. There was rain of biblical proportions, and it later transpired that Birmingham, in particular, had experienced flash floods. This did not bode well for conditions under foot for tomorrow.

 

The storm eventually passed and we had supper and retired early (no TV!) ready for the next day. Missed the hot tub. Such a great relaxer.

Monday 28th May

This day would have been by dear old Mum’s 86th birthday and I sent her some happy birthday wishes, wherever she is.

The day had dawned warm and we decided to take risks by not wearing – or even carrying – waterproof gear. The thought of wearing it (too hot) or carting it around (too heavy) all day was too much. So we set off in our boots with a pair of umbrellas (our trusty Fulton Tornados)  which we hoped would see us right. If they’re good enough for HRH they’ll certainly do for us!

We set off for Crick, site of the Inland Waterways Boat Show for the last 18 years. We arrived very shortly, parked and set off across the vaguely muddy fields. Luckily the organisers had laid walkways everywhere so conditions under foot in the show itself were better than anticipated. We had a good look round before meeting with our boat builder. Reader – it can now be told. We have decided a life on the canal is our future goal and we hope to be happily ensconced on our new-build boat within the next year or so! Exciting times. After much research over the winter, we chose Ortomarine to build for us. They were showing their most recent build at the Show and we had an appointment to view and meet with them again. Them being Caroline and Rob, a very nice couple, with whom we feel we can work. Their latest boat had some innovations which were were very interested to see and we came away from our meeting feeling very happy and with the sense of having chosen well re-confirmed. It had been worth attending the show for that feeling alone.

It was NOT worth attending for the food however. We had a very lacklustre and overpriced lunch before exploring the rest of the show. By mid-afternoon it was HOT! We had definitely made the right decision about coats, too. Archie had had enough of being dragged about and so we left and went back to the van for a snooze. Dinner tonight was home-made pizza on the Cadac. Versatile piece of kit, eh? And it was delish – despite forgetting the pizza peel, which made moving it (from work surface to pizza stone) a bit of challenge! We overcame. We ate. We enjoyed.

We read for a while  and then went to bed, tired, happy and relaxed. Nice feeling.

Tuesday 29th May 

Home time. We set off early and Paul was back at his desk by lunchtime. A lovely break. Looking ahead, we have our annual “Bob & Barb” weekend – on the canal again , this year. On the Oxford again, but this time near Banbury and – at the end of June – France beckons. Can’t wait. And exciting, sometimes stressful times ahead too, as we put our house on the market and find a new, smaller shore base. Watch this space!!

 

 

 

 

 

 


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The Hop Farm – Kent, May 4-7

We selected this site for a variety of reasons  – for its closeness to (Royal) Tunbridge Wells,  because it was sited on the River Medway and lastly because of its proximity to my brother’s home in Beckenham.

I had been looking forward to visiting RTW at Easter, the year my lovely mum died, but, before we had a chance to visit, we had to turn round and come home after an urgent call to say she was fading fast. I could not face going back to the same site and the Hop Farm looked interesting – particularly as it was by a river and we could take our boat.  We also had a plan to hook up with my sister -in-law and the kids as my brother was away. SO – it all fitted.

Friday 4th May

We left at about 10.30 and had a quite surprisingly traffic free journey – considering it was A) a bank holiday weekend and B) much of the journey was on the M25! We arrived at about 12.50 – just 10 minutes early – but were permitted on site with no problem. We were located on Camping Field C – and when we arrived we were pretty much unaccompanied. As the afternoon wore on, though, more and more people rolled in. Somewhat oddly though, we had a spare pitch either side of us. Perhaps our reputation had preceded us?

We went though the well practiced set-up routine and were pleased to note that there was a handy tap on each power point. Not too far to fill up. After this – lunch, a bit of a relax and then a trip to the nearest Aldi, near Maidstone with a view to possibly buying a new water barrel as ours has a slight leak. Alas they had none (although there had been plenty in our local store the evening before. Doh!). A little research showed a caravan and camping shop not too far away, and we popped in there too – to see if we could buy a new seal instead. This tale may have a familiar ring to it, as we bought a new seal last time we went away (at Easter) but – annoyingly – can’t find the flipping thing now.

