On tour at home and abroad with the Sumpners

The view below is Toad Rock, Tunbridge Wells

Savernake Forest 3rd-5th March 2017

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The weather forecast did not look great for our long-anticipated weekend but we had been looking forward to it – particularly after my recent health scare (all well thank goodness!) – so that was not going to stop us getting away. No sir.

The journey to this site, located just outside Marlborough (Wilts), is only just over an hour and fifteen minutes and so is ideal for a weekend away before the clocks spring forward at the end of the month. We made good time, despite the Friday traffic and arrived with enough daylight left to set up.

The site is just off the A346 in the beautiful Savernake Forest. We used to come to Savernake quite often when I was a kid. My family on my Dad’s side are from beautiful Herefordshire and we used to meet here to swap kids for the school holidays. Either I would be going to up to the Shire or my cousins would be coming to spend the holidays by the seaside. Happy times. I have very strong memories of what we always called “The Blasted Oak” – a huge-girthed tree which sits by the side of the road. On researching it over the weekend, I found that it is in fact known as “The Big Bellied Oak” and is reckoned to be over 1,000 years old. The Savernake Forest was once a royal hunting forest and it’s worth having a read of the supplied link, above, to find out more – including a connection with Henry VIII, no less. I also found out that “The Blasted Oak” was a George Formby song – I suspect my Dad or one of my Aunts and Uncles dubbed it that for fun!

Big Bellied Oak

The Blasted (or Big Bellied) Oak 

We had a warm welcome and the wardens took great pains to explain that (unsurprisingly) the site was waterlogged, due to recent heavy rain, but that we could pitch up in a couple of locations and be OK. We used our motor mover so as not to chew up the very muddy ground. As we were on a sort of hard-standing, we were away from the nearest electric bollard and so the warden kindly lent us an extension cable. The  showers very kindly let up whilst we were setting up and we were soon drinking our first cuppa in the warm and dry. And pretty much all we could hear was birdsong. Lovely.

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We popped to Tescos which, handily, is just at the bottom of the hill, just before you get to Marlborough. Just a few odds and ends and a letter to post, but you can bet we spent more than we planned to! Then it was back to the van to settle down and relax for the evening. Lovely.

I awoke before Paul and was pleased to note that the sun was shining. He took Arch out for his morning constitutional whilst I prepared breakfast  – some lovely cheesy bagels and fresh coffee made with my amazing Aeropress. Yum. A few photos of his walk follow.

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Treetops

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The Archmeister

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A ladybird van!

Our plan for the day was to visit Marlborough – the town with the widest high street in England, bar one. I’ll leave you to find out which has the widest. No prizes! Marlborough is a pretty market town with some (increasingly few) independent shops and a lot of the slightly more up-market chains – such as Seasalt, Mint Velvet, Crew and Joules. It still has a small market on Saturday mornings, which looks to be well frequented. We finished our visit with a take-away coffee. Sadly not an independent – Caffe Nero.

 

We used our Explorer Map ( 157 – Marlborough and Savernake) to plan a route between Honey Street and Great Bedwyn, following the Kennet and Avon canal as closely as possible. Our route took us up across the North Wessex Downs – home to the famous White Horses of Wiltshire. The K&A is a favourite of ours and we have spent happy times cruising it with friends and family, so we were relishing the thought of seeing it again. We passed through an interesting area –Lockeridge Dene and Piggledene – where Sarsen stones (as used at Avebury Ring) were deposited in the last ice age.

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It was a lovely drive and we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of snowdrops – I don’t think I have ever seen so many in any other year. So beautiful and so redolent of Spring.

Our lunch stop was at Pewsey Wharf –  at the Waterfront Bar & Bistro, which is housed in the old canal wharf buildings. Archie was made very welcome and given a gravy bone, and we had a lovely table overlooking the canal. After lunch we walked up the towpath for a while. It seems that – everywhere you go on the canal these days – there are more and more long-term users. I’m never entirely sure whether that is a good or bad thing but I do have a few reservations about it.

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Pewsey Wharf

Towpath with Arch

The day was clouding over and getting a bit chilly so we moved on towards Great Bedwyn, calling at Crofton, where there is a pumping station which boasts an operational Boulton & Watt steam engine. It is not operating all the time and was, indeed, closed today. But we were lucky enough to have attended to a steaming day a few years back. It’s pretty impressive and just beautiful too. Its purpose was to keep this section of the canal in water, a vital  job which is customarily done by electricity the days.

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A moody shot of the Crofton chimney

Our last visit of the day to the canal was to the commuter town of Great Bedwyn and then it was home to our van for a snooze, a cuppa and an evening of TV and cards. Paul won.

It rained on an off all night but we had our breakfast and packed up inside in the dry. There were a few spits and spots as the outside jobs were being done but we were soon on our way home. This was an odd site. We love forest sites and are regulars at Setthorns in the New Forest, so we know what to expect. This site seemed a bit sad, though, somehow. Possibly due to the weather? Or possibly due to the collection of seemingly neglected vans in one corner. But it’s a great site for exploring the area and, despite being on a main road, was very peaceful.

Our next weekend away in the van is at Easter and we are off to Rivendale in the Peak District. Can’t wait!

 

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