We noticed that traffic in the area was very heavy , and we experienced this phenomenon, which we dubbed “Kentish Queuing”, quite a few times in our travels around the area.

We arrived back at the van and set about relaxing. The site (which has 300 pitches) had filled up even more in our absence. But we still had no neighbours! Nice. It was a pleasant evening and we were excited to notice that an air balloon was being inflated in the adjacent field. Judging by the wind we estimated that it would fly right over us. We were right! I was very envious of the passengers. It’s a wonderful thing to do (I did it for my 40th birthday ) and it was the perfect evening for it.

We had a delicious dinner and retired early as we were both tired.

Saturday 5th May

Wow! What a lovely day! Filled with a desire to get out and about in the sunshine,  we breakfasted, washed and got ready in record time, and set off for RTW. I particularly wanted to visit the Pantiles  as I had fond memories of a trip many years ago with friends Alsion (then Stewart) Deacon, Sharon and Tania. We parked nearby and walked to the Pantiles. It had not changed too much – from memory. People were out and about in droves, lured by the lovely weather and the numerous street cafes.

I had a recollection of “taking the waters” at the “Chalybeate Spring” and I thought Paul should try them too. My recollection was that they were vile! Nothing has changed – it still tastes like sucking a rusty nail!

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The “Dipper”

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For the princely sum of £1, we were treated to a short and informative talk by the “Dipper” in her Regency costume. The water was presented to Paul who quaffed. And then grimaced. It’s awful stuff – but was believed to have beneficial properties and is one of the reasons why the Wells of Tunbridge  came to prominence. Interestingly – the Spring stopped flowing for 7 months in 2014/15, putting the Dippers out of work for a while. The reason why the spring failed doesn’t seem to have been fully determined, but low rainfall has historically had an effect on flow. This was the first time in 400 years that they had actually stopped altogether. One wonders whether climate change may have been the culprit?

Welsh dandy Beau Nash certainly saw the business opportunites in RTW! Fresh from his success as MC in Bath, he declared himself MC of RTW and it became a very fashionable place to take the waters. I’d love to go back to the mid 1700s and attend a ball,  in a sprigged dimity frock with gloves, fan and dance card, all presided over by Richard “Beau” Nash himself.  I imagine it might be a bit stinky though?

We browsed the stalls and bought some interesting Scotch eggs – Curried, Chorizo, Chicken and bog-standard, with a view to lunching on them. We also paid a visit to a magnificent cook-shop (dog-friendly!) where I bought a whisk for the caravan. This was because I had made Polenta the previous evening and had to use the fish-slice to mix it! Not a disaster but a whisk would have been so much easier! We also bought Arch some Peanut Butter and Banana, hand-made dog biscuits as a treat.

By then, it was coffee time and we had delicious flat whites and a scrummy pain au chocolat each – a Hobbit-style second breakfast!

Another place I had a yearning to visit was Toad Rock. On that same holiday, many years ago, we had visited it and gone egg-rolling (it was Easter). There are rocks all around RTW  and it was while I was researching their provenance, I came across this – possibly the BEST ever local news story:

https://www.kentlive.news/news/someone-keeps-abandoning-cucumbers-tunbridge-633695

Anyway – back to the rocks. It has previously been speculated that the rock was man- made – including some rather fanciful ideas that it wafashioned in the shape of a rocket (!)  to appease the space men who came travelling. Yes. I know. More modern thinking is that it  was eroded into its current shape by wind action during the Ice Age. I think that’s a tad more likely?

The site wasn’t quite as I remembered it – it had seemed to be more open in my memories, but perhaps time and buildings have encroached? Or – more likely – my memories were dim and I filled the gaps with fancy. Whatever – it was nice to visit and take a few photos to keep the 70’s memories alive. Wish I’d noticed the bin when I took that picture, though.

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As they day was getting on a bit now, we decided we would follow the route of the “Heart of Kent Scenic Trail“.  We had noticed a prancing horse on several signposts and it seems that these mark out the trail. We made our way to Wateringbury, where it starts. We went through some very pretty towns and villages – most notably Mereworth, fab church,  built in the Palladian style; beautiful West Malling  – key features are a Cascade and St Leonard’s tower – probably built by Bishop Gundalf (he of the white Tower at The Tower of London) to name but a few.

Kent Tour

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The Medway at Wateringbury

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St Lawrence’s, Mereworth

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West Malling Abbey Cascade

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St Lawrence’s Tower, West Malling

We then arrived in Tonbridge, another Medway town. We decided to have a look round as there seemed to be a lot of stalls and goings-on at the Castle. We spent a very pleasant hour or so there. The “goings-on” were a food festival (too full of Scotch Egg!) and a demo of the 18th century army (think Culloden) and the various roles each type of soldier played. Perfect location and weather.

We decided to abandon the trail after Tonbridge and pop back to the van for a siesta before our big evening out!

We snoozed, cooked dinner and then popped out to Waitrose in nearby Paddock Wood to buy a few bits for a picnic tomorrow and then came back to the Moonlight Drive In. I felt like a 50’s teenager – although there was very little in the way of “making out”.  Prefer comfort these days!! And there is no need for PDAs!

The film (which started at nine, as dusk fell) was OK – I knew it wouldn’t be great but it was the experience I was after rather than a great movie (which it very definitely wasn’t). But we had popcorn and coffee and our comfy car seats. A very enjoyable experience. The film, by the way,  so that you can avoid, was called “Truth or Dare” and starred no-one in particular!

And so to bed.

Sunday 6th May

Rudely awoken by the yappy dogs at 07:30 from our new neighbour’s (one side only still!) van, we dozed for a while. Mel and the kids were due to arrive late morning so we had no need to hurry. We had the usual eggs’n’sourdough toast combo and then got ready for a picnic on the boat. As soon as we had notification of Mel’s departure, which was swiftly followed by a return to home for Evie’s forgotten swimming costume) we set off down to the river. By the time they called to say they had arrived the boat was blown up and ready for the off.

It was a bit of game getting aboard as there was no pontoon or anything  – just the river bank,  but we were soon afloat. 5 people and a dog plus picnic. It was cosy! But so lovely to be on the water. Jolly fine boating weather. Mel didn’t realise we were using the outboard until we had been underway for some time. She thought we were being transported by the flow of the river, it was so silent.

We were going upstream as far as the first lock – Oak Weir Lock.  (see the map on this link (Part 2) They are BIG locks! All went ashore while I stayed with the boat. And then we turned round and went back to the Sluice Mill lock, passing the campsite on the way. Our final leg was back to the campsite, where we disembarked and deflated the boat with our very clever pump. Rather than pack it away wet, we stuck it on the roof of the car and drove back to the caravan, where we laid it out to dry and had a cuppa. Needless to say – we had grazed our way through the voyage and the heat was quite enervating. Mel and the kids went off to check in to their hotel for the night and we had a snooze. We planned to meet for dinner at 7.

 

Our evening destination was The Chequers in Laddingford – pretty much equidistant from their hotel and our campsite. It is dog-friendly and has a large garden for the kids to run around in. The food was average (I thought). But we had a pleasant evening and made plans for the next day before going our separate ways.

Monday 8th

We had arranged a late check-out and again had a leisurely morning reading and relaxing until Mel and the kids turned up. They had been making good use of the pool at their hotel. We had decided to go to Teapot Island – a nearby tourist attraction/cafe. Its claim to fame was that it was once on the Guinness Book of Records for the largest teapot collection (7,600) but that was a short-lived moment of glory as their record was smashed (ha ha!) by a chap in China (ha ha!) whose collection number a whopping 30,000. I read a review from the funny “Crap Days Out” book  – “”It’s awful if you don’t like teapots. But it’s probably all right if you do.” I think that about sums it up?

We had a nice coffee and a walk around by the river, where we watched people on Hobie stand-up paddle-board. They look like really good fun. The kids had a go on dry land. And then it was time to say goodbye – we went back to the site to pack up and they went home. Our journey home was a little more congested than our journey there but we were soon home, unpacked and looking forward to our trip to Frodsham (childhood home of Gary Barlow, no less!) in Cheshire on the next Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May. Where we have a pitch with our own personal hot tub! Larks!

 

 

 


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Dorset Hideaway Easter Mar/Apr 18

Maundy Thursday  – 29th March

I just can’t get away from the old habit of going away on this day. Dates back to my 40+ years of being a Civil Servant and getting a half day. Not sure why we did? I was happy to take it though, and usually took an additional half day to make the most of it.

We departed at around 10.30. The journey time was estimated at just over 2 hours but we always stop for a coffee and break for Arch and we eventually arrived about 1.30 – just a shade early as our pitch was accessible from 2 p.m. but it was fine. The roads to the site are very narrow and steep, but there are passing places and it’s not too bad. I was relieved when we entered the site though – such a wuss! It was raining, not for the first time this weekend!

Our site – The Dorset Hideaway –  is very rural and it looked like we would have a peaceful few days. Bliss! There is a Spa, with hot tub and you can even hire a chicken and coop for your pitch (not if you have a dog though, sadly). We had a fully-serviced pitch and soon got set up – although we do have the issue of a leaky water barrel that needs resolving. Kettle on, light lunch and a short relax. Paul had a new external 3G/4G antenna to set up and test, so he got on with that. It seemed to work very well even though it was a very quiet rural location  (phones struggling a bit). We managed to stream Netflix with ease.

After a relax and a Google, I found that there was a Caravan Supplies shop very nearby in Charmouth so we set off to buy parts for the water barrel and to get our bearings. The shop – Dorset Leisure Centre was a real find. And the staff are very helpful and knowledgeable – and the stock is VAST! We got what we needed and few other bits to boot and then set off to see the harbour at Charmouth. we then went for a Cream Tea at the very pleasant Annie’s Tea Rooms .  (Facebook link) Highly, highly recommended. Very generous portions and reasonably priced.

Back to the van to discover we had a leak – the source of which seemed to be the shower tap. Wet carpet and a repair job required. Great. Good start. I hate plastic plumbing.

We had the first of our two Gousto meals for dinner, which was delicious. Potato Cakes with baked beans and streaky bacon. we’ve had it before but it’s worth a repeat. Dinner was originally planned to be a fresh Pizza cooked on our Cadac but the rain put paid to that idea!

We spent the rest of the day/night with the water pump off, meaning the joy of a fully serviced pitch was negated. And it rained – all night.

Good Friday – 30th March

I woke up after a very quiet night and – after checking not one, but two time pieces – I decided that, as our shower was US,  it would be a good time to nip over to the very smart shower block. It was a good call. Deserted! I had a lovely hot shower (although it was one of those push-button ones – not my favourite type) in solitary splendour.

Paul (and Arch!) was still snoozing when I got back to the van, so I had to sit quietly. On checking my phone, I noted that the time was actually only 07:20! No wonder I had had the place to myself. What an absolute nana!

Paul eventually arose, we had breakfast and then he started investigating the cause of the leak in more detail. It seemed that the tap had a minute crack. This may or may not have been caused by the recent freezing conditions. It’s hard to say. As we caravan all year round we don’t drain down all the pipework, as many people who put their caravans to bed from October to March do. But in ten years of caravanning, it’s never been a problem. Until now.

Another trip to the caravan shop, £50 and a new tap, pipework and connectors purchased. We then went to Waitrose in Bridport to collect out Click and Collect order. It was raining.

It being nearly lunch time, we decided to go to the Anchor Inn in Seatown.  Delightful location, but a VERY rude waitress/proprietor told us in no uncertain terms that they were full. Her manner was so brusque, we were both left open-mouthed. It was unbelievable.  We shall  certainly never darken their doors again!

We agreed that – as the coast was likely to be busy – we’d head inland and ended up at The Hare and Hounds in the village of Waytown. A  welcome from their lovely Border Terrier, a roaring fire and a plate of Ham, egg and chips improved our mood no end! They said thick cut ham – and boy did they mean it!! It was delicious too, but some of mine went home in a doggy bag – despite the avaricious eyes of the resident BT!! He was hard to resist, though.

We went back to the van – did I mention it was raining? I had a snooze (to make up for the early start, of course). Paul mended the tap – but left everything open – just in case. There was little info on the web about such matters so he wrote a Project page for this blog – a step by step guide –  which can be found here.

And then we spent the evening scanning old photos and watching the box. We watched Conspiracy Theory – an oldish film with Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson. Empire gave it 4 stars otherwise we wouldn’t have bothered and it was not too bad at all. Mel was acting for all he was worth!!

It rained all night!

Easter Saturday – 31st March

Kippers for breakfast. With fresh wholemeal bread. Divine. Been such a long time since I had kippers. Must do it more often.

Sometime during the night the rain had stopped. Great! We set off after brekker and our first port of call was Eypemouth. A delightful spot. We met a young BT and his hoomans, who were very nice and made a fuss of our old chap. I noticed today that his age is starting to show a bit and must admit to shedding a tear at the the thought of him leaving us, as he he will one day. But for the moment he had fun chasing sticks, although it was clear he didn’t like the surface on the beach.

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Fans of Broadchurch will recall this place

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Eypemouth Beach

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Arch – stepping stones

 

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Kay stepping stones

 

Next we went to West Bay – made famous recently by the gripping series “Broadchurch“, which we loved. It was fun spotting all the familiar locations and we had a nice walk round the harbour, before buying freshly baked pasties from The Cornish Bakery for our lunch. Cheese and Onion for me and Bacon, Leek and Cheese for Sumps.  And – joy of joys – Pastei de Nata. The pasties were nice, but we both wished we had gone “traditional”.  The tarts were delish! Almost as good as mine. Chuckle.

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West Bay – River Brit flow

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Too muddy!

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The famous cliff

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Made famous by Broadchurch

We sat and people watched as we had our lunch. By coincidence, we saw the people with the BT again. Stalkers!!

Next was a visit to Burton Bradstock – which my spellchecker very kindly spelt Burton Breadstick, which made me laugh! Thence onward to lovely Lyme Regis, which was – as usual – very busy indeed. We did eventually manage to find a KIA shaped space though. We went for a stroll along the Cobb and decided to complete the west Country triumvirate (Cream Tea, Pasty) with an ice cream. Salted Caramel and Maple Walnut, specifically. And very yummy it was. I had a good poke round the very well stocked hardware store  – Arthur Fordham and Co – and bought some (vital!) pan separators! The link is to their Facebook page, by the way, so will not work for non-users.

We got back to the van and all was well with the tap and the carpet was dry, so Paul put everything back together and stowed everything back in the cupboards. Nice to have the water back on!

As we had lunched well, we had what is known as a “Willowbridge” or “Boat” supper –  which is a selection of cold cuts/cheese/salad/dips etc etc. Always a favourite.

Another evening of scanning and telly ensued. And the rain held off. And, just as we were going to bed, Paul was in the bathroom, cleaning his teeth when he suddenly hollered “Pump off, Pump Off!”. The fix had failed and the carpets and cupboards were once again submitted to a wetting – although not as bad as last time. We put everything to dry again, and retired. Somewhat dejected…….

Easter Sunday – 1st April

This morning saw us making another trip to the Caravan shop where more advice was dispensed and more parts bought. And it’s not raining!

And then we set off to see what delights Axmouth and Seaton had to offer. They are either side of the mouth of the River Axe. Sadly the water was out so it was less picturesque than it might have been at high tide. But we did catch a glimpse of the Seaton Tramway , which goes to Colyton, before stopping for coffee on the esplanade at Seaton. In common with many places in these parts we observed that it must be hellish here in the full season. Too many people going after too few parking spaces. This time of year is just right. Our next visit was to Beer (you will have noticed that we are now in Devon by the way).

Beer is a very pretty town and we stopped for a while on the cliff top, where there are great views.

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Estuary at Axmouth

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Seaton

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Beer cliff top parking

 

We made our way home via Colyton (pretty, great church) and Axminster (not so much!) . We had a light, late lunch (cheese and crackers) and then did a bit of packing ready for the off tomorrow. All seemed well with the plumbing. So far so good.

Dinner was the 2nd Gousto meal – Beef and Mushroom Risotto. As always, very tasty.

Oh – and the rain started.

Easter Monday – 2nd April

Rain all night. Heavy rain. Thank goodness for ear plugs. All seemed well with the plumbing, the carpet was dry and everything else likewise, so we repacked everything. Hopefully for the last time!!

We finished packing up and were off site by 10 am. The roads were quite close to flooded and I was again relieved when we joined the main road. Which was also flooded in places. Progress was slow. But we eventually arrived home, after the usual stops at about 2 pm. Not the best break ever, but still a break from routine and some quality time for us and the dog. Roll on the next Bank Holiday, when we are off to Kent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